In October 2000, the long campaign by the Council of Trade Unions, the PSA and other unions against the Employment Contracts Act (ECA) bore fruit. The ECA was replaced by the Employment Relations Act.
The crucial difference between the two was a difference of philosophy. The ECA’s objective was to promote an efficient labour market. The ERA’s objective was to build productive employment relationships by promoting good faith. The act acknowledged the inherent inequality of power between workers and employers. It promoted collective bargaining while protecting individual choice and promoted mediation as the main way of resolving employment relationship problems.
The ECA’s anti-union provisions were scrapped. Union membership remained voluntary. Unions regained the exclusive right to negotiate collective agreements for their members. The right to strike was extended to include multi-employer collectives. The ERA had much more in common with the ECA than the pre-1991 system when it comes to wage negotiation mechanisms. Like the ECA, its wage-fixing procedures were based on individual choice. Before the ERA was passed, critics said it would mean a return to the strife-torn, centralised, relativity-driven system of national collective agreements. This proved to be baseless scare-mongering.