Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 9 May 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016: Discussion (Resumed)
I remind members, visitors and those in the Visitors Gallery to, please, ensure their mobile phones are switched off or left in flight mode for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment, even when left in silent mode. I have been informed that there has been interference already today with the broadcasting equipment. I, therefore, ask everyone to, please, comply with this request.
I welcome from the Teachers Union of Ireland Ms Annette Dolan, deputy general secretary, and Mr. Colm Kelly, assistant general secretary, and from the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland Mr. Ed Byrne, president, and Mr. Diarmuid de Paor, deputy general secretary.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If, however, they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I remind delegates that their presentations should be no more than five minutes in duration. The presentations submitted have been circulated to members.
Ms Annette Dolan:
I thank the joint committee for giving us the opportunity to address it on this important issue. The Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, represents more than 16,000 members in the second level, further education, adult education and higher education sectors. Many of our members have experienced a range of issues related to precarious and casualised employment and although the union has, through a variety of collective agreements and expert reports, secured methods to address these concerns, there remain several issues that the proposed Bill may address.
The TUI has been campaigning against precarious employment and casualised work for more than a decade. The introduction of the Fixed Term Workers Act 2003 had the unintended consequence in the education sector of not making a teacher or lecturer permanent but part-time. Previously in the education sector permanence had travelled hand in hand with full-time work, but this unfortunately has changed. The TUI supports the recommendations made in the University of Limerick study and believes the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 is an important way of ending the exploitation of workers and will do so in respect of the more than 40 grades it represents.
Our permanent part-time members have experience reduced security of employment, reduced terms and conditions and reduced pay owing to their long-term experience of part-time work. They are as a result finding it extremely difficult to earn a living. They have been employed on rations of hours and for parts of jobs, one third of a job in many cases. In being employed as such they are receiving significantly less pay than their colleagues employed on full-time contracts. This has not necessarily meant that such workers have been available for the other two thirds to undertake other work, as in many instances their work has been scheduled in such a way as to make it impossible to secure any other source of income. Therefore, in the Banded Hours Contract Bill there must be a provision on the scheduling of hours for persons employed for less than full hours. Our members do not have one third of a life, one third of a family or one third of a mortgage. They face the same pressures, financial and familial, as any other person.
The problem in many employments is that there is an assumption on the part of employers that the universal human right to a standard of living adequate for one’s health and well-being, as well as the health and well-being of one family, is secondary to flexibility. The Banded Hours Contract Bill should address this issue.
The TUI’s campaign has led to some improvements by way of a process designed to allow some of our members to accumulate whole-time and permanent positions. We have secured a collective agreement with the Department of Education and Skills for our members across the second level, further education and third level sectors, whereby, although under the law it takes four years to secure a permanent contract, members are obtaining contracts of definite duration or permanent contracts after two years. If they secure a permanent contract of less than four hours, there is a provision in the circular working hours agreement to augment them. There is a ratcheting-up procedure to augment their contracts. That is set out very clearly the for second level and further education sectors. We have had some teething difficulties in the third level sector, but we are hoping they will be addressed further in discussions. For our colleagues in the third level sector, we have had experience of zero hour contracts, hourly paid part-time contracts, associate lecturer precarious contracts and assistant lecturers on part-time contracts of indefinite duration. Again, these are fractions of jobs, with no security of employment.
The pay gained by this precarious work cannot support a living wage. A letter circularised as result of a collective agreement gives contracts of indefinite duration after two years. There is a provision in respect of the augmentation of hours and we hope that the initial difficulties we have had in some places will be addressed further. Maybe that is something the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 can deal with. Researchers employed in the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, who are highly qualified and very valuable to this economy are on very precarious contracts with little or no security of tenure, pension provision or promotional opportunities.
Mr. Colm Kelly:
The TUI notes that the Department of Education and Skills and Education and Training Boards Ireland deploy the 'tutor grade', an undefined grade and an excuse for poorly paying teachers. Tutors in our membership are offered no mutuality of obligation; they have little predictability about the scheduling or number of hours they will be required to work in any given week; they have uncertainty about their income which has consequences for their capacity to access financial credit; they have difficulty in managing work and family life and generally have poorer terms and conditions than those who work full-time hours. The effect is a zero-hour contract, where there is no ongoing confidence for the employee that work will be made available to them. The TUI is of the view that this form of employment should be legally prohibited.
The TUI is currently engaged with the Department of Education and Skills, further to a provision of the Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road Agreements, on the issue of the tutor grade and the failure of the Department to formulate a universally applied method to implement the Fixed Term Work Act 2003, for this cohort and issue contracts of indefinite duration, CID, to the grade. While those discussions are ongoing, the status quois the award of a year averaging contract, a commitment to supply a certain number of hours to each teacher per annum, rather than per week or month. Such annualised CIDs of hours have been given to hundreds of our members. The work, however, is unevenly spread throughout the year. The union continues to insist that hours must be assigned in a manner that facilitates a regular, and living, wage. The so called "flexible" manner of employment sought by employers does little to guarantee a standard of living for either our members or their families.
In many Education and Training Board, ETB training centres, former employees of FÁS, who are deemed instructors or trainers, are working zero hour contracts. They deliver courses, train, upskill and teach on demand. They may receive only a few hours of work per week or they may be deployed up to, and exceeding, 37 hours per week. They find it difficult to take holidays and feel pressurised into accepting work offered, regardless of the logistics of organising their lives around such work, because they will not get paid if there is not enough work available in other weeks. Some of these people have been working like this for several years; the TUI is aware of cases where members have been working for nine years or more on a zero-hour contract.
Our position is that all members have a basic human right to a standard of living and a wage to facilitate that standard of living. This can only be achieved through ensuring that permanent whole-time work is an achievable short-term goal for our members. The TUI is therefore seeking changes to legislation that would provide for the following: a right in law to a guaranteed minimum number of working hours and a legal prohibition on zero-hour contracts; a right to be paid compensation, when no work is made available; an amendment to the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 to require an employer to provide a written statement of terms and conditions of employment, including working hours, from day one of employment; the right to claim an alteration to the contract of employment in respect of working hours if over a specified reference period, their actual working hours were more than their contracted hours, as provided for in the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016; a requirement for employers to advise all part-time staff of available hours and, in the case of hours that are likely to be required on an ongoing basis, the right for employees to claim such hours in advance of the employer advertising a vacancy; a structure for ensuring that part-time hours are assigned in a manner that does not preclude workers from engaging in other work to supplement their part-time income.
Mr. Diarmaid de Paor:
I thank the committee for the invitation to address it this afternoon on behalf of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland which represents 18,000 second level teachers. I also take the opportunity to welcome this Bill albeit with some hopes for amendment.
Second level teaching has suffered immeasurably over the past decade as a result of the continuing casualisation of teaching in our schools. Short-term contracts, small hours and casual hours have meant that teachers have found it very difficult to feel the security in their employment that is necessary for them to be able to give of their very best. A lack of continuity in the relationship between students and their teachers does not lead to optimum results for these students in their academic, emotional and social development at a crucial time in their lives.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, has, in the past, drawn attention to the fact that Ireland has a very high level of teachers employed on part-time or fixed term contracts and to the potential damage to the education system that these atypical work patterns can cause. It must, however, be acknowledged that some progress has been made in recent years on fixed term contracts. This is largely thanks to the implementation of the expert group on fixed-term and part-time employment in primary and second level education in Ireland, which arose out of the Haddington Road Agreement. Its report is colloquially known as the Ward report. Of course, ASTI members are not benefiting from the provisions of the Ward report at the moment, but perhaps that is a matter best left to another day.
However, the issue of hundreds of teachers on part-time hours remains a blight on second level education in Ireland. The conditions of these teachers range from those who have 15 or 16 hours per week on a permanent basis by way of a part-time CID right down to teachers who get a few this week and a few the next on an entirely casual basis. In a recent Red C survey of teachers who commenced teaching in the past six years 27% of those teachers work on a part-time basis.
Teachers who are not on full hours, and particularly those with no certainty as to hours, are not able to establish themselves as full members of their school communities. They do not know from one year to the next, and often from one week to the next, how many hours they will have, what they can and cannot afford to do about living arrangements, will they have to work another job to make ends meet, as many teachers do. This is not conducive to helping new teachers to blossom into their careers as the educators of our children as they should. In fact, this mode of precarious employment militates against the integration of these teachers, who are the best qualified than at any other time in the history of the State, fully into their school communities.
There have been some attempts, following negotiations with the Department of Education and Skills and the school management bodies to deal with increasing the hours of CID holders by way of circular letter. However, these circulars only benefit those teachers who have already acquired CIDs and they are often more honoured in the breach than the observance. In short, there needs to be a legislative basis for these measures in order to ensure that our young teachers – and by extension our adolescent students – can gain the full benefits. We hope that at a later stage the Bill can be amended to include measures such as a minimum call out for part-time and casual work and some form of commitment to a minimum number of hours per week for casual workers, for example, so that they are not sitting by the phone not knowing whether they can make commitments or what they can do. On the basis of the improvements that are in the Bill the ASTI welcomes any move to increase the hours of our many part-time teachers and therefore in principle welcomes the Bill.
As the mother of a son who qualified last May as a secondary teacher in University College Cork, UCC, and is teaching history, economics and business, I can agree with everything the witnesses have said, and that it is not conducive to helping new teachers blossom into their careers when they are by the phone on a Sunday night. Today I am happy to say he is in Coláiste Éanna in Dublin but tomorrow he will be in Kilmacthomas in Waterford. He is getting work, thankfully but when it comes to bank holidays and holidays he picks up a different job on a farm. As a concerned mother I can agree with every word the witnesses have said.
Well done to the witnesses for encapsulating the challenges that young teachers are facing. They are correct that some improvements have been made recently in terms of the contractual situation but more can be made. I am glad that the TUI representatives welcome the recommendations and findings in the University of Limerick report. When the process started a couple of years ago I was very anxious to ensure that the public sector trade unions were involved because I think there was an incorrect view that the casualisation in the work place and precarious work in general were exclusive to the private sector. We know only too well that they have become a feature of the public sector as well over the past decade notwithstanding attempts made in successive public sector pay agreements to try to address some of the worst excesses of those practices. For second level teachers and for those operating in the third level sector the forthcoming public sector pay talks will provide an opportunity to address some of the issues around precarious work.
As the witnesses correctly pointed out, some improvements have been made in some recent agreements. There is no doubt about that and I think that is on the record. Without exposing us to their negotiating strategy, could the witnesses identify in broad terms what they feel are the priorities for their own unions, separately? What is the way in which they would address the issues of casualisation and how will they narrow the pay gap that has emerged over the last few years? I know that efforts have been made to do that and to address the whole issue of pay equality, and more specifically, precarious work. How will the witnesses use the issue presented by the forthcoming pay talks to address that very serious issue?
Ms Annette Dolan:
There is one very straightforward way of addressing it. That is that permanent jobs would be advertised. That was the reality up until quite a short time ago. The introduction of the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 was meant to address casualisation but had the opposite effect, whereby individual appointments were being made on a part-time basis rather than a full-time basis. So one was employed as a second level teacher for ten hours, maybe, if he or she was lucky, and could be stuck on that until after four years, when one became entitled to a contract of indefinite duration, CID, if there were not objective grounds preventing that.
With the recent collective agreements now, a person can get a contract of indefinite duration after two years. The reality is that many of our members are getting contracts of indefinite duration on maybe a third or half of a job, but not full hours. There is a provision in that recent agreement arising from the Ward report and the Cush report at third level, whereby if hours become available and those hours are held for a year, then one's contract of indefinite duration can be augmented. So if one has a contract of indefinite duration for ten hours and gets another two hours on top of that, then holds that for the year, then one will have a CID for 12 hours, but still has a long way to go to get a CID for 22 hours, to have a full contract.
In our view, if permanent jobs could be advertised from the outset, that would be one way of addressing it. A legislative basis would be helpful for the augmentation, because what we have is a collective agreement where we feel that hours are not being added on. We end up talking about it in an industrial relations space, but a legislative basis would be helpful.
We have some other difficulties with adult education and further education. I ask my colleague, Mr. Colm Kelly, to deal with that.
Mr. Colm Kelly:
We have grades in adult and further education beyond the teacher and lecturer grade. We have in excess of 40 grades, many of whom are on the whole-time equivalent of 37 hours per week, as are most other public servants. Those grades are obviously finding it more difficult to hit those 37 hours. Again, like the teaching grade and the lecturing grade, they had previously been appointed permanent, and up until the last four to five years, most of those grades had regularly been appointed permanent.
The tutor grade is slightly different. It is deployed within education and training boards. It is paid at the unqualified teachers' rate and is generally deployed in adult literacy at this stage. The TUI has been campaigning for the last few years and taking a variety of cases to insist that these jobs are teaching jobs. It has had some success with that. Those that remain in those jobs have reached a higher bar of 37 hours per week over a 42-week year as opposed to the school year, which is a 33-week year, and it is a much more difficult prospect. Almost the entirety of our tutor membership could be considered part-time, which is some ways an opinion rather than an assertion, as the Department of Education and Skills has not advised us as to the number of hours a whole-time equivalent would have, but they certainly have significantly fewer hours than a teacher would have and are paid at the unqualified rate. Recent agreements with the Department of Education and Skills have seen us converting those grades into teacher grades and then applying the same provisions as for teacher grades.
We also have a resource person grade which is deployed within Youthreach settings, which was appointed on a permanent, whole-time basis until recently. Further to an agreement with the Department of Education and Skills around 2012, which saw a proliferation of resource persons being hired into the Youthreach sector where previously teachers had been hired, we now have a proliferation of part-time resource persons which we did not have previously. The problem that we had with the teaching grade, which we were addressing through a variety of collective agreements, then became a problem for that resource person grade on 37 hours per week. We addressed that in the last agreement, which is called the Department of Education and Skills/TUI May agreement 2016, which was the agreement that brought the TUI into the Lansdowne Road agreement. Over the last number of weeks, the Department of Education and Skills has issued a direction to all education and training boards to make all of those persons and resource person contracts permanent immediately. We will look for solutions like that for our other grades that are having problems. As I said, we seek immediate permanence and then, as quickly as possible, a ladder towards whole-time permanence.
Mr. Diarmaid de Paor:
I am echoing what both Ms Dolan and Mr. Kelly have been saying. Permanent jobs is one of the issues. It is interesting that the notion of an objective ground for not giving somebody a CID after four years seems to be very well-known by the employers in education. There does not seem to be a notion that there has to be an objective ground for giving a fixed-term contract in the first place. While the Department will continually say to us that it has no reason, and there is no bar from the Department to giving somebody a permanent job once there is vacancy, I think it needs to be far sterner. It should be giving a permanent job if there is not a reason for it to be a fixed-term contract. I had a fixed term contract myself in 1988. It was a dubious fixed-term contract, and probably one of the first in the country. I am familiar with the dubious fixed-term contract. If a teacher of Irish or mathematics is employed in a school next September, there is no way the school can say a teacher of mathematics will not be needed in ten, 12 or 15 years time, so why is that person not given a permanent job subject to normal probation? I think that should be enforced. Maybe we should do more on our side, but the Department should tell schools to give people jobs if they have jobs to give. If there are issues to do with numbers dropping, that can be dealt with by way of redeployment or such like, as is normal.
In the meantime - let us not be totally optimistic and think we are going to get everything we want when we go into these talks - there could be an extensive of the Ward report. There are many areas in which it could be extended. There are teachers not covered at the moment, like teachers who are covering for teachers on job-sharing, for example. There are also what one might call itinerant teachers, teachers who have had a series of jobs in different schools and have been unlucky. They have covered for a maternity leave in one place, then a career break in another place, and teachers have come back. We have teachers who have had 11 years of teaching in different schools and because of that, they are no further on the road to permanency. That can either be dealt with by way of a panel, which is supposed to be dealt with under the Haddington Road agreement, or by extending the Ward report in such a way as to encompass these people and say that if they have done a certain number of years, they will automatically be put on the redeployment panel. I think that would be the simplest and easiest way to deal with it and we are looking for something like that.
The issues that are addressed in the Bill here specifically and the ones we would like to see further addressed to do with shorter hours are issues we would like to see have legislative underpinning, but we could also seek some progress as part of collective agreements. As members of the committee know, collective agreements do not have the same legal standing as if legislation supported them.
That is the case in brief. My contribution was shorter because I represent only one grade and not 40.
Mr. Ed Byrne:
I wish to add a number of points. The nature of the entry to the profession is dysfunctional. Even those seeking to register with the Teaching Council are finding it difficult to get the necessary 300 hours experience that allows them to become registered teachers. That is a difficulty.
We were asked about our strategy on short-term working, casualisation and entry to the profession when we were going into pay talks. One of the first things that could be done is an examination of the pupil: teacher ratio, which rose as a results of cuts. The cuts also affected guidance counsellors which were ex-quota posts. There are areas in which we could free up more space for younger teachers coming into the system. We have all heard the arguments in recent days about the right to continue to work after the age of 65 years, but my pet issue is that there is no step-down in teaching. A classroom teacher does 22 hours right up to the cliff face of 65 years of age, if one wants to work to that time and then one retires. There should be a step-down that would allow people to withdraw from teaching and take a mentoring or an administrative role in the schools for a period of time while younger teachers come on board to do their 300 hours which they require for registration with the Teaching Council. There is a lot to be done in the education sector, without even touching things like the Ward report and so on, which the people whom I represent are currently barred from.
How does the practice of engaging retired teachers in temporary positions exacerbate the problem we are trying to deal with for the younger members of the teaching community who are trying to get a foot on the ladder and work up to the 300 hours that is the minimum experience for teacher registration?
Mr. Diarmaid de Paor:
It obviously impacts on the availability of hours. There have been changes, where one is not supposed to employ a retired teacher until one has gone through a great many hoops and then when one does employ a retired teacher it is supposed to be on a temporary basis. On the other hand one has to have a certain sympathy with the difficulty of finding a teacher, for example if one needs a teacher to teach physics through Irish in the west, it may not be that easy to find somebody. What is necessary is that the departmental circulars that are in place are enforced. The easy option often for a principal is to use a good teacher whom he or she knows from the time they worked at the school. He or she will try to get a person whom he or she knows will turn up for the three weeks and will try to bypass the departmental procedures. There is a need for enforcement.
There is an issue with temporary teachers. I also get a lot of complaints about exam superintendents, when people who are retired get the job when some of our younger teachers who only have part-time work need the money and should have the first choice. That is an issue. To be fair, measures have been taken and it is a question of enforcement.
Mr. Ed Byrne:
The principal may have only had short notice that a teacher will be out for the rest of the week. Now the issue of vetting raises a problem. If one can hire a retired teacher who has the vetting fulfilled it is much easier than employing somebody who has not registered with the Teaching Council and may not have gone through the full vetting procedures. There are issue. We would like to see this problem fully dealt with because there is no future in hiring retired teachers if one does not have to.
Mr. Diarmaid de Paor:
That is a good question. I do not know how closely it is monitored but it must have a way of monitoring it because the Department will see the returns and the substitution and who they are paying.
Unless somebody from a school reports it to us, we will not know what is actually happening. If a member rings up and tells us that retired teachers are employed when anybody is out sick for any length of time then we could do something about it.
I do not know how it is being monitored in the Department of Education and Skills, perhaps it is a question that we should put to the Department.
Before I call Senator Paul Gavan, may I ask Mr. Byrne again about the 300 hours? When somebody qualifies to become a teacher, he or she has a three year period in which to get 300 hours experience. One could be teaching 22 hours a week but one may not be teaching the particular subjects one studied to degree level, so the hours do not qualify. I am speaking from a personal point of view, as a teacher of history and economics, one could be teaching for the whole day but none of those hours count because one is not teaching the subjects that one qualified in. Will that be a particular difficulty for young teachers trying to get his or her pin?
Mr. Ed Byrne:
It is a long time since I heard that expression. The Chairman instanced the subjects of history and economics. I am an economics teachers. One will have leaving certificate students doing economics. I teach in a school of 600 students. We have one economics class in fifth year, one economics class in sixth year. The chances of building up hours in that particular subject are slim. It may be a little easier to get hours to teach history. History tends to be offered in all schools to classes up to the junior certificate level. We hope that continues. It depends on the teacher's subjects. If one teaches core subjects, such as maths, Irish or English or if they teach subjects that are widely done at junior certificate level, such as history and geography, one should be able to build up the hours in those subjects. It is a concern.
Mr. Diarmaid de Paor:
It was not. This has come in with the Teaching Council. There is an anomaly because one's qualification in your subject is what you did in your degree. The teaching hours should be about your experience as a teacher. It can be more challenging and one may learn far more teaching a subject that is not the one that one qualified in, teaching the resource hours or other hours. Quite frankly I think we would argue that they should all qualify. In fact, the 300 hours requirement is excessive in our view. It is excessive because it is not practical to do it. Ideally one could say one should teach a full year of every class. That is great if it were possible for people to do it, but it is not and as Mr. Byrne said, it becomes more restrictive the more esoteric the subject. In respect of some of those subjects, there is the highest demand from people outside education for that education. There is a demand for students with physics, chemistry and economics. Yet we are saying to our physics, chemistry and economics teachers, we are going to make it really difficult for the teacher with those subject to get qualified.
Mr. Colm Kelly:
On that issue, one of the things we are cognisant of and many of us are trained as teachers, it did not take us half the length of time to train as teachers as it currently does. One now has a situation where a science graduate is spending four years doing an undergraduate degree and other two years completing their postgraduate master's in education.
It could be another two to three years before they complete their Teaching Council registration hours. The length of time and number of hoops that our members have to jump through to become recognised teachers are becoming ridiculous. As I stated, many of us are trained teachers and we did not have to jump through half of those hoops.
I start by welcoming both presentations, which clearly highlight how big an issue is the so-called flexible working - it is precarious work in reality - in the education sector. I welcome that in the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, proposal a number of conclusions seem to tie in with the contents of our banded hours Bill. I was particularly struck by the phrase "our members do not have one third lives, a third of a family, a third of a mortgage" and it sums up the dilemma that members in both unions must face.
With this extensive "casualisation" of the education sector that has happened over the past decade, what impact has it had on the quality of education? In particular I am thinking about issues like continuity of teaching. We have always had this huge pride in our education system but this casualisation seems to have been Government policy. Only for the tremendous negotiating skills and the value of collective bargaining, it would have been even worse. What impact is this having on the quality of the education system being provided to our children?
Ms Annette Dolan:
It is not having a negative impact on the education system but it is having a negative impact on the individuals concerned. The reality is when one speaks to teachers or lecturers on less than full hours, they are working extremely hard, night and day, to impress the employer so they will get more hours in the following year. The reality is it is having a very positive effect in terms of the quality of the education system but in terms of keeping those individuals within second level, further education or higher education, they will not last in the system. They will have to emigrate and look elsewhere for jobs. That is what is happening. There is a large cohort going to the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Canada and Australia seeking work. There is also a large cohort on less than full hours who must work elsewhere. The difficulty is although they may be on a third of a job, their hours are spread across the week. It is difficult for them to find alternative employment. One of the recommendations we seek is there must be a scheduling issue.
Ms Annette Dolan:
If an employer is to get the best out of teachers, those teachers and lecturers need full-time jobs. To get full commitment from somebody and in order for him or her to be fully engaged and feel like an important member of staff, those people must be engaged on a full-time basis. It is difficult and the only way to address it is to employ people on full hours.
Mr. Diarmaid de Paor:
Although I would not disagree with Ms Dolan and there is no effect on the quality of the teaching, there is an effect on the quality of the education. I am the only person on this side who is not a teacher but I am a parent and I value so much the relationship that my children in secondary school have with their teachers. I have nothing but admiration for the way teachers relate to their students and continuity and stability is terribly important in that.
If we go abroad, the following aspect is often seen as unique to Ireland. People may go on about it a bit but the extra-curricular commitment from teachers does not happen elsewhere in Europe. People are amazed by it. If a teacher wants to work with the football team but must work at Tesco because he or she does not have enough hours, the teacher cannot do that activity. One loses continuity and whereas the people are very committed, young teachers can be very idealistic. They see their profession as a vocation. We are doing as much as we can to disillusion them in the first five, six or seven years. By the time they get a foothold on a permanent job, they may have become cynical about the whole issue. It is a very dangerous road to go down to say we will milk them for a few years while they are enthusiastic. In a way, that is why people are getting away with it. The young teachers really want to teach. It is a dangerous path as a long-term benefit because these people will go from the teaching profession. It will be like it is in Britain, where the average time teaching is seven years. We do not want that and we must be very careful it does not happen here.
Mr. Colm Kelly:
As members know, the TUI represents teachers in community colleges and we are very cognisant of that title. The colleges our members work in, no less than the secondary schools, are communities in themselves. Part of the educational experience is the pastoral experience. Young teachers in many schools are the ones most in touch, although I probably would not be thanked by our more senior members for saying that. They are the teachers with whom students identify quite a lot. Our experience is there is a major annual turnover of young teachers as they seek employment elsewhere. A young teacher could be working in a school for a year, develop close relationships with the community, students and parents and the following year, for the sake of getting an extra hour, could move to an entirely different county looking for more work. The idea of casualised work does not lend itself to building a school community. It teaches our students and children how to engage with communities later in life. The young teacher turnover is probably the biggest problem. We have teachers who are hopping from school to school. The ASTI has made reference to seeking a panel for permanent posts as people gain experience across a number of different schools but as our younger teachers keep jumping from school to school, those school communities will stay in a state of flux. Instead of developing into a steady and secure community for our children, they will remain in that state of flux.
Mr. Ed Byrne:
One of my least favourite sayings from the crisis was "doing more with less" because doing more with less is not possible in the long term. Schools have gone through a period where they have used an old saying from the Second World War II or the Emergency, which is "make do and mend". Those who have made do and mended are the young. They are the teachers who come in to cover a class at 11 a.m. but end up hanging around the school all day in the hope of picking up something by the end of that day. They become auxiliary staff. They are put upon and it is difficult to say "No". If somebody is looking for work the next day, week, month or year, it becomes difficult to say "No" to somebody who says "You would not just-----?". It is one of the problems that leads to burnout. It will lead to a scenario like they have in Britain.
I attended some of the teacher conferences in Britain recently. Teachers are simply getting up and walking away within ten years because they feel deprofessionalised and undervalued. So far in this country we have managed to keep our teachers feeling somewhat valued. The issue of doing more with less and undervaluing teachers coming into the profession will be major issue as it will lead to burn-out. It is a difficulty.
I thank the witnesses for coming in. I am a qualified secondary school teacher who practised for six months after qualifying and left the profession. It was not for me. I am now in politics so people can weigh that for themselves.
I taught construction and technical graphics. I did the concurrent degree in the University of Limerick so it was a bachelor of technology and education. I assume it is still there. I went through pedagogy concurrently in the four years and this goes back to what was mentioned about teaching practice. There is the idea that this could go towards the 300 hours or weighted towards them.
Not so much in second year teaching practice, but in fourth year I learned more than what I did on my first day of teaching. The learning curve was huge. It was ten to 12 weeks and it was quite constant. We were not paid. I do not know whether people undertaking teaching practice are paid now, but we were not. I used to work every hour God sent, here, there and everywhere. I gained huge experience out of that. That could be put towards it.
The witness mentioned vetting, and how a principal might be looking for a teacher in an emergency situation. It goes back to Deputy Collins's point on retired teachers. I would like the witness to elaborate on vetting and what the process is. I understood that if someone is vetted they are ready to go, that they are a sub on the bench and then they get off the bench and work. If principles are looking for teachers in an emergency situation and it is on an ad hoc basis would this Bill not defeat the purpose of why they are looking for those people in the first place? They are looking for people for a day here, an hour or two hours there, whereas I understand that we are trying to band the hours together and give teachers some certainty, to guarantee five or ten hours a week. I would like some clarification around that in case I have misunderstood.
Mr. Diarmaid de Paor:
It would certainly help to have teachers who knew that they were committed to a particular school for a certain time. We have to be honest and say that it is not going to obviate the problem. The problem is that there might be some teachers with a commitment from a school for a certain number of hours a week who might therefore be called upon, but suddenly a chemistry teacher is required and none is available. Sometimes a teacher gets sick and a replacement is required, but at second level the teachers are specialised and one cannot imagine that a teacher could be permanently employed by the school for a number of hours on every single subject. It is very important that there is a hierarchy of what is done when a substitute is required, and that starts with a qualified teacher looking for work who is not retired. Those are the people who need the work most. If we had a situation were people were to be employed on a casual basis we can be imaginative about it. It could be for groups of schools. It need not be a case where one school is committing to employing a French teacher whether it was needed or not. If there were a group of schools in an area that a teacher could get a commitment from and was going to be paid for a minimum number of hours, and if they worked more they would get paid more, that might work. Schools in a particular radius could have a French or chemistry or English teacher. Obviously there will be times when the French teacher is working in one school and somebody falls ill in another school so one of the schools would still need somebody else, but the Bill could, if used imaginatively, reduce the need for that.
Ms Annette Dolan:
The availability of such teachers to do substitute work or fill-in work is an issue. The difficulty that arises in terms of getting a contract of indefinite duration is that one will only get a contract of indefinite duration by staying with the same employer. I was contacted recently by a teacher who had worked for 14 years in separate schools and so still had no contract of indefinite duration. The reason that that is the case is that she teaches a minority subject, so even though she has found work in different parts of the country, mainly filling in for maternity leaves because it is a minority subject-----
Ms Annette Dolan:
We do not come across that type of individual very often but it is a reality that this kind of teacher exists. There should be some mechanism through this Bill so that this type of teacher would accumulate tenure to go towards a contract of indefinite duration. Even though we have achieved a lot through the collective agreements that we have reached that is one issue that is still outstanding.
The requirement for 300 hours in a core subject was mentioned. Is there parity in subjects that might be similar that would count towards that? If I was a teacher of construction and was able to teach graphics or metalwork does that go towards the 300 hours as there are similar traits in the subjects?
Mr. Colm Kelly:
It depends on whether they are teaching their curricular subjects or what kind of supportive role they are undertaking. The autistic spectrum disorder, ASD, units are a very new idea, and indeed there are more specific post-graduate qualifications coming on stream every year to train teachers for delivering in those units.
Mr. Diarmaid de Paor:
There is also a huge irony, because once someone is qualified there is nothing to prevent an employer from getting a new teacher to teach a subject they are not qualified to teach. It might be decided that a maths teacher is to teach English, if the teacher is agreeable. The huge irony is that although one cannot get qualified by teaching outside subjects, once qualified it does not matter.
Mr. Colm Kelly:
That is the reality of trying to build one's contracted hours. I was a qualified music teacher in 2005, and it was only when I started to take on extra maths and CSPE and SPHE and other acronyms that I managed to build towards a full-time contract because there was no school in my area needing 22 hours of music lessons.
That is a very good point. I thank the witnesses for coming here today to engage with the committee. I propose that we suspend the meeting for a moment to allow our next guests to take their seats. It was very worthwhile. I thank the witnesses for all their information. I will certainly be in touch regarding those 300 hours. It is an anomaly.
I welcome Mr. Professor James Wickham, director, and Dr. Alicja Bobek, researcher, of Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC; Mr. Annie Hoey, president, and Mr. Daniel Waugh, vice president for campaigns of the Union of Students of Ireland; and Ms Edel McGinley, director, and Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari, policy and research officer, of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.
Before we commence, in accordance with procedure, I am required to read the following notice on privilege. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I remind our guests that their presentations should be of no more than five minutes duration. The presentations submitted by today's attendees have been circulated to Members.
I invite a representative of the Union of Students of Ireland to make their presentation first, as Deputy Bríd Smith has to leave the meeting early. If one of the representatives would make the presentation, I will then take Deputy Bríd Smith's questions and we will then move on.
Ms Annie Hoey:
Yes. I thank the members of the committee for this opportunity to address them today on this very important issue, one that is particularly close to many students' hearts. The Union of Students in Ireland, USI, has campaigned on the issue of zero-hour contracts for a number of years, and we are constantly dispelling the myth that students want these precarious contracts. From the outset, I want to state that the USI's position stands that zero-hour contracts should be fully banned.
Despite the idea that if-and-when, low hour or zero-hour contracts suit students, as has been raised at a previous meeting, that is not the case. I would add that arguments raised in this regard are weak, and act as smoke and mirrors. The committee must be careful not to mistake flexibility for exploitation.
To emphasise the negative effects of low and zero-hour contracts for students, let me explain the context in which students live. Most colleges charge an annual student contribution or a registration fee which covers student services and examinations. The maximum rate of the student contribution for the academic year 2016-17 is €3,000. It should be noted that in the period from 2007 to 2014, the student contribution fee increased by 363%, from €825 to €3000. I have many thoughts on that issue but that is a matter for a different committee and for a different day.
Rents in Ireland stabilised during 2010 but began to increase during 2013 and are now being reported to be above €1,000 in Ireland, which is a level that is far beyond the capacity of students to afford. The DIT Cost of Living 2016 survey states that a minimum of €1,222 a month is needed for students living away from home. That figure does not change much for students residing in Galway, Limerick or Cork or in any other major urban areas.
In 2010, the Eurostudent Survey received 13,530 valid responses from students in Ireland. Just over half of all students - 53% - indicated they work during term time, 35% regularly and 18% occasionally. This national survey found that 65% of full-time students and 82% of part-time students indicated that they worked during term break while 54% of full-time students and 63% of part-time students felt that working during the term time affected their academic performance.
This case is typical in countries such as Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal where there is moderate overlap between education and the labour market, with a very high level of youth unemployment being worst hit by the economic crisis. The most common fields for students in Ireland to work in were services and catering in which 64% and 63% of students, respectively, work during term time. Across Europe, a similar picture unfolds where wholesale, retail, accommodation and catering services are fields connected with student labour, especially for young students. A total of 25% of working students under the age of 25 work in the wholesale and retail sectors, while another 15% work in accommodation and catering sectors.
Ireland is a low-pay economy with traditional low-paid sectors - retail and hospitality - falling further behind EU averages. A full picture sees students working in areas that are typically low-paid, are at risk or already in poverty and are in a position to work more hours, with their academic performance put on the line. This is due to the pressure to meet high costs of living where fees are €3,000, rents are increasing and changes to the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant sees students struggling to fund college, work for little pay and not enough hours.
As noted, students typically work in wholesale, retail, accommodation and food sectors. Evidence shows that these sectors are not only low-paid but provide very low hours, typically between one and eight hours. These if-and-when or zero-hour contracts lead to unpredictable working hours and unstable income, which have a very negative impact on students' financial security. Students are paying up to €1,222 a month to live while also studying at college in Dublin. A precarious employment with if-and-when or a zero-hour contract could see students unable to buy food, pay rent, afford public transport or pay bills. Growth in precarious employment in the labour market with internships, temporary work, part-time work, zero-hour and if-and-when contracts has a negative effect on students.
The USI supports the statement of the National Youth Council of Ireland, NYCI, that "young people have an opportunity to enter well-paid and secure employment elongated and frustrated by temporary jobs on a low wage". Today, the number of students who continue working fewer hours than they need is increasing and the only employment for them, too often, are zero-hours contracts. Exploitative zero-hours contracts are leaving students concerned about whether they will have enough work and finance to be able to afford to continue to stay on at third-level. Zero-hour contracts leave students finding it impossible to access loans or credit as they do not have stable, secure income or guaranteed hours. This sort of job insecurity is placing an unnecessary strain on students. Students and young people deserve to have the opportunity to work enough hours to be able to afford a decent standard of living. Our students with the financial burden of having the second highest fees in Europe would benefit from knowing what set hours a week they would be working.
Employer organisations argue that if-and-when contracts and low hours suit employees and especially suit students and women with caring responsibilities. I would add that employers argue that they even have difficulty finding employees who want to work more hours. A number of employer organisations also argue that providing any work to people reduces the cost to the State of paying unemployment benefit. The USI argues that students who are contracted to work low hours and are on if-and-when contracts feel insecure and powerless at work. To think someone would not want predictability and security every week is an incredibly dangerous misconception. Laws that enshrine certainty for workers will not negatively impact business.
The USI's National Student Housing Survey showed the financial strain students face with accommodation. The majority of students stated that their average income is between €251 and €500 a month and this is what the majority of respondents pay for their accommodation. Some 20% were earning between €1 to €250 a month in income. This means that income is spent on accommodation right away leaving very little for bills, food, travel or other materials.
Students need to know their hours. This would help students plan their studies accordingly and give a more balanced work-study life. The USI welcomes the comments made from Ms Patricia King to the effect that at the end of the day, a worker is a worker and no difference should be made between a student and a non-student worker.
We believe that the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 seeks to balance the needs of employers with the needs of workers, giving more predictability as to when and where they are required to work. We welcome the Bill and believe it is a step in right direction in ensuring that those who are studying can have a sense of security and not be exploited while studying.
I thank the Chairman and everybody else for being patient and tolerant with me, as I have to leave to attend another committee meeting dealing with another Bill.
I thank Ms Annie Hoey for her presentation. I would like to ask her a few questions. I was struck by what she said about it being an incredibly dangerous misconception to think that students do not need to know what to expect in their working lives, and I would like to fully back that up.
Young people not just here but across the globe are being taken for granted in a major way these days because the idea is put about that they do not need to know how to live because they are hippies or precarious and other nonsense. In fact, we saw in the French elections and the recent elections in Austria that young people under 25 are very much the disaffected, the minority and those with the highest unemployment levels.
On the basis that students need to know the hours for which they are contracted, can Ms Hoey tell me whether the USI has come across students who are employed and suffer punishment from employers where they have challenged the hours they were given or not given? In other words, this is where they have stuck up for themselves and asserted that it is not possible to work on an if-and-when basis or to live on the resulting pay. This is where they have asked for better hours or set hours or more of an idea of when they are working. Is that challenge or request used to punish them? In other words "Shut up or you will get no hours at all". I have certainly come across that anecdotally. Ms Hoey did not refer to bogus self-employment contracts with companies like Deliveroo. Instead of being a worker, the person is considered to be self-employed when in fact he or she is very reliant on apps and hours dropping into his or her lap as somebody who is supposed to look like he or she is well able to look after his or her own employment. Does USI come across that much?
We had witnesses in to speak on the Bill from ISME and small and medium business in the retail and hospitality sectors. One after another, they indicated to us that the zero-hour contract does not really exist. There was a huge level of denial of its existence on the one hand while on the other hand they said that if the Bill was enacted, it would be a disaster for the hotel and retail industries. We were told it would be particularly disastrous in the era of Brexit, which I believe is being used as a stick with which to beat everybody in the current climate. We are told not to dare to open our mouths about anything because Brexit is going to come down and batter us over the head. Has the USI come across that attitude among employers? They deny these contracts exist, but they do not want to give an inch when it comes to people asking for their rights.
Ms Annie Hoey:
On the topic of punishing students, it would be quite hard to find a student around the country who does not feel he or she has experienced at least some level of punishment. When I was working, I gave a bit of guff and mysteriously and suddenly found myself scheduled for one hour a week in the middle of a Wednesday for no apparent reason. I did not know why that had happened. One will find that when students up and down the country raise issues or even just ask for flexibility during exam week, they have problems. That is not to paint all employers with the same brush, which would not be accurate. However, when this flexibility is allowed, it is quite easy to find students who are very vulnerable and who absolutely need these hours in order to avoid having to drop out of college and who feel they are suddenly being punished when their hours are mysteriously cut with no explanation. Students up and down the country have talked to us about how their hours were cut to an hour a week where they simply asked a question or challenged the status quo. They then did not know if the hours were going to go back up the following week and as such could not go to look for additional work elsewhere to top up their hours.
It is not just students. People who are vulnerable in the retail and hospitality sectors can find these things happening very easily. The people who do this give good and decent employers a really bad name. Other employers should probably stand up to them and point out that they are being given a bad name and that they do not treat their staff that way. They should point out that this behaviour reflects badly on those of them who are good employers. If employers are saying that zero-hour contracts do not exist, I do not see why there is a problem welcoming the Bill to prevent them. I do not mean that in a cheeky way. I mean it in a genuine way. If they do not exist, they should welcome a Bill that will provide a guarantee to their employees of a minimum time to work. Deputy Smith also asked about self-employment contracts. Does Mr. Waugh want to come in on that?
Mr. Daniel Waugh:
The issue with bogus self-employment and the assertion that zero-hour contracts do not exist is that they get around it by having if-and-when contracts. That is sometimes a way to put people on lower hours. For a student to be on one hour one week, 25 hours another week and then back to two hours the third week is unacceptable. Students need approximately eight to 20 hours a week just to get by. We outlined how much it costs a student per month to survive but their incomes are not matching up with that. There needs to be a bit more structure. Everyone who is employed should have structure in his or her week and know exactly how much he or she is earning in order to manage and survive.
Professor James Wickham:
I thank the joint committee for the invitation to address it on the Bill. By way of background, I note that TASC, of which I am the director, is an independent think tank carrying out research and policy analysis. Dr. Alicja Bobek and I produced a report last year, Enforced Flexibility? Working in Ireland Today, which included a study of the hospitality sector. My statement bears almost entirely on that sector because that is where we claim to have some knowledge. I will be addressing the questions put by the committee.
The first issue I was asked to address involves the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work. We keep talking in this context of zero-hour contracts, but strictly speaking there is no such thing in Ireland in the common-sense use of the term. Under a zero-hour contract as understood in the UK, one is offered work and one takes it but if one is not offered work one does not take it and does not get any pay. However, the employee pledges himself or herself to take the work. That is illegal in Ireland under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 which obliges the employer to provide some compensation to employees who are required to be available for work but then not actually utilised. Our research indicates that this is widely ignored because of the widespread use of if-and-when and hybrid contracts.
When employers impose flexibility on employees in this way it generates two sets of problems. The first is that since hours and earnings are both variable and unpredictable, employees have difficulty in making savings, applying for mortgages and financial products and in organising childcare and social life. Normal short-term financial planning is difficult since it is difficult simply to know how much money is available for food, rent and that sort of thing. This precarious employment also makes longer term planning difficult, including for example around parenthood. This is something we really need to get our heads around. People are literally delaying having children because they cannot predict their futures. Although we have not focused on this immediately, we gather that variable hours can also create problems for part-time workers in their applications for jobseeker's allowance.
The second set of problems has already come up today and it is that employers can use the offer of hours as a form of control, in particular in relation to employees' working time itself. If the employer wishes the employee to work at hours which the employee finds inconvenient, the employee can refuse those hours in theory. In practice, however, this will result in the employee being offered fewer hours next week or next month. We must be clear in this regard that people often talk about this as a punishment or a threat. In fact, it is more insidious than that. People know that they have to be available and to accept the hours offered in order to get into a position where they have better hours. Our respondents talk about getting better hours and working their way towards that. Obviously, many part-time workers work regular hours and therefore do not encounter these problems.
Equally, many workers work part time by choice. However, many are clearly identified as involuntary part-time workers. According to EUROSTAT, in Ireland in 2016, 31.5% of all those employed part time were involuntary. Our interviews with workers in the hospitality sector indicate that most want to find part-time work but, crucially, with regular and predictable hours. Many, however, do not receive them.
Zero-hour contracts are banned in Ireland and should remain so. The proposed Bill would make it more difficult for employers to misuse if-and-when contracts to impose variability on employees. The existing regulation under the 1997 Act would then become a useful minimum standard for variable working hours.
There is a discussion about the administrative burden the Bill would impose on small business. The Bill does not appear to impose an additional burden on employers regarding employees’ claims of being moved to a specific band. Employees are required to receive pay slips reflecting the hours they have worked. Under the Bill the obligation would be on the employee to produce that documentation which they should retain. Section 3 would impose an obligation on the employer to display available hours. The employer already has that information and it should not be difficult to make it available. The ban on zero-hour contracts is crucial because contracts which grant employers control over employees’ time without remuneration cannot be justified on ethical grounds.
The Low Pay Commission is primarily responsible for determining the appropriate level of the national minimum wage. A single statutory hourly minimum wage has the enormous advantage of simplicity. Everyone knows what it is and that it should be enforced. Research shows that the introduction of the national minimum wage in 1990 contributed to putting a floor under income distribution. In determining the national minimum wage the Low Pay Commission has to take cognisance of matters such as the level of actual earnings in the economy. Earnings are determined not only by the hourly rate but also by the number of hours worked and the variability of these hours. Accordingly, the extent of low-paid hours and variable contracts is important. However, making the commission actually regulate hours worked would undermine the simplicity and, hence, the effectiveness of its current work.
Ms Edel McGinley:
Our statement will focus on migrant workers on low pay and precarious sectors of the labour market. Migrants Rights Centre Ireland works predominantly with migrant workers working in hotels, catering, cleaning and domestic work, fisheries, agriculture and as au pairs. Our drop-in centre provides information and advice and engages in advocacy for some 2,000 migrant workers annually on immigration and employment issues.
Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari:
The preliminary results from census 2016 show that the total number of non-Irish nationals was 11.6% of the population, while the percentage of people born outside Ireland had risen to 17.3%. The number of people with dual nationality is almost 105,000. Being a migrant has a pervasive impact on a person's labour market participation and follows him or her through his or her labour market trajectory. It does not stop when a person acquires long-term residency status or Irish citizenship.
The migrant worker epitomises the flexible and precarious work available in the contemporary labour market. That precariousness is constructed around several factors, the main one being the rights and entitlements afforded to a migrant worker based on his or her immigration status. Depending on the type of residency or visa given, a person will be allocated a certain number of hours he or she can work, going from part-time to full-time work. It also determines the mobility a person has in the labour market, meaning that he or she might be attached to one specific employer or sector. Immigration status is coupled with a person's lack of labour market mobility. That mobility might be constructed by his or her immigration status but also by the lack of recognition of skills. Migrant workers are also over-represented in low-pay sectors of the economy, in which mobility is much harder, particularly vertical mobility. There is discriminatory practice on entry, recruitment and promotion. All of this paints a dark picture for migrant workers in the labour market, meaning that they often lack security in the number of hours allocated to them.
Security of hours would be guaranteed by the proposed Bill. Many migrant workers are in what are traditionally considered to be shift work sectors such as food and accommodation, cleaning and care work and many work through agencies. Notice of their rosters is only required 24 hours in advance. The Bill is proposing notice of one week, yet that would be limited in affording migrant workers security to plan their income and the structure of their working week. Issues relating to child care were mentioned. It goes beyond simply caring for children into family formation. What is more important and necessary for migrant families and households is that security of income also have an impact on whether a person is able to reunify with his or her family. A person's family might not be in the State and he or she might need certain hours and a guarantee of a certain income to be reunified with his or her family. Other than that, they share the same problems of having a secure income which will allow them to access a mortgage, own property and so forth. That lack of security means that their need for housing, for example, is more precarious than that of the indigenous population.
The Bill proposes that a display notice with a roster be put up. Obviously, that would be a positive development. How would this apply to agency or multi-sited workers who might not be working in the same place or given that the place to which they are contracted might not be the place where the employment takes place? There is little explanation of how this right would be enforced. As we have seen from our work, the main issue for migrant workers is not their lack of knowledge of their rights but the lack of a possibility for them to enforce their rights. This goes back to the points made about the repercussions of asserting one's rights.
Those repercussions can be very hard for people whose immigration status is dependent on their employment or their day-to-day earnings are dependent on having one employment.
On income adequacy, poverty rates among migrant households are much higher than the overall figures for the indigenous population. From data we collect in our drop-in centre, in a sample of 740 people surveyed last year, 52.8% were earning less than €910 a month, which is the at risk of poverty rate. The majority of our client base is living at risk of poverty. That poverty is constructed on the insecurity of their immigration status but also the insecurity of working in low-paid, hyper-flexible types of employment, including not knowing how many hours one is going to have. My colleague Ms Edel McGinley will talk more about compliance.
Ms Edel McGinley:
Research we carried out in 2015 on work and low pay highlighted that people knew their rights but they could not claim them. It goes back to the fear of repercussions on the worker asking for, say, holidays or break times, and the implications of that. This year's WRC report showed that there was an overall 38% rate of non-compliance in the labour market, namely exploitation. Industries with high levels of non-compliance are food and drinks at 48%, hotel and retail is 45%, domestic work is 23% - there is a caveat with that figure as there were only 11 inspections - agriculture is 47% and hotel is 35%. They found no exploitation in fisheries which is not our experience at all, it is absolutely widespread.
We believe banded-hour contracts really give protections to workers and particularly to workers in non-unionised sectors. It allows them to advocate for themselves, it gives power back to the worker and that is really important because there are many individual workplaces where there are low or no contracts in place. Among the people we work with, it is a common scenario for people to have no contracts at all.
We very much welcome the Bill. We welcome the six-month look-back period. We are particularly concerned about the Government announcement this week of a new 18-month look-back period and feel it is too far. It is very much open to abuse. We support the tight areas of banded hours, the five hours. We would say for the sake of clarity and to avoid confusion that we need to be sure where the band starts and ends. At the moment it is 15 to 20 hours and it really should be 16 to 20 and 21 to 25 hours. Those areas are also relevant.
We are concerned with enforcement. This is a huge problem in the State in terms of exploitation and enforcement. It does not matter if there is a notice on a wall if nobody is going to know about it and it is not something that anyone is going to overly complain about. How legislation is enforced is key as are the resources necessary to do that. The members have our submission on that.
Finally, we see a real need to strengthe anti-victimisation provisions in legislation because of what all the people here have said about people being victimised when they ask for their rights and try and assert them and that this is without having to go to the courts and the WRC to vindicate them. It is important that there are strong penalties in place when people breach legislation and that is not there at the moment.
Ms McGinley's comment on the 18 month period rather than six months is interesting. We have heard much discussion on this and Ms Patricia King of ICTU remarked that 18 months would be the correct way to go because for a lot of people who work seasonally, who work in tourism or similar industries, six months is not enough to categorise it. We have heard conflicting views and when we compile our document at the end, it will recognise all the views. We have heard six months, 12 months and 18 months, but some people felt that six months would not be long enough. Perhaps Professor Wickham might comment on that?
I thank everyone for their presentations. I will begin by addressing my questions to USI. I thank it for supporting the Bill. I am happy with the first paragraph of its submission. Previous witnesses have come here and said that it would be very difficult for students if we put this in and USI says quite clearly that it is constantly dispelling the myth that students want these precarious contracts. It is very useful that it has said that. I also commend USI for its stance that student workers are workers. It is very important that is said here today and I agree with that.
Many students work under unfair and precarious conditions as they are worried about asserting their employment rights with their boss for fear of losing their jobs. If this legislation is passed, it would provide students with more rights but these will be of no use if student workers do not assert them. In USI's opinion, what can be done to encourage students to make use of their employment rights to allow them to work in fair conditions?
The issue of students not getting notice of working hours in advance is another issue which the Bill aims to address. As USI has noted, this issue results in students not being able to organise personal study plans, as a result of not knowing their work hours often right up to the day before. Does USI think the Bill will successfully address this issue that affects many students?
I was very moved by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland contribution, particularly in light of the programme broadcast on RTE last night about Irish migrants in America. We have about 50,000 over there. In this country, we have between 20,000 and 26,000 undocumented and it is something we ourselves need to look at and legislate for. It is very important that MRCI said that.
In its submission, MRCI said that non-compliance with employment legislation by employers is a key focus of its work. If this is the case, more employment legislation will fail to address the issues for these workers already because if the employer does not adhere to current legal requirements they are unlikely to start doing it now. In MRCI's opinion, what can be done to ensure greater compliance by employers with employment legislation?
I thank TASC for its presentation. Many previous witnesses said the Bill would place additional burdens on small employers. I am delighted that TASC has said clearly that "this Bill does not appear to impose any additional burden on employers in relation to employees claims for being moved to a specific band". This is in contrast with what we have heard from employer organisations. Would TASC agree that if employer organisations adhered to existing requirements, such as providing a payslip reflecting workers hours, that no major additional burden would be imposed? It will be those employers who currently fail in the requirements that would be most affected as they will now be under renewed obligation to follow prescribed standards.
From TASC's research, has it identified the practice of some employers using the offer of hours as a form of control over an employee to be widespread?
Professor James Wickham:
On the administrative burden, there are things that employers are meant to do. They are meant to give people payslips.
I almost give up. Is it seriously a problem to give somebody a payslip? They are meant to do that anyway. Maybe the issue is that, as we know, at the bottom end of the labour market there are many situations where the payslip does not reflect the hours worked and we document that in our research. The payslip says a person has worked N hours when actually the person has worked N plus three or four hours. It happens, for example, in hotels and bars, that people are paid for the hours the place is open although they stay on and clean up afterwards. Magically, however, they do not get paid for that and it is not in their payslips, which means the actual rate of pay is lower than the legal rate. Information about hours is similar. Presumably employers know how many hours people are working and should plan at least for the week ahead. We all know that, especially in the hospitality industry, there is a lot of fluctuation but employers should know the sort of fluctuation there will be. I completely fail to see what the problem is except that employers are either acting illegally, and it is not the case that every employer does, but we know that happens, or, and this is perhaps more serious, employers are bad managers. It is always easier to summon somebody in and have them at your beck and call than to plan the work although that would probably deliver a better service.
I am sorry that is a bit of rant but it is important. In respect of offering hours we think this does happen the whole time.
Dr. Alicja Bobek:
The situation is paradoxical because there are many who want full-time jobs, they are offered an "if and when" contract meaning one hour or eight hours per week. They really want the 40 hours but the shifts are variable and that is used as a form of control. If a person is told on Sunday that they must work on Monday and they say no because they have a doctor's appointment they might find the next week that they get only ten hours or five hours when they want more. It is definitely used as a form of punishment and reward. People have to comply with whatever the employers tell them because they may end up having the full hours but it will continue to be an "if and when" contract.
Ms Annie Hoey:
In response to the questions on employment rights and on the notice of working hours, we have quotes from two students. One is from Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT and earns €10 an hour. The student is on a zero-hour contract making it impossible to budget or plan, because at most the shift is given a week in advance so while a zero-hours contract seems great in terms of flexibility with the college schedule it makes it difficult to spend money on anything other than the bare essentials of food, bus fare and medication without worrying that the money will be needed later. A low wage with no stability in terms of hours creates unnecessary stress but the student knows that having no contract means kicking up a fuss, leaving them powerless. The student can never challenge the manager if they feel they are unfairly treated as they are easily replaced. The person is paid twice a month and has had paychecks weeks or months late but is afraid to kick up too much of a fuss in case that is the last cheque. Another student who works in a bookshop says low wages are not the main problem but low hour contracts and schedules that change week to week are. There is no security or room for planning simple things like doctors' appointments.
We find students either do not know their employment rights or are too afraid to speak up when they do know them. We do a lot of work with various trade unions to try to inform students of their rights. We do a blitz of all the colleges in September but we cannot reach everyone and we firmly believe it should be an enacted legislative requirement that an employer who does not inform their employees of their rights is chased up. There are too many people up and down the country who do not have a clue that it is outrageous, that their employer is breaking the law, and that if they are not being paid for extra hours it is wrong. Those who do know are too afraid to speak up because of the "if and when contracts". On the point about punishment and reward, the hours of people who stick to the status quoand do not kick up any fuss mysteriously go up while another person is back down to an hour a week. It is a very sickening environment to work in and incredibly stressful.
Students constantly come to us saying they know it is wrong but they cannot do anything about it. There is a lot of legislation in place but students are not in a position to go to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, in order to take someone on. This is very hard for non-unionised workers but it is also very hard to unionise students, despite my best efforts. Trying to get them into unions is like pulling teeth but there are many sectors that are not unionised. If the employers are not providing that information there is no way for the students to find that out. It requires word of mouth and someone telling them this is wrong. We find students stay schtum because if they do not they will be punished and someone else will be rewarded for the good work.
The notice of working hours would help students. We are not asking for an absolutely guaranteed full-blown contract at an outrageous wage but for a guarantee of a minimum number of hours so that people can at least plan. It is very hard to lead a life when one does not know what is happening and finds out on a Sunday that this is how it will be. We believe with the banded hours contract people will at least be able to work out where they will be in six months time. That is not even security but a basic minimum, like the living wage. It will give employees a minimum to be at least able to figure out where they will be for the next couple of weeks and make doctors’ appointments and do all the basic things that people need to be able to do to lead a decent life. The banded hours will at least give a small sense of stability for the workers on all these precarious "if and when" contracts in these industries. We have all outlined similar industries.
Ms Edel McGinley:
I am glad the undocumented were mentioned because they are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society in terms of work and exploitation. We have a massive problem in this country with non-compliance, 38% is a high figure overall. That is just the tip of the iceberg because the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, and the WRC do not have the necessary resources to fully investigate. One of our biggest problems is enforcement. When cases are adjudicated in the WRC there might be an award of €10,000 or €20,000 but people do not pay. We have had awards of up to €2.4 million and have recouped only something in the region of €230,000. That is staggering. We know a gentleman who is owed €92,000, which was vindicated in the Supreme Court, but he has not been able to enforce his award. The enforcement mechanisms in this State are absolutely appalling. We need better sanctions and I would support criminal sanctions for employers who dip their hands in the pockets of workers and take their money. It is criminal and should be treated as such. We need harsher penalties for exploitation and non-compliance in this State and we need those enforced.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I understand that they see hardship cases in their offices because the people who do not have problems do not approach them. In my experience the majority of employers are good and work flexibly. I have worked in the hospitality industry for years and any of my peers who worked in that industry had nothing but good things to say about flexibility. When I was a student I was given time off for exams, up to a month sometimes, and then clocked back in.
If somebody does a day's work they deserve to get the right treatment. Much of the witnesses' evidence has been anecdotal, which does not take from it, but do they have any statistics or surveys of students on which parts of the hospitality industry might be repeat offenders? Are they hotels, bars or restaurants? Are they urban or rural? The employers told us that in a rural location people would think twice about pulling a fast one on their staff because the publicity would not do them any good when aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers may be using that establishment.
Are there specific statistics available that might tell us if there is uniformity? It would be difficult for students to push this through the WRC with litigation, but has the students' union pursued anything on their behalf? Does it have case studies it can present to us?
Ms Annie Hoey:
There is our research paper. Students' unions up and down the country have always offered to support students, but they tell us that they just want to get through to the end of college. There is a very short time period or three years or a maximum of four and some in higher education also make claims. We support them too, but we have never taken a case all the way to the Workplace Relations Commission. Even if students are willing to push it that far, they do not have the finances or the time they need. They are a liminal group and leave after two or three years. The attitude is to grin and bear it, but, as a country, we should not facilitate that approach. When I worked in a local union, I pushed students to take these things further, but we can push them only so far because they are focused on their examinations and going to Australia or wherever it is they are going. It is very hard for them to move beyond coming to us and we are loath to push them if they do not want to take a case, nor can we do so on their behalf. It is frustrating for students' union officers around the country when a student has a very clear case of unfair dismissal or treatment and is not willing to take it further. They will leave work and retain a bad taste in their mouth from their time in employment as a student. Many are leaving the country to find employment elsewhere because of their bad experiences here. It reflects poorly on the great employers.
Mr. Daniel Waugh:
It has been said these contracts are flexible, but one should not confuse flexibility with exploitation. We can circulate a document we prepared for the Low Pay Commission on students working. The evidence shows that students working in the wholesale, retail, accommodation and hospitality sectors have if-and-when contracts and typically work between one and eight hours a week. The cost of travelling to work on public transport for one hour's work outweighs the benefit.
Ms Annie Hoey:
We find that students are being left with one hour a week. If it is guaranteed, say for lunchtime on Wednesday, they can at least look for work elsewhere. When we investigated the issue, we did not think we would find students who would take it, but quite often it is taken in the hope the number will go up after a period of time.
When I managed bars, I used to manage the rosters and could see when I might be able to work such as on a Thursday from 6 p.m until close or on a Saturday from 8 p.m. to close. I would be as flexible as I could be, but do the delegates believe the banded hours provisions would stifle this flexibility? A lot of students look for it and often want to work different nights from one week to the next. Is there anything in the Bill that would cause inflexibility in that regard?
Ms Annie Hoey:
We were talking about this issue earlier and it is correct to say students look for flexibility, although this should not be mistaken for a willingness to be exploited. There is flexibility in other sectors, too, as people cannot work a particular week because of caring responsibilities or something has happened in the family. Legislation should not allow an employer to be dragged off if someone cannot work in a certain week. I do not think the banded hours legislation would affect the provision of a guaranteed minimum number of hours. It is not a maximum but a minimum and I do not see the Bill causing huge inflexibility, whereas guaranteeing a small minimum is very important in forward planning, etc. There should never be a situation where, if a person cannot work for one week, the employer is dragged off.
Dr. Alicja Bobek:
People can be called in to work an eight-hour shift and then sent home after one hour because there are not enough customers. The employer does not pay for the rest of the shift. This is very problematic. The most extreme case involved a person being called in, travelling to work and being sent home after half an hour because the manager was wrong about how many customers there would be. It is an interesting point that people may want flexibility, but things have changed in the past decade. This submission relates to a working conditions project, but we undertook another project ten years ago, specifically on Polish migrants in the hospitality sector. Our respondents told us about asking to work on a Wednesday or a Thursday, take the Friday off and wok on the Saturday, etc. That does not seem to be happening anymore.
Dr. Alicja Bobek:
It is the labour market. Who is ruling it? In the boom it was ruled by the employees. Because there was such a demand, employers were willing to offer employees flexibility to keep them on, but now they will tell an employee that there are ten others waiting outside the door to work his or her shift.
Dr. Alicja Bobek:
I do not think the Bill would prevent the offering of flexibility.
If one asks for statistics, this is very difficult to get from the CSO. The University of Limerick report on zero-hours contracts tried to pull out some of the specifics. There is a category, hours by week to week, which considers hospitality for that category out of the overall number. That is a very low percentage. Most employees are already in a case where they work from 20 to 29 hours per week, but it is not guaranteed. Those people are in fear and have to accept whatever is offered, because the hours could then be dropped to ten. In practice, that is already being done, so why not just regulate and make that pattern official rather than create this fear where people are afraid to accept shifts?
Ms Edel McGinley:
I want to go back to a few things on research. We did research in 2015. I do not have it with me but I can forward it to the committee. There is very little research on exploitation and non-compliance in general. From our experience in urban versus rural situations, exploitation tends to be hidden anyway. Just because it is a rural situation does not mean that it is not also an urban situation. Exploitation is often hidden.
On flexibility, rostering and flexibility should not be confused with security. A roster is a roster that one is on for a certain amount of days. What we are talking about is creating security for people such that they have a guaranteed set of hours. If one's contract says ten hours but that person is actually working 20, it does not make sense if one is working 20 hours over an eight-month period that one is not then given the correct contract to reflect that. It is not about trying to be inflexible for both the employee and employer. Rostering is a challenge in itself because it is complex, as I am sure the committee would know. It is not about trying to curtail a rostering scenario, but it is trying to guarantee security to people and to reflect what is happening in the market. If the work is there and people are getting the hours, it seems nonsensical that they would not be put on proper terms and conditions of employment. We have good employment legislation in the country, and I agree that we have good employers. I am not painting every employer in a bad light, but we have non-compliance and that needs to be stated strongly because it needs to be tackled.
Cleaning is a huge area where one-hour contracts are seen. Cleaners go into people's homes. That often happens in both rural areas and in urban areas. That would be a key area where one-hour contracts are prevalent.
Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari:
We have frequently talked about flexibility here. We cannot discuss flexibility outside of the context of low pay, which is the reality for the majority of people who are working in the sector that we are discussing. On people being allowed to accept or refuse hours or changes in schedule, many people we work with simply cannot refuse a shift, even if such a person has given a phone call in the morning and has plans with his or her family. The reason is that many of these families are single-income families. The people with an income are generally on the minimum wage or just around it. Being able to plan their expenditure requires that they maximise the amount of hours they work. One needs to work 25 hours on the minimum wage to not be at risk of poverty in Ireland. We are talking about many ten-hour or 20-hour contracts here. These types of job do not guarantee that a single person will not experience poverty.
Among migrants, what we often see is one-earner families, because of our immigration regimes and so on. People are not given the opportunity to refuse hours at any stage. I do not think compliance is as simple as having good and bad employers. I think employers can be good to certain employees and bad to others. The reason they are good to certain employees, as Deputy Neville discussed, is because someone else is probably taking the stick. This is generally what we experience much of. Particularly in my research in the care industry, we see that those who are not afforded flexibility or who are given poor treatment are generally migrant workers, at the expense of other workers. It is not necessarily linked to nationality, but it is about how close a person is to the management and so on, and nationality often plays a role in that.
I thank the three groups for their presentations.
I have two short questions, but the witnesses from TASC will be relieved that I have none for them. Can our guests from USI, for information purposes, tell us what percentage of the student population actually has to work a job of some description while attending third level education? If the witnesses have that figure to hand, it may be helpful.
To our contributors from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, the whole issue of the undocumented, as raised by Deputy Quinlivan, is a major part of the problem with regard to precarious employment. Deputy Quinlivan cited 25,000 or 26,000 undocumented people. It may even be higher. The witnesses mentioned up to 30,000 at one stage. In any case, it represents a significant number of people working in the labour market. As we know, many of those work in the shadow economy. That has all sorts of other implications with regard to driving down rates of pay, social insurance contributions, revenue contributions and so on. The witnesses will recall that we offered legislation during the term of the last Dáil in the form of a scheme to regularise the undocumented. It would help if we regularised our undocumented. I had people in my clinic on Monday morning seeking it again. It is a huge elephant in the room. Can the witnesses tell us where they are, since they have been to the fore of this campaign, with the present Government and with the Department of Justice and Equality? It does not actually come under this committee's remit, because it is about immigration. Where are we with having a scheme to regularise the community of undocumented people? If those people are regularised, it will play a major part because they are being exploited by some employers, because they know they are undocumented.
Ms Annie Hoey:
I am looking through my papers. In 2010, EUROSTAT did a survey which showed that 53% of students indicated that they work during term-time. Some 35% said it was regularly and 18% said occasionally. Some 65% of full-time students and 85% of part-time students indicated that they worked during term break time. They also have other concerns as students, and work criss-crosses and depends on that. We are led to believe that this was done in 2010. We did a small bit of research last year and believe that the figure could be as high as 75% of students who are now working during term-time. We did a very small sample last year and that came up with 75% indicating that they were working a minimum of 24 hours a week. That is quite a high number of the student population that is working. There is also evidence from the EUROSTAT survey and from our own small sample that once students work over 15 hours a week, their academic performance begins to dramatically decrease. We are looking at between 53% and 75% of students working during term-time.
Ms Edel McGinley:
On the undocumented, we have been before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality three times about the issue, and the last time was in November last year. We have been told by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, that some kind of solution is imminent. However, I believe it will not go far enough in looking at regularisation. I believe it might be an issue that will come back to this committee, because much of it relates to work and employment and where people are situated in the labour market.
We have returned to net inward migration. Our economy is growing. We have low unemployment. There is a need for transitional measures for many undocumented people who are in employment and have been in employment for many years. The care industry is one. The restaurant and hotel sector is another area. We believe that the Department is looking at a series of recommendations or schemes that might respond to this issue. We have had no formal confirmation of that but believe that some formal confirmation will be given in the next while. I think that it will not go far enough.
It might be something that this committee considers going forward, in terms of looking at other ways to approach it.
I thank all of the witnesses today. The information they have provided is very useful. I apologise as we had a series of votes in the Seanad which has meant that I have been in and out of this committee this afternoon.
On the question of evidence, it is coincidental that the four members left in the room, apart from the Chairman, are all from Limerick. I am aware from my previous job as a trade union official that there is not a single hotel in Limerick that does not offer a standard template of if-and-when contracts. That is their template. If one is offered a job tomorrow the only contract available is an if-and-when contract. The evidence is in front of us for those of us from Limerick.
The notion of enforced flexibility goes to the heart of some of the issues that we have talked about today. I noticed that the hospitality industry in particular is highlighted. We have quite rightly heard about the impact of this on people's lives, but what is the overall macro-economic impact of having whole industries that depend on this enforced flexibility, where from one week to the next workers do not know how many hours of work they are going to get? Perhaps Professor Wickham could comment on that. It could have quite a detrimental impact, because if I do not know how much money I will get next week I am unlikely to purchase the item that I wanted to buy for my kid, or I might not be able to plan a bigger purchase for my family because I do not have that security looking forward. Sometimes it is important to look at the bigger picture in terms of the economic benefits to the economy as a whole if we can eliminate the rapid rise in precarious work that has happened over the last decade.
Professor James Wickham:
I am not a macro-economist, but there are a couple of important points here. Undoubtedly if people have unpredictable incomes they are not going to make long-term financial decisions. We know that. I have already said that they cannot plan, which is important for economists because it deals with the labour force, having children and setting up families and such like.
There is a much more immediate macro-economic issue which is often totally ignored here, which is the sort of labour force that exists. If there is an industry that depends on a high turnover of people, on people who are employed and let go or employed very variably, it means immediately that there will be very little training. The level of skill in the workforce is probably going to decline. That means in turn that the industry is going to be increasingly relying for success on wage competition rather than quality. We can see that in sections of the hospitality industry. We have been able to find firms who made sure that they did retain their employees, did offer regular hours, and they were rapidly competing in terms of the quality of the service, food and hospitality they were able to give.
There is another industry where this slide to the bottom is now well documented, and that is the construction industry. The construction workforce - we have done work on this and written about it - has not only been decimated in terms of numbers but has been casualised in rather different ways than what we have been talking about here. One of the consequences of that is that there has been no training in construction. We have a skill shortage again in construction. That also means that Irish firms do not have the skills base to compete domestically or internationally. If an industry is organised with a race to the bottom in terms of quality it ends up competing purely on wages. That is the risk.
I was very struck by what Ms Annie Hoey said in quoting Ms Patricia King that "A worker is a worker". Is there a perception, out there, or in here more to the point, that students have to put up with uncertainty and that it does no harm? That perception, while not necessarily prevalent in this room, certainly exists in parts of the Oireachtas.
Ms Annie Hoey:
We discuss many things around students, including fees. There is a perception that we should just get on with it. Things may have worked out in the past but that does not mean that it is a fair way to treat any kind of worker, student or otherwise. All one needs to do is read the comments section on any journal or anywhere, where the attitude of "I did it so you should do it" is rife. This particularly applies to students, where there is a real misunderstanding of what it is like to be a student. Fees have gone up 383%, which is astronomical. If that happened in any other sector the place would be going bananas. The increases that students are facing, the fact that they are working so many more hours, the mental health difficulties that they are facing and the number of suicides we hear about show that it is not easy being a student. If there is any way that a Government can support students or support workers to make things more fair, balanced and sustainable it is the responsible thing to do.
On the idea that six months is enough, we have some concern given that the unfair dismissal legislation does not come into play until 12 months. If a student works nine to 12 months and asks at six months for more guaranteed work, the legislation does not apply for another six months. There is a catch there that we are concerned that people might fall through. This applies to students and other workers as well, but particularly to students as they tend to work for nine to 12 months and go somewhere else for the remaining months of the year.
I agree with Ms Hoey that there is a correlation there between the amount of work a student has to do and level of success at exams. Students do have to work though. There is no doubt about that.
I am from the constituency of Waterford. Everyone else is from Limerick. We do not have a university in Waterford. We have a fantastic institute of technology, but many students travel to Cork and Limerick. My own daughter is studying in Limerick at the moment and many of the students there work part-time while studying. They can work back where they live during the summer and at Christmas, but that could cause a problem if they are not staying for a length of time in any area. They are in college from September until December and then they might work at home for a month, so the service will be broken. Will that cause a problem if it is more than six months, if it is 18 months before one can get their contract, as the Government suggested?
Ms Annie Hoey:
The band looks at employment status after six months. I would hope that people would have guaranteed work from day one, but that does allow for that flexibility where an employer does not suddenly find themselves in a situation where a person came in for a couple of months then left and came back again. Perhaps that is something that needs to be examined more carefully.
If it took 12 or 18 months before a student could get the certainty of employment that the Bill is trying to achieve, is it likely that they would stay in a job for that length of time in order to get that certainty?
If a student lives in a city with a university on their doorstep they would be able to work and live there, but if they come from a more rural area and have to travel to college there might not be the same opportunity to work where they live because they have to travel. That might make it more difficult for students to get some kind of certainty. That is the point I am trying to make.
Ms Annie Hoey:
It might come down to the contract as opposed to the hours. There are two issues. Perhaps it is something that needs to be teased out because I still have questions about a number of things with regard to how this would work out. It will come down to what the contract is and how it will work. We should never have a situation in which employers are tied up in knots over how things will work out because someone has to work away from home, etc.
I have a question about students. I have come across an issue on college grants and the amount of work done. Will banded hour contracts and the fact there has to be specific times affect people's grants? The witness should correct me if I am wrong because I am just trying to remember it off the top of my head. The issue concerns seasonal work and grants. If a student works outside seasonal work times will it affect their application for a grant? Ms Hoey may have a better knowledge of the technicalities than I do. Is there an issue with seasonal work and grants?
Seasonal work is three months in the summer, two weeks at Easter and two weeks at Christmas. That is how it is constituted for the purposes of the grant. Six months is longer than that so would it impede students getting their grants? That is the question I am asking. In that case, they would have to fulfil the contract whereas now they have the flexibility to clock in and clock out. I am not being pedantic. It is something that was not raised today, but I thought about it off the top of my head. I had a case that I am trying to work out for someone.
Mr. Daniel Waugh:
There is a certain threshold a student has to pass for that. We are saying the lower banded hours is the guaranteed minimum people will work. We look at how many students actually work. What we are saying at the moment is we will look more towards the lower band of the contracts and if those people do seasonal work or, for example, go home from college, at least they are getting their minimum hours during their work time. We are focused on the hours.
Ms Edel McGinley:
The purpose of the look-back period is to reflect a situation in which people are getting extra hours they are not contracted for, for example, if they are contracted for four hours but are actually completing 20 hours. The look-back period averages it out. It looks at an average over the look-back period. If one averages out over an 18-month period, it is open to abuse. For example, coming up to the last three months, an employer could reduce people's hours to put them on a banded hour contract that is much lower than what they were performing for a long time. An 18-month period is a little bit too long.
I thank the witnesses for coming here today. It was a very worthwhile session. There were many comments made and we will take them all on board. All members of the committee are very much aware there is an issue. Our head is not buried in the sand. It is the one thing that has come out of the committee from all parties and none. There is no doubt about it. We are very aware of it. I thank the witnesses for their contributions.