Tuesday, 4 December 2018
Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 15, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:“(15) In the event of hours becoming available an employer shall be required to offer any surplus hours appropriate to their qualifications to existing part-time employees first.”.
I thank the Minister for appearing before the Seanad and I welcome the Bill. It is strong legislation which, among other provisions, will eliminate the use of zero-hour contracts and offer protections to some of the most vulnerable and precarious workers in the State. I recognise the work of all who brought it to this Stage, including Senator Nash, who was Minister of State when it was first mooted, and the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. It is an important law and it recognises that in regulating employment and the conditions of that employment, the State has a responsibility to intervene, regulate and act as a guarantor of the rights of the people to safe, stable and secure employment. My amendment is in the spirit of the rest of the provisions of the Bill. It seeks to provide greater security and protection for part-time workers. It builds on the work done by Deputies Clare Daly and Joan Collins on Committee Stage in the Dáil. I thank them for their help in drafting my amendment. This simple and straightforward amendment would place a requirement on employers to offer additional part-time hours to existing part-time employees before the employer may hire another person to work the same hours. It has a twofold benefit. First, part-time workers would be given more security, more choice and the option to work more hours if they so wish. Second, it would prevent additional workers from being employed in very precarious conditions to do work that could feasibly be done by existing employees, raising employment standards overall.
A similar amendment to the Bill was accepted on Committee Stage in the Dáil after being supported by all parties except Fine Gael, before being deleted on Report Stage because the provision on work being "appropriate to their qualifications" was not in place. We have included that wording in our amendment today and hope to achieve cross-party support as a result.
The policy behind the amendment is based on EU Directive 97/81/EC on part-time work. It seeks to address issues relating to underemployment and low-quality employment, with this amendment seeking to improve the quality of work available to part-time workers. The directive states that employers should consider requests to transfer from full-time work to any part-time work that becomes available and requests to transfer from part-time to full-time work or to increase working time when the opportunity arises, providing timely information on the availability of part-time or full-time jobs.
Our amendment would simply put this on a statutory footing because at the moment there is no legal right for a part-time worker to avail of more hours at work. The amendment would address the insecurity arising from underemployment and casualisation. It benefits individual workers and the economy overall, as employee satisfaction would rise due to increased flexibility and options the statutory rights give, and very much fits into the overall intention of the Bill.
It is not just unemployment that pushes people into poverty; it is low-paid poor-quality work that leaves people so far behind that they cannot afford to keep up payments of mortgage, rent, childcare costs and other basic needs. There is a direct correlation between the increase in the use of food banks and the prevalence of food poverty, and worsening employment conditions and increased precarious work. Employers should be obliged to offer hours to current workers before hiring someone else. It rewards loyal staff and gives them more hours, making it more likely that they will earn a living wage and be able to avail of credit and other financial options. We need to halt the continual deterioration of precarious work and give these vulnerable workers some legal standing.
I hope the Minister can accept the amendment which is intended to work in a constructive spirit with the existing provisions of the Bill, which would be stronger for it.