Wednesday, 20 July 2016
34. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she will take action to stop companies (details supplied) which are trying to usurp the countries labour machinery and laws that give basic protections to workers such as the Minimum Wage Act and so on. [22915/16]
Given all the talk this afternoon about the Low Pay Commission and the minimum wage and the obvious argument that this is a very low wage economy, we have to legislate carefully to make sure people do not fall too far below the poverty line, but workers already do. There was an attempt last week to introduce an au pair Bill that would prevent those workers having access to the industrial relations machinery of the State. I am very concerned about certain companies establishing here and practising which are paying workers well below the minimum wage and refusing them access to the Workplace Relations Commission. I am talking in particular about Deliveroo. How can the Minister regulate that and stop these things happening?
I have forwarded the details supplied by the Deputy to the Workplace Relations Commission for examination and action if appropriate. Irish employment rights law makes a distinction between a contract of service, which applies to an employer-employee relationship, and a contract for service, which applies in the case of a self-employed person. Most employment rights legislation does not apply to independent sub-contractors with the exception of health and safety and equality.
Ireland has a well-resourced and proactive labour inspectorate, which now forms part of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. There are already existing mechanisms in place to tackle this issue. Inspections are undertaken on the basis of risk analysis which identifies certain areas of focus. Where the WRC inspection service receives complaints in relation to bogus self-employment or bogus sub-contracting, they are forwarded to the Revenue Commissioners and-or the scope section of the Department of Social Protection for investigation either solely by the recipient or jointly with the WRC.
In most cases, it will be clear whether an individual is employed or self-employed. Where there is doubt in relation to the employment status of an individual, the relevant Departments and agencies will have regard to the code of practice for determining employment or self-employment status of individuals. This code was drawn up and agreed in 2007 by the relevant Departments with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and the Irish Business Employers Confederation, IBEC.
The Deputy will be aware that the Department of Finance and Department of Social Protection have recently conducted a joint public consultation on the use of intermediary-type structures and self-employment arrangements.
There is a convergence of interests with my Department. Apart from the significant losses to the Exchequer, the practice has serious implications from an employment rights perspective. In this respect, it is important that individuals are correctly designated so that employees are not deprived of employment rights. This is particularly the case for vulnerable workers.
The case highlighted by the Deputy is one example of the changes that are emerging in the world of work. The European Foundation for Working and Living Conditions, Eurofound, has identified nine distinct new forms of employment. The work of Eurofound reflects a common problem at EU and international level, and not just in Ireland.
This is a very old form of exploitation except that it is hyper-exploitation couched in modern facilities such as Facebook and social media to gain employment.
In fact, the contract from Deliveroo is quite similar to one I saw from a building company, Rhatigan. According to the contract, the people who work for it are self-employed, so they do not deserve the minimum wage but are on €4.25 or €4.50 an hour. They have no recourse or access to the WRC, and if any person attempts to go to the WRC or any other State machinery such as the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Deliveroo is indemnified against any costs or claims the person may make. Deliveroo is a growing company. I have a leaflet that was distributed to every home in Dún Laoghaire, not just restaurants. It exploits, in a hyper way, young people, foreign students and very young students in this country. A wage of €4.25 an hour is unacceptable, as is not having recourse to State legislation. Are we back to 1913? Can the Minister of State give us some guarantees that this will stop?
I did not name any company but, as I said, I have referred the company to the WRC, as I explained to the Deputy. There are new forms of employment all over Europe. It is a problem for Europe, one with which Eurofound is dealing.
The Revenue Commissioners examine the taxation problems for such workers and the scope section of the Department of Social Protection has the function of deciding whether a person is an employer or an employee. It is important to point that out. In the code of practice we discussed, there are criteria in place to determine whether a person is an employer or an employee. I can send the information on to the Deputy.
The WRC has a statutory authority to share information with Revenue and the Department of Social Protection. A total of 575 joint operations took place between the two bodies in 2015 and 353 took place in 2014. Many more inspections have taken place. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, many problems arise in the food and hospitality sector. The WRC has 56 inspectors to carry out this work. I am satisfied that it has the necessary resources.
I am glad there are 56 inspectors. It is not that long ago that there were more dog wardens in the country than labour inspectors. I worked for a union, tutoring in labour law. We were acutely aware of the lack of resources for inspections.
I do not want to take up too much of the Minister of State's time, but we have to go a bit further with this. We need a mechanism in labour law which will insist that if a watchdog such as the WRC receives enough complaints from the public it can carry out a thorough investigation into the activities of any company, such as those I have mentioned, and the hyper-exploitation of young people. If we let this happen, why would all bus drivers, teachers and nurses not be on self-employed contracts? We are hurtling in that direction if we do not stop this.
This is a problem not just in Ireland but all over Europe, and that is why Eurofound is examining the issue. There is employee sharing, job sharing, interim management, casual work, ICT-based mobile work, voucher-based work, portfolio work, crowd employment and collective employment. I am satisfied that the WRC is doing its job. Problems that previously took two years to solve now being dealt with in three weeks. The WRC has the necessary resources and manpower, and we should let it do its job with the assistance of the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners. They share information and carry out joint operations and inspections. That exercise is extremely important and uncovers a lot of non-compliance in the areas we have mentioned.