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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 Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan] This is an issue that comes within the remit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Finance and it needs to be resolved in favour of the community employment supervisors, many of whom have been left high and dry with no pension.

It was mentioned that school secretaries and ancillary school staff, by and large, work what is termed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection as the school year term, or 38 weeks a year. There are many people in that sector. There are also many people privately employed in a range of areas who have very little entitlements outside of those to which they are entitled under PRSI. I am sure the Minister is familiar with this issue. We need to strengthen the law to ensure that these people are protected going forward.

Living exclusively on a State pension is manageable for a couple living in one house but this becomes a challenge when a person is widowed. When the partner of an elderly person dies he or she has to meet the cost of burial and so on and this is causing huge poverty. However, that is outside the scope of this Bill.

I would like to raise another issue which is also slightly outside the scope of this Bill, namely, the entitlement of self-employed people to invalidity pension. I acknowledge that entitlements for self-employed persons was addressed in the social welfare Bill, and I welcome that because that provision was badly needed. It means that self-employed people whose businesses cease operating are now entitled to any State benefit.

However, there is an issue with regard to invalidity pension. Where a husband and wife are working a farm and the husband has an accident, becomes ill or has a serious diagnosis, under the terms of this Bill for the husband to be eligible for invalidity pension the business has to cease trading. This is causing huge difficulties. The term "cease trading" needs to be reviewed. This is a get-out clause that is being used by the Department. It was also used in regard to payment protection plans that were sold by the banks ten or 15 years ago. Where a person was self-employed and his or her business ceased operating and that person opened a new business such as a restaurant, he or she could not get payment protection in respect of a van that was used for the first business. A self-employed person who owns a small shop in the countryside or elsewhere who becomes ill and has to undergo surgery and further treatment over 12 or 15 weeks also does not qualify for invalidity pension. Self-employed people who get a serious diagnosis will do their best to fight it in the hope that they will be able to return to their business at some stage but if they are a sole operator they might have to cease trading to qualify for the invalidity pension. This measure needs to be revisited. This "cease trading" clause, which is contained in the social welfare legislation, is taking the good out of what was intended.

Deputy John Lahart: Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart I thank Deputy Moynihan for sharing time with me. While I was in the Chair a number of the points I had intended to make were repeated many times on this side of the House and so I was deliberating on whether I ought to repeat them again. For the purpose of reinforcing the argument coming from this side of the House, I will repeat some of them.

My colleague, Deputy Moynihan, mentioned the CE scheme. I had a case in respect of which my engagement with the Minister's predecessor was going forwards and backwards for so long I raised it with the Ombudsman, who I think is investigating the matter. I am struck by how far we have moved away, almost unconsciously, from common decency when it comes to employment. That is a reflection not on the Minister but society. Public servants take their terms of pay and conditions for granted. I choose public servants only because they enjoy permanent employment.

When it comes to people in the private sector who enjoy permanent employment we do not question the things that they expect as a matter of right. I was self-employed and I know that the Minister was too. People in so-called good jobs came to expect these rights which were fought for over generations by trade unionists and organisations that worked on behalf of labour, including pensions, sick leave, maternity leave, compassionate leave, leave of absence and holiday pay. These are things which as a young man, and now as an older man, I took for granted. In this Bill, there has been a slide away from those expectations, which again is not a reflection on the Minister personally or politically. Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts has written about this. Obviously, it would be more pronounced in the United States. In one of her books she references the erosion of the middle class, which is a little more subtle here.

One of the Impact representatives I met spoke of a time that resonated with me. On one income he raised a family. He lived in a modest three or four bedroom, semi-detached house in Dublin in my constituency. The family went on holidays and one or two of the children went to college. He did all of that on one salary. He was what we would call a white collar worker, or somewhere between a white collar and a blue collar worker. Elizabeth Warren makes the point in one of her books that since the 1960s and the 1970s the cost of living has risen substantially for people. Working couples nowadays are bringing in two incomes but they have twice the expenses. They have a mortgage and child care costs, which is equivalent to another mortgage. I make this point because the Minister is tasked with the responsibility for maintaining these standards and maintaining the protections that generations of people, including trade unions, fought for. There are a lot of union representatives in my family on the teaching side. Trade unions fought for what people up to this generation have come to appreciate and understand are basic rights that will continue into the future.

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