Wednesday, 17 June 2015
National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015: Report and Final Stages
I remind the House a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.
Amendment No. 1 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 19 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 1:
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I missed his response to my Second Stage contribution, when I understand he robustly defended his position and that of the Bill, and that is to put it mildly.I would hope, in the spirit of the amendments that are tabled, that the Minister of State will accept we can have political differences. We believe the proposed Low Pay Commission narrowly focuses on the minimum wage. The Minister of State disagrees with that. Our amendments seek to amend that. There is no doubt that the big focus of the Bill is the minimum wage. It does not deal with the low pay in the way it should. The amendments in this group - Nos. 1, 2 and 19 - seek to remedy that.
In page 3, line 8, to delete “related matters” and substitute “matters related to low pay”.
It might be helpful for the purposes of the debate on this Bill if I were to refer to some of the recommendations that were made after the British Low Pay Commission was reviewed. It is important for the Minister of State to be familiar and acquainted with the mistakes the British authorities believe they made. We want to see a Low Pay Commission that actually deals with the totality of low pay, including the relationships between low pay and welfare, public services, taxation and all the other issues. In reality, we need a living wage commission that actually moves us to a situation where people are not on poverty wages but are getting decent work for decent pay and a living wage. Rather than focusing on people's differing views on whether the minimum wage should be increased or decreased, surely we should be moving towards a space in which people in the public and private sectors are paid proper wages and a living wage.
As I said on Second Stage, a comprehensive review of the national minimum wage and the Low Pay Commission in the UK was undertaken in 2014 by the Resolution Foundation under the chairmanship of Sir George Bain, who was the founding chair of the UK commission. This review offers some vital insights on the national minimum wage, the living wage and the proposed Low Pay Commission in Ireland. The question of whether the minimum wage and its supporting architecture could do more to tackle Britain’s pervasive problem of low pay was investigated. The review found:
Research we have commissioned to inform our decisions – now totalling around 140 projects – has generally shown that the NMW has led to higher than average wage increases for the lowest paid, with little evidence of adverse effects on employment or the economy. Firms appeared to have responded by: adjusting pay structures; reducing nonwage costs; making small reductions in hours;... increasing some prices; and some squeezing of profits (although insufficient to lead to an increase in business failure).have published a meta-analysis of minimum wage studies that have been conducted since 2000. It concludes:
Moderate increases in the minimum wage have the effect that was intended by the original supporters of such action: raising the minimum wage substantially increases the earnings of those at the bottom of the income distribution and reduces wage inequality. Negative effects on employment resulting from increases in the minimum wage were too small to be statistically detectable in the meta-analysis. Such effects would be too modest to have meaningful consequences in a dynamically changing labour market.I suppose they looked at the reality of the impact that the increase in the minimum wage had in Britain. The Minister of State will have heard from some of the employers' organisations over the past 24 hours about their concerns regarding an increase in the minimum wage and a move towards a living wage. The experience in Britain and the studies across Europe show that such measures do not have any real or significant impact on employment. Contrary to what is being suggested, these approaches do not drive up wage demands across the economy. They do what they say on the tin that they should do, which is to bring about greater income equality. This is something to which we would all aspire.
I would like to mention another weakness that was found in the UK Low Pay Commission. The report from which I have quoted refers to a "narrow settlement" and "the lack of attention it gives to the persistence of low pay". It highlights:
The NMW was intended to act as the wage-floor from which employees should move up with experience and skills. There was even hope that the NMW might encourage employers to invest in their staff to allow for progression. Findings from the Resolution Foundation suggest that all too often, the NMW is failing to act as a springboard to higher earnings. In 2012, just under a fifth (17 per cent) of minimum wage workers, around 320,000 people, had only held minimum wage jobs in the last five years. The problem is not limited to the NMW. Almost three-quarters of low paid workers in 2002 had not fully escaped low pay ten years later in 2012.It continues:
More fundamentally, the minimum wage as a whole lacks direction. In its effort to keep politics out of the NMW, the government has fallen into a strange neutrality about the minimum wage: there is no official preference over whether it rises or falls. This leaves the policy rudderless.These recommendations and findings came from a review of the operation of the British Low Pay Commission.
I suppose the point we are making to the Minister of State is that it is obvious that the minimum wage needs to be examined and that there needs to be a mechanism which allows policy makers and politicians to look at all of the data when making decisions. In my view, ultimately it has to be a political decision. All of the information from EUROSTAT, the OECD, the CSO and TASC shows that 5% of the workforce is on the national minimum wage, but up to 20% of the workforce is in low-paid employment and 16% of those workers are deemed to be suffering from multiple deprivation. I know the Minister of State will join me in saying that is wrong and needs to be tackled. We need to have strategies in place to enable us to lift people out of in-work poverty and ensure people have decent and proper wages and decent work. In establishing this commission, we should not put in place a structure that could look at varying - increasing or possibly decreasing - the national minimum wage without moving us closer to lifting people out of poverty or being in a position to make policy recommendations to a range of Ministers on how we can have a living wage and decent wages for people.
As I said at the outset, if the Minister of State wants to have decent wages and a living wage for people, he should move beyond looking solely at the hourly rate of pay and saying "that is what we need to do". This point needs to be transmitted to employers as well. I know the technical group on low pay came up with a figure of €11.45. We would support that because it was done on the basis of an analysis. There needs to be a strategy of investing in public services. If low-paid workers had access to universal health care, universal child care and decent housing, if there was proper investment in public services, if the tax system was reformed to favour low-paid workers and if there were proper employment rights and protections for workers, the totality of that package would reduce the hourly rate. In my view, that would be a much more holistic way of calculating and making sure people get a living wage. Maybe this is something the Minister of State might respond to. I have explained the concerns we have. We do not have a difficulty with the minimum wage element of it. We want the commission to have far more powers in looking at the relationship between low pay and all the other factors I have just mentioned and in making clear recommendations to the Government on those matters. We are concerned that the commission will not have the power or authority to do that. While there are some vague references in the Bill to related matters, if we are honest with each other we will admit the reality that the primary focus of the commission will be on looking at the minimum wage. I will leave it at that because we discussed this on Second and Committee Stages. I welcome the Minister to the House.
It is worth reminding the House that the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 provides for the national minimum wage only. It is quite restricted in terms of how it views the minimum wage. That Act sets out provisions for reviewing the minimum wage and the mechanisms available for those purposes. When this Bill is enacted, it will give the commission a duty to assist as many low-paid workers as is reasonably practicable and to set a rate that is fair, sustainable and progressively increased over time. The remit of the proposed Low Pay Commission is much wider than Sinn Féin Senators and others in this House would readily admit. It is unfortunate that this has been glossed over repeatedly. The view being taken is that if something is repeated enough times, people will start to believe it. The legislation says something entirely different. The practice of the Low Pay Commission will be entirely different as well. I have every confidence that the Low Pay Commission, in addition to examining the rate of the national minimum wage each year, will do a large degree of additional work which will focus on the interaction between low pay and the tax and social welfare systems. It would be pointless to do otherwise.
Some of those who spoke on Second and Committee Stages deliberately failed to recognise a number of distinctions between the Irish and British systems.We looked very closely at the British model, its establishment of a low pay commission, what it has achieved, the function it has in British society as a key institution and some of the experiences it has had in recent years. However, Ireland is very different from the UK on a range of fronts. For example, we have reintroduced a joint labour committee system to assist people in vulnerable sectors of our economy but this is a distant memory in the UK. At the moment work is being carried out involving employers, trade unions and the Labour Court on two separate joint labour committees, one for the contract cleaning industry, which is a very vulnerable industry, and one for the security industry. We hope to make significant progress on them in the next couple of months.
We are also reintroducing the registered employment agreement system and sectoral employment order system, which they do not have in the UK. They are two distinct differences of which we need to be mindful when we discuss the low pay commission, issues to do with low pay and how we treat people working in sectors where they can often be exposed. The taxation system in this country is designed to favour those on low and middle incomes and the Government's policy is very clear. Compared to this time in 2011, 440,000 fewer are paying the universal social charge and, after the next budget, we will have a significant number in addition who will not be paying the charge. People on low and middle incomes, in particular, are hit by this charge.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for necessary amendments to the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 to provide for the establishment of the low pay commission. The principal function will be to examine, on an annual basis, the rate of the national minimum wage and to make recommendations to Government. Where the national minimum wage is to be adjusted, it will be adjusted incrementally over time having regard to changes in earnings, productivity, overall competitiveness and the likely impact any adjustment would have on employment and unemployment levels.
This Bill replaces the previous means by which the national minimum wage could be set and replaces it with an annual analysis and recommendations by the low pay commission. Those means were set out in sections 11 to 13, inclusive, of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, which are now replaced by section 9 of this Bill. Clearly, the role of the low pay commission is firmly set within the national minimum wage legislation of the State. This does not mean, however, that the remit of the low pay commission is a narrow one. As I have previously stated, the commission is certainly about much more than setting the rate of the national minimum wage or making recommendations on the minimum wage.
Section 5 also provides that the commission may be requested by the Minister to examine and report on matters relating generally to the functions of the commission under the Act. That request will be made not later than two months after the start of each year, apart from this year, and will be part of that year's work programme of the commission. We have introduced a measure in the legislation which will enable me, in this first year of the establishment of the low pay commission, to request that it carry out work in the next few months on issues of concern to Government and which have been raised in both Houses in recent times. This allows me and future Ministers to ask the low pay commission each year to do other work to address areas about which we are all concerned and to advise the Government in an expert and evidence-based way about the best approaches to take to combat low pay. For these reasons, I cannot accept the Senators' amendments.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply and remind him that I am supporting the Bill and recognise that it is a step forward. Although I have concerns about the powers, functions and remit of the commission, I accept it is a useful first step. We can learn lessons from the report on the British low pay commission. I do not know if the Minister of State or his officials have read the report but it raises some interesting points. The trade union movement, which supports a minimum wage, expresses the concern that the minimum wage could become a ceiling rather than a floor and that was found to be one of the main problems with the British national minimum wage. The primary tool of the low pay commission in the UK was to make recommendations on varying the minimum wage and it recommended that the Government make it an explicit long-term ambition of economic policy to reduce the incidence of low pay, setting out a plan to reduce the share of employees who were below two thirds of the median wage. It asked for the Government to set this target so that it could then make recommendations based on that target. It also recommended that the Government change its relationship with the low pay commission by routinely setting out its views on how the national minimum wage could contribute to its wider goal of reducing the incidence of low pay. To make this ambition meaningful the commission called on the Government to set out a practical plan to deliver on its ambition to reduce the incidence and persistence of low pay.
The author of the report is by no means somebody who would be seen as a friend of people on low pay or even as being on the left of politics and the Minister of State should read it. The report advocates that the British Government ensures that a low pay commission has as many powers and tools it needs to make recommendations, not just on the minimum wage but on how to reduce the high incidence of low pay within an economy. The Minister of State says this power exists in the low pay commission but we are not so sure it is robust enough. We have gone over this a few times. My criticism is not to take away from the work the Minister of State has done but is a genuine attempt to highlight to him mistakes that are now accepted as having been made in Britain when they set up their low pay commission and to ensure we do not make the same mistakes here.
The amendments were designed to take out the national minimum wage element and just call it the low pay commission. It should actually be a living wage commission, which would really change the dynamic of the commission's role. It could have included a provision to make recommendations on the minimum wage but it should have been a living wage commission to look at how we create a living wage, both in the public and private sectors.
I move amendment No. 3:
This amendment relates to labour market security for low-paid workers. On Committee Stage we discussed how permanent employment contracts, decent rates of pay, guaranteed working hours and decent working conditions are being increasingly eroded by demands for greater flexibility to hire and fire, growing use of temporary and part-time contracts and flexible hours, which we see with low-hour contracts. These are also issues a low pay commission should deal with. One of the flaws in setting a minimum or living wage arises from the lower paid workers, because of their hourly rate of pay and the nature of their contracts. We see this in the case of some workers in Dunnes Stores who are given these unfair lower contracts and, even though they have been working for 30 or 40 hours a week for several years, are stuck on these lower contracts and this has an impact on their terms and conditions of employment. This amendment attempts to ensure that the State has due regard to Ireland’s human rights obligations to guarantee the right to just and favourable remuneration.While I accept the Minister of State supports this objective in theory, I am interested in hearing his response to the amendment.
In page 4, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
"(a) has due regard to Ireland’s human rights obligations to guarantee the right to just and favourable remuneration,".
Senators will be conscious that the establishment of a Low Pay Commission is just one element in a suite of measures I am in the process of introducing as part of the employment rights and dignity at work agenda and Government efforts to ensure decent, sustainable employment. Section 4 sets out the clear objectives of the national minimum wage, which is designed to assist as many low paid workers as is reasonably practicable. The minimum wage is set at a rate that is fair and sustainable and where adjustment is appropriate, it is adjusted incrementally. It has progressively increased over time without creating significant adverse consequences for employment and competitiveness. I have no hesitation in stating again that I want the national minimum wage to be progressively increased where economic circumstances, the demands of job creation and social conditions and requirements converge. I also want better working conditions and improved pay, especially for low paid workers, because society would benefit from any such development. The Low Pay Commission will assist in providing the institutional framework to ensure this occurs. The objective of ensuring that workers are entitled to just and favourable remuneration is clearly built into the criteria that will guide the commission in making a recommendation to me on the appropriate level of the minimum wage. For this reason, I cannot accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
We are getting through a fair clatter of amendments now. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that any measure below the median, if included, would not accurately reflect the prevalence of low pay in the economy. The intention is to extend the remit of the Low Pay Commission.
In page 4, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:"(a) median earnings during the relevant period,".
Amendment No. 5 reads:
In page 4, after line 36, to insert the following:"(i) each sector’s business model and performance,The purpose of this amendment is to address the issue of low pay. Some of the relevant issues will have to be addressed on a sectoral basis. This was the rationale for the establishment of joint labour committees, registered employment agreements and employment regulation orders. The Minister is addressing those issues in another Bill that is being processed in the Oireachtas.
(ii) innovation in each sector has increased, decreased or remained stagnant within the current period,".
While low pay pervades all sectors of the economy, it is particularly widespread in hospitality, retail and the services sector and is also present in education, health and administration. As such, conditions in certain sectors will vary and a differentiated approach may be required in some sectors. It is imperative, therefore, that a sectoral approach is taken to deal with the specific issues of low pay in each of the various sectors. Different strategies may be necessary to achieve this and amendment No. 5 provides for this.
Amendment No. 6 reads:
In page 5, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:"(da) economic inequality and purchasing power parities,I will not rehearse the arguments on this issue again. The purpose of the amendment is to achieve the same outcome I sought in the first few amendments. A living age must be a key focus. In arguing against increasing the national minimum wage employers organisations cite comparisons with other countries. This morning, for example, IBEC released a report in support of its argument against increasing the minimum wage.The Small Firms Association and all other business organisations have argued against an increase in the minimum wage, which is hardly surprising. Their views differ, however, with some employers opposed to the minimum wage per se, while others are willing to tolerate it but oppose increasing it at this time. Employers also claim the current level is very generous. The dynamic in terms of what a minimum wage delivers for workers in different countries changes when one takes into account purchasing power, the cost of living and so forth. This amendment seeks to ensure we use the correct formula when determining the minimum wage.
(db) the percentage of workers in the economy earning two-thirds or less of median income,
(dc) the Living Wage as set for the relevant period,".
Amendment No. 7 reads:
In page 5, line 7, after “Ireland” to insert the following:", taking into account the standard of living, general wage levels and access to welfare supports to include social protection supports, universal healthcare provisions, state provided childcare and social housing".This returns us to the concept of a living or social wage. If one parks for a moment the issue of the minimum wage, the Minister of State's party leader, the Tánaiste, has spoken about supporting a living wage and moving in that direction. If we are to achieve this objective, we must have a proper discussion of a living wage. The Low Pay Commission could be a mechanism for facilitating such a discussion. Without repeating the points I made earlier, if we are to have a genuine living wage, we must be cognisant of the concept behind it, namely, that a person who works should be able to meet the basic needs of his or her family and pay his or her bills. Unfortunately, many workers in this State are unable to do this. As I stated, 20% of employees are on low pay and 16% are suffering from multiple deprivation. The solution lies partly in increasing wages and the minimum wage. The State also has a responsibility to invest in public services and so forth.
Employers organisations will have a difficulty with wage increases and will argue that they give rise to competition issues. Many small employers are still struggling. We must take a holistic view of this issue and ensure it does not mean simply making wage demands on employers. The totality of the package must be considered to ensure the State plays a role. The employers organisations agreed on this point, although they did not support the views expressed on how the money to pay for all of these things would be raised. In any event, that is an entirely separate issue.
I do not propose to delay proceedings as the remaining amendments in the group are similar in content. The sentiments I expressed on previous amendments apply to them also. I have set out my substantive argument on this group and look forward to the Minister's response.
I wish the Minister of State good luck in addressing the scandalous position in which the staff of Clerys find themselves. I am optimistic that he will look after the workers in question extremely well. Senator Cullinane must realise that this is not only an issue of wages but also relates to the disposable income of persons who are in a job. Income can be enhanced by the Government in many other areas, including through better taxation policies, for example, changes to the universal social charge. Employers are not the only factor here. Disposable income and the role of the Government are also issues.
The closure of Clerys has brought the whole thing into disrepute. I am sure the Minister of State is considering changes to the law governing this area. It is a pity the Companies Act has been put to bed because something must be done in the Clerys case, which is probably unique.
Speaking on Joe Duffy's radio show, one lady indicated that a representative of KPMG met Clerys staff on the evening the announcement of the company's closure was made.He spoke very disrespectfully to one of the workers, to the effect that the worker need not think he or she would be allowed in to protest. It is cold-hearted and ruthless.
Senator White can be reassured that I addressed the Clerys issue in response to a Commencement matter tabled by Senator Cullinane this morning.
Section 5 of the Bill sets out a very comprehensive and demanding set of factors that the commission must take into account in any year in coming to a recommendation on the appropriate rate of the national minimum wage. These reflect those contained in the principal Act from 2000, with significant additions such as changes in income distribution during the relevant period and changes in productivity.
Amendments Nos. 4 to 11 provide for the addition of a wide range of factors that the commission would be required to take into account when making a recommendation. I wish to thank the Senators, particularly Senators Cullinane and Zappone, for the thought they have given these additional factors which they wish to be considered. However, to add further to the wide-ranging list of factors to be taken into account, as set out in amendments 4 to 11, would, in my view, lead to a position whereby the commission could not possibly undertake the level of analysis required and would find it difficult to produce an agreed recommendation or, perhaps, any recommendation at all, by a set date on an annual basis. I gave significant consideration to these criteria with Government colleagues when we were drafting the Bill; many of the criteria have stood the test of time in that they were previously incorporated in national minimum wage legislation dating back to 2000. Some of the additional factors proposed, for example issues surrounding decent work, are part of my wider decent work agenda, including the issue of zero-hour and low-hour contracts, reform of collective bargaining legislation, the reintroduction of a system of registered employment agreements and a new mechanism providing for sectoral employment orders.
Previous references to changes in earnings have served us well and I do not consider it necessary to refer specifically to median earnings changes or proportions above or below particular proportions of median earnings. There is significant expertise available to the commission on properly interpreting changes in earnings data.
I have spoken in the past of my support for the development of the concept of a living wage, but I must differentiate between the application of a mandatory national minimum wage and a societal movement that would see employers volunteer and be proud to pay what might be considered a living wage. I said last week in the House that I will be hosting a forum on the living wage with employers, trade unions and civil society actors in the autumn to further explore how this concept might be applied in an Irish context.
Regarding comparisons with Northern Ireland or any other jurisdiction which has a national minimum wage, it is fair to say that these are compared not only by looking at the absolute values but also by having regard to purchasing power parity. Again, I believe the commission has sufficient expertise available to it to make these distinctions. It would not be appropriate to specifically require the commission, on an annual basis, to analyse different welfare supports, health care provisions, child care and social housing across different jurisdictions. I have every confidence that the commission will be mindful of these factors.
On the issue of high-quality job creation, on Committee Stage of this Bill, Senator Zappone expressed concern that the reference in the Bill to the need for job creation could be interpreted to imply a potential trade-off between job creation and fair wages. That is not how I see it. I fully agree with her that fair wages should never be sacrificed for the creation of jobs that are exploitative or unsustainable. That is why the Bill provides, at section 4, very clear objectives for the national minimum wage. The commission will be obliged to ensure that any recommendations it makes should ensure that the minimum wage will be set at a rate that is both fair and sustainable.
On the promotion of gender equality, it is important to note that the national minimum wage applies to all workers, irrespective of gender. We had a comprehensive discussion on this on Committee Stage and the matter was also referred to on Second Stage. A national minimum wage is the epitome of a measure that eliminates gender inequality in its application. However, as minimum wage workers tend to be predominantly female, by its very nature a national minimum wage is more beneficial to female workers.
It is important to recall that the comprehensive list of factors required to be taken into account is essentially the same as that in the current National Minimum Wage Act. These factors have already stood the test of time since 2000, when the national minimum wage was introduced. Accordingly, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 4 to 11.
I appreciate the Minister of State's response. He addressed amendment No. 8 a few minutes ago, which provides for a reference to the need for quality job creation. I am supporting the Bill and think it is a very important step forward. The Minister of State is clearly deeply cognisant of what is in the Bill and what will not be in it. I acknowledge his leadership in that deep reflection and the way in which his response has been carefully put together.
In a number of speeches, as well as in the call for applications to the Low Pay Commission, he said that work should always pay, but that he is conscious of the need to balance a statutory minimum pay rate that is fair with one that is sustainable and allows employers to continue to create high-quality jobs. One of the prime reasons I have heard for not accepting this amendment on Committee and Report Stages is that section 4 of the Bill indicates that the commission will make recommendations to the Minister of State so that the minimum hourly rate is set in a way that is both fair and sustainable. The Minister of State seems to be saying that a concern around quality is already provided for in the Bill in that regard. I am still arguing that this amendment ought to be accepted, as the existing provisions are not sufficient. The fact that the issue is included in section 4 provides a further argument that it ought to be explicitly referred to when the Low Pay Commission is making its recommendations.
The question of what "quality" means was raised on Committee Stage, especially by Senator Quinn. I had a sense that there was an implication there that "quality" is too hard to define, as it varies from sector to sector. Perhaps, then, we should just leave the difficult task of defining the term out of our laws, or at least, out of this law. Should a very expert commission, resourced to review research, not consider the issue of high-quality jobs? If we include an explicit reference by way of this amendment, it would mean that the commission would have to explicitly review indicators that contribute to quality prior to making its recommendations.
The difference between the creation of jobs and the creation of high-quality jobs is significant. The former merely refers to more jobs. It is important that quantity not be the assumption of the Bill. The quality of work should be the emphasis. I accept that quantity is measurable and much easier to report on, yet it leaves too much room for the creation of jobs that are of low quality and add to the already prevalent in-work poverty rate, which stands at 16%, as Senator Cullinane has already said.
If measurement of quality is the issue, a 2009 report by the Directorate General for Internal Policy sets out indicators for job quality. These include the number of hours in work; a wage as close as possible to a living wage, about which the Minister of State speaks very eloquently - it is wonderful to know there is going to be a forum; job security; and the presence of a contract. These are just some of the indicators. By refusing to accept the amendment, maybe the Minister of State is saying that these issues do not and should not matter to the Low Pay Commission prior to its making recommendations to him on the national minimum wage. I think he is aware that the working poor now account for one in six people in poverty. The economist Micheál Collins of the Nevin Economic Research Institute has said the core of this problem is the large and increasing number of jobs that the State is subsidising through payments such as the family income supplement.As the Minister of State is aware, the Department of Social Protection is spending more and more every year on subsidising people's incomes from jobs. The question is one of a policy trade off, that is, do we want more jobs that the State needs to subsidise or to create jobs that are self-sustainable? The Minister of State might say the issue of sustainability is referred to in section 4 but if it is, it supports the arguments that it ought to be explicitly identified in terms of what the commission should examine before it makes recommendations. By accepting this amendment, the Minister of State would demonstrate that he and the Government are committed to jobs that are self-sustainable rather than creating jobs that the taxpayer must subsidise.
I refer to amendment No. 10 and the promotion of gender equality, on which the Minister of State commented in his earlier remarks. The points were similar to those he made on Committee Stage and I want to address some of them. He is aware that women continue to be rooted in a narrow range of occupations, they make up the majority of those on low pay and those living in poverty and they are crowded into the lowest part of the jobs hierarchy. Would it not be wonderful to think that the recommendations from this commission might change some of that?
The Minister of State's response to this amendment on Committee Stage and today acknowledges that a very significant number of people who are merely existing on the minimum wage are women. Does he accept the gendered nature of in work poverty? I hope he will consider responding to that in any final response. Furthermore, he said last week and reiterated today, "As the minimum wage workers tend to be predominantly female, by its very nature a national minimum wage is more beneficial to female workers." He referred to the factors the Low Pay Commission will take into account in the setting of the national minimum wage. He also said they have stood the test of time since 2000 and, therefore, we do not need to change. I ask the Minister of State to comment on the pay gap and the view that there is no need for the Low Pay Commission to take into account the extensive research on it, inclusive of recommendations on how to narrow it, prior to its recommendations on national minimum wage levels. That is what his views sound like to me.
Is the Minister of State arguing that if the national minimum wage rises, it will reduce the gender pay gap and, therefore, one does not need to be explicitly stated that the Low Pay Commission take account of the promotion of gender equality in its consideration of setting the national minimum wage? As he is aware, over 60% of workers on low pay are women. He and the Government say they are committed to gender equality, something I have seen in practice. Including this amendment would be a prime action or signal that their commitment in this regard, in an area where there are many women, translates into action.
The setting of a national minimum wage that will ensure the reduction of in work poverty has to take account of the circumstances of the lives of the workers. If the Low Pay Commission does not explicitly address the policy target of gender equality, then it will be less effective in recommending a national minimum wage that will be sufficient for women to get out of poverty. What would be the good of that?
I will do my best to address the concerns expressed by Senator Zappone. The Low Pay Commission, almost by definition because of the sheer number and proportion of women existing on the national minimum wage, will have a particular focus in its work on how the minimum wage and low pay in general affect women. It is also worth noting that there is nothing in the Bill excluding the Low Pay Commission from focusing a particular piece of work at some stage, in terms of its remit, on the issue of pay and gender. That may very well be a piece of work that could, and should, be considered by the Low Pay Commission early in its lifetime.
I am not saying that quality jobs do not matter for the Low Pay Commission, because they do. I do not think anybody should take the view that will not be the case. In this country there is an over-reliance among those on low pay accessing family income supplement, which is a form of corporate welfare. Many people who depend on it work for extremely profitable international corporations. We need to make sure that we have an in work benefit system to assist people in difficult situations, but that should not become the norm and a system on which people are permanently reliant because work should always pay. A range of different principles feed into that.
When we refer to quality work, we cannot deal with the Low Pay Commission in isolation. We need to consider the suite of measures we are seeking to introduce to make sure we can level the playing pitch between employers and employees and continue to create sustainable and decent jobs that pay well. The evidence suggests, when we first started to emerge from the economic crisis and jobs were added to the economy in 2012, a lot of employers started to hire people on casual and part-time contracts. There is now evidence to suggest that many of those positions have migrated into permanent, full-time jobs and that people have decent and sustainable jobs. We have all travelled a significant journey over the past few years and are now at a point where 90% of all the jobs created last year were full-time. I accept that it has to be about quality and sustainable jobs, secure contracts and so on.
My point on some of the amendments proposed by Senators Cullinane and Zappone is the appropriateness of putting such considerations into primary legislation. I am convinced that the principles they explored in their contributions are something of which the Low Pay Commission will very mindful and will feed into its work when it considers not just the rate of the national minimum wage, but the other items I, and other Government colleagues, will ask it to explore over the next period of time.
I thank the Minister of State. I believe him and if he continues in his role, all of those things can happen. I feel very strongly about both of the amendments. In terms of the promotion of gender equality, I note that, as he said regarding the functions of the commission under section 5(10C)(4)(a), if so requested it could examine different issues. I ask that he considers requesting the Low Pay Commission to examine promoting gender equality in the context of its work and to conduct some new research. If that was to happen, it would contribute to the issue of quality.
I move amendment No. 5:
On page 4, after line 36, to insert the following:“(i) each sector’s business model and performance,
(ii) innovation in each sector has increased, decreased or remained stagnant within the current period,”.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 5, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:“(da) economic inequality and purchasing power parities,
(db) the percentage of workers in the economy earning two-thirds or less of median income,
(dc) the Living Wage as set for the relevant period,”.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 5, line 7, after “Ireland” to insert the following:“, taking into account the standard of living, general wage levels and access to welfare supports to include social protection supports, universal healthcare provisions, state provided childcare and social housing”.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 5, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:“(iv) addressing levels of income inequality to include income inequality between men and women in the current period,
(v) aggregate demand in the economy,
(vi) tax receipts.”.
Amendments Nos. 12 to 16, inclusive, are related. Amendment No. 14 is a logical alternative to amendment No. 13. Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are consequential on amendment No. 13. Therefore, amendments Nos. 12 to 16, inclusive, may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 12:
I will speak first on amendment No. 12 and then deal with amendments Nos. 13 and 14. On amendment No. 12, if we were to follow the logic of what the Minister of State has been saying up to now, namely, that the Low Pay Commission does not simply have to look at the national minimum wage, it could and should look at other issues in regard to low pay. What we have tried to do here is to be very clear in terms of the role, purpose and intent of the Low Pay Commission.
In page 5, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:“(4A) The Commission shall monitor the incidence of low pay by examining the prevalence of pay two-thirds or below of median earnings in the current period in each sector of the economy, and report its recommendations to reduce the percentage of employees in each sector who earn below two-thirds of the hourly median wage over the following 3 year period.
(4B) The Commission shall examine and report on key patterns in paid and unpaid open market internships providing a regulatory framework for internships and to support professional associations to promote ethical internship programmes.
(4C) The Commission shall examine and report on the effectiveness of existing policies to enforce the National Minimum Wage and make recommendations for improvement of compliance and enforcement.”.
I will go through each of the provisions. The amendment states: “The Commission shall monitor the incidence of low pay by examining the prevalence of pay two-thirds or below of median earnings in the current period in each sector of the economy." We must remember this is the basis on which EUROSTAT, the OECD, TASC and others have calculated high levels of low pay. The amendment also states that the commission will “report its recommendations to reduce the percentage of employees in each sector who earn below two-thirds of the hourly median wage over the following 3 year period”. Again, this means it will publish a report on its recommendations on how we deal with low pay, not just the minimum wage. That is what the first element of the amendment seeks to achieve. Perhaps the Minister of State can explain to me how the commission is going to do that and what provisions in the existing Bill would compel the commission to do what we are clearly seeking it to be able to do in that part of the amendment.
The next subsection states: “The Commission shall examine and report on key patterns in paid and unpaid open market internships providing a regulatory framework for internships and to support professional associations to promote ethical internship programmes.” This is obviously in the context of labour activation schemes so the Low Pay Commission could also look at this area and make recommendations.
The final subsection states: “The Commission shall examine and report on the effectiveness of existing policies to enforce the National Minimum Wage and make recommendations for improvement of compliance and enforcement.” In any aspect of employment law, we can put something in place but enforcement and compliance is very important. Again, the importance of this subsection is to ensure the commission can look at what enforcement or compliance elements are in place and whether they need to be strengthened, and then report on that.
I thank the Minister of State for bringing forward Government amendment No. 13. On that basis, I will withdraw amendment No. 14 because, essentially, it does the same thing, except it puts a three month timeframe on it, which is reasonable. It is important that not just any report is put before the House but that we have ongoing discussions which give us an opportunity to learn what the Low Pay Commission is doing. Maybe the Minister of State is right and I am wrong in this regard, but this would give us an opportunity to evaluate that. It would be a useful exercise for us to have an ongoing debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas about the work of the Low Pay Commission, which will be a very important tool and structure for all of us in regard to low pay.
Therefore, I will be withdrawing amendment No. 14 in support of the Government amendment No. 13. I believe the other amendments are technical Government amendments.
I second the amendment. I am delighted the Minister of State has brought in a number of amendments, which shows a willingness on his part to change and adapt as this legislation is going through the House. For that, I commend him.
On the issue adverted to by Senator Cullinane in regard to a regulatory framework for internships, it is a matter of great concern to me that the term "intern" has been used and abused since the economic downturn in this country and that highly qualified young people have been, if one likes, exploited through internship programmes. I stress that this is not the case everywhere and that some of those programmes have been excellent and have led to long-term futures and the development of experience for people who are looking for jobs. However, we have to move towards a regulatory framework whereby we can ensure that internships are being used for the purpose for which they were designed.
Internships are something that should not be synonymous with an economic downturn. Internships are good right across the board, going back to the good old days in the University of Limerick, where students had an entire year out working in the workforce. These things are good and they build the experience of individuals as they go into the workforce. However, I am concerned that there are those out there who will take these positions and abuse them. From that point of view, I support fully what Senator Cullinane has said.
Amendment No. 12 introduces a number of specific tasks that the commission will be required to undertake as part of its functions, namely, monitor the incidences of low pay by examining the prevalence of pay at two-thirds or below of median earnings, monitor key patterns in paid and unpaid open market internships and monitor the effectiveness of existing policies to enforce the national minimum wage. Section 5 of the Bill introduces a new section 10C(4) which provides that the commission may be requested by the Minister to examine the report and report on such matters related generally to the functions of the commission under the Act. The published Bill provides that a request shall be made not later than the first two months of each year and will be part of the commission's work programme. I believe the legislative provision covering the work programme to be given to the commission each year should not be prescriptive and inflexible. Amendment No. 12 would tie the hands of the commission in regard to its annual work programme. As specific issues arise related to the work of the commission, a request can be made to the commission to examine and report on the matter. The specific topics raised in the amendment may well be worthy of examination at some point but I do not believe it is appropriate to set them down in primary legislation. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendment.
On amendment No. 13, I undertook on Committee Stage to consider the amendment from Senators Cullinane, Reilly and Ó Clochartaigh regarding the laying of reports submitted by the commission before the Oireachtas. It was something I was considering doing anyway and I found the contribution of the Senators very helpful. This amendment now provides that the Minister shall cause a copy of any report or recommendation furnished to him or her by the commission to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas not later than three months from receipt. Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are consequential technical renumbering amendments arising from amendment No. 13. In the circumstances, I cannot accept amendment No. 14, although I understand Senator Cullinane will be withdrawing that amendment.
I would like to respond on amendment No. 12, although I first confirm I will be withdrawing amendment No. 14 and thank the Minister of State for his amendment No. 13. To return to amendment No. 12, this could be looked at in a number of different ways. It could be argued that this is tying the hands of the commission but one could make that argument about this Bill anyway. In essence, whatever structure the Minister of State puts in place, he is essentially tying the hands of the commission. The commission is being set up to do a particular job and it is then up to us in the Oireachtas to determine what it is we want the commission to look at.
There is a difference of opinion between the Minister of State and not just me but others outside this House, who see the commission almost solely, or at least primarily, as dealing with the national minimum wage. What people want is for the commission to look at those who earn below two-thirds of the median wage, in other words, the 20% of workers who are in low pay, and then make recommendations, not just on varying the national minimum wage but on strategies on how to deal with low pay and all those other issues. It depends on how we look at it. What these three subsections of the amendment do is to give a clear focus to the Low Pay Commission.The amendment would not tie the hands of the commission in a negative way, as the Minister of State presented, if it were passed. It would tell the commission it needs to monitor the incidence of low pay by examining the prevalence of pay two thirds or below the median earnings, in other words to look at the prevalence of low pay and ask why it is happening in certain sectors, why we are creating so many low-paid jobs and what needs to happen to change it. It would involve looking at these dynamics and then making recommendations. I do not see what is wrong with this. I do not understand the Government's political rationale because it would make huge sense. The Government would have support from all parties and none if it was prepared to go the extra mile and make the Low Pay Commission something more substantial.
The amendment is not being overly prescriptive in a negative way. It sets out the real issues affecting low-paid workers, which is not just the national minimum wage. There are all the other issues we have discussed. It is about low pay in its entirety, and the 20% and not just the 5% on the national minimum wage. There is a lack of a regulatory framework and we know abuses happened in certain internships and labour activation measures. I agree with the previous speakers that some internships and labour activation schemes were very good and some people have done very well out of them, but some have not worked out so well. It would be a good function of the Low Pay Commission to examine this area. Apprenticeships are being examined by various Departments doing various things, but the commission could look at the issue of internships holistically, and put them front and centre in terms of good quality well thought out internships that serve a real purpose and have a real value and do what they are intended to do and not allow some unscrupulous employers to exploit workers.
This would be a good role for the commission to play.
Another part of the amendment would mean the commission examines and reports on the effectiveness of existing policies to enforce the national minimum wage, which is also about enforcement and compliance. It depends on what way one looks at it. One could argue we are trying to tie the hands of the commission but I would argue we are trying to strengthen the commission and ensure it has a strong remit which goes beyond the primary focus of the national minimum wage. If the Minister of State does not accept the amendment he will make the argument I have been making all along. I will press the amendment. I will not move amendment No. 14 and I thank the Minister of State for bringing forward amendment No. 13.
Government amendment No. 13: In page 5, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:"(7) The Minister shall cause a copy of any report or recommendation furnished to him or her in accordance with this section to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas not later than 3 months after the receipt of that report or recommendation.".
I move amendment No. 17:
We had a good discussion on this on Committee Stage and I mentioned it on Second Stage. The amendment is intended to protect vulnerable workers from unscrupulous employers and to try to ensure there is no exploitation of these workers. One could argue we are being overly prescriptive, but sometimes when one is trying to protect workers from exploitation one must be prescriptive. The amendment is self-explanatory in what it says. I will listen to the Minister of State's reply.
In page 6, to delete lines 23 to 25 and substitute the following:"(3) The national minimum hourly rate of pay declared by order under this section may include—(a) an allowance in respect of board and lodgings, board only or lodgings only at such rates as are specified in the order,
(b) a prohibition or restriction on charges or deductions,
(c) fair hours of employment rules.".
I am particularly interested in the fair hours of employment rules. This is an issue for people in well-paid jobs earning above the minimum wage when one equates the number of hours they deliver. I am speaking specifically about the professions. Teachers employed one or two days a week must be available five days a week. Young trainee accountants and solicitors on a salary work until 10 p.m., 11 p.m. or midnight. When we look at the national minimum wage somewhere in the grouping must be an examination of what are fair hours of employment. This must move outside those on the lowest levels of salary or pay and cover the entire workforce. There is a massive amount of what I would call exploitation going on in the professions. I have met young people, particularly trainee accountants and solicitors, and I ask myself why they do not stand up and say they will not work after 6 p.m. because they are not paid to do so, but they do not. The only way something can be done about this is through the opportunity included in the amendment tabled by Senator Cullinane to speak about fair hours of work. For this reason I support the amendment.
The amendment provides that in addition to an allowance for board and lodging the national minimum wage will provide a prohibition or restriction on charges or deductions and fair hours of employment rules. I have considered the proposed amendment and I do not consider it necessary. The Payment of Wages Act 1991 already provides a redress mechanism for unlawful deductions from wages while the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 regulates working hours. Section 5(1) of the Payment of Wages Act 1991 allows an employer to make deductions required or authorised by law, for example PAYE or PRSI, deductions required or authorised by a term of the employee's contract, for example occupational pension schemes, or any deduction agreed to in writing in advance by the employee, for example trade union subscriptions or health insurance premia. Section 5 also places significant restrictions on employers regarding deductions or the receipt of payments from the wages of employees. Senators will be aware the University of Limerick is undertaking a study of zero and low hour contracts and I expect it to be completed in quarter three of 2015. I look forward to considering its findings. Where the evidence points to adjustments being required to the protections already in place under Irish employment law these will be brought forward for consideration by me to the Government. Accordingly I cannot accept the amendment.
I move amendment No. 18:
I understand the subject matter of the amendment will be partly addressed in the industrial relations Bill. It is important that we strengthen the anti-victimisation element of our employment rights law. The amendment is fairly self-explanatory. I know the Minister of State is examining it in the context of another Bill, but I wanted to table the amendment because I feel strongly about victimisation in the workplace and the need to strengthen provisions in law as much as we can in as many pieces of legislation as we can.
In page 6, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:"Complaints and protection against victimisation7.An employer shall not penalise or threaten against a worker, or cause to permit any other person to penalise or threaten penalisation against a worker for having made a statement to the Low Pay Commission or for giving evidence on their own experience through their representative organisation.".
I second the amendment. I will not name the employer, but we all know of one major retailer in the country which has shown just how vicious it can be when its employees make representations or make public their concerns.Ultimately, when people end up on the street and we see a march similar to the one we saw last Saturday week, with about 3,000 people walking down the street towards the headquarters of a particular retailer, they are not doing that lightly. We saw members of that trade union moved from their roles within the organisation to roles that held less esteem. We also saw members having their hours cut, and we saw how this employer, and others like it, worked its way around the legislation. For example, the incremental scale that exists within a particular employment is applied, but the hours are reduced to ensure that the salary never changes. As Senator Cullinane has said, it will be dealt with in the industrial relations Act, but it is also important to put it in here. Most employers in this country are decent people who set out to make a profit for themselves, employ people, and contribute to their communities. I compliment the Minister of State on his quick action in the Clerys case. That is something for which he is to be commended. However, some employers are fat cats, enjoying the rewards of their workers while treating them in a most despicable way. The amendment proposed by Senator Cullinane and his colleagues is worth serious consideration.
Dunnes Stores might thank Senator Craughwell for not mentioning it. Amendment No. 18 proposes to introduce in a new section 7 of the Bill anti-victimisation protections for workers who have made a statement or given evidence to the Low Pay Commission via their representative organisation. There are already a number of protections in place for workers who consider that they have been subject to victimisation in the workplace. Any worker who might find him- or herself the subject of victimisation measures for making a statement to the Low Pay Commission or giving evidence via their trade union already has the possibility of taking a case under the industrial relations Acts. In addition, the 2004 code of practice on victimisation provides that where there is a dispute in an employment where collective bargaining fails to take place and where negotiating arrangements are not in place, no person should be victimised or suffer disadvantage as a consequence of their legitimate actions, or, indeed, affiliation, arising from that dispute. A procedure for addressing complaints of victimisation is set out in the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004. These protections will be enhanced in the context of provisions in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015, dealing with the Government's commitment to collective bargaining, which this House will have an opportunity to consider over the next couple of weeks. Accordingly, I cannot accept this amendment.
I will not go over all that ground again, but essentially, amendment No. 20 would bring in all the issues I talked about earlier regarding the relationship between low pay and social welfare, child care, public services, health, housing and so on. It is to look at social policy as well as economic policy. We have made those arguments fairly substantially already.
The intention of amendment No. 21 is not at all to call into question the people who sit on the Low Pay Commission. There are very good people on it and I commend the Minister of State for ensuring there were trade union representatives as well. There were a number of omissions, though, which are not all covered in this. We had some discussion on a document I am working on at the moment for the committee on low pay and a living wage, so there will be an Oireachtas document on a living wage, which will look at those broader issues that the Minister of State talked about earlier. There was some disquiet from the Small Firms Association that it was not represented on the Low Pay Commission, but I raised with the chairman designate when he came before the committee the issue of why there was nobody who was actually on low pay on the commission. I know there are union representatives and others who represent people on low pay, but because it is looking at the issue of low pay, it would be useful to have workers who are, or have been, in low-paid jobs to offer an opinion, because they have lived it. They understand it. They know what it is like. They know what the issues are and what the challenges are. The amendment refers to "3 low paid workers who, in the opinion of the Minister" - it is entirely at the Minister's discretion to choose who they are - "have a first-hand understanding of the impact of low pay for vulnerable workers, particularly in relation to their ability to access social goods and life chances, and of its impact on a family’s overall standard of living and socio-economic wellbeing."
We have discussed this question at length. I know that many Senators had their own views on the composition of the Low Pay Commission. I am satisfied that it is sufficiently well balanced to represent the interests of all those we seek to capture. Senator Cullinane pointed out that there are trade union representatives who have a lifetime of voluntary and professional representational experience of people in work. We also have people on the Low Pay Commission who have high levels of experience working not just in large corporations but also in smaller companies and representing the interests of smaller companies. I was anxious to capture as much of that as we possibly could.
It is always important to point out that the Low Pay Commission, as it is currently going about its work, has hit the road and has engaged with business people who are operating in sectors of the economy that would be synonymous with low pay. It has also engaged directly with people who are working in low-paid jobs to talk about their experience of what it is like to live on the national minimum wage and all the attendant difficulties that they and their families face. There is little point in setting up a statutory commission that does desk-based analyses of datasets, statistics and complex academic papers on low pay. It is important that members get the opportunity to talk to people who are living that experience directly themselves.
I am very satisfied with the quality of people who have come through the Public Appointments System process, which is an open, transparent process. We had about 151 applicants, to the best of my recollection, and it is often difficult to narrow that down, but I am satisfied that through the open, transparent Public Appointments System we have managed to identify people who are currently making a very valuable contribution to the Low Pay Commission. They will be on three-year terms. I am looking forward to continuing to work with them and I think they will all do an excellent job on the Low Pay Commission. They will not only be representing not only the interests of their own groups, as they would see it. It is important that people leave their jerseys outside and work on the basis of what is in the best interest of those who are on low pay and of job creation in this country.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 8, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:“(d) 3 low paid workers who, in the opinion of the Minister, have a first-hand understanding of the impact of low pay for vulnerable workers, particularly in relation to their ability to access social goods and life chances, and of its impact on a family’s overall standard of living and socio-economic wellbeing.”.
I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill forward in the first place and welcome cautiously the establishment of the Low Pay Commission which I hope does more than simply look at the national minimum wage. It is going to be something that will be enhanced in time in any event. If one looks at the example I gave earlier of the British model, it is learning lessons. The Minister of State will be open to that in time also. It will also be open to a future Government and who knows who might be in office then. I assume the Low Pay Commission will change over time in any event.
I wish the members of the commission well in their work. We must be mindful that this is about doing what we can as an Oireachtas to ensure we have decent work and pay. We must have decent and not poverty wages for workers in the State and move away from the high incidence of low pay which, unfortunately, exists in different sectors of the economy. The Minister of State will shortly have sight of the report on low pay, decent work and a living wage to which I have been referring as it going before the Oireachtas committee. The report also makes recommendations in relation to the Low Pay Commission, some of which I have articulated. I would appreciate and welcome the Minister of State's input in respect of the document as it works its way through the joint committee.
Despite some reservations I have, I wish the commission well. We must all work together to ensure we do what we can to support low paid workers across the State and, indeed, the island.
I add my congratulations to the Minister of State for developing the Bill and completing its passage. I have acknowledged earlier his deep reflection and creativity in relation to the Bill. I join Senator Cullinane in wishing the members of the commission well. I also acknowledge the creative tactics or strategy the Minister of State has employed in terms of the establishment of the commission designate so that we will have a report soon and so that it will be under the Minister of State's leadership. Many of the Minister of State's comments on the Bill have insisted on the need to maintain a balance between a proper or living wage and sustainable jobs in the context of his attention to employment and business. If anyone can deliver that balance, it is the Minister of State. In that regard I am happy and look forward to the commission's first report.
I welcome the legislation and the establishment of the Low Pay Commission. This is critical legislation. It is important that we have reasoned analysis on an annual basis of the costs of employment in the State. I thank the Minister of State for his excellent work in this area.
I thank Senators of all parties and none for their support for this initiative. Around this time last year, discussions first took place among the Tánaiste and I and a number of others in the Labour Party on how we could make an institutional change that would make a real difference to those on low pay. We have travelled something of a journey over the past few months in developing this initiative through the Bill. I record my thanks to officials in my Department for their support and advice on this important initiative which is about establishing a new institution in the State which has the capacity to outlive all of us even though we all hope to live to a ripe old age. I hope it becomes a permanent feature of the policy-making landscape in the State.
The Low Pay Commission will be all about making evidence-based recommendations to government using the best policy advice and information available to come to good decisions as to how to improve the lot of those on low pay. We do not want to see people on low pay; we want to see their conditions improve. I entered public life 16 or 17 years ago as a borough and county councillor to try to make a difference for working people, ensure we create decent, sustainable jobs and establish a good economic model that is fair and progressive. I am confident that the Low Pay Commission can contribute to enabling us to realise that ambition and vision for our society.
I thank Senators for their support for the Bill today. In particular, I thank Senator Katherine Zappone for her interest in the legislation. She was one of the first representatives in the Houses to contact me and she has shown a very keen interest in the development of the legislation. That interest was reflected in her amendments and comments on the ambitions of the Bill as well as her comments on the ambitions of the Low Pay Commission since the initiative was first announced approximately 11 months ago.