Priority Questions.

Business Regulation.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

53 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when he will set a national target for the reduction of the administrative costs of regulation to business; if he will use the international standard costs model as part of this process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31478/07]

In March, the European Council agreed that administrative burdens arising from EU legislation should be reduced by 25% by 2012. Taking into account the different starting points and traditions, the Council invited member states to set their own national targets of comparable ambition within their spheres of competence by 2008.

Prior to the Taoiseach's departure for the spring European Council meeting, the Government agreed that I should lead the cross-departmental and agency drive and put in place a mechanism to drive the agenda at national level. As part of this effort, I established a high level group on business regulation earlier this year under the chairmanship of my Department's Secretary General. The group comprises representatives of Departments, governmental agencies, the business sector and ICTU. It has decided to focus initially on ways to reduce, simplify and eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens and associated costs in the five priority areas identified in the Business Regulation Forum's April report and to capture the savings arising from that work on a case-by-case basis. The five priority areas identified by the BRF are taxation, statistical reporting, environmental regulations, health and safety regulations and company and employment law. I expect the group to submit an initial report to me by July 2008.

In submitting its report last April, the BRF did not recommend the introduction of the standard cost model as employed in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, which pioneered this approach. Instead, the BRF recommended:

Given the resource implications associated with undertaking a full baseline measurement exercise, a prioritised and selective approach would be the most realistic way forward for Ireland. In line with this recommendation, the high level group is pursuing a prioritised and selective approach.

International evidence states that the World Bank's Doing Business 2008 report ranked Ireland eighth of 178 in terms of ease of starting and running a business. Of our EU partners, only the UK and Denmark are ahead of us. Recently, I took a number of initiatives to help to reduce the administrative burdens on business, including legislation introduced at the end of last year to raise the audit exemption thresholds applying to small companies in respect of turnover and balance sheet to €7.3 million and €3.6 million, respectively. The previous thresholds were €1.5 million and €1.9 million. This will remove the compulsory annual audit cost from the large number of companies qualifying for the enhanced exemption levels.

In company law, we approved the general scheme of the companies consolidation reform Bill as prepared by the company law review group. The Bill is being drafted and will consolidate the 13 Companies Acts into one. In addition to a number of significant proposed reforms, the Bill will make it easier for firms and practitioners to understand and comply with the law relating to the incorporation and operation of companies in Ireland.

The Minister's time has expired.

As regards responding to the European Council's invitation to member states to set national targets, an appropriate target will be set for Ireland — we are considered to be relatively lightly regulated — after full consultation with Departments and agencies. I intend to bring that part before the Government.

The Minister has gone one minute over his time. If there is an important paragraph, it should be at the beginning rather than the end of his reply.

No one can underestimate the importance of cutting red tape and reducing the regulation of business. A recent ESRI survey showed this to be the matter of most concern to businesses, more so than infrastructure and potentially——

I did not catch that last part.

A recent ESRI survey of business people showed this to be their number one concern ahead of infrastructure and other issues, including labour costs. We estimate that business could be saved up to €1.25 billion in five years were the standard cost model adopted.

Like many Ministers, the Minister has only half answered the question I asked. I assume his answer in respect of using the standard cost model is no. I did not ask whether it was recommended by the BRF, I want to know whether the Minister will use it. Will he clarify that?

I asked the Minister when he would set a national target, but he did not answer. Is he not embarrassed by his failure to set a target? I will provide a few examples. Austria set a reduction target in April 2006, the Czech Republic set a three-year 20% target in July 2007, Italy——

The Deputy should seek information instead of giving it.

The figures for Italy, the Netherlands and the UK are 25%. When will the Minister set a target? From his statement, can I take it that he will not use the standard cost model to assess the baseline for current regulatory costs?

I stated that during the previous Question Time some weeks ago. The Deputy did not hear it then, nor did he hear it now. I have made clear the way I am proceeding.

Is the answer no?

Yes. Due to the imposition in terms of staffing and costs, the route we are taking is more realistic and effective. The EU invited member states to have targets by 2008 and we will have begun a realistic and informed process to that effect. Anyone can set a target, but achieving the target is the key issue.

When will the target be set so that we will be able to see whether it has been achieved?

The audit exemption threshold, on which I took a decision last year, is estimated to save businesses between €10 million and €20 million. Research is ongoing in that respect. Through simplifying the process by which companies recover redundancy payments, we have effected a saving of approximately €1.2 million to the companies concerned. That is a global figure.

Where there are clear and realistic examples of removing red tape from the system, I will follow them. We are addressing five areas——

When will the Minister set the targets so that we can begin benchmarking?

Within the next two months.

The Minister did not state as such in his initial answer.

EU Directives.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

54 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position he will adopt at the European Council on 5 December 2007 in relation to the European Parliament and European Council Directive on Working Conditions for Temporary Agency Workers which was first issued by the European Commission on 20 March 2002 and received a first reading in the European Parliament and which the Irish Government has failed to support in the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31389/07]

Ireland will continue to adopt a constructive approach to the European Union negotiations on the proposed EU directive on temporary agency work. While I support the objective of providing for the equal treatment of agency workers, the proposal for consideration as currently drafted is imbalanced. We have concerns about exemptions or derogations that would be to the benefit or advantage of some member states but not others. Ireland has indicated with other member states that if permanent derogations through collective agreements are to be allowed, other means providing for derogations should also be allowed in those member states without such collective agreements.

Ireland considers that the derogation from equal treatment provided for in Article 5.4 of the proposed directive in respect of short duration temporary agency assignments of a maximum of six weeks is too short. This is particularly so in comparison to the derogation available to those member states with collective agreements that can and do deviate from equal treatment in pay levels and in the areas of wider working and employment conditions under the terms of Article 5.3. In some cases, these derogations can be for six months or longer.

A longer time period than currently on offer in respect of short duration assignments — a maximum of six weeks is being proposed under Article 5.4 — would represent a more balanced approach. The short time period on offer could damage future job creation prospects and deter the use of temporary agency working, which would be to the detriment of our economy. This is particularly the case because agency work can provide in certain circumstances a useful stepping stone for some persons to enter the labour market. The opportunities available to agency workers should not be reduced as a result of any new arrangements. Overall, the longer period being sought would provide the best balance between employment creation and flexibility on the one hand with employment protection and security on the other.

Ireland will continue to adopt a constructive approach to these discussions. In principle, we support the thrust of the directive, but we are still participants in a wider negotiation on the details.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and I support his efforts to ensure we have one of the most flexible labour markets in the EU. We have had it for many years, but it need not come at the cost of denying agency workers on sites or locations working alongside domestic workers the same rights as those on the shop floor. This is the net point. Some 27,000 people, 2% of the workforce, are agency workers and this number will increase. As the economy takes a downturn, the likelihood is that employers in some sectors will, for competitive reasons, shift from the traditional form of employment to that of agency workers. In the Minister of State's city and elsewhere, it will create racialist and nationalist tensions of a xenophobic nature between Irish workers displaced and replaced by agency workers.

I am asking a simple question. Why can the Minister of State not embrace the principle of the directive and support it in December when the Portuguese President tables it? Why can the Minister of State not introduce legislation subsequently and enact it domestically in terms and conditions appropriate to the Irish labour market to avoid some of the fears he has expressed regarding how the directive has been framed? We are facing a serious problem. I do not understand why the Government cannot agree with SIPTU and the Labour Party's position on having no discrimination between workers in the workplace, irrespective of where they come from.

We support the thrust of the directive but the difficulty is that other member states have derogations and collective agreements. That allows them to enact legislation which enshrines disparity between agency workers and others, putting Ireland at a competitive disadvantage to them. We want to achieve a level playing pitch in our negotiations. We do not want to undermine competitiveness but, equally, we accept agency workers must be protected. It is unfair to claim Ireland is the only EU member state holding up this directive. Discussions and negotiations are ongoing. As Deputy Quinn was a Minister, he will be aware of how Council negotiations proceed.

It is precisely because I know how Council negotiations proceed that I have put this question. For those coming to Ireland as agency workers, particularly in the skilled and semi-skilled areas, the type of competition in question is not necessarily across borders from the continent to the island. Ireland is not suffering in attracting labour.

Ireland will remain attractive to other workers outside the island of Ireland. My concern is that we will institutionalise discrimination of indigenous workers. They will be at risk if there is a downturn in the economy, as we know there will be, but it will not be as large as some fear. The Minister of State knows what an employer would do if faced with the choice of cheap agency workers or letting Irish workers go to remain competitive, not in the continental market but in the Irish market. Irish workers will be let go because they are dearer than agency workers. This will be a problem for all of us, not just in the workplace. Endorsing the directive is important.

I share the Deputy's concerns. Agency workers being paid below the normal rate is a matter that is being examined in legislation. The directive is in a different context as we would put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage if we sign up to it. We are negotiating in that context. In protecting employment regulation orders, EROs, and registered employment agreements, REAs, the Government will not allow agency workers to be paid less than agreed labour rates. It can be dealt with through legislation.

We saw what happened in Irish Ferries. The only way to deal with it is through immediate domestic legislation. When will that legislation be introduced?

We reacted quickly to the situation in Irish Ferries.

Science Education.

Deirdre Clune

Question:

55 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the nature of the co-operation between his Department and the Department of Education and Science in the promotion of science as a school subject and to his role in promoting a multifaceted innovation agenda across relevant Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31479/07]

The Government has set a goal for Ireland to become a leader in research and development and innovation. It has committed a budget of €8.2 billion under the National Development Plan 2007-2013 and the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2113 towards achieving this goal.

One objective of the strategy is to increase participation in the sciences by young people and to bring about a significant increase in the number of people with advanced qualifications in science and engineering. Chapter 5 of the strategy sets out the goals towards this end while chapter 8 outlines the implementation and co-ordination mechanisms intended to facilitate, drive and achieve those goals.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has overall responsibility for overseeing and directing the full implementation of the strategy. Governance structures have been established to ensure effective interaction, co-ordination and review of outputs across eight Departments, including the Department of Education and Science, the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser, State agencies and higher education institutions, all of which are working together to implement the strategy.

At the apex of this is a Cabinet committee on science, technology and innovation, chaired by the Taoiseach. Its membership comprises the key stakeholder Ministers, including the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Minister for Education and Science and myself. Its objective is to ensure the environment for science, technological development and innovation is conducive to maintaining Ireland's competitiveness and to further developing Ireland's position as a dynamic and knowledge-driven economy.

The interdepartmental committee on science, technology and innovation, chaired by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, reports to the Cabinet committee on progress being made in implementing the strategy. Several subsidiary implementing bodies and dedicated working groups work under aegis of the committee.

Implementation of the strategy will be monitored and reviewed by means of an annual report prepared by the interdepartmental committee for the Cabinet committee and drawing on all the programmatic and policy strands and the expertise available to it. The first such report will be produced in spring 2008 and will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

All of the above actions demonstrate the whole of Government nature of the strategy. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will continue to oversee and co-ordinate the work of the various groups and sub-groups to ensure the objectives of the SSTI are realised.

On the promotion of science — public awareness in schools — we recognise the importance of science in primary and secondary schools as well as the need to promote interest in science across all elements of society. The Department of Education and Science working with the Higher Education Authority has begun extensive syllabus redevelopment and continues to tackle curriculum reform, investing in professional awareness, guidance and technical assistance to support science in the educational system. This is supplemented by the work of the Discover Science and Engineering Programme, the Government's integrated science awareness programme.

I accept the Minister's argument that for Ireland to become a knowledge-based economy and less dependent on manufacturing, we need to move up the value chain and increase the number of graduates available to work in these industries.

My question was related to the fall-off in the uptake of science subjects at second level. A recent competitiveness report stated that one weakness facing Ireland was the lack of uptake of science and mathematics at second level. The number of students entering third level taking up ICT courses has dropped by 58% since 2000. While the strategy for science, technology and innovation outlines improvements in the take-up of science subjects, no specific targets have been set. How can the innovation policy be progressed without the pool of students to satisfy it?

Science was reintroduced into the primary school curriculum in 1999. In a recent review it was noted more young people are taking an interest in the sciences.

Not many students are taking science subjects to leaving certificate, however.

At second level, 90% of students study science at junior certificate level, for which a new syllabus was introduced in 2003. Up to 60% of students study one of the three science subjects at leaving certificate level; 14.7% study physics and 13.5% study chemistry.

The uptake in these subjects has been a concern for some time. Numbers taking these subjects dramatically declined during the 1980s but there is evidence of a turnaround. A critical concern is to increase the numbers studying these subjects at senior level. The objective is to increase the percentage taking chemistry and physics at leaving certificate to 20% of the overall student cohort. As part of this approach, concerted efforts will be made to encourage a better gender balance in the taking up of physics.

The Discover Science and Engineering Programme, chaired by Leo Enright, has recently launched its annual roadshow. The number of students at primary and second level attending this has increased significantly. With the changes in the syllabus and the system and with the promotion of the Discover Science and Engineering Programme, the numbers will be brought back up. There is evidence that this is happening.

I agree the Discover Science and Engineering Programme is excellent and I met Leo Enright recently in Cork. However, science student numbers are down 4.5%, particularly in computer science. We are not generating the interest or the pool of students to feed our third level courses. The Minister for Education and Science changed the leaving certificate examination timetable this week but the science subjects did not feature. Interest at second level must be generated to ensure students take up third level courses in the future. The Minister of State also seems to have different figures from mine.

I accept the Deputy's concerns. The Government is concerned about the matter. That is why changes to the curriculum were made and the publicity campaign launched by the Discover Science and Engineering Programme is being promoted. The Government acknowledges that there is a need to reverse the trend that was evident in the 1980s.

Live Register.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

56 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the continued upward drift in the number of people out of work, as recorded in the monthly live register figures; the action he is taking to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31390/07]

The total number of people recorded on the live register for October is 157,449. This is a significant decrease in the numbers recorded in the previous four months of 2007. It also equals the average numbers recorded on the live register for the year in 2005 and 2006. Employment has increased by 247,300 in a three year period since 2004 and the number in employment is 2,140,900.

The live register is not designed to measure unemployment. It includes part-time, seasonal and casual workers entitled to unemployment benefit. Unemployment is measured by the quarterly national household survey, collated and published by the Central Statistics Office. The most recent quarterly national household survey, quarter 3, 2007, indicates that employment has increased by 67,600 in the year. The unemployment rate is 4.7%, down from 4.8% in the same period last year.

The predictions for the medium term are for continued employment growth, albeit at a slower pace than that experienced to date. Ireland's overall employment rate is 69.9%, which compares favourably to the EU rate of 64.4%. The range of services provided by FÁS will be available to anyone who becomes unemployed. This will include active engagement with persons on the live register to help them obtain jobs either directly or through further training, education or work experience and access to the various training and employment programmes provided by FÁS.

FÁS also emphasises the training of low-skilled workers in vulnerable industries to ensure that, in the event of becoming unemployed, they will have the skills necessary to make the transition to other employment. The development agencies, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the county enterprise boards will continue to promote job creation through the delivery of programmes to help the enterprise sector develop, thereby creating new jobs.

Over the period of the National Development Plan 2007-13, the NDP, the Government will invest €7.7 billion in public funds to support training and skills development. This is a significant increase on the level of spending at €5.9 billion over the previous seven year period. The level of investment reflects the importance the Government attaches to maintaining an educated, skilled and adaptable workforce in Ireland.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The NDP will focus on upskilling the workforce and the activation and participation of groups outside it. Upskilling the workforce will include measures to improve training for people in employment, help upskill those affected or likely to be affected by industrial re-structuring, improve and enlarge the apprenticeship system and provide progression opportunities for school leavers. A total of €2.8 billion has been provided to support these measures over the lifetime of the NDP. Activation and participation of groups outside the workforce will include measures to provide targeted training and services to the unemployed, people with disabilities, lone parents, Travellers and prisoners, as well as encouraging the increased participation of women, older workers, part-time workers and migrants in the workforce. A total of €4.9 billion has been provided to support these measures over the lifetime of the NDP. FÁS and Skillnets will provide most of this training and €1,076.5 million has been provided for these activities in the pre-budget Estimates for 2008.

The Minister does not need to persuade me that this Government is capable of spending large sums of money. I am well aware of that.

We also created it.

Getting value for it is another matter. I accept that we have a vibrant economy to which many in our society have contributed, not least the Minister. I would like him to focus, however, on the extra 8,000 people who are unemployed since this time last year. Do we know who they are? Do they feel displaced by the vibrancy of the labour market and the economy? Do they feel they have a chance to get back into the workforce with the requisite skills to compete against a cohort of European citizens who have the same right to come to this country as we had in our darker days to go elsewhere? If we do not reach out and address them, and if the Minister does not use the resources under his Department's remit to do so, we will lay the foundations for the kind of right wing racist backlash that has occurred in every other medium sized European country whose economy has slowed down, as it is in the nature of a cyclical market economy to do.

What mechanism does FÁS have to track and identify the extra 8,000 people who have become unemployed and ask them what they need in order to get back into work? The macroeconomic performance of this economy is good but there is a danger inherent in the fallout. What steps is the Minister taking to identify the extra 8,000, bringing the total unemployed to 164,000, who have fallen out of this economy, notwithstanding its growth, and bring them back onto the pitch?

I have given the statistics to show that the rate has fallen since this time last year. The key point is that FÁS undertakes activation measures. After three months, FÁS and the Department of Social and Family Affairs meet everybody who is on the register and offer them a variety of programmes for reorientation, training or opportunities. The macro and microeconomies are not separate. The long-term unemployment rate, people on the register for longer than 12 months, is approximately 1.3%.

They are in a different category. I am talking about the short term.

The Deputy mentioned people who feel displaced and one begins to feel displaced and alienated from the labour force if one is out of employment for longer than 12 months. That remains a key sector for activation.

Our Department works with FÁS in an interdepartmental group with the Department of Social and Family Affairs to activate a significant cohort of the live register who are not designated unemployed but who are on welfare because there are barriers to their re-entry to the workforce. These may be people with disabilities or lone parents. We have to change mind sets to endeavour to reach out to that 4% who need access to the labour market. We are satisfied that the rate is at 1.3%.

Deputy Penrose and I would be happy to return to discuss that issue with the Minister. Today, however, I am talking about the 490 workers in Waterford Glass who traditionally had secure and well-paid employment but whose jobs are disappearing, the workers in C&C in Tipperary and the 51 threatened redundancies in Aer Lingus. These people have commitments, such as families, and expectations. Three months is too long to wait to help these people — FÁS and the Department should be at the door to help them into new jobs as soon as the redundancies are made known. I have met these people, as the Minister has in his official capacity. They feel displaced and that is the first step to a sense of alienation and everything that flows from that.

The Deputy should inform himself better because we are at the coalface when people are made redundant. FÁS goes straight in.

The Minister said it goes in after three months.

That is the activation programme with the live register. When Waterford Glass closed in Dungarvan and over 200 workers were made redundant, we were in there immediately with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and FÁS. Only approximately 20 are still out of work. A couple of hundred jobs were lost in Motorola and the three agencies went in as quickly as they could, past management and the company structures, to help the people start their own businesses and ensure that they could avail of FÁS training programmes. The IDA tried to assess their skill sets to match companies that might come in. IBM came in and bought an indigenous company, Vallent and employed approximately 150 people in the software development area. The programme is activated quickly in response to redundancies.

That works when we are notified but when we are not notified, what happens?

We have a programme under the aegis of FÁS to deal with redundancies anywhere in the economy.

Employment Support Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

57 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of field staff currently in the labour inspectorate; the timetable for the increase in the number of inspectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31481/07]

I assume that by field staff the Deputy is referring to the grade of inspector whose primary responsibilities include the carrying out of inspections and other associated inquiries at places of work with a view to determining compliance with certain employment rights legislation.

In accordance with commitments given under Towards 2016, the social partnership agreement, the number of inspectors is scheduled to increase to 90, from a starting position of 31, by the end of 2007. Fifty one inspectors hold appointments with the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA. The Public Appointments Service's recruitment and selection process for ten inspectors with specific language skills has been completed while my Department's competitions for the remaining inspector positions were completed yesterday, 27 November. By the end of the year we will have the 90 labour inspectors as committed under Towards 2016. It is a good news story all round.

When will the ten inspectors with the language skills be put in place? There is a shift from employing Irish to non-national workers, some of whom receive lesser terms and conditions than Irish employees. There is a perception that no Irish need apply to some companies, which causes two problems. Coming back to the point made by Deputy Quinn earlier, this is causing resentment and is putting responsible companies out of business. Fines imposed by the labour inspectorate are increasing annually but do inspectors target specific sectors in the economy to ensure this abuse is eradicated?

The role of the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, is to ensure employment legislation is complied with and its purpose is to educate and inform to ensure companies are aware of their obligations and employees are aware of their entitlements. In this context there is a strong emphasis on information and education with programmes being rolled out in various sectors of the economy. Labour inspectors will be targeting specific areas and will soon launch a programme, under the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996, to ensure young people are not exploited in the approach to Christmas.

There will be 90 inspectors by the end of the year and great interest was shown by people with language skills. This is a welcome development due to the diverse nature of today's economy and the potential exploitation that immigrants face, which we must ensure is not allowed to permeate the economy. Language inspectors will be engaging in discussions and the unions played an important role in this area; I recently met representatives of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, SIPTU, regarding how it will inform its members of the role of NERA. It is a proactive organisation and we will have 90 inspectors by the end of the year who will educate, inform and enforce.

When will the ten inspectors with specific language skills be appointed and begin carrying out inspections? This was my first supplementary question and the final interviews were held six weeks ago. When will the final group of inspectors begin employment?

The most important point is that the language inspectors have been recruited and are being trained at the moment.

Have they signed contracts?

They have been recruited for training. This was a complex matter because it was necessary to ensure candidates had language skills and the selection process was detailed. It attracted huge interest.

This process was completed six weeks ago.

That is correct but it is necessary to train people having found the level of language competency they possess. It is a complex area because they must be aware of compliance and employment rights legislation and when they are trained they will get their labour inspector warrants.

When will they receive their warrants?

I cannot give a specific date but it will be soon and I will get back to the Deputy on this matter.