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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 Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall] The burden of proof should fall to the employer to show that the changes to the work practices were a punitive response to raising concerns.

The issue of bogus self-employment is not addressed in the Bill; it is a glaring omission. The likelihood is that even the meek measures in the Bill when implemented will lead to an increase in the amount of bogus self-employment. Increasing numbers of workers are being forced into this phoney position, which must be addressed. I and other Members of the House will table amendments to the Bill in order to strengthen that area.

I return to the theme of the locked-out generation. In many ways, the most pressing issues we face as a society, such as the housing crisis, the future of pension and welfare provision and so on, impact most on those who will come after us. The type of working world that we design for them is no different. In many ways, it is the issue that will impact most on their lives. If we deny young people the ability to earn a fair wage in a fair way, what kind of society are we creating? It is a society that many people feel excludes them. It is a society that will not be inclusive and will not work satisfactorily for all. We cannot afford to create that kind of society. Action must be taken. The Bill fails to address the key issues involved and must be substantially amended.

Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I am sharing time with Deputy Fitzpatrick.

I welcome the Bill, which is part of the programme for Government, and I compliment the Minister on bringing it to the House. It is important to set out exactly what the Bill intends to do. It seeks to improve the security and predictability of people in employment. Many people do not know what they are going to earn or how many hours they will work from week to week or even from day to day.

In certain cases, it proposes to ban zero-hour contracts. We need to watch out for this because some exploitation can go on with employers. However, in some places employers need to have flexibility in work hours. In the main, the Bill gets that balance right. We often talk about big companies and how they might take advantage of their employees because of big numbers or whatever, and that they can dictate terms and conditions outside good practice or what is morally right. The Bill is very important from that point of view.

I take the opportunity to raise another matter in the area of employment. I have had much correspondence from school secretaries and caretakers who are not all treated equally. A small number of school secretaries have been employed under the 1978-79 scheme. They are paid on the equivalent of grade 3 or grade 4 civil servants depending on the school size. More than 3,000 school secretaries are employed by boards of management funded by the Department of Education and Skills. However, the rates of pay vary from school to school depending on the board of management and on affordability.

In addition, school secretaries are not paid for the 52 weeks and they have to sign on the dole for the summer, which is very degrading for them. The role of the school secretary needs to be valued; they are often the engine that keeps the school going. They deal with all the day-to-day problems that arise and keep the school running smoothly. They are also the problem solvers, but they seem to be treated differently. It is vital that their pay and conditions are corrected and that there is parity between schools so that they get equal pay for equal work and get the same terms and conditions nationally. This anomaly needs to be addressed. While the Bill deals with employment, we need to talk about the broader problems and anomalies involved.

For school secretaries and caretakers, there is a substantial difference between the rate paid in one school and the rate paid in another school for the same work carried out. The school secretaries have been very patient. There is an onus on us, as legislators, to ensure these issues are addressed and that we get parity for everybody. An arbitration case in 2015 found that there should be increases in pay and a minimum hourly rate for school secretaries. I welcome that the Department has given extra funding to schools, but there is still a significant disparity in the rates of pay between schools. We need to take these anomalies out of the system. There are many more anomalies with young educators working in crèches where they get paid for the hours worked and do not necessarily get paid the same rates as schoolteachers. They have been through four years of college and have a level 8 qualification, but yet are treated differently.

We have a very significant amount of work to do and it is vital that we bring in the Bill as quickly as possible. It is part of the programme for Government. I wanted to put on record my remarks on school secretaries but I welcome the Bill and offer my support to the Minister on it.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 proposes to introduce measures to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees who work under insecure contracts and also those who work variable hours. The Bill addresses areas that have been identified where current employment rights legislation should be strengthened to the benefit of employees, particularly low-paid more vulnerable workers, without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers and businesses.

Like many others, employers in my home town, Dundalk, have concerns that vulnerable low-paid workers are being exploited by unscrupulous employers in various ways, such as workers being called into work and then sent home without being given the hours of work or any compensation; insecure working arrangements; employees not knowing what hours they will be working from one week to the next; workers not being properly informed of their terms and conditions of employment by their employer; workers not knowing who their employer is or what is the legal entity that employs them; and workers on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours than provided for in their contract. These cause difficulties for workers when they try to get a mortgage or access to other financial credit.

It may also be used as a means of exercising undue control over employees where the threat of being put back on lower hours hangs over the employee. The Bill will address these issues. The Bill will prohibit zero-hour contracts in most circumstances except in situations of genuine employments and where they are essential to allow employers to provide cover in emergencies or to cover short-term absences.

All employees, including those on if-and-when contracts, will benefit from the balanced measures proposed in the Bill. It will also provide for a new minimum payment for low-paid workers who may be called into work but are sent home again without the promised work or any meaningful compensation. The focus is on low-paid employees and this new minimum payment is being linked to the national minimum wage to ensure the measure is focused on those most in need of stronger protection in this area. It is expected that the provision will also act as a deterrent against the unscrupulous practice of employers calling into work, for example, ten people where there is only work for five people and the first five who show up get the work.

The Bill also provides that employers must give employees five core terms of employment within five days of commencement of employment. Employers who have not provided this statement after one month will be open to prosecution, which is a new offence. It will also be an offence for an employer to deliberately misrepresent the information required in the statement of five core terms.

The Bill will provide strong anti-penalisation measures for employees who invoke their rights under the legislation. This is a key element of the Bill, particularly for workers in less secure employment who may be afraid to exercise their rights. The legislation will also introduce new rights for employees whose contract of employment does not reflect the reality of the hours they habitually work. This creates difficulties for employers in accessing credit, including mortgages.

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