Thursday, 12 July 2012
Industrial Relations (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill 2011: Committee Stage
David Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 4, to delete "the desirability of agreeing and maintaining" and substitute "the agreeing and maintaining of".
I welcome the Minister to the House and apologise for my absence during the Second Stage debate, during which my party colleague, Senator Kathryn Reilly, expressed Sinn Féin's concerns about the Bill. She also signalled that we would table amendments to the Bill, as we have done. Amendments Nos. 1 and 15 are similar and refer to the registered employment agreements. Under the section, when considering whether it is appropriate to register an agreement under subsection (3) other than an agreement applying to a single employer, "the Court shall have regard to", among other factors, "the desirability of agreeing and maintaining fair and sustainable rates of remuneration in the sector in question". My party has a difficulty with the use of the word "desirability" in this context. On Committee Stage, the Minister indicated it was not necessary to change the wording of this paragraph. Sinn Féin disagrees and proposes to remove the word "desirability" in order that the paragraph reads, "the agreeing and maintaining of fair and sustainable rates of remuneration in the sector in question". The sentence has lesser legal standing when the word "desirability" is included. When discussing rates of pay and remuneration we must remind ourselves that the people to whom the legislation refers are among the lowest paid workers in the State who are frequently employed in vulnerable sectors of the economy.
It is noteworthy that the National Employment Rights Agency, NERA, published a report last year which showed that 70% of employers in the three largest sectors covered by registered employment agreements were found to be in breach of their obligations. It is vital, therefore, that the legislation is crystal clear as to what entitlements employees should have and the issues to which the court should have regard when making agreements. The NERA report also found that 53% of workers in the three sectors in question were earning less than the minimum wage, which is an incredible finding, 51% were not in receipt of wage slips, 83% did not have proper contracts and 85% were not paid premiums. We will address the issue of premiums when we discuss the Minister's proposal to abolish them. Forfás estimates that between 170,000 and 300,000 workers were covered by registered employment agreements when the court case was taken.
The amendments were tabled because the word "desirability", as used in the text, is unnecessary. While it is desirable that agreement be reached and fair and sustainable rates of remuneration maintained, the use of the word "desirability" in this context potentially dilutes the impact of the provision and the direction the legislation gives to the court. I look forward to the Minister's response.