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 Header Item Employment Rights (Continued)
 Header Item Employment Rights
 Header Item Child Benefit Payments

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 981 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty] Deputy O'Dea just made a statement that I have finally come around to the view that there is a problem here but for as long as I have sat in this chair, almost two years, I have always acknowledged that there is a problem. I have always prefaced my remarks by saying that I do not know the size of the problem-----


Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I have the floor. I have always said that I do not know the size of the problem but whether it is ten people or 10,000 people, the legislation must be robust enough to protect them. We have a requirement to put legislation on our Statute Book to protect even one person and that is why I am bringing forward Government legislation. That is my job. I am quite happy to look at legislation from the Opposition but it is not my job to progress legislation prepared by Solidarity, People Before Profit or by Fianna Fáil. If anybody wants to bring forward legislation and to sit around the table with the Department to discuss it and see how we can progress and solve this problem, I am very happy to do so. As I said in my statement last week, I have done a considerable amount of work on this, arising from the amendment that Deputy O'Dea tabled to the Social Welfare Bill last year which he subsequently withdrew, thankfully, and have now produced what I presented in the last week. I am going to keep moving forward. I am going to change the practices and increase the training within my own Department.

Potentially, I may consider a stand-alone issue because I have the same reservations as Deputy Clare Daly. I do not have authority over the WRC and I cannot subscribe to her views on it. When people bring complaints to us, and they are not anything like the numbers reflected by Deputies in this House which genuinely worries me because it suggests a divergence from reality, they are entitled to due process. Both sides are entitled to make a claim as to whether an individual is self-employed or otherwise. The adjudication process is robust. People are entitled to a decision and are entitled to appeal that decision, whatever it may be. If neither side likes the decision that comes from my Department, they are entitled to bring a case to the Labour Court, the High Court or the Supreme Court. That is the law of this land.

On the gaps in the legislation that currently exist, the legislation that I will bring to the House in the next couple of weeks will make the inspections more robust and the decisions that are made more consistent across both geography and industry. It should not make any difference whether an individual works on a construction site or in a hairdresser's: the decision should be the same. The determining factor is whether the definition of employment or self-employment applies to an individual. It is as simple as that and we do not make that any more robust. We do, however, need to ensure that when we do catch people, they are fined and that the penalties are sufficient.

Employment Rights

 7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if her attention has been drawn to the potential for blacklisting in industries in which there is widespread use of fixed-term contracts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15660/19]

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Another important area of abuse of worker rights is the abuse of fixed-term workers. Legislation governing fixed-term workers should demand that these workers are treated no less favourably than full-time workers. However, I have seen evidence and have received testimony from workers in the Irish film industry which shows that the provisions of the fixed-term work legislation is not being applied. Indeed, film producers who are receiving almost €100 million per year in public funding are essentially saying that the legislation does not apply to their industry.

I ask the Minister to confirm that the fixed-term work legislation applies to every single worker, including workers in the film industry. I also ask her to look into very serious and credible allegations of blacklisting of certain fixed-term workers by film producers in receipt of public money.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I am aware that Deputy Boyd Barrett knows this but I will read my Department's reply for the benefit of those who do not. A fixed-term employee means a person who has entered into a contract of employment where the end of the contract is determined by an objective condition such as arriving at a specific date, completing a specific task or the occurrence of a specific event. An employee continuously employed on fixed-term contracts for a period in excess of four years can claim a contract of indefinite duration. However, the Act does not apply in circumstances where an employee is not re-employed by an employer following completion of a fixed-term contract.

  In the formulation and development of labour law, there was a clear focus on finding the appropriate balance between the security which employees require on the one hand and the flexibility required by employers on the other, in terms of organisation of work, particularly in situations where that work may be of a short or fixed duration.

  The Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Workers) Act 2003 is not discriminatory. It does not apply only to certain industries. It applies to every single industry in this country that uses fixed-term contracts. That legislation provides for the improvement of the quality of fixed-term work by ensuring the application of the principle of non-discrimination, that is, that fixed-term workers cannot and will not be treated less favourably than comparable permanent workers. The Act also provides for the removal of discrimination against fixed-term workers where such exists and the establishment of a framework to prevent abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts in order to suit employers. Deputy Boyd Barrett obviously has a specific case in mind, the details of which I am very keen to hear. He should note that where individuals believe they are being deprived of employment rights they may refer a complaint to the WRC where the matter can be dealt with by way of mediation or adjudication leading to a decision that is enforceable through the District Court. WRC inspectors can also be asked to investigate breaches of the legislation or complaints arising. Individuals can submit complaints online. The Deputy can submit complaints to me, with which I will be very happy to help. The Deputy suggested that he has examples of blacklisting which is absolutely against the law. It is not and will not be tolerated and I am happy to help the Deputy to deal with that.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I appreciate the Minister's response and will take her up on her offer of help for a particular group of workers. We have engaged with the Department of Finance which is, in fairness, responding with regard to certain issues including the question of public funding and linking that to the vindication of rights. This issue actually cuts across several Departments, including the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Essentially, film producers who are in receipt of a lot of public money are saying that the fixed-term work legislation does not apply to the film industry. They are saying that the film industry is exceptional.

I was in Ardmore Studios last week in the company of around 50 film workers. Some of them have had 50 fixed-term contracts with the same producer or with a series of producers but they have no rights. Some of them appeared before an Oireachtas committee in January of last year and said that there were abuses of their rights and of the conditions attached to public funding in the film industry and not one of them has worked since then. This is absolutely outrageous. There is a notion abroad that the film industry is exceptional and that the normal rules do not apply to it. This needs to be investigated in a serious way.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I am quite sure that lots of industries and companies in this country believe they are exceptional but none of them is above the law.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I very much appreciate that response and will contact the Minister to arrange a meeting. Many of the people to whom I refer have been working in the industry for ten, 15 or 20 years. Obviously, film work is episodic at some level but if workers point out that they are not receiving their rights and entitlements or if their employer simply does not like them, they stop getting work. I have met film industry workers including carpenters, painters, stage hands and so on who have worked in the industry for many years. Their work has just dried up. They have been displaced and have no rights. Their former employers are rejecting any claim that they have rights but these same employers are in receipt of significant public funding on an annual basis. This has to stop.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Again, nobody is above the law. I ask the Deputy to call me later and we will progress this. I am not happy to hear the Deputy's allegation that people have been blacklisted following an appearance before a joint Oireachtas committee and have not worked since then. We will take care of it.

  Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Child Benefit Payments

 9. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the steps she is taking to implement the Programme for Partnership Government commitment on the monitoring of child benefit payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15364/19]

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten It is estimated that one in every ten children leaves primary school with serious literacy difficulties. Such children are more likely to leave school early and it is estimated that early school leavers cost the State €33,000 every year in welfare supports and lost taxes alone. Over half of the prison population left school early and prison places cost €100,000 per annum, on average. In that context, it is about time that we started to do things differently. We must act in the interests of our people by engaging in joined-up Government.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I thank the Deputy for his question. Child benefit is the main policy instrument for assisting families with the costs of raising children.

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