I ask the Minister to intervene in the Dunnes Stores dispute. Earlier this year the Minister had an opportunity to grasp the nettle not only in regard to the problems at Dunnes Stores but also in regard to the ongoing problem of the exploitation of part-time workers. The Government was very concerned about part-time workers when it cobbled together the Programme for Government last year. However, that concern by a supposedly left wing dominated Government has gone out the window along with many more of its promises.
Part-time workers in Dunne Stores and elsewhere have been left unprotected because the Government turned its back on them. Other EU states have dealt with this issue in one way or another. I am grateful to the Minister for coming to the House to reply to this matter but I wish to remind him that during the Cork by-election the Fine Gael Party in particular promised that it would introduce legislation to control Sunday trading. There will be more disputes similar to the one at Dunnes Stores and chaos and confusion will continue while this free-for-all prevails. The Minister refuses to introduce the necessary legislation to regularise Sunday trading and provide statutory protection for part-time workers.
I wish to put forward proposals in this regard to the Minister. My first point is that there is a need to control Sunday trading, not ban it. There is a clear demand from consumers for Sunday trading at certain times of the year. The case for Sunday trading in tourist areas has been well made and equally good cases have been made for Sunday trading by the family corner shop, filling stations and garden centres. I understand the Minister has been advised by the Attorney General that it is constitutionally impossible to control Sunday trading. Will he say if this is the case and, if so, will he publish the legal advice? The Members are entitled to know the basis for his arguments.
The second point concerns the issue of zero hour contracts, which was dealt with in the Dunne Stores dispute but must be dealt with by way of legislation. The time has come to make zero hour contracts which do not make a guarantee of a minimum number of working hours illegal. These contracts are used by shops, hotels, catering firms, contract cleaning companies and nursing. These contracts can be made illegal within weeks if the Government implements the EU working time directive into Irish law. This can be brought about through dialogue with the social partners.
The third point to make is that Sunday is different to other days and a person should not be forced to work on this day. Under British legislation workers can agree an opt out clause which means they are not obliged to work on Sundays and will not lose their jobs if they do so. Fourth, the Shops Hours of Trading Act, 1938 which requires employers to give starting and finishing times in an hours of work notice needs to be updated. The sanction for a breach of this rule is a maximum fine of £20 plus a penalty of £4 per day where the offence is a continuing one. It is clear that this legislation is out of date.
I put forward those proposals which will provide greater protection for part-time workers to the Minister as I appreciate this is not an easy issue with which to deal. Part-time employment accounts for approximately 11 per cent of workers compared with the figure of 6.5 per cent in 1985. I ask the Minister not to expose these workers to the free-for-all atmosphere which prevails today but to face up to his responsibilities and introduce the necessary legislation to protect their rights and working conditions.