Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Impact of Recession on Low-Paid Workers: Discussion with Mandate

2:15 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Go raibh maith agat. I welcome the representatives of Mandate to this meeting and thank them for their presentation. I attended the launch of Mandate's report in the Oireachtas audiovisual room eight or nine months ago and have read it a number of times since. I ask the representatives to outline how the current recession and austerity policies are impacting on the people that Mandate represents. The speakers gave us a very good overview but I ask them to tease it out a bit more. They mentioned the changes to the JLC system. Some trade unionists believe that some aspects of the reform proposals are quite good and I agree that there are positive elements. However, I am concerned about the proposals regarding the Sunday premium payment. If what the Government proposes is implemented, it will negatively impact on low-income workers in particular. What is the difference between the protections currently in place, that is, the levels of Sunday premium payments that workers currently enjoy and what is being proposed? What will the difference be and how will the changes affect low-income workers?

I also wish to raise the issue of zero hour contracts, which are becoming more common here. Such contracts are very prevalent in the UK and they are a cause of great concern. They are underpinned by employer bodies and governments who talk about flexibility. Nobody is against the principle of flexibility but we have seen unscrupulous employers exploit workers on zero hour contracts, especially those workers who are not in trade unions. If such workers do not comply with the wishes of their employer, if they join a trade union or even talk about doing so, their hours are reduced. Workers have been bullied in the UK. Do we have sufficient protections in this State to protect workers against that type of exploitation, harassment and bullying if zero hour contracts become more prevalent? How prevalent are such contracts here? They seem to be on the increase in the health sector, particularly among care workers. In terms of the people represented by Mandate, how prevalent are such contracts and what concerns does the union have about them?

The representatives spoke about the need for collective bargaining and trade union recognition, with which I agree. We are in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Lock-out and this should have been the year when we put in place proper collective bargaining rights. What is the view of Mandate on the Government's commitments in this regard? The Government has given a very loose commitment to some form of collective bargaining. Has Mandate been given any indication as to what shape that will take? Has the union any concerns in this regard and what is its view on the best way to introduce collective bargaining rights?

On the issue of the reform of employment rights bodies, we are now looking at the creation of a single, independent body that will adjudicate on complaints made by workers. There are many good aspects to this reform but does Mandate have any concerns about what is being proposed with regard to the new employment rights bodies?

My final question draws all of the previous points together. Mandate's figures show how difficult life is for retail sector workers. Less than 33% have full-time contracts while the rest have worked an average of 22 hours per week over the last five years, with 50% of them experiencing a change to their hours. One of the problems in this economy now is that employers can simply disregard employment rights. They can choose not to give people what they are entitled to, be it holiday pay, minimum hourly rates of pay and so forth because the employment rights legislation we have is not robust enough. There are not enough sanctions in place for non-compliant employers. Does Mandate share that concern? If so, what improvements in the sanctions against those unscrupulous employers who disregard employment rights would the union like to see introduced? Such employers exploit workers because they believe they can get away with it and that the worst that can happen to them is that they will have to appear before an employment appeals tribunal and pay the money owed. Are there sufficient sanctions to deter employers from behaving in such a fashion? It must be said that I am referring to a minority of employers - the majority do not behave in that way. What is Mandate's view on this issue? Has Mandate made any submissions regarding improvements to legislation on foot of what the Government is considering in terms of the reform of employment rights bodies? What is Mandate's analysis of the situation and what, if any, proposals has it put forward?


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