Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - EC Directive on Voluntary Part-time Work.

26.

asked the Minister for Labour if he has any plans to implement the EC directive on voluntary part-time work; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The European Commission first transmitted proposals for a directive on voluntary part-time work to the Council of Ministers in January 1982. Following consultation with the European Parliament, the Commission submitted revised proposals in January 1983.

The proposals of the Commission are basically aimed at ensuring part-time workers should be treated the same as full-time workers, except where differences in hours of work objectively justify otherwise e.g. pay. The proposals also sought to give priority to part-time workers in respect of full-time vacancies occurring in the establishment in which they work.

The proposed Directive was discussed in detail in the Council in subsequent years but no agreement was reached. A basic problem was the far-reaching consequences of the Commission's proposal, notably the fact that the Directive required legislative protection for part-time workers in areas where full-time workers are not covered e.g. in relation to occupational pension schemes. The Directive was last discussed in the Council in January 1986 and the issue has not been on the Council's agenda since.

As regards the situation in Ireland, I have initiated a review of the situation regarding part-time employment and, as part of the consultative process, have sought the views of both ICTU and the FUE. When I have completed my discussions with both sides, I will decide on what action, if any, I should take in the matter.

For the purpose of consultation with the FUE and the ICTU, I prepared a short note on part-time work and I can let the Deputy have a copy of this for his information.

Would the Minister agree that as a result of our PRSI system and of legislation, many employers tend to opt for part-time work below 18 hours a week to avoid the rigours of the legislation. This is causing a grey if not a black economy and is also very unfair to many employees. In the circumstances will the Minister bring forward legislation as a matter of urgency, following his consultations, to attend to this matter?

I agree with what the Deputy says. Part-time work is a complicated area. Some people work part-time because it suits them and there are certain thresholds and benefits for them but a large number of people are kept on part-time employment. Some — I do not think there are too many — major employers use this system and it is not unknown that rosters of 17 hours, 50 minutes are drawn up in some of the major companies. The people in that category work year after year for less than 18 hours a week and have no entitlements whatsoever under unfair dismissals, holiday, or maternity protection legislation, and this is wrong.

Nor do they notch up a proportional contribution in the social insurance scheme.

That is correct. It is unfair to those people and my proposals will be designed to help them. Employers are concerned that any change in this area will rule out all part-time work but that will not be the objective of the proposals that I will bring to the House; it will be to give long-term part-time workers protection under legislation.

Would the Minister accept that the principle we should aim for is that part-time workers would get proportional benefit for the time they work. In other words in the social insurance contribution area they would get a fractional contribution——

They should get similar protection under the Unfair Dismissals Act and so on. If that could be adopted as a minimal objective we would be making progress.

I have some ideas on the matter and perhaps I will give some information to the Deputies to get their views on it.

I would be grateful if the Minister could do that.