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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] Will the Minister arrange a debate in the House on the report on bogus self-employment? Why is the Government looking this gift horse of €60 million in tax and social welfare receipts in the mouth? It deserves a debate. The Minister made a short comment when the report was released but it received almost no media attention.

From my ministerial experience in this area over five and a half years, there are two sectors of workers who face particular difficulties, namely, younger workers, particularly those under 25, and older workers, particularly those over 55. If they have had spells of unemployment, be they in an urban or in a rural area, they may find it extremely difficult to get a job. They are extremely vulnerable when it comes to precarious work. We need to take a sectoral approach to this and provide for a mechanism over and above the Low Pay Commission. I put forward this in the previous Government and Fine Gael agreed to it on a limited basis. I also appointed my colleague, Senator Ged Nash, as Minister of State in the then Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to work on the required legislation and on which he did a good job. As this field is evolving so rapidly, however, it is difficult to keep up with the development of the structures, which continuously outrun and outwit the formal structure.

One of the best protections against this would be for the Minister to work in partnership with both employers and with the representatives of employees, particularly the trade unions. Including in this legislation a framework for an ongoing social partnership would be the greatest guarantee for the Minister and the Government, ensuring they would be advised and informed of new mechanisms emerging. This was traditional but disappeared at the height of the crisis, partly because it got a bad name. When I was in government, I argued strongly for a social dialogue, which was essentially the beginning of a return to social partnership. If we really want to tackle this issue, we need more institutional development.

Our society has a difficulty with certain kinds of jobs where the skills of our people are now being intensely sought internationally. We sorted this issue out with primary school teachers when the Labour Party was in government. However, we have researchers and teachers in colleges and universities whose skills are highly sought internationally. Our society invested in their education and in the development of their PhDs and other postgraduate qualifications. However, they have no proper employment contract structure or security. The bands set out by the Minister are too wide. Far more bands are needed to ensure it is possible to address different situations where, for periods, the amount of work available might be relatively small. However, as the person builds up in a job, there may be a callous disregard for that individual's right to employment. Accordingly, they may never get a permanent contract.

What are the social implications of this? If a skilled university researcher, qualified secondary school teacher or third level librarian is not able to get an actual contract of employment, it may mean that when they want to get a mortgage, they have no status of employment. In turn, this will prevent them from buying a home for themselves or their family. That is tearing the social fabric of the society apart. The Minister needs to give thought as to how she will strengthen the power of employers, employer organisations and the trade unions to have a social partnership which will seek to address these issues. As I said, the idea of social partnership is deeply unfashionable with Fine Gael. However, without that kind of structure, it is impossible to keep up with what is happening in the employment field.

Young people, those over 55 and those who live in jobless households, if they cannot get part-time or full-time employment, are more likely to be at risk of poverty than other groups. The economist, Joseph Stiglitz, who has written extensively on poverty, acknowledges the European model of social welfare and supports in Ireland has prevented the kind of poverty levels one sees in societies, such as Greece, where the social welfare system is either limited or non-existent over large elements of the economy. Similarly in the United States, if one loses employment, one loses medical insurance and so forth. In turn, as there is no replacement, one can sink rapidly down to losing one's home and so on. Joseph Stiglitz commends the European model, which we have here. While we need to strengthen it, all the longitudinal surveys showed that, notwithstanding our economic crash, our social welfare system saved significant numbers of people from falling into poverty. Joseph Stiglitz acknowledged this in his writings and when he visited UCD.

Is the Minister open to amending the Bill to ensure strengthening of the social welfare and work protection framework in order that a job is treated in law as employment and the worker acquires rights? Is she prepared to address the bogus self-employment issue in which she is losing out on €50 million a year? The Labour Party will be happy to work with the Minister to achieve these two measures.

Notwithstanding all the work already done in providing younger people with opportunities around apprenticeships, little progress has been made by this Government. Apprenticeship numbers are staggeringly low.

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