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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 Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan] We all remember in the days gone by when one could get what was termed an "after a bank holiday" car. It was well-known in the motor manufacturing business. It was a clear indication that there was something wrong in the workplace and people were disenchanted in it. They either had not worked the hours they should have, they had been unsatisfactory, or they had done something they should not have done over the weekend and were not in a position to give it their full attention when they went back into the workplace. In those circumstances, we need to look at the wider impact of the introduction of this legislation which will deal directly with those kinds of situations. In that sense, the customer will be the beneficiary.

  We also need to ensure a good understanding of the position of the worker vis-à-vis the employer. They need to understand each other's position. The employer needs to know how, for example, the employee is situated financially. Can he or she be relied upon in all circumstances? Have they an adequate wage? Have they adequate provision in their own particular lives and in their household? Have they adequate provision in the quality of life they have? Are they under threat from week to week and day to day as to whether they are going to be able to make ends meet and as a result have extra stress and an unseen harassment? At the same time, the same applies to the owner of the business as well. He or she needs to be able to rely on the banks and his or her customers. How do they rely best on their customers? They rely best on their customers when they have a good working relationship and a good understanding of each other's position in the workplace. In turn, this leads to good labour relations and, obviously, a better and higher quality of service.

  We have a situation where people on zero-hour contracts and who found themselves having to return home after being called into work when there was no work available, will receive a floor payment. The payment is a good idea. However, it is important that, notwithstanding the floor payment at the end of the week or fortnight, the employee can rely on a certain level of payment in any event, other than being fired. If they cannot do that, then they cannot run their household. There are ongoing demands made in every household. If they cannot meet those demands as they arise, then their confidence will go and they will be working under stress and pressure.

  As I said earlier, all people in that employment bracket work on a tight margin. That tight margin can have an effect on their output, their demeanour, their relationship with the customer and, as a result, the standing of the firm for which they work. They need to be able to predict what they are likely to have at the end of the week or the end of the month. The demands which arise at the end of the month for electricity, the telephone and other household charges are predictable. They come on time all the time: most times they come too soon. The fact is when they do come, the employee - the householder - needs to be able to say in advance he or she can handle that. There is nothing as rewarding for a householder than being able to say he or she can plan for this month, he or she knows what will come up and the income that can be relied on to discharge liabilities at the end of the month. If the householder cannot do that, then he or she is at a disadvantage and will not be a good employee because the person has too many worries, stresses and competing demands. All of this tends to make life less reasonable and happy.

  The quality of life of the person who is employed is important. It is important the person is reasonably happy in his or her workplace. Several factors can affect that such as if their employment is not permanent or there is a danger their salary will fluctuate from week to week. There may be a case where a competitor may not be as kosher as they should be in how they deal with their employees. That competitor may be working at an advantage and, as a result, may put another employer out of business. We need to realise that this is not all one-way traffic. This is a combination of proposals to address issues which have become a problem or will become problematic.

  In general, when we look at what this country has come through over the past ten years, many people suffered a great deal. There were issues over which they had no control. Many people lost their jobs and had to emigrate. Thankfully, many of them have come back again. For many people, their working conditions changed dramatically. To be fair, many of their employers similarly had to undergo serious curtailments of their standard of living, quality of life and the degree to which they could have a reasonable degree of job satisfaction.

  Most people enjoy giving a good return for their wages. There is a certain amount of responsibility among the Irish workforce which has always indicated that one is obliged to give a reasonable account of oneself in the workplace because it is one's job. If one looks after it well, it will be there tomorrow, next week and, please God, next year. Similarly, it is incumbent on the employer to be able to say to his or her employee that he or she is employed on certain conditions, that there may be fluctuations from time to time over which the employer has little or no control but that both parties have confidence in each other. To show that confidence, we are now proposing to improve the legislation and, in turn, working conditions. As a result of that, both parties will be able to look each other in the eye, say they are doing their best, playing the game according to the rules and both will benefit.

  The number of families on low wages currently is not as bad as it was. It is still there, however. It is not so much that wages are low but costs, such as housing, are extremely high. Due to that, the unpredictability of what lies ahead for employees is an issue to which we have to pay due regard. It is being done in the course of this legislation but we have to pay particular regard for that now. As the competing demands of the costs of housing and rent continue to rise, it creates an ongoing serious concern for the people who live in those houses, first because they have to pay when they can afford to pay. Second, it is not entirely certain as to whether there will be a house there for them next week or next month, depending on what happens. Incidentally, related to this is the dependency on social welfare for the payment of rent. Due to the changes in the rules several years ago, social welfare now has to pay for the rent for the house in one shape or form.

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