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Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017

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Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017\Second Stage
Bills\Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017\Second Stage

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Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017

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Deputy Mick Barry

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Snippet Contents:

He said the rise in the level of precarious work would threaten growth and social stability. It is interesting in the sense that he is a capitalist politician who is predicting that capitalist policies will undermine capitalism and it is astute in the sense that he is correct. Low-hour contracts are a big issue for many workers in the State. Unfortunately, the Bill does not address the matter in a thorough and sufficiently serious fashion. This may be St. Valentine's Day, but the workers of Ireland in precarious employment will not feel too much love from the Government benches.
To a large extent, we will take our cue from the Mandate trade union that organises in the retail sector, in which not only do we have a heavy concentration of low-hour contracts but which has also been the site of worker struggles on the issue. In particular, I think of the strike action at Dunnes Stores in April 2015 which was precisely about the issue of low-hour contracts. It has been flagged as a major worker rights matter for some time. The International Labour Organization told us as long ago as 2014 that Ireland was only exceeded by Portugal in the massive growth of what it termed as people in time-related underemployment between 2005 and 2013. In the case of this state, the level of this form of underemployment grew from 2.1% of the workforce in 2005 to 10.5% in 2013, an incredible fivefold increase. The Irish Congress of Trade Union's report published last December, Insecure and Uncertain: Precarious work in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, records a decrease in the numbers from 170,000 from their peak in 2013 to 129,000 in 2016, but that is still over three times pre-crisis levels.
The question is whether we put our faith in the recovery continuing and hope for a slow decline or do we force the pace in improving the position of part-time workers through a combination of trade union organisation on the shop floor and legislative change. Workers have waited too long for this issue to be addressed. Had the Minister attended any of the press conferences given by Mandate in Buswells Hotel in recent years on the topic, she would have heard first-hand about the life-disrupting consequences of being on insecure, low paid, low-hour contracts. I have some examples. Even if a person was to consistently work twice the hours contained in a contract guaranteeing a minimum of ten hours, a bank would work out loan approval levels based on the hours contained in the contract. There are also consequences for child care arrangements and other out-of-work commitments if hours of work are prone to fluctuate wildly. The manipulation of working hours in the weeks and months running into holiday periods by employers in order to reduce holiday pay liability places power in the hands of employers and managers to effectively punish workers who engage in union activity or try to stand up for their rights in any way. This has been cited by Mandate in the case of Dunnes Stores. How does the Bill deal with this issue? The bands are simply too big. To take an extreme case study, somebody contracted to work for nine hours but who consistently works for 23 hours in the proposed 18-month period will only be entitled to have the contract adjusted upwards to ten hours. Likewise, the very requirement to work a full 18 months before being entitled to apply is far too long. Such is the nature of the work, many would be in and out of a place of employment in that timeframe. We can, for example, take the student working in a part-time job throughout an academic year. The 18-month period is an invitation to employers to take on people on fixed-term contracts for just under 18 months if they want to preserve maximum flexibility.
The Bill is not equal to the task. Our intention is to let it progress to Committee Stage, on which we will introduce a raft of necessary amendments to turn it into something that will be of real and tangible benefit to workers. We will seek far narrower bands such as five-hour bands along the lines demanded by Mandate. We will seek to drastically reduce the waiting time of 18 months before a worker can seek an appropriate amendment to a contract. We will close down the built-in loopholes that are practically an open invitation for employers to exploit and seek an explicit ban on the use of exclusivity clauses. We will fight for any look-back period to be made retrospective and, last but not least, seek to close off any attempt by employers to deliberately reduce working hours in the run-in to holiday periods to reduce holiday pay obligations.