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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 Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív] There are more and more conglomerates as opposed to family firms in the hospitality sector and ownership is becoming more concentrated as opposed to diverse. This is also having an effect on the day to day lives of people. As I stated, we appear to be being pressed into a position in which a small number of people will own large numbers of houses and an increasing number of people will become tenants. We must examine the shape of our society. The Bill is an effort to redress the balance in favour of those at the bottom of the pile. Let us be honest, it is not aimed at people with high salaries but at those who are paid the minimum wage or slightly more, many of whom are in low income families and struggling to live from week to week.

  In my experience, one of the things that differentiates those who have good incomes from those on small incomes is the ability of the former to ride out a small crisis and take the hit if something goes wrong. This could be a car accident resulting in damage to their property or home or another unexpected expense. Those living on smaller incomes do not have a financial cushion or the borrowing power to create a cushion when one is needed. Uncertainty can, therefore, cause significant problems for such persons.

  The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, represents a rural constituency and will be familiar with the grief caused every year when an agricultural payment fails to materialise. When someone contacts the Department seeking a payment that was expected in October and on foot of which he or she has promised the bank manager to repay a loan, the Department will often state it has carried out an inspection and the applicant will have to hang on for a few months before the payment is made. The equivalent of that scenario for employees is not knowing from week to week how much income will come into the house, not because of their availability for work or otherwise but because of the availability of work for them. I am glad, therefore, that the Government has moved on this issue by introducing this Bill. As we say in Irish, is fearr go deireanach ná go brách or it is better late than never.

  It would be churlish of me not to recognise that big wheels move slowly. While the development of legislation appears simple in that one can often achieve 90% of the task reasonably quickly, the final 10% can be tedious as is it must be discussed with the various interests - na páirtithe leasmhara - that one is trying to balance. The trade unions and IBEC have been consulted on the Bill. I was surprised to receive a document from Chambers Ireland in which it takes a highly critical position on the proposed measures. I would have expected Chambers Ireland to acknowledge that the Bill protects good employers and seeks to impose a burden only on those employers who do not act to the highest standards. Having read the various provisions, I do not regard the information that must be provided to an employee in the first five days of employment as excessively onerous. As a manager of a co-operative, I was the employer on a day-to-day basis because I had to fulfil the various obligations imposed on the co-operative. While I am always conscious of the need to keep paperwork to a minimum, the type of information being sought is not onerous. On the contrary, it is fundamental that employers provide this information in the stipulated period, with the rest of the contract to follow thereafter. This means employers will give some information regarding how a person will be paid, for how long he or she will be employed and the number of hours he or she can reasonably expect to work. One would expect that even without such a requirement, a good and fair employer would provide this information to employees in any case. The provision is simple and basic and I cannot understand the reason anyone would object to it. It is also appropriate to remove the exclusion that currently applies to employees who work fewer than eight hours per week. The provision of this information does not impose a significant burden on the employer.

  On zero-hour contracts, it is appropriate to address the issue of employees being on call for a certain period during which they do not know when they will be called. The method by which this has been done is proportionate and reasonable. If there are flaws in these provisions, they can be teased out on Committee Stage but none is immediately apparent to me.

  The proposal regarding cases where an employee is called into work to find there is no work available is also appropriate. Nowadays, some people travel considerable distances to work and employees in the catering industry who work evenings in hotels and so forth often have to arrange babysitters. It is reasonable, therefore, to require that a payment be made to those who are called into work only to find none is available. This payment should cover the time travelling to and from work and the inconvenience caused.

  It is always a matter of concern that people fear being penalised for exercising rights granted to them by this House. This is a common enough fear and I am glad it is being addressed in the Bill. Many people are afraid that an employer will take it out on them if they act to protect their interests. Every agreement and all human relations, for example, between landlords and tenants and workers and employers, can work in one way or another. An employer can wind up with the employee from hell and vice versa. In most cases, particularly where larger companies are involved, the employer is in the driving seat and position of power and this must be recognised in legislation.

  The most important thing about legislation is that it protects vulnerable people and ensures they cannot be exploited by unscrupulous and powerful people. We should recognise that the vast majority of people do not need this legislation because relations in most workplaces are such that the employer would act in good faith even if there were no contract and create a good personal relationship with his or her employees. This is the day-to-day experience of most employees. As with almost everything else in life, one often introduces laws to deal with a minority who are exploiting others and, in doing so, one imposes a slight additional burden on those who would always comply with the law and treated their employees fairly.

  When I was an employer I used to have a little slogan which contained an element of truth. I used to say that for good employees, no rules are needed because they would do the job in any case and do it well and willingly, with cop-on and effectiveness, whereas for bad employees, no rules were good because they would find a way to circumvent them. In this case, the same applies to the good employer or anything that is good in life. I accept that legislation of this nature is probably utterly unnecessary for good employers and will impose a burden on them.

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