Wednesday, 20 September 2017
36. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to review the employment legislation that has been transferred to her remit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39643/17]
On 1 September, the Department was renamed the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The Minister is now the lead on employment rights policy and legislation, including 11 primary Acts governing employment rights and related policy issues. There are a number of issues, including if and when contracts and combatting bogus self-employment. What are the Minister's plans to progress legislation on these important issues?
I thank the Deputy for the question, and I am very glad he raised it because it is an important part of the Department now, as the very large mammoth that is the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Employment affairs, employee rights, employee engagement, the participation of unions and representation rights will all be very much to the fore of what we will do in the coming months.
The details of the employment legislation that transferred to my Department following the Government decision earlier this year are set out in the Labour Affairs and Labour Law (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2017, SI 361 of 2017. The transfer of functions involved 11 pieces of primary legislation in the area of labour affairs and labour law that were previously the responsibility of the old Department.
My priority, on which we have already made a little progress in the past week - I have met members of unions and made some fine inroads on what they are looking for in their representations - is to publish the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which is being drafted. The Deputy is aware that the Bill is in response to a commitment in the programme for Government to tackle the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and, in particular, to strengthen the regulation pertaining to precarious employment. The proposals contained in the Bill are the result of extensive consultations. They include public consultation by the former Department, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, following the University of Limerick study of zero-hour and low-hour contracts, in addition to detailed dialogue with ICTU and IBEC for several months. The Bill aims to address a number of issues that have been identified where current employment rights legislation can and must be strengthened to the benefit of employees, particularly low paid and more vulnerable employees, without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers and businesses. Officials of my Department are working closely with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. I met the Attorney General last week to raise certain queries arising from the heads of the Bill to determine whether I could enhance them. I am giving a commitment that I will have the Bill published before Christmas. If I were to be really ambitious, I would hope to bring it to the House before Christmas, but it is definitely among my top three priorities.
The first defeat of the Government was on the Labour Party motion that called for a legislative package to combat, in particular, if-and-when contracts and bogus self-employment and that sought their regulation. I am glad that the Minister is progressing this legislation. My colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, initiated the University of Limerick study of this matter. With regard to zero-hours contracts, I put the Minister on notice. There is no one better at manipulating legislation that those to whom I refer. I want to send a message to the bureaucrats. The measure will put people within bands to reflect the reality of their working hours. Some might be guaranteed 15 or 20 hours and might be getting 30 hours. The Minister will be introducing in the legislation a number of bands between 20 and 30 hours. Many workers and I do not want to see people being placed at the lower end. Cleverly, people are allocated only 20 hours, the lower end of a band between 20 and 30 hours. I put the Minister on notice that there will be holy war if there is sleight of hand to leave people on 20 rather than 30 hours. Those who desire a loan to help the children with their education or to do anything else get nothing if they are bedded down at the minimum figure. If there is to be a spectrum, let us put them at the top rather than the lower end. With regard to employers, there could be a flanker. I have no doubt that there is somebody who is already fighting for inclusion at the lower end. I am signalling that we want people to be put at the upper end when the bands become available.
In fairness, given the way the heads of the Bill were drafted and the design of the bands, it is fairly obvious that the conclusion to which the Deputy has jumped probably reflects the practice, but that is not in the spirit of what we are trying to achieve. Without telling the Deputy what I am hoping to do, I hear him loud and clear. I do not want circumstances in which new legislation we will introduce would allow an employer to put somebody who has been getting 25 hours for the past 18 months on a new 20-hour contract. My intention is to make sure that will not happen.
I will not waste time. If that were to be an absolute guarantee, it would be of consolation to so many. In this House we are all motivated by the very best ideas and aspirations but very often when we pass legislation, something happens and we are left outside trying to explain something that reflects badly on us. From the Minister's experience in business - fair play to her - she has seen the hole in the bucket and is mending it before it become a big hole.