Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Question 82: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the fact that workers here have fewer public holidays than workers in most EU countries; if he will increase the number of public holidays from nine to 11 to bring Irish workers up to the EU average and particularly in view of recent statistics showing that workers here are the second most productive in the world; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25377/07]

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, which implemented EU Council Directive 93/104/EC, of 23 November 1993, concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time, provides for an entitlement to nine public holidays per annum.

Publication of data by the European Employment Observatory shows that there is a wide variation in the number of public holidays among EU member states. The average public holiday entitlement in the EU at present is approximately 11 days per annum. Variations in the number of public holidays must be considered in the context of other factors which may bear on this matter including for example, the relationship with annual holiday entitlement, whether statutorily based or obtained by way of collective agreements. Some entitlements also stem from the legacy of historical and religious developments of specific and differing societies.

Were an increase in public holidays to be considered and I stress, no increase is, at this moment, being contemplated, it would be necessary to undertake detailed and substantial consideration of issues arising, including wide-ranging consultations with social partners and other interested parties. Among the matters to be considered would be the impact of any such increase in public holidays on the competitiveness of firms, in particular, small and medium enterprises with smaller work forces, and in terms of output and the impact on employment.

I would point out that the matter of an increase in public holidays did not emerge as an issue for consideration during the detailed and substantive phases of negotiation of the current partnership agreement Towards 2016. However, there is nothing to prevent any party raising such matters for discussion in the context of any subsequent agreement.

In the circumstances, I do not share the view that proposals of this kind should be considered without regard to the wider interests of workers and the enterprises in which they are employed. I suggest that social partnership provides the appropriate forum in which such matters can best be considered.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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Perhaps it shows that the social partners are out of touch with the people they represent. Are they aware that recent European reports show that we rank among the lowest in Europe in terms of days off per year, despite working above average weekly hours. Is the Minister aware of the new International Labour Organisation figures that show that Irish workers are among the most productive and that we are second in terms of productivity based on total hours worked and fifth in terms of productivity per hour? These figures reinforce the case for the introduction of two additional public holidays as proposed by the Labour Party. Those matters are addressed.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Minister, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is the way we want to keep it.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Deputy send me a copy of that?

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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These are impressive statistics by any standards and workers are entitled to some reward for their achievements. I, therefore, advocate the introduction of two additional public holidays. Is the Minister aware that according to a recent opinion poll of workers 71% declare they do not get enough paid holidays, 43% took one week or less for their main holiday, 65% say workload increases when they take holidays and 4% holiday in a different time zone or remote location to avoid work. Does the Minister realise that the average holidays, including statutory holidays and public holidays, is 34 days across the EU and that only the Netherlands, Romania and the United Kingdom, with 28 days against our 29, are out of synch? Will the Minister consider my proposal? If the Labour Party ever returns to Government this is something it will pursue. The last time this was done was when the Labour Party gave the public the May Day holiday in 1994.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy might raise that again in the context of where we are and what we are trying to achieve. Certainly it was Irish workers who answered the clarion call many years ago when we had major difficulties in the economy and they have worked progressively and are very efficient. We want that to continue to be the case in the context of a very open economy. The Deputy's suggestion can be discussed in the context of agreements being negotiated. However, at present, we must take into account the impact this would have primarily on small and medium sized businesses.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I know, I am one of those.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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This is something that may be discussed at a later date. The social partners did not raise this issue and it is not a burning issue at my clinics. While it is nice to raise this issue, we must acknowledge the workers and avoid imposing any further risks, particularly on small and medium sized businesses.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I share the Minister's scepticism in this regard. I would be interested to know if the Department has ever carried out an assessment in respect of the cost to business and the public sector pay bill of an additional public holiday.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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There are some estimates available. However, in the context of any further negotiations a detailed and substantive analysis would have to be undertaken of the impact involved. While I do not have figures in respect of previous analyses, if we were to make changes — I stress there is no proposal to do so — a detailed analysis would have to be undertaken of the impact of this on small and medium sized businesses. This is not an issue which workers are raising. Also, it was not covered in the programme for Government.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I urge the Minister of State to ensure he does not allow right wing views to cloud his evaluation and assessment of this important topic. It is an issue that exercises the minds of workers. I am involved in a small business which employs three people who receive their statutory entitlements in respect of holidays. I would vindicate the right of workers at all times in this regard. Workers come first with me. They are important. Irrespective of what is said by any other party in this House, the Labour Party will stand with workers any day.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am not sure there is a reply to that.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I refer to a statement prior to the general election by Deputy Quinn of the Labour Party which states:

I know the Minister in question will not be in a position to deliver this after the next general election but this is Labour Party policy. I am sure that the alliance between ourselves and Fine Gael will be such that I can now seek an assurance from the Minister that his party, when in Opposition, will not oppose such an issue.

However, the public spoke in May.