Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion
The public are paying very substantial sums of money to enable businesses to keep going. There is a problem in that we still do not have a system of conditions for the kind of funds that are going to businesses, particularly conditions relating to Covid-19 compliance, to workers who can work from home being allowed to do so, and to how workers are being treated. Anybody who watches the twice weekly briefings from NPHET will repeatedly hear the call that workers should work from home. People should not be leaving their homes if they do not need to do so. There is a repeated and consistent call and it is absolutely necessary if we are to make this lockdown as effective as possible, which will enable us to make it as short as possible.
We all know from our own experience and from the statistics that the traffic volumes in this lockdown have not fallen by anywhere near as much as they did during the first lockdown. In Dublin the traffic volumes fell in the first lockdown by two thirds. This time round they have only fallen by slightly more than one third. The central reason for that is not about people making personal or social trips or anything like that, but is because people are being made, unnecessarily, to go to work. The problem is that the Government has done absolutely nothing about this.
I give an example of somebody who came to me. This has been reported in the newspapers today. An Post Insurance, which is based in Athlone, allowed all of its workers to work from home in the first lockdown, but in this third lockdown has forced dozens of workers to come into work. These workers do not feel safe in work, which is why they contacted me, but they are forced to come into work nonetheless. The real problem is that there is no State authority with any power to do anything about this. This has been an issue now for almost a year. This company is in receipt of significant State money but there is nobody with the power to go in and inspect, to say that these workers should be working from home, to ask why the company is not allowing them to do so, and to say that if the company does not allow this it will be subject to a fine.
I wrote to the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, about this issue generally after many workers spoke to me and commented publicly on social media about the fact that they were not allowed now to work from home. The HSA said that it had no role in deciding whether a company is essential and, effectively, gave the same reply in respect of workers working from home. This is an incredible situation to be in almost a year after the start of the pandemic. The HSA and the unions need to be given the power to inspect workplaces and to fine employers who are not allowing workers to work from home who could be doing so. This scandal is putting the health and the lives of workers at risk. It is undermining our collective effort.
The other issue I wish to raise briefly is the plight of the DAA workers. I have raised it a number of times in the Dáil since the DAA, which receives significant public funds, attempted to use the coronavirus to impose so-called new ways of working which amount, for some workers, to an end of demarcation. These radical changes to workers' rosters are not in the interests of workers. When the craftworkers rejected that imposition and democratically voted against it, the company imposed an incredible 60% pay cut on them. The impact of that on the workers is devastating. One of them contacted me today to say that workers who are unable to pay their mortgages have been forced to give up their jobs as a consequence of the pay cut. This is a draconian approach by the company to try to ram through changes that have not been accepted by the workers and have been rejected democratically by them. It is really an attempt at bullying. As I said earlier, this company receives significant public funds. It should immediately withdraw this scandalous attack on workers, which amounts to a 40% pay cut and a reduction to 60% of wages and time, and withdraw its attempt at imposing so-called new ways of working.