Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Arts (Dignity at Work) (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to enable the Arts Council to ensure that funding is contingent on compliance with employment law and for that purpose to amend the Arts Act 2003; and to provide for related matters.
I wish to share time equally with Deputy Tóibín.
We need to create a safe culture and environment for those working in the arts sector. In November last, the then Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who had responsibility for the arts, Deputy Humphreys, announced a series of measures that the Minister and her Department believed would do just that. These consisted of a series of workshops on governance for board members and senior staff. I do not know what world the Fine Gael Ministers live in but those who exploit workers are not swayed by workshops and PowerPoint presentations. We need a coercive element to change a culture of exploitation and harassment. That is why we want to tie the allocation of funds to the arts sector to that sector's compliance with the law. I fail to see how anyone can object to a Bill that requires a sector to simply comply with the law.
This Bill will also make all arts funding over €100,000 subject to the oversight of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts. Last year, the Arts Council issued over €86 million in funds to arts bodies. Obviously, the Oireachtas needs to know exactly what that money is spent on.
We are not proposing that the Oireachtas would dictate what projects the Arts Council would fund - that is entirely a matter for the Arts Council - but we have a responsibility to ensure there is transparency and good governance and that the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts can scrutinise how public money is spent.
Finally, far too often now in the public sector, because of money being allocated through grants and because of outsourcing, there are significant amounts of money which are outside the purview of both the Comptroller and Auditor General's office and the Committee of Public Accounts. Moreover, Accounting Officers, as in Secretaries General, are not accountable for the spend of that money to those bodies to the extent that they should be. This Bill deals with one sector, which is the arts sector.
We are asking the Government to support the Bill.
In the past few months, a number of women have stood up and identified sexual harassment and bullying at the highest reaches of the cultural institutions. It takes great strength and confidence to do that because in Ireland, normally, when one speaks out, it means career suicide. These women have done a massive service to people everywhere and we applaud them.
It is amazing that it took them to go to the national newspapers to achieve justice and to protect them from harassment and bullying. It shows that there is a clear problem that the laws and the regulations in this country are not working.
On each occasion, the relevant Ministers have hidden behind employment law, highlighting it and stating there are regulatory bodies, such as the Workplace Relations Commission, to deal with this problem. That argument misses the point. The arts sector does not operate the same as other employment sectors. It is hammered with precarious working conditions and these precarious working conditions are accentuating the power differentials between management and employees which, in my view, is leading in certain cases to a septic culture of abuse.
Irish Equity recently released a survey of the theatre sector. It found that 60% of those surveyed stated that they were bullied and 75% of those people stated they did not report it as they feared it would jeopardise their employment. These are shocking figures. They are all the more shocking given that the Government is one of the main investors and funders of that sector. The Government has even more of a responsibility to ensure that the funding is being spent properly and fairly and is creating a workplace that is free from bullying etc.
I understand that Ms Karan O'Loughlin of Irish Equity met the Arts Council in 2016 with some of these details. She put it to the Arts Council that it needed to be part of the solution to these problems. I understand, from what Ms O'Loughlin has said, that the Arts Council stated at that stage that it was none of its business and it did not have a role in this regard.
It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that wherever people work in any sector is a harassment and bullying-free zone. That is really important. All this legislation seeks to do is to tie the investment the State makes in these theatre groups etc. to fulfilling their responsibility to workers and for workers' rights. It is as simple as that.
I urge the Government to support it.