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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 Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle] Furthermore, there is the ongoing issue of the need for proper enforcement of existing employment legislation. Time and again we have employers ignoring the instructions of the Workplace Relations Commission or trade unions representing staff. The same is true of instructions from the Department's own agency, the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA. I hope that sufficient resources are provided to ensure the proper enforcement of current and new legislation. We can have all the fancy legislation we want, and we are great at introducing legislation in this country. If one looked at our legislation, one would think this is a fantastic country but when one looks at what happens on the ground, none of it is being implemented and that is the problem we have. If we only implemented a fraction of the existing legislation this could be a decent place to work and live.

I welcome any clarification carried out on current legislation that may result in positive changes empowering both the employer to adhere to the law and accept responsibility for any legal implications and the employees to defend their rights and entitlements as workers. I believe it is in the interest of the Government to protect workers in atypical contracts, including seasonal workers, because strengthening their rights will bring about better working conditions and better wages, which in turn would reduce the cost to the State in terms of Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payments. I hope that employers do not forget that it is also better for businesses if workers are protected as businesses will gain greater access to workers if the employer can guarantee better working conditions rather than the treatment of workers that is currently evident.

Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this very important Bill. I note, as did the Minister in her opening remarks, the significant contribution made by others to the production and progress of the Bill to this Stage.

  The legislation before us is essential in terms of providing workers, especially those in low-paid and precarious employment positions, with additional protections. As such, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this matter in the House. In recent years, job creation has been to the fore of the agenda for many Members of this House. It is perhaps fair to say that it was probably the sole objective and in that regard, certain matters were not necessarily skipped over or left to the wayside but it was a priority and it was necessary to have presented the opportunity to study the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in particular, as well as precarious work employment and practices. That is why bringing this Bill forward has been so important to so many people, especially workers such as those who are employed in Dublin Airport where a significant number of individuals are on bandless contracts. I am pleased that once this Bill is enacted, it will have an effect on those individuals who are such a significant contributor to the State with more than 3.5% of GDP.

  Job creation has been essential in terms of getting our economy on the road to recovery and ensuring the State builds the resources necessary to provide communities across this country with the investment in social infrastructure they deserve. However, it is now essential that we act to provide workers with certainty and security in their employment. This Bill puts forward a number of worthwhile protections and advances in terms of employment rights, particularly for people in more vulnerable working positions. I refer to the fact that this Bill will prohibit the use of zero-hour contracts in the vast majority of instances. With the exception of cases of genuine casual labour, and where they are required to provide cover for emergency situations, zero-hours contracts will become a thing of the past as a result of this legislation. That will be an important milestone in improving employment conditions for so many people working on tenuous and unfair terms and conditions.

  Essentially, the intention in this regard is to remove the phrase "zero-hour practice" from the title of section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. That will effectively mean that, apart from the aforementioned exceptions, an employer will be prevented from engaging an employee on a contract which would fall within the meaning of section 18(1)(a) or 18(1)(c) of the 1997 Act. Getting rid of those unfair contracts in most circumstances will undoubtedly benefit individuals and families across the country, and will prevent companies from abusing their position of power. That will be built upon through the provisions of the Bill, which will mandate that employees receive a new minimum payment in cases where they are called in to work but sent home again without having worked. The fact that a minority of employers deem it acceptable to call people in to work to just send them home again without work is outrageous. Many such scenarios have been brought to my attention in recent years but especially in recent months whereby six or eight people are called into work but there is only enough work to sustain three or four people and the balance are sent home. That is incredibly unfair.

  To go back to the example I gave of Dublin Airport, some individuals might be called into work before the public transport system is up and running so they have to get a taxi to work and then get a bus or train home. It is very difficult for an individual on relatively low pay and banded-hours contracts to be able to afford to do that on an ongoing basis. Accordingly, the provisions set out in the Bill as I have read them are most welcome. Requiring a new minimum payment for those who are called into work but then sent home without being required to work will certainly be a positive step in stamping out that practice by the select few companies who engage in it. The focus of the provision is on protecting and supporting employees who are low paid. Linking that to the minimum wage is also important to prevent employers from finding a work-around. I am pleased that the Minister has included such a provision in this Bill.

  Stating that this floor payment or new minimum payment is linked to the national minimum wage means that workers who find themselves called into work, and who are then sent home without receiving any hours, will have to receive a payment of three times the minimum wage, or three times the minimum rate set down in an employment regulation order, ERO. Ensuring people who find themselves in such a situation receive that level of compensation is important, especially for those on very low pay grades. Making it a requirement that this compensation is paid is an acknowledgement of the disruption such a call into work can have to an individual's social and family life, as well as to one's finances, given the requirement on some to travel to work outside the hours when public transport is provided.

  Strengthening the rights of employees with regard to their basic terms of employment is also of paramount importance and I am pleased that the Bill also aims to do that. Should the Bill pass into law, it will be a requirement that employers provide their employees with five core terms of employment within five days of the employee starting work. These core terms are: the full names of both employer and employee; the address of the employer; the expected duration of the contract in instances where the contract is temporary or fixed-term; the rate or method of calculating pay and; what the employer reasonably expects the normal length of the employee's working day and week will be.

  It is a positive step that this legislation will make it an offence for employers if they fail to fulfil this obligation within one month of an individual commencing employment, and subsequently it will be possible for the employer to be prosecuted. Furthermore, the employer will also be open to sanction in cases where he or she deliberately misrepresents the information required in the statement of the five core terms of employment which each employee must receive. While it is all well and good to talk about how placing new requirements upon businesses can benefit employers, I am pleased that we are coupling this with sanctions through the creation of these offences. In fact, the inclusion of the offences shows that the Minister and the Government are committed to putting the well-being of employees at the centre of policy.

  As it stands, employers must provide employees with 15 terms of employment within two months of an individual commencing work. The new requirement for the five terms of employment to be provided within five days will not detract from this as employers will still be required to furnish the employee with the remaining terms within a two-month period.

  With regard to banded hours, I am pleased that the Government is taking action to address the reality in which many workers find themselves. Often, determining the hours an employee works by simple examination of their contract can be tantamount to examining working conditions through rose-tinted glasses. The reality is that the hours a person habitually works can be significantly different to, and in excess of, those listed in their contract.

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