Seanad debates

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Delivering Sustainable Full Employment: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Minister has been patiently waiting outside with her staff for some time. That is another reason we should try to be a bit more strict in the timing of the Order of Business. I will achieve that in due course.

I formally welcome the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to the House and wish her every success with her new portfolio and her Ministry. The contribution of all Senators is six minutes. I invite the Minister to commence her statement.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Thank you very much, a Chathaoirligh, for your good wishes.

I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad today on the important issue of getting people back to work. I look forward to working with the House. I respect the way in which the House does business. This Government's goal is to achieve sustainable full employment. We want all people to have the opportunity to enjoy rewarding work. We want to ensure that all people can participate and contribute their full potential to the economy and society.

The programme for a partnership Government sets our ambition to help create 200,000 additional jobs by 2020. A total of 135,000 of those jobs are to be outside of Dublin. We also want to reduce unemployment to 6%. Our target this year is to add 50,000 new jobs. We have made a good start. More than 15,000 new jobs were created in the first three months of 2016. In early 2012, the first Action Plan for Jobs was launched. At the time, the unemployment rate was above 15.1%. In May this year, it fell to 7.8%. A total of 155,000 more people are in employment today than in 2012. That surpasses the original target to have an extra 100,000 people at work by the end of 2016.

The Government is committed to sustaining the rate of job creation and delivering full employment by 2020. The enterprise agencies of my Department have been pivotal in addressing the jobs challenge in recent years. Employment in Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland-supported companies increased by 22,000 in 2015. The local enterprise offices supported the creation of more than 3,500 new jobs.

I wish to give the message loud and clear that unemployment has declined in all regions since 2012. A total of 20,000 jobs were created in the past year alone outside Dublin.Almost two thirds of the new jobs created by Enterprise Ireland clients in 2015 were outside Dublin and over half of the jobs created in IDA Ireland companies in 2015 were also outside Dublin. However, we cannot be complacent. It is my job to ensure that the jobs go to regional areas.

In 2015, we developed eight regional action plans for jobs to ensure the recovery would be felt in every region. The overall target is to grow employment in each region by 10% to 15% by 2020 and we have set up a regional implementation committee to oversee and drive each plan. The programme for Government also commits to reducing each county's unemployment rate to within 1% of the State average.

The first progress reports on the implementation of the regional action plans will be published in the second half of this year. As I have mentioned, the number of people out of work has declined considerably since its peak in 2012. However, unemployment remains too high. This Government is placing a particular priority on youth unemployed and long-term unemployed. In May of this year, the rate of youth unemployment was 15%, down from 20.8% in 2015. We cannot be complacent about youth unemployment and we must ensure that group is targeted so that it has employment. The number of long-term unemployed declined by 27,000 in the past year. This is, of course welcome. However, I am conscious that we must continue to reduce this number further.

As unemployment continues to fall, it is timely to focus on the quality of employment. The quality of employment is a key determinant of the well-being of individuals and of households. The number of part-time workers increased by 3.7% in the year to the end of March 2016. Women are more likely to work part-time than men. Two thirds of part-time workers are women. In some cases working part-time is by choice. It is positive that we have those flexible opportunities.

There are also people working part-time who would work additional hours if such were available. The number of underemployed part-time workers declined by almost 14% in the past year. Underemployment among women fell by 15.1%. We need to ensure that this trend continues.

Ireland has a comprehensive suite of employment rights legislation. We strongly protect those who work on a part-time basis or on a temporary basis. In the area of zero and low-hour contracts, the Government is preparing an appropriate policy response to the University of Limerick, UL, study. It was essential that stakeholders were given an opportunity to consider and respond to the UL study. The large number of submissions received requires careful consideration by my Department. These submissions will inform the policy response to be considered by Government.

The Low Pay Commission will make its next recommendations on the national minimum wage for 2017 in July. Its recommendations must be evidence-based. We want a minimum wage that is both fair and sustainable. We want to assist as many low-paid workers as is reasonably practicable without creating significant adverse consequences for employment or competitiveness. I look forward to receiving and taking forward that report.

Innovation is at the heart of Government policy for enterprise and creating high-quality jobs. Leadership in science, research and innovation play a crucial role in attracting, developing and nurturing business. They are also essential ingredients in creating and maintaining employment.

Research and development active firms also do better in terms of job creation and exports. Our Innovation 2020 strategy sets out the vision for Ireland to become a global innovation leader. Innovation 2020 is focused both on delivering a strong sustainable economy and a better society. We want to see greater numbers of enterprises engaging in research and development. We need more enterprises progressing to a point where innovation is embedded as a key part of their business model. We have a target to increase our spend on research and development to 2.5% of GNP by 2020. This is a key priority for my Department.

I am acutely aware that the rising economic tide may not yet have reached every business. Through the Action Plan for Jobs, we have made significant progress since 2012 to make it easier for SMEs to do business in Ireland. This strong focus on SME competitiveness and growth will continue.

Creating a fertile environment for entrepreneurship and start-ups is one of my top priorities. This includes targeted actions by El and the LEOs to promote female entrepreneurship. Participation by female entrepreneurs in El's high potential start-up programme increased to 20% in 2015. The target was 18%.

The Action Plan for Jobs is working. However, we cannot be complacent. We remain vulnerable to external shocks. Key among these include Brexit, increases in oil prices and exchange rate movements.

We must protect the gains in competitiveness achieved over the past few years. We have moved to seventh place in IMD global competitiveness rankings but more remains to be done. I will be working with the National Competitiveness Council and my ministerial colleagues to ensure we get progress on the key competitiveness issues. We need to address the issues of costs for business. We need to prioritise action on infrastructure bottlenecks. We need to ensure we have sufficient skills and talent supply.

I have asked my Department to initiate the process to develop the 2017 action plan for jobs. This is now under way. We will be consulting widely with external stakeholders over the coming months. As I said earlier, we want to gather the best ideas for sustainable job creation.

My priority is to deliver a business environment that is among the most competitive internationally. I want to use our collective resources across Government to support enterprise and sustainable employment growth in all of the regions. Through collective action, I am convinced we can achieve sustainable full employment by 2020.

I am delighted to be here. I look forward to hearing the Senators' ideas through this session. I also want Senators to know the door is open in the Department and if we can help, we are there to help. EI, IDA Ireland and the LEOs are all there. I would ask all Senators to familiarise themselves with the plan for their particular region. It is available on the web. If we can help, as I said, we would be delighted to do so.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I, too, congratulate the Minister on her appointment to Government.

Photo of Aidan DavittAidan Davitt (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire on her new appointment. No doubt Deputy Mitchell O'Connor will certainly bring great enthusiasm to her new post.

I listened intently to the Minister's forecasts - 200,000 jobs by 2020 and 135,000 of these will be outside of Dublin.This is starting to sound like a sketch from Alice in Wonderland. The new quote of 200,000 jobs would be welcome and we would be delighted to see them. We could certainly look at that figure. One would have to agree that the Mad Hatter came up with the figure of 135,000 jobs outside of Dublin, 68% of new jobs outside Dublin and the current figure being 50%. I cannot see the figures adding up. I wish the Minister well with all the jobs. As she said there has been a great improvement in recent years.

The document goes on to deal with IDA site visits. It is easy to see that the jobs follow the site visits. Some 50% of all site visits were in Dublin and 48% of IDA jobs were created in Dublin. It is no coincidence that the unemployment blackspots of the north east, north west and midlands had an average of 2.5% each of these site visits. The IDA is doing a great job but there will have to be a focus outside the M50. Our local IDA park in Mullingar has one business which was relocated from Mullingar after lengthy negotiations by my fellow Oireachtas Member, Deputy Robert Troy. The estate is a place the IDA forgot about, 45 minutes from the M50 waiting for use.

Rural Ireland has been strangled to death following the closure of Garda stations, Army barracks, schools and the abolition of town councils. These were all Government-led. The services fled - banks, post offices, shops and retail. We need to lead from the front and give these country communities hope.

Skilled manufacturers and tradespeople need support with the apprenticeship model. It is unfair that they have to suffer the loss of their trainee while at college and also expect them to contribute €16,000 over the four years to fund the programme. This is the reason the number of apprenticeships is at an all time low of 8,000, down from a peak of 30,000. This is an issue on which the Minister could focus.

Another subject glossed over today by the Minister in her contribution was that of wage discrimination. When we come into this world and when we leave it, we are in the hands of nurses. Teachers are the people who model us, encourage us and introduce us to the world of learning during our formative years. The Garda and Defence Forces protect us and put their lives on the line every day so we can have a normal functioning society. The wage discrimination that the Government forced on gardaí, nurses, teachers and soldiers starting at €22,000 to €25,000 gross is degrading. If the Taoiseach wants to keep the recovery going, he should start with those on whom we are so dependent. None of those starter public servants is on a living wage. This has become a divisive issue in their workplaces. When formulating her document I ask the Minister to look at these particular areas, and if there is anything I can assist with, I would be happy to oblige. I appreciate her coming here today and offering an open ear.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

During the Order of Business there was some discussion on the arts and I neglected to point out that we have somebody from the Fine Gael side of the House who has been very proficient in the arts for more than four decades, Senator Joe O'Reilly. We look forward to his performance. The Senator has six minutes.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Acting Chairman for the introduction. I could return some of those compliments and enlarge on them. Be that as it may, I appreciate the kind remarks and wish him well. I know he will chair the session with great skill.

I congratulate my great personal friend, the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, on her appointment. I am delighted for her and I think she will bring to the office a tremendous energy and a natural leadership skill. I am confident she will get the results and I wish her well.

As a background to this debate, there is nothing that gives people more dignity than a job. It is crucial to the family and friends of people and to their whole self worth. It is important to keep that perspective in mind. The dignity of work is so important to people and it is sadly absent from those who do not have it. It is well-established that the way to remove people from the poverty trap is to get them employment. The intergenerational effect of getting people back to work is enormous. About three generations will be affected by somebody coming off unemployment. The great success of our times and of the recent past has been reducing unemployment. No other achievement is greater and we should revel in it and be proud of it. Since 2012, 155,000 more people are at work than previously. We are about to break the 2 million number of people in employment in the country.

In May 2016, the unemployment level was 7.8%. Of course we are not happy with that level but it is a huge change from 15.1%. Youth unemployment has fallen by 5% in the past year from a level of 15%. All of these achievements are enormous. As a people and as a nation we can be proud of them because every individual in the country contributed to this outcome. In that context, I congratulate the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, previously Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and his Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, on their achievements in that sphere. What has been achieved to date should give us confidence that we can finish the job and get much more done. The big challenge is to bring back our emigrants. We have an enormous pool of talent among our emigrants and we need to get them back. With their new experiences, the great education with which they left and their natural flair, they will come back and create jobs, so it will have a domino or a multiplier effect.

There are some things that are not glamorous but which need to be said in this debate. We need to keep the public finances under control. We have to remain competitive. If we keep the public finances under control, borrowing for infrastructure will be cheaper and will be available to us. Inward investment will be attracted to the country. In addition to keeping the public finances under control, we need to maintain the correct tax environment. Also, and this is not a very popular concept, we need to keep wage control. The greatest act of patriotism and the greatest act of selflessness that our workers and their organised bodies can do is to engage while achieving realistic and well-justified pay increases as the economy improves but to show the level of restraint that will allow for further job creation. The kind of patriotism that is called for now is a new patriotism. It is the new Christianity in action, the new meitheal or the new commitment to the common good. We need to see everything in terms of job creation and we need to be restrained in wage demands with that in mind.

If we have industrial unrest, it will adversely affect inward investment and create all kinds of difficulties. One good aspect of job creation to date is the good cross-sector increase in jobs.We have had 9,500 new jobs in the construction sector in the first quarter of 2016. That is important. There is great potential to increase the number of jobs in construction as the housing crisis is tackled. We need major emphasis on apprenticeship training, upskilling workers and creating the skills among displaced former construction workers so that they can re-embrace the sector. An interesting thing-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Senator has half a minute.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have so many points I would like to make. I have not got used to the time constrictions of the Seanad yet.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Give us the abridged version.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The whole issue of full-time carers is an interesting one. If that were upgraded and got more status, we could create jobs. Finally, I am well aware of the achievements in spreading jobs regionally, but I am anxious that we get far more IDA Ireland itineraries into the rural areas. Will the Minister look at the shortage of IDA Ireland itineraries in areas like my own constituency of Cavan-Monaghan and see if they can be increased over the coming years? I am convinced that if we get the IDA Ireland people in, with their potential employers, they will stay and we will get the jobs.

Finally, since the Leas-Chathaoirleach is in the Chair and despite the fact that he is cutting me short, I take the opportunity to wish him well and to congratulate him.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I call Senator Conway-Walsh, who has six minutes.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I also thank the Minister for coming before us and congratulate her on her new job. It is lovely to see a woman here as a Minister. She is the first woman Minister we have had before us.

Any discussion around sustainable jobs must include a discussion of what constitutes a sustainable labour market. We know the labour market is crucial to creating sustainable jobs in communities and in terms of the economic, social and cultural well-being of society. According to data from the most recent quarterly national household survey for 2016, employment has increased by 2.4% in the year to the first quarter of 2016. This was an increase in total employment of almost 47,000 jobs, 31,000 of which were full-time and 16,300 of which were part-time. It is an increase of 2.1% in full employment and almost 4% in part-time jobs. While I welcome the increase in the number of people at work, I do so cautiously on the back of the recent CSO figures that provide us with evidence that there is zero jobs growth in the west. This is not a surprise to us living in the west; for every new job that is being created, there are job losses every day. We only have to look at the loss of over 200 jobs last week in Sligo with the closure of the family-owned McCormack Garages. I want to send the solidarity of this House to all of those affected by those job losses and their families.

I cannot mention job creation in the west and in rural Ireland without begging the Minister to speak to her ministerial colleagues about fast-tracking broadband. We need the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources here to discuss how we can fast-track it. It is not good enough to cite 2022 as a date in terms of broadband. I see the problem for myself. I cannot communicate with the Houses of the Oireachtas because I do not have proper broadband where I live. The Minister does not need me to tell her that without adequate broadband and telecommunications, the Government’s jobs plan is not worth the paper it is written on.

We need to talk about emigration and its impact in terms of the reduction in the number of unemployed people. Emigrants are employed in other countries.

Alongside the lack of employment opportunities we must examine the fact that the Irish labour market is characterised by major problems with low pay, the proliferation of precarious work and increasing industrial unrest, as was outlined. This promotes inequality and jeopardises our economic growth. Ireland now has the dubious distinction of having the second highest number of low-paid workers in the OECD. Contrary to the Government’s spin on figures quoted above, I find the high rate of increase in part-time jobs extremely worrying. I say this because all the research shows us that part-time workers make up a high percentage of those who are concentrated in low-paid employment sectors. They are the most vulnerable to exploitation, precariousness, low pay and if-and-when contracts. They also tend to receive less training and development. That is worrying in terms of how people progress. Low pay and weak workers’ rights architecture are bad for workers, the economy, communities, and society.

By continuing along the track of non-standard work, we are creating a whole new community that I call the working poor. They are the people who have to pay for everything and do not have adequate income to do so. They are the people who struggle to get to the end of the week or the end of the month, worrying whether they have enough to pay their ever-increasing bills. That is why we see such outrage in regard to bin charges and what that extra cost may mean for people. These are the mothers – it is mostly women – who look at their sick children and wonder if they can get through the night without bringing them to the GP because they cannot afford the €40, €50, or €60 fee they will have to pay. They are trying to balance between taking their child to the GP and doing their shopping at the weekend. That is the reality. They are the people I see every day. We must remember that these families are not just those working in the private sector; they are the low-paid workers in the public sector such as teachers, gardaí and clerical staff in local authorities. They are barely able to survive on the wages they are getting at the moment.

Low pay also puts significant pressure on the State in terms of social transfers, with the result that the State ends up supplementing the pay of vulnerable workers. In 2015 alone, the State spent a record €350 million on subsidising the income of thousands of families in low-paid work. The rapid rise in the number of workers in receipt of family income supplement and other social transfers – about 60% in recent years – is essentially topping up employers’ profit margins and highlights the extent to which workers and their families are at risk of poverty. This transfer of wealth from the State is, in essence, reproducing, year in, year out, huge profits for large companies that see nothing wrong with bullying and exploiting their workforce.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Senator has half a minute left.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That was really quick.

I will cite Dunnes Stores, Tesco and other companies like them. Dunnes Stores has the highest number of workers receiving the family income supplement. That is not right and it needs to be tackled.

I will leave out the rest of my speech out of respect for everybody else because my time is up but I ask the Minister to put in place legislation to regulate zero-hour contracts and to examine thoroughly the many issues that make up a sustainable working market. I welcome what the Minister said at the beginning about her office and her Department being open. I look forward to working with her for the west of Ireland, for rural Ireland and for Mayo in terms of getting the jobs we desperately need to stop emigration and to bring life back into our communities.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Senator O'Donnell has six minutes.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish the Leas-Chathaoirleach well. I expect he will perform his role with great aplomb. I also congratulate the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, on her appointment.

In the brief time I have, I want to speak about what I know, which is the constituency I represent, Limerick, and on the theme of sustaining full employment. Many jobs have been created over the past three to five years, and they are to be welcomed. However, I want to look at the issue of sustaining full employment in an Irish context, of which Limerick would be a microcosm, both urban and rural.

Competitiveness is the key to employment.A couple of things would bring competitiveness. In respect of employment costs, it is important that the marginal rate be brought below 50% for staff take-home pay. I welcome the fact that JobBridge is to be discontinued. It served its purpose for a period but it was open to abuse, although not by everyone. Now we are considering sustainable jobs. We have to get a handle on insurance costs, which are a huge factor. The low cost of energy is external to us, as is the rate of exchange for exports, and the Brexit debate may have an impact but we cannot control that. I hope the Taoiseach’s intervention will encourage people in the United Kingdom to vote to stay in the EU.

I want to see balanced regional development in Limerick, with the 2030 plan progressed so that we have the infrastructure required, particularly buildings in the city centre that the IDA and Enterprise Ireland can showcase. I would also like the Hanging Gardens, and the projects for the Cleeve's site and the opera centre site to be expedited. That is extremely important. The IDA has committed to bringing 66 projects to the region by 2019. We will hold it to that. The development of the knowledge box is critical.

There are several villages in rural east Limerick, including Cappamore, Murroe, Caherconlish, Castleconnell and Ballyneety. Many people have emigrated from rural villages as well as cities. The real challenge in terms of sustainable employment is to get emigrants back and get people to set up businesses in their own communities. It is not always about foreign direct investment; we need to create an environment for the person from the area who wants to set up a business. There are weaknesses such as the speed of, and access to, broadband. Pressure has to be kept on the national broadband plan, particularly in rural areas such as east Limerick. I find that mobile phone coverage in many areas has got worse rather than better. Something needs to be done. This is extremely important for attracting people into rural areas. Access by road is not as big a factor as the other two in the Internet age. What incentives can we use to encourage people to set up in a rural village? We need to put thought into this. They may be tax or grant incentives, or access to services, but the rural area needs to compete on an even level with an urban setting when people are deciding where to set up a business. I see in these villages that people have sustained businesses against all the odds, but they need people to come in to provide extra employment so that they can survive and prosper. They offer benefits in terms of the number of pupils in schools and the existing businesses. I look forward to welcoming the Minister to Limerick and showing her what Limerick has to offer and what she can bring to promote it.

On a national level, we must have a proper review of skills shortages, not just with regard to third level education but also apprenticeships. Germany has a model such that when people leave school they can go into apprenticeships. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

Photo of John DolanJohn Dolan (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his appointment yesterday. As the lone male member of the Civil Engagement group, I join with Senator Conway-Walsh in welcoming a female Minister to the House. At her opening words about "getting people back to work," my jaw dropped. The paragraph picked up at the end when she said "all people can participate ... to their full potential". The programme for Government refers to its goal “to deliver sustainable full employment” so that all our people have the opportunity to enjoy rewarding work and participate and contribute to their full potential to our economy and society.

The coin has two sides and it is extremely important for us to recall that. A word of caution: because it is written does not mean it will happen. There can be a slip between cup and lip. There was a huge impetus to get people back to work. We remember Dell and Waterford Crystal and others in the first few months. We all have micro-memories of job losses among people who were close to us - local small enterprises that went to the wall overnight and never made the news - but they were all real people. It is very important to keep that in mind.

When things go wrong in the economy, people on the margins - those with disabilities or mental health problems, those who carry the burden of addiction and various issues, and the long-term unemployed - are affected. Before coming in here I used to drive through Ballybough, in Dublin’s north inner city. In the great days before the collapse the queues of people collecting their unemployment benefit were out the door onto the street. There is a hard core of unemployed people, and although the figure has come down, 6% is still high. They are in Dublin and the rest of the country. The people with the problems I mention are in every community. That has to be core to our considerations.

In the 1980s there were fewer than 1 million in the workforce. Now we are edging up to 2 million and we still have a bit of work to do. When we talk of the diaspora, the parents and families of people with disabilities do not go to Dublin Airport to meet their young people. People with disabilities cannot be part of the diaspora. We sucked people from all over the world into our labour force up to ten years ago but we did not take people with disabilities. There were almost 100,000 long-term unemployed in the country.

In the early days of the last decade our manufacturing industry went down the tubes. We did not notice it because there was another crane on the skyline. Young lads ran from agriculture onto diggers and dumpers and trucks because that was where the big money was. We degraded manufacturing and agriculture, which are not the exciting sectors of our workforce. However, we were very proud of agriculture in the dark days when it and the agrifood sector kept the flag flying for us internationally. There are parts of our economy that are not connected with research and development and the high-flying new technology but which are important and provide real work for people across the country.I challenge anyone in this Chamber or elsewhere to give me examples of when he or she heard about disabled people losing their jobs when the bust came. They did not, as one cannot lose what one does not have. I do not state that in a recriminatory sense but simply observe that we missed out when we were top dog with full employment. We had money to burn but still could not do it for people who badly needed to be in the workplace.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Senator has one minute left.

Photo of John DolanJohn Dolan (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am being asked to come to a-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No, the Senator is not. I simply am giving him a gentle reminder that one minute remains.

Photo of John DolanJohn Dolan (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am being asked to round it up in that sense and I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. A robust model of sustainable employment needs a few things. Ireland has a worldwide reputation and relationships, which is a soft but valuable asset. The ambition must be for employment for all. Dependable and comprehensive public services are also needed. I refer to the economic and the social and that old-fashioned term, the social wage. While upward wage pressure is coming, we can dampen those expectations if we have dependable social and public services. As for people with disabilities and others, issues such as education, training, social protection, mobility and transport must be considered. Members must look outside the core areas they normally consider and pull them together.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I congratulated the Leas-Chathaoirleach this morning when he was not in the Chair and now that he is installed, I do so again. I wish him well. I also welcome the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to the Chamber and congratulate her on her elevation to the Ministry. She has good west of Ireland roots and the issue of spreading regional jobs is top of her agenda, which I welcome.

One thing the previous Government got right was job creation. As the Minister stated, what must be done now is to spread those jobs. Senator Conway-Walsh mentioned that effectively, the reduction in unemployment is because everyone has emigrated. However, it is a fact that 155,000 extra people are working. As many of them would have been obliged to emigrate had those jobs not been created, I greatly welcome that creation, as well as the statistics on the reduction in long-term and youth unemployment, which also are priorities.

Another issue that has arisen recently is the JobBridge scheme. We are in a different place at present than was the case in 2011 and at the time, the JobBridge scheme served its purpose. Many people secured full-time employment as a result of being part of that scheme but we are now in a different space. I welcome that it is to be phased out because it is not needed now as much as it was then.

The key issue the Minister addressed regarding regional growth and the spread of regional jobs is absolutely crucial. This can be done in a number of ways and as the Minister mentioned, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the local employment offices, LEOs, are in place. I wish to be constructive but people, businesses and potential employers are falling through the cracks because LEOs operate mostly in mentoring and providing many services in a one-stop shop, which is an excellent idea. I have been involved with a number of small businesses that had the potential to employ more than ten people. However, as they were not exporting, Enterprise Ireland was not applicable to them and, similarly, foreign direct investment was not involved. The key to small businesses, the self-employed and all of this is to somehow put in place structures to support the five, ten or 15 jobs in indigenous Irish companies. The incentives are not in place for them and one is accused that were the jobs coming in from abroad, there would be bells and whistles. I ask the Minister to give consideration to this issue.

Some agencies already have been set up and I will mention the Western Development Commission in the context of the west and the north west. Its remit covers the five Connacht counties of Mayo, Galway, Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo, as well as counties Donegal and Clare. The commission has done excellent work in providing jobs and through the Look West campaigns because there are many advantages to relocating to the west that are not available in urban areas. However, its budget is very small and in a possible model for the rest of rural Ireland, this commission could provide the incentives to that sector to which I refer that is left out at present. I urge the Minister to consider this area.

The broadband issue was mentioned earlier today and a survey came out this morning which suggested that 20% of small businesses were not online. I imagine this is not by choice in many cases; it is simply that they do not have broadband. While the date of 2022 has been mentioned, that is the date by which every house and business in the country will be connected. A great deal of work is under way in the roll-out of broadband at present. It is important that this process be speeded up and I am aware the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, is anxious to do this. However, when people hear the date 2022, they ask whether no one will have broadband in rural areas until then, whereas many people will have it.

Competitiveness is another area the Minister addressed in her contribution. Another success of the previous Government over the past five years concerned the tourism and hospitality sector and the 9% VAT rate but at present we are in danger of losing that edge of competitiveness again to increasing costs. This issue must be monitored but there are huge opportunities and I welcome the Minister's enthusiasm to continue that because while I am aware of other issues and services that must be upgraded, as well as restoration and so on, one must not lose sight of full employment. It is achievable in our present circumstances and I wish the Minister well in the task. I look forward to working together with her.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his elevation to his new role and congratulate the Minister on her appointment. As anybody who has run a primary school will find running a Department to be very easy indeed, I wish the Minister the best of luck.

Comments have been made in the Chamber about how, statistically, we have done much better in recent years in bringing down the unemployment rate, which obviously is to be welcomed. Over that time, that Government also managed to bring in many protections for workers' rights at the same time. It not merely increased the minimum wage twice but I also refer to the reintroduction of the joint labour committee, JLC, system, the employment regulation orders, EROs, and collective bargaining legislation. Consequently, a threshold of decency was placed under the economy. However, I remind the Minister of the Private Members' motion that was passed by Dáil Éireann only two weeks ago. The motion was in the name of the Labour Party and was written by Senator Nash, who did a huge amount of work in the Minister's Department in the previous Government. The motion states:

That Dáil Éireann:

affirms that, as economic conditions continue to improve, it will stand up for working people and ensure that employees secure a fair share of growing national prosperity;

accordingly calls for a programme of incremental increases to the national minimum wage until it is pegged at 60% of median earnings, and for a living wage of €11.50 per hour to be adopted throughout the public sector;

believes that, alongside tackling low pay, we must address root causes of insecurity at work, commit to further protections for vulnerable workers in precarious employment and bring an end to exploitative employment contracts that foster increased casualisation of workers;

calls therefore on the Government to prepare and introduce a legislative package that will protect and enhance workers’ rights by:- ending the abuse of "if and when" contracts;

- combating bogus self-employment;

- ensuring freelance workers have the right to collectively bargain;

- extending the transfer of undertakings regulations (TUPE) to workers in services such as catering and security;

- protecting workers in "informal" insolvencies and collective redundancies;

- providing statutory redress for the victims of workplace bullying;

- promoting employment standards and the living wage in public procurement; and

- preventing unilateral reductions in pay;notes in particular the University of Limerick report to the Government, Study on the Prevalence of Zero Hours Contracts among Irish Employers and their Impact on Employees, and, commissioned following the outrageous treatment of Clerys workers in June 2015, the Cahill-Duffy Expert Examination and Review of Laws on the Protection of Employee Interests When Assets are Separated from the Operating Entity; and

commends the recommendations set out in both these reports and calls on the Government as an urgent priority to prepare legislation for their implementation.

As the Minister is aware, this motion was passed by the Dáil, the main House of the Oireachtas, so I would like to hear her comments on that, because I may have misheard but I have been led to believe that she is not minded to accept the report from the University of Limerick. If that were the case, it would fly in the face of the expressed will of Dáil Éireann and what is right and just, particularly given that the Clerys workers are marking the first anniversary of their disgraceful treatment this week.

I will touch on the dignity of work and how work is so important for vulnerable sectors of our society. It is often forgotten about in the economic debate. During the turbulent time as unemployment levels crept up, it was often said that unemployment costs the Exchequer €27,000 for every person unemployed, including in respect of the loss of VAT receipts and welfare payments, but this completely misses the point. It is the loss of dignity and self-worth that is the major deficit caused by unemployment. There are sections of our society that are not necessarily benefiting from the Action Plan for Jobs. During the Celtic tiger period more than 100,000 people were in consistent unemployment. Whatever action plan the Government comes up with and whatever efforts are made to reduce unemployment, they do not seem to permeate into every sector of our society. The comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities should have been part of the Action Plan for Jobs, but during the tenure of the last Government, the Department did not really want to know about this strategy, which was effectively run as an equality measure within the Department of Justice and Equality. That is disappointing, because if one looks at certain sectors of our society, such as people living in disadvantaged areas, members of the Traveller community, people with disabilities and migrants, one can see there are particular barriers and issues those communities face in gaining employment, being protected in work and ensuring their employment rights are enhanced. In terms of that comprehensive employment strategy, perhaps the Department will again look at how it can engage in and drive it and be more positive about it, because when I was involved in putting that strategy together, I felt that the engagement from the Department was less than positive.

I wish the Minister well in respect of what she is trying to do. The threshold of decency is everything. Having statistics that we can roll out and being able to say that unemployment has come down is laudable and all very well, but dignity in work and the threshold of decency in the economy are everything. Workers' rights and the sense of dignity a worker has every morning in getting up and going to work are what keeps society together. I reiterate my request to the Minister to deal in a positive manner with the Labour Party motion that was passed in the Dáil with the support of other parties two weeks ago.

Photo of Ray ButlerRay Butler (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish Senator Coghlan all the best in his new position as Leas-Chathaoirleach. I congratulate the Minister on her new post. She has always been a great people person and she is the right person for the job.

Rebuilding the economy to support job creation, leading to the delivery of sustainable full employment, has been a key objective of this Government and the previous one, which I had the pleasure of serving under. In 2011, Ireland's employment rate was below the EU average and its unemployment rate was the fifth highest in the EU. Our Action Plan for Jobs was introduced in early 2012 when the unemployment rate was 15.1%. Today, it has fallen to 7.3%, with 155,000 more people employed by the end of the first quarter of 2016, bringing the total number of unemployed to just under two million to date. Stimulating growth in all regions has been a priority to ensure that all areas achieve their economic potential, allowing communities to benefit locally.

We continue to make great strides in this area with incentives such as the Wild Atlantic Way and the recently launched Ireland's Ancient East, which takes in my local area of Trim, south Meath and Meath west. We have seen the recent opening of hotels and businesses along the west coast, increasing employment locally and substantially building our tourism industry. Another incentive was the filming of certain scenes from the hugely popular "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" on the magnificent site of Skellig Michael in County Kerry. These scenes have placed Ireland's rare beauty centre stage all over the world and can only have a positive effect on tourist figures for this year and many more years to come. In 2015, our tourism industry reached a record number of visitors, beating a previous record set in 2007. We are working towards creating an additional 50,000 jobs in this industry by 2025. To date, the lower VAT rate of 9% for the hospitality sector, together with the removal of the travel tax, has been successful in boosting tourism levels, and moving forward is now imperative. It is vital to maintain value for money for visitors to ensure continued growth in this industry.

We have been successful in attracting major multinationals to our country with our highly educated and motivated workforce. Another reason for this is our 12.5% corporation tax rate, which has been controversial with some US politicians, some EU member states and certain members of the Opposition, who seem to oppose everything. It is important that we maintain this rate of corporation tax to attract support and increase jobs. However, we must not become complacent either. It is our SMEs that employ most of the workforce. Together with our up-and-coming entrepreneurs, these companies need to encouraged and given support to start up and continue growth.

It is imperative that certain areas be addressed in order to facilitate and encourage further growth among SMEs and thus enhance employment for others locally. The issues I have pencilled in are bank loans and the Irish Credit Bureau. During the height of the recession, I said that the Irish Credit Bureau was not fit for purpose. It was all right before the crash, but when the crash happened, many businesses fixed their bank loans, and because of this and the fact that they are repaying the loans, they have defaulted in the eyes of the Irish Credit Bureau and will not get loans for the next five years. It is an area at which we must look. These people are paying their way but they face difficulties when they look for more credit facilities to move forward with their businesses and employ new people. I recently visited a furniture factory in Navan. The owner had renegotiated his loans, wanted to move on and could have employed ten people straight away, but he could not do so because he could not get the money. It is a significant issue out there. We must examine the Irish Credit Bureau.

Another issue I raised this morning and about which I will soon table a motion relates to social protection for the self-employed. The motion will call for the implementation of the Mangan report. Another issue concerns commercial rates. There are huge levels of debt when it comes to commercial rates.I am speaking to the owners of businesses that are in debt in sums of €40,000 to €70,000 from commercial rates. The sum of €10,000 or €15,000 for commercial rates might not be a whole lot on 1 January 2016, but if not paid by 31 December 2016 it is a mountain going into the next year and adding up. We have to look at commercial rates, which should be charged on a profit system instead of by square footage.

The other huge issue, which many Members have already raised today, is broadband in rural areas. This is a huge issue. There was a report this morning that 20% of rural businesses do not have broadband. In certain areas, I imagine some of them do not even have mobile phone reception. To kick the can down the road to 2020 is to kick it too far. We should be implementing this and getting it on the road in the next three to four years.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am delighted to welcome the Minister to the House and I was also delighted to have met her in Carlow last Friday. It is great to see a female Minister. I am thrilled and wish her well. It is great for women because I always think we fight for everything.

I want to talk about the south east. As she knows, it continues to have the highest unemployment rate. An action plan for jobs has been set up but I was disappointed recently, when researching this area, to discover that IDA Ireland visited Dublin more than 100 times last year while Carlow got two visits. Will the Minister look after rural Ireland? Rural Ireland is so important and towns like Carlow, Bagenalstown, Hacketstown and Tullow also need employment. We need IDA Ireland to visit us more often. Will the Minister address the issue and revert to me on it?

As the Minister knows, in the past week there has been major coverage in all the newspapers on the university for the south east. That is massive. It is massive for Carlow because Carlow IT is one of the biggest employers in Carlow, employing more than 700 people. Further, it is crucial to have university status for the south east, especially Carlow and Waterford. Figures show that 7,260 people are missing out on higher education places because of this. This is crucial for students and parents who want to give their children an education in life that can open up many a door. Will the Minister commit on this because it is crucial for the south east?

I know the issue of apprenticeships has been addressed already. These are vital in building a skilled workforce and I think that aspect is missing. We need as many jobs as possible but we need to ensure that there are apprenticeships for people who want to become electricians, builders and plumbers. We have to ensure that they are being catered for as well. This is something I feel the Minister will address. It is something that needs to be addressed. Not to be repetitive but between 2011 to 2015, 338,000 people emigrated from Ireland due to lack of jobs. SMEs provide great jobs and employment but they are not getting credit from banks. Credit is a massive issue and these enterprises are not getting the support they need. Will the Minister ensure that SMEs are looked after and get the credit they need from banks?

Another matter that is very dear to my heart because I have been dealing with cases in respect of it in the local authority is local development contributions. I know of a case where in the boom a building was bought but the banks now own it. There are people who are interested in buying this building. They will create jobs and give employment but for them to buy this building they are being asked to pay a €70,000 development contribution to the local authority. Will the Minister please do something about these development contributions? They need to be taken away. That is what is stopping small SMEs from setting up new businesses. Will the Minister address the issue?

We have spoken about rates. We also have what is called the global re-evaluation of rates and businesses. It is a newly introduced system. There is an awful fear now because small businesses are being reassessed for their rates and many of them are being increased. Will the Minister examine this global re-evaluation to ensure rates do not go up? I can tell the Minister that I know of three or four people who are being assessed and whose rates are being increased. This will result in the loss of jobs. Evaluations are great and all but at the end of the day it must be ensured that the rates paid by businesses are not increasing.

I was a little surprised that the issue of online shopping was not addressed this morning. Online shopping is absolutely huge, in particular for younger people who are inclined to be spending all the time. What can be done? As the Minister knows, towns such as Carlow, Bagenalstown and Hacketstown are trying to rejuvenate their town centres. This issue needs to be addressed. We need to ensure that new shops open and that footfall is increased in town centres. These town centres are affected by online shopping. I do not wish to be repetitive but broadband is definitely affecting businesses, as is phone coverage.

All I can tell the Minister is that we have what I too believe is called the working poor. These people can only afford to have one parent go out to work because they cannot afford the cost of child care. Will the Minister please look after the working person? This is the person that is most affected. Will she ensure the south east gets its fair representation from IDA Ireland and from businesses and will she ensure that university status is achieved for Carlow and the south east?

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish the Leas-Chathaoirleach well in his new position. I also congratulate our Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, on her new appointment and wish her every success in her new role. This is my first contribution in the Seanad and I believe it appropriate that I would do so on the important issue of sustainable full employment. As a young Senator from Roscommon, I believe the single biggest issue facing the west is the need to create greater job opportunities. North Roscommon is one particular region in the west which has suffered hugely from lack of employment opportunities over recent years and outward migration, with many of our young people working in more urban centres.

As Senator John O'Mahony pointed out, the good work of the Western Development Commission in conducting research has found that between 2012 and 2015, the total number of people at work in the west grew by almost 3% whereas the number of people at work in the rest of the country grew by 6%, that is, by double the amount. The said report, which was published two years ago, also emphasised the real challenges we face in our rural areas. Towns such as Ballaghaderreen, Boyle, Castlerea, Strokestown and Carrick-on-Shannon have great communities. We have huge potential, but we need support and help to breathe life back into our towns and make them attractive again for young people to return to work and set up business.

As stated by the Minister, the programme for a partnership Government has set ambitious targets. It is important that we set ambitious targets. The last Government showed huge progress in ensuring that our unemployment rate is now under 8%. The new commitment surrounds ensuring that we have an extra 200,000 people back at work by 2020, with 135,000 of these people working outside Dublin. It is absolutely critical that we deliver on this target.

Last Monday was a really good day in Ballinasloe, with the creation of 100 new jobs in a medical devices company along with an investment of almost €10 million in research and development. I thank the Minister for attending. The employment of 100 additional people in Ballinasloe will have a hugely positive impact on the town and surrounding area. It will create an environment where highly skilled individuals are attracted back to our region to live, work and raise their families. The Government must continue to create an environment where we see more action like this. Many of our rural areas offer excellent educational, sporting and community facilities as well as a great quality of life.Recently, Roscommon County Council introduced a rates incentive scheme for new businesses opening in derelict or vacant premises, which is progressive. However, it needs to be more ambitious in the short term for it to be successful. We cannot do this alone and central government across relevant Departments must take a more active role in assisting with funding of important initiatives like this. Broadband, mentioned several times in the context of this debate, is the single most important priority in infrastructure on which we must deliver. There should be urgent action on broadband delivery in rural areas. We are currently at a competitive disadvantage. Action must be taken because matters are not moving quickly enough.

I ask that every effort be made to assist those areas with the greatest need. It is absolutely critical that every employment agency should invest its energy and prioritise support and funding to areas that are in dire need in order to attract people back. From actively seeking the generation of ideas to assistance with funding applications to those funding applications being approved to allow for the creation of sustainable jobs, these employment agencies must act. The good work of the Western Development Commission has already been mentioned. That work has the potential to be expanded. Enterprise Ireland, local enterprise offices and others must be proactive in assisting the process. The regional action plan for jobs seeks in some way to achieve this but we need to have more localised targets - even down to specific towns - in order to ensure progress is measured and delivered. The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, CEDRA, report emphasised the need for the development of rural economic development, RED, zones in towns and their hinterlands.

I very much welcome the Minister's focus on the need to place greater emphasis on supporting rural areas and tackling youth and long-term unemployment. Real action is needed, however, if our young people are to return to the west, where there is much potential for many individuals to enjoy a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It is my first time to speak before him and I am delighted to welcome him to his new position in the Chair. I am delighted to see the Minister and to see her appointed to her portfolio. I would love to have seen her appointed to the education portfolio, as her expertise could really be used there. On considering the matter, however, I know she will bring a new perspective to the area of job creation because of her educational background merging with a desire to drive forward issues. I have known the Minister for many years as a very hard-working politician and I am sure she will put in much effort to the role she has been given. I congratulate her again.

I stated yesterday that I did not want the Seanad to be laboured with statements during current session. With respect to colleagues, we are reiterating what members of the public hear every day of the week from the political class. It would be more useful to sit down to consider three or four initiatives that might lead to job creation rather than making rand statements about broadband, roads and various other matters. We should be trying to single out a couple of issues that would assist the Minister in driving matters forward.

With all due respect to my colleague from the south east, the establishment of 16 university campuses in Ireland would do nothing for job creation. The likes of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, one of the most renowned academic institutions in the world, does not need the tag "university" to make it relevant. I was in Carlow recently at the military graduation and I can state that it is the finest third level establishment and has the most forward-thinking people with whom one could ever ask to work. It does not need the tag "university" to make it relevant. Carlow Institute of Technology is delivering educational programmes to Aer Lingus in Dublin and the military-----

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Why is the Senator so worried about Carlow?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We must adjourn the debate as per the order of the House.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 June 2016.