Section 1 of the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977, contains definitions of what for the purposes of the Act are to be meant by "contract of employment", "employee" and "employer". In cases of dispute these are matters for the tribunal to decide.
On Committee Stage, Deputy Rabbitte referred to being aware of contracts being devised expressly for the purposes of circumventing the terms of the Unfair Dismissals Act. In this context I would draw the Deputy's attention to the provisions of section 13 of the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977. That section expressly provides that a provision in an agreement — whether a contract of employment or not — shall be void in so far as it purports to exclude or limit the application of, or is inconsistent with, any provision of the Act. Accordingly, any contract including as an express condition that the terms of the Unfair Dismissals Act do not apply will simply not work as that provision will, in point of fact, be null and void.
In regard to contracts for services, to which the Deputy referred, it is not intended that this Bill would extend to persons engaged under such contracts the protection of unfair dismissals legislation. For the purpose of labour protection legislation generally, eligibility of persons depends on their employment status. The scope of such legislation generally extends to persons who are engaged under a contract of service or apprenticeship and who otherwise fulfil the eligibility requirements of the legislation concerned.
As a rule, persons engaged under a contract for services would fall outside the scope of labour protection legislation. In cases of dispute or doubt, determination as to whether any individual falls within the scope of labour protection legislation would be a matter for the relevant adjudicative authority, for example, rights commissioner, tribunal or the courts. In this connection the nature of the contract between the parties would be a central consideration.
Deputy Rabbitte's amendment could, as was pointed out by Deputy McDowell on Committee Stage, have the undesired effect of including within the scope of the Act groups of persons whom the Deputy would not intend — for example, directors of limited liability companies — or could confuse the employment relationship which exists with other employees, for instance, teachers.
The extension of the scope of the legislation to include contracts for services would involve a fundamental change in the purpose of labour protection legislation, a change which is not envisaged among the purposes of this Bill. Therefore, I do not intend to accept this amendment.