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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 Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell] While an employee can habitually work many hours in excess of those listed in the contract, and be paid for that work, he cannot access credit or gain access to a mortgage due to the fact the contract does not reflect the reality of the employment or the work done. Under the banded hours provisions, employees will be able to be placed in bands of hours that are more reflective of the hours they actually work on the basis of time worked over an 18-month reference period.

Why is the reference period 18 months? It seems 18 months is a significantly long period, sufficient to provide a genuine overview of the conditions of a person's employment, taking into account the normal ebbs and flows of business activities. Therefore, it provides a strong reflection of the reality of working hours within a company.

Let us suppose we were merely to look at the hours a person worked during a quiet period. That would not allow for the longer hours the person may work during the festive periods to be taken into account. Likewise, let us suppose we were merely to look at a given timeframe. Should it be examined during the festive period, when the employee is working longer hours, it would not take notice of the fact the business may be significantly quieter at other times of the year when working hours are shorter. In this regard, it is important to ensure employers receive the protection they require and deserve while also being cognisant that measures will not put jobs at risk in instances where the provisions may be deemed unfair to employers, particularly in the cases of smaller businesses.

I note that the proposals in this area include a mechanism for a review of the arrangement after a period of 18 months. This applies where the employee has been sought and placed in a band of hours through utilising the rights as provided for under this legislation. I am pleased the Workplace Relations Commission will be able to place an employee in an appropriate band of hours when that employee has sought redress through the Workplace Relations Commission. Of course this is a last resort, but the measure should be included and I am pleased to see it written into the Bill.

The measures outlined with regard to an employee's request include the rationale by which an employer can refuse an employee's request. The rationale is reflective of instances where an employer is genuinely adversely impacted. The defences for employers include cases where the employee's claim is not supported by the facts; cases where significant adverse changes have impacted the business and may have a detrimental effect on future operations, for instance, where an important contract is lost or where emergency situations have occurred and adversely impacted the business, like flooding - unfortunately we have seen a good deal of flooding in recent years; and where the employment situation was genuinely temporary, for instance, where it was maternity cover for another employee or a specific term or contract hours for the festive season or the summer season etc.

The changes in this regard will be significant to many employees, particularly since employees will finally be able to use effective working hours to access credit or the mortgage they have been saving for. That is an important point to dwell upon. Given the escalation of house prices and rental prices in recent years, especially in the past two years, individuals may find themselves on lucrative but uncertain contracts. Where the contracts are not reflective of the income that they receive, it can be problematic in saving deposits and getting credit from financial institutions. That is so important. Even motor or home improvement loans are difficult to come by when a person does not have a contract that stands up to the credit analysis of the various financial institutions. It is worth mentioning that point in the context of the current housing market. The changes in this regard will be significant in providing individuals who have been saving for months or years with the ability to access the credit they so richly deserve. Moreover, it will provide them with greater security in employment and more freedom in planning their home and social lives.

Providing this safety in respect of employment will, I hope, allow many people to leave the stress of their working environment in work and no longer bring it home. Of course, such stress can have a severe effect on family life, especially given the stresses and strains of bringing up children. Concern over employment status or the work schedule and how a person might organise child care early in the morning or late in the evening, depending on the industry, is relevant as well. Having an enjoyable and relaxing home and social life is vital for physical and mental health, something the Oireachtas has spent some time focusing on in recent months and years on an all-party basis. Anything we can do to support employees in that regard is most certainly positive.

I commend the fact that anti-penalisation provisions are included in the legislation. When we pass legislation to benefit any member of society, we must never be afraid for any reason if they access their rights. On that basis, I am glad that where employees invoke their rights under the provision of the Bill, once it is passed into law, they will be protected from any recourse on the part of the employer. This is of particular importance to any individual who may be in less-secure employment. Should an instance arise where an employer threatens to reduce an employee's working hours due to the fact that the employee sought to exercise his rights under this legislation, the employee can pursue penalisation through the Workplace Relations Commission against the employer. The inclusion of this protection will undoubtedly provide peace of mind to more vulnerable workers and ensure they have access to their rights and can exercise them without fear of potential consequences.

I note that in developing the Bill the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, and her Department have engaged in extensive consultation with bodies such as ICTU and IBEC. They have worked to ensure the Bill is balanced and fair to employees and employers. I see nothing in this proposed legislation that could be deemed to be anything but positive. I thank the Minister and her Department. I thank the former Minister with responsibility for this area, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, and the former Minister of State, Senator Ged Nash, for the significant contribution they have made. I thank the relevant people in the University of Limerick who carried out the back-work to put this Bill forward.

I look forward to participating in the various Stages of the Bill as it comes through the floor of the House and through Committee Stage. Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to address the House on this matter.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Cuireann sé áthas orm an deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I am pleased to speak on this subject. In the first place it is fair to say that, especially in small businesses, there is normally a good and flexible working relationship between the employer and the employee. Most things are worked by trust and agreement. It is not always the case but that has been my experience in most small businesses that I know of. It is fair to say that bigger organisations, perhaps because of distance or because they do not have to deal with people on the same one-to-one basis, are in a far stronger position to bring in practices that suit their business but perhaps do not suit employees.

One of the concerns I have about society in general is that the gap between low and high wages and top salaries is ever-widening. It would appear that wages are not generally half as adequate in providing people with the wherewithal to buy or own a house. This was not the case in the past. Therefore, I believe there are issues far beyond this Bill that we need to look at in terms of employment.

I read a comment on the whole question of ownership. Most of us get to own a thing because we get a wage or salary. It was said that the objective of Government should be to ensure that private ownership is protected. However, a rider was put on that aim to the effect that ownership should be as diverse as possible. In other words, the idea was that the great share of ownership would not be controlled by a small number of people. We are facing a world in which more and more of our businesses are big multinational businesses. I am not referring to the manufacturing sector, which actually tends to produce good employers. I am referring to the retail sector, for example, and even the hospitality sector.

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