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 Header Item Topical Issue Matters (Continued)
 Header Item Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 965 No. 6

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  2 o’clock

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

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Deputy Bernard Durkan was in possession when the debate adjourned and I understand he has concluded his contribution.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Precarious employment is an extremely important issue and the Government's move in the direction of addressing it is long overdue. Precarious employment is a plague affecting large numbers of workers and one of the most terrible consequences of three decades of neoliberal policy under the guise of flexibility and competitiveness, two of the favourite words of employers. As a result, the conditions of employment for hundreds of thousands of workers have been severely degraded. Once upon a time, workers could expect some employment security and some sense of what their working week or month would look like. Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of workers are in temporary employment and do not know from week to week or month to month what hours they will work and, as a consequence, what earnings they will have. This has serious financial and personal implications for the workers in question, many of whom are women with families who suffer particularly from this type of precarious employment.

Precarious employment has serious impacts on family life and workers' ability to plan and have a life because they do not know how many hours they will work or how much they will earn. For example, the notion of securing a mortgage has become a complete fantasy for large numbers of workers owing to the precarious nature of their employment and the remuneration they may receive for it. In any event, low pay also plagues the sectors in which precarious employment is rife. Approximately 20% of workers in this country are low paid and working in terrible, precarious jobs.

To put some perspective on the claims of economic recovery and the often trumpeted figures about employment, for which the Government slaps itself on the back, despite the increase in employment in recent years, there are now 109,000 fewer permanent jobs than there were in 2008. The ongoing process of implementing neoliberal policy in this country, which has been largely championed by the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties for three decades, intensified during the period of austerity. For neoliberals, the crash was as if all their birthdays had arrived at once because the economic downturn provided employers with an excuse to ramp up precarious employment. Workers were so desperate for employment that employers had the whip hand and were able to employ people under precarious conditions. The quality of life of hundreds of thousands of low paid workers is diminished greatly by having to put up with these conditions.

It is worth noting the deterioration in the quality of life for workers in precarious employments when compared with the conditions enjoyed by previous generations of workers who could expect to be able to put a roof over their heads, make plans in life and obtain a pension. All of these expectations have been degraded for large numbers of workers. At the same time, many people have done very well because profits have increased significantly as a result of this development in the past decade.

It is not the case that we all felt the same pain in the past ten years. With the exception of 2008, employers have been doing better under austerity. The economic collapse worked for employers and the rich because it gave them the whip hand and allowed them to drive up profits. Since 2008, profits have gone through the roof. As I have noted several times, wealth inequality has grown dramatically and is linked to the downgrading of conditions for workers and a consequent boost of profits for employers. Another indicator of how the balance has shifted in favour of employers to the detriment of workers is that while wages accounted for approximately 60% of national income in the 1970s, with profits and shares accounting for the remaining 40%, the inverse is now the case. In Ireland, this reversal has been more significant than in any other country in Europe, with 60% of the national cake currently going to employers in the form of profits and only 40% going to workers. There has been a dramatic shift of wealth from the have-nots to the haves in recent decades, as reflected in the astonishing rise in wealth inequality in society.

On the face of it, the Bill attempts to address some aspects of precarious employment. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions sent a letter to the Minister after it published a document on precarious work. In its executive summary, ICTU makes a number of demands for dealing with precarious employment, including the provision of statements of core conditions and compensation for employees who are called in to work to find they are not given hours of work, measures to deal with banded hours and the imposition of penalties on employers who fail to comply with legal requirements.

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