Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 17 November 2020
Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach
Finance Bill 2020: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I move amendment No. 127:
In page 40, after line 35, to insert the following:
“Report on compliance of producer companies in receipt of section 481 tax relief 22.The Minister shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, produce a report on the extent to which producer companies in receipt of section 481 tax relief are complying with requirements to provide quality employment and training, with employment legislation, taking direct responsibility for their employees and trainees, and acknowledging the service of employees who have worked for them over many years and in productions similarly financed through section 481 relief.”.
The amendment seeks to have a report produced on the section 481 relief within three months of the passage of the Bill. Section 481 concerns the film tax relief, which amounts to approximately €80 million a year, although the figure varies from year to year. This is significant public financing of the live action and film industry. I stress that I support public funding of film and the arts generally, and I would like arts funding, including for film, to increase from its fairly low levels, by European standards. Currently, 0.1% of GDP goes to the arts, whereas in the rest of Europe, it is 0.6%. That is six times less than the average in a country that has a significant international reputation based on it arts output.
My call for a review of this relief is not because I want in any way to obstruct - indeed, I want only to see increased funding for the arts, including film. As I have outlined on numerous occasions in the House, and the Minister will be aware of this, there remain significant problems with section 481.
As spelled out in the Taxes Consolidation Act, the purpose of that section is to generate quality employment and training. I will add a point that I did not make yesterday. Under EU law, state aid to the film industry - I want this aid to be provided - is predicated on it generating companies of scale and creating a permanent pool of skill, talent and creativity. That is not happening, though. The film producer companies that receive the money do not want to acknowledge the rights of those who work in the sector or take responsibility for them as employees. Therefore, there is no permanent pool and there are no companies of scale. The largest film producer companies in this country might have ten or 15 permanent employees. Some have no permanent employees at all. As such, the number of people who are recognised in any way as employees in the industry is tiny. Most of them are employed on a project-to-project basis. Even if they have worked in the industry for 20, 30 or 40 years, which is the case for many of them, when the next film comes up, it is as if that is the first time they have sought employment in the industry. They have no pension rights, there is no proper system of accreditation for trainees and there is no acknowledgement of the service that people have given to the industry over many years. This puts the workers in a very weak position.
Despite the fact that the Government has acknowledged some of these points and sought to introduce reforms to improve the workers' situation, there has been no change on the ground. To a large extent, the situation remains the same because the film producers, in what I can only describe as a bloody-minded refusal to acknowledge the intent of the Government's reforms and an attempt to ignore employment law and the conditions placed on state aid by the EU, refuse to acknowledge their obligations to their employees. They even refuse to acknowledge that they are the employers and that their workers are employees.
We must press home the fight in order to end this situation and give people rights and acknowledgement as workers in the industry, with pensions, proper training pathways and so on. This has still not been achieved. I will not elaborate on the arguments further, but there is more to be done in this regard. That is why I have tabled this amendment. While I have acknowledged the Government's willingness to listen and make some improvements, the situation has still not got to where it needs to be even in terms of meeting our obligations under EU state aid rules.