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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 Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea] I am not naive. I know that legislation could not be devised tomorrow that would have the powers of a time machine to take people into the past where employment was more secure and people could work all their lives and finish up with a defined benefit pension. Everything has a context and the context now is different, but this new context has opened up an opportunity to exploit employees in a very unfair and unjust way. We have an obligation to legislate as well as we possibly can to prevent that from happening. The evidence of exploitation is all around us. I have seen it myself. I am sure every Member of this House has had people visit his or her clinic giving examples of it. The people who are being exploited are our neighbours, friends and our constituents and, in some case, members of our families. We have an obligation to them and a moral obligation to the workforce as a whole to ensure that changes in the economic climate cannot be allowed to create a situation whereby they can be used as cheap disposable labour.

Fianna Fáil will support the Bill on Second Stage, but we will be requiring it to be substantially amended on Committee Stage.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady I am sharing time with Deputy David Cullinane.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady On more than one occasion, the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has told us that zero-hour contracts are not prevalent in Ireland. What then does the Minister call a situation where part-time workers have no security of hours from one week to the next and where they are expected to work at the drop of a hat if-and-when their employer provides them with hours? This is the same premise as a zero-hour contract. There are people working part-time with regular hours, and that is fine, but there are also people working part time on an if-and-when basis. They may as well be on a zero-hour contract because they have no security of hours and, therefore, no security of income. They have no idea, week to week, if they will be in a position to pay their rent or any of their many bills. Precarious work, low hours and if-and-when contracts make life impossible for many workers in the State. They prevent people from being able to plan beyond one week or seeking financial assistance through a loan, let alone dream of applying for a mortgage. They prevent people being able to retain the working family payment, formerly the family income supplement, FIS.

The Minister has said the aim of the Bill is to strengthen rights for workers on insecure contracts and those working variable hours but it will not do that and for three reasons. The Bill does not ban zero-hour contracts in their entirety and, therefore, it does not ban them at all; it gives employers 18 months, plus two months, to make a decision as to whether to place an employee on weekly bands, which means an employee is left waiting almost two years for a basic contract to reflect actual hours worked over a consistent time period; and the bands are far too wide and unworkable. They are untested. Rather than looking to bands that work, such as those in place in Penneys and Tesco, the Minister has created her own and they are ludicrous, to say the least. On the first weekly band, which is one hour to ten hours, one hour is not a band. The very minimum should be three hours. Under the Bill people in a weekly band of 11 to 24 hours may only be given 11 hours of work in any given week. There is a huge difference between 11 hours per week and 24 hours per week. It represents a massive difference in income for a household. The same can be said for someone in the 25 to 34 hours bracket. Mandate has recommended a gap of five hours, at most, between hours per band. The weekly bands put forward in the Bill introduced by my colleague, Deputy David Cullinane, start at 11.5 hours as opposed to the one hour proposed in this Bill.

Mandate, which represents many of the workers the Minister says she wants to protect, has said the Bill will not protect workers from exploitative contracts and abuse of power. This is not simply a case of employers reducing hours for some workers week to week, some employers are blatantly abusing their power in that regard. We have heard the real life experiences and the consequences of this for workers. I am sure the Minister, too, has heard many real life stories from workers in precarious employment across the State. One Dunnes Stores worker who bravely told of her own experience recalled seeing staff who were sick refusing to go home because they feared would be penalised the following week with reduced hours. She went on to say the insecurity of hours leads to burnout and stress as well as mental torture for people who know they are the main breadwinner in their family, many of whom are being given only 24 hours work in a particular week. Another worker on an if-and-when contract told how when a full-time employee left the store she worked in, the employer hired another part-time worker, also with no guaranteed hours, instead of giving her extra hours. These workers have been abandoned by the Government.

During a committee meeting last year on the heads of the Bill, I raised concerns as to the possible unconstitutionality of a particular section of the Bill. This section sought to make it an offence for an employer to ignore the Labour Court's ruling when, of course, the Labour Court does not have the power in making a ruling on a point of law. I welcome that the Minister has listened to the concerns I raised, despite dismissing them at the time. The Bill now ensures that any complaints made by employees will be examined by an adjudication officer in the Workplace Relations Commission. The Minister now needs to listen to Sinn Féin and others in regard to the three issues I specifically mentioned. It is beyond comprehension that the Government would commit in the programme for Government to tackling the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work that prevents workers from being able to save or have any job security and then, in response, introduce a Bill that fails to prohibit zero-hour contracts and introduces an 18-month look back period and weekly bands which are far too wide. Based on these three issues, the Bill fails to comprehend the very issues that the Minister has already recognised and acknowledged.

Sinn Féin will not oppose the Bill on this Stage as we accept the over-arching principle of it. It is unfortunate that the Government is refusing to allow Sinn Féin’s Banded Hours Contract Bill to progress through the legislative process in order that it can progress this Bill. Sinn Féin will submit numerous amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage, and we will consider amendments from other Deputies, to ensure it will do what it needs to do. There are workers relying on us to do the right thing and ensure legislation is put in place to deal with all the complex issues in this area.

I look forward to engaging further on the Bill on Committee Stage. I have listened to many organisations which have different opinions from the Minister who mentioned that the drafting of the Bill had been a three-year process.


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