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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 Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy]   The ICTU report found that across the country, there are currently 163,000 workers facing conditions of zero-hour contracts or so-called if-and-when contracts; this is what is dressed up as the gig economy. They cannot tell from week to week what hours they will work, if they definitely will have work and what contracts and conditions they will face. The industries most commonly associated with this are sales, tourism and the services industries. It is also evident in areas that previously were better regulated and paid areas of the economy such as public administration, health and education. These are areas in which the Government is a key driver of the casualisation of labour.

  A total of 61% of all workers in full-time or part-time temporary contracts are between 15 and 34 years of age. The same way landlords tell us young people do not really want to own a home and would rather share a two-bedroom apartment with eight other professionals, IBEC and big business would like to say that these millennials, of which I am one, do not want permanent jobs but flexibility. Richie Boucher, who previously received an income of close to €1 million a year from Bank of Ireland, was the latest person to tell us that millennials "don't have the same desire for long-term security". It is easy for him to say. Of course people want long-term security, decent working conditions and stability in their lives. The reality is that 70,000 workers on temporary contracts are temporary against their will. Of course they want better working conditions and wages.

  The effects have been outlined and are widespread. It means that people cannot have work-life balance and cannot plan from week to week. It means they cannot get mortgages. The effect on mental health is absolutely devastating. TASC published a report in 2017 where one of the respondents in the study had stated:

I had terrible mental health issues, like awful, really, really bad! And it was all work related. Like, very, very bad anxiety; I talk in my sleep when I’m anxious. It’s the mental health that does it worst, and you’re just going to crack a lot of the time, and depression really hits. And you wouldn’t expect work to have that effect on you, but it really did. I think mental health is the biggest thing, and the stress of not knowing.

This is the result not of work itself, which is fulfilling and gives people meaning in their lives, but the levels of flexibility and exploitation to which young workers are subjected in precarious employment.

  The answer is to do what happened in America with the 15 Now movement and what happened in Britain with the organisation of McDonald's workers. We need in Ireland to rebuild a movement of young workers - the so-called precariat - to turn the tide and challenge the exploitation. This means organising the unorganised in trade unions and the left in the Dáil pushing to outlaw precarity.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I will share time with Deputy Clare Daly. We will take ten minutes each.

  The last time I spoke on this issue I referred to an interview on the radio with Arne L. Kalleberg who is professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. He recently wrote Precarious Lives: Job Insecurity and Well-Being in Rich Democracies. He reported on precarious work and if-and-when contracts in five countries, namely, the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Spain and Japan. He made the important point that this is all part of the neoliberal agenda and diktat that has gone across the world in the past 20 years. We had social partnership in Ireland from 1987 until the Towards 2016 partnership deal. This was supported by our unions, the bosses, the previous Government and the Labour Party. In the late 1990s, these new contracts started coming into the workplace and this was allowed to happen. The only people who really stood up against them were the Dunnes Stores workers when, in April 2015, 6,000 people went out in strike, demanding decent pay and working hours.

  We have heard lots of testimony from workers about their experience in their workplace environments. I read a testimony from two workers in Dunnes Stores where one had a low number of hours and wanted more while the other had a high number of hours but wanted fewer. Both went to their manager and asked to swap but he said they could not. When asked why, he replied, "Because I said so." We heard of the testimony of the young man whose hours were cut from 40 to ten. If a person's hours are cut from 25 to 15, that is a loss of €100 per week. How can anyone plan to pay rent, electricity and gas bills, to travel to work, to put food on the table and to live a life with that sort of precarious employment? It has to go because this is the brutal reality facing thousands of workers on precarious contracts every day of the week. It also illustrates an attitude by certain employers towards those who work for them, service their customers and earn them their profits, which is that they are not valued or respected. They are denied dignity and are working in an environment in which the allocation of hours is used to maintain a compliant workforce. This is the so-called gig economy but there is nothing hip about it. It is not a lifestyle choice but a brutal campaign to enforce a race to the bottom, devalue labour, casualise work, drive down wages, prevent unionisation and destroy the gains won by workers over decades of struggle.

  It is estimated that 130,000 workers are affected by low hours and insecurity of their hours and wages. The question of legislation in this area is extremely important but, disgracefully, Deputy Cullinane's perfectly good Bill, drawn up in consultation with the Mandate union, has been sent to purgatory. Instead we are discussing a much weaker Bill, which contains loopholes that will allow employers to get around the provisions, which they will. The Minister stated earlier that good employers have nothing to fear from the Bill. I put it on the record of the Dáil that bad employers will not be afraid of the Bill. Zero-hour contracts and if-and-when contracts must be comprehensively outlawed. The Bill needs to be amended to include a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week.

  A general exception from minimum hours for so-called casual work will be exploited by employers to move staff to casual status. This is a glaring loophole in the proposed legislation. The look-back period of 18 months is much too long. The Minister referred to the University of Limerick report but, at the launch of Mandate's secure work campaign, it was emphatically stated that the look-back period should be no more than six months. The look-back is a reference to the hours actually worked in a certain period to establish the basis for minimum hours. There are two problems. First, under the Government's Bill, workers would be obliged to wait 18 months to get guaranteed hours. Second, this is an extended period for employers to get their ducks in a row and reduce the hours. Any look-back period in a Bill should apply from when the Bill is initiated. It should not apply 18 months after the Bill is enacted.

  It is also the view of the union that the proposed bans in the Bill are too wide. Section 15 of the Bill sets out the bands proposed in a table. Band A is one hour to ten hours but we know the minimum is three hours. Band B is 11 hours to 24 hours, band C is 25 hours to 34 hours and band D is 35 hours and over. The unions favour a bandwidth of no more than five hours, that is, a band of 15 to 20 hours and so on. There needs to be an anti-victimisation clause to ensure that workers hours are not reduced for union activity or the making of a complaint. Employers are already legally required to keep working time records so there would be no additional regulatory burden on employers if they have to base this on the hours. The information is already there.

  The issue of bogus self-employment has been mentioned and I am reading the report on it. There is a very good book called Ramshorn Republic by Martin McMahon, whom I believe the Minister has met. He explains his experience in the late 1990s of being a courier and describes going to the unions to try to establish that these self-employment contracts were wrong. A deal was made between the unions and these companies in 2000. He made the point to me that the cost to employers of paying back-money to workers would now be phenomenal if we were to ban bogus self-employment. He was saying there has to be a realistic approach to this issue. These forms of employment should be banned and outlawed and there should be a cut-off point of perhaps two years from when the legislation is introduced. This is an important area that must be addressed. We cannot continue to have workers being told they are self-employed and that they have to pay their own PRSI etc.

  I urge all Deputies to support the amendments to be tabled on behalf of the unions when the Bill goes to Committee Stage. We need effective legislation in this area now.

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