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 Header Item Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)
 Header Item Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018: Referral to Select Committee [Private Members]
 Header Item Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 965 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] They say they think it is important that the House is reassured that the Central Bank has significant powers to sanction regulated financial service providers and their senior managers for the provision of false and misleading information. That is not true. In the Governor's letter of two and a half years ago, he says this offence can only take place where the information is given in response specifically to a legally binding request. He goes on to say most of the interaction between the Central Bank and regulated entities and their staff was of a different nature and that for all other incidents of interaction, both formal and informal, there are at present no consequences for the individuals or entities where they provide false or misleading information. He says this lacuna should be corrected; why, therefore, does the Minister of State give false information on the floor of the Dáil? He is trying to pretend this is not a serious issue but they are lying to us. They have lied over and over again and the Governor says this in his letter, but the Minister of State says that, while he supports this legislation in principle, he does not want it to go any further.

The Government thinks our legislation goes too far and may impinge on the rights of the bankers who are lying through their teeth. The Government may avoid a vote but this will go to committee and it needs to go further as we need to get real. We need real action on behalf of all the victims. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider his position and not to put out wrong information to suggest the situation is not as serious as it is. There is a major lacuna in the law, but we found out about it not because the Government was upfront and told us, or because the Central Bank told us but because, after two different freedom of information requests, we found the secret correspondence between the former Minister and the former Governor. That correspondence pointed out that bankers were lying to them, but they could do nothing about it.

  Question put and agreed to.

Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2018: Referral to Select Committee [Private Members]

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty I move:

That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Orders 84A(3)(a) and 141.

  Question put and agreed to.

Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to provide for a requirement that employers provide employees with certain terms of employment within a certain period after commencing employment; to impose sanctions for certain offences; to further provide for a minimum payment due to employees in certain circumstances; to prohibit contracts specifying zero as the contract hours in certain circumstances and to provide for the introduction of banded contract hours; to further provide for prohibition of penalisation and for those purposes to amend the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997; to amend the Workplace Relations Act 2015; and to provide for related matters.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill to the House. It is being brought forward in response to the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to address the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. The key objective of the Bill is to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours. I know many Members of this House share my interest in workers’ rights and will have strong views on the Bill. I look forward to hearing those views and debating the issues of concern to colleagues.

It is fair to say good progress has been made in recent years in our economic recovery in terms of creating new job opportunities, the majority of which are full-time positions. However, we must remember those who, not by choice, are in less secure arrangements and may not know from week to week what hours they will be working. This makes it very difficult for people to plan their lives outside of work. The Bill we are debating will significantly improve the employment protections for these people.

Ireland has a robust suite of employment rights which provide broad protections to all employees. We have modern dispute resolution structures in the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, which is easy to access for the employee and employers. We have the second highest national minimum wage in the European Union, and the Bill is intended to build on that strong foundation.

I took over responsibility for the Bill in September last when certain employment affairs functions transferred from the former Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to what is now the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the work of those who came before me in this Bill’s journey. In that respect, I acknowledge the work of the Ministers, Deputies Pat Breen and Mary Mitchell O’Connor, and also Senator Gerald Nash who, as Minister of State with responsibility for business and employment in the previous Government commissioned the University of Limerick to conduct a study of the prevalence of zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts in the economy.

The Bill is some three years in the making. I think it is important for Deputies to understand the work that has gone into the Bill including, in particular, the extensive consultations that have helped to shape and focus it. This work includes the University of Limerick study and the public consultation that followed it. It also includes detailed discussions with the ICTU and IBEC over a period of many months. I thank the stakeholders who contributed to the development of this Bill at different stages of the process. These consultations have helped us to ensure the proposals contained in the Bill are balanced and fair to both employees and employers.

We must remember that this Bill will apply to all employers across all sectors of the economy. It is important, therefore, that we strike a fair balance between the respective rights and obligations of employees and employers. Our approach in the Bill is to try to ensure that where we are introducing new rights for employees or strengthening existing provisions in the law, the measures are proportionate and balanced by reasonable defences for employers, recognising the challenges faced by employers in running their business or providing their service. The vast majority of employers are good employers who treat their employees well and who meet their responsibilities under employment law. These employers have nothing to fear in the Bill. On the contrary, the Bill is aimed at tackling exploitative employment arrangements and those unscrupulous employers who do not respect even the most basic rights of employees.

The Bill addresses the following five key issues which have been identified as being areas where current employment law should be strengthened to the benefit of employees without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers. One is ensuring that employees are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements, in particular their core terms, at an early stage of their employment. A new offence is being created where employers fail to comply with the new information requirements. A second issue is strengthening the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid, vulnerable employees who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with that work. A third issue is prohibiting zero-hour contracts except in limited, specific circumstances. A fourth issue is ensuring that employees on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than provided for in their contracts are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that better reflects the reality of the hours they have worked on a consistent basis over an extended period. A fifth issue is strengthening the anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke or try to invoke a right under these proposals. The Bill seeks to achieve its aims through appropriate amendments to the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

I want to make a couple of important points about the Bill in response to some of the comments and media coverage that have emerged since the Bill was published. The first point is to clarify that the definition of employee will not change as a result of the Bill. The Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, the two Acts the Bill proposes to amend, share the same definition of employees, that is, all workers on contracts of service. Therefore, the Bill is intended to exclude genuinely self-employed people. Currently, if an individual believes he or she is being denied employment rights appropriate to an employee, he or she may pursue a case to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. This will continue to be the case if the Bill is enacted.

The second point concerns the use of if-and-when contracts. The suggestion is that the Bill does nothing for people from being exploited by employers abusing if-and-when contracts. That is not the case. On the contrary, each of the key measures I have outlined above, both individually and in the round, will also help protect people from being exploited by if-and-when arrangements.

I now propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill. The Bill consists of four Parts and 17 sections. For the convenience of Deputies, an explanatory memorandum has been published and it provides a summary of the provisions. Part 1 contains the Short Title, commencement provisions, interpretation and repeals. Part 2 amends the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and introduces a requirement that an employer must provide employees with a written statement containing five core terms of employment within five days of the commencement of employment. This Part of the Bill also provides for offences and anti-penalisation measures.

Section 5 removes the exclusion of employees who normally work less than eight hours per week so that such employees will be entitled to receive the written statements of their terms of employment that will be required under the amended 1994 Act. This is to protect employees on contracts of employment with low hours.

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