Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 1 July 2015
Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015: Committee Stage
We are in public session. This meeting has been convened for the purpose of consideration by this committee of the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015, which was referred to the Select Committee by order of the Dáil of 24 June 2015. Apologies have been received from Deputy Peadar Tóibín, and Deputy Ellis will be substituting for him. Apologies have also been received from Deputy Calleary, and Deputy Colm Keaveney will be substituting for him. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation with special responsibility for business and employment, Deputy Gerald Nash, and his officials to the meeting.
Before we begin, I remind members to switch their mobile phones to aeroplane, safe or flight mode, depending on their device. It is not enough to put them on silent mode as this will maintain the level of interference from the committee room and will impact negatively on the broadcast. Some 21 amendments have been tabled and it is intended to conclude Committee Stage today. Is that agreed? Agreed. I refer members to the list of amendments grouped for the purposes of debate, which has been circulated.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:“(a) has due regard to Ireland’s human rights obligations to guarantee the right to just and favourable remuneration,”.
Under this section, the commission is instructed by the legislation to make a recommendation to the Minister regarding the national minimum wage which has regard to a number of factors. It would be appropriate to include Ireland's international commitments to a fair wage in the commission's considerations. For example, as was highlighted by ICTU during the pre-legislative scrutiny hearings, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to just and favourable remuneration, ensuring an existence worthy of human dignity, the European Social Charter refers to a right to fair remuneration sufficient for a standard of living for workers and their families, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights declares a right to fair wages and decent living for workers and their families. These rights should underpin the work of the commission.
Section 4 sets out very clear objectives on a national minimum wage, which is designed to assist as many low-paid workers as is reasonably practicable, is set at a rate that is both fair and sustainable, is adjusted incrementally where adjustment is appropriate and over time is progressively increased, without creating any significant adverse consequences for employment or competitiveness. I have no hesitation in repeating what I said inside and outside these Houses, namely, that I want to see a national minimum wage that is progressively increased over time and where the economic circumstances, the requirements of job creation and the social conditions and needs converge to allow that to happen. I want to see better working conditions for people. I have said that time and again. I want to see improved pay, particularly for low-paid workers. The Low Pay Commission really can transform the institutional framework to allow that to happen. This is one of the most significant developments for low-paid people from a public policy perspective in many years. The objective of ensuring that workers are entitled to just and favourable remuneration is clearly built into the criteria that will guide the commission on making a recommendation to me on an annual basis on the appropriate level of the minimum wage. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.
I do not disagree with the Minister of State in terms of workers' rights and he wants to see fair treatment there. However, there are certain things that we need to be very clear on in guaranteeing rights, which this amendment does. I will press this amendment.
I am very sympathetic to what Deputy Ellis said. Most of us would strongly agree with him. However, his statements are already incorporated in the spirit and the wording of the Bill, particularly in the hands of the current Minister of State. I am convinced of that. That fulfils any objective Deputy Ellis might want to achieve.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 4, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:“10BA.The Commission in the performance of the functions assigned to it by section 10C shall forward recommendations to the Minister regarding low pay that—(a) reduces the incidence of low pay,The previous section 10B instructs the commission's works and limits it to a recommendation to the Minister on the national minimum wage. Sinn Féin has argued that the regular schedule of work undertaken by the commission should not be limited to its annual recommendation on the hourly rate of the national minimum wage. We want the Low Pay Commission to live up to its name, so this amendment seeks to extend its regular schedule of work to consider and make a recommendation on the living wage annually. This work is currently undertaken independently by the living wage technical group, a group of progressive organisations, and the Low Pay Commission now needs to undertake a similar piece of work on behalf of the State in its effort to tackle low pay and deliver sustainable, fair employment for the longer term.
(b) considers access to public services,
(c) takes into account the standard of living, general wage levels and access to welfare supports to include social protection supports, universal healthcare provisions, State provided childcare and social housing,
(d) supports the phased introduction of a living wage.”.
The prevalence of low pay is deeply worrying. If high levels of low pay persist, tax revenue will be constrained and the ability of the State to invest in capital, infrastructure and public services will remain limited. In effect, in-work social protection supports, while vital for families to ensure they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, also act as a subsidy for businesses. We cannot ignore this reality. We want to keep people in work and the State must step in to support citizens, but surely it is equally incumbent on the State to provide a mechanism to address the wholesale use of low-paid, insecure contracts by companies, sometimes extremely profitable companies in certain sectors of the economy.
Section 5 sets out a very comprehensive and challenging set of factors that the commission must take into account every year in arriving at a recommendation on a rate of the national minimum wage. Amendment No. 2 seeks to add further objectives for the recommendation from the commission on the minimum hourly rate of pay, including reducing the incidence of low pay and supporting what is termed the phased introduction of a living wage. Amendment No. 3 seeks to have the Low Pay Commission, in addition to its annual recommendation on the national minimum hourly rate of pay, make an annual recommendation to the Minister on the living wage. We should avoid conflating and confusing the two issues.
On the issue of a living wage, I have spoken in the past of my support for the development of the concept of a living wage in Ireland, but we must differentiate between the application of a mandatory national minimum wage and a living wage that is born from a broad societal movement. We would be familiar with the context of that in the UK and how successfully the living wage concept has evolved in the UK over the last few years. The fact that it is a grassroots civil society campaign is where it draws its strength from. At the moment there are about 1,500 UK companies, large and small, that are paying the living wage. There are two separate rates: the London rate and a rate outside London. It is a concept that I and the Tánaiste support. I have stated on a number of occasions that I will be holding the first Government-backed forum on the living wage concept in the autumn, because it is crucial that we bring employers, employees and their representatives together with civil society organisations to discuss how this concept could successfully be applied to Ireland. However, I restate that this is a voluntary issue and we must look at it in that context.
Deputy Ellis's party had a forum on the living wage in Liberty Hall recently but there was one major omission - it did not bother to invite a single employer. There are good strong trade union officials around this table, who I do not think have ever garnered a pay increase for the people they seek to represent without engaging with the employer, so it is quite bizarre that one would not invite an employer or employer representatives to a forum when one purports to want to discuss the living wage.
Amendment No. 4 from Deputy Calleary would require the commission each year to research and recommend to the Minister national minimum wage rates of pay for youth and apprentice workers.
I ask the Minister of State to look positively at the spirit of the amendment. It provides for an enhanced research approach for the Minister with respect to the national minimum wage for youth and apprenticeship categories.
I ask the Minister of State to consider the amendment but we will consider any counter proposal he may have.
I thank Deputy Keaveney for the amendment in the name of Deputy Calleary and I respect the manner in which the amendment has been tabled and its intent.
The amendment would require the commission to research and recommend to the Minister each year national minimum wage rates of pay for youth and apprentice categories and research and recommend to the Minister national minimum wage rates of pay for female workers. As Deputy Keaveney is well aware, the sub-minimum rates provided for in the National Minimum Wage Acts since 2000 were originally recommended by the National Minimum Wage Commission, which was appointed to advise on the introduction of a national minimum wage. The commission recommended that employees under 18 be entitled to 70% of the national minimum wage with a view to striking a balance between ensuring that young employees are not exploited and ensuring that the rate of pay does not encourage students to leave full-time education or training. The commission also recommended at that stage that sub-minimum rates apply to employees in the first two years of employment who are over 18 and for those undergoing structured training. The commission was of the view that the employers should be encouraged to focus on training and that the structure of the minimum wage should provide encouragement and inducement for employers to take on unskilled staff and to involve them in training. The rationale underpinning these provisions is that, all things being equal, an experienced employee is of more value and is more productive than a new entrant or trainee. It is also important that those seeking employment are not prevented from getting the opportunity to enter work because of the lack of experience or training.
Apprentices have been excluded from the scope of the national minimum wage since it was introduced in 2000 for the reason that there has been separate, long-standing registered employment agreement approaches covering apprentices. The REA system was struck down by the McGowan judgment in 2013 but the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 will provide for, inter alia, the possibility for sectoral employment orders covering statutory pay and pension provisions for workers of particular sectors, including provisions for apprenticeship rates.
While these are important issues, they may be more appropriate for the commission to examine in the context of a future work programme. I am not minded to insert that provision into the primary legislation but it is an issue that could come on the commission's radar in time.
It may very well be the case that the commission could explore this issue in time. As the Deputy will be aware, the system we are providing for the work programme of the Low Pay Commission will mean that the programme will be developed early each year, thus giving the commission the opportunity to consider that proposal and to understand what its mandate and work programme will be for any given year in the first two months of the year.
On the question of requiring the commission to recommend national minimum wage rates of pay for female workers, the commission may be asked to look at a range of related matters in the context of the minimum wage. The prevalence of female workers on or near the national minimum wage is very well known. We know that there is a preponderance of women on the national minimum wage given the sectors. In that context I would see the Deputy's real concerns being addressed. In any event, setting a minimum rate based on a person's gender would arguably and possibly be in breach of equality legislation.
Amendment No. 4 does not make any sense, in my view. It would appear that it proposes a separate minimum hourly pay for young people and women. This is not a proposal we could support. We deal with income disparity between men and women in one of our amendments. I do not agree with separate provisions for men and women.
I refer to amendment No. 3 which proposes to insert an hourly living wage rate of pay. This amendment provides a requirement for the commission not only to make an annual recommendation to the Minister on the national minimum wage, but also on the living wage.
I will move on to amendment No. 5. This amendment proposes to insert provisions dealing with a wage share of national income, the role of wages as a source of demand and median earnings. When making a recommendation to the Minister, the commission must have regard to a number of factors which we believe are too heavily weighted towards a small number of macro-economic factors that are limited in measurement as well as in outcomes. Specifically, the commission is instructed to consider fluctuations in employment and productivity in the year prior to its recommendation, the relevant period. It is our opinion that the macro-economic factors of the commission's consideration in this context should be extended to include the wage share of national income, the role of wages as a source of demand and median earnings. The inclusion of these factors will enhance the work of the commission.
Amendments Nos. 5 to 10, inclusive, provide for the addition of a range of factors to an already extensive list that the commission is required to take into account when making a recommendation. I thank Deputy Ellis for his contribution on those amendments in the name of Deputy Toíbín. I assure members that I and my Government colleagues have given significant consideration to the criteria as set out in the Bill. Many of them have stood the test of time in that they were previously incorporated in national minimum wage legislation dating back to 2000. They provide a balanced suite of provisions against which any recommendation must be balanced and considered. The addition of a wide-ranging list of factors as presented in amendments Nos. 5 to 10, inclusive, would probably make it virtually impossible for any commission of any nature to undertake the level of analysis required to produce an agreed recommendation every year, or perhaps, to meet the needs we have set down in legislation to arrive at a recommendation to the Government by a set date each year. It is also my view that some of the additional factors proposed are better addressed and may be better seen through the prism of the suite of industrial relations legislation I have brought forward and which we hope will be enacted soon and through the wider decent work agenda that I am pursuing.
On the issue of zero and low-hours contracts which was a component of one of the amendments, we are introducing collective bargaining legislation and the re-introduction of a system of registered employment agreements and a new mechanism providing for sectoral employment orders. I have commissioned the University of Limerick to undertake a very significant study into the prevalence and extent of zero and low-hours contracts. We are examining a range of different areas and we will act on the recommendations of the report on zero and low-hours contracts by the University of Limerick. We will study the report very carefully and where there are gaps, we will be anxious to ensure that those gaps are filled. The commission is obliged to consider changes in income distribution when making a recommendation to the Minister. Such a recommendation is designed to assist as many low paid workers as is reasonably practicable and to set a rate that is fair and reasonable. Previous references to changes in earnings have served us well and I do not consider it necessary to refer specifically to median earnings changes or proportions above or below particular proportions of median earnings.
There is very significant expertise available on and to the Low Pay Commission to properly interpret changes in earnings data to which it must have due regard when putting forward its recommendation.
As regards comparisons with Northern Ireland or any other jurisdiction that has a national minimum wage, these are compared by looking at the absolute values but also having regarding to purchasing power parities. Again, I believe the commission has significant and sufficient expertise available to it to make these distinctions and it would not be appropriate to specifically require the Low Pay Commission, on an annual basis, to analyse different welfare supports, health care provision, child care and social housing across various jurisdictions.
Fair wages should never be sacrificed for the creation of jobs that are exploitative and unsustainable. That is why section 4 sets very clear objectives for the national minimum wage and in this regard, the commission will be obliged to ensure that any recommendations it makes should ensure that the minimum wage will be set at a rate that is both fair and sustainable.
In relation to the promotion of gender equality, it is important to note that the national minimum wage applies to all workers, irrespective of gender. As such, it is the epitome of a measure that eliminates gender inequality in its application. Accordingly, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 2 to 10, inclusive.
I have tabled a number of amendments. Amendment No. 7 seeks to insert economic inequality, the percentage of workers in the economy earning two-thirds or less of median income and the living wage as set for the relevant period. Nowhere in the legislation is the commission instructed to consider inequality or poverty when making a recommendation to the Minister. The legislation is too heavily weighed towards a limited number of economic measurements. This is not helpful in tackling the economic inequality or rebuilding an economy fit for the 21st century. This may tick the box with employers' organisations but will not address structural faults in Ireland's economy. We want to see Ireland's recovery rooted in a dynamic, prosperous and fair economy. This cannot be delivered unless tackling economic equality and monitoring the number of low-paid workers in the economy are put centre stage. Wage share as a percentage of national income has fallen by nearly 20% in Ireland in the past 20 years. Ireland's fall in wage share is consistent with many of our EU neighbours but it is significantly sharper. If the Low Pay Commission is not charged with monitoring these significant factors associated with the increasing prevalence of low pay, then who is?
Amendment No. 10 seeks to insert in page 5, between lines 12 and 13, the following:
(iv) addressing levels of income inequality to include income inequality between men and women in the current period,
(v) aggregate demand in the economy,
(vi) tax receipts.
It seems barmy that we would exclude the consideration of income inequality between men and women and aggregate demand in the economy and tax receipts from the effects that the commission's recommendations will have on the economy. This section of the legislation limits the commission's consideration to employment levels, cost of living and national competitiveness. We need to be more ambitious and set the commission a wider more useful and relevant point of reference. Perhaps the Minister of State would address those issues.
I move amendment No. 4:In page 4, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:“(c) research and recommend to the Minister national minimum wage rates of pay for youth and apprentice categories,
(d) research and recommend to the Minister national minimum wage rates of pay for female workers.”.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 5, before line 1, to insert the following:
"(i) innovation in each sector has increased, decreased or remained stagnant within the current period,".
Amendment put and declared lost.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 5, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
"(e) economic inequality,
(f) the percentage of workers in the economy earning two-thirds or less of median income,
(g) the Living Wage as set for the relevant period,".
Amendment put and declared lost.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 5, line 7, after "Northern Ireland," to insert the following:"taking into account the standard of living, general wage levels and access to welfare supports to include social protection supports, universal healtcare provisions, State provided childcare and social housing,".
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 5, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"(iv) addressing levels of income inequality to include income inequality between men and women in the current period,
(v) aggregate demand in the economy;
(vi) tax receipts.".
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 5, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:"(5) The Commission shall act as a watchdog of the incidence of low pay by examining the prevalence of pay two thirds or below of median earnings in the current period in each sector of the economy, and report its recommendations to reduce the share of employees in each sector who earn below two-thirds of the hourly median wage over the following 3 year period.
(6) The Commission shall examine and report on key patterns in paid and unpaid open market internships providing a regulatory framework for internships and to support professional associations to promote ethical internship programmes.
(7) The Commission shall examine and report on the effectiveness of existing policies to enforce the National Minimum Wage and make recommendations for improvement of compliance and enforcement.".
When the national minimum wage was first established, it would have been two thirds of the median wage had it been set into the future. This has not happened. In Britain there is a growing demand for its low pay commission to take on a watchdog role. This view was echoed by the Migrants Rights Centre in its submission to the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. It called for the remit of the commission to be expanded to become a watchdog on low pay and that powers be granted to set targets to reduce low pay across a number of policy areas. IMPACT recently commissioned a report entitled JobBridge - time to start again?, which asks for the JobBridge scheme to be scrapped and for the Low Pay Commission to examine the prevalence of open market unpaid internships. The report, the research for which was spearheaded by Dr. Mary Murphy, Maynooth University, recommends that the commission report on key patterns in paid and unpaid open market internships in Ireland, provide an overall framework to regulate all internships and support professional associations to promote ethical internship programmes. Sinn Féin supports this recommendation.
Amendment No. 11 introduces a number of specific tasks which the commission would be required to undertake as part of its functions to monitor the incidence of low pay by examining the prevalence of pay two thirds or below of median earnings, key patterns in paid and unpaid open market internships and the effectiveness of existing policies to enforce the national minimum wage.
Section 5 of the Bill introduces a new section 10C(4) which provides that the commission may be requested by the Minister to examine and report on such matters, related generally to the functions of the commission under the Act. The Bill provides that requests shall be made not later than the first two months of each year, apart from this year, and will be part of the commission's work programme. I believe that the legislative provision covering the work programme to be given to the commission each year should not be prescriptive or in any way inflexible.
The amendment would tie the hands of the commission in regard to its annual work programme. As specific issues related to the work of the commission arise, a request can be made to the commission to examine and report on the matter.
The specific topics raised in the amendment may well be worthy of examination by the Low Pay Commission at some point, but I do not believe it is appropriate to set them down in legislation. Accordingly, I cannot accept the recommendation.
I wish to notify the committee that I will bring forward an amendment on Report Stage. It is appropriate that I alert the committee to that fact at this stage because my amendment is relevant to this particular section of the Bill. On Report Stage, I will bring forward an amendment to section 5 to amend the date on which the committee must submit its recommendation and report to the Minister. As the Bill is currently drafted, which colleagues will know, the date specified is 15 July of each year to which the examination relates. I propose to amend it to "the third Tuesday of July of the year to which the examination relates". It had been my intention to bring the Bill back to the Seanad on 9 July. I have been informed that this will not be possible due to logistical printing reasons. Instead, it is my intention to revert to the Seanad on 13 or 14 July to have the legislation finalised. Clearly, this situation will present difficulties in having the Bill on the Statute Book on or before 15 July. Therefore, I have decided to move the reporting period back by four working days. I think it is safer to do so given the logistical challenges that we have at this point in time.
The amendment also has the advantage of removing a specific date from the Bill and providing a day that will fit in with the Government's schedule. I mean that I am anxious to make sure that the date on which the report and recommendation would be made falls on a weekday, preferably on a day on which the Cabinet traditionally meets which would be a Tuesday. It would be good practice to have that aspect catered for. I wish to stress that my amendment is not in any way associated with the work of the Low Pay Commission, or where it is at, at the moment. The commission is making good progress and the minor change I propose is purely for the logistical reasons that I outlined earlier. I shall table this minor technical amendment on Report Stage. I simply wanted to flag my intention to do so because it is relevant to this section.
Yes. My amendment relates to how often the commission reports, in particular to section 5(5) which, at the moment, states a report will be made once every three years. My amendment will propose changing the time to once every year as more regular reports are preferable. Similarly, in section 5(7), we propose having a copy of the report laid before the House not later than one month after its publication as opposed to three months, as currently stated. We will move amendments to that effect on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 6, to delete lines 26 to 28 and substitute the following:“(3) The national minimum hourly rate of pay declared by order under this section may include—(a) an allowance in respect of board and lodgings, board only or lodgings only at such rates as are specified in the order,
(b) a prohibition or restriction on charges or deductions.”.
ICTU, in its submission to the committee, called for the Bill to be amended to include an additional provision to ensure the prohibition or restriction on charges or deductions to be included in a recommendation on the national minimum wage. My party supports the amendment as it ensures no dilution of the recommendation.
Amendment No. 13 provides for a prohibition or restriction on charges or deductions from the national minimum hourly rate of pay. The Payment of Wages Act already provides a redress mechanism for unlawful deductions from wages.
Section 5(1) of the Payment of Wages Act allows an employer to make deductions required or authorised by law, such as PRSI, that are required or authorised by a term of the employee's contract, or any deduction agreed to in writing and advanced by the employee such as trade union subscriptions or VHI or health care premia.
Section 5(2) of the Act places significant restrictions on employers in terms of deductions, and the nature of deductions, that can be removed from the pay packets of employees. Accordingly, I cannot accept amendment No. 13.
Amendment No. 14 provides an opportunity for the Minister to give technical advance notice, at an enterprise or business level, of any proposed changes, increases or decreases, of the national minimum wages. The amendment seeks a sufficient lead-in time for the enterprise or employment to provide for a planned and orderly introduction of an amendment to changes with respect to payroll, accounts and banking-related payment details.
Amendment No. 14 seeks to ensure that businesses will be allowed sufficient time to plan for any adjustment proposed in the national minimum wage. I am fully supportive of the view that any increase in the minimum wage has to be done in an orderly way so that companies can prepare, in a timely fashion, in terms of their costs, business planning and so on.
It would be opportune, at this point, to remind Deputies that the ESRI, in its 2006 analysis of the last Labour Court recommendation proposing an increase to the national minimum wage, concluded that adjusting the minimum wage by a substantial amount on an irregular basis with lengthy gaps between increases, as has happened in the past, is more likely to have a detrimental impact on employment and to contribute to uncertainty for employers and actual and potential employees than regular, smaller and fairly predictable upratings. A significant benefit of the establishment of the Low Pay Commission concept is that in the future the national minimum wage rates will be assessed annually and, therefore, where they occur, any adjustments in the future will be incremental and, almost by definition, less disruptive for businesses rather than the big step changes that we witnessed in the past, and that were criticised by the ESRI in its report.
The deadline of 15 July, as it was, and the small adjustment that I shall make on Report Stage, in terms of the date for submission of the commission's recommendations, was designed specifically to allow time for full consideration of any change, or any proposed change, to be made in the context of the budget, for example, and how that would interact with budgetary considerations around tax, social welfare and business planning, and to provide for any adjustment in a planned and structured way. Consequently, this very structure achieves what the Senator is trying to achieve by the amendment. I am satisfied that there will be sufficient lead-in time for businesses to plan for any adjustment. I recognise the spirit and intent in which the amendment was tabled by Deputy Calleary and put forward by Deputy Keaveney today. However, I cannot accept the amendment because I believe it is unnecessary given the new structure that we are putting in place and the timeline that we envisage.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 6, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:“(5) Where the Minister declares an order for any increase to the national minimum wage, a sufficient lead-in period should be made available for this new rate to be met in a planned way.”.
I wish to make a point on a couple of amendments I will table on Report Stage to section 6. Again, the issue relates to timeframes. Line 10 on page 6 contains a reference to the Minister doing something about matters within three months of the date of receipt of a recommendation in the report. For example, he or she could declare a national minimum hourly rate of pay. We think it should be a shorter period of one month rather than three months.
The Minister currently has two options to declare a national minimum hourly rate of pay in line with what the commission recommends or in other terms. We would like to see that changed to some formulation to the effect that the rate would be improved or some indication that the Minister can only vary the rate upwards as opposed to downwards. We will table another amendment to that effect on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 6, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
“Complaints and protection against victimisation
7. An employer shall not penalise or threaten against a worker, or cause or permit any other person to penalise or threaten penalisation against a worker for having made statement to the Low Pay Commission or for giving evidence on their own experience through their representative organisation.”.
The amendment deals with complaints and protection against victimisation. The amendment is straightforward in its intent and is recommended by ICTU. Workers who give evidence, or make a statement, to the commission need to be protected against penalisation by their employers. This protection is offered under the workplace relations service and similar anti-victimisation protections were included by the Government in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill.
Amendment No. 15 proposes to introduce a new section 7 of the Bill on anti-victimisation provisions for workers who make a statement to the Low Pay Commission or give evidence to the commission via their representative organisation. I recognise the Deputy’s intent with the amendment, however, there are already a significant number of protections in place for workers who consider they have been the subject of victimisation in the workplace. However, as it stands, any worker who might find himself or herself the subject of victimisation measures for making a statement to the Low Pay Commission or giving evidence via his or her trade union already has the possibility of taking a case under the Industrial Relations Acts.
In addition, the 2004 code of practice on victimisation provides that where there is a dispute in an employment where collective bargaining fails to take place, and where negotiating arrangements are not in place, no person should be victimised or suffer disadvantage as a consequence of his or her legitimate actions or affiliations arising from the dispute.
The procedure for addressing complaints of victimisation is set out in the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 and those protections will be further enhanced in the context of provisions in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015, the collective bargaining legislation dealing with the Government’s commitment on collective bargaining which this House has recently passed, and which we hope will be enacted very shortly. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendment.
I will press the amendment. ICTU has recommended the change. I accept there are protections in place but it is important to note that ICTU does not consider they are sufficiently strong and the proposed amendment would enhance the position.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 7, lines 24 and 25, to delete “National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Act 2015” and substitute “Low Pay Commission Act 2015”.
There are different parts to the amendment. The Minister of State has the information in front of him. Sinn Féin is ambitious for the Low Pay Commission and has argued for its statutory remit to be expanded to include low pay and the various economic and social factors behind increasing levels of economic and income inequality in this country. We have submitted the amendments to highlight the disappointment that the legislation is so limited in its expectation of the commission’s work. As presented to us, the Government has drafted a National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill that is a missed opportunity to tackle low pay in a real and meaningful manner.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the necessary amendments to the National Minimum Wage Act to ensure the establishment of the Low Pay Commission on a statutory basis. It is not just about the national minimum wage. This is about low pay and dealing with the issue on a structured basis with a statutory body. The principal function of the Low Pay Commission will be, on an annual basis, to examine and make recommendations to the Minister on the national minimum wage with a view to securing that the minimum wage, where adjusted, is adjusted incrementally over time having had regard to changes in earnings, productivity, overall competitiveness and the likely impact any adjustment will have on employment and unemployment levels.
The Bill replaces the previous means by which the national minimum wage could be adjusted in the past and replaces those with the annual analysis and recommendation by the Low Pay Commission. Those means were set out in sections 11, 12 and 13 of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, which are now repealed by section 9. Clearly, the role of the Low Pay Commission is firmly set and anchored within the national minimum wage legislation of the State, but that does not mean that the remit of the Low Pay Commission is a narrow one. It is not the case that because Sinn Féin consistently says it, that it is somehow true. Just because it does not suit the narrative of Deputy Ellis and others, it does not make it the case. This is an institutional framework to deal with the challenge of low pay. It is the most important institutional change made in this country in terms of tackling low pay for many years. I am confident that this will make a considerable impact for those living on low pay. It reflects very well on the Government in terms of our commitment to making work pay and making the institutional changes we need to make that happen. It compares very favourably indeed with the lack of action of Deputy Ellis’s party in government in Northern Ireland, which is unfortunately, a classic low pay economy.
As I previously stated, the commission is about much more than setting the rate of the national minimum wage. Section 5 also provides that the commission may be requested by the Minister to examine and report on such matters related generally to the functions of the commission under the Act. That request will be made not later than two months after the Bill is enacted and in subsequent years by the end of February each year, and will be part of that year’s work programme of the commission. It is important as well that we do not tie the hands of the commission. Priorities will change and there will be issues to which the Government of the day will need to react in a very structured way with the institutional framework we are providing. That is why I have ruled out some of the proposals made on Committee Stage in an attempt to enhance, as some would see it, some of the provisions around the criteria for making recommendations to the Low Pay Commission.
We have a good structure in place, one that will work. The way we have structured the system will allow me, and future Ministers, to ask the Low Pay Commission each year to do a range of other work to address areas about which we are all concerned and to advise the Government in a professional and expert way and, critically, in an evidence-based way about the best approaches administrations can take to address the scourge of low pay. For those reasons, I cannot accept the amendments.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 8, line 16, after “persons” to insert “, one of whom shall be a person currently managing a small to medium sized enterprise,”.
The objective of amendment No. 17 is to insert after “persons”, “one of whom shall be a person currently managing a small to medium sized enterprise”. The amendment speaks for itself.
On amendment No. 18, in its submission to the committee, the National Women's Council of Ireland recommended that sociology would be recognised as an area of expertise covered by the commission’s membership. We support the recommendation and have extended it to include social policy as well. That would be a fair change to make.
Amendment No. 19 is similar to Deputy Keaveney’s amendment and seeks the inclusion of the owner of an SME as a member of the commission. We hold the view that a low-paid worker would bring valuable and practical knowledge and expertise to its work.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 8, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
“(d) 3 members shall be appointed from among persons, who in the opinion of the Minister, are low paid workers, who have an understanding of the socio and economic impact of low pay on individuals and their families, including access to social goods, equality of opportunity and living standards.”.
I want to advise the committee that I propose to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage relating to disqualification provisions in respect of membership of the commission contained in the Schedule to the Bill. Currently, reference is made to certain provisions of the Companies Act 1990. This will require an amendment to insert corresponding provisions under the recent Companies Act 2014. It is the same provisions but the Title of the Bill is different. It is the Companies Act 2014 and not the Companies Act 1990.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 3, line 8, to delete “related matters” and substitute “matters related to low pay”.
This is to delete "related matters" and substitute "matters related to low pay". The amendment speaks for itself.