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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 Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] On the face of it, the Government has responded to the lobbying of the trade union movement but in looking at the detail, we can see the Government has diluted the propositions to the point where the Bill will be barely effective at all in many circumstances.

We can give some examples of how the Government has diluted the proposals. The bands proposed by the Government in the Bill are so wide as to give enormous flexibility to employers to continue imposing a great deal of precariousness on affected workers. The first band is between one and ten hours and there is a hell of a difference between one hour and nine hours. The next band is between 11 and 24 hours; if a contract indicates a person will generally work 12 hours in a week but that person consistently works 23 hours per week, under the Government's proposals that worker will not move into a different band and will have no claim to say the employer is being unfair. This can be systematically abused. In contrast, Deputy Cullinane's Bill on banded hours had several more bands. If the hours people were asked to work by the employer varied on a regular basis across the narrower bands, the worker could claim to move to a different band and for this to be acknowledged as a condition of employment. This suits the employers and does not really change much in what they will do in abusing the position of many vulnerable workers.

If a person is trying to plan life around kids, family and time off, having to do everything people have to do, with the variation in a working pattern up to 13 hours in a week, it can have a huge impact. If that happens on a regular basis, there would potentially be enormous consequences for family, earnings and all the knock-on effects. This could happen systematically even if this legislation is passed, so it is not good enough and must be substantially amended.

There are similar concerns with the compensation for workers called in who do not receive work. The University of Limerick, which did the study that is supposed to inform this legislation, proposed that if a person was called in but did not get work, he or she would get the normal wage for that employment for three hours. Under this legislation, the payment rate will be the national minimum wage, which is substantially less than the payment that could be due in many cases, unless it is covered by an employment regulation order. Many types of employment are not covered by those orders, so that is not good enough. The Government must explain why it has diluted and downgraded compensation that would accrue to employees called in under those circumstances.

The provision of contracts and statements of terms and conditions within five days is an improvement but there is a big problem that is fundamental to this Bill. Workers' rights and employment legislation are as we speak being flouted left, right and centre. Even the existing inadequate and weak legislation is being flouted all over the place. I mentioned the Boland's Mills site, which is an iconic site connected to the 1916 Rising, which is seeing enormous redevelopment. The main contractor there will also be doing the new national children's hospital. I have heard reports of workers, many but not all of them immigrant workers, getting paid dramatically less than the sectoral rate for the area by a subcontractor. These workers feel very vulnerable and do not know their rights and entitlements. Part of the problem is that the main contractor can wash its hands of this as a subcontractor has been brought in. The subcontractor keeps changing name and it has operated under several guises. Those workers are very vulnerable and frightened and they do not know their rights. They are being underpaid dramatically and they are not getting payslips.

I know this because an Irish person employed as a foreman on that site complained about the underpayment of these workers and the fact that many workers, including himself, were not getting payslips. He said he would not put up with it unless something was done. He started a protest but nothing has been done.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty To whom did he complain?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett He complained to the employer. That is the problem. Unless there will be a very proactive move by the authorities, with inspections and raids happening on a much greater level, all the legislation in the world will make no difference. A person is legally entitled to a payslip but workers are not getting them. Such practice is rampant in the construction industry. There is also the problem of agencies, as it means there is a buffer for the main contractor, which might be responsible for big sites. This legislation does not deal with agencies abusing people at will with respect to hours of employment. If anybody kicks up about such issues, he or she is gone and will not get work again for months. What will we do about this?

The final demand of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, is not included in the legislation. I have raised it, along with many others here, time and again. It is bogus self-employment, which is rampant in construction and other areas. There are serious allegations about this happening in the film industry and we have been getting reports similar to what we have received week in, week out, month in, month out, year in and year out from construction workers for the past decade. If workers walk on to a site and ask for PAYE employment, they can forget it as they will be shown the door. They either agree to being classified as subcontractors or they can forget it. The employer does not want to have any responsibility or give sick or holiday pay, or the various entitlements a person might have in direct employment.

It is very obviously the case that these workers are not entrepreneurs. The numbers of supposed entrepreneurs in construction are ridiculous, with the latest figures at approximately 60,000 from the total construction work force of approximately 130,000. Nearly half of construction workers in this country seem to be entrepreneurs, including the labourers. It is an absolute joke. To be classified as self-employed and an entrepreneur, a series of conditions must be met but they do not apply to these workers. Nobody is independently assessing this and instead the employer can go online and classify people as self-employed. That is the way it works. The onus is put on the worker again in this respect. When I mention the problem in this House I am told a worker can get on to the Revenue Commissioners and complain but if they do this, they will get sacked or blacklisted and never get on a site again. That is what happens. We now see allegations of similar carry-on in the film industry. None of it is dealt with in the legislation.

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