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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 Joe Carey: Information on Joe Carey Zoom on Joe Carey] This will provide greater certainty and a truer reflection of their hours of work and level of earnings, thereby addressing, in particular, difficulties employees may have accessing financial credit, including mortgages.

The reference period of 18 months is considered sufficiently long to allow for the normal peaks and troughs of businesses, including those subject to seasonal changes. The proposals also provide a mechanism for a review of the arrangement after a period of 18 months, that is, after the employee has sought and been placed in a band of hours in exercise of his or her right under this proposal. An employee will be able to seek redress through the Workplace Relations Commission but redress will be limited to being placed in an appropriate band of hours. The proposal includes reasonable defences for employers to refuse an employee’s request where the facts do not support the employee’s claim; significant adverse changes have impacted on the business; in emergency circumstances such as the business having to close due to flooding; and where the hours worked by the employee were due to a genuinely temporary situation such as cover for another employee on maternity leave. The provision will not apply to an employer who has entered into a banded hour arrangement through an agreement by collective bargaining with their employees.

The Bill will strengthen anti-penalisation provisions for employees who try to invoke a right under these proposals. The Bill provides strong anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke their rights under this legislation. This is a key element of the Bill particularly for workers in less secure employment who may be afraid to exercise their rights. It is intended to provide against an employer penalising or threatening to penalise an employee for exercising any right under the proposed legislation. It is important that all employees feel safe to exercise their employment rights without fear of being penalised for doing so. The penalisation provisions in this Bill are broadly drafted to provide strong protections for employees. The penalisation provisions are core to the Bill and the new banded hours provisions in particular. Under the Bill’s banded hours provisions, if an employer reduces an employee’s working hours or threatens to do so for the sole reason that the employee sought to exercise his or her rights, the employee can pursue a penalisation case through the Workplace Relations Commission.

Section 10 of the Bill inserts a new section 6C in the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 which prohibits the penalisation of an employee for exercising their rights under the Act. Penalisation is broadly defined in the section and includes threats of penalisation. It is important that employees believe they can exercise their rights under the Act without any repercussions. This is all the more important in the case of vulnerable workers. Section 16 of the Bill amends section 26(1) of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 to strengthen the existing protections against penalisation for employees who wish to exercise their rights under the Act.

I support the Bill and look forward to its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I am glad to have an opportunity to speak to this important legislation which levels the ground somewhat in particular sectors in the employment market and labour force. It goes without saying that a good working relationship between employers and employees is essential to a well-run business. Be that business large or small, the two sides depend upon each other. The employer depends on the reliability of the employee and vice versa. There is nothing more soul destroying to the employee than to find at the end of the week that his or her wages are not what was expected. There is not much sense going into the supermarket afterwards and saying, "My wages are down this week, so can we have credit?" It does not work that way for a whole number of reasons.

  Often employees in that income bracket are working on a very tight margin and they find that they are in a serious situation if anything goes wrong at all. This could be a flu, cold or other illness in the household or whatever the case may be. It can be particularly serious if they are living in rental accommodation. If they are in rental accommodation and their income fluctuates, they might be partly dependent on social welfare support. That can be in the form of HAP or, more likely in this type of situation, rent support. They could be dependent on the family income supplement or any other segment that might make up their weekly wage. Without it, they would not be able to go to work at all because they would not be able to pay the rent. This is not at all uncommon.

  In the past few days I dealt with the case of a person with a wife and family who is homeless although he has a job. The reason he was homeless was that, as is often usual, the finance company or the landlord required him to leave the house and he could not afford to pay an increased rent. That is a fact of life. All he could do is declare himself homeless. He was on the local authority housing lists but, like lots of other people on the local authority housing lists, his chances of being housed in the short term are slim to nil. This is despite the efforts of Government to try to bridge the gap and bring on to the market a sufficient supply of housing to ensure that a person in those particular circumstances could survive.

  It is also worth remembering that this does not just apply to one person in the household. It can apply to the breadwinner initially but it affects the whole family. It affects the children who may have to go to a different school etc. They may find themselves in a very difficult and challenging situation and may not be able to resolve the problem themselves. Prior to the introduction of this legislation, they would have to rely on the goodwill of others to see them over their particular situation. What I am saying is not unusual. It is quite common nowadays and is the result not of labour factors but the cost of renting or buying a home. It applies more particularly to renting, however, because, as we know, in some cases it is more expensive to rent a home than purchase one. It should not be that way but that is the way it is. If we consider it from the point of view of people in that particular income bracket, imagine the person who is called into work on a zero hours contract who suddenly finds that he or she is not wanted on a particular day. It is humiliating and soul destroying for those who are treated in this fashion.

  I do not accept the notion that the Bill is an attack on employers. It has the effect of levelling the ground between employers as well. If one employer resorts to zero hour contracts and another looks after his or her employees better, the second employer may find him or herself at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. Regardless of the product they sell, the service they provide or the goods they manufacture, although normally this does not affect manufacturing, a distinct advantage can be given to one employer over another adjoining employer. This applies in the service sector in particular and it needs to be pointed out to a far greater extent than that referred to already. Employers recognise it but we should also recognise that there is only one conclusion if one employer has an advantage along those lines, which is that the person who is disadvantaged will become even more disadvantaged. That applies to both the employer and the employee in the competing business.

  I mentioned at the outset the importance of a good employer-employee relationship. The employer and the employee are the first to benefit from it. Customers or those to whom the service or the goods are provided are then the people to benefit from a good working relationship between and employer and employee in the workplace.

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