Irish businesses trying to navigate the current Brexit landscape should consider the impact of events on their contractual relationships. As Brexit will directly or indirectly affect most, if not all, transactions between Irish and UK businesses or Irish businesses doing business in the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland), Irish suppliers must consider not only events which may directly affect them, but also their supply chain.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries recently laid the Competition Act 2002 (Section 27) Order 2018 before the Houses of the Oireachtais. This will have the effect of increasing the financial thresholds for M&A requiring a notification to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. This is the first time that a minister has used their powers under Section 27 of the Competition Acts from 2002 to 2017.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation recently published legislation that substantially increases the financial thresholds at and above which notification of a transaction is required to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. From 1 January 2019, only mergers where the acquirer and target each generate €10 million or more and together generate €60 million or more turnover in Ireland will trigger mandatory notification.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's (CCPC's) current scrutiny of the Restaurants Association of Ireland serves as a reminder that trade associations must be careful to stay within the lines and avoid encouraging or inadvertently facilitating anti-competitive agreements between their members. Compliance training is an essential tool to prevent unwanted scrutiny from the CCPC and other authorities.
Non-compete clauses can provide important protection for purchasers who have a legitimate interest in maintaining the value of the business they are acquiring. However, careful consideration must be given to the drafting of non-competes in order to avoid allegations of anti-competitive conduct – which is a criminal offence in Ireland – and scrutiny from competition regulators such as the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the European Commission.
A new bill has been proposed in the Oireachtas to grant the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) civil enforcement powers. At present, where the CCPC identifies a suspected breach of competition law, it must petition the court to impose criminal penalties. Under the amendment bill, the CCPC would be empowered to levy administrative fines against firms or individuals for anti-competitive practices. This would bring Ireland into line with most other EU member states.
The Supreme Court recently found the well-established regime of registered employment agreements to be unconstitutional. Uncertainty regarding the level of protection for wages and benefits of workers in the construction sector followed this decision, but has now been addressed by the Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector) 2017 and the Sectoral Employment Order (Mechanical Engineering Building Services Contracting Sector) 2018.
The government recently published the General Scheme for the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill. The bill provides for a paid parental leave benefit, which must be used within the first 12 months of a child's life or 12 months from the date of adoption. In light of these changes, employers should not only consider whether they should top up the parental leave benefit, but also review their family leave policies more generally to ensure that their business is in line with the latest developments.
A recent Supreme Court decision clarifies the legal principles to be applied to the question of which measures of reasonable accommodation an employer should consider to enable disabled employees to participate in the workforce. While the decision provides welcome guidance on the applicable principles, employers must consider that what constitutes 'reasonable accommodation' will depend on the facts, guided by the reasonableness and proportionality of any appropriate measures proposed.
The minister for business, enterprise and innovation recently signed off on changes to the Employment Permits Regulations, making it easier for certain businesses in the agri-food sector to source workers from outside the European Economic Area. The announcement is a positive indication of the government's willingness to meet Ireland's changing labour needs and may signal a more flexible approach.