Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: From the Seanad
People have spoken about anecdotal evidence of bogus self-employment. There are absolutely many such examples. There are also rock solid cases, with real and tangible evidence. The practice is endemic in many employment sectors.
Examples in construction have been given. There have been recent examples in my constituency and other constituencies involving construction workers engaged in publicly funded housing projects. The company has gone into receivership and examinership and the people who should have been in proper employment but were in bogus self-employment ended up getting diddly squat. They got one cent for every euro they were owed. They did not get any of their entitlements. Many were stung. I know of two cases where it happened for the third time but involved different employers. These people should have been properly employed but instead were screwed over. That is one example. There are other examples in this House. I have been made aware of a scoping exercise being undertaken by staff within this House who, to my mind, should be properly employed but have been put in self-employment. Of course, the State broadcaster, RTÉ, is another example. In fairness, Philip Boucher-Hayes has done Trojan work exposing the rot within our national broadcaster. That is rock solid evidence.
I was taken aback when the departmental officials appeared before the committee where a very important piece of work will be undertaken over the next number of months to look at bogus self-employment. The opening statement from the officials said that they did not think it was as widespread as had been portrayed. There is rock solid evidence and anecdotal evidence there, which is why I was very critical of the public relations campaign launched by the Department in the summer that asked people who feel they are in bogus self-employment to come forward and speak out. At that meeting, the officials said that they were taken aback by the low level of people who came forward. People are petrified of coming forward and speaking out because there are no protections for them. This is why there was a low uptake arising out of that campaign. Yes, there needs to be awareness but we also need legislation and protections for people.
A conservative estimate of how much it is costing the State is €600 million in lost social insurance payments over a three-year period. Leaving aside the financial end, more important is the disappearance of the long fought for and hard-won protections, entitlements, benefits and rights won by workers and their unions over many years because of the existence of bogus self-employment.
When Deputy O'Dea brought forward this amendment on Report Stage, I was a bit critical because I would have much preferred to have seen it brought in on Committee Stage so that proper scrutiny could have been applied to it. I know that on Report Stage, the Minister cited serious concerns that it would delay the passage of the Bill. In my opening remarks this evening, I took issue with the fact that there will be a three-month delay up to 1 March. I would much rather see this Bill come into law straight away as opposed to workers having to wait three months. The Minister said there would be serious delays. Will she expand on that? Certainly workers cannot wait. This needs to be put in place right now.
There is a need for stand-alone legislation to do away with bogus self-employment. I am conscious that a number of Opposition pieces of legislation have been brought forward from, among others, Solidarity. Sinn Féin has said that it would look at doing something. At this stage, we are saying that we will row in behind the Opposition legislation that has been brought forward. It is rock solid legislation so there is no need for the Minister or her officials to go off and start looking at this. If she was serious about dealing with bogus self-employment, and I take her word that she is serious, she would look at the legislation that has been brought forward and advance it as swiftly as possible. Six months have passed since we debated this on Report Stage in June or July and nothing has come forward from the Minister. The Opposition legislation could have been advanced in that space of time to deal with this straight away.
We need this to be brought in straight away. While the issue of bogus self-employment needs to be tackled, I do not think workers in precarious employment can afford to wait three months. I was critical of the Minister when she mentioned 1 March. If workers are told they must wait another six months on top of that, they cannot afford to wait that long. The unions support the withdrawal of the amendment, as does ICTU. On that basis, Sinn Féin and I support the withdrawal of this amendment.