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

2:45 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh ár gcuairteoirí anseo inniu. This is an important issue and it is a pity that because some parties are having their think-ins today there are not more members here. Ireland is an outlier with regard to under-employment, which is causing so much damage in society. Men, women and children are in poverty as a result of under-employment and the impact is felt right throughout society. We need to focus on this issue. The idea of a zero hour contract is a retrograde step. It reminds me of the 1920s and 1930s when men and women would go to a market square or to the docks and hope an employer would pick them for the day. If they were unlucky, they would return home without a wage. It is incredible to think we are going down that route with regard to employment.

The question asked about where the balance lies was a good one. For me, a person is entitled at least to a minimum standard of living. This minimum standard includes the right to shelter, education, health, food and clothing for children and the opportunity to raise one's family properly outside of poverty. This should be the yardstick or base. There is no doubt that if we keep pushing wages down, this will enable another group of businesses to function. However, we must have a floor.

One of the problems with under-employment is that it creates a situation where we have what is like a three-card trick. We look at employment figures and believe the situation is improving, but even the IMF figures showed that due to the level of under-employment, real employment is far lower. People fall off the social welfare cliff when they enter this area. I know of people who if they work an extra hour on a Thursday will lose two full days of entitlements to social welfare benefits and a gamut of other welfare supports. Other sectors of society, such as the legal profession and other professions are very well regulated and have protected wage structures.

Mr. Light touched on the issue of the zero hour contract, but would it be possible for him to explain to the committee how it works in practice for an employee?

How prevalent is the PRSI trap that was mentioned? Does it occur only for a minority of workers, or is it the average?

The issue of regulation is extremely important. This country has suffered so much because of the lack of regulation. Regulation means nothing if it is not going to be enforced.


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