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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Nov 1996

Vol. 471 No. 6

Protection of Young Persons Regulations, 1996: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Protection of Young Persons (Employment of Close Relatives) Regulations, 1996,

a copy of which in draft was laid before Dáil Éireann on 4th November, 1996.

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Protection of Young Persons (Employment) (Exclusion of Workers in the Fishing or Shipping Sectors) Regulations, 1996,

a copy of which in draft was laid before Dáil Éireann on 4th November 1996.

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Prescribed Abstract) Regulations, 1996,

a copy of which in draft was laid before Dáil Éireann on 4th November, 1996.

These motions seek the approval of Dáil Éireann for draft regulations I propose to make under the Protection of Young Persons (Employment of Close Relatives) Regulations, 1996, which we passed before the summer recess. As Deputies will recall, that Act requires affirmative resolutions of both Houses.

The Act passed by both Houses and signed into law by the President last June revises and extends the legislation relating to the protection of children and young people in employment. It repeals the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1977, and other employment protection legislation relating to young people dating back to the 1940s, consolidates them in the new Act and gives effect to the EU Council Directive on the Protection of Young People at Work. It is proposed to bring this Act into operation by way of a commencement order as soon as these regulations, which are necessary to give the legislation full effect, are approved.

The regulations being made under section 8 (1) of the Act modify the application of the Act to young people employed in the fishing or shipping sectors. It is proposed that the provisions relating to working hours and night work will not apply to such young people. These sectors were exempted from these provisions of the 1977 Act and Articles 8.5 and 9.2 of the EU Directive also allow a derogation for those sectors from those provisions where there are objective grounds for doing so. We signalled that during the debate in the House earlier this year. The employment of such workers is usually intermittent and seasonal and may entail long spells on and off duty. For these reasons, compliance with these provisions would be impractical.

It is noted that young workers in these sectors are covered by other provisions, including minimum age. Furthermore, any young person assigned to night work must have equivalent compensatory rest time. Under regulations I propose to make under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, a young person will be entitled to free assessment of his or her capabilities before assignment to night work and at regular intervals thereafter.

The regulations proposed under section 9 of the Act exclude close relatives from certain provisions of the Act. These provisions relate to the prohibition of employment of children, duties of employer, working hours and time spent in vocational training. These regulations will replace similar regulations made under the 1977 legislation. During the passage of this Act through the Dáil, Deputy Tom Kitt tabled an amendment to this effect. I signalled at that stage that we would make this amendment by way of regulations. These regulations replace similar provisions in the 1977 legislation.

Close relatives are defined as family members — spouse, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, stepfather, stepmother, brother, sister, half brother or half sister — who are employed at a private dwelling house or on a farm where both employer and employee reside or in a family undertaking. These regulations will facilitate young people who wish to work on a family farm or in a family business. The point was made during the debate that it was important for young people to be able to help out in the family business.

The regulations under section 28 of the Act prescribe the abstract of the Act, which is required to be displayed by every employer of young people at the premises where the young people work. An employer who does not display the prescribed abstract of the Act should be guilty of an offence and may on summary conviction be fined up to £1,500 and a further £250 per day in the case of a continuing offence. The abstract summarises in simple language the main rules in employing young people under 18 and will be available free of charge in both poster and leaflet form from the information unit of the Department of Enterprise and Employment. We have designed an attractive and eye catching poster because I want this abstract to be seen and read by young people. We have taken steps to ensure the information is made available in a user friendly way. I also propose to make regulations under the Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994, whereby the employer will be required to give a copy of the abstract to every employee under 18 within one month of the employee starting work. This point was made strongly during the debate in the Seanad and these regulations fulfil an undertaking I made there. It is important that young people know their rights and entitlements under the legislation. An information campaign about the Act will be launched as soon as the commencement order is made.

We had a good debate on this legislation as it went through the House and I was pleased to take on board constructive suggestions by members of the Opposition parties after I took further legal advice. We were able, for example, to relax conditions for young people working at weekends or at holiday time, when they did not have school the next morning, and to extend the maximum time from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. The Act was welcomed by Deputy Tom Kitt and Deputy Quill, both former teachers. It places the employment of young people firmly in the context that education comes first because their long-term job security is tied in with their opportunity to get a good education. There is a clear link between early school leaving and long-term unemployment and this was made clear during the debate. We have tried to update our law to ensure there is adequate protection for young people and that the rules regarding work are placed in the context that education comes first for young people of school age.

I commend the regulations to the House.

We do not need to have a lengthy debate on this issue. Are the Protection of Young Persons (Employment of Close Relatives) Regulations, 1996, specially designed for the Labour Party?

We had a constructive debate in this House on the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act. We had to strike a balance between the need to protect young people and ensure they got a proper education and the need to ensure employers did not exploit young workers. We have seen from recent reports of the ILO what is happening world-wide as regards the exploitation of young people. It would be wrong of us to put the health and safety of our young people at risk. I referred to the fact that many young people, especially 17 and 18 year olds, were in third level education. Despite the fact they do not have to pay for third level education, the vast majority of young people have to find work. Deputies from all sides of the House expressed concern about this during the debate.

Although it is not the Minister's responsibility, perhaps she could tell the House when back-up legislation from the Department of Education will be introduced. It is important to enact appropriate legislation when dealing with young persons.

The Minister mentioned the need for information. It is important that young people know their rights and that employers are aware of their position. I urge the Minister to ensure that posters are displayed in prominent places. She should also ensure they are properly displayed in trucks or vans. I look forward to seeing these posters.

We will invite the Deputy to the launch.

I thank the Minister. Some glossy reports have been published by her Department which suggest it employs many marketing and design experts. It is important to ensure the information is clear and straightforward so that everyone knows where they stand. One problem is that legislation and regulations are too complicated. I know it must be legally right, but employers and employees must know where they stand.

I note the Minister has published the Organisation of Working Time Bill, 1996. I had only a brief look at it but I have problems with some aspects. I hope we will have a lengthy debate on it. Many young workers who approached me are concerned about Europe becoming too intrusive. We are here to try to assist employees. I will not dwell on that Bill as it would not be in order, but I ask the Minister of State to listen carefully next week to the voices not only of employer organisations, whose views are well known and many of which I share, but also to the voices of employees. I do not want any employee to have a lower wage as a result of that Bill. We want to protect them on health and safety grounds. We should not rush that Bill through the House but should have a detailed debate on it.

My party supports this legislation on the basis that we need to protect the rights of young people in a world in which we are all striving to be competitive, which is laudable. Regulations are required to protect the rights of young people. As a result of a thorough debate on this legislation we have managed to get the balance right. I await the response of the Minister of State to the questions I have put.

Generally in this House and country we have been great Euro enthusiasts. That may be the case because each year we get about £2 billion net from the European Union, approximately £35 per week for each family. It is no wonder we have been quite enthusiastic. Each time we have been asked to endorse a new treaty by referendum, or legislation we have been delighted and enthusiastic to do so. It is time we asked questions about the Union to which we belong. I am not a Euro sceptic, but neither do I belong to the category of person that could be called a Euro enthusiast. I like to think I belong somewhere in the middle and that I am a Euro realist.

We have been very successful at getting derogations from Europe when a measure does not suit us. Frequently when asked to upgrade our environmental infrastructure we have pleaded inability to pay and have got a derogation from the provisions of some of those directives for a number of years. More recently in the case of Telecom we have a derogation until the year 2000 and beyond. Telecom Éireann will not have competition in certain key areas. We sought that because we considered our State company would not be able to compete in those areas at present. We are very good at looking at ways out, but when it comes to Euro regulation we appear to embrace them with such enthusiasm that sometimes I wonder if we understand the implications.

I view these regulations as restricting the pocket money young people can earn. Regulation, law and the Constitution define us as a people, what we believe in and what we want enforced. We are good at passing laws, but we frequently fail to enforce them.

I want to ask the Minister a number of key questions about the regulations we are about to put into effect. At present a 16-year-old can hold down a general job, but under these regulations a 16-year-old who is at school cannot work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. I get newspapers delivered early in the morning by a 14-year-old or a 15-year-old sometime between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Obviously that person will not be able to deliver my newspapers following the enactment of these regulations. It is also ludicrous that under these provisions a 17 year old university student will not be able to work on a Friday or Saturday night as a lounge boy or lounge girl or to babysit up to midnight. Who will police this legislation? Will a Cinderella penalty apply in that if a young person is caught on the job beyond the hours in question an employer will be fined £1,500 and £250 per day for each continuing day? Will we turn employers into pumpkins?

While watching "Michael Collins" last week I reflected on who were the patriots at the foundation of the State. As we move into the 21st century we have a massive level of unemployment, which we will debate later. A total of 70,000 people have been out of work for three or more years and 140,000 have been out of work for more than a year. Do we really understand the obstacles facing employers in Ireland today, particularly small employers? Time and again through excessive taxation, more regulation and bureaucracy we put obstacles in their way. We do not see them as the real patriots of the Ireland we live in now. Through their effort, enterprise and risk-taking they provide opportunities for themselves and others.

When debating legislation such as this, it is all very well to pretend we live in an ideal world and we all like to think we are idealists, but we do not live in an ideal world. We live in an imperfect world in terms of employment and unemployment in Ireland. We live in a world where perhaps 250,000 people here do not have a real or sustainable job, where more people are working on Government job schemes than in the food industry and where more people are employed in Government job creation agencies than in some of our traditional industries, such as brewing and distilling. We belong to a European Union in which there are 20 million unemployed, equivalent to the population of three member states, or four if the population of Luxembourg is included. Unemployment is Europe's single biggest failure. Only the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have unemployment rates in single digit figures. Europe is losing out. It is an unemployment disaster area. Some of the regulation, including the type that we will put in place this morning, is the reason Europe is losing out as against the United States and other trading blocs. The United States has an unemployment rate of less than 6 per cent and New Zealand has a rate of 5 per cent. We could go through the developed world and it would be hard to find a comparison in terms of the European Union's unemployment record. For that and other reasons I question the practicality of these regulations.

The law may be fine, but will it be enforced? Who will enforce it at night? Will public officials from the Minister's Department go into supermarkets at 8.30 p.m. to check if a 16 year old who should have finished work at 8 p.m. is still on duty? Will they go into pubs at 11.30 p.m. to check if a 17 year old university student working as a lounge boy or a lounge girl is still on duty? Will they intrude into people's houses to check if a 17 year old is baby-sitting for somebody after 11 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night because they do not have to go to school the next day? I pose those questions because I do not believe this legislation will be enforced. I believe that scrupulous employers will obey the regulations because they are the law and many young people will lose out as a result. Because we are putting more obstacles in the way of employers, we will discriminate against young people getting work.

In my experience young people who work while at school or university generally do not get into trouble with the law or take drugs. They are generally enterprising and the type of young people we need to encourage if we are to foster an enterprise culture. The reality is that our school system is so bookish and academic that fewer young people have an enterprise culture. Most of our problems will not be solved by Europe or anybody else, they will have to be solved by us, as they were in the past. They will be solved by young people who are enterprising, hard-working and who understand what the world of work is all about. These regulations put an obstacle in the way of achieving that type of society. They are impractical and idealistic. In an ideal world they might be perfect, but we live in a competitive world of globalised markets. Our employers must be able to compete daily in terms of quality and price with employers in other countries to sell their products. The more regulation, taxation, bureaucracy and obstacles we put in their way, the less opportunity they have to compete in that competitive world outside.

It is ironic that as we put in place regulations that will act as an obstacle, particularly to young people getting work, that we will be going on to debate the problem of long-term unemployment, which affects young people in particular. Under these regulations a 16 year old will be able to have a full time job but will not be allowed to work between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Is it the case that a 17 year old university student will not be able to work in a lounge bar or babysit until midnight on a Friday or Saturday night? If so, who will enforce and police the regulations? Will it be the officials of the Department or the regular police? Who will ensure the nonsense we are about to put into law is enforced?

I will deal with a number of technical points before dealing with issues of broad principle and philosophy raised by Deputy Harney.

Deputy Kitt raised the question of follow up legislation. This is being worked on in the Department of Education and an announcement will be made in due course.

The Act provides for its display in a prominent place. I will make further provision in regulations to ensure an abstract is made available to employees in their pay packets within one month of starting regular work.

I am at pains to ensure the abstract of the Act and the guide to it are user friendly. When I worked in the information business, in Threshold, I was keen to ensure simple language was used and complex regulations were made as clear as possible. Deputies will be pleased with the result. My constituency colleague, Deputy Kitt, is aware of my interest in good quality design of literature. This will be reflected in the poster.

Deputy Harney raised the question of babysitting which is not covered by the regulations which deal with people employed on contract. Those delivering newspapers will only be covered where there is a contract of employment between them and the shopkeeper or distributor.

Deputy Harney also raised the question of enforcement. The regulations will be enforced by the labour inspectors of my Department. There will be a new channel of appeal to the rights commissioner and the Employment Appeals Tribunal which will hear complaints. If there is an accident involving a young person working outside the prescribed hours which results in a claim, the employer will find himself or herself in a difficult position vis-à-vis his or her insurance company. That is an important self-policing mechanism. Good employers will want to comply with the legislation.

Copies of the Act have been circulated. The abstract will be circulated also to all major employers of young people. I have met the vintners federation which is happy with and understands the new rules.

Deputy Harney took the opportunity to have a go at the principle of social legislation and our obligations under the social chapter. She spoke as if the Act was new. If she had followed the debate in the House closely, she would understand that in large part it consolidates existing law. The new provisions, which we are required to introduce under the EU Directive, are minimal. The 1977 Protection of Young Persons Act, enacted around the time Deputy Harney was first elected to the Houses of the Oireachtas, already provided good protection. In all that time I have never heard her complain about that law. Some of the provisions about which she complained have been part of the law since 1977. For example, the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. rule and the restriction on late working in respect of 16 and 17 year olds is in keeping with our obligations as a member of the International Labour Organisation and its policies on child labour.

They are not being enforced.

The night working rules date back to 1946.

Are they being enforced?

The new provisions involve raising the minimum age to 16 in respect of regular work. This is in line with experience and research which shows that the longer someone stays at school the stronger the chance of getting a good job thus reducing their chance of becoming long-term unemployed. Approximately 74 per cent of the long-term unemployed have minimum or no qualifications. We do not do a service by encouraging them to leave school at 15 to take up a job. They are more than likely to end up in a mickey mouse job and the chances of them becoming long-term unemployed are extremely high.

There will be a new avenue of appeal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the rights commissioners for young people and their parents. The penalties will also be increased.

I am proud Ireland has signed the social charter; that we believe in a Europe based on solidarity, where we are not just takers but givers; that workers have entitlements and that Europe's economic prosperity is based on the quality of our workforce who give of their commitment, talent and energies because they are not exploited and are treated well.

Deputy Harney may wish to put herself in the same political category as John Major and the Euro-sceptics who deride basic minimum protection for workers but I remind her we are moving into the 21st century and that 19th century employment conditions are no longer acceptable. Perhaps we are competing with people in Hong Kong and Singapore but their labour conditions, for young people in particular, are not acceptable in this economy and society.

We hope to position ourselves on the basis of our skills base and quality education. As the best performing economy in Europe which created a record number of new jobs in the past two years — 93,000 — we are proud to say this is based on a tradition of social solidarity and respect for the rights of workers, young workers in particular. When I speak in debates on child labour at the International Labour Organisation I can do so on the basis we have ratified its conventions dating back to the immediate post war period and we have good labour standards for our young workers. I reject the notion we can only have an entrepreneurial culture in this society based on the exploitation of workers and lack of respect for their basic rights.

Question put and agreed to.