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Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1004 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy] It is estimated that up to 7,500 eligible businesses may benefit from this scheme.

  This scheme will help address some of the needs of businesses as we navigate the ongoing public health crisis, keeping viable businesses in operation and supporting jobs. However, it is important to recognise that the scheme is not a silver bullet and while many more businesses will be able to avail of the many Government supports, there are others which cannot, such as the event sector. I will continue to work with this sector and with my colleagues in government, particularly the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, to ensure that this sector is further supported.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly I am sharing some time with my colleague, Teachta Doherty. I ask the Minister that we would go back and forth with the questions and answers and try to respect the time, if possible. Time is short and I do not want to go into my colleague's time. Also, if there is a question that requires a follow-up I ask that we may engage afterwards on it.

I will start by raising the issue of Ulster Bank. I am aware that my colleague, Teachta Doherty, raised it already in the context of the broader implications but I want to focus on the men and women employed in Ulster Bank, many of whom found out through the media about the potential decision being made by NatWest so, naturally, they are extremely concerned. There is enough going on in the world without that. Has the Minister been in touch with Ulster Bank to discuss the potential losses of 2,500 jobs in this State and the 600 that potentially could be lost in the North? I ask him to use some of the time today to publicly express support for the use of the transfer of undertakings legislation to ensure that as many of those jobs in the bank, specifically those in the sales and services sector, are protected.

The Minster's Department will be working to assess the broader implications. There are implications for workers. There will be implications for business also. We are talking about the potential loss of jobs but there will be implications in the event that the decision goes the way believe it will go. There will be implications for businesses and for those workers. I ask the Minister to arrange a briefing for the Opposition spokespersons on this and also to bring us up to speed on the actions his Department will be taking to support the jobs and those businesses impacted by this decision. I ask also that the Minister would engage, as a matter of priority, with the Financial Services Union, FSU. I am aware it is seeking an emergency meeting with him to discuss how some or all of those jobs can be saved.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. The Minister for Finance is leading on this issue on behalf of the Government. He has been in touch, as recently as yesterday, with Ulster Bank and its parent, NatWest. He has also met with the FSU. He is keeping me, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, informed of the situation but he is the lead person for the Government on all aspects relating to the Ulster Bank situation.

I understand that any restructuring that may occur will probably be for the Republic of Ireland, not for Northern Ireland, but that may change. In response to Deputy Doherty's request earlier, I know the Minister for Finance will be happy to brief Opposition spokespeople on this as the situation evolves but, unfortunately, just like Deputy O'Reilly, we are hearing a lot of it from the media also. I know that must be a very unpleasant experience for staff and for customers also. We have not been informed, and my Department has to be formally informed of any collective redundancies. We have received no notification of that as things stand. Obviously, the objectives of Government, to the extent that it is involved in this, and these are commercial decisions for NatWest, are to protect the customers, save as many jobs as is possible and minimise the number of compulsory redundancies and obviously the use of TUPE is an option in that regard.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly I want to raise the issue of bogus self-employment, which he will be aware of. The pandemic has exposed the nasty and disgusting nature of bogus self-employment within this State. We know that those workers misclassified as self-employed receive reduced entitlement to social welfare but also they do not have access to the same level of sick pay. We could debate all day the adequacy of the sick pay arrangements but these people have none. The recent judgment regarding the Domino's workers shows that cognisance has to be taken of the actual relationship and not just the contractual relationship. Many of these people are given a bicycle and a navigation system, patted on the back and told they are an entrepreneur now but the pandemic has exposed the real need for action to be taken on this area. We know that this is a playground for unscrupulous employers. I use the word "unscrupulous" but I have others that I would use for those employers. Effectively, they have workers but they do not have any responsibility. That puts decent employers in a very invidious position. It allows unscrupulous employers to get away with extremely poor treatment of their workers and in the middle of a pandemic when we cannot have a significant cohort of workers in a situation where they do not have access to a sick pay scheme. Will the Minister outline what his Department is and will be doing to tackle the issue of bogus self-employment, especially in the gig economy where we all saw recently the implications for the workers in that area?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I have no doubt whatsoever that bogus self-employment is very real and is a problem in our economy and our society but it is worth pointing out that the percentage of people who are self-employed in Ireland has not changed much in recent years. There is a narrative out there that there has been a huge drift to self-employment and that more people who in the past would have been directly employed are now self-employed. That is not the case. In fact, the percentage of people self-employed out of the total workforce has not changed significantly in a very long time, and it is worth checking out those details. The numbers may change because more people are employed but the percentage of the workforce that is self-employed is much the same as it has been for a very long time. Self-employment can be advantageous. People often like the tax arrangements that occur in self-employment such as the way one can write off expenses, costs and so on. They like the flexibility around it but that is not to say that there are not abuses. The scope section in the Department of Social Protection has a particular role in that in determining whether somebody is self-employed. The Revenue Commissioners can do that also.

I am taking up the issue of delivery riders with the company. I am trying to make contact with it at the moment. The right thing to do in that particular scenario, and it is a particular scenario, is that they should be directly employed with the minimum number of hours. There is no reason flexibility cannot be achieved in other ways but one could employ people directly with the minimum number of hours and then pay extra or bonuses, as appropriate, for particular work done.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly I would dispute the use of the word "flexible" and I do not believe that is what people want. I used to represent home helps and employers were always telling me that they did not like to be tied down with anything awkward like a contract. Believe me, workers like being tied down with a contract. They like having that contract codified, particularly in these times, in terms of their entitlement to sick pay and all of those other things that those of us who are properly employed regard as the absolute basic minimum.

I ask the Minister about the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and the Covid-19 business aid scheme, CBAS. At the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment in October I outlined the issues with regard to the exclusion of many businesses from the scheme. I asked that these schemes be expanded to cater for those excluded businesses. In November, Teachta Doherty highlighted the limitations of the CRSS directly to the Minister for Finance. Following on from the debate at the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment I wrote to the Minister restating my concerns about the scheme. I further outlined the businesses and the sectors that have been excluded. The announcement of the new CBAS was welcome, and we welcomed it at the time. It offered hope to some businesses but there are still businesses that are excluded. I recently heard Paddy Cullivan speak on Today FM about his own business. He is excluded because he does not have a rateable premises. In the interests of protecting as many businesses as possible I ask the Minister to examine those businesses whose turnover has fallen by 75%, that are excluded from both the CRSS and the CBAS but which nonetheless want to ensure they can keep their businesses viable. I note the Minister calls it the CBAS but the CBAS is only a cod if it does not deliver for those businesses that really need it.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I have to give the Deputy that one.

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