Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Employment Permits (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


7:30 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is about trying to learn one of the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and protecting a particularly vulnerable group of workers whose plight was highlighted in the midst of the pandemic. It was revealed as one of the central stories and scandals of the pandemic. That was the plight of migrant workers working in meat processing, horticulture, dairy and other similar areas within which thousands of people work and about 70% of whom are migrant workers.

Reports into the plight of these workers in this country have shown a very poor record of their treatment in those industries even before Covid-19. Between 2015 and 2020, for example, nearly half of all inspections in meat plants detected breaches of labour law relating to pay, working time, inadequate record keeping and employment permit issues. This is an area where a vulnerable group of workers are largely unseen by the Irish population and are largely not discussed in public discourse. Maybe it says something about their plight that there are few Members here tonight to discuss this. Their role in Irish society was revealed in a stark way during the height of the pandemic when, despite initial Government denials, we had to highlight the fact that there were rampant outbreaks of Covid in the meat processing plants. The Government denied the problem initially but eventually was forced to acknowledge that there was a serious problem. There were hundreds of outbreaks. About 3,000 to 4,000 workers were infected with Covid-19. The high levels of infection in the Border counties and counties where these processing plants were situated told its own story about the conditions in those meat plants. One of the key issues highlighted was when these very vulnerable workers, in a sector where permits are often not properly arranged by employers and where there has been poor treatment of migrant workers historically, got sick or got symptoms they had a fear of not going to work and that it could put them in a vulnerable position with their employer.

We have introduced this Bill against that background. The most important provision of this Bill is, crucially, to ensure an employer pays for a sick pay scheme for workers on general employment permits working in these sectors so that if they become ill, they will receive 70% of the pay they would have got for four weeks, if it is personal illness or injury, or six months if it is work related. That is the central provision of this Bill. It is important to state why that is important. It is obviously important for the health of the workers that they are not forced to go to work while sick out of fear of financial loss or retribution by an employer who might be unhappy if they choose to stay off sick. It is, therefore, important for that reason. However, as we learned during the pandemic, it was critically important to address the plight of these workers to reduce the level of transmission of Covid-19. In other words, if they were treated badly, there was a serious impact on the public health situation in the towns, villages and areas around where those plants were based.

Of additional importance was the potential impacts on the food supply chain of this country. If 70% of the people who help process meat and pick fruit and vegetables to stock the shelves in the shops of this country to feed people were vulnerable and could be sick, this could have potentially endangered the food supply chain for the whole country. Addressing this is also good for workers generally. There is not a proper statutory sick pay scheme for all workers in this country. Many workers in the private sector do not have that and we need that as well.

If there is a cohort of migrant workers who are badly treated and vulnerable and who do not have rights, that undermines conditions for workers in this country generally and makes it more difficult for them to fight for their rights to the sort of statutory entitlement to sick pay they should have if they become ill. The central provision is to ensure that employers will not get permits for migrant workers unless they provide a sick pay scheme that will ensure that workers who get ill get sick pay for four weeks in the case of personal injury or illness or six months in the case of work-related illness. The Bill also includes a number of other measures to give workers who are treated badly by their employers access to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, adjudication process, even where there may be problems with their work permits if they can show they have made reasonable efforts to secure such a permit and where the responsibility for them not having one really lies with employers who did not take those matters seriously or who may even have thought it convenient to have workers in that vulnerable position. Section 1 seeks to ensure that workers have that sort of recourse to the WRC, even if they do not have a valid work permit. It also allows workers on a general employment permit to seek an alternative employer. They should not just be tied to one employer if it is the case that their health, their dignity at work or their well-being is threatened by their treatment at the hands of that employer.

Another section of the Bill ensures that migrant workers can receive any amount awarded to them under the Employment Permits (Amendment) Act 2014 as a result of redundancy in the case of an employer becoming insolvent. This is about giving rights to these vulnerable workers. We have seen just how vulnerable they are and just how bad it is for all of us if they are treated badly and do not have those kinds of protections.

The Government may point to the Bill, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, has talked about bringing in that will provide a sick pay scheme. He has talked about it being a benefit for Covid workers. In our opinion, that is not adequate in that, first of all, you will have to have been paying PRSI contributions for six months to avail of the proposed scheme so workers who have only been here a few weeks, like many of those at the centre of what we saw during the Covid pandemic, would not be entitled to sick pay in a situation such as that we have just been through with the pandemic. The scheme also only proposes to give an entitlement to sick pay of between four and ten days. The number of days is to increase over a number of years but will remain paltry compared to what is necessary. While the scheme proposes to provide 70% of a person's pay for those short and totally inadequate periods, it is to be capped at €110 a day, which is simply not enough.

The Government should support this Bill. We owe an ongoing debt to these vulnerable workers for the role they play in producing the food the people of this country need. There is a history of them being mistreated. We have seen starkly that, if they do not have a right to sick pay and protections as employees, it can be very bad not just for them, but for our entire society. The matter is cut and dried. The Government should not oppose this Bill and should let it pass to the next Stage so that we can give those sorts of protections to this vulnerable group of workers. This should be part of the much more wide-ranging payback that it is needed for working people in this country because we have seen the role workers, who although often poorly treated, are absolutely essential, played in keeping our entire society running during the Covid pandemic. Workers who are vulnerable often suffer from poor working conditions and very low pay. There was a lot of clapping for them and a lot of rhetoric about the role they played but we need to see really tangible measures to improve basic pay and conditions of employment for the workers in this country who kept us all going and sustained us through this very difficult and dark period. I will leave it at that. I hope the Government will respond positively to the Bill.

7:40 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank both Deputies for bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. I welcome the opportunity to speak on it today. It is a shame there are not more people here to have a very focused conversation on the Bill. While I might not agree with all that is in it, conversation on this topic is essential to clarify what is in existing law, how we intend to strengthen it and how those changes compare to the Deputies' legislation. I totally accept the motives behind the Bill and I acknowledge the efforts and work that have gone into it because it is an important area about which the Deputies are genuinely concerned. I totally accept that and have no issue with it at all. The work and research that have gone into it are very clear from Deputy Boyd Barrett's speech.

In the Employment Permits (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021, the Deputy has called out particular sectors, mostly in the area of food production. I refer to the meat factories, the horticulture industry and our farms. It aims to cover those picking fruit and vegetables, for example. This is a sector we have worked with quite a lot over the last year or two with regard to preventing the spread of Covid in those work environments and among the families those workers go home to. We have also been working to make sure there are enough workers to save the harvest in the first place. The Deputy is absolutely right. These are essential workers and, in many cases, are on the front line when it comes to food production and supply and looking after everybody in this country. I compliment them on their work and their efforts over the last year and half in making sure that we had food on our shelves not just in Ireland but in the many countries we supply. That whole sector does not get discussed enough in here. It is fair to say that quite a lot those who work in the sector are from abroad. They come in to work here under the permits or have set up their lives and families here for a long number of years. Without their involvement, we would struggle to have enough people in that sector to save the food harvest and to produce the food, working in the meat factories and our other food facilities. I meet them regularly when I visit various companies.

I ask for the assistance of the House over the next year to help us work out new ways to generate more interest among people from different countries who are already living in Ireland in working in the sector. We could then develop new long careers to develop skills and make sure a career path is set out to allow people to move into management. From talking to those in the sector, I know that many genuine employers would like to be part of that journey. The majority want to look after their staff. We want to develop new training programmes, new initiatives and, perhaps, new packages. I believe there are plenty of people in this country who would like a career in this sector if we could join all the dots and make such a career worthwhile. Some of this work is seasonal and we want to reflect that but we should be able to develop new fruitful careers for many that pay well and have good conditions. That is something we should work towards, although it is separate from this legislation.

The Government fully understands and appreciates the reasons for bringing this Private Members' Bill forward and is supportive of the important policy objectives that underpin it. The Private Members' Bill is intended to provide an employer-paid sick leave scheme for workers employed on general employment permits in the meat processing, dairy and horticulture sectors. Additionally, it proposes that a worker without a permit could access the WRC adjudication process, that permit holders could change employer within the first 12 months in cases of exploitation or abuse and that employees without a valid permission would have access to the Social Insurance Fund for payment of compensation secured in the civil courts in the event the employer becomes insolvent.

The Government shares the view of the Bill on some of the issues raised and has already put in place measures to address them. However, other elements proposed would undermine the legislative framework and are not workable. For these reasons, the Government will oppose the Private Members' Bill. Although we agree with the principles of what the Deputies are trying to achieve, we believe most of these aims are already met in legislation.

In the first instance, I should clarify the limitations of the employment permits legislative framework. The employment permits system is designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled non-EEA nationals to fill genuine skills and labour shortages in the short to medium term in circumstances where there are no suitably qualified Irish or EEA nationals available to undertake the work. We have looked for evidence to prove shortages are genuine in all of the different cases we have responded to over the last year, not only in the food production business, in light of the changes to the permit scheme. The reach of this Bill therefore extends beyond the remit of the Employment Permits Acts to encompass also that of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, the Protection of Employees (Employers’ Insolvency) Act 1984 and the upcoming Statutory Sick Leave Bill 2021.

I will set out a section-by-section consideration of the various aspects in the order they appear in the Bill to help to facilitate the conversation. I am conscious more Deputies will speak after me and we can tease through aspects of the Bill then.

Section 1 of the proposed legislation seeks to grant a worker, without a valid work permit, access to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, adjudication process, provided they have taken reasonable steps to obtain a valid permit. There are a couple of issues here that I ask everyone to consider. Without question, all employees deserve fair treatment, and that goes without saying. Where employees comply with the legislation by having valid employment permits, they have exactly the same protections under Irish employment law as any other workers in the State. Indeed, many of the criteria associated with the employment permits system are aimed at ensuring migrant employees are treated in line with Irish labour laws. The legislation ensures these rights are protected. The Workplace Relations Commission has powers of enforcement under the Employment Permits Acts, and its investigation and enforcement powers work to discourage abuses of the employment permits system by unscrupulous employers.

I must emphasise that non-EEA nationals are required by law to hold a valid work permit or a visa allowing them to work in the State. I think that point is accepted by most people as well. People who do not hold one of these permissions are not entitled to enter into contracts of employment in the State. Therefore, legally, they are not entitled to seek redress from the WRC. The proposal set out in this proposed legislation, while well-intentioned, could be seen to undermine the rationale underpinning our work permit framework. It is recognised throughout Europe as a strong system and one we wish to protect. New legislation is coming through the Houses to alter it. The general scheme of the employment permits (consolidation and amendment) Bill 2019 has been undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny in committee for a long time, and I hope it will come back to me soon so that we can continue to work on it. The proposed legislation will make some positive changes to the current legislation and allow for important changes.

I recognise the Bill under discussion makes a distinction for employees who have taken reasonable steps to get an employment permit. We fully accept some workers may find themselves in this position through no fault of their own. For that very reason, the current legislation already provides that a person who has not acquired a right to work but who has taken reasonable steps to do so may seek redress from the civil courts, in accordance with section 2B of the Employment Permits Acts.

Section 2 would allow workers on general employment permits the right to change employer within the first year of employment here. The Government is absolutely in agreement that, where such workers are subjected to abusive or exploitative conditions, they should be able to apply for a new permit without facing the threat of losing their right to work here. In general, the current legislation requires that the employee remains with the employer for a period of 12 months. This is, on one hand, to protect employers by giving them a reasonable expectation the employee will remain with them for a reasonable period. This is a balanced approach, given the recruitment costs involved for employers, while not unduly binding the foreign national to the employer. However, under the current legislation an employment permit holder may still, if necessary, change employer within the first 12 months. This is an option in cases of redundancy or in circumstances which, although unforeseen at the time of application, have fundamentally changed the employment relationship, for example, the introduction of terms and conditions which were not originally provided for in the contract of employment. This would include exploitative or abusive practices, as referred to in this Bill. We have a team in our Department that will analyse such situations and that is open to doing so if the Deputies have any cases in this regard they may wish to bring to the attention of that team. In addition, permit holders may change employer at any stage where they are on their second or subsequent employment in the State, subject to all relevant and appropriate criteria for the permit type being sought.

Section 3 proposes that employees without a valid permission would have access to the Social Insurance Fund, SIF, for payment of compensation secured in the civil courts in the event the employer becomes insolvent. A payment from the Social Insurance Fund under the insolvency payments scheme requires insurable employment to have existed. It requires employees to have paid into that scheme. That is the rule governing that scheme. The fact is employees working without a valid employment permit are not lawfully employed in the eyes of the State. They cannot be considered to be in insurable employment under social welfare legislation. They therefore are not eligible for payment from the Social Insurance Fund. I think most people will accept that provision. It is the responsibility of everyone involved to ensure employees are appropriately employed in this country. We have dealt with situations where that has been abused by others.

Section 4 makes it a condition for a grant of a permit in certain sectors, such as meat processing, that the employer concerned must have a sick pay scheme for workers. That scheme, as proposed here, would provide at least 70% of workers' wages for a period from four weeks to six months, depending on the illness and if it is an occupational or work-related illness. The Government’s sick leave Bill 2021, sponsored by the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, will ensure every worker, especially lower paid workers, have the security and peace of mind of knowing that if they fall ill and miss work, they will not lose out on a day’s pay. It will encompass full- and part-time employees and no waiting days will apply.

The new employment right will start at three days and will increase incrementally over time so that all employees will eventually be entitled to ten days, or two weeks, of sick pay per year. It is being phased in to help all involved, particularly employers and small businesses especially, to plan ahead and manage the additional costs. We are conscious the measure is coming in at a difficult time for many employers, having just come through the impact of Covid-19. We recognise, however, that it is important to introduce this legislation. The Tánaiste addressed the House on this issue last December and last January and he made clear his intention to have the Sick Leave Bill 2021 in this House this year, because we are one of the few countries in Europe without such a statutory sick pay scheme.

While many employers operate their own schemes, there is no statutory provision for paid sick leave. We are committed to doing that, and that will be debated in these Houses. There may well be different views on the number of days, but we think it is important we recognise the need to strike a balance between having a viable business and one that can also pay sick leave. This Bill, on the other hand, proposes that employers pay up to six months sick pay, which means that costs for employers in certain sectors would be significant. This would be neither fair nor proportionate. I have no doubt the Deputies opposite will argue differently regarding that point, but I think that provision is an excessive ask of businesses, considering the size of business being put forward in this regard as well. While the Government’s sick leave Bill 2021 will cause some additional costs, the scheme is not intended to impose excessive costs on employers or to jeopardise jobs.

We all have a duty to create new jobs and to protect existing jobs while also enhancing the terms and conditions and the entitlements of those jobs. We must get that balance right and it is something we can build on over time. We have given much consideration to the pressures on businesses now, and the design parameters and the incremental approach to be taken over four years recognise this situation. It is intended the legislation will be debated in this House soon and that it will be in play in 2022 as well.

I recognise that many issues are being dealt with in the context of this proposed legislation, but I believe the legislation in place now is strong. New legislation in this regard is also coming through the House, as I said, and I hope we can begin discussing it here in December or January, because it is important for us to make some changes to the system. We must recognise the potential use of technology to reduce the costs involved for everybody with permits.

Many people avail of permits in this country in many sectors. We are very lucky to have so much talent coming in to work with us in those areas. It is important those workers are protected by our employment legislation. They are, and I confirm that. Likewise, regarding Covid-19, those permit holders were entitled to the enhanced benefits in the same way as everyone else, because those workers are treated equally under our labour laws. Those sectors with many permit holders generally performed well. People went into work every week to ensure the rest of us were able to have our shelves stocked and to get to the food as well. I recognise the hard work of the permit holders in that regard. It is a sector our Department will be working closely with, along with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to enhance, protect and grow job opportunities and to improve the quality of those jobs as well.

7:50 pm

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I probably will not need all my time. These are slightly surreal circumstances. Normally, I would not moralise about attendance at debates, but this is pretty pathetic. It is a poor attendance from other Teachtaí, and that is a pity because this is an important subject.

I thank the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, and those in our party for their fantastic work on this legislation. It is a good and timely Bill. As Deputy Boyd Barrett said, the onset of Covid-19 has caused a light to be shined on migrant workers. They suffered badly in the circumstances and in the environments in which they have lived. The basic rights of workers in respect of what is contained in this Bill encompasses those in the meat processing, horticulture and dairy sectors. The activities in these areas are worth enormous amounts of money.

The meat processing sector alone is worth €4 billion to the Irish economy and 70% of those who work in that industry are migrants. There is a big chunk of people mainly from eastern Europe and Brazil who come to Ireland to live a better life and to work. We should know all about that as Irish people went all over the world and were terribly exploited in some cases. Through that, workers organised themselves through unions, regardless of what their nationality was, and through strikes. That crossed the borders of jingoism and racism and all that divides people. The ruling class tried to divide people. For workers it is almost irrelevant what their nationality is if they have a bad employer. I commend the unions in this country that have tried to organise workers in this sector. It is a very difficult sector to organise because of the nature of the job.

The main thrust of the Bill concerns employment permits and giving workers a right to switch employer after six months. That is very important. Workers are sometimes in a kind of latter-day slavery because they are tied to an employer. That goes on. Workers are brought to this country and employed for a certain amount of time. They are almost like serfs. Access to sick pay is also very important, as was highlighted during Covid. There was a meat processing plant in Clondalkin where workers were very sick. Some had to still go into work because they had no backup. That is a pretty dire situation. The Bill is really good. It shines a light on migrants who play a very positive part in Ireland. In the last 25 years migrants have transformed this country into one that welcomes people regardless of whether they are in an urban environment or a rural one. Workers were going into places that foreign migrants mostly were not going into because of the nature of the job. They work very hard. Some of them love Ireland but there is no getting away from the fact that some migrant workers are extremely badly paid and badly exploited. This Bill addresses those issues. It goes further than the Government is saying. Migrants have to be protected. What is important in all this is that migrants are Irish workers regardless of their nationality. An injury to one is an injury to all. That togetherness has made the labour movement and trade unionism very strong. If a worker is being exploited or put down, that togetherness is put to the employer. In our eyes as socialists, that has been the driving force of the labour movement. Regardless of nationality, workers come together in solidarity and where there is exploitation they challenge it.

Every time the Minister of State is in front of us he is saying "No" to these Bills. I hope one day he will say "Yes". It is unfortunate that he is saying "No" in this case but he might think again.

8:00 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I recognise both speakers. It is not that I have anything against what is in the Bill. In most cases the provisions are in legislation already. The Deputy is saying he is disappointed I am not supporting his Bill. He might recognise that there is existing legislation in place to cover most of what he has asked. On the one area where this is not the case, I have explained why we cannot accept his proposals. When we are bringing legislation through I will see if we can do any more to strengthen that piece. We have to try to protect the system. If we do not recognise that workers are supposed to have a permit and that there is a strong permit scheme in operation, it might lead to other abuses and that could leave migrants in more vulnerable situations. Having a really strong permit scheme that is well monitored and well operated with strong conditions of employment providing access to our employment legislation is the best way to protect migrant workers. If we dilute that in any way, we put them at more risk. I am not saying the Deputy is trying to do that but it is one of the unintended consequences of the Bill. I am happy to engage with all Deputies as we bring the new employment permits Bill through the House and update the legislation. There is a chance for conversations there. As proposed in this Bill, it will not achieve what the Deputies want to achieve. In most cases the law already exists to protect workers and deal with the concerns the Deputies have raised. I do recognise that there is a genuine effort here to bring forward changes and I am happy to tease through the bits that we could accommodate at a later stage.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I should have said in my initial comments that on the occasion of a Bill like this coming through it is worth considering the horrific events that took place in the English Channel this week with desperate migrants losing their lives in a boat that capsized. The seas around Europe have become a graveyard for thousands and thousands of desperate people - men, women and children - who are fleeing war, persecution and desperate conditions and losing their lives in the most horrible fashion. We saw a very stark example of it this week. It is always worth contemplating how we were in that situation once upon a time. Indeed we suffered the same demonisation and mistreatment that those desperate people suffered. People from this country lost their lives trying to cross oceans to flee hunger, poverty and mistreatment. They often suffered terrible treatment in the countries they went to, at least initially, until we organised and fought for our rights and improved our situation. It is worth saying that. It is worth reminding ourselves that we suffered the same racist stereotypes as well.

I am often fond of quoting Karl Marx. One of the things he was particularly interested in was the plight of the Irish worker and the demonisation of the Irish worker in Britain in the middle of the 19th century. The popular magazines in Britain used to demonise the Irish workers and present them as less than human, as monkeys, a stereotype that was later applied to people of different colour. That early stereotype was applied to the Irish. One of the things Marx said was that the mistreatment of the Irish worker, the racism and exploitation directed at the Irish worker, was the secret weakness of the British working class movement. That is a very telling phrase. In other words, the degree to which the working class movement in Britain allowed anti-Irish racism to persist weakened their movement. Not only did it mean the mistreatment of the Irish worker but it weakened the struggle of the entire British working class. If one group of workers, in that case the Irish workers, were treated badly, paid badly and exploited, that was used as a stick to beat all the other workers.

That remains the case. Workers in this country need to understand they have a stake in ensuring that migrant workers here are not exploited and treated badly and that they have rights and entitlements. If workers do not ensure this, particularly because migrants are critical for food supply, the migrants’ poor conditions and mistreatment will be a stick with which to beat other workers and keep their conditions poor. The connection can be seen in the sense that if we allow to persist the mistreatment of migrants in circumstances of widespread illness in an industry where they have very few rights and where documented inspections, even before Covid, have shown breaches of labour and employment law and permit issues more than 50% of the time, it will be bad for all workers.

It is worth commenting on what occurs along the food supply chain. Some of the people who contacted me to alert me about the mistreatment of the workers in the meat plants during the Covid pandemic were beef farmers who had been part of the Beef Plan movement. That was very interesting and good because they themselves were fighting against the miserable incomes they, as direct producers of beef, earn. Their average income is between €10,000 and €12,000. When the Beef Plan brought the matter to my attention, I could not believe how poor the incomes were of the people who produce one of the main exports of the country, an export that generates enormous profits for the big agri-processors, the Larry Goodmans of this world. Staggering profits are made by such people but the direct producers, the farmers, get a pittance. The people processing the meat in the meat factories work in terrible conditions, sleep in dormitories with rampant Covid and have very few rights. On the next step along the chain, there are the low-paid retail workers in Tesco, the shops, the supermarkets and so on, which workers are among the most poorly paid and often have very precarious conditions. Is it not telling?

8:10 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy knows the rule about naming.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Sorry. I did not say that. Supermarkets. I did not mention their name. Sorry, it was a slip of the tongue.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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And meat processors.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Yes. The workers are on very low pay. Considering that the food we eat is one of the most basic things we need to sustain our society, it says something that pretty much everyone along the food chain, whether they are Irish, small farmers, migrant workers or the people who work in the shops, is pretty poorly paid. This Bill is part of trying to address that. If we are serious about some of the lessons we have learned, bearing in mind that everybody, including the Government, referred during Covid to the role of essential workers and their importance to society, what we are going to do will have to be tangible and meaningful.

The Minister of State will not be surprised to hear I am not happy with his response to our Bill. Is four weeks for personal illness or injury, or six months at 70% of what we are proposing, excessively generous? Does it represent an excessive burden on the employers? It is not, given the profits being generated by them. The profits are enormous, so I do not accept that the big beef barons, whom we have discovered sometimes hide their profits offshore in Luxembourg and elsewhere, could not afford to pay decent sick benefits to the workers who help to generate them.

In Germany, a worker receives 100% of his or her wage for the first six weeks. The Irish Government is proposing 70% of the salary, starting with three days and working up to ten at the height. We are so far behind the rest of Europe in these matters. The burden is not excessive in the other countries, including Germany, so why should it be regarded as excessive by employers here? I do not accept the Minister of State’s excuse, therefore.

Consider the question of whether, if you do not have a valid work permit, you should not be entitled to benefit from the social insurance fund or to have recourse to the WRC. We have cases on this. There are workers who had permits but who were mistreated when they stood up for themselves when they got into a dispute with their employer. The WRC found that they were mistreated and that had they had the entitlement, they would have received awards in compensation. They did not get them, however, because their permits had expired. Their employer wanted to make sure they did not get their additional permits because they were regarded as troublesome workers. That cannot be allowed. The workers had made reasonable efforts and previously had permits. They wanted to have permits but did not have them because they were in a dispute with their employer. In their case, the WRC found in their favour. Therefore, the Minister of State’s answer does not address the point.

The implication of what the Minister of State said is that if workers did not have permits, they could not have been paying PRSI and therefore would not have been entitled to benefit from the fund. Why would he assume that? Almost certainly they are paying PRSI, but they do not have the permits. They have made the effort to get them. They are paying PRSI in most cases or were paying it until their permits expired or their employer did not want their permits to be maintained.

The central demand of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and others has been that employees should have the right to move from their employer and to have this spelt out explicitly. The Minister of State says the right is provided for but, in reality, it is extremely difficult for migrant workers attached to an employer to move from them. It needs to be stated explicitly in law that they have the right to do so. I appeal to the Government to reconsider its opposition to this Bill and let it progress. If it wants to make tweaks, let it make them on Committee Stage, but it should not block the Bill, which is intended to enhance the rights of migrant workers and all other workers.

Question put.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time next week.

The Dáil adjourned at at 8.58 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 November 2021.