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Employment Rights (Continued)

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 981 No. 5

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Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith Listening to the Minister is somewhat similar to listening to the presentations by IBEC and the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, at the committee's meeting last week. It is a case of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil and "There is nothing going on here, move along". The Minister indicated there is no evidence that bogus self-employment is rampant. However, it is rampant in one industry that is growing and currently important, namely, construction. Finding evidence for it and addressing it has proved difficult. Thousands of workers have been exploited by developers and builders who make vast profits under these terms. The Minister may claim the figures show that the incidence of bogus self-employment is decreasing. On further inspection, however, one will see that the numbers of those who are self-employed but who do not employ others are rising at an acute angle. This means that individuals are being taken on as self-employed contractors. If they do not employ others, these individuals are not genuine contractors within the industry. That matter must be investigated thoroughly and more robust legislation needs to be put in place. The Minister is trying to jump ahead of other items of legislation which are more robust.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Again, the Deputy-----

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly The Minister has had six minutes, which, presumably, was her extra time to respond. Is that not the case?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Minister was allowed six minutes but she did not have six minutes.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly She did.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher It is a simple rule. If three or more Deputies table a question, the Minister will have six minutes to reply.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I have no problem with that but she has used the six minutes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Minister will answer the Deputy's question next. We would not deprive Deputy Clare Daly.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I am happy to take the questions together.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher If the Deputy poses her question, we will allow the Minister some extra minutes to answer.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I welcome the announcement of legislation but it is beyond urgent. I do not accept IBEC's contention that the issue can be addressed by increasing the number of inspections or better enforcement alone. This is a significant problem. On Monday last, I attended a hearing of a case at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. While I will not mention the company's name, it is obvious that it will lose badly, which I think it realises. When it loses, it will appeal to the Labour Court, and when it loses that, the case will be heard by the High Court. The vulnerable, non-national worker who had the courage to take the case previously approached the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners but was informed by the latter that there was nothing wrong with his status or social protection. Eventually, approximately 18 months later, by the time the court sides with him, he will probably be long outside the country.

  The current structure is inadequate. There are problems with the WRC and I draw the Minister's attention to the article in Village magazine by George McLoughlin, who worked for the WRC previously and who made a protected disclosure about the problems there and the systemic favouritism towards employers, which is a problem. A stand-alone investigations unit is necessary, as is beefed-up legislation to allow the implications of one case to be expanded to other cases. Will the Minister clarify whether the legislation will be brought on board in a couple of months or weeks?

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I attended the meeting last week with IBEC, whose attitude is quite astounding. It is the case that while we have not seen definite figures for people who came forward in the requested survey, we know that bogus self-employment occurs in various sectors, including those relating to journalism, English language teaching, to pilots, construction and couriers. I received an email from a young woman who has been caught up in bogus contracts in the tourism industry as a tour director since 2005. She has had to take a case to the court and the scope section. It is on the record that on 7 March 2019, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection decided, on foot of a scope section investigation, that an employee of CIE Tours was insurable under the Social Welfare Acts at PRSI class A. CIE Tours is going to appeal that decision.

Bogus self-employment is rampant and cuts across industries. There is an urgent need for legislation to address the matter. I welcome the fact that the Minister is discussing legislation but four Bills have been published and we believe they could be used as comprehensive legislation to allow the Minister to bring forward robust legislation.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Two issues have been raised, the first of which is how significant a problem this is and whether the numbers are increasing, stable or decreasing. I could argue with the Minister's contention in respect of the numbers but Deputy Bríd Smith has done that. It is currently a significant problem and it is growing. If anything, the evolution of the gig economy will only facilitate the problem becoming greater unless we tackle it now.

The Minister also referred to legislation. She announced, as she also did in the Seanad, that she will introduce her own legislation. We have spent much time in the House being told by the Minister and other members of the Government that legislation is not necessary in the area and that the existing system would work. By offering to introduce legislation, however, she is acknowledging that the system currently in place is not sufficient. The question arises as to when there will be new legislation to tackle a problem which the Minister now acknowledges exists. A number of Bills have been prepared, one of which was sponsored by me while the others were sponsored by the Labour Party, Deputy Bríd Smith's party and so on. We can co-ordinate our approach and decide among ourselves to put forward one of the Bills with the appropriate amendments. It would be far better if the Government accepted that now rather than assembling another team to investigate the matter further, expressing the hope that at some time in the ill-defined future, it may be able to introduce its own legislation. If the Government is seriously committed to resolving the problem, it would be a better approach. As Deputy Clare Daly noted, and I agree, it is beyond time for a solution.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady To hear the Minister put forward arguments from employers that there have been genuine errors in classifying people as self-employed reminds me of when IBEC appeared before the committee last week and stated that it does not believe legislation is necessary. That the Minister is considering bringing forward legislation must be welcomed, and it also shows that she and her Department acknowledge the massive scale of bogus self-employment that exists and is growing. Some of the evidence that was presented to us, such as that given by ICTU, shows that in the construction sector alone, there is an estimated loss of €240 million per year through employer PRSI and tax, but that does not even touch on the loss of employment rights.

I reiterate that bogus self-employment exists even in the House. The camera operators filming proceedings are engaged in a number of scope section discussions with the Department. Bogus self-employment, therefore, exists in the House among camera operators. It is a massive problem. A number of Bills have been published, one of which was brought forward by my party. I welcome the fact that the Minister has brought forward legislation because it is evidence that something needs to be done about the matter. I encourage her to meet the Deputies present, consider all the Bills and bring forward the most robust legislation.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher When I remind Deputies of the one-minute rule, everybody agrees but nobody abides by it. I will allow a short supplementary question from Deputy Niall Collins.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins I raise the case of a person I have encountered who is trying to gain direct or indirect employment. It is an Irish person with an Irish birth certificate and Irish passport who has returned home from the United States, having lived there for 46 years, but who has been denied a PPS number. The person cannot find any form of employment, therefore, and needs a PPS number to apply for a driving licence, housing, a passport-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Deputy is asking a different question.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins -----and it has been presented to me that a person must have a valid reason for obtaining a PPS number. This individual is being denied a PPS number by the Department.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher That is a different question.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins I wished to make the Minister aware of the matter. It is in the context of employment, for which the person may wish to apply. If I convey the details to the Minister, will she consider the case post haste?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Minister to answer the substantive questions.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I ask Deputy Niall Collins to supply the details of the case to me before he leaves the Chamber. Nobody should be denied a PPS number. I will address the matter today.

I am glad that we all can agree but I do not subscribe to the view of certain Deputies that I favour one set of organisations over another. I sit at monthly meetings with both our social partners who represent our union colleagues and our social partners who represent our business colleagues. On most occasions, they have diametrically opposed views, and my job is to sift through the views and decide where the reality lands. While one half of the social partners would tell me the problem is enormous and cite hundreds of millions of euro being lost, which Deputy Brady noted, the other half would tell me there is no problem and that we should carry on as we have always done.


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