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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 Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] The recommendation by UL was for a six-month lookback period, which would work in conjunction with an amendment that would allow employees who have been longer than 12 months in employment to apply for contracts that reflect their working hours. After 12 months, all workers should be able to apply for a contract every six months.

It is ridiculous that we are going over this again. The House had this discussion months ago. We also had it two years ago, but here we are again. It is not good enough. The House must examine its rate of dealing with legislation properly, promptly and in appropriate detail. The Bill is weak. That was flagged to us. It needs to be amended to make it fit for purpose and meet the needs of workers. We have been through this. We have done citizens a disservice by not getting on with the job and running with the Bill that was already past certain Stages as opposed to going back two steps just to take one step forward.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I call Deputy Michael Collins, whom I understand is sharing time.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this motion. The Bill is important legislation that is intended to protect workers who are currently on zero-hour contracts. More often than not, these contracts are enforced by our larger employers. People are expected to work eight hours across a number of days each week. I do not want to paint all employers with the one brush. Many small business owners are struggling at this time. I speak to them on a daily basis. They are paying insurance, PRSI and rates. A large number are on the edge between continuing trading and going under. One employer whom I met last week in my constituency clinic at one time employed 40 staff. He is now down to ten staff because of the overheads. Rules and regulations that come into play when trying to employ someone affect most small employers, who comprise the majority of employers in my constituency of Cork South-West.

Statement after statement from the Government showing unemployment rates declining are not reflective of the real Ireland. Of the 80,000 in Turas Nua, 60,000 will be back on welfare when their contracts are up. Many of those who have been chased into employment are paid the minimum wage, which is a major burden on many young families. I met a couple two weeks ago, each of whom was on the minimum wage earning approximately €370 per week, paying for child care and paying for cars to get to and from work. This couple is now contemplating which one of them will leave work to stay at home to rear the family because they are not paid enough to afford to keep two cars on the road or to pay for child care. They are struggling. The Government is reducing the incentive for people to get up and get out to work each day. It did little to nothing in the last budget to encourage people to seek work as opposed to signing on to the dole.

This Bill seeks to protect the employee. However, it is the larger firms that enforce these precarious working contracts. We need to protect employees from this type of work. They see no certainty in what wages they will take home at the end of the week. We have a responsibility as legislators to protect our citizens, including business people who have started up SMEs and employ people on a small scale as well as those who are employed under precarious contracts and are being exploited as workers. For that reason, I support the Bill, but I would not support any more regulations or bureaucracy being forced upon our already struggling SME owners.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am delighted to contribute on this Bill. I wish everyone a happy Valentine's Day, although it is getting into the night.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I appreciate it, though.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister might be in a hurry home to her partner and kids. I wish them all well. In fairness to the Minister, she seems to be grappling with some of the issues since getting her new post. There are many to be grappled with. I also hope that the staff - I am sorry, as I did not see the female staff because the Acting Chairman was blocking my view - and anyone else who wants to celebrate this night can enjoy it. I will not take too long with my speech.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty It is not just the ladies, Deputy.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I know, but normally flowers are for the ladies. It works both ways. It is a two-way street, like this Bill. Like employers and employees, it is a two-way street, and the grass grows in the middle.

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I am glad that we are on to the Bill, Deputy.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath We are getting there. The issue of protection for workers who are in precarious work situations is of deep concern to us all. We are all aware from the amount of contact that we have received on this matter that the levels of uncertainty that zero-hour contracts create for workers and families is enormous and it is long overdue to be addressed. I wish the Minister well in that regard. Tús maith, leath na hoibre. That is why I am happy to note that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that employees are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements and, in particular, their core terms at an early stage of their employment. That information should even be available to them before they commence employment. The Bill will also create a new offence of the non-provision of core terms within a specified period and will prohibit zero-hour contracts in most circumstances.

Like Deputy Michael Collins and many others have stated, it is not the ordinary small business person we are discussing. Small shopkeepers, building contractors and manufacturers look after their staff because they must provide a quality service. For example, a farmer knows that, if he or she does not produce quality milk or products, he or she will be penalised, and rightly so. Having clean and green food from field to fork is important. Employers need quality staff as well. The majority have them. This is a busy time for feirmeoirí go léir, given that it is calving season. They need reliable and dedicated staff. We all do. I should have declared at the start - the Acting Chairman might have said that I was too slow starting - that I am an employer and might have some vested interest. I have had excellent staff. I have been in business since 1982, with my good wife managing it and mise as láthair go leor den am. I have been missing in áit eile. Only for our diligent and dedicated employees, we would not still be in business and our customers would not be able to avail of our services. I thank the customers for their support as well. It is all encompassing.

It is a pity that greed has grown. It came with the Celtic tiger when that beast arrived on our shores, reigned for a number of years and ruined the situation for everyone. People believed that they would never see another poor day, but some pulled the ladder up after them and to hell with everyone else. "Croppies Lie Down". That is how it came back again. That greed is sad. We were talking about it earlier when discussing what our bankers had been getting away with, but this is different. We want a recovering economy. We are supposed to be in a recovering economy, but Fine Gael overkilled that line in the election. It was "recovery, recovery, recovery," but the tiger was gone and we could not find the recovery. Since then, Fine Gael has returned in much smaller numbers than in the previous incarnation. I hope that it has learned a salutary lesson from that.

I am not big on all of these new offences because enforcement is an issue. We have too many offences, laws and regulations. All we want is common decency, a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and proper treatment for employees by their employers. That is not too much to ask for. The Bill seeks to strengthen the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid employees who may be called in to work for a period but not be provided with that work. An enhanced minimum payment is being introduced.

A 2015 report from UL found that there was no commonly used national or international definition of "low hours working". The report went on to note that CSO data showed that 2% of employees regularly worked one to eight hours per week, 6% worked nine to 18 hours per week and 24% worked 19 to 35 hours per week. Very low hours - one to eight hours - are prevalent in the wholesale, retail, accommodation and food sectors. These are important sectors, so it is not acceptable. The Bill should have been built around the study from UL, which is my good colleague's erstwhile university. Indeed, we were down there in the days when it was dangerous.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea That is right.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath One morning when we were walking over a bridge, we were lucky to get to the other side alive, but we did, thank God, and we are here to tell the tale. It is an excellent institution.

Why do we constantly commission reports? I dealt with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, today regarding cardiac services in the south east in University Hospital Waterford. That was another report. We have scaffolding outside Leinster House. I was talking to the builders today. They are great lads and are doing a great job. I asked them whether the scaffolding was to keep up the building, but they told me that, no, it was only to keep up the steel framework.

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