Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: From the Seanad
This is the one amendment I am not excited about.
I salute Dave Gibney and all the Mandate crew, along with Joe Carolan from the New Zealand trade union Unite, who are in the Visitors Gallery. Joe Carolan was with me ten years ago on quite a few pickets with building workers at building sites protesting against bogus self-employment. I and many others stood with many building workers outside Crampton’s building sites in UCD and DCU at 6 o'clock in the morning over this issue. In my area of Ballybrack only a few years ago, three workers, one of one whom passed on recently, were jailed for protesting against bogus self-employment because injunctions were taken out against them.
Bogus self-employment is a poison for workers. While I understand the tactical imperative that some of the unions may have of getting the current legislation passed, which is to be welcomed and we support, I cannot in good conscience vote to take out a provision with which I agree absolutely. I do not see why the Government has a problem with this. When we were on those protests ten years ago, one could not get anybody in politics to talk about bogus self-employment. Now everybody is talking about it. The Government has made a political commitment to address it. I was glad to hear advertisements on the radio from the Government asking that if people believed they were bogusly self-employed to report it. This is progress but it is long overdue. I see no reason we would not progress this issue because it remains a significant problem.
In the past several weeks, I stood on a picket line with workers at the Clúid social housing site just off Sheriff Street – which is funded with public moneys - protesting against bogus self-employment. There were workers on the picket line for a week protesting over the fact they were misclassified by the builder. It has been resolved. A lot of money was paid to those workers by the contractor involved to resolve that dispute. The amount of money involved suggests the contractor knew he was guilty as hell.
The workers also explained the regime run on this and other sites - probably cleared up after the strike. It involved one qualified bricklayer and two or three other workers around them who are not bricklayers. However, they are bogusly self-employed and this is not tracked properly. One wonders why wall ties do not get put into new houses. It is because there are unqualified workers in these bogus self-employed situations. That needs to be stamped out as a matter of urgency. Workers pay a cost for it but so too does society.
It is not disconnected from the sort of stuff we saw in France with the Yellow Vest protests. The problem of precarious work and workers’ rights being trampled is at the base of much of the anger all over Europe. We have 100,000 workers in this country who are a working poor. That number has stayed pretty solid. These are people who are working but remain in poverty because of precarious work. We have to act quickly.
Film industry workers are putting a credible case claiming that the Organisation of Working Time Act is being flouted in the Irish film industry. One is not allowed flout that Act but it is being done. Several Departments are involved in that industry, such as the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Department of Finance and Revenue. The Minister needs to look into this. She should meet the people who are making these allegations and hear their story. She should also hear the other side of the story. However, these matters need to be looked at. The absolute minimum is that the legal rights and entitlements of workers have to be applied. Abuses of those rights and entitlements have to be closed as a matter of absolute urgency.
I did not hear anybody put a credible argument why anything in this amendment is a problem, given that everybody is acknowledging that we need to deal with bogus self-employment and that the problem has been around for years. Workers have been campaigning and protesting about it for years. What is the problem? Will the Minister tell me if there is something in this amendment that is problematic?
We have engaged in a long process of consultation for years, but we have clear definitions of employment and self-employment. We need strict application of them and serious penalties for those who abuse the law. That is what is contained in the amendment. I do not see what the problem is. On a tactical basis, some have made the decision to get the Bill through and that we will worry about this aspect later. As we have been waiting a long time, I do not see why it cannot be done now.