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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 Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick] Under the Bill, such employees will be entitled to be placed in a band of hours that better reflects the hours they have worked over the 18 month reference period. The banded hours provisions will significantly improve the predictability and security of working hours for employees so that they can better plan and get on with their lives outside of work.

  The Bill is the result of extensive consultation, including a public consultation following the University of Limerick study on zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts. The University of Limerick study was published in 2015 and was commissioned in 2014 by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The key objective of the study established by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation included the following:

To fill the gap that currently exists in terms of the hard data and information that is available concerning the prevalence of zero hours contracts in the Irish economy and the manner of their use.

To assess the impact of zero hours contracts on employees.

To enable the Minister to make any evidence-based policy recommendations to Government considered necessary on foot of the study.

The research found that zero-hour contracts within the meaning of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 are not extensive in Ireland. There is evidence, however, of if-and-when contracts. The fundamental difference between the two is that individuals with zero-hour contracts are contractually required to make themselves available for work with an employer while individuals with an if-and-when contract are not contractually required to make themselves available for work with an employer. It is also reported in the study that employer organisations argued that if-and-when contracts and low hours suit employees. It is claimed that such arrangements especially suit students, older workers and women with caring responsibilities. Some employer organisations argued that they have difficulty finding employees who want to work more hours. A number of employer organisations also argue that providing any work to people reduces the cost to the State of paying unemployment benefits.

  The University of Limerick recommended amending the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 to 2012 to require employers to provide a written statement on the terms and conditions of the employment or by the first day of the employee commencing employment. The requirement should also apply to people working non-guaranteed hours on the data of first hire. It also recommended amending the Act to require employers to provide a statement of working hours which are a true reflection of the hours required of an employee. This requirement should also apply to people with non-guaranteed hours. It also recommended repealing section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and introducing either new legislation or a new section into the Act to include the following provisions:

(i) For employees with no guaranteed hours of work, the mean number of hours worked in the previous 6 months (from the date of first hire or from the date of enacting legislation) will be taken to be the minimum number of hours stipulated in the contract of employment.

(ii) For employees with a combination of minimum guaranteed hours and If and When hours, the mean number of hours worked in the previous 6 months (from the date of first hire or from the date of enacting legislation) will be taken to be the minimum number of hours stipulated in the contract of employment.

(iii) A mechanism will be put in place whereby, after the minimum number of hours is established, employers and employees can periodically review the pattern of working hours so that the contract accurately reflects the reality of working hours.

(iv) Where after 6 months an employee is provided with guaranteed minimum hours of work as per subsection (i) and (ii), but is contractually required to be available for additional hours, the employee should be compensated where they are not required by an employer in a week. The employee should be compensated for 25% of the additional hours for which they have to be available or for 15 hours, whichever is less.

These are only some of the recommendations from the University of Limerick study. We must improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees who work under insecure contracts and also those who work variable hours. I agree with the Minister that it is difficult for people to plan their lives outside of work and this Bill will significantly improve employment protection for these people. I wish the Minister the best going forward with the Bill. I think she has done a fantastic job with it. She will be getting my full support.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. There are many fine points in it and we want it to go to Committee Stage when we will examine potential amendments. I want to deal with a number of issues, in three sectors. Many people's contributions addressed agency work, zero-hour contracts and people who are working from day to day or hour to hour. Many of those are in the care sector, including nurses, care assistants in hospitals, nursing homes or in care facilities for people who have intellectual disabilities. I know many of them. When one is talking to them on a daily basis and asks them how things are going, they might say they have a shift on that night, tomorrow and on Saturday night but are not sure about the rest of the week. That shows up the difficulties with zero-hour contracts. The Minister and Department have looked at it and how best to eliminate agency workers. There is no doubt that the issue of agency workers on the care side arose over the last eight or ten years during the economic recession. They experience huge difficulty. It is very difficult for those people who are on zero-hour contracts to, as many speakers have said, plan their lives, get mortgages and to get integrated into society. The other difficulty is where people have had difficulties with mortgage arrears. I know several families who are working on a day-to-day basis.

It is very difficult to go to the banks and will be more difficult as new information has come from the banks and vulture funds over the last 48 hours about the loan books which are being sold off. The Minister needs to look at that carefully because a train crash is coming down the tracks where that issue, the vulture funds and house repossessions are concerned. Parking that to one side, the difficulty I have relates to the people on zero-hour contracts trying to engage with the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, with their creditors or who are trying to find a solution. This Bill goes some way towards helping them. It is not how we need society to develop. There was huge apprehension and opposition from some parts with regard to this Bill but it fundamentally gives people from all age groups a platform so that they can plan their lives. I spoke to senior officials in the HSE today about home care packages and home helps, the difficulty it is experiencing in providing services and the financial challenges that exist with the HSE not providing funding for them.

The other issue I want to address relating to minimum hour contracts is pension rights and what is accessible by way of pension rights and details. Many employees paid from the public purse, either through the Minister's Department or through section 39 organisations, do not have the benefits of being a State employee. There is an ongoing issue relating to community employment, CE, supervisors. Those people who are working have been paid for by the State over the years. The CE schemes were put in place in the early 1990s. Community groups formed community organisations which were allowed to employ these people and which employed supervisors. The State made no provision about how to ensure that pensions are in place.

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