Thursday, 16 June 2005
Exploitation of Workers.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important matter, and I do not raise it lightly. When a group of workers at a company approached me with allegations of exploitation, intimidation, breaches of employee rights, dismissals, failure to pay staff, mandatory working, the use of sleepers, threats and allegations of sexual harassment, I had no alternative but to speak out and demand the truth. This is Ireland 2005, not Dublin 1913.
I met other members of the company on Tuesday, 14 June at 11.30 p.m. and they denied all the allegations, except the non-payment of staff issue. It is important we get to the bottom of these allegations and I hope the Minister will conduct a proper and accurate investigation. We cannot tolerate exploitation of staff at any company and it is crucial we get to the truth.
I have no vested interest in this company but I wish to ensure all staff get fair play, equality and justice. Moreover, I also wish to ensure that all the allegations are dealt with in a fair manner. I received information that there were to be ten plus constructive dismissals. According to the terms and agreements of employment, salaries were to be paid monthly by electronic transfer on the first of the month, but this never happened. Payslips were received without payment or payslips were received when payment was made which, more often than not, was towards the end of the month. Payslips were dated differently from the date of receipt of payment, if received. Some employees, on commencing employment, were expected to work a month in hand and were only notified of this when they queried the lack of payment to their account. There were instances where new employees were expected to work between eight and ten weeks without payment.
Some employees, although working with this company in 2004, never received a P60. Some employees and ex-employees, on contacting the tax office, were told they were not registered against any company for tax purposes, although they had been working for one of these companies for a number of weeks and, in some cases, a number of months. Employees who questioned the lateness of payment were usually isolated, subjected to bully-type behaviour or let go.
There were instances where an employee who was let go was escorted off the premises as per instructions by management or they were called in to a meeting to be told they were being let go and on leaving the management office, they noted that their hard drives were removed from their desks. A policy of silence is enforced in some of the offices which ensures dismissals are kept quiet. Staff are discouraged from airing complaints and, as a result, employee concerns are rarely discussed, probably for fear of dismissal or not being paid. There are also instances where staff are expected to give management a hug, specifically female employees. On commencement of employment, employees feel they have very few work duties.
Due to the current experience of this company, I call on the Government to implement, and urgently amend, legislation. According to some members of the company, their difficulties and conditions have been extreme. As a result of their collective experiences, I have learned just how unprotected are Irish workers. They are completely vulnerable to employer abuse and to the inadequacies of the law, including company law. Workers must have greater protection.
I call for fundamental rights for workers from the day of commencing employment, including breach of contract, non-payment of wages, constructive dismissal, freedom from harassment, discrimination and victimisation and health and safety. I urge the Minister to listen and to investigate this matter which is in the interests of the staff, the company and, above all, the future of employment in this country.
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Finian McGrath for raising this issue. I take it from the Ceann Comhairle's ruling that there is to be no specific reference to the company concerned but that I can refer to the body as the company concerned. I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
A prohibition on sexual and other harassment in the workplace has been in place since 1999 under sections 23 and 32 of the Employment Equality Act 1998. This Act is administered by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. With effect from 18 July 2004, these provisions have been replaced by a new provision, section 14A of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2004, inserted by section 8 of the Equality Act 2004. The new provision is in line with Articles 2 of EU directives 2000/43/EC, the race directive, 2000178/EC, the framework employment directive, and 2002/73/EC, the gender equal treatment amendment directive. In both cases, harassment and sexual harassment constitute discrimination for the purpose of the Acts and are open to orders for redress in accordance with section 82 thereof. If an individual wishes to refer such a claim under either Act, he or she may do so to the Director of the Equality Tribunal, 3 Clonmel Street, Dublin 2.
Matters relating to allegations of workplace bullying are dealt with by the Health and Safety Authority, Temple Court, 10 Hogan Place, Dublin 2, which operates under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I understand that there is no record of a bullying complaint in the HSA against the company. However, the Health and Safety Authority is involved in a health and safety welfare aspect with the company under safety, health and welfare legislation.
Matters relating to dismissal generally are more appropriate to either the rights commissioner service of the Labour Relations Commission or the Employment Appeals Tribunal under the Unfair Dismissals Acts or Industrial Relations Acts. Both bodies operate under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Any such complaints should be addressed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Davitt House, Adelaide Road, Dublin 2, or to the Rights Commissioner Service, Labour Relations Commission, Tom Johnson House, Haddington Road, Dublin 4.
Complaints relating to changes to terms and conditions of employment or delays in pay should be addressed to the rights commissioner service of the Labour Relations Commission at the above-mentioned address. Matters relating to P45 and taxation generally should be addressed to the Revenue Commissioners, Taxes Central Registration Office, 9-15 Upper O'Connell Street, Dublin 1.
Issues regarding alleged irregularities in relation to payslips are dealt with under the Payment of Wages Act 1991. That legislation provides that employers must give to each employee with every wage packet, a written statement of gross wages — a payslip — itemising each deduction. The labour inspectorate of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is responsible for monitoring compliance with this provision and in this regard I understand that an arrangement has been made for a labour inspector to carry out an early investigation regarding these concerns.
I understand that neither Enterprise Ireland nor lDA Ireland, the industrial development agencies under the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, has approved grants or paid out grants to the company concerned. I also understand that neither FÁS nor the relevant county enterprise board provided funding for the company concerned. In regard to the equal community initiative, no moneys have been paid to the company nor has any European Social Fund money been paid.