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 Header Item Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2020: Message from Select Committee

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1002 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English] The Health and Safety Authority has been the lead State agency in co-ordinating the inspectorate response to compliance with the protocol and in offering advice, guidance and support to both employers and employees to assist them in keeping workplaces open and functioning in a safe manner, because of course we want to keep everybody safe as much as we can.

The Health and Safety Authority is aware of the deaths of eight healthcare workers. I understand that the authority is currently assessing the circumstances of those deaths, which is its function and job. Regarding the next steps, the regulatory impact assessment is under way and that will inform our decisions in conjunction with the efforts of this House in the time ahead.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thank the Minister of State for being here. Deputy O'Reilly must be pleased with the outbreak of agreement on this matter.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly Yes, of course. I do not want to start a row with the Minister of State, but with the greatest of respect, when he says that the issue is being looked at, while I am sure this is not how he intends it, it sounds a little like it is being kept in file in a filing cabinet. I am happy that we are having the debate and that the Minister of State has had the opportunity to outline what the Government intends to do. I am pleased that this Bill is not being opposed and I look forward to debating it on Committee Stage and strengthening it if it needs to be strengthened. I thank my colleagues and all Deputies who spoke in support of the Bill. I also want to say a brief word of thanks to the staff in the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, because they have been helpful to us in drafting this legislation.

The debate is necessary and welcome. This issue is now more than six months old. It is more than six months since the Irish Congress of Trade Unions wrote to the then Minister, Deputy Humphreys. The Minister of State is correct when he says that it does not take just a stroke of a pen and I was not trying to trivialise it, but the power to do this rests with the Minister and much time could have been used to assess the impact. Notwithstanding that, I look forward to the debate that we will have on Committee Stage. We have had many discussions about remote working, which is important.

While I have the floor, I ask the Minister of State to ask the Tánaiste and others in government, when they say to workers to stay at home where possible, to also say the same to employers. I have been contacted by many workers. When I say they have been forced into work, nobody is marching around to their house and dragging them in, but they are given the definite impression that that is where their employer wants them to be, and that their employer does not want them to work from home in workplaces where they can. All of us who can work from home should be working from home to the greatest extent possible and all employers who can facilitate that should facilitate it to the greatest extent possible. That is one group of workers.

Another group of workers simply cannot work from home. A bus driver or a cleaner cannot work from home. Large portions of our economy, not just nurses and doctors, but porters, cleaners and people in catering across the healthcare sector and sectors such as meat factories, cannot do their work from home and have to go into work. We are grateful that they go into work because they keep us going. The supply chain workers keep us fed and cleaners keep places clean. We know that there are workers who are essential.

As someone who has a keen and long-standing interest in workers' rights, an interesting thing about this pandemic is that it has caused us to re-evaluate what is and what is not a front-line or essential job. It is not just the people who we would previously have assumed were front-line workers, including gardaí, nurses and doctors, but also people who work in our shops and in food processing, because they are necessary and we could not get through without them. Now that the light is shining on those workplaces and we are re-evaluating those workers and saying that we will broaden our definition of what constitutes essential workers, it is the time to ensure that if those workers catch Covid-19 in their workplace, it is treated as a notifiable disease and a workplace injury.

There are diseases which are already notifiable. It is not the case that it is not necessary or that we would be doing something radical or strange, because we would not be. This is done in other jurisdictions and it is done here for other types of diseases. I take the point made by Deputy Lawless about broadening this. That may or may not be a good idea and is a discussion for another day, but right now we are in the middle of a pandemic and Covid-19 is on our agenda. It is Covid-19 that the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, would have received the correspondence from ICTU about, which is why we focused on Covid-19 specifically. I know the Minister of State mentioned issues regarding GDPR, privacy and proving whether a disease was acquired in the workplace. We know that from the people working in the meat factories when there were outbreaks and clusters there. Nobody was suggesting that they had picked it up in the supermarkets. It is likely that they got it in their workplace. The Health and Safety Authority comes into play when the matter is notified to it.

I respect that it is of course a public health issue, but it is also a workplace issue for doctors, nurses and people in meat factories. It is not just a public health issue, although that is important, but it is also a workers' rights and workplace issue, so it needs to be dealt with as both of those things because people have the right to be safe in work. I have seen nurses put on the personal protective equipment, PPE, the double gloves and FFP2 masks and go into Covid wards, which are dangerous situations. It is a matter of public health but it is also a matter of workplace safety.

With peace having broken out at the end of this week, I conclude by thanking the Minister of State for not opposing this legislation. I look forward to having engagement on Committee Stage at the earliest possible occasion, and I will write to the committee's Chair on foot of this to see if we can table it as soon as possible. I look forward to working with people from across the House to ensure that we pass this legislation and that workers can derive a benefit from it.

  Question put and agreed to.

Estimates for Public Services 2020: Message from Select Committee

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Select Committee on Agriculture and the Marine has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the year ending 31 December 2020: Vote 30.

  The Dáil adjourned at 7.47 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 8 December 2020.

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