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 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)
 Header Item Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil
 Header Item Labour Exploitation and Trafficking (Audit of Supply Chains) Bill 2021: First Stage
 Header Item Employment Permits (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: First Stage

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 6

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The Tánaiste: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It is a competition Bill but it also gives additional powers to ComReg. It is being drafted at the moment and is at an advanced stage. We anticipate having it enacted before the summer recess.

I compliment the Minister for Community and Rural Development, Deputy Humphreys, on bringing forward the rural Ireland plan, building on the work done by her predecessor, Deputy Ring. The plan will see considerable investment in enterprise hubs and remote working hubs in towns and villages around the country, which can make a big difference to rural Ireland because it means that people who do not want to commute in and out of cities will now find it much easier to work from rural Ireland, either part time or full time.

Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl As we all know, for a considerable period of time that is probably not disassociated from issues of social media, the process of participation in Questions on Promised Legislation has been unsatisfactory. The Dáil reform committee has made many attempts to come up with a set of proposals that would be acceptable to everyone. In recent times, the Whips, led by the Government Chief Whip, have met and they yesterday put proposals to the Dáil reform committee, which will radically change how this particular topic is dealt with. I will be writing to everybody in the House, advising them of the decision of the Business Committee and we will hope to implement the new system when we return after Easter. I hope that will give a fair opportunity to all groups and will not necessitate the queuing and waiting that seems to have been a cause of considerable concern to people. Let us hope that we will have a better process in place in the future. For the information of the House, nearly 30 Deputies have not been reached today.

Labour Exploitation and Trafficking (Audit of Supply Chains) Bill 2021: First Stage

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for transparent reporting by undertakings in relation to the risk of labour exploitation and human trafficking occurring in their supply chains or in any part of their business and of the steps taken by them to ensure such activities do not take place; and to provide for connected matters.

  This Bill is in my name and in those of Deputies Sherlock and Nash. The Tánaiste might have an interest in this legislation. We could potentially be world leaders when it comes to ending child exploitation and human trafficking globally. This Bill would require businesses to report annually on what measures they have taken to ensure that their products do not involve human trafficking and child labour exploitation.

  Crises such as the pandemic in which we are living involve considerable amounts of self-analysis at community and national levels. A phrase that is often used is that we should not go back to normal when normal was the problem. There are, of course, issues in our country but there are also issues in the world. At the top of that list must be child exploitation and human trafficking. What are we doing in this small country of ours that has global reach in order to take a stand against child exploitation and human trafficking? We should require businesses and the commercial sector to ensure annually that no child exploitation or human trafficking were involved in the production of all products that are made or produced here. Every business in Ireland needs to make an annual declaration to that effect. That is what our Bill is seeking to do.

  This is a Bill that should get support from across the House. Notwithstanding the fact that the Tánaiste walked out in the middle of my presentation of this Bill, which addresses issues that come under his remit, it is a Bill that would do a lot of good. It would turn our minds annually, and I hope more often, to the issues of child exploitation and human trafficking, which continue to be a scourge across the world.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is the Bill being opposed?

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee No.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.

Employment Permits (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: First Stage

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the protection of certain foreign nationals in employment in the State and for that purpose to amend the Employment Permits Act 2003,the Employment Permits Act 2006, the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984 and the Employment Permits Regulations 2017 and to provide for related matters.

  I thank SIPTU and Migrant Rights Centre Ireland for their support for this Bill and for their work, along with others, in exposing the abuses and exploitation of migrant workers, and meat factory workers in particular, which this Bill seeks to address. I also thank my colleague, Deputy Bríd Smith, and Mr. Owen McCormack, who put a lot of work into developing this Bill. It is shameful that 90% of meat factory workers still, to this day, do not have access to sick pay. It was this time last year when I first raised in the Dáil how Covid-19 was being allowed to rip through the meat plants. The Government rallied to defend the beef barons, accusing me of smearing those companies. It took a sustained campaign by People Before Profit, the unions and others to get the State even to inspect the plants and discover that there was, in fact, a serious issue. The Government still prefers to ignore the clear exploitation and abuse of workers in this sector, especially migrant workers who are here on general employment permits. Many people feel they have to go to work, even with Covid symptoms, partially out of fear for their jobs and partially because they simply could not afford not to work. Despite a lot of talk, the Government has still not done anything about this, forcing People Before Profit to step in with this Bill to begin to address the issue. Our Bill would require the beef barons to provide sick pay by making it a condition for work permits. It would be an important step towards providing sick pay for all.

  Yesterday, the Taoiseach, incredibly, told me that the meat plants had already "been dealt with", as if it was now under control. The truth is that the situation in the meat plants today is alarming. This morning's Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, report shows 28 open outbreaks across the 56 meat plants in the State and that six meat factory workers currently are hospitalised. Thousands of meat workers have caught this virus. Dozens have been hospitalised and some have ended up in intensive care units. The figures released do not say whether any have lost their lives but we know that many will suffer with the long-term effects for years to come. Yet the Taoiseach claimed the issue has been dealt with, that it is old news. It is clear which side he is on.

  One objection I would expect to hear from the corporate lobbyists is the claim that cannot afford to pay sick pay. Let us be clear, the beef barons could well afford to pay their workers sick pay, they just do not want to. A recent report stated "Nine companies in the Goodman Group [ABP] made a profit of €170 million last year and had assets worth more than €3.45 billion". The bulk of the profits were booked in Luxembourg and were largely untaxed. Moy Park, in 2019, had a turnover of €1.8 billion and profits of €81.5 million. Dawn Meats had a turnover of €2.1 billion. Kepak had a turnover of €1.5 billion. The list goes on. These are massive companies making major profits, yet they are refusing to pay sick pay and the Government refuses to make them. It will, ultimately, take a militant labour movement that forces changes whereby workers become organised and assert themselves. This Bill shows what Deputies can do to support workers. I encourage others to join People Before Profit in supporting and promoting this Bill to force the bosses to pay sick pay.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I thank the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, for its help in guiding us through these measures.

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