Wednesday, 10 October 2018
Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Much of what I was going to contribute to the conversation has been raised by my colleagues, Senators Mac Lochlainn and Ruane. I will make my contribution relatively short.
As Senator Ruane has said, there is no huge rush to get this done if we are not going to get it done correctly and properly. The Unite trade union, with which I hope the Minister of State will engage, has a very impressive document that details not just its concerns on the Bill but also the opportunities. As Senator Mac Lochlainn has said, the Bill is a vehicle that affords us an opportunity to do more in a sector, especially around the English language teaching sector, which as we all know has been hugely problematic and rife with a number of problems. Unite has said that it has been dealing with cases that illustrate a range of abuses relating to contracts and wages and issues of discrimination where a non-native English speaker is treated differently from a native English speaker when it comes to wage rates. The sector is known for having precarious employment practices and variable pay rates. We have spoken about the issue of zero-hour contracts.
Unite has made two particular proposals, which I believe are viable and decent, and the Labour Party supports these proposals. The Labour Party will bring amendments forward, which I know other parties will also do. It is interesting that my colleagues who represent the left in this Chamber, such as Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and like-minded Independents, are focusing on the vulnerable workers in the sector, whereas other speakers have been very short in their contributions and have perhaps focused on those who do not necessarily need the same protections.
We suggest that section 25 be amended to establish a fair employment mark as part of the IEM. This is the way that employment practices have to work. We have to ensure that workplaces and employers are treating their employees fairly and that this should be known to anyone who comes into contact with whatever institution they engage.
We also advocate for teacher protection funds. Again, given the precarious nature of these schools, the way they open and close and the way they can collapse overnight and not be seen again, the people working in this sector deserve much more protection.
These proposals are positive and proactive. They work within the vehicles provided for us by the Minister of State. We are in the position where we want to welcome this Bill but we want to improve it for those who are most vulnerable within the sector. I hope the Minister agrees that the proposals make sense. As Senator Ruane has said, let us get this right and, if we can, use the process to its utmost at the various stages. Let us ensure that the protections needed for workers within the sector are put in place.If I was to advise anybody to use the services of an English language school, it would be of great comfort to me to know that an individual school had a fair employment mark. It would let me know in my heart of hearts that everyone was being treated fairly. The teacher protection fund, which has been outlined, makes sense.
I advise the Minister of State not to be adversarial about this and to work together to ensure that, whatever her officials say about our contributions here or if they wish to critique what we have said, we can somehow meet between the two positions. The proposals as outlined make sense. We all want to have a sector of which we can be proud and which we can stand over. With those remarks, I join with Senators Ruane and Mac Lochlainn in hoping we can work constructively on this, and we will discuss this again on the next Stage.