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Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 965 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith] It is the sort of behaviour in which employers will increasingly engage. We see it in the construction industry which has a plethora of contractors and agencies which are bringing construction workers on to sites and which are contracted by the State. Big companies such as BAM are using mushrooming agencies such as Manpower, CLS and 3D Personnel which hire and fire at will. They do not even take PRSI deductions from the pay of employees which makes it more difficult to provide protection and is a loss to the State. This is happening wholesale. There are, therefore, many abuses with which the Bill will not deal. I know that the Minister is not sorting out all of the exploitation of the working class in one fell swoop, but the Bill is not robust enough.

How does the Minister intend to implement all of the measures included in the Bill if it is passed? There are not enough labour inspectors in the country to deal with the numbers of complaints and problems in the building industry alone, never mind other industries in which there is this level of exploitation. How does the Minister propose to engage more inspectors through the Workplace Relations Commission and will its personnel go into workplaces to say they are breaking the law and issue the fines and sentences applicable in the Bill introduced by her? We need to know in order to support the Bill, but, without doubt, we will seek to amend it in a very major way. I urge the Department to consider the Bill Solidarity-People Before Profit brought forward on bogus self-employment and Sinn Féin's Bill on banded hour contracts. They are much more robust and would be much more useful to the tens of thousands of exploited workers who are trying to exist in these terrible conditions.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry The most interesting and astute comment in this debate so far came from Deputy Willie O'Dea.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy Wait for it.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry 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.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The expansion of precarious working conditions is a cancer which is eating away at employment conditions for all in this and many other countries throughout the world. It acts to undermine the rights and conditions - the stability of life - achieved by a previous generation of workers and increases the rate of exploitation by the 1%, which is causing the massive expansion in corporate profits seen here and throughout the world. The Government and some elements of the establishment would like to deny that reality. Last week there were attempts in the media to deny the expansion in the level of precarious work that had taken place in the economy in the past ten years, but the facts are indisputable. Between 2008 and 2016, there was a 25% increase in the number of workers in temporary employment, a 43% increase in the number of workers in involuntary temporary employment, a 35% increase in the level of involuntary part-time employment and a 35% increase in the level of part-time self-employment with no employees, or what, in many cases, is called bogus self-employment.

  The unfortunate reality is that for many young people who are trying to find a job, the idea of a secure, full-time job which pays a living wage or higher allowing people to have a reasonable standard of living, with stability in their life, is becoming a pipedream. Instead, what is facing people is the prospect of entering a jobs market which requires massive flexibility, with bad working conditions and low pay. In some industries the idea in extremis involves internships or the widespread working for free. It has taken hold and is presented as a way to get one's foot in the door.

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