Thursday, 12 July 2012
Industrial Relations (Amendment)(No. 3) Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed)
We had a lengthy discussion on a similar amendment in the Dáil. This amendment seeks to add to the absolutely general power of the Labour Court to request any information it may reasonably require. We have been confidently informed that if we specify certain categories of information that the Labour Court should have the power to request, while leaving out other categories of information, we will undermine the ability of the court to request information. A subsequent review of the process might make a judgment on the basis of the fact that a certain type of information was not included in the list of types of information that should be provided. By giving the Labour Court this unfettered power, we are allowing it to request anything it likes. That is the best way of ensuring that when the Labour Court considers an "inability to pay" application, it will have an unfettered power to demand any information it chooses. It will be able to demand information on money being filtered out of a company, even if that is not specified in the legislation. It would be a natural thing for the court to look for. We have been confidently informed that if we start listing what the Labour Court should be have the right to seek, we will reduce the legal robustness of that right. It is better to give the Labour Court an unfettered power to look for whatever it wants. I understand why the Senator has tabled this amendment, but I am advised that it would not actually help the cause he is pursuing.
This amendment would not preclude the court from seeking any other information. It merely sets out that a specific category of information should be included in the Bill as being capable of being requested. These issues keep arising over and over again. There is no point in crying crocodile tears when workers are not given their entitlements while those at the top get bonuses and improper payments. Although there is no conflict between what the Minister is saying and what we are trying to do, I do not agree with the Minister's response.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 17, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following:
"(i) maintaining of fair and sustainable rates of remuneration appropriate to the sector in question;".
The proposed new section 41A sets out the mechanism for the review of an agreement. The list of matters to which the court shall have regard when it conducts a review does not include any reference to "fair and sustainable rates of remuneration". That is an incredible and serious omission, given that the whole joint labour committee system is supposed to be about ensuring people are paid fairly. The court should be obliged to take fair wages into consideration. The list of matters the court will have to consider, as set out in this legislation, extends from (a) to (i) but does not include a reference to the maintenance of "fair and sustainable rates of remuneration appropriate to the sector in question", which is what we are proposing for inclusion in amendment No. 11. Surely the meat of the joint labour committee system is ensuring that rates of pay and protections are included in agreements. We would see their omission as a serious matter.
This matter was debated in the other House. One needs to recognise the limited nature of the review we are talking about. The purpose of the review is made clear in the proposed new section 41A(4), which is about the existence of the joint labour committee rather than about the agreement. The proposed section provides that following a review, the Labour Court can decide to maintain the joint labour committee in its current form, or to amalgamate it with another committee if that would be more efficient. If the court finds nothing other than brushes and brooms in the committee - if nobody is being regulated in the sector - it can decide to change the committee's establishment order. This mechanism is not designed to review what is in the order, such as the fairness or otherwise of the wages, but to look at whether a joint labour committee is still relevant to the sector it is purporting to oversee. The list of factors to which the court shall have regard is as it is because it is confined to factors that might test whether the sector in question is still relevant, such as whether people are still working in it. The requirements in question are set out in the proposed section 41A(3). The issue the Senator is raising is about the policies and principles that would underpin an order and that is why all of that is back in where the order is being made. He is importing one of the criteria from the order and putting it into the review of the structure of the committees but it is not relevant to what the court is looking at in this section.
I move amendment No.16:
In page 20, lines 32 and 33, to delete "but does not include" and substitute "including".
The provision this amendment deals with is the exclusion of pay or time-off in lieu of public holidays, compensation for Sunday working, payment in lieu of notice and payment referable to redundancy from the definition of remuneration. The effect of this proposed legislation would be to end the Sunday premium rates. I have had a number of discussions with trade unions on this and there is a lot of upset within the movement that Sunday premium rates are now being struck down as part of this Bill. We must remind ourselves that we are talking here about some of the lowest-paid workers in this State. We are privileged to earn very generous salaries in this House but we are dealing here with people who are often on the minimum wage or a little above it. They are on agreed rates but are earning an awful lot less than Members of this House. Many such workers work on Sundays because the extra money they get bumps up their salary to some sort of an acceptable level. In many cases, they do not have a choice but must work on Sunday because of the types of industries they are in, the retail sector being the obvious example.
The Minister might make the point that because of the Organisation of Working Time Act, there is some level of protection in place with regard to Sunday working time. While there is a provision in that Act, it is not prescriptive. It does not set out what a person is entitled to but merely states that he or she is entitled to some level of compensation, which could be time in lieu, time and a quarter, time and a half, or whatever is agreed. Under the previous system, workers in very vulnerable sectors had double-time for Sunday. That will now be removed. This represents an attack on some of the lowest wage earners in the State.
Every time the Government takes a euro from the pocket of these low-paid workers, it is taking directly from the local economy. We can see the effects of that in the Exchequer returns released recently which showed a flat-lining in our domestic economy. All of that is happening because of decisions being made which result in people with low levels of pay having their pay reduced. A report from the Irish League of Credit Unions showed that many families have had their disposable income reduced drastically and over half had less than €100 per month in disposable income. I ask the Minister to put himself in the shoes of some of those low-paid workers who were availing of Sunday premium time, who will find that the premium is removed and they will have no idea what will be in its place - it may be time in lieu, it may be time and a quarter or they may not get any extra money. They are going to lose what amounts to a significant amount of money. This will create more pressure for their families. It will push more people into poverty and make it more difficult for workers to look after their children and pay their bills. That is why I am at pains to point out that we are not talking about high-paid workers when we are discussing Sunday premium rates. We are talking about some of the lowest-paid workers in this State, which is why we will be pressing this amendment.
We have difficulties with some of the contents of this Bill. A lot of it is sensible, in terms of reforming the JLC system, to bring it into 21st century Ireland and make it fit for purpose. We do not have a difficulty with that. However, we have a major difficulty with the Minister's intention to remove the Sunday premium. There is no doubt whatsoever that this is being done at the behest of some employer organisations, under the guise of making Ireland more competitive. I do not believe that is the case. I mentioned the report of the Independent Review of Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreement Wage Setting Mechanisms, known as the Duffy-Walsh report. Most of that report's recommendations were dismissed by Government but the authors were not able to make any connection between removing these kinds of entitlements and new jobs being created. I do not believe that this will create one single new job. It is a sop to some employers and it does not deal with the real problems businesses face. Fine Gael promised it would deal with issues such rates and upward-only rents. These are the issues the Government should focus on to protect small businesses rather than going after low-income workers, taking money from them, limiting the wages they can earn and providing relief for employers in this way. That is not going to do anything for businesses. It is interesting that the very people whose wages will be cut are the ones business people depend on to shop and make sure their businesses thrive. The whole thing is counter-productive.
I await the Minister's response but we have had this debate for a long time now. This is something which has been signalled by the Minister's party for some time and it is despicable that the Government would again go after some of the lowest-paid workers in this State. It is utterly wrong and for that reason, I will be pressing the amendment.
The Senator must bear in mind that the Duffy-Walsh review recommended that the JLC system be radically reformed. The authors cited the need to adjust to the changes in the economy and the pressures that exist. They also openly acknowledged that the rules in respect of Sunday working were unduly burdensome, particularly in sectors in which Sunday is a normal working day.
We must recall that the development of the original JLC machinery pre-dated the introduction of many of the rights that are now in existence. We have the Sunday working provisions in the Organisation of Working Time Act, which provides a set of premia that must be paid or recognition that must be given to working on Sundays. That applies universally. That legislation was not in place when the JLC system was put in place. The JLC system created some very anomalous situations where, for example, for a person working in a grocery store, there was one way of handling working on Sunday but for another person working in a book store across the road, there was a different set of rules. If an employer was running a pub and decided to make food available on a Sunday, he or she would suddenly have to introduce premia for all of the work force, just to provide a service designed to generate more activity and business.
We have done this to allow the system to be responsive to new opportunities. It is reasonable that we would not have two statutory ways of dealing with Sundays in different codes. That is the background to this. It is a reasonable approach. Under the Organisation of Working Time Act, people have the right to various options. It can be a premium, as was the provision in various orders, or alternatively, a higher rate can apply to everyone working, to take account of the fact that an employee might have to work on a Sunday, even if he or she is not rostered to do so in a particular week.
Many organisations have preferred the flexibility, which often suits workers as well. For example, even if they happen to be scheduled on the Sunday that they would get paid extra but if they do not, they rather the higher rate. This is giving the flexibility of the organisation of working time to deal with Sundays in different ways depending on what is negotiated at local level. That is the background. I know Senator Cullinane does not agree with the measure but it is something we believe is appropriate and I cannot accept the amendment.
As it is now 3 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day: "That amendment No. 16 is hereby negatived, in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to, the Title is hereby agreed to, and the Bill is hereby reported to the House."
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 29 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Against the motion: 17 (Thomas Byrne, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Darragh O'Brien, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Averil Power, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Mary M. White.
Question declared carried.