Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Health and Safety
6. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps his Department is taking to protect workers’ health and safety in view of the reopening of the hospitality sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30240/21]
All workers, regardless of the sector of the economy in which they work, are covered by the provisions of the Work Safely Protocol. The Work Safely Protocol, which was published last month, is a revision of the Return to Work Safely Protocol, which was first published in May 2020. The revised protocol incorporates the most up-to-date advice on relevant public health measures and reflects new knowledge and better understanding of these measures.
The protocol provides a framework for all businesses to operate safely and to protect workers. It sets out the measures required in every place of work to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The protocol also contains links directing employers and employees to a range of Government Departments and agencies where more detailed information can be sourced and a comprehensive range of guidance and checklists is available for both employers and employees.
The Health and Safety Authority, HSA, will remain the lead agency in co-ordinated compliance with the work safety protocol. More than 34,000 protocol inspections have been carried out by inspectors from a range of Departments and State bodies, including environmental health officers who inspect food outlets in the hospitality sector. Fáilte Ireland has produced operational guidelines for, and in conjunction with, that sector. The guidelines set out comprehensive advice on reopening with an emphasis on protecting the safety and well-being of employers, employees and customers to help instil public confidence in the sector. The implementation of these guidelines and compliance with the work safety protocol can offer robust protection to all workers in the hospitality sector, especially against a background where the number of people in the general population being vaccinated continues to increase.
It is important to emphasis these protocols were developed in conjunction with our social partners over the past year. They have been of great assistance to companies and businesses. I compliment the approach taken by business owners, who have gone to great lengths to protect their staff, themselves and, more important, their customers. That is why the sector is reopening this week in a positive environment. The confidence is there that they are following protocols and best practice, which will help stop the spread of the virus and protect everybody involved.
I was coming into this place this morning and listening to the radio news. The invitation was being put out for 43-year-olds to contact the HSE about arranging vaccination. The next item was about hospitality. It struck me that a majority - probably a vast majority - of people going back to work in hospitality are under the age of 43 and will go back to work unvaccinated. This is at a time the virus is in the community, there is a new variant, which is significantly more infectious, and they are operating on the basis of a lesser social distancing rule now. I do not say workers should not go back or anything like that. It is an important step but health and safety is paramount. The Minister of State talked about the Fáilte Ireland guidelines. Who will police the guidelines? Who will be on the job to ensure health and safety for our hospitality workers?
We all share these concerns and it is important to remind everybody that, while we are still waiting for everybody to be vaccinated, we have to follow the protocols and public health advice from all the authorities. These protocols were originally designed when there was no vaccine and no roll-out. They have been updated on two occasions since then to reflect the benefits of the vaccination programme. We know that by July approximately 60% of our population will have received their second vaccine. The majority will be in that place come September. We can see the benefits of the vaccination roll-out but we have to remind everybody in the coming weeks and months of this cautious reopening to follow the advice, make sure we keep the virus under control and protect everybody. That is why the protocols are there and why everybody follows them. They are monitored by all the relevant agencies. Employees who have concerns can contact the HSA and their queries are dealt with. We monitor that as well.
If the Deputy has any concerns, I am happy to engage with him directly on them. Employees in general are complimentary of their employers, their organisations and implementing these rules.
The majority of hospitality workers will be vaccinated later in the year, hopefully later in the summer. However, hospitality is opening now, when the vast majority of those workers have not been vaccinated. That puts a strong onus on ensuring that quality health and safety provisions are in place. How many of the labour inspectors – we were told earlier on that 53 out of a target of 90 are in place – are detailed to monitoring the hospitality industry over the coming weeks. Fáilte Ireland put down the guidelines. Do the HSA and HIQA have any roles in terms of the follow-up in hospitality? There are to be nominated workers reps in every hospitality outlet, which I welcome. Does the Minister of State support the idea that, if health and safety is not followed in a workplace and issues raised are not being attended to, those workers would be entirely right to walk off the job to defend the health and safety of hospitality workers?
The Deputy is making assumptions on the age of people working on the sector which he has not backed up by evidence. There is a great range of age cohorts working in that sector. It is a positive environment because there are opportunities for all age groups to work in it, similar to retail and other areas. There is strong regional balance, as well.
On the work safety protocol, the HSA is the lead agency in co-ordinating the response across all Government agencies in dealing with that protocol and the enforcement of it. The feedback is quite positive on the inspections. Over 34,000 have been carried out over the last year. It is open to anyone with concerns to bring them to the HSA and they are dealt with. There is a hotline to do that. On top of that, there is the Covid-19 safety charter, which the majority of the hospitality sector has signed up to and is implementing. I am confident because the bookings from customers for the months ahead would not be in the numbers they are if the confidence was not there among the population in general.