Wednesday, 1 June 2016
Workers' Rights: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]
Last Thursday or Friday, when I first saw the motion tabled by the Labour Party it was as if the past five years had not happened. We have had a disastrous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. We know from all of the reports and evidence from the OECD, EUROSTAT, TASC and all of those who have examined income inequality and poverty levels that income inequality has increased. Inequality rose and workers' rights were diminished as a consequence of the policies of the previous Government. We also know the wealthy and the elites were protected and cosseted by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The poor, disadvantaged and working classes were abandoned. Workers in many companies were locked out of their jobs. From 2011 onwards, basic rights were denied to many workers throughout the State.
When I think of the previous Labour Party-Fine Gael Government and its track record on workers' rights, I recall the workers in Lagan Brick, Vita Cortex, TalkTalk in Waterford in my constituency, La Senza, Clerys, Dunnes Stores and many more companies who were denied basic rights and had to engage and sit-in protests. Guess what? They received no support whatsoever from the previous Government. They received no support from Fine Gael or the Labour Party. We had an era of sit-in protests as workers, through no fault of their own, had to occupy their places of work. This is what I remember about the Labour Party-Fine Gael Government and what happened in the past five years. We had a continuation of the neo-liberal policies of Fianna Fáil by Fine Gael and the Labour Party.
We have had an election and the Labour Party got what it deserved because it betrayed the people who voted for it. True to form, after it received a lashing from the electorate having provided a crutch to one of the conservative parties, it has come back to prance about in opposition, throwing radical shapes and pretending to be different and caring about workers, their rights, equality and all of the issues it did not care about during the past five years. If anything, the motion is a good thing because it represents a long list of failures of the previous Labour Party Government.
It is an acknowledgement of all of the things it failed to do during the past five years. I accept that the Labour Party has at least used its motion to outline all of these failures. This must be said because the Labour Party cannot come to the Chamber, present the motion and pretend the past five years did not happen.
There is a need to strengthen workers' rights. We brought forward many Bills in the past five years which sought to protect and enhance workers' rights but these were rejected by the previous Government, of which the Labour Party was a part. We have an ongoing situation whereby many trade union officials are being denied the right to access places of work to engage with their members. This is happening in many retail outlets throughout the State. The issue of right to access was not dealt with by the previous Government. Is the Labour Party now stating that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will do it, even though it already had the chance to do so? The previous Government had a massive majority but it failed to take action in this regard.
We still do not have trade union recognition. Many companies refuse to engage with trade unions and will continue to do so. Tactical insolvency is not a statutory or criminal offence. We can wash our hands when these things happen, as was the case with Clerys, but unless we change the law and introduce legislation, nothing will happen. We are preparing legislation - similar to that which we introduced in the past - with solutions to these problems and we will bring forward. I hope on this occasion when we do so we will have the support of the party which tabled the motion yesterday.
We must end the abuse of if-and-when contracts. This is something on which we campaigned and we tabled motions in the past which were not supported by the Labour Party. We need to combat bogus self-employment. We need to do much more. A number of reports need to be implemented. Last year, I published a report on low pay, decent work and a living wage in consultation with all parties represented on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I hope the report will be published, along with the Cahill-Duffy expert examination and review of laws on the protection of employee interests. These reports need to be implemented as quickly as possible.
I congratulate the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and I hope to work with her in the course of the lifetime of this Dáil. It goes without saying that I welcome any motion which seeks to protect workers' rights. In this instance, however, the hypocrisy of the motion is staggering. In its opening lines the motion calls on Dáil Éireann to stand up for working people and ensure employees secure a fair share of national prosperity. These are fine statements any decent person should support, but this is no ordinary Private Members' motion. It is sponsored by a party which, until recently, was a partner in the most right-wing Government since the foundation of the State. In government, the Labour Party and its neo-liberal ally, Fine Gael, went, vulture-like, after the incomes of ordinary working people and waged war on the living standards of the most vulnerable.
The policy of austerity stretched beyond people's pay packets. Underpinned by a harsh and brutal right-wing ideology, funding for key public services was slashed and the State's industrial relations architecture was dismantled. The end result of five years of the Labour Party and Fine Gael in government is that across the board, in the public and private sectors, workers' pay and conditions dramatically deteriorated. The bottom line is that, when in government, the Labour Party not only failed to protect workers but consciously and deliberately introduced policies which increased levels of deprivation, inequality and in-work poverty. These policies were bad for workers and bad for society in general.
During this period, in television interviews, the media and its own policy document, the Labour Party repeatedly described itself as a party for work, as distinct from what Connolly intended, which is a party for workers. In the five years the Labour Party was in government we witnessed a proliferation of precarious work practices and a dramatic increase in the number of workers on so-called if-and-when contracts. We saw the decimation of unionisation and decent work practices in the construction industry and the growth of bogus self-employment practices. Under the watch of the Labour Party, the workers in Clerys, Connolly Shoes and La Senza were robbed of their livelihoods without warning, while unscrupulous, vampire-like business people stripped any available assets. Under the watch of the Labour Party, vulnerable and low-paid workers in Dunnes Stores and their trade union, Mandate, pleaded in the AV Room of Leinster House for legislation to be introduced to protect vulnerable workers from exploitative and vindictive employers.
After five years of the Labour Party-Fine Gael Government, Ireland has the dubious distinction of having the second highest number of low-paid workers in the OECD. On top of this, we must add the decimation of key public services, such as health, the provision of social housing and public transport. In the Ireland of 2016, people go to work and live in emergency accommodation. Workers cannot afford to go to the doctor and their children languish on waiting lists for services which are available on demand in other European countries. This is the legacy of the Labour Party to working people and the exasperated working and middle classes who have nothing more to give. When the Labour Party proposes a motion such as this on workers' rights, it can only be described as a pathetic shift in tactics from a foundering party. If the Labour Party was genuinely concerned about workers' rights, it could have supported the Sinn Féin Private Members' motion last year calling for the legal entitlement of workers to full-time work and banded-hour contracts.
Instead, in the middle of the Dunnes Stores dispute, the Labour Party supported Fine Gael and voted against the Bill. If the Labour Party was genuinely concerned about workers' rights, it could have introduced collective bargaining legislation, compelling employers to recognise and engage with trade unions. Instead, it voted against the Sinn Féin Bill and introduced watered down legislation with the result that unions representing Tesco workers have no automatic right of access to the workplace and there is still no obligation on employers to recognise trade unions.
The Labour Party's new-found concern for workers is fooling nobody and can only be described as political amnesia at its best.
In 2011 and 2012 workers from Vita Cortex in Cork city endured a sit-in lasting 161 days simply to secure the redundancy entitlements that had been agreed to between management and them. That campaign and the dignity and resolve shown by the employees during the sit-in were an inspiration not only to the people of Cork, but also to workers throughout Ireland. Unfortunately, workers having to sit in to secure basic statutory rights and redundancy to which they were entitled was a hallmark of industrial relations during the term of the previous Dáil.
The motion refers to "protecting workers in "informal" insolvencies and collective redundancies", and that is welcome. However, I recall a Sinn Féin Bill brought forward during the term of the previous Dáil, the Protection of Employees (Amendment) Bill 2012, which would have provided for ensuring redundancy payments in cases of informal insolvency and better notice periods for employees in cases of collective redundancy.
Faraor, vótáil an Rialtas agus an Lucht Oibre i gcoinne na reachtaíochta sin ar bhonn teicniciúil. The Government and the Labour Party voted against that legislation on technical grounds. That is a pity because if the Bill had been allowed to progress to Committee Stage and perhaps strengthened and improved by amendment to the taste of the Government, the workers at Clerys and other workplaces where there were collective redundancies and informal insolvencies might have enjoyed greater protection. However, that did not happen. Workers upon being made redundant do not have adequate protections, and I urge the Minister and the Government to act on this. The German model of redundancy with payments approximate to pay and complemented by training is worth considering.
I wish to address briefly the issue of bogus self-employment, which has been for a long time a significant issue in the building trades. However, it is creeping more and more into other forms of employment, including IT, and across many employment agencies. In January of this year the Irish Congress of Trade Unions calculated that this loss to the Exchequer is roughly €80 billion per year, or circa €680 billion since 2007. Bogus self-employment allows the company to make an illegitimate saving on tax and employer PRSI, which increases profit by roughly 11%. It has been suggested that bogus self-employment has been allowed to flourish because the system of electronic relevant contracts tax, eRCT, is a default set-up. In many ways it has consequently facilitated employers in declaring a worker as self-employed instead of the proper designation of "employee". The entitlements of the worker in general have become somewhat eroded over the past few years, but with bogus self-employments these rights are practically non-existent: no entitlement to holiday pay, sickness or maternity benefit or even pension contributions; no redundancy; no notice of termination; and no recourse when it comes to a case of unfair dismissal. These workers are entitled to the same rights as any other workers.
As someone who represented workers under the previous two Administrations, I find it laughable that the Labour Party is talking about workers' rights. It had five years to make a difference to the lives of working people. I do not mean the difference it made when it followed Fianna Fáil's lead and cut the pay of serving public servants, I mean a real, positive difference to the lives of workers and a discernible difference to the lives of public servants for the better. I will focus my remarks on the issue of precarious work in the public service.
Until relatively recently, I earned a living representing public servants in both the education and health sectors, so I speak from personal experience when I say that while Fianna Fáil might have been the first to introduce precarious work, it rose at a rate of knots under the stewardship of the man who now leads the Labour Party. Teachers, nurses, university lecturers, tutors, porters, child care workers - there was hardly a profession or job in the public service where the Labour Party did not facilitate the casualisation of labour, either through refusing to support mandatory union recognition or allowing Departments and agencies to issue the kind of contracts that would make William Martin Murphy blush. Sinn Féin supports mandatory union recognition for all State contracts because where the State spends money, workers' rights should be protected and upheld.
The only way to do this is to facilitate union organising and to encourage workers to join a trade union.
I say to the Labour Party Deputies, "Come on, lads." They should support the Sinn Féin amendment. They should begin the long and arduous task ahead of them by saying sorry to those workers whose rights they trampled on through the arrogance created on foot of the previous Government's majority. They should look at the result of the most recent election. They should look around them at their depleted ranks and reflect on the reason for this. It is not all about water. Even if it is convenient to blame it on water, they know the real reason they are sitting here with depleted numbers. They should listen to the message the electorate gave them in the most recent election.
To Deputy Howlin, if I may, I would like to say that I have never been out of my depth in any industrial relations matter - not today, not yesterday, not ever. Nor will I ever be in the future.
As someone who has been a shop steward all my working life and who continues to take up workers' cases, I had to check the calendar to make sure it was not April Fools' Day when I saw this motion. After five years of Labour in government, we witnessed the spectacle of the Minister for Finance getting up to deliver the previous budget and bragging that 700,000 workers were being taken out of the USC net, meaning 700,000 workers in this State have annual incomes of less than €13,000 because of the race to the bottom that has taken place under Labour's watch. The Labour Party Deputies have some neck bringing this motion forward.
I welcome and will support the Sinn Féin amendment before the House, which rightly recognises the failure of the previous Government to defend and protect workers' rights. If we do not acknowledge that at the start and know where we are coming from, we will not be able to point to where we are going. It is correct to talk about Clerys, but there have been many other cases during the past five years. Workers have been locked out of their jobs, denied wages and redundancy payments and in some cases intimidated and sacked as a result of their union membership, often by companies making handsome profits. The amendment correctly points out that we do need strong labour laws, which I support, but even Labour's motion itself exposes how divorced the party is from reality.
It states, "[A]s economic conditions continue to improve, [Dáil Éireann] will stand up for working people". It is absolutely jaw-dropping in its ignorance. The job of a party that defends labour and workers is to stand up for working people, no matter what the economic conditions are. In the bad times there is actually an even greater need for a labour party to do that-----
Does the Labour Party think that when Jim Larkin arrived in Dublin he turned around and said, "Do you know what, lads, I'll come back in a few years because the economic climate isn't quite right at the moment."? Of course he did not. He fought for workers because workers' rights were not granted by any noble being. Workers' rights were fought for in this State. In that respect, I salute the workers who have been engaged at the coalface of the defence of their rights, be it the Tesco workers, the Dunnes Stores workers, the Luas drivers or any of the others who have had to take this battle on. It is their struggles that will change the face of workers' rights in this country.
I opened a newspaper this morning and saw a piece by John Fitzgerald about the problems of austerity and the type of economics brought in by the previous Government, of which the Labour Party was part. He made the point that women workers were hardest hit. Being the lowest paid and in the most casual employment, women workers suffered most under the Labour Party's watch.
Today, I received a phone call from a woman in my constituency. She has been on a temporary contract for the past five years doing work outsourced by an agency on behalf of the HSE. She is on a zero-hour contract, with no hope of permanency and no guarantee week to week of how many hours she will receive. She cannot get credit from a bank and when she tried to take up an educational course to increase her skills, she could not obtain a loan to pay the fees relating to it. The House should remember what the Labour Party said about college fees as well, but that is another story.
The practice of outsourcing and privatisation is at the heart of this race to the bottom that is under way. Outsourcing good jobs to private companies undermines workers' conditions and job security. It also undermines the efficiency of the services that are to be delivered. We could mention many examples but I will just mention that of the laundry department at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, where the HSE has systematically cut funding to on-site services and has had to alternatively outsource the latter, in a piecemeal fashion, to a private company. It is not efficient, it costs the HSE more and it undermines workers' jobs. Of course, it is no wonder that is happening when we see all of the labour activation schemes that were facilitated by the previous Government - the discredited JobBridge and Gateway programmes.
When we consider all of the companies that have shafted union members, it is a bit rich for the Labour Party to move this motion. I will end by referring to the Greyhound dispute. A company registered in the Isle of Man, which refused to publish the profits it made from the privatisation of waste collection, slashed the wages of permanent workers, enforced new contracts overnight without consultation, locked the workers out and blatantly hired scab labour to undermine their jobs. Labour did nothing. It is too late for that now. I fully support the Sinn Féin amendment.
I have lost count of the number of ironies evident in this Private Members' motion on workers' rights and which has been presented by the very party that participated in degrading those rights during its five-year stint in power. It is disconcerting to think that instead of standing up for labour rights, the Labour Party actually degraded workers' rights and conditions during the five years it was in government alongside Fine Gael. In fact, it is incredible the rate of degradation that occurred during the Labour Party's tenure. The labour market is unrecognisable today, just as the Labour Party, as it presents this cynical piece of work referring to working people in Ireland, is unrecognisable. Workers across Ireland deserve more respect than this mockery. Instead of presenting a list of demands in its motion, I believe workers deserve to hear an explanation as to why the Labour Party, on numerous occasions, refused to increase the level of protection for workers. Why did the Labour Party allow the disintegration of workers' conditions to occur, why did it not ensure enough resources were allocated to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court for enforcement of recommendations and why did it simultaneously cut back on income supports designed to address income security?
It is timely that we are discussing this motion. The trade union Unite published a report today labelling Ireland as a low-pay economy with high levels of income inequality compared to other prosperous countries. Pay increases since 2010 have disproportionately benefited higher-earning groups and Ireland was found to have the second highest level of wage inequality in the EU-15 after Portugal, with living standards 15% below the average. A striking aspect of Unite's report is that it indicates that poor pay is compounded by low levels of employer's social insurance, which means Irish workers have to pay more to access services such as health care. It dispels the myth that Irish wages are too high and uncompetitive. According to the report, both the social wage and employer's social insurance are very low in Ireland. The report also outlines the high cost of public services and low in-work supports for Irish employees. The social wage would have to more than double to even come near that of the EU-15 average.
That is why income security is so important but the Labour Party made drastic cuts in respect of this as well. Cuts to jobseeker's benefits, the farm assist scheme, income disregards and reductions in subsidiary allowances have affected many low-paid workers in my constituency in Donegal. Seasonal workers, in particular, have borne the brunt of these brutal cuts. These workers are reliant on social welfare payments for the parts of the year when they do not have any work at all in order to try to supplement their incomes but those payments were cut savagely when the Labour Party was in government. Budgetary cuts in 2012 have left the situation for seasonal workers even more precarious. They might work in the hotel or restaurant sector for a period and then be unemployed for much of the remainder of the year. They are obliged to rely on social welfare payments at that time.
Ours is a low-paid economy and the Labour Party, when it was in government, subsidised low pay through the social welfare system. Today, there are over 60,000 families dependent on the family income supplement payment, which is a direct subsidy to low wages.
Legislation alone will not tackle the culture of exploitation evident in many of our workplaces, and it will not tackle the level of vulnerability that workers suffer through exploitative practices. Enforcement, and creating an environment which obliges the employer to comply with labour law, needs to be the main part of the solution. However, employers such as Tesco have refused to even attend Labour Court proceedings. We have seen a lack of enforcement of Labour Court recommendations. The balance is tipped in favour of the employer, which is a real sign that workers' rights are at an all-time low. Many employers simply ignore recommendations. An employee would never be given this leeway so why should employers be given it? There is a lack of enforcement in dealing with employers that simply lock up the shop and walk away leaving their workers without any compensation. Those same employers then go on to set up new companies the following day and still get away without paying any of their former employees. There are many cases of this and practically all of them involve non-unionised workers who are known to be so by their employers and, therefore, are the first to be exploited.
The way to strengthen workers' rights is through ratifying economic, social and cultural rights. My Bill on the Order Paper, which I introduced in the past week, to seek to have these rights enshrined in the Constitution specifically would address workers' rights and the right to collective bargaining. I would hope that the economic, social and cultural rights will be recognised as a way to promote the issues we address in the Dáil today and ensure that the next time the Labour Party is in government, it will be constitutionally barred from attacking workers' rights.
I am sharing time with Deputy Mick Barry.
The issue before us says a lot. Everybody has expressed their outrage at the record of the Labour Party in the previous Government. To me, it is like Jekyll and Hyde. Hyde was in government and during that time, it is worth reminding ourselves that, particularly in the public sector, Labour created havoc in terms of workers' pay, allowances, pensions and workers' rights in general. That sets the trend and spills over into the private sector where employers automatically, by osmosis, feel they have carte blancheto start implementing all sorts of austerity measures on their workers. Why would they not? If the fish rots from the head, then there is the rotten fish on the Labour Party benches because that party started the rot in terms of workers' rights, not that we ever had very many of them.
A good friend of mine died nearly two years ago. He was a union official all his life but was doing favours for people after he retired, and he asked me to complete a case for him of a migrant worker who was owed hundreds of euro in overtime payments by a well-known fast-food chain. The employer did not cough up. We waited two years for that case to come up. After Brendan died, the case came up. Frank won his case before the rights commissioner. It took two years. The employer appealed it. It took a year and a half for the appeal to be completed. He won his case again. Now the employer is refusing to pay. The only redress this migrant worker has is to take civil action in the courts. This is not protection for workers.
On Thursday last, Transdev, a company well known to all Members, illegally deducted 10% of wages from 180 Luas drivers. The company broke the Payment of Wages Act 1991. I read that Act again today and nowhere does it allow for employers to deduct money from workers on the back of legal trade union industrial action they have taken. Not a dicky bird was said, either inside this House or, indeed, by the leaders of the trade union movement, many of whom are members of the Labour Party, about this complete breach of legislation that is supposed to protect workers. What we need is very strong legislation. I do not believe that what is contained in the motion or legislation alone will suffice.
We also need tight and deep levels of trade union organisation. Last week we had a presentation from Unite in New Zealand about how it legally banned zero-hour contracts. One of the interesting points about that presentation is that Unite needed legalised access to workplaces and that was one of the first rights it went after. I very much welcome the section in the Sinn Féin amendment which states that unions must have legal access to workplaces and workers in order to represent them properly.
The Government should not be let off the hook. I want to examine its amendment. It refers to upholding a strong economy and a fair society. We have never seen a more unequal society, even when the economy was much stronger under the previous Government. As the economy gets stronger under this Government, we still have gross inequality. The Government's amendment refers to a gradual negotiated repeal of FEMPI. We discussed it today and we will talk about it more in the House, given that we have put down a motion for its repeal. If somebody robbed one's house, would one tell the robber it would be okay if he or she gradually returned the money and jewellery he or she had stolen? This is what has happened. The Government has robbed public sector workers and is talking about gradually repaying them. The Government did not gradually bail out the banks or gradually cut social welfare under the previous Government. We must tackle head-on the sort of language the Government has used in its amendment to the motion.
The Government has said it will respect and fully support the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. The establishment of the WRC, which is very recent, included a 20% reduction in the levels of staffing in a so-called new system. The old system was already creaking with years of waiting lists and 3,500 outstanding cases. There is no sincerity on the part of the Government to deal with the question of equality, workers' rights and fairness for employees. We must tackle this head-on.
Even Margaret Thatcher, for all her notorious union bashing, gave, under legislation, the right to trade union recognition if 50% of employees were signed up. Where is trade union recognition in this country, 103 years after Larkin and Connolly led the struggle to achieve it? What successive Governments have done is outrageous. The motion does not go far enough. I support the two amendments, and not the Government amendment.
I welcome the workers, trade union activists and trade union officials who are in the Visitors Gallery. Today, the union Unite published a report entitled The Truth About Irish Wages. The report shows that Ireland is a low-pay economy and has a high level of income inequality. It showed that low-paid employees constitute a disproportionate percentage of the Irish workforce compared to other wealthy European countries and that almost a quarter of Irish workers are in low-paid jobs. The report confirms what we know from other reports. Some 23.3% of full-time employees are low-paid, which is a greater percentage than in any other OECD country except the US and South Korea. In Tesco, where workers are battling wage cuts of up to €6,000 per annum, more than 1,000 workers are already so low-paid that they must survive on family income supplement.
Against this backdrop, we must consider the Labour Party proposal for a "programme of incremental increases in the national minimum wage". The national minimum wage stands at €9.15 per hour. How many years do the Deputies envisage the programme of incremental increases will take before the national minimum wage reaches 60% of median earnings, which would be slightly above €12 per hour? The AAA-PBP amendment seeks to increase the national minimum wage to €12 per hour this year, immediately, as a step towards €14 per hour by May 2018.
Workers cannot wait for years to reach 60% of the median wage, which is the European decency threshold. A worker living in Cork city, earning the minimum wage and working a full 40 hour week would earn €17,420 per year, after tax. To rent a house, he or she would need to spend €1,003 per month, 69% of his or her take-home pay. To rent a one-bedroom apartment, he or she would need to spend €748 per month, more than 50% of take-home pay. The rent increases in both sectors during the past year were greater than the increase in the national minimum wage last year. This means the increase has been more than totally wiped out by rent increases alone.
The minimum wage of €9.15 per hour is way too low. The €9.65 rate which Sinn Féin advocated last year is way too low. Workers forced to survive on those wages are among the more than 80,000 workers who live in real risk of poverty, the working poor. They should not be forced to live in poverty. In any even the rent will not wait to be paid. Today, the Irish secretary of Unite the Union, Jimmy Kelly, said:
Fine Gael were the main reason for diluting what the trade union movement needed [the previous] Government to do, and the Labour Party had to go in a direction that would be favourable to Fine Gael interests. So we ended up with something that is not really true collective bargaining.
We are putting forward the idea of a statutory route to union recognition. This route must be clear, straightforward and speedy. While the situation in the UK is not perfect, it is better than we have here. The amended 2015 legislation does not go nearly far enough. We need mandatory collective bargaining, access to workplaces for union officials, space and recognition of shop stewards, and facilities within companies that will allow the unions to go in.
Last night, the leader of the Labour Party said Sinn Féin and the Trotskyists had a critique but no solution. Sinn Féin can speak for themselves. I find it ironic that the founder of the Labour Party, James Connolly, was an admirer of the 1905 Russian Revolution led by Mr. Trotsky himself. We will not take any lectures on workers rights from the party that introduced JobBridge. We ask the House to support the AAA-PBP amendments. We will support the Sinn Féin amendments.
I am delighted to have time to speak on this. During the past weeks we were mixed up about which groups were trying to get time. I wish comhghairdeas to the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor and the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen. I wish them well in their portfolios. I thank the Minister for engaging with me on a very sad issue in Tipperary in which workers were treated appallingly after a recent closure. I thank the Minister's office for engaging and arranging a meeting with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. It is a tús maith, a good start. Every person's job is very important to that person and his or her family.
I have been a small employer since 1982 and understand some of the vagaries. I have an excellent workforce and have had a good relationship with my employees through many years. Some have left, some have returned and some have gone to greener pastures. No business could function without a very skilled, willing and able workforce. There must be respect, and it works both ways. Employers must respect employees in what they ask them to do. I am in a service industry and my employees must respect the customers with whom they engage. It works both ways; it is a two-way street.
While I see where the Labour Party is coming from with the motion, as a small employer I am unable to support it, given that we must make haste slowly. In a recovering economy, which everybody tells us about - some of the messages we received during the election were misleading - the growth is very delicate and must be nurtured. We must examine it from all aspects and try to nurture it along. Other speakers have spoken on this, as they are entitled to, and demanded that we jump to the new level immediately. However, it is not easy. They got the increase.
We must also be very careful regarding the taxation system.
It is one thing to give a wage increase but in some cases, as has happened in past, it puts an employee over a certain income limit and into a higher PRSI bracket. A detailed examination of this area is required. In such cases employees bring home less money than they had before they got their wage increase. That is a farce. We must examine the taxation system. We must have an incentive in the system for people to work and it must be rewarding for them to work. It must be based on the premise that they have to get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. People must be enabled to go to work. It costs money to go out to work. They have to travel, they need work attire and must have many other needs met to go out to work. I salute the many employees who go out to work and keep this country functioning day in, day out, many of them working in this House, in other buildings and in other areas of the public service. They provide a tremendous service.
There have been many cuts, taxes and attacks on people's incomes and many pressures as we well know. Workers have commitments and have to provide for their families and pay rent or a mortgage on their homes. They have had to cope with the high cost of property, and rent allowance was the subject of a major debate during the term of the previous Government but, thankfully, in this programme for Government something is being done about that.
I urge caution on this important issue. I have no truck with or respect for the likes of Tesco and such companies. The Acting Chairman might tell me I should not mention names but it is obvious that there are issues in that company and the granting of zero-hour contracts is totally unfair to workers. There are many other big chains. We saw what happened in a flagship company in O'Connell Street.
There have been many cases, as happened in a company in Tipperary two weeks ago, where the workers came to see me six or seven weeks ago and told me they were concerned about their jobs, but they were kept in the dark and not told anything. I could not get any engagement with the company or through any of my Oireachtas Member colleagues. The workers were then called to a meeting of a Tuesday at 12.30 p.m. to be told that they would have their P45s on Thursday. That is disgraceful treatment of any worker. Some of those employees were with that company for 36, 40 and 43 years. They had given a great number of years service and were a dedicated workforce. That type of practice cannot be allowed. We need a strengthening of legislation and the competition authority and other areas need to be stronger to stop takeovers and mergers that are only done for one reason, namely, to make profit and to try to get rid of the workers.
I wish the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor and the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen every good luck in their new portfolios. I was always a particular admirer of the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, since she was elected to this House. I appreciated her political ability. I was delighted with her elevation to ministerial status. From the bottom of my heart I wish her and the Minister of State nothing but good luck during this Dáil term and I hope it will be a long and fruitful one-----
I very much respect what the Labour Party is seeking to achieve in its motion before us. I always saw my role as a public representative as one where if I could put money into the pockets of the people I represent, that is what I would like to do, and the same would go for other Members, but I would want to do that in a practical, sensible and affordable way. Like Deputy Mattie McGrath, I must declare that since 1985 I have been a small employer. I have a number of different businesses on the go and I have been fortunate to have very good people working with me over many years. All I try to do at all times is to keep those small businesses going, and to do that I must balance everything. It is all a balancing act.
Businesses face a number of problems. One is insurance costs. My insurance costs for public liability and other areas have increased by 44% in the past 12 months. With respect to there being a hike in wages, I would be delighted if an employer could afford to do that, and if an employer is making money, he or she would be delighted to pay such an increase, but if an employer cannot make money, they cannot pay such an increase.
I come from County Kerry where tourism is one of the major employers. There are big hoteliers in Killarney who are big employers. They tell me that if there was an immediate hike in employment costs, they might not manage to pay their employees' wages. We have to balance everything. On the one hand, we desperately want to ensure employees have enough money to raise their families, pay their bills and cover the cost of the payments on their houses, but we cannot hit the employer in a way that it will not be manageable for him or her to keep their business doors open. Without the small business, the corner shop, pub or restaurant, we are going nowhere. We must foster an environment that those people will be able to create employment. I know it is populist to say that it would be great if employees could be paid €15 an hour straight into their hands. We would all be delighted if that could be done, but is that profitable or achievable?
The Government party Members are ordinary people the same as I am and I ask that they take account of employees' household costs. If the Government during the next six, 12 or 18 months could find ways to reduce the costs and burdens on families, that would be another way to assist families to balance their budgets. A great deal of extra taxes and burdens have been imposed on families and if, through one method or another, they could be reduced, that would be another way to increase the families' household incomes. The Government has to examine such issues to try to assist struggling families in particular.
Yes. We will share on the basis of four minutes, four minutes and two minutes, respectively.
I would like to start by setting out what we would like for workers. There is a good deal of detail in and much merit to the motion. We want people to be able to work for a week and earn enough money to lead a dignified life, that they can work with security in their job, with certainty that they will have a job, that their hours will not be changed around, and that they will be treated with respect.
The Social Democrats are committed to supporting the phased introduction of a living wage based on the real cost of living; on banning zero-hour contracts; on addressing the prevalence of if-and-when contracts, as identified in the University of Limerick study; in supporting the ICTU charter, including the right to representation and collective bargaining, respect, equality and ethics at work and fair public procurement; and in closing the quite outrageous legal loophole in company law that lets a company split its obligations to its staff from the assets of the company, which is what we saw happen in Clerys. That should not be allowed. It needs to be remedied and I hope it is one of the issues Minister is seeking to address quickly.
The two big problems that this motion seeks to address are as follows. The first is the divide between how much money many workers are left with in Ireland at the end of the week or the end of the month and how much it costs to lead a dignified life in this country. The second is the increasing lack of security and certainty being faced by many workers and their families due to factors such as the rise in the prevalence of zero-hour contracts. We need to address these issues but we also need to do much more. We need to reduce the cost of living. It costs 20% more to live in Ireland than it does in Europe on average. Our child care fees are the second highest in the European Union and are now over one quarter of an average family's income. Insurance costs have gone up by about one third in the past year. Rents in my constituency have gone up nearly 10% in the same period.
All of these rises are impacting harshly on living standards, in particular for low and middle-income families with young children. They undermine the ability of many people to make ends meet. Simply cutting taxes or increasing the minimum wage will not address the cost issue. In fact, cutting taxes is likely to increase the cost of living in the country. If we aspire, as we should, to a country where everyone has enough money on finishing a week's work for his or her family to lead a dignified life, we must reduce systematically the cost of living. It is just too expensive to live in this country. The other thing reducing the cost of living would do would be to greatly reduce the need for social transfers. There is massive wage inequality in Ireland, second in the EU, which is averaged out through huge social transfers. That is not how it should work. People should be able to work for a week, take their wages and lead decent lives. They should not be reliant on these social transfers. Indeed, their counterparts in other countries are not.
The Social Democrats consider that a great deal needs to be done in terms of the issues laid out in the motion. We also need to look at the cost of living and we must look at the costs of doing business. We must address them all to get to a position where people can lead dignified lives based on what they earn.
I welcome the fact that we are having this debate but it comes just months after the Labour Party left government when so many of the things it is seeking now could have been implemented. One cannot but notice that. We watched with dismay over the past five years when things like JobPath, JobBridge and various other activation schemes were introduced. While there is a place for internships, there was evidence of job displacement. Indeed, the MOMENTUM scheme was scrapped mid-stream which left a lot of people between things. It was as if people were being used as guinea pigs. Many schemes were exploited and some replaced real jobs. The whole area of JobPath is a real problem. It has failed in the UK but the same people are employed to come in here notwithstanding the likelihood that it will fail here too. Zero-hour and never-never contracts have created a culture where it has become almost acceptable to treat people as chattel, use them when and if needed and discard them at will. Individuals and families are in the position of not knowing from one day to the next what their income is going to be, what they will require in relation to child care or if they will have a job at the end of the day. The social protection system is being used in many cases as a subsidy for some employers. It can be argued that it is very unfair to employers who do not seek that and pay better wages.
The manifesto of the Social Democrats set out a requirement to introduce a living wage based on the real cost of living determined in consultation with the living wage campaign and employers. We called for a ban on zero-hours contracts as well as mechanisms to address the growing prevalence of if-and-when contracts. A society's success is based on the security of its citizens, but how can people feel secure if they do not know from one hour to the next if they have a job or not? The construction sector has seen the issue of bogus self-employment. For years, the construction sector worked under arrangements like C2 contracts and when the crash came, this group ended up being very exposed with little or no entitlements due to that arrangement.
We have to take the long view on those kinds of areas. There must be protections. The living wage is vital but so too is addressing the cost of living as has already been said. We have proposed the introduction of a series of measures which would reduce the cost of living. A static wage is of little use if the costs of housing, energy, insurance, child care, etc., continue to go out of control. We welcome any and every initiative to protect and support workers, but talk is one thing. The Labour Party was in government and it would have meant an awful lot more when its members talked about these things had they actually done something about it when they were in that position. Clearly, talking about it in opposition is a very different thing given where they have come from.
I am very happy on behalf of the Green Party to support the Labour Party motion. I will set out a couple of thoughts in the few short minutes I have. We live in a world where capital moves quickly. It can move from one part of the world to another in the blink of an eye and without any real controls. There is completely free movement of capital. In that same world, labour and migration are slow. It is not that easy to move. There is not the same speed. There is a negotiating power imbalance whereby the speed of capital gives it excessive power over labour.
From a Green Party perspective, I would bring in a third factor of production, which is natural capital, because that is static. The main message I want to get across is that natural capital and labour are natural allies in that world in terms of seeking to put a damper on the power of capital and to regulate such as to bring a greater return to labour and protect natural capital. As David Begg said at a recent climate gathering, there are no jobs on a dead planet. There are thousands of well-paid jobs in the green transition we need to make. We must ensure that it is a just transition and, in that spirit, we are happy to support the Labour Party motion.
We must be cognisant of what is happening in the European Union and within our currency union. We look at what has happened to Germany as an example of that imbalance. German economic success is very real. Germany is able to trade in a global economy, but it has done so by increasing the retained earnings of companies and by not giving a fair share to labour. If one looks at the global situation, that has happened across the board. There has been an ever-increasing return to capital and a decreasing return to labour. That needs to stop. We must end zero-hour contracts and precarious working conditions. We can do so in a way that maintains our competitiveness. To do so is in tune with the way the world is going. The old way has to end.
I am proud to speak on behalf of the Labour Party in supporting our motion to enhance the rights of workers and to provide greater employment protections for those in precarious and low-paid work. I welcome the former Clerys workers, including Susie McGowan, and our trade union brothers and sisters who are present as well as those from Labour Youth, including Grace Williams, who led a campaign on this issue. They also led a petition to the Minister today albeit I had hoped she would give them more time. In future, she might facilitate that. I also welcome my SIPTU colleagues from the security and contract cleaning industries who helped to negotiate the new employment regulation orders which came into force last October and which have helped a great many people. I wish both Ministers well in their new roles and I say that sincerely.
The foundation of the Labour Party in Ireland was inextricably linked with the trade union movement and we have argued throughout our history that the best means of strengthening the hand of workers and their unions is through co-operation of both organised and political labour. This means that we have been unswerving in our support for workers both in government and in opposition. I call on every Deputy in the House to support the motion because it is the right thing to do.
"The longer the picket, the shorter the strike" is a common adage among trade union members and it refers to the solidarity between workers from all sectors and their representatives, standing together against abusive employment practices. Today, myself and my Labour Party colleagues reaffirm our commitment to the cause of working people across Ireland. The Labour Party's last term in government was marked by the economic collapse inherited from our predecessors in which more than 250,000 workers lost their jobs. We also governed against a background where collective bargaining rights were being curtailed across Europe and where there existed a significant downward pressure on wages in already low-paid sectors, not least as a result of Fianna Fáil cutting the minimum wage before leaving office. It is remarkable then that during the Labour Party's term, we increased the minimum wage on two separate occasions, instituted collective bargaining rights, re-established joint labour committees and provided much-needed protections for workers by way of sectoral employment orders and registered employment agreements.
We also established a commission to examine low pay. We call on the Government to act on that commission's recommendations quickly. In addition, we began to tackle so-called zero-hour and if-and-when contracts to end the cycle of precarious work among the low paid. It is also a credit to our party that despite the economic turmoil in which we toiled for the first few years of the previous Government, there was not a single mandatory redundancy in the public sector. Our efforts and record on workers' rights speak for themselves. Our dignity at work agenda was evident in every decision that we made over the five years, which is why it is so outrageous that the current programme for Government pays little more than lip-service to the rights of working people. Why is there no Minister for labour affairs? Was the role just forgotten? Is the reason for the environment Department being forgotten similar? Workplace issues form just two paragraphs in the entire document.
It is undoubtedly true that with the Labour Party in government, the economy revived. Unemployment fell from 15% to below 9% and currently more than 1,000 jobs are being created each week. However, stronger economic growth should not mean a race to the bottom in workers' conditions. This is why the Labour Party supports the living wage initiative. We would increase the minimum wage in Ireland to €11.50 per hour and ensure that workers on low pay could live and not simply survive. A rising cost of living necessitates that wages move upwards and work pays in every instance. We call on the Government to commit to introducing a living wage, thereby leading the way on progressive work practices.
The House will remember the Taoiseach's pledge that Ireland would be "the best small country in the world in which to do business". The Labour Party's ambition is much broader, encompassing the whole of civil society and in keeping with our traditions as a social democratic party. Our ambition is for an Ireland where work is rewarded and pays and where working people benefit first from any economic prosperity.
The old model of trickle-down economics has failed and it is incumbent on us all as legislators to recognise this. It is difficult to believe that despite the Lock-out occurring more than a century ago, there exists a cohort of employers willing to exploit their staff and undermine their conditions. The Clerys workers, who are present, were abandoned by the new owners of their store without notice, an example of vulture capitalism where profit supersedes human dignity at every level. It was a disgrace. The workers had been mainstays of Clerys for decades and were shown damn all respect in the termination of their employment.
We call on the Government to legislate for the protection of workers in these "informal insolvency" and collective redundancy situations. Tesco is seeking to rewrite the contracts of some of its workers without adequate justification or the agreement of their representatives. I welcome that Tesco has recently chosen to negotiate with Mandate as the representative body of the workers where others have failed to do so but the industrial relations mechanisms of the State must be strengthened to ensure that employers are compelled to engage with unions on every level. In the aforementioned instances of Clerys and Tesco, as well as in disputes with Dunnes Stores, Greyhound waste disposal, La Senza and the Paris Bakery, Labour Party members, activists and trade unions have stood in support of workers fighting to vindicate their rights, not simply as units of labour, but as human beings deserving of decent conditions and protections.
Further, it is my fundamental belief as a former SIPTU shop steward that people have a right to feel safe and secure in their workplaces. The Government must legislate to provide statutory redress for the victims of workplace bullying.
I wish to highlight the rights of workers beyond PAYE employees. We must support small businesses, local enterprises and the self-employed but this sector is being hampered by bogus self-employment, which is diverting much-needed Government support away from legitimate work and towards an exploitation of loopholes in our taxation system. We must tackle bogus self-employment to ensure that the resources of the State are put to work in the best interests of taxpaying, law-abiding citizens. This problem is not prevalent in the construction industry alone but also in the IT industry and it is beginning to occur in the education industry and elsewhere. Freelance workers, such as journalists, deserve the protections that union recognition brings. As such, we are calling on the Government to extend collective bargaining rights to freelance workers in recognition of the unique role that they play in society. We in the Labour Party are committed to combating the casualisation of work and will pressure the Government to enhance the rights of workers every step of the way.
We often discuss new politics in the Chamber. I thank those who will support the Labour Party's motion. It is a shame, therefore, to read the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin in opposition to our motion.
While the Labour Party struggled against conservative interests trying to undermine trade union rights during the previous Government, which was a battle that we won, Sinn Féin cheerleaded hard-left Governments across Europe that equivocated on public sector pensions and collective bargaining rights-----
-----and enforced cuts on working people far beyond any measure introduced in Ireland. It was because of the sterling work of trade unions right across Ireland in concert with the Labour Party in government that workers were protected during the past term.
Just yesterday, I met a number of former Clerys workers. To be honest, their resolve for justice should be an inspiration to each and every Deputy in the House. It is with these workers in mind that I hope we can all agree that such a situation should never be allowed to occur again. It is in the spirit of the supposed new politics that I call on all sides of the House to engage meaningfully with and consider the Labour Party's motion and to send the message out to unscrupulous employers that the people of Ireland will not stand for any attempt to undermine the pay and conditions of workers. In an effort to build a genuinely decent society, we must protect the vulnerable and low paid against greed and profiteering. We must stand up for a workers' republic. A vote by the House in favour of this motion would be a vital first step-----
Next is the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, whom I understand is sharing time with the Ministers of State, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Breen. They have 15 minutes.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this motion. I will pick up on a comment made by Deputy Kelly. When he pointed to the reality of Sinn Féin's participation in the Northern Ireland Executive and its association and support-----
It is a fact that Sinn Féin has associated with political movements and parties across Europe that have inflicted damage on the conditions of workers, their levels of employment and their wages. Every time that any Member on the Government or Opposition benches draws attention to what the reality of Sinn Féin's policies would be if implemented elsewhere in Europe or, as it wants, in Ireland, what we get from Sinn Féin is a constant attempt to barrack that Member. We have just seen it meted out to Deputy Kelly and we have seen it meted out to other speakers. At a time when there appears to be a growing demand and thirst for new politics, surely it should be a basic requisite to listen with at least the appearance of respect to different opinions in Dáil Éireann.
I listened to Deputy Alan Kelly’s contribution.
I want to speak about the public wage element and the consequences for civil and public service unions, their members and people working in services. I listened with great interest and care to what the Deputy had to say and was struck by his omission of any reference to the Lansdowne Road agreement. If it was at the start of his contribution, I missed it. I was struck, however, by his description of the achievements of the Labour Party in the last Government. They were achievements. One achievement that was absent in the Deputy's list and which is absent from the Labour Party motion is the Lansdowne Road agreement, in the delivery of which the former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, played the lead role. That cuts to the core of why the Government has reservations about the motion and cannot support it in its entirety. There are many elements with which I agree entirely, but I cannot support the motion fully because of the consequences for the Lansdowne Road agreement. We have in place a three-year agreement with many unions, although I acknowledge not all of them. The TUI recently voted to be inside that framework. The reason I regretfully find myself unable to support the motion in its entirety is the consequences of the passage of the motion for the agreement, the people who voted for it and are party to it, and the Exchequer.
Let me reiterate the objectives the Labour Party is describing in the motion. I am sure it was an accident, but Deputy Alan Kelly was selective in the quotations he ascribed to the Taoiseach. Of course, he made reference to the economy, but he also made reference to the fact that this was a country in which one could grow old gracefully. He stated it was the best country in which to bring up one’s family. An essential element of this is ensuring workers are treated with the respect they deserve. I acknowledge the contribution the trade union movement has made in this regard. It and its leaders, at a time of great difficulty for the country and a time of near collapse, played their role in leading the country and economy forward. We now need to ensure this leadership results in an opportunity for renewal for workers, their families and communities. I look forward to working with union leaders and Members of the House to deliver the objectives of the motion, if not the detail.
I would like to end on a point of detail concerning figures for those who work in the civil and public services. They may be of interest to some who have pointed to issues concerning how we employ and pay people. I refer to the number of workers working in the civil and public services whom we judge to be earning less than the living wage. The information we have in this regard is that if a living wage is €11.50 per hour which equates to an annual salary of approximately €20,000 based on a 37-hour working week, some 94% of those who work in public services are on an annual salary in excess of that figure. Despite what many say and have claimed, successive Governments have a good track record in ensuring those who work in the civil and public services are well rewarded. As a result of the of the awful shock and trauma the country went through, that has changed, but we now have in place an agreement, the Lansdowne Road agreement, and an arrangement with the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court to deal with it and ensure it is implemented in its entirety.
I wish to talk about what public pay policy will be. It builds on much of what has been achieved. Many of the principles informing future policy are captured in the current Lansdowne Road agreement and have two separate elements. The first requires us to acknowledge that, where there is a demonstrated need, front-line staff numbers will be increased in a targeted and sustainable manner. One should consider the track record of the last Government, of which I was privileged to be a member, and the new Government which is seeking to build on the progress made. We see that, in many cases, the number of people working in the civil and public services is returning to the kind of number in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Where there is still a gap, as in An Garda Síochána, as we acknowledge, we have a plan in place to address it. The overall framework through the Lansdowne Road agreement puts in place a three-year agreement, cumulatively worth €844 million, that offers the Government our only opportunity to reconcile the understandable wage needs of those who work in public services and the need of citizens in general to receive public services on which they depend.
With regard to what will happen in the future, as the House is aware, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to establish a pay commission. I intend to consult stakeholders associated with the Lansdowne Road agreement in the coming weeks on the establishment of that body. This may provide a vehicle to address some of the matters being raised.
I acknowledge and support much of the content of the motion. I agree with the objectives, but I must point to the basic incompatibility between some elements of the motion and the very agreement the Labour Party played a leading role in creating and in which I will play a role in its implementation.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the motion as Minister of State with responsibility for employment and small business. I remind the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, that I have taken up the same position as his former colleague in this area, Senator Gerald Nash. These responsibilities were assigned to me this afternoon and I look forward to working in this area. I compliment the former Minister of State on the work he did in the Department and wish him well. He is in the Visitors Gallery, having taken up his new role in Seanad Éireann.
Let me reiterate the Government's support for a social economy model to deliver a strong economy and a fair society. This is a fundamental goal of the Government and underpins the many positive proposals set out in the new programme for a partnership Government. The maintenance and improvement, where possible, of strong protections for workers have been and will continue to be a key element of Government policy as we seek to build on the progress made in recent years in our economic recovery.
As Minister of State with responsibility for employment and small business, I have a particular interest in and have been heartened by the recent CSO figures on employment. It is very encouraging to see job creation continue on a steady, upward curve and unemployment levels continuing to fall. Furthermore, the figures are showing that the improvement in employment levels is spreading across the economy and, importantly, the regions. According to the most recent CSO quarterly figures, employment has grown in 12 of the 14 economic sectors, while the unemployment rate fell in all eight regions in the year to quarter one of 2016. The regional Action Plan for Jobs initiative which was launched in February 2015 aims to build on these positive results. Action plans have been developed and published for each of the State's eight regions. Each action plan identifies a range of actions to be taken in the period 2015 to 2017 aimed at facilitating each region to achieve its economic potential and raise its employment levels. The focus is on implementation of the eight plans and implementation committees have been established in each region. The first progress reports will be completed and published in quarter three of 2016.
The latest CSO figures show that the number of casual and part-time workers is continuing to fall. In the year to April 2016, the number of such workers fell by 8.3%, or, in real figures, 5,798. This is particularly relevant in the context of this debate and the concerns expressed by some speakers about the increasing casualisation of work.
Also noteworthy is the strong downward trend in the figures for part-time underemployment, which declined to 99,100 in the first quarter of 2016 from a high of more than 150,000 in 2012. This is a positive trend as it shows significantly fewer people are in a position where they would accept more work if was available. This good news is an indication that more people are in a better position in terms of their hours of work and earnings. This is not to argue that there are not challenges to be addressed in terms of, for example, the issues raised in the University of Limerick study on zero-hour and low-hour contracts. The Minister explained last night the position in respect of our response to the study. This issue comes within my remit and it is one in which I will take a special interest.
I would like to comment on a specific issue addressed by the Minister last night and raised by almost all speakers during the debate, namely, the position of the former Clerys workers. Many of these workers were in the Visitors Gallery last night and I welcome them back to the House tonight. I am aware of the dignified campaign they have pursued since the closure of Clerys last year. This was brought home to me and the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor last night. I also understand the workers' motivation is to try to ensure that what happened to them must never happen to others workers. We should stand firmly behind them.
I commend Senator Gerald Nash on the work he did when he was a Minister of State with responsibility for this area. The Government is committed to continuing the work initiated under the previous Administration in responding to the issues surrounding the closure of Clerys. The Duffy-Cahill report is a key element of this response. The report presents a comprehensive analysis of the relevant provisions of employment and company law. It makes a number of proposals for reform of the law, the focus of which is to ensure employees will have the opportunity to consult their employer for a period of not less than 30 days before any collective redundancy takes effect, including in circumstances where the employer is insolvent or solvent and where decisions are being made on an asset of significant value by a person related to the employer, which will lead to collective redundancies. The experts also propose increased sanctions for failure to respect the 30 day consultation period.
The report proposes a number of other reforms to employment law designed to ensure limited liability and corporate restructuring are not used to avoid a company's obligations to its employees. The experts stress that the various proposals they make need to be considered in conjunction with each other, as no single proposal will provide solutions to the issues in question.
As the Minister informed the House last night, a public consultation on the report was launched earlier this week. I remind all interested parties that the consultation period will be short as the closing date is 17 June. It is important, therefore, that those who wish to make a submission on the report do so within the next two weeks. In this respect, my Department has drawn up a consultation document to assist interested parties in responding to the report. The document is available on the Department's website. I urge all concerned, including the small business sector, to respond to the consultation. I also urge interested parties to address the specific questions raised in the consultation document. This will help in our consideration of the report and in presenting proposals to Government with a view to agreeing the actions to be taken.
I assure the House of the Government's commitment to build on the progress made in recent years in returning more people to work, reducing unemployment and improving the living standards of all. In pursuing these goals we remain committed to maintaining and improving the protections for all workers, the most vulnerable in particular.
Recently, the economist, Dan O’Brien, noted that the economy has increased employment more in the past four years than in the 70 years from 1926 to 1996. It would be sad if we in Ireland failed to learn from the near death experience of eight years ago. For this reason, I urge the parties in this Chamber to engage in new politics and support the concrete set of proposals by the Labour Party to improve the lives of working people. The motion calls for increases to the national minimum wage until it is pegged at 60% of median earnings, a living wage of €11.50 per hour to be adopted throughout the public sector, further protections for vulnerable workers in precarious employment, and an end to exploitative employment contracts that foster increased casualisation of workers, including bogus self-employment.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observed that the rich are different. We were cruelly reminded of this one year ago when the new owners of Clerys maintained a Zen-like silence while the company's workers were casually dispossessed of their livelihoods with minimum notice. This was predator capitalism working as social vandalism. If there was a blot on the recent 1916 commemorations in O’Connell Street, it was the spectre of the famous Clerys building shrouded and dead, a death created by a series of clever corporate moves both onshore and offshore, with hundreds of workers and concession holders thrown out on the street.
In 2008, Ireland endured the worst economic crisis in the history of the State, the collapse of the banks and construction industry and the loss of 330,000 jobs. A major response was needed and the Labour Party in government made this response. We now see a dramatic recovery and growth in employment. Without a doubt, raising workers' wages and living standards is central to recovery and that is the purpose of motion before us. The Labour Party wants everybody who wants a job to have a job but we also want good pay and conditions.
An early American President, Andrew Jackson, once stated we should measure the health of our society not at its apex but at its base. As no less a body than the International Monetary Fund stated, if the income share of the top 20% in a country increases, economic growth declines over the medium term. By stark contrast, the IMF found that an increase in the income share of the bottom 20% will fuel higher growth. This echoes similar findings by the OECD. If workers earning between €20,000 and €30,000 receive €2,000 or €3,000 extra per annum, they will spend most of it in the local economy. However, if someone on €120,000 per annum is given another €20,000, he or she may save it because he or she will not need to spend it. This underlines the reasons that tackling low pay and insecurity at work and protecting vulnerable workers is the most prudent and sensible form of economic management.
In January last, Luca Visentini, the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, ETUC, addressed the Institute of International and European Affairs on the topic of boosting economic growth and relaunching the social model. Mr. Visentini referred to Ireland as a positive experience and stated:
The ETUC recognise the Irish example has become a positive benchmark for all the countries in Europe since here trade unions and social partners have managed to restore the industrial relations, minimum wage systems and what was completely destroyed by the troika intervention in the past. We really appreciated what the Irish trade unions and social partners were able to do in the last couple of years and we discuss a lot about this positive experience because this could really be an example for other countries.
New politics tonight is about supporting this motion. I call on the parties and Independent Deputies to support progressive politics. It stands to reason that a wage-led recovery will increase confidence in Ireland and support the growth of small business because people will have more money in their pockets to spend in their local shops and businesses.
In so far as the Government amendment is concerned, I welcome the commitment to at least review the application of the living wage within the public service and encourage its adoption across the economy.
We could go further faster and Labour will keep a careful eye on what the Government does to deliver on this commitment. It is long past the time when the Government can simply and blankly repeat that it will, at some stage, respond to the University of Limerick study on zero-hour and low-hour contracts. When and how will it respond? Does the Government accept the report or not?
On the Clerys issue, the Government amendment reads as if the Duffy-Cahill report had not been published weeks ago or as if nobody on that side of the House has read it yet. The Clerys workers and other vulnerable employees are entitled by now to more than soothing non-committal generalities.
The most recent figures from the CSO show that unemployment is at its lowest level - 7.8% - since the crash. The rate of unemployment has been halved from when the Labour Party took office in 2011 until it left office a few weeks ago. The rate of youth unemployment has also been halved and employers are again recruiting young people from universities, colleges and other educational institutions throughout the country. We want to make Ireland a more attractive place in which to live and to create a more prosperous society. Therefore, supporting this motion is one of the key pieces in the jigsaw to building a better Ireland.
I worked closely with the trade unions during my period as Minister. With the help of Kieran Mulvey and Unite, I was delighted to be able to do justice by the Waterford Glass workers in finally getting their pension entitlements paid after the issue had spent many years before the European courts. That was an important injection of cash and confidence for the economy of a city which was very depressed and which is still recovering. I also want to thank SIPTU for its input into issues such as this. I stood with the workers at the Paris Bakery and sorted out their redundancy payments. I did not look for publicity for that. I did the same in the case of Vita Cortex workers. The Labour Party totally reformed the redundancy system from one where, after the crash, people were obliged to wait from two to four years for redundancy payments to one where those who are made redundant or, worse still, caught up in cases of insolvency, will get their money relatively quickly. I specifically thank SIPTU and its general officers in that regard.
When Clerys closed down and threw people out, there was not even a place in which to meet the workers to go through their social welfare entitlements, with some dignity, and get them their insolvency and redundancy payments. Members will recall that many of these workers, some of whom I know personally, had been employed by Clerys for 46 years. This was not just their workplace, but their family and their life. I will never forget that SIPTU and people such as Jack O'Connor, Gene Mealy and Joe O'Flynn made rooms available to the Department of Social Protection on one of the floors in the SIPTU offices to allow people to sort out their personal affairs regarding their insolvency entitlements with dignity and in privacy.
I am aware that for many right-on political people, stuff like this does not always matter, but to me it does. It continues to matter that we always treat people at work with the dignity they are entitled to and it matters that they get the entitlements to which they are legally entitled.
Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Michael Creed, Jim Daly, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Peter Fitzpatrick, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Michael Harty, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Seán Kyne, Helen McEntee, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Josepha Madigan, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Kevin Moran, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, David Stanton, Leo Varadkar, Katherine Zappone.
Gerry Adams, Bobby Aylward, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brassil, Tommy Broughan, James Browne, Pat Buckley, Joan Burton, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Joan Collins, Niall Collins, Catherine Connolly, Ruth Coppinger, Barry Cowen, David Cullinane, John Curran, Clare Daly, Pearse Doherty, Stephen Donnelly, Timmy Dooley, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Pat Gallagher, Seán Haughey, Séamus Healy, Brendan Howlin, Billy Kelleher, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, John Lahart, James Lawless, Marc MacSharry, Michael McGrath, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Denise Mitchell, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Imelda Munster, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Carol Nolan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Éamon Ó Cuív, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Darragh O'Brien, Jonathan O'Brien, Willie O'Dea, Kevin O'Keeffe, Louise O'Reilly, Frank O'Rourke, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Anne Rabbitte, Brendan Ryan, Eamon Ryan, Eamon Scanlon, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Brendan Smith, Bríd Smith, Niamh Smyth, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Robert Troy, Mick Wallace.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:"recognises the failure of Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to provide specific legislation to protect workers' rights, which has seen the basic rights of workers denied in situations such as those that occurred in Lagan Brick, Vita Cortex, TalkTalk, La Senza, Clerys, Dunnes Stores and Paris Bakery among others, leading in some cases to sit-in protests by workers while Labour and Fine Gael did nothing;
calls therefore on the Government to prepare and introduce a legislative package that will protect and enhance workers’ rights by:— guaranteeing the right of access of trade unions to:notes the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation's Report on Low Pay, Decent Work, and a Living Wage(November 2015) and the Cahill-Duffy Expert Examination and Review of Laws on the Protection of Employee Interests when assets are separated from the operating entity; and commends the recommendations set out in both these reports and calls on the Government as an urgent priority to prepare legislation for their implementation."— consult their members and prospective members in the workplace;— allowing Gardaí and the Defence Forces to engage in collective bargaining, to join national trade union umbrella organisations and to allow Gardaí go on strike;
— conduct health and safety inspections on behalf of their members in the workplace; and
— conduct employment law inspections on behalf of their members in the workplace;
— ensuring that trade union recognition is part of the terms of reference for all public contracts and public procurement contracts;
— making tactical insolvencies a statutory offence;
— amending the Companies Act 2014 to hold a company officer or officers acting on behalf of a corporate body personally liable where a breach of employment law is committed;
— ending the abuse of 'if and when' contracts through legislation on minimum guaranteed hours, notice of offers of work, notice of cancellation of work and hours of work per employment periods;
— combatting bogus self-employment; and
— providing statutory redress for the victims of workplace bullying; and
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:"notes the failure of the Fine Gael/Labour Government to give adequate legal protection and legally enforceable rights to collective bargaining to workers in this country;
further notes the failure of the Fine Gael/Labour Government to halt the spread of precarious and low paid employment and the rapid increase in low wage sectors as a portion of the total workforce;
condemns the actions of the Fine Gael/Labour Government in facilitating the growth of low wages and its reliance on the discredited ideas of 'labour activation measures' to force workers into low wages jobs via schemes such as JobBridge, Gateway, etc., which have been used by employers as a substitute for providing real jobs and decent living wages;
calls for the immediate introduction of a National Minimum Wage of €12 per hour as a step towards €14 per hour to be introduced no later than 1st May, 2018;
calls on the Government to prepare and introduce a legislative package that will protect and enhance workers’ rights by:— outlawing 'if and when' contracts;notes in particular the University of Limerick report to the Government, A Study on the Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish Employers and their Impact on Employeesand, commissioned following the outrageous treatment of Clerys workers in June, 2015, the Cahill-Duffy Expert Examination and Review of Laws on the Protection of Employee Interests when assets are separated from the operating entity; and
— outlawing bogus self-employment;
— ensuring freelance workers have the right to collectively bargain;
— extending the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations (TUPE) to workers in all sectors;
— protecting workers in 'informal' insolvencies and collective redundancies;
— providing statutory redress for the victims of workplace bullying;
— promoting employment standards and the Living Wage in public procurement;
— preventing unilateral reductions in pay; and
— providing a statutory route to union recognition;
commends the recommendations set out in both these reports and calls on the Government as an urgent priority to prepare legislation for their implementation."
Bobby Aylward, Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, John Brassil, Pat Breen, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Joan Burton, Mary Butler, Catherine Byrne, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Jack Chambers, Lisa Chambers, Niall Collins, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, John Curran, Jim Daly, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Timmy Dooley, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Peter Fitzpatrick, Pat Gallagher, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Michael Harty, Seán Haughey, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Martin Heydon, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Billy Kelleher, Alan Kelly, Enda Kenny, Seán Kyne, John Lahart, James Lawless, Marc MacSharry, Helen McEntee, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Josepha Madigan, Micheál Martin, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Kevin Moran, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Catherine Murphy, Dara Murphy, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Tom Neville, Éamon Ó Cuív, Darragh O'Brien, Kate O'Connell, Willie O'Dea, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Kevin O'Keeffe, Frank O'Rourke, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Noel Rock, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Eamon Scanlon, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar, Katherine Zappone.