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Dáil debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

 

9:25 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am sharing time with Deputy Quinlivan. Some things are very straightforward and are right or wrong. There is no grey area. The exploitation of people on low-hour contracts, zero-hour contracts and if-and-when contracts is wrong. The abuse of low-hour contracts is also wrong. This appears to be uncontested as, last April when the Dunnes Stores workers were on strike over the very issues this Bill seeks to address, many Members of this Chamber offered support and sympathy. They included the Taoiseach, who said he supported certainty of hours for workers. The leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, said he supported banded hours contracts and said to the Taoiseach that what these workers needed was banded hours contracts. That was the demand of the Mandate trade union at the time which was lobbying all of us, Government and Opposition. We had support from members of the Government and Opposition and a lot of Deputies, including myself, stood on the picket line with them in solidarity with workers who genuinely were being exploited by an employer who treated them disgracefully despite being a hugely profitable company. There was goodwill for the workers from all sides but when Deputy Adams asked the Taoiseach today whether he would support this Bill he said "No" and said the Bill would be dangerous. He said it could cause all sorts of problems for employers and, potentially, for workers too. The Taoiseach was speaking from the two sides of his mouth and he is completely wrong to do so because this Bill deals with the abuse of low-hour contracts in a very real, genuine, practical, reasonable and worked-out way. Checks and balances are built into the Bill, but it was obvious to me that the Taoiseach had not read the Bill. He was given the view from a colleague in Government, or a civil servant, who advised him not to support the Bill.

I hear from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that there are now new politics. The Opposition has to listen to the Government, help the Government and support the Government. In the past, we supported a number of Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bills because it was the right thing to do, even though we had concerns over some of them and pointed out that we were not in full agreement with all aspects of them. We allowed them to go to Committee Stage in order that we could iron out any differences. One of their Bills was labelled by the Government as unconstitutional, but we still did the right thing and supported it because we supported the principle. We will not play games with issues but will listen to everybody in this Chamber. We will work with Government and others, including those who pretend they are in Opposition, to get things done for the people we represent. When it comes to Bills and motions we propose, there seems to be a different set of rules. It seems the Government can find any excuse not to support legislation Sinn Féin brings forward. The Minister can shake his head but this Bill has been proofed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and by the Mandate trade union and we have legally proofed it ourselves. There are sufficient checks and balances and safeguards in this Bill to protect employers while dealing with very real issues that affect workers in the here and now.

The Government of the day can always say there is a better solution or a better fix, but in that case it should show us what it is. It should come here with its own solution. There was any amount of tea and sympathy for the Dunnes Stores workers and it is not just those in Dunnes Stores who are victims of if-and-when contracts and exploitation. It is rampant in the retail sector, the hospitality sector and many sectors that are not unionised. It is easy for the Taoiseach to say the Government will not support this Bill because it does not agree with aspects of it, but it has not brought forward a worthwhile solution itself. When workers are on strike and the spotlight is on a particular issue, there is tea and sympathy but no action, no legislation and no solutions, yet the Government says we on this side of the House are the ones who oppose for opposition's sake. It strikes me that the mantra of the Government is to oppose what the Opposition put forward, and not the other way around.

I was disappointed that Fianna Fáil tabled an amendment to the Bill. I sincerely appeal to Fianna Fáil to support the Bill because it is worthy of its support.

I say directly to Teachta Collins that his leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, in addressing the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, when those Dunnes Stores were on strike in April 2015, whom he rightly supported and gave sympathy to, told him that "we support banded hours". That is what the workers want, and that is what this Bill does.

Fianna Fáil has concerns about our Bill, and that is fine. That is what legislation is about. It is the reason we have Committee Stage and Report Stage, so why did Fianna Fáil table its amendment? Is it that it does not want a Bill proposed by Sinn Féin to be passed? Is Fianna Fáil playing games as much as the Government? I hope not because the workers, and I say this sincerely to members of Fianna Fáil, who are being exploited as we speak, cannot wait 12 months. They cannot wait six months, six days or six hours for us to sit on our hands, do nothing and kick the can down the road as has been done with so many issues. They want us to act now. They want us to pass this Bill and if we have disagreements we should air them in the debates on Committee Report Stages as we have always done in the past.

Many Deputies who have been Members of this House much longer than me have said they have never before seen amendments to Bills proposed by the Government in response to a Labour Party Bill or, in this instance, the Fianna Fáil amendment to our Bill. That Bill will be deemed to have been passed in 12 months time. Why is this tactic being used if it has never been used in the past? Is this the new politics in action in that only Bills tabled by the Government and Fianna Fáil are worthy of being passed and then scrutinised in the proper committees on which we all sit? I would like to know, and I hope we will get some responses from the Government and Fianna Fáil here today, but there are many workers in Dunnes Stores and elsewhere who are watching, and they want us to do the right thing.

Today, a delegation of Dunnes Stores workers, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Mandate trade union attended a presentation given by me in the AV room on this Bill. The Dunnes Stores workers asked me to read a statement into the Dáil record on behalf of the Dunnes Stores national shop stewards committee. I am happy to oblige because they are the people the Minister and other Deputies need to listen to. It states:

To all members of the Oireachtas.

Firstly, we want to start by thanking you all for the tremendous support shown to all of the Dunnes Stores workers throughout [this State] when we went on strike last year.

Our dispute with our employer is about decent work and security of hours and earnings for all Dunnes workers.

Three out of every four of the 10,000 Dunnes Stores workers are employed on what are called “flexi-hour contracts”. These contracts have a minimum of 15 hours per week. Despite this, most of us work many hours above that. Some of us work 25 hours and some work 35 hours. [Some work more, some work less]. But the average hours worked per week is 25-30. All we want is a new contract that reflects the hours we actually work so we have an income we can depend on from week to week.

This would give us confidence that we will be able to put food on the table to feed and clothe our families at the end of the week. At the moment, our income can fluctuate from €400 one week, to €150 the next week, entirely at the discretion of a local manager, and this makes it impossible [for us and our families] to plan our lives.

Many of our colleagues have been denied loans with credit unions and mortgages with a bank because of our 15 hour contracts. Bank managers look at our payslips and see [that we have worked] 30 hours every week [for a year or two years], sometimes for 6 or 7 years [and more], but then see [that the contracted 15 hours are the hours we are guaranteed and that is the] guaranteed annual income [which] is €9,000 making it is impossible to give us a loan on that basis.

Some of us have also been denied rental accommodation for the very same reason. This contract is not an accident. In our Decency for Dunnes Workers survey of 1,400 workers last year, 85% of the [workers surveyed] said that allocation of hours is used as a method of control over us.

For instance, after we went on strike on 2nd April 2015, our hours were slashed in a campaign of retribution by the company. All we were seeking was the same type of contracts afforded to Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Penney’s workers, who know from week to week what they’ll be earning.

These ‘flexi-hour contracts’ are about intimidating workers so management can have a compliant workforce. How can you complain about a health and safety issues or be confident about joining a trade union if you know your manager can cut your hours from 35 to 15 spreading them over four or five days – so that you cannot access supplementary social welfare [support]? This is what’s happening all across the retail and hospitality sector.

Our demands have been vindicated by the University of Limerick Report and the Joint Oireachtas [committee] report, both of which recommend that this issue needs to be tackled. And we know that Dunnes Stores is only the tip of the iceberg. There are tens of thousands of workers in the same situation as us and something needs to be done about it now.

We are asking all members of this House to please support this Bill. If we are serious about ensuring workers have some dignity and respect in their lives, then start by allowing us some certainty over our hours and income.

Signed: Dunnes Stores National Shop-stewards Committee.

I could not have put it any clearer than they did.

All our Bill seeks to do is ensure that the hours a person works is what is reflected in their contract. It allows an employee to put in writing a request to their employer to move into the appropriate band, which is the weekly hours they work, and it gives them certainty of hours because they can and do fluctuate up and down, but mostly down.

There are safeguards and checks and balances built into this Bill which give an employer the right to refuse, and it sets out the conditions for that. If there is a dispute between the employee and the employer, it goes to the Workplace Relations Commission.

I cannot see how this is a dangerous Bill or how it will somehow damage the economy, as the Taoiseach stated today. That is why I believe he was speaking out of the two sides of his mouth. I am sick and tired of listening to politicians give tea and sympathy to workers. They sympathise with them when they are on picket lines and on strike. I said at the outset that some things are either right or wrong. There is no grey area when it comes to abuse and exploitation of workers. We have had report after report from the OECD, TASC, the University of Limerick and many other organisations all pointing to the same problem. It is a growing problem with precarious work, the casualisation of labour, low hour contracts, if and when contracts and zero hour contracts, but some employers - not all - are using these so-called flexi contracts to exploit their workers.

This Bill does not do away with flexi work, which is important, and it benefits some workers. It speaks directly to those employers who are exploiting their workers and saying that this will not be tolerated and that workers have a right to have contracts that reflect the hours they do. I ask the Minister to stand up for those workers and do the right thing by supporting the Bill. I ask the Fianna Fáil Members also to please support our Bill and not to play games with this issue because it is far too important for those workers who need their support, my support and the Government's support.

9:35 pm

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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As the Sinn Féin spokesperson on jobs I can say that our party policy is very clear when it comes to economic recovery. Increased employment must mean increased prosperity for all workers. As it stands, we are coming from a low base considering that we have the second highest number of low paid workers in the OECD.

It is not acceptable that almost 400,000 workers, or 30% of the workforce, can now earn a low pay threshold of €12.20 an hour. Sinn Féin wants a fair recovery. That means decent work for decent pay. The bottom line is that work must pay.

In 2015, the Government spent a record €350 million subsidising the income of thousands of families in low paid work.

The problem is that this State money also subsidises the profits of wealthy companies like Tesco and Dunnes Stores. There has been a rapid rise in the number of people in receipt of family income supplement, FIS, almost 60% since 2010, which is topping up the low pay paid by employers. It highlights the extent to which working families are at risk of poverty. Latest projections indicate FIS will be paid to more than 50,000 families in respect of 100,000 children this year. These are working families for whom work does not pay.

The 9% VAT rate applied to the hospitality sector has cost the State €650 million, which is money that could be used to build public housing or invested in our health service. However, by 2014 the total profits in the sector had risen to 36%. In 2007, total hospitality profits were €517 million. By 2014 profits exceeded €700 million. Since the sector hit its trough in 2010 profits have increased more than threefold and there is strong indication that profits are continuing to grow.

Central Statistics Office, CSO, data for the sector only goes back to the first quarter of 2008 but it shows that wages and weekly income in the sector have stagnated despite the recovery in profits and enterprise activity. Between 2008 and 2016 average weekly earnings have fallen from €334 to €321, as weekly working hours have fallen. Profits are more than 40% above their pre-crash levels and yet wages have fallen and precarious work hours have increased.

The 9% VAT rate to the hospitality sector has cost the State €650 million. I repeat that this money could be used to build public housing or invested in our health service. The retail and hospitality sectors have some of the most precarious and exploitative working conditions in the Irish labour market. If the State is to spend public money in this way, it should be conditional on the regulation of the sectors in terms of pay and working conditions and ensure that workers’ rights are respected and protected.

Research by EUROSTAT, the Nevin Economic Research Institute and others show that people on low-hours or temporary contracts are more at risk of being low paid. We also know that precarious working conditions are on the increase across a rising number of sectors, including the Civil Service, nursing and teaching. There is an onus on the State to regulate the labour market and ensure that workers’ rights, in terms of pay and conditions, are protected in law. The idea that the market must be free to compete without undue interference ignores the legitimate voice of workers and their right to be treated with respect and dignity. Free market ideology is anti-trade union and treats workers as autonomous units and not as rational, thinking human beings.

Low pay, precarious working hours and the chipping away of workers’ rights are bad for the economy and bad for society. We could paper the walls of this House with the amount of research reports which consistently show the link between precarious work hours, if-and-when contracts, zero-hour contracts and the growth of inequality. An unregulated labour market is in no-one's interests. It dehumanises workers, puts huge pressure on the State in social transfers, reduces people’s disposable income and impoverishes households and children. This is absolutely unnecessary and serves an employment model whereby employers want to have it both ways. On the one hand, they want to use the full weight of their power and political influence to skew the balance of power in their favour by refusing workers real and meaningful access to collective bargaining while on the other hand, they argue against protective statutory measures around pay and conditions to set basic thresholds of decency.

In this context, the Banded Hours Contract Bill is an important step forward in protecting the rights and dignity of large numbers of vulnerable workers.

9:45 pm

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I have listened attentively to Deputies Cullinane and Quinlivan. It is timely that the House is having this debate this evening. The programme for Government contains a commitment to tackle the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen regulation of precarious work hours. The University of Limerick study on zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts highlighted the issue of workers on low-hour contracts who consistently worked more hours each week. When such workers needed a mortgage or a loan, their contract does not reflect their reality. The University of Limerick study made recommendations to deal with such situations. It also made a number of broader recommendations aimed at protecting vulnerable workers on low-hour contracts or what they termed if-and-when contracts.

I am committed to bringing forward legislation to protect workers on low-hour contracts as a follow up to the University of Limerick study. My Department received 48 responses to the public consultation and we will take these into account. I intend that the Government Bill will deal with situations where contracts do not reflect the reality of the hours worked. The Government Bill will bring forward proposals informed by the University of Limerick study and also the extensive material and practical examples provided by respondents to the consultations.

Proposals must be balanced and work in practice. Unfortunately, this Private Members' Bill is not balanced and will not work in practice. This Bill is fundamentally flawed and I believe that no-one from Sinn Féin has thought through its practical implications. The Bill does not focus on the issue of low paid vulnerable workers. Instead it requires that all workers in every sector of the economy be given additional hours on request unless the employer can prove they are in severe financial difficulties. Clearly, this Bill is motivated by a dispute between a single retailer and a union. I understand that the workers concerned work many more hours over extended periods than their contracts reflect. However, this Bill appears to completely miss the point of that dispute and the issue raised in the University of Limerick study. The problem arises where people are working more hours per week than their contract reflects. Their contracts do not reflect their reality, causing difficulties when they go looking for loans. I understand these difficulties. I empathise with workers in these situations and I am happy to bring forward legislative proposals to deal with these issues. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, is working on these proposals.

Unfortunately, this Bill tries to legislate for the whole of the economy in order to address one dispute in a particular sector. That is simply wrong. Banded hours do not work across all sectors. This Bill requires employers to set up tight banded hours structures, whether it makes sense or not. It could work in certain retail outlets.

Some employers have agreed banded hours structures that work for them but why should multinationals or other employers that do not need banded hours have to change their perfectly satisfactory models? Does Sinn Féin’s head office give banded hours to its employees? The University of Limerick study recognises that the problem of low-hours contracts is an issue in a number of sectors and a smarter approach is needed.

There are elements of this Bill that simply make no sense. The Bill provides for a right for every employee in a company to seek and be given more hours through a request to move to a higher band. The request can be made after six months of continuous employment. An employer may only refuse the request if the employer is experiencing severe financial difficulties. This could be disastrous for employers. Under the Bill, it does not appear to matter if the employer does not have the work to give. Under this Bill, employees could keep asking for more hours every six months. They would have to receive the additional hours until the employer reaches the point of severe financial difficulties or eventually it would have to grant employees more than 24 hours work in a day. Does this make sense?

Consider employers who are afraid that they may lose business with Brexit on the horizon. They may be unwilling to grant additional working hours. This Bill provides that unless they are in severe financial difficulties, they cannot refuse to give additional hours. If employers refuse, they can be brought to the Workplace Relations Commission and, on appeal, to the Labour Court. These bodies will be required to find in favour of the employee unless the employer can prove severe financial difficulties. This Bill would destroy the largest employer in the State, the small business sector.

The Bill adds significant burdens. It requires every employer to display notices in the workplace. These notices will have to show the number of hours being allocated to workers in the next week or month and the relevant bands. These notices will have to be in English and Irish and in other languages as required. Imagine telling a Silicon Valley company that it has to display work rosters as Gaeilge in Ireland.

9:55 pm

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Shameful. It is our national language-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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This is clearly a significant additional burden, which will apply to every employer even if all the employees are full time and there are no rosters. It applies to every business, from the corner shop to the largest multinational.

A further flaw in the Bill is that the six months reference period is too short. What about seasonal work patterns? Someone working in the summer peak from March to September will have a right to more hours than he or she worked over the summer unless the employer is in severe financial difficulties.

There were 48 submissions received in response to the public consultation on the University of Limerick, UL, study. They reflect a broad range of views. I intend to bring forward proposals informed by the responses to the public consultation. These proposals will provide a balanced and more workable solution to the recommendations made in the UL study. My proposals will address the issues of insecure, low-hours work in a more comprehensive manner than the approach taken in this narrowly focussed Bill.

The proposals will address the concerns expressed in the UL study and in the public consultation about the need to improve the predictability of working hours. They will be focussed on workers on insecure, low-hour contracts and aimed particularly at low paid, vulnerable workers. My proposals will be in stark contrast to this Private Member's Bill which is deeply flawed and inappropriate. It has not been thought through. There is a real danger that jobs will be lost and competitiveness damaged if this Bill is passed. It is for this reason that I will support proper scrutiny of the proposals in this Bill by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in advance of its passing Second Stage. The Bill appears to be totally inflexible, to impose wholly unreasonable burdens on employers, particularly small businesses. It would greatly benefit from the inputs of social partners and other representative groups. The practical implications and unintended consequences need to be considered. It should take account of the needs of different sectors.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:“Dáil Éireann resolves that the Bill be deemed to be read a second time this day twelvemonths, to allow for scrutiny by the Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and for the Committee to consider submissions and hold hearings that have regard in particular to ensure that:

(a) the proposed Bill examines proposals to ban zero hour contracts and the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work that prevents workers in low hour and zero hour type contract arrangements from being able to save or have any job security;

(b) the Bill has sufficient flexibility in its application for small businesses and provides a simple approach in this regard, while lessening the administrative burden;

(c) the Committee review section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 relating to the provision of zero hour contracts to allow workers on low and zero hour contracts a minimum set of hours and the right to request more hours;

(d) the Committee take on board the Study on the “Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish Employers and their Impact on Employees”, as carried out by the University of Limerick;

(e) the proposed Bill examines changing the remit of the Low Pay Commission to review proposals on banded hour contracts for those on low pay; and

(f) social partners brief the Committee and make presentations to address the concerns of both sides of industry in order to provide a fair and workable system that works for both employers and workers in a fair and proportionate manner; and

to fully discuss and explore other practical issues and consequences that may arise as a result of the proposals.”

I am sharing time with Deputy Butler. We in Fianna Fáil absolutely support the principles set out in the Bill and are committed to working to improve this Bill to make a real difference. I also thank Deputy Cullinane for consulting with me in advance of this debate and reiterate that I am happy to be involved with him and others in this House in leading to effect real change in this area. I have discussed our amendment and the Fianna Fáil approach to this with the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and it fully supports our approach to it.

Before continuing I extend my best wishes and those of my party to Kevin Foley on his appointment as chairman of the Labour Court and to Oonagh Buckley on her selection for the position of director general of the Workplace Relations Commission.

We in Fianna Fáil have consistently stood on a platform that workers deserve a fair reward for the work performed. Too many workers of which most are women are in unstable work as they are offered only part-time, temporary employment or zero-hour contracts. Workers in such precarious positions face uncertainty every week, never knowing in time the hours they are required to do and this leads to a lack of security in relation to how much they are actually going to earn. On a broader level, the uncertainty around zero-hour contracts prevents people from getting mortgages, entering rental agreements and being able to make financial commitments. In our recent general election manifesto, Fianna Fáil supported banning zero-hour contracts that are abusive towards workers and changing the remit of the Low Pay Commission to put forward proposals on banded-hour contracts for those on low pay.

The Commission is an independent body that comprises worker and employer representatives and that works in an evidence-based manner. Banded hours are one means to give workers on low and zero-hour contracts in certain sectors more certainty in their weekly work hours by providing a minimum set of hours. Any proposals in this area must carefully marry enhancing certainty in work hours for employees, while balanced by the flexibility to facilitate changes in this area seamlessly for small businesses.

While we support the general principles of this Bill, there are too many gaps and weaknesses present as currently worded to achieve the intended outcome that most Deputies want to achieve. We are therefore tabling a standing amendment to facilitate the passage of the Bill to the cross-party Oireachtas Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation for further scrutiny before it passes to Second Stage. This is to permit considerable amendments to be made to the Bill, while enabling worker and employer representatives to have an input into the process.

The select committee must examine proposals to ban zero-hour contracts and the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work that prevents workers in low-hour and zero-hour type contract arrangements from being able to save or have any job security. Fundamentally, this Bill, as currently constituted, has a major failing in making no reference or proposed changes to the primary section of legislation that relates to zero-hour contracts, such as section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

Sinn Féin failed to ban zero-hour contracts last year in the Northern Ireland Executive and has failed to bring forward similar proposals in the Bill laid before the House this evening. Jointly administering rule in government with the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, in Stormont, Sinn Féin reigns over an employment landscape where up to 28,000 workers may be on zero-hour contracts.

While I welcome the report carried out by the Kemmy school of business from the University of Limerick into the prevalence of zero-hour and low hour contracts in Ireland, the study concluded that while zero-hour contracts were not extensive, if-and-when contracts do exist.

While both involve non-guaranteed hours of work, the main difference is that workers on zero-hour contracts are obliged to make themselves available for work while those on if-and-when contracts are not contractually required to make themselves available for work.

The University of Limerick report needs to be carefully examined by the select committee with social partner contributions in this area. It is vital that robust safeguards are in place to police the exploitation of employees in terms of hours and conditions. My party supports permitting workers on low-hour contractual arrangements to request additional hours and not suffer victimisation in the future regarding rostering and conditions as a consequence.

A balanced approach, encompassing flexibility and security for employees on low-hour contracts and for employers, is vital for sound and robust workplace legislation. The Bill brought before the House does not provide sufficient flexibility for small businesses in its application. Generally, the Bill would have a very broad impact compared with what is envisaged. For example, it would apply to every private sector workplace regardless of the sector or pay type in operation. The Bill would also include sectors where employers and workers have negotiated pre-existing banded hour type arrangements. The six-month continuous employment period provision in section 3 as the measure of a person's average weekly working hours is too rigid when one considers seasonal work in sectors such as retail and hospitality.

The Bill proposes that all employees in circumstances other than severe financial difficulties are given extra hours on request. If employers do not agree to this, they will have to appear before the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. This places increased costs and a large administrative burden on employers to demonstrate whether the condition has been met.

In its current guise, the Bill is not fit for purpose and will not achieve its intended outcome. What is needed is a balanced approach, encompassing flexibility for employers and security for employees on low-hour contracts. It is vital for sound and robust employment legislation.

I want to reiterate that we support ending zero-hour type arrangements that are abusive towards workers. The Bill fails to address that outcome. We must ensure the Bill has sufficient flexibility in its application for small businesses and provides a simple approach in this regard while lessening the administrative burden. In this manner, further intensive legislative scrutiny is required along with contributions by social partners at committee to address the concerns of both sides to provide a provide a fair and workable system for workers and employers in a proportionate manner.

I received an e-mail today from the assistant general secretary of the Mandate trade union, Mr. Gerry Light. He said the union intends communicating with all its members tomorrow, 6 July, and letting them know the position of each political party in the House. I am glad to say for a second time that Fianna Fáil fully supports the principles of the Bill. We want to make it better. We are happy to work with all the stakeholders on it because it has good intent. I also reiterate that we consulted the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions regarding the Bill and it was happy to support our approach.

10:05 pm

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Bringing clarity to working hours is essential to creating decent jobs. Workers in precarious zero-hour contract positions face uncertainty every week in terms of the hours they are required to work, which impacts greatly on the whole family. The argument for why zero-hour contracts are bad for workers is obvious. Without a set number of guaranteed working hours, many workers will struggle to plan financially and are unable to take out a loan, get a mortgage or simply plan ahead. Those seeking full-time employment or who are a family's main breadwinner struggle to plan adequately for the future.

Fianna Fáil supports the banning of zero-hour contracts that are abusive towards workers. Workers deserve a fair reward for the work performed. Too many workers, of which the majority are women, are in unstable work as they are only offered part-time temporary employment or zero-hour contracts. I welcome the report from the University of Limerick on the prevalence of zero-hour and low-hour contracts in Ireland. I ask the Minister and Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to examine its recommendations carefully.

Fianna Fáil supports banning zero-hour contracts that are abusive towards workers and changing the remit of the Low Pay Commission to put forward legislation on banded hour contracts for those on low pay. However, even though well-intentioned, the Bill is a short-sighted attempt to deal with the issues at hand, with the proposals being quite inflexible for small businesses.

The Bill requires significant changes and intense scrutiny before it proceeds to Committee Stage. We in Fianna Fáil have tabled an amendment to the motion for Second Reading. The amendment agrees that the Bill will be read a second time 12 months from now after hearings on the Bill are held on the fundamental matters that are not resolved in this simplistic Bill. The amendment reads:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:“Dáil Éireann resolves that the Bill be deemed to be read a second time this day twelvemonths, to allow for scrutiny by the Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and for the Committee to consider submissions and hold hearings that have regard in particular to ensure that:

(a) the proposed Bill examines proposals to ban zero hour contracts and the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work that prevents workers in low hour and zero hour type contract arrangements from being able to save or have any job security;

(b) the Bill has sufficient flexibility in its application for small businesses and provides a simple approach in this regard, while lessening the administrative burden;

(c) the Committee review section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 relating to the provision of zero hour contracts to allow workers on low and zero hour contracts a minimum set of hours and the right to request more hours;

(d) the Committee take on board the Study on the “Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish Employers and their Impact on Employees”, as carried out by the University of Limerick;

(e) the proposed Bill examines changing the remit of the Low Pay Commission to review proposals on banded hour contracts for those on low pay; and

(f) social partners brief the Committee and make presentations to address the concerns of both sides of industry in order to provide a fair and workable system that works for both employers and workers in a fair and proportionate manner; and

to fully discuss and explore other practical issues and consequences that may arise as a result of the proposals.”

This Bill does not ban zero-hour contracts that are abusive towards workers, something we in Fianna Fáil support as a primary policy outcome. As a starting point, any proposal should be to provide a minimum guaranteed number of working hours to workers on zero-hour contracts within the context of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act. The Bill does not deal with the primary section of legislation dealing with zero-hour contracts, namely, section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act. Section 18(2)(b)(i) deals with an employee on a zero-hour contract and reads that where that employee "has not been required to work for the employer ... that week, to be paid by the employer the pay he or she would have received if he or she had worked for the employer in that week, whichever of the following is less, namely ... the percentage hours referred to ... or ... 15 hours".

The Bill is too broad in application and would apply to all employment contract arrangements in the State, with no flexibility regardless of sector or whether an employer operates banded hour arrangements or low or high pay employment. Our amendment would ensure the Bill has sufficient flexibility in its application to small businesses and provides a simple approach in this regard while lessening the administrative burden on employers.

The Bill as worded would have a very broad impact. For example, it would apply to every private sector workplace regardless of sector, pay type or the operation of banded hour arrangements. Our amendment to the Bill, which proposes changing the remit of the Low Pay Commission to review proposals on banded hour contracts for those on low pay, would address this. The Bill details a six-month continuous employment period provision in section 3 as the measure of a person's average weekly working hours, which is too rigid when one considers seasonal work in sectors such as retail, hospitality and tourism.

The Bill is inflexible for small businesses and proposes that all workers, as defined in the Bill, must, in circumstances other than severe financial difficulties, be given more hours on request. If employers do not agree to such requests they will find themselves funding appearances before the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court in an attempt to prove severe financial difficulties. Our amendment would address this by ensuring the Bill has sufficient flexibility in its application to small businesses and provides a simple approach in this regard.

Every single employer in the country would be required by section 5 to display a notice in its workplace indicating the number of hours being allocated to workers in the forthcoming week or month and under which band they fall. This would impose a very significant burden on all employers, even if every staff member was on a full-time contract.

It is vital that social partners have an input into legislative scrutiny and make representations and presentations to address the concerns of both sides of industry in order to provide a fair and workable system that works for employers and workers in a proportionate manner. For these reasons, Fianna Fáil has secured agreement from the Government for the Bill to undergo further legislative scrutiny before it passes Second Stage. As already stated, we have submitted an amendment to Second Stage to facilitate the passing of the Bill to the Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation for further scrutiny in order to make considerable changes to the Bill to bring consistency and clarity to the issues at play while enabling worker and employer representatives to have an input into the process.

10:15 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I am speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, which is in favour of the Bill.

I am pleased that Sinn Féin has followed in my party's wake in response to our successful Private Members' motion last month in which we pledged to enhance workers' rights and committed to a number of measures in tackling precarious work and zero-hour contracts. Our motion specifically committed to ending the abuse of if-and-when contracts. I believe the Bill before the House goes some way towards achieving that aim. Another measure in our motion was to provide collective bargaining rights for freelance workers, and I am proud that my Labour Party colleagues in the Seanad have introduced a Bill to ensure this also. I believe that if we all work together, progressive Deputies from across this and the other House can achieve significant advancements in the rights and conditions of workers in the coming years working together. It is in this vein that I offer my contribution on the Sinn Féin Bill.

While in Government, the Labour Party commissioned a study into the prevalence of zero-hour contracts among Irish employers as well as their impact on employees. This study was carried out by the University of Limerick and made a number of worthwhile recommendations on how we might modernise Ireland's labour laws and deal effectively with unfair work practices by unscrupulous employers. Key among its recommendations was that, when negotiating at sectoral level, employer organisations and trade unions should examine examples of good practice which can provide flexibility for employers and more stable working conditions for employees, such as annualised hours and banded hours agreements. Banded hours contracts seek to guarantee employees a certain number of working hours per week but not the scheduling of these hours. This allows employers to respond to the volume of trade on a week by week basis while not hampering the earning potential of their employees to a great extent.

Banded hours contracts essentially ensure that so-called if-and-when arrangements, where employees do not know from one week to the next what hours they are working, are curtailed. This allows workers the ability to plan in respect of accommodation costs, bills and everything else - all the day-to-day necessities to which these people are entitled. These are especially needed in the retail sector, where full-time contracts, previously the norm, appear to have been slowly phased out and replaced with these so-called if-and-when contracts and low-hour contracts which lack the stability of previous arrangements. This is having a hugely negative effect on the ability of workers in this sector to plan for their weekly expenses and plan their lives.

Changes, particularly in the retail sector, in terms of customer spending patterns, longer opening hours and increased competition have meant most employees in the retail sector work less than 35 hours per week across a greater number of days, with many subsidising income through social welfare support or other jobs. This is not a sustainable position for many workers and we do not agree with it.

Banded hours contracts serve to guarantee employees a minimum number of hours per week by placing them within distinct bands. Typically, a review of these contracts takes place and, where an employee continuously works above that band, he or she is lifted into the next band in recognition of the increased hours worked, and it becomes an agreed norm. The Bill would entitle either an individual worker or a trade union working on his or her behalf, after a period of six months in continuous employment, to request in writing from the employer to be moved into an increased weekly band of hours. There will also be an obligation on the employer to consider this request and provide a reasoned decision in response to the request in writing not later than 21 days after receipt of the request. Where an employer grants the request, the worker shall be informed in writing as soon as is practicable and shall henceforth be offered hours of work by that employer of at least the minimum number of hours in the increased bands. The employer may refuse the request if he or she can demonstrate that the business is experiencing severe financial difficulties - for example, if there is a substantial risk that the worker concerned would be laid off or made redundant, the sustainability of the employer's business would be significantly or adversely affected, or the business could not sustain an increased level of banded hours for the worker. Where an employer agrees to the employee being placed on a higher band, this will be reflected in a revised written contract of employment. This goes some way and also provides protections for small businesses which are just beginning to feel the benefits of economic recovery, but it does not appear to include allowances that exist in current banded hours agreements for peak and for off-periods, particularly surrounding Christmas holidays, where trading hours are unusual. In arrangements currently in place, these periods are not included in the band calculation as they significantly distort the average number of hours worked. I ask my colleagues in Sinn Féin for clarification on this matter -whether they intend to include such a provision, and how such contracts would operate.

I welcome the avenues contained in the Bill through which employees may appeal a decision by their employers, and the fact that this will go to the Workplace Relations Commission and be heard by an adjudication officer without prejudice. These banded hours contracts are directed primarily at major retail operators which are running significant profits on the back of their employees and that can well afford to provide reasonable guarantees to their employees in respect of their working hours. Banded hours arrangements have already been agreed between the Mandate trade union and a number of major retailers, including Tesco, Pennies, Mark and Spencer and SuperValu, where I understand they work very effectively.

The Bill also mandates that every employer shall display on a weekly or monthly basis in a prominent position or positions or at the place of work a notice or notices in a formal manner such that the notice is reasonably likely to be understood by all workers concerned. The notice shall contain the number of working hours being allocated to the workers in the forthcoming week or month and under which band those hours fall per week. This is an especially important provision, as it ensures the workers know how many hours they have to be available for work each week and they can plan to live their increasingly complicated lives around these.

I express the support of the Labour Party for what the Bill is trying to achieve. The long-term casualisation of work and the over-reliance on zero-hour contracts, particularly in the retail and accommodation sectors, is something that, collectively in this House, we should all oppose. We must act to amend existing legislation to ensure that abusive employment practices are absolutely cut out and that our labour laws are reflective of the circumstances of Irish workers in 2016. We must also strengthen our industrial relations process to ensure that employers are compelled to work with trade unions in the best interests of both businesses and staff.

The Labour Party recommits itself once again to prioritising the advancement of workers' rights in Ireland and in providing the necessary balance between the needs of the employer and, most importantly, the employees. We must be ambitious in our outlook for the future of work practices in Ireland. I am glad to note that other parties in the House have chosen to join with my party, the Labour Party, in this campaign for a recovery to be felt by all workers, where those who go out and work each day for an honest day's pay for an honest day's work are the first to benefit from the recovery and where their conditions of employment are fair and they are protected from unscrupulous employers.

It appears, given the contribution from the party opposite, Fianna Fáil, that there is an agreement between the Government and the main Opposition party in respect of an amendment to the Bill. I would favour outright support for the Bill by the House. However, if there is a consensus, we will participate fully to ensure that within one year this issue will be dealt with for all employees who need it so much.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In the next slot Deputy Mick Barry proposes to share time with Deputy Bríd Smith.

10:25 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Anti-Austerity Alliance)
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That was an incredible speech from the Minister. I have a quote from her here: "Unfortunately, this Bill tries to legislate for the whole of the economy in order to address one dispute in a particular sector". If the Minister thinks that the type of precarious work that this Bill seeks to address applies to just Dunnes Stores or the retail trade she is seriously out of touch with what is going on in hundreds and thousands of workplaces across this country. I also note the Minister's use of Brexit as an argument to justify denial and delay of workers' rights. In this regard, I believe Fine Gael is acting as a mouthpiece for the employers.

The AAA Deputies will support the progress of the Bill and will engage with amendments on Committee if it gets there. The issue for us is making it as effective a remedy as possible to combat precarity in the workplace in general, but particularly to weaken the power of employers and management to use the uncertainty and insecurity of hours as a control mechanism. If the Bill was implemented in its current form, some headway would be made, but we also have to anticipate how employers and management will inevitably try to work around it to maintain the status quo. Specifically, the Bill provides for a mechanism for somebody who works six consecutive months on hours greater than the hours they were originally contracted for to apply to have those increased hours made permanent, thus positively amending their contract.

In the context of small to medium-sized employers, or of a workplace where the employees who stand to benefit have special skill sets, this legislation as currently framed could be of real assistance. However, we know from representations from Mandate and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that a motivator behind this legislation is the conduct of large retail chains such as Dunnes Stores. How this proposed legislation could be subverted by employers such as Dunnes is what should preoccupy us on Committee. For example, in the context of a large unskilled or semi-skilled workforce with a tradition of turnover, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the likes of Dunnes Stores could engineer that staff never work six consecutive months on hours greater than what is in their contract. There could be a constant churn of staff being put on reduced hours on the eve of the sixth months and those additional hours that they worked in the previous five and a bit months being given to newer members of staff. Amendments to the effect that seniority or length of service count for the allocation of hours and that new hires cannot become a mechanism to undermine the spirit of the Bill will need to be considered.

The framing of the Bill in section 3 is such that it entertains only individual applications for increased banded hours. The exercising of any worker's rights is done best when it is done collectively. I suggest that section be appropriately reworded to allow for collective applications where groups of workers simultaneous achieve the threshold where they can apply for an approved work band.

Some further elaboration in the Bill needs to be considered on Committee on the issue of penalties for recalcitrant employers. My understanding of the Bill as it is currently drafted is that the maximum favourable ruling a worker could get at the WRC is an order to the employer to increase the band. However, the issue of compensation for lost pay if a worker suffered a loss of hours subsequent to working the six consecutive months should also be considered.

In conclusion, we will not support Fianna Fáil's amendment, which in our view seeks to walk a tightrope between the rights of workers and employers at a time when it is necessary to make a bold stand in support of workers' rights. The amendment would also serve to delay action on workers' rights at a time when workers in precarious employment have already waited far too long for some measure of justice.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We welcome the Bill and support it as a first step in addressing the imbalance in worker-employer rights. We note Unite's recent report on low wages and precarious work, and Mandate's report that found that 17% of people who live below the poverty line work precarious jobs with so-called zero-hour contracts. We had a discussion earlier under Topical Issues on the Social Justice Ireland report. The top 1% has seen its wealth and influence grow massively. The flipside to what has happened there is that thousands of workers are left without secure, pensionable jobs with a living wage. Many in this House would argue against the rights of workers to secure a pensionable job as being uncompetitive and jeopardising growth in the economy. There is a myth that flexible contracts for both the employer and the employee when they enter into an agreement freely is in the interest of both: the reality is very different. The benefit is overwhelmingly for the employer. Workers cannot refuse the contracts for fear that, if they turn them down, it will result in them being victimised and having work withdrawn from them. We are back to the days when Larkin had to organise dockers against a system where foremen could pick and choose the dockers they wanted and the hours they wanted.

The University of Limerick report by Esther Lynch has been referred to a number of times. She acknowledges in the report that it is hard to find figures for Ireland, but reports done recently for Britain strongly suggest that most people on these contracts are women, are young or are over 65 years of age. Interestingly, it also finds that those guilty of using these types of contracts are not the SMEs and smaller businesses, but the multinationals and the very big employers and the likes of Domino's Pizza, Dunnes Stores, Deliveroo, call centres and contract cleaners. Very big employers use these types of contracts.

I have lots more to say that I will not get time for, but I reserve my last comments for Fianna Fáil. I cannot get over the suspenders that make up Fianna Fáil. I made a list of the things they have suspended in the last couple of weeks: water, bins, repeal the eight amendment, the NAMA investigation, education equality and now banded hours. I am probably leaving a couple out and there is probably more to come. The attempt by Fianna Fáil to suspend this for discussion for a year is quite disgusting, while at the same time pretending they give a damn about workers' rights. We welcome the Bill and would like to see it go through Committee Stage so we can table amendments, such as ones that would force employers to pay proper overtime rates, limit the period a worker can be called in to work on such contracts to four hours, limit the length of time a worker can be put on such contracts and limit the proportion of a workforce that can be put on such contracts. Ultimately, we believe the greatest measure to stop this abuse is trade union organisation and the free and legal right for unions to organise in workplaces, enter workplaces and speak directly to and directly organise their members. That is what will really undermine these types of contracts, not the scare tactics of the type of employer we have to endure, or the obfuscation of Fianna Fáil. Its amendment is disgraceful.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputies Collins, Connolly, Pringle and Daly are sharing eight minutes and have two minutes each.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
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The Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 is very important legislation that is supported by ICTU, in particular by the main union organising retail workers, Mandate. Both organisations may propose amendments on Committee Stage. I understand that Deputy Cullinane is open to any such amendment. While zero-hour contracts are not as widespread here as they are in the UK, for example, that does not mean that they are not widespread and a growing abuse of low-hour contracts and flexible work arrangements, particularly in the retail and so-called hospitality sector, fast-food outlets and so on. It is not a problem confined to small enterprises, but major multiples and multinationals such as Dunnes Stores, Tesco and McDonald's among others. There has been a huge growth in part-time employment and underemployment since the 2008 crash. We have the second highest rate of underemployment in the OECD. There are 450,000 part-time workers, of whom one third, 150,000 workers, would like more hours or full-time jobs. Between 20% to 25% of our workforce is low paid, that is, they are earning less than two thirds of the median wage, which is already low at €28,500. Of real concern is the fact that these low contracts and flexible work arrangements are being deliberately used by companies such as Dunnes Stores to bully and intimidate workers with the objective of attempting to submiss and cow the workforce. The Bill will help workers to resist such bullying and will help unions to organise.

10:35 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I support the spirit of this Bill and what it is trying to achieve, particularly as the measure does not arise in a vacuum but from a particular background. I have counted six reports alone which, since 2013, have highlighted precarious hours in precarious jobs, leading employees to have precarious lives.

We had a report from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in May 2013, Regulating for Decent Work. Imagine that congress felt it necessary to have a report on regulating for decent work 100 years after the 1913 Lockout. In 2013, the Mandate trade union found that 17% of people living below the poverty line worked in precarious jobs. Fast forwarding to November 2015, the report on low pay by a joint Oireachtas committee made 28 recommendations. Also in 2015, we had the Limerick study which found that 5.3% of employees had constantly variable hours.

Last month, the Unite union published a report entitled The Truth About Irish Wages. Almost 100 years after we got our freedom, this report clearly highlighted some shocking statistics, including a finding that Ireland has the second highest level of wage inequality after Portugal when it comes to the difference between the lowest and highest paid. Earlier today, we saw a report by Social Justice Ireland. Unfortunately, the Minister for Social Protection has gone because I wanted to quote two figures to him. The number of people living in poverty in Ireland has increased by more than 100,000 bringing it up to 750,000. Most notably, 18% of adults living in poverty are employed - that is almost one in five. The absence of a guaranteed level of regular earnings has the most serious implications for an employee. It makes it extremely difficult for him or her to have any certainty over meeting bills, getting a mortgage or other loan, or generally planning for the week ahead, not to mind the future.

I support this Bill although I see there will be a need for some amendments to it. At the very least, however, it sets out to rectify one aspect of the precarious employment situation that many thousands of people find themselves in.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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A TASC publication entitled Enforced Flexibility: Working in Ireland Today documented the trend in a number of different sectors where flexibility is now an enforced condition placed on workers. This is most obvious in the hospitality and retail sectors where many workers are effectively on call, or in the construction sector where compulsory self-employment continues to be the norm. According to TASC, better jobs require the development of anchor points to re-institutionalise the employment relationship. This Bill attempts to address, at least to some extent, this reconnect between employer and employee and to at least place the onus on employers to make contracts reflect the actual working week by allowing employees to move to a band that reflects their work pattern.

The employer-employee relationship in the modern workforce has moved to the point where large employers can unilaterally change the terms and conditions of workers contracts. The balance has been totally shifted to the benefit of the employer, and workers are suffering. Is this the opportunity of the crisis that Merkel spoke about a few years ago? It is definitely an opportunity for employers to undermine workers' conditions. It is a sad reflection of the situation of so many workers that we even have to contemplate legislation such as this to try to redress the balance. The whole focus of Government and employers' policy has been to make workers into serfs whereby they are so dependent on employers that they are left with no choice but to tolerate these conditions.

Added to this is the situation in many parts of the country where no alternative employment is available that would allow workers to have some choice of where they work. We need to create a system where the rights of employees are at least equal to those of employers. This Bill would go some way towards doing that. It might be old-fashioned, but it would also create a situation where employees might value their own worth and have some respect for their employer, giving them an interest in how the company performs. That would benefit employers in the long run.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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I welcome the Bill which is a vital piece of legislation to protect workers' rights. I was struck by the comments of the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, when he spoke about this side of the House joining the Labour Party's track record on these issues. However, the reason we are here and why this legislation is necessary is precisely because of the hollowing out of workers' rights which took place under the last Government. As a result, Ireland has become one of the worst offenders in terms of precarious employment and bad jobs. Ireland has the highest level of low-paid work in the EU and is second to last in terms of EU wage inequality.

Job insecurity and an inability to plan one's life is causing huge stress to Irish workers. The situation affects mainly women, migrants and younger workers. The Bill tries to ensure that workers are offered contracts reflecting their actual working week. In other words, if workers consistently work 20 hours over at least a six-month period, they should have a right to ask for a contract that reflects that.

I want to cite two brief examples which are not about one workplace or one industry. A woman in her 40s with two child dependants has worked nine years in the same retail outlet. Her contract is for 16 hours over four days but she can be asked to work extra hours with very little notice. She has asked for her hours to be over three days so she could qualify for social welfare, but management refused. She wants to work full-time, but her employer will not allow it. When somebody on 16 hours left, the jobs were not offered to her but to two people on eight-hour contracts. There is one full-time worker in her job, while the rest are in part-time employment.

Another employee in a German multinational retailer - guess who it is - in Dublin city centre spent six years on a ten-hour contract but actually worked 48 hours each week. He had the gall to make a health and safety complaint about a blocked fire escape and consequently his hours were cut back to ten hours and he was told to suck it up. This culture of bullying and intimidation has to stop. Over 100,000 workers are affected by this matter, so this Bill is a vital piece of legislation on the road to correcting that.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I also welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I thank Deputy Cullinane for introducing it, and other Deputies for their valuable contributions. Ireland has one of the highest levels of low-paid workers in the EU, as well as having the second highest level of wage inequality after Portugal. Those are frightening statistics. As a long-standing employer myself for over 30 years, there are huge differences and gaps here. While I agree with most parts of the legislation, I am concerned about SMEs with up to ten employees, as well as the self-employed. Rural industries, including agriculture, are affected also so it is important for them to be protected. It is difficult to strike a balance between both.

We must condemn out of hand the treatment by many multinationals - and many of our own so-called flagship industries also, including the food industry and elsewhere - where one must manage a job or lose it. I say that from experience whereby people are literally expected to work enormous hours. They must also put up with all kinds of requests at awkward times. We have heard various stories from Deputy Clare Daly but that kind of abuse of people with six-hour contracts working over 40 hours is totally unfair.

We must never have a situation where an employee has a fear of health and safety or a bullying issue are afraid to report it to a line manager for fear of losing hours or other recriminations. That is very wrong and unfair. It is not a healthy relationship either for an employee or an employer. I can say that from my own experience as an employer with employees. It is vital to have a happy and satisfied employee. The situation may not always be placid and straightforward because there will always be ups and downs, but one must have respect for workers.

More and more people are being pushed onto these short-term contracts by big business. Names have been mentioned here tonight, so I do not have to name them again. Many of them do not even bank their money in this country. We have to examine that and ensure that the situation is rectified. Small businesses work very hard and normally they have a good relationship with their employees. One does not see placards, strikes or bullying behind the scenes there.

I would be worried for part-timers involved in rural sectors, including agriculture, as well as tourism and other seasonal work.

I welcome it in general, in particular, for seasonal workers in tourism and associated industries in which full-time work is not available. It is important that there be flexibility. It is also welcome and important that employees will have the right of appeal to the Workplace Relations Commission and that such appeals will be heard without fear or favour.

There are good aspects to the Bill, although some amendments will be required. The legislation is timely and I hope it will receive a fair hearing and be allowed to progress to Committee Stage.

10:45 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I understand Deputies Kathleen Funchion and Peadar Tóibín are sharing the next slot.

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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As somebody who worked in the trade union movement until my election to this House in February this year, I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to speak to it. Before speaking to it, however, I urge the Minister and Fianna Fáil Deputies to re-read it because, based on some of the ridiculous statements made, clearly they do not understand it. I also invite them to work alongside workers in the sector or spend time with people who have worked in the trade union movement who know exactly what it is like for workers involved in this area.

The exploitation of workers on low hour contracts is, unfortunately, on the increase. There are many situations where the contract hours of workers do not reflect the reality of the hours they work. This is most prevalent in the retail and services sector. However, it is also common practice in the private health care field, including private nursing homes. As mentioned, in most of these areas of employment there is generally a greater number of female workers employed; therefore, this is an issue that often has a greater negative affect on women. It impacts on workers being able to plan their lives. Effectively, they are in financial limbo in terms of being able to plan their daily lives. A person on a 15-hour contract who actually works 30 hours would be denied a mortgage. If he or she were to seek a loan from the credit union, there is a possibility the application would be denied. How is a woman in that situation supposed to plan child care? How is she to determine whether she can afford child care? As everybody knows, most child care systems are based on set fees. How is a person working uncertain hours supposed to cope with that reality? It is these workers that Deputies would be letting down in not supporting the legislation.

The Bill offers a solution. It will provide workers with the right, after six months of continuous employment, to request an increase in the weekly band of hours. Furthermore, it includes an obligation on the employer to inform all employees of the overall availability of working hours by displaying this information in a prominent place in the employment. This is an important point because often when a dispute arises, an employer will withhold information on available hours to those active in their trade union. The passage of the Bill, including the obligation on an employer to display information on available hours, will combat this practice.

I reiterate that much of the information provided by the Minister and Fianna Fáil Deputies on the Bill is incorrect. There are Members who have worked in this area and know what they are talking about. I urge Deputies not to look at this from a political point of view and to do the right thing by workers. There is no point in them having their photograph taken on the picket line for social media purposes if they are not going to put their words into action. We need to support low paid workers. Supporting people in employment, women in particular, is the only way to get the economy back on track. We hear much talk about women's rights and the need to encourage more women to enter public life or other positions. We will not do this if we continue to treat them in a manner which makes it nearly impossible for them to access employment or proper child care facilities. I again urge the Minister and Deputies to support the Bill.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom míle buíochas a ghabháil don Teachta Cullinane as an mBille iontach seo.Under the watch of the Labour Party and Fine Gael in government, low pay and insecure contracts have become part and parcel of the labour market, leaving families unable to make ends meet. Almost 20% of those signing on are in part-time and casual work, while under-employment remains unacceptably high. I do not believe the Minister or the Government understands what it means to be in this economic position. This is not a theoretical challenge to the families in question. For tens of thousands of families, it means poverty, going hungry, exploitation and a volatile insecure family life. There are in-work social protections such as family income supplement which are vital to families in being able to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. However, these supports are being given to people who are working for massively profitable businesses. They are, in fact, subsidies to these businesses because they do not employ or pay their staff properly.

The recent Dunnes Stores dispute illustrates with great clarity the immediate necessity for this type of legislation. Despite the company's healthy profits, management has shirked its responsibilities to employees by the widespread use of short-hour contracts. As a consequence, employees do not know from week to week what shifts they will work or what income they will earn. It is impossible to reconcile this practice with a modern, progressive economy. Casualised, insecure work is also bad for business. The flipside is that decent employers who try to compete with Dunnes Stores are unable to do so properly because they are offering decent contracts to their workers. They are undermined by companies such as Dunnes Stores who flout workers' rights.

The Bill is not rocket science. It does not ask much. It simply states the Government should put good practice into law. We have seen Mandate work on behalf of a number of companies and staff units in companies in putting in place systems such as this in order that workers can develop a contract that reflects the hours they work. I had hoped the two greater leaders of the workers' revolution, the Ministers of State, Deputies John Halligan and Finan McGrath, would use their enormous intellect to impact on their Fine Gael comrades to support the Bill. I understand that when it was brought before the House over a year ago, they were supportive of it. I also understand they are interested in consistent voting patterns and as such hope they will support the Bill. If the Labour Party could not steer Fine Gael towards the path of righteousness, it will be difficult for the Independent all-sorts to do so. When the Labour Party was in power and brought similar legislation before the Dáil, Deputy David Cullinane and I made efforts at every stage to bring about amendments to ameliorate some of the difficulties with zero and low hour contracts, but at every point the former Minister of State, Gerald Nash, on behalf of the Labour Party, refused to allow them to go through. I recall telling him about a year ago that it was his last opportunity in the rest of his political life to fix this, but he refused to take it. The Labour Party is a different party in than outside government.

It is also interesting that we now have Fianna Fáil, the regional party. It comments on what is happening in the North of Ireland but refuses to have candidates stand for electin in the North to represent Irish people living in that part of the country. I would like to put Deputy Niall Collins straight on an issue. Last February, during the passage of the employment Bill in the North, my colleague, Phil Flanagan, MLA, tabled amendments that would have prohibited the use of zero hour contracts in the North, but, unfortunately, they were not accepted by the Minister from the Alliance Party, Stephen Farry. It is also interesting that Deputy Niall Collins said in this Chamber a few minutes ago that he had the support of the unions for the Fianna Fáil stance. We have been contacted by the ICTU which would like the record to be amended to the effect that Fianna Fáil has no basis for its claim and that Deputy Niall Collins will receive a letter from it in the morning setting him straight. I ask the Deputy to bring the letter to the floor of this Chamber tomorrow in order that the record can be corrected.

I am shocked that the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael cartel are kicking this legislation down the road. We already have a "tomorrow" Taoiseach and a Minister for procrastination. Now Fianna Fáil wants to turn the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation into the Department of strategic dithering.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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As Minister of State with responsibility for employment and small business, I congratulate Mr. Kevin Foley on his appointment as chairman of the Labour Court. I also congratulate Ms Oonagh Buckley on her appointment as director general of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC.

I wish them well in their new roles.

I have listened with great interest to the debate this evening. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak as Minister of State with responsibility for employment and small business. Our debate must first and foremost be placed in the context of the programme for Government commitment to tackle the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. The maintenance and improvement 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. In this respect, the Minister indicated earlier our commitment to bring forward legislation to protect workers on low-hour contracts in response to the University of Limerick, UL, study. It is important to point out that we will bring forward legislation on this important issue. Our proposals will be balanced and workable. They will have the benefit of being informed by the UL study itself and by the large number of submissions received in response to the public consultation. A large number of submissions were made. If we are bringing in legislation, we must respond to them and consider them very carefully.

In response to Deputy Cullinane, I wish to state that we will not play games with this issue. We must strike a correct balance between the rights and needs of workers and of employers. We must find solutions that make sense and that work in practice for all concerned. Striking the right balance will also be important in terms of continuing to make progress on the jobs and employment front. Deputy Barry said that we were totally out of touch on this issue. I can assure the Deputy, who has left the Chamber, that we are not out of touch. We are very much in touch. Since I was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for employment and small business, the Minister and I have worked closely with the officials in our Department on this matter. I assure the House of this. Recent CSO figures show that the number of casual and part-time workers is continuing to fall. In the year to May 2016, the number of such workers fell by 7.8%. 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. I ask the Opposition to take note of that. Again, this is a very positive trend and an indicator that we are moving in the right direction and that more people are in a better position in terms of their hours of work and earnings.

It is clear that this Sinn Féin Bill is motivated by a dispute between one employer and a trade union. However, the Bill provides a right for every worker in every sector of the economy to request additional hours.

10:55 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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Not additional hours. Has the Minister of State read it?

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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The UL study on zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts recognises that the problem of low-hour contracts is only an issue in a number of sectors. Thus, it makes no sense to legislate in the manner set out in this Bill and apply a banded hours solution across all sectors, even in sectors where a problem does not exist. Most employers currently do not operate a banded hour structure. The Bill would impose new and unnecessary obligations on all employers. Moreover, the bands set out in the Bill are very narrow and provide little flexibility. It would have adverse impacts in terms of limiting an employer's ability to manage its business and its staffing needs in line with the needs of the business and its customers.

A key concern with the Bill is that it only allows an employer to refuse to grant additional hours if they are experiencing severe financial difficulties. If an employer refuses to grant additional hours, they will find themselves having to fund appearances before the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court in an effort to prove severe financial difficulties. The Bill makes no provision for a worker to be moved to a lower band where the level of business activity has fallen and the business can only sustain fewer working hours. The logical corollary of the Bill as drafted is than an employer will have no option but to grant additional requested hours to employees until its business is experiencing severe financial difficulties. By this time, irreparable damage may have been done to the business. Jobs may be lost and competitiveness adversely impacted as a result.

Much has been said in this House in recent times regarding Brexit. It is relevant in the context of this debate to refer to the concerns which employers have in this regard. Notwithstanding the fact that the Government, the Department and the enterprise agencies are fully committed to supporting business at this time of heightened uncertainty, it may be the case that employers are reluctant to give additional hours at this time for fear that they may lose contracts because of Brexit.

I will not reiterate all of the points made by the Minister in her speech this evening. However, I would mention again the difficulties with the six-month reference period for calculating average weekly working times, which will form the basis for a request to be moved into a higher band. This short period takes no account of business realities, and we need to talk about business realities, in particular, the normal peaks and troughs of a business, including the seasonal nature of many businesses. Consider workers in a seasonal tourist area, such as Tramore in Waterford in Deputy Cullinane's constituency, using March to September as their reference period for a request to be moved into a higher band just as demand falls. A similar six-month reference period in the UL study came in for particular criticism in many of the submissions received in response to public consultation on the study.

It is clear that the Bill will have significant cost implications for businesses, including SMEs and micro-enterprises. The Bill as drafted has many flaws and we do not have the time this evening to go into all of those flaws in any detail. However, suffice to say that the Bill if passed would have a significant adverse impact on jobs and competitiveness. That is the last thing we need at this juncture. The Bill could also have unintended consequences for those workers it seeks to protect. I do not believe that anyone in this House is interested in pursuing legislation that works against employees. Therefore, I welcome the proposal that the Bill would be subject to proper scrutiny by the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I know Deputy Mary Butler will do a fine job as Chairman of that committee.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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It is the real Government now.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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This is new politics and the Opposition has a chairman. I agree with the Minister that input from the social partners and other representative groups would greatly assist the committee's consideration of the Bill. In the meantime, I will be working closely with the Minister to bring forward proposals in response to the UL study, which will address the issues of insecure low-hour work in a more comprehensive manner than the narrow approach taken by Sinn Féin this evening in this Private Members' debate. It is important for the Government to deal with this in a more comprehensive manner.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1:

To delete "this day twelve months" and substitute "not later than three months following the commencement of the Autumn session, 2016".

I rarely find myself in a situation where I am speechless but I am speechless this evening listening to the nonsense coming from both sides of the House. We have Fine Gael and its very best friend in government coming together to ensure that workers cannot have a contract that simply reflects the hours they work.

Either the Minister and Minister of State have not read the legislation and have not understood it or they are being quite mischievous and deliberately disingenuous.

11:05 pm

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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We know it is mischievous.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Any one of these options gives workers pause to be very concerned about the people who are in government. Zero-hour and low-hour contracts wreck people's lives. Good luck and fair play if nobody in the Minister and Minister of State's family will ever have to work under a low-hour or a zero-hour contract. I have represented people and fought employers - the people the Minister and Minister of State are in here defending tonight. The Minister of State might nod but he is in here doing the work of unscrupulous employers who seek to exploit their workers. The Minister and Minister of State are doing their bidding. Fianna Fáil is doing their bidding.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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What did Sinn Féin do in the North of Ireland?

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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They should collectively hang their heads in shame.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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Sinn Féin did nothing in the North of Ireland.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister can keep shouting at me.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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What about Austins in Derry?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputies.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister can keep shouting at me.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputies, please.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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Sinn Féin did nothing for them either. Deputy O'Reilly is in here crying crocodile tears for workers.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Will Deputy Collins-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Collins, please.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Ceann Comhairle ask Deputy Collins-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Collins, please.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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What has Sinn Féin done for workers in the North of Ireland?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy O'Reilly.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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They did nothing while they were in government. They did nothing-----

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Can I ask-----

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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-----and they come in here and they cry crocodile tears.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy O'Reilly has the floor.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Can I ask-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy O'Reilly has the floor.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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They did nothing for workers.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Deputy Collins can of course bring his newfound message of workers' rights-----

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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Austins in Derry. What has Sinn Féin done for them?

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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-----across the Border.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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Austins in Derry.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy can bring it up there, stand in the North and see. He should go ahead and do it. None of us is stopping him. We would welcome him.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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There will be bonfires on the Bogside tonight.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy should bring his message on workers' rights up to the North.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should take her message up to the North.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy should be ashamed of himself.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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What has Sinn Féin done for them? It has done nothing.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy should be ashamed of himself. I am not surprised, coming from the party that cut the minimum wage.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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Sinn Féin is doing nothing for workers.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I am not one bit surprised.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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Sinn Féin is doing nothing for workers in the North of Ireland and the Deputy is crying crocodile tears.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Is the Deputy joking?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, Deputy. Restrain yourself.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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If I might speak. I am being barracked from both sides of the House.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You are.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is not. I am just pointing out the reality and hypocrisy of Sinn Féin.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I ask that there be a small amount of order.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, Deputies.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I did not come in here to do what the Deputy's mother should have done and put manners on him.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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The hypocrisy of Sinn Féin's stance on workers in the North of Ireland has to be exposed.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I will not have that, coming from the man who cut the minimum wage.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Can we have a bit of respect?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Both the Minister of State and the Deputy are out of order. They should give way to Deputy O'Reilly. She has the floor.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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She is trying to speak and he has interrupted her 40 or 50 times.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Perhaps if the Deputy was slightly less provocative, we would not get this response.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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Unfortunately, I am moved to be such because, until relatively recently, I had the privilege and pleasure of representing workers who, unfortunately, found themselves at the mercy of the wonderful legislation brought in by the people in Fine Gael and their best friends in Fianna Fáil who, when the opportunity presented itself, cut the minimum wage. Workers know, if they are watching proceedings this evening, who is on their side. They know who came in here to fight their corner. I am very proud that I came in here to fight on behalf of working people, as I have done all my life and as I will continue to do.

That is precisely what this legislation seeks to do. It seeks to give the woman who is working on a low-hour contract enough certainty. It seeks to give her a contract that will reflect the hours she works. These are people in my family and outside of this Chamber. I am sure the Deputies, Minister and Minister of State live very charmed lives. They never come up against the need for this legislation to protect workers but it is very real. There is a genuine need for these contracts to be brought in and for the protections contained within this legislation to be brought in. Workers need these protections. I have fought all my life against the people that the Ministers here seek to represent and I will continue to do so.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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I try to be measured and fair but it is very difficult when one reads the Minister's response to our Bill. It is incredibly disingenuous and very inaccurate. If the Minister actually reads the Bill, on page 3 where it refers to the provision of banded hour contracts, it says an employee has the right to move into an increased weekly band of hours - not extra hours, but a weekly band of hours. Let me make this very simple for the Minister and Minister of State because it seems we have to bring it down to that level. If a person working in a retail company is on a 15-hour contract but for six months has worked 32 hours a week, he or she moves into that band of 30 to 35 hours. He or she has to have worked an average of those hours for six months continuously. That means the contract would no longer be a 15-hour contract but would be in the band of between 30 and 35 hours. However, the person would still be on 32 hours, which is the average hours worked. One cannot be forced to work less or more against one's will. It does not mean workers get extra hours. It means they have a contract which reflects the hours they actually do. The Minister and Minister of State know that and are being disingenuous. That is the first point.

The Minister and Minister of State can find any reason not to support this Bill, which is what the Government seeks to do. This Bill has the support of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Mandate trade union. It has sufficient checks and balances. There were some extraordinary contributions in the Minister's speech. She said that this should not apply across the whole economy and should not apply to multinationals where there are established practices that work. That is not what would happen. The vast majority of workers in those big multinationals the Minister speaks about are not on these if-and-when contracts. This deals directly with a particular problem. It has no impact on somebody who is contracted full-time to do a job. A number of Deputies from Fianna Fáil, who are also being disingenuous, referenced the University of Limerick, UL, study. Recommendation No. 4 in that study says that if a worker works an average set of hours for six months, that is what their contract should reflect, which is what this Bill does. They referenced the six months and yet the Minister spoke about all the positives in the UL report and then found every excuse not to support one of its key recommendations.

I want to be fair to Fianna Fáil and I want to appeal to its Deputies. We have tabled a very reasonable amendment to the Fianna Fáil amendment in which we say if Fianna Fáil genuinely believes that some sort of pre-legislative scrutiny needs to be done, it should support our amendment which says it should be three months after we come back in autumn. That is sufficient time for the committee to do its work. Do not put it off for a year because that is unfair to those who want us to act now. We are meeting Fianna Fáil half way and doing our best to do so. We want this Bill passed now and moved to Committee Stage in order that we can have those discussions, get this through as quickly as possible and workers do not have to wait. I do not accept many of the criticisms from the Government because they are inaccurate and misleading in terms of what the Bill does. For those of us on this side of the House, including Fianna Fáil, who say they want this issue dealt with, they should support the amendment we have tabled. It is very reasonable and I appeal to Fianna Fáil to do so.

I will talk tomorrow to Deputy Collins or members of Fianna Fáil about their concerns. The Deputy is right about the presentation we gave earlier. In conversations I had with Deputies from different parties, I said we will take on board suggestions. I agree with the Minister about small businesses. We are open to discussion and to having our Bill amended. That is what the legislation is for. That is why we have several layers of legislation. It is why we have Second Stage, Committee Stage and Report Stage. It seems to me the Minister just wants to reject this Bill out of hand in a disingenuous way because it is coming from the Opposition rather than accepting it, dealing with the flaws the Minister says are in it and letting us have that debate. My primary appeal is to the Fianna Fáil Party. I hope it supports our amendment. I say that to all Members of the House. If it supports the amendment we have tabled to its amendment, we can do what Fianna Fáil says it wants done but in a quicker timeframe. Let us get this done once and for all for those workers who need it.

Amendment to amendment put.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 72, the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 7 July, 2016.