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Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 965 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton] While I welcome the new apprenticeships in finance and insurance, the old model in the construction trade, which is returning to high levels of activity, whereby plasterers and so on used to take on one, two or three apprentices, is no longer available with small employers. Many young people would love to take up apprenticeships as sparks, plumbers or so on in construction or the motor trade, but that option is not available to them because the structure of those industries means that the small traditional employers who used to provide apprenticeships can no longer do so. Larger companies can, however. During my time, we got the ESB to restart recruiting electrical apprentices. Many large companies, including the one doing the work on Leinster House, are employing a large number of apprentices, which is great. If we keep building at this pace, however, and in light of all the new housing that we will build, we will not have enough people to do the skilled work. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government knows this. As such, the Government must think afresh about how to get young people who are interested in a range of trades into good apprenticeships and how to give them the opportunity to get qualifications and well-paid, regulated jobs with good terms and conditions, as provided for in the legislation.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection should set up a monitoring unit in her Department if one is not already there. Since my time, employment has moved into her Department. Just as is the case with other areas of activity that are examined, there should be a unit that monitors continuously whether there are negative developments in respect of workers' rights. When I entered the Department, one of the tragedies of the time was that so many building companies had collapsed and gone into liquidation. The then Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation was not able to cope with the level of demand for redundancy payments. The then Department of Social Protection took that function over, built platforms and ensured that people received their redundancy payments within a relatively short period. If a monitoring unit was established in conjunction with social partnerships, given that this is a social partnership model requirement, it would be possible to examine those areas where employment patterns do not allow people to earn a decent living wage, have proper terms and conditions and have access to the social welfare system in a way that would grant them entitlements in the event of experiencing periods of unemployment or other difficulties for which they would need social welfare support.

If-and-when contracts are not properly covered in this legislation, but they should be. The bands are too few and too wide. The House should be able to agree that this matter can be addressed immediately in the form of an amendment. The legislation will be no good if it does not help the person who is in an exploitative situation and needs proper terms and conditions. When replying, the Minister might be in a position to make those commitments for the benefit of workers throughout the country.

I see people cycling around Dublin on Deliveroo bikes and carrying large boxes. I was a student and I worked in all kinds of jobs down the years. We have all done that, but to think that grown men and women - men, in particular - might spend large parts of their lives as human carriers on the streets of our cities without having proper terms and conditions is sad.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I appreciate the views that have been expressed today and yesterday. They have been useful for me and my officials, and I am looking forward to what will obviously be a humdinger of a debate when we get to Committee Stage.

Everyone inside and outside the House will agree that every worker and, indeed, human being has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. We have a right to be respected by one another. Most importantly in a work situation, we have the right to be respected by our employers. That is why this and the previous Government - yesterday, I mentioned Senator Nash and the Ministers of State, Deputies Breen and Mitchell O'Connor, as well as the tremendous amount of work and consultation that the officials have undertaken in the past three years - worked to introduce this legislation. We want to ensure that we have copper-fastened in our law the dignity and respect that we should adhere to in society.

I will revisit a number of the points that were made during the debate. I value Deputy Burton's opinion, given that she spent five years in this Department, although it is now slightly different. She has an intense interest in this area, not least because of her political ideology. Like some other Deputies, however, she suggested that we were doing nothing to protect people on if-and-when contracts. That is not correct. The banded hours provision will apply to people on if-and-when contracts so that when they have worked an average number of hours over the 18-month reference period, they will be entitled to be placed on a band of hours that reflects the reality of the hours they have worked during that time.

The amendment of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act will require an employer to inform employees by the fifth day after commencing their employment with that company what the employer reasonably expects the normal length of their working day and working week to be. An established intention of what their work will be will be given to them. An employer will be required to state the expected duration of the contract and whether it is a temporary or fixed term.

Employees on if-and-when contracts will benefit from the new minimum compensation provisions where they are given notice of work but, after they show up, they do not get that work. They will also benefit from the anti-penalisation provisions, in that, if an employer penalises an employee for raising a query or issue or for exercising any of his or her rights under existing laws, he or she will be entitled to pursue the matter with the Workplace Relations Commission.

Deputy Penrose stated that a person on an if-and-when contract would have no recourse to employment rights bodies. With respect, that is not true. It is well established in the jurisprudence of the constitutional courts and the Labour Court that they will look behind the written terms of a contract to establish the true nature of an arrangement. The particular concern that Deputy Penrose raised was addressed in the Labour Court in a case, entitled Ticketline Trading as Ticketmaster and Sarah Mullen. The court accepted that, while the written contract of employment was that of an if-and-when type with no mutuality of obligation, it was operated on the basis that the employee was required to be available for work at all times and, therefore, was entitled to the protections of the Organisation of Work Time Act, in particular the compensations provided for under section 18.

Regarding the prohibition of zero-hour contracts, while we understand and agree with the University of Limerick, UL, that such contracts are thankfully not prevalent in Ireland, we want to ensure that it stays that way. Prohibiting such contracts except in some very limited and specific circumstances will help to achieve this goal. However, it is important for everyone to understand that we are not saying in this Bill that all casual or flexible working arrangements are wrong and should be stopped. It is worth recalling that the UL study acknowledged that the flexibility offered by genuine casual work can be mutually beneficial for employees and employers in some cases. In certain sectors, such arrangements can help employers to satisfy peak demands and fill staffing gaps on a short-term basis. It has often been mentioned in this debate that flexible arrangements only suit the employer.

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