Seanad debates

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Commencement Matters

Joint Labour Committees Agreements

2:30 pm

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Breen. In the past two weeks alone, I have been contacted by many security workers from around the country who are not receiving from their employers the hourly rate of pay for the job they do. This practice must stop. As Senators are aware, as part of the most significant enhancement of workers' rights legislation anywhere in the world in recent years, the previous Government re-established a system of joint labour committees. This system was designed to ensure that vulnerable workers in sectors of the economy where pay is low and terms and conditions are at their most basic can have better pay, terms and conditions negotiated in a structured way and where the outcome of any agreement arrived at can be given the force of law. Two such orders, covering the rights of 20,000 security workers, have been signed in less than two years. The employment regulation order signed by the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, on 1 June sees the legal basic hourly rate of pay increase from €10.75 per hour to €11.05 per hour. As part of this agreement, security workers will earn more than what is considered a living wage by 2019, which is very welcome. These are minimum legal rates of pay.

Some security guards are being ripped off and effectively robbed of their legitimate wages. Unscrupulous companies engaged in this practice are breaking the law and must feel the force of the law upon them. Rogue security firms, of which there may be dozens, do not all share the view expressed by the Irish Security Industry Association, which helped negotiate the new legally binding arrangements.On 1 June, its chairman, Alan Durnan, stated that it was a great result for both the employers and employees of the industry and that improved terms and conditions for security officers are critical to attracting and retaining high calibre personnel.

Those who break the law by not paying their staff properly are not only stealing from their staff, but also sticking their two fingers up at the decent businesses in the industry who are compliant and who see their staff as an intrinsic part of the business and not a commodity to be used and abused. I have advised staff who have been affected by this and contacted me to make a formal complaint to the rights commissioners' service as per the legislation. That is what the legislation suggests they do. That is the legal route. However, if a worker or a trade union cannot, for whatever reason, take a case, the legislation governing this area provides the Minister with the opportunity to take a case on behalf of a worker in the event of non-compliance. I think that the Minister should consider this approach because I am seeing considerable non-compliance involving a considerable number of companies throughout the country. Errant security companies are queering the pitch for decent security companies that are prepared to pay the legal minimum rate of pay to security workers. They value those workers and, as I understand it, that is the law of the land.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Nash, who is very much associated with the commencement of the employment orders for the security industry as well as the contract cleaning area, for raising this issue.

I wish to clarify that the employment regulation order that is in place for the security sector came into effect on 1 June last and not 1 June 2016, as had been suggested by the Senator. It is only in effect for the past month of so. The Industrial Relations Act 1946, as amended by the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012, provides for the making of employment regulation orders, EROs, whereby proposals on pay and other terms and conditions of employment for workers in certain sectors are formulated by joint labour committees, JLCs, and adopted by the Labour Court if the court is satisfied that the JLC has complied with the relevant sections of the 2012 Act. The Labour Court then makes a recommendation to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and, if the Minister is satisfied that the Act has been complied with, the Minister will make an employment regulation order, the terms of which are legally enforceable and applicable to all employers in those sectors. It is important to note that they are legally enforceable.

Statutory Instrument No. 231 of 2017, Employment Regulation Order (Security Industry Joint Labour Committee) 2017, came into effect on 1 June 2017 following a consultation process that commenced in January last, following which the security industry JLC agreed proposals on terms and conditions for security operatives. These were subsequently adopted by the Labour Court which submitted a recommendation to me. Being satisfied that the relevant provisions of the 2012 Act were complied with I signed an order on 30 May last. Prior to that order coming into effect, Statutory Instrument No. 417 of 2015, Employment Regulation Order (Security Industry Joint Labour Committee) 2015, which came into operation on 1 October 2015, applied to the sector.

The number of inspections carried out by inspectors from the Workplace Relations Commission in the security sector between 1 October 2015 and December 2015 were three, with two employers in breach. In 2016, there were 17 inspections, with five employers in breach. It might be useful to the Senator to know that there have been five inspections to the end of May 2017, with two employers in breach. The Workplace Relations Commission anticipates that a similar number of inspections will be carried out in the sector this year as compared to last year.

I note what Senator Nash has been saying about rogue security firms and will take it on board.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Labour)
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I am very encouraged by the increased level of inspections by the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, inspectorate. It is important that the message goes out that rogue security firms will not be allowed to continue not to comply with employment regulation orders, EROs. They are the law of the land. I have evidence of security firms which in recent weeks were not paying the new rate. I have advised those affected to bring their complaints to the rights commissioner and the WRC.

When I did some research on this I saw that some security firms are quite brazenly going onto recruitment websites and putting advertisements for rates of pay that are lower than the legal rates of pay. Some of these advertisements are dated 28 June and 1 July. This is continuing. I do not think this is a mistake.

These people are thumbing their noses at the law, insulting their employees and expecting them to work for a rate of pay that is less than the legal hourly rate. That is not acceptable. There is provision in the legislation, as the Minister of State knows, to apply for an exemption from an ERO rate. It is like the exemption that applies under the National Minimum Wage Act 2017 and nobody has made an exemption request under that Act or under the joint labour committee, JLC, system.

It has been brought to my attention that some of the security firms which appear to be non-compliant with the new rate are in fact receiving State contracts. There is an obligation on anyone who is operating a State contract under public procurement policies to respect the law of the land. The JLC system in security is the law of the land. An ERO was properly put to the Minister of State who signed it, was satisfied that it was legal and laid it before these Houses. That is the legal rate of pay. Those who do not respect the legal rate of pay should be stripped of their State contracts.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Senator Nash has said the rate of pay is €11.05 and will increase to €11.35 in June 2018. If there are employees being abused by rogue security firms that should be brought immediately to the attention of the WRC. All enterprises are covered by the employment regulation order but if an enterprise is experiencing financial difficulties it can apply to the Labour Court for an exemption from its obligation to pay the rates. There are many people jumping on the bandwagon.

The law must be enforced, as Senator Nash has said. If this practice is noted it should immediately be brought to the attention of the WRC. I thank the Senator for raising the issue. It is always good to be aware of these issues. Security is a huge sector particularly in the entertainment area. The commission offices may be contacted on 1890 80 80 90 or through the WRC.