Workplace Relations Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

For the proposed new employment rights and industrial relations machinery to work, as I stated before the break, we need improved and strengthened legislation in the area of workers' rights. This includes dealing with rogue employers who refuse to pay wages and refuse to comply with awards and decisions made by the industrial relations machinery; dealing with employers hiding behind shelf companies; and dealing with the completely unacceptable situation highlighted in Greyhound, where an employer can just change somebody's contract and tell him or her to sign it or go, which led those workers to being locked out. We need improved legislation strengthening workers' rights in these situations.

Another important area, which has been raised with the Minister a few times, is highlighted in the Rhatigan dispute, which has led workers to be locked out for six weeks, two of whom who have been occupying a crane for the past few days.

They are alleging - frankly, I believe them - rampant abuse of the subcontracting system, the so-called RCT1 system. The Minister may not be fully acquainted with this. I talked to one of the workers involved. He says that, along with a number of other bricklayers, he was employed by JJ Rhatigan. Believing they were employees of JJ Rhatigan, five weeks later they had not been paid anything. When they protested about this, some money appeared in the bank account of one of these people which amounted to all of the workers getting €100 per week for the five weeks they had worked.

When he questioned what the hell was going on, he was told he was a subcontractor. He said, "What? I'm not a subcontractor. I'm not employing these guys. We're just individual bricklayers who've been working for you for five weeks and believed we were employed by you. You're now telling us we're subcontractors." This bricklayer told me that he was not a subcontractor, had never been a subcontractor and did not want to be a subcontractor. This is a flagrant abuse of the RCT system. I have heard umpteen allegations of this kind of activity by big contractors. They then wash their hands and say they are not their employees even though they know quite well that these people have been brought in and essentially falsely described and categorised as subcontractors. That sort of thing is not on.

Those workers should not be sitting outside that building site, which is a public-contract building site for a school with public money going into it with this sort of carry on going on. What will be done to investigate this activity which is rampant and has led to industrial disputes and will lead to more? As the construction sector picks up, will the Government take action and introduce necessary legislation to deal with this rampant abuse of the subcontracting system? Streamlining the industrial relations machinery will mean nothing if we do not strengthen the rights in legislation of workers to prevent these sorts of abuses and create a level playing field, which, at the moment, is heavily tilted in favour of employers, quite a few of whom then engage in rogue behaviour.

There are serious problems with what is in the legislation. First, the potential for the adjudicator to dismiss frivolous claims is unacceptable and may even breach the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. As the professor of law in NUI Maynooth pointed out, people have the right to have their grievances heard and the idea that they can be dismissed as frivolous by a civil servant is not acceptable.

Second, the initial hearings with the adjudicators should be public and not private because public hearings act as a deterrent to rogue or delinquent employers and put pressure on them to treat workers properly. If these things go on behind closed doors, there is a problem.

Third, a single adjudicator at the proposed Workplace Relations Commission is not good enough. As I understand it, almost all sides of the industrial relations divide - lawyers, workers' representatives and employers' representatives - believe the tripartite system, where there is somebody representing workers, somebody representing employers and somebody who is a legal expert making an adjudication, is far more favourable than having one person, probably not qualified, making these adjudications. As Michael Doherty, professor of law in NUI Maynooth, has said, a single adjudicator seems to be motivated more by cost-saving requirements rather than by trying to come up with a fair, equitable and efficient system.

The legislation still gives the Minister the right to impose fees. There should be absolutely no question of fees. The provision for fixed penalty notices of €150 is a joke. This will be the soft option for employers and allow them to avoid properly dealing with grievances, complaints and problems brought up by employees.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Workplace Relations Bill 2014. I welcome the debate, as we need to improve the quality of life for all workers in the State. I will support and welcome any serious reform proposal, given that we all got elected in the last general election on the whole issue of reform and change of modern Irish society.

I welcome that representatives of all employees were involved in the process, in particular the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which sadly seems to have been marginalised by the Government in recent years. I would like to see a change of mindset from the Government and from the Minister present in particular. We need to bring back and include the unions in many of these discussions about the economic future of the country. Many of us are not happy with the current situation. The Minister cannot come in here and talk about the Workplace Relations Bill while at the same time having an attitude and mindset that does not include people. The days of exclusion have to end and that must be faced regarding this legislation.

We also have the issue of the unemployed and low-paid workers. They have been hammered in the past few years and they deserve our support. They need to be given top priority in this debate. We have seen the recent dispute with the Greyhound workers. They work in a very difficult job, collecting waste around the city. One morning, they were told their wages were being cut by 35% and there was then a long and bitter strike, which, thankfully, is over. While this was going on, many of us wondered why the resources were not used properly and efficiently to end the dispute.

We need to acknowledge the broader trade union movement and its particular contribution to Irish society. I refer not only to the mainstream trade union movement and other unions, but also to the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, which represents unemployed people. They have to have their say on workers' rights and on these issues, particularly regarding women workers, many of whom are on low pay.

Health and safety and good relations with workers are also key. In particular, the safety of staff and workers is crucial. Today saw approval for a £16 billion nuclear plant which is to be built 250 km away from the Irish coast, which is unacceptable. The safety of workers on that site and across our island is very important. I say to the Minister and the Taoiseach that they should call in the British ambassador to inform him that we have an issue with a nuclear plant being built 250 km from the Irish coast. The people of Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford are very concerned about this. We should haul in the British ambassador to find out what is going on because this is a public safety issue and a workers' rights issue.

Section 32 is designed to safeguard the wages and other statutory entitlements of employees who are working under public construction or other public contracts, while also ensuring competitive tendering and value for money in public expenditure. While I agree with value for money and proper tendering for projects, I disagree with low pay and that needs to be faced up to.

Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned construction on the Kishoge school in County Kildare where all of a sudden the workers were receiving €5 an hour, which is not acceptable in 2014. It is an absolute disgrace. When debating the Bill, let us also talk about these issues.

The aim of the Bill is to create a modern, user-friendly, world class employment workplace relations system that will provide significant benefits for its users and society as a whole. The focus will be on resolving the workplace disputes as quickly and inexpensively as possible. I totally endorse the aim of the legislation but we also need to focus on these issues. We need to have workplaces that are happy and efficient and where staff are treated very well. It is good for the economy and the country, but above all it is good for the people themselves.

Earlier, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said that he undertook extensive public consultation exercises, which I welcome because we need to hear the views of all the stakeholders.

If we are to build a world class workplace relations service, everyone must have a place at the table and an opportunity to have a say.

I broadly welcome the reform proposals the Minister has brought forward. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill reads:

The services of the Equality Tribunal, the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Relations Commission and the first instance functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) [are] to come together under the remit of the WRC. The appellate functions of the EAT will be amalgamated into a reconfigured Labour Court.

The memorandum further reads:

The Workplace Relations Bill will replace the existing complex system of five different bodies with a straightforward two-tier system [of] employment rights and industrial relations disputes.

This is a strength of the Bill. It is important to rationalise these services and ensure they are delivered in a sensible way.

The Bill provides that the Workplace Relations Commission will deal with all cases in the first instance and the Labour Court will deal with all cases on appeal. The explanatory memorandum reads:

The creation of the position of Director General of the WRC will provide a single point of leadership rather than [the] four that exist in NERA, the EAT, the LRC and the Equality Tribunal.

This is similar to what we in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality have proposed in regard to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. To have one person directly responsible, that is, a single point of leadership, is very sensible and efficient. It should ensure the job is done quickly, efficiently and fairly.

The explanatory memorandum reads:

The [Bill provides for the establishment of the] WRC Board with responsibility for strategy and annual work programme. This Board will comprise primarily representatives of employers groups, unions and equality bodies.

I especially welcome this section which we hope will bring the unions and equality bodies back into the mainstream of society. We must ensure equality issues and workers' rights are protected to the maximum.

The Bill also provides for "[t]he transfer of all the existing functions provided by the LRC (including conciliation, workplace mediation and advisory services) to the WRC". I welcome also the provision for workplace relations information and advisory services and, likewise, the indication that the WRC will be staffed by officials of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. There is not always sufficient acknowledgment of the excellent work done by these officials. They are very committed public servants, but it is not fashionable or trendy these days to commend them. I take the opportunity to do so today, being well aware of some of the magnificent work they have done in the public service.

The Bill also provides "[a] statutory basis for the use of innovative measures such as Compliance Notices and Fixed Charge Notices to enhance the compliance functions of the WRC". It provides for "[t]he sharing of employment related and other specified information between the WRC, the Labour Court and other official agencies in the context of promoting compliance with employment legislation". Additional members will be appointed to the Labour Court to facilitate the increased workload of the court under the new system. That is another positive aspect of the legislation.

I understand the Minister proposes to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage regarding the powers of inspectors in respect of adjudication and enforcement. The enforcement aspect, which is dealt with in sections 43 and 45, provides that non-compliance with an order of the WRC or Labour Court, as the case may be, will be an offence to be prosecuted in the District Court. We must be careful not to end up in a situation where workers are imprisoned.

The provisions in this Bill will lead to savings in the region of €2 million to €3 million for the Exchequer as a consequence of the increased efficiencies that are achieved. I welcome most aspects of the legislation. We need to provide efficient services that will ensure industrial relations in this State are handled in a clear, efficient and professional manner. I welcome this aspect of the Bill in particular. We cannot have situations where disputes drag on for years.

Deputies Seán Kyne, Noel Harrington and Seán Kenny will share time, with each having five minutes.

I welcome this Bill as a key component of the Minister's programme of reform of the State's employment rights and industrial relations machinery. The Bill represents the culmination of several years of work in terms of drafting proposals, holding public consultations and bringing the draft Bill before the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, of which I am a member.

A worker involved in a dispute or with a complaint is faced with a confusing array of organisations, with the nature of the complaint determining which organisation has jurisdiction. There is a lack of clarity at times in this regard, which is a problem given the stress and vulnerability often felt by workers in these circumstances. The current system exacerbates the problem by prolonging the process and wasting resources. There are five organisations with overlapping but separate objectives and operations involved. This leads to workplace claims being pursued through the wrong channels or arguments being put forward on the wrong legislative basis.

The best approach to resolving workplace disputes is one which does so quickly, fairly and transparently. This Bill will serve to avoid the errors currently being experienced by all involved. This will be achieved by replacing the five State bodies with two, namely, the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and an expanded and enhanced Labour Court. The commission will deal with all cases in the first instance while the Labour Court will deal with all appeals. A further welcome reform is the replacement of the different positions in the existing organisations with a single point of leadership in the person of the director general of the WRC. The new commission will be staffed by officials of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which will eliminate duplication.

Colleagues and I, as well as stakeholders, have raised concerns with the Minister regarding the potential levying of fees on persons wishing to access the new workplace relations services. I was encouraged by the Minister's response to my most recent parliamentary question in which he indicated that he did not propose to introduce charges on parties for access to the WRC services. He was taking this approach for several reasons, he said, but largely on account of the fact a key priority in this reform programme is to improve access to the State's workplace relations services. The intention is to ensure the reforms being introduced provide for an improved service in terms of cost efficiency and user friendliness. That is welcome.

This Bill could form a template for what needs to happen elsewhere. I recently submitted parliamentary questions to each Department to ascertain the number of State agencies, bodies, working groups and committees under their remit. I have received replies thus far from 12 Departments, with three others being collated. The details provided vary, but the common theme is that there is a plethora of agencies and statutory bodies. I understand the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is pursuing a reform programme and substantial work is being done by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and others in dissolving and amalgamating some of these entities. Work remains to be done in this area. There are 40 State bodies, working groups and service providers within the Department of Justice and Equality, 22 under the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, 18 each under the Department of Health and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, 17 under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, 13 under the Department of Finance, and 16 under the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

I am not seeking to denigrate the work done by many of these organisations, but I would be failing as a public representative and Member of the Oireachtas if I did not voice my concerns regarding the sheer volume of these organisations. Collectively, they are allocated millions of euro of public money every year. The people deserve the highest quality of public service delivered at the best value possible. Without naming any entity, the attitude of some State agencies when contacted by public representatives is not good enough and is deplorable in certain circumstances, with responses ranging from clear irritation at being questioned to the provision of incomplete or less than accurate information. In some cases, Members are simply ignored, without even an acknowledgment of their queries.

The signs for the economy are encouraging, with jobs being created and unemployment falling. Such positivity is not an excuse to cease examining and scrutinising expenditure of public moneys down to the last cent. This Bill is most welcome in that context. I welcome it, too, because it will improve the enforcement of employment rights and access to non-court-based resolution processes, and because fees will not be levied on people who are experiencing problems in the workplace which have knock-on effects on their personal lives. It is welcome because it represents what we campaigned for and pledged to do, namely, to ensure we have public services which work more efficiently and effectively for the public.

I welcome the publication of this Bill and acknowledge the good work the Minister has done in reforming legislation around the workplace and the general work of Government in ensuring that over the past year or two years, 70,000 more people are at work and on whom this legislation will directly impact and, hopefully, benefit.

The Bill is to streamline the grievance process by merging the five existing State bodies into two, namely, the Workplace Relations Commission and an expanded Labour Court. As has been pointed out, the current system is complex, confusing, can often be expensive and, in many cases, deeply frustrating, in particular where awards have been determined but not adequately enforced. An early resolution process should be determined by definite time targets, which I would like to see reinforced in the Bill, unless in exceptional circumstances where more flexibility could be introduced.

The establishment of a director general accountable to Oireachtas committees is a welcome development but I would go further. I submit that officer, or another officer, be directed to be a liaison officer for Members of the Oireachtas. This practice would be welcome in respect of all public bodies and State agencies. In areas where there would be quite a few inquiries from Oireachtas Members, maybe there could be a dedicated officer. However, in this particular case, an officer could deal with specific inquiries from the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I note board members are not to be paid, which is commonplace now. However, when dealing with workers' rights, it is worth noting that board members will not be paid. Could there be a bit more flexibility in some cases? Could the Minister's hands not be overly tied in this regard?

I am concerned the adjudicator is not required to hold any legal qualification. Perhaps the Minister might point out what qualifications or experience should be set as a minimum standard for the adjudicator.

As I pointed out, the current problems with the existing legislation is that it is overly complex, unwieldy and very difficult. This new legislation might be an opportunity to compile and publish an online case book for employment cases similar to recent publications from the Office of the Ombudsman. Compensation and award decisions and determinations should also be published online to increase transparency and the public profile of these two offices.

For parties who engage in the process, there should be an online progress report or an access portal so they could see how their cases were progressing through the system. It is very difficult for parties to know exactly where they stand, whether in the commission or the Labour Court. If something like this could be introduced, it would be very welcome.

Currently, in regard to enforcement, only 11% of cases taken by NERA are successful in getting the awards for employees. That is a very poor record of recovering awards. We have an opportunity in this legislation to make it easier for successful parties to the process to re-engage with the Courts Service and engage with the sheriff's office etc., to recover awards. On that note, I very much welcome the introduction of compliance notices and fixed charge penalty notices to be levied against parties who are in breach of employment legislation. The easier it is and the quicker it is to get resolutions and get awards paid, the better.

In regard to an employee who is not a member of a trade union or does not have the resources and would be discouraged by his or her circumstances from accessing the new redress procedures in this legislation, do we have an opportunity to make this legislation more user friendly, such as providing an information or an advocacy office which an employee could access as a first port of call, and to engage in an information campaign so that the employee would be aware of his or her rights and the redress available?

Employees and employers should not be concerned about this legislation. If the rights of employees are adhered to, one usually has a more productive and a better workplace and better workplace relationships, which almost always benefits employee and employers. I am very pleased to welcome this legislation.

The Workplace Relations Bill provides a statutory basis for a new structure which will see the existing five State bodies replaced by two. The Labour Relations Commission, the National Employment Rights Authority, the Equality Tribunal, functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and functions of the Labour Court will be replaced by the new Workplace Relations Commission. The functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal will be transferred to a newly expanded Labour court.

I welcome the Government's decision to reform the existing employment rights and industrial relations structures because the current system for resolving individual disputes related to the workplace is wasteful in terms of State resources and those of the users. It is also very frustrating for employees, employers and the professionals representing them. The system that developed over the past 60 years had become unwieldy, complex, inconsistent, slow and, in some cases, expensive for users.

The aim of the Bill is to create a modern, user-friendly and world class employment workplace relations system which will provide significant benefits for its users and society as a whole. The focus will be on resolving the workplace disputes as quickly as possible. The aim is to create a system characterised by increased emphasis on and assistance with early and informal resolution of disputes. One body, the Workplace Relations Commission, will deal with disputes initially. Employees with multiple complaints will have all complaints dealt with in one place at the same time.

Employers will no longer have to defend complaints in a number of fora and there will be one route and a time limit for all appeals as well as far speedier listing of cases for hearing and issuing of decisions. There will be standardised procedures and timeframes across employment rights legislation and better and quicker ways of enforcing awards, which I particularly welcome.

In addition to enhancing the service provided, the reform of the workplace bodies has the potential to reduce staff numbers and the associated cost of delivering the service. It is expected that savings will amount to €2 million per annum, mainly due to efficiencies and reductions in cost.

The legislation will provide for the merging of the services of the Equality Tribunal, the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Relations Commission and functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal under the Workplace Relations Commission. The Labour Court will deal with all cases on appeal. The creation of the position of director general of the WRC will provide a singular leadership rather than the four that exist currently in NERA, the EAT, the LRC and the Equality Tribunal. The WRC board will have responsibility for strategy and annual work programme. The board will comprise primarily representatives of employer groups, trade unions and equality bodies. The WRC itself will be staffed by officials from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

The transfer of the information provision functions relating to the family leave Acts will move from the Equality Authority to the new WRC and certain procedural matters, such as limitation periods and the length of time within which a decision made in the first instance may be appealed will be standardised across the full range of employment rights legislation. There will be a new more robust and efficient system for the enforcement of awards under employment legislation and overall there will be better enforcement of employment rights awards and better compliance and enforcement of measures for employment rights, which I very much welcome.

I have been concerned for some time that the industrial relations mechanisms of the State were overly complex and this new legislation will do a great deal to streamline that. As a Labour Party Deputy, I welcome a far better deal and faster justice for ordinary workers where industrial relations issues arise and where outside assistance is required to find a resolution.

The Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, has been working on legislation such as this since his appointment and his work with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, embodies this long-term commitment to the rights of workers and a better, fairer and more efficient set of industrial relations mechanisms. I welcome the Bill.

The next speaking slot is shared by Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly. Deputy Wallace has 12 minutes.

On the face of it there are some welcome changes in the legislation. As the Minister is aware, the current multi-forum system is unnecessarily complex and will be considerably simplified under the new regime. Having one entry point for complainants will undoubtedly make the process more user friendly. However, on reading through the Bill it is clear that a number of very serious issues need to be addressed. It appears that the new measures, which are designed to be cost saving for the State, may at times be costly to both the employer and the employee.

My first concern relates to the Workplace Relations Commission, which will carry out the first instance adjudication of complaints. Section 41(9) indicates that proceedings shall be conducted otherwise than in public. According to this section, cases in the first instance will be held in private. That seems to be in contravention of Ireland's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 6 of which states that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing. It is important to maintain confidentiality in certain sensitive cases but the default position of having private hearings creates issues for the transparency of the system as a whole. What is the logic behind the provision?

Section 41(11) implies that it is not the automatic right of an employer or an employee to have legal or trade union representation at a hearing. It seems that the default position is that there is no representation unless one applies for it. It is important to bear in mind that these individuals will be in a position where they are navigating the exceedingly complex system of employment law, which would become considerably more difficult without any legal advice. I wonder about the rationale behind that also.

Irish trade unions have no legislative right to be recognised in the workplace for collective bargaining purposes or for employees to make representations to their employers through their unions. I have no doubt that can be a problem, but trade unions in Ireland would appear to have sold their souls in recent years by taking the big wages and not necessarily prioritising the worker's position. I have also seen them take ludicrous positions against the employer just to be seen to be doing something. Three years ago I had three cranes standing but because of the downturn I had to close one of the sites; I was forced to do that by a bank. I was only able to employ two cranes so I had to let go the last man in. He took a case against me in the Labour Court. SIPTU spent money legally backing him and he was awarded €25,000 against me, which was nonsense. He was a very good crane driver and I would have given him work if I could but I could not. I appealed to the Circuit Court and after two days I won but by then I had incurred many legal costs. It concerns me that one will not be able to go to the Circuit Court in such cases. One will have to go to the High Court, which may be a problem both for employer and employee given that the High Court is not an option for most small businesses or for the employee in most cases. All of that does not change the fact that good, healthy trade unions are essential to a properly functioning democracy, especially when our democratic system repeatedly fails to represent those most desperately in need of a voice.

The Bill will largely remove any use of the court in employment disputes, for example, the current right of appeal from the Employment Appeals Tribunal to the Circuit Court appeal under the Unfair Dismissals Act. The only access to the court will be through a limited right to appeal to the High Court, which will only be allowed under a point of law. Given the narrow basis for such an appeal and the significant extra expenses involved, in practice employers and employees alike may no longer have any meaningful avenue of appeal. That raises questions for an individual's constitutional right to access to the courts. The Minister might rethink that. The costs in the Circuit Court are not anything like those in the High Court, and it is not as daunting for an employer or an employee. I wonder about the rationale behind that. I understand the Minister is trying to reduce costs for both employers and employees by cutting out some serious legal costs but when there are legal issues involved sometimes one is stuck with having to go through the legal process, and that should be available to employer and employee alike.

From the point of view of employers, section 35(1) allows for the imposition of fines, fixed payment notices, of up to €2,000 on employers. It appears that inspectors will be allowed to impose them without any requirement for fair procedure. Will it be possible for employers to appeal these fines? If employers do not have an avenue for the appeal of a fine, there would be a considerable risk of abuse of the system. I am not suggesting that every employer should be treated in a draconian way by the State because most employers behave in a responsible manner. Sometimes an employer can have a fine imposed which he or she genuinely believes is unfair. I may be reading the Bill wrongly but if there is not a form of appeal for such a fine, it is something that would worry me and it would be unfair.

On the issue of money, the Minister stated that parties would not be charged for access to the Workplace Relations Commission. With this in mind, section 69 is confusing as it leaves it open for the Minister of the day to incur fees for using the commission. We therefore cannot guarantee that this service remains free of charge and therefore accessible to all. We may need to revisit the wording of section 69. The Minister may believe it should be free but after the next election some other person might get his job and he might want to introduce a charge in that situation.

God help us if it is you, Mick.

It is unlikely to be me. I certainly hope this new proposed service will deliver but if it fails to do what it says on the tin, it will end up being just one more public expenditure cut - another measure to add to the undermining of the notion of the public good, which is a matter of public concern.

The neoliberals from the ESRI were prominent in the media this morning talking about big improvements in the Irish economic situation but there are some other figures that do not fit so well with the prognosis on the front page of The Irish Times today. At the back of the newspaper there was a piece by Professor Gerry Kearns of Maynooth University who highlighted that between 2005 and 2012, the average EU27 number of those at risk of poverty declined by 0.9%, while in Ireland we jumped from 25% to 30%. To quote Professor Kearns: "It is clear, then, that a decade ago Ireland's poverty levels were at the European average whereas now they are considerably above it." Perhaps the ESRI and the Government ought to start looking at different measures of economic success than GDP as it only seems to be serving those who reside in the higher levels of the income bracket.

The Minister said that he wanted to introduce a world class workplace relations service but he has not done much to improve the lot of working people. He has done more to improve the lot of big business without doing the same for small and medium-sized businesses. As the Minister is aware, I am involved in the small and medium-sized business sector and I would still argue that things are not so easy in our domestic economy for small and medium-sized businesses. Unfortunately, we cannot help believing that large corporations have fared better than us in that area. If the Minister is to give us a world class workplace relations service, it should be complemented by an improvement in workers' rights across the board and a greater focus on the problems of small and medium size businesses in Ireland.

At the core of the Bill is the way a human right is delivered in Ireland, namely, the entitlement of citizens in the determination of their rights and freedoms to a fair and public hearing.

While this effort to move towards a less complex and dysfunctional system is welcome, there are surrounding issues which overshadow the entire process and not all of them are being addressed.

This coalition is a neoliberal one, which puts the interests of large business before those of the public most of the time. Sadly, there has been a race to the bottom in terms of social protection, which worries me. To quote Dr. Julien Mercille of University College Dublin, whose recent book would be worth reading for most people:

... 'neoliberalism Irish-style' has borrowed elements of US neoliberalism, such as public-private partnerships, privatization of public services, low corporate and individual taxation, low level of government expenditures on social programmes and light regulation of the financial system.

There was a time, before the rise of the neoliberal ideology, when one of the general functions of the State was to enforce the principle of equality among citizens and to combat discrimination at work. It was also common practice for the State, when passing legislation or formulating policies, to take into consideration the effects its actions would have on the public sphere and work to minimise the impact of such actions. Now, sadly, we do things differently.

Under this new logic, the market and corporations view labour rights and legal systems in effect as regulation, on a par with financial regulation, in short, as a barrier to doing business in a particular country. It does not need to be this way. The business community or employer can work very well in a healthy system where the worker also has protection. I am all in favour of strong regulation and doing away with senseless, needless bureaucracy. There is a big difference between regulation and bureaucracy, but sometimes people confuse them. Bureaucracy holds everyone back. We need to do away with as much of it as possible whereas strict regulation is important to keep things on track.

The French legal scholar, Alain Supiot, whose book is essential reading, stated in his 2001 European Commission report on employment that a hypothesis had been put forward, backed by a rigorous historical analysis, to the effect that our societies were heading towards unknown forms of re-feudalisation. Judging by the present European legal framework, states no longer hold a monopoly over the definition of the general interest. They must take account, on the other hand, of community authority and of social partners which regard themselves, for different reasons, as being entitled to establish law.

Supiot's 2001 prognosis has turned out to be extremely prescient. Leaked documents from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, trade deal outline how, after the trade deal is completed and put into force, a joint EU-US regulatory forum will be set up in order for representatives of the business community to have so-called transparency in relation to changes to legislation and regulation in Europe and the US. What the 600 corporations who wrote the TTIP mean by "transparency" is that prior to the discussion of legislation in Ireland that may affect the profits of big business, the Irish Government and the EU must first give fair warning to corporations that may face losses to give them time to start lobbying against the legislation before it even reaches the Dáil floor.

The Minister and I have had many discussions about TTIP. There is an open discussion to be had on the matter. The media is not having it. It does not seem to be interested. We should have it in the House.

This is quite a substantial Bill. It is in many ways a huge body of work set against the backdrop of dysfunctional industrial relations machinery in the State. Since I have been elected and have raised cases brought to me, I am aware that in many instances people waited 84 or 85 weeks for appeal hearings. In an unfair dismissal case, justice delayed is justice denied. That person would not have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting his or her job back or anything like that. None of us would disagree that the system needs to be radically reformed. Is this the right way? We need to consider it against the backdrop of the economy overall.

I note the surveys produced in the past week that show we have the second highest number of low-paid jobs after the United States. A total of 130,000 people here are in low-paid jobs who would like to be in full-time jobs. There is an explosion of zero hour contracts which shackle people to their telephones awaiting a call to see if they can get an hour here or there. The race to the bottom is alive and well. There is a difference between injustice and illegality. This Bill is the last port of call when a grievance or wrong has been done and someone seeks redress. We should be considering how to create a climate where fewer wrongs are done and people do not have to seek recourse to the industrial relations machinery. One of the reasons we are in this situation is that the trade union movement has, sadly, abandoned much of what it was set up to do and has settled for negotiating for a few crumbs from the table rather than championing the cause of workers in this State.

I am a bit concerned about the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA. It was supposed to be proactive in dealing with abuse of workers’ rights. If we are to amalgamate it with the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, how can it be proactive in workplace investigations and so on? It is quite limited as it is currently constituted. When the Greyhound workers came to us and we facilitated a meeting with them and NERA, the staff were incredibly professional in their desire to help workers and very helpful but they were hamstrung by the legislation as it was then. An unscrupulous employer would very quickly find his or her way around NERA and box off responsibility by outsourcing unhealthy practices to a third party. We have spoken about this in the House before, and scenes reminiscent of "On the Waterfront", with workers being picked up in car parks and no one knowing who they were or whether they paid taxes or anything. I am not sure this new legislation takes on board these situations. How can NERA’s investigative, proactive role be protected when it is dissolved into a wider body?

There are other areas that need examination. One of the key problems has been the lack of enforcement of rulings from the industrial relations machinery. If this legislation is to be effective, we need to stand that system on its head.

There is a young man in my constituency whose story has been published in the newspapers. There is no secret and he knows I am raising it in the House. David Bell is 27 and was working for the multinational corporation eBay. Mistakenly, he was brought into an investigation about fraud and PayPal, although he had no case to answer. The employer reprimanded him for giving two €25 vouchers to aggrieved customers, something the company did for dissatisfied customers. Management said it was not appropriate in those cases. He was brought into a meeting without any representation. He was told he could not leave the meeting until he completed a written statement, parts of which management dictated to him and told him he could not have a representative present. He was subsequently dismissed and the company described him as dishonest, unprofessional and fraudulent. He took a case to the rights commissioner who was scathing in his criticism of eBay saying he was wrongfully dismissed and was subjected to coercive tactics. He said that eBay’s position was seriously in breach of natural justice and fair procedure.

The rights commissioner recommended a payment of €15,000 in compensation to the young man and the withdrawal of the dismissal letter. That was almost nine months ago. Nothing has been done to rectify the situation. This young man, who is starting his working life, has not been given any apology or any compensation. The letter has not been withdrawn.

This example could be replicated in many other cases I could expand on here. If big companies are allowed to get away with this, what chance does a worker in a smaller company have? What guarantee do we have that this scenario will not happen under the new arrangement? I have a list of citizens from around the country who have had definitive judgments made in their favour by the State's industrial relations machinery but have not got the money. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go through all these cases. The people in question did not get justice because their employers shrugged their hands and walked away. If this legislation is to be effective, it is clear that we really need to address this matter. We need to look at the whole system whereby people with decent jobs are being made redundant, only to be replaced by interns with low-paid jobs. That is a bit of a sick joke that needs to be dealt with.

I am conscious of time, so I will conclude by speaking about an area in which something is lacking. The Minister needs to address it because it has been brought to his attention on a number of occasions. Many former employees are interested in being able to access the State's industrial relations machinery. I refer particularly to those who were part of an employment pension scheme and are concerned about things that happened to the scheme after they left the employment in question. Even though they have a very clearly defined and vested interest in that scheme, they are not represented by a trade union because they are outside the employment and, as a result, they have no access to industrial relations assistance. The most graphic illustration of that problem is the Irish aviation superannuation scheme. Almost 10,000 deferred and active pensioners in that scheme are facing an almighty hammering of the reasonable expectation they had about the standard of living they would enjoy in their retirements. Under a process that is under way, the trustees are being empowered to change the terms of that pension scheme and an expert panel has been convened. The deferred group and the pensioner group were both prohibited from participating in that process. They could not access the Labour Relations Commission, which came up with the mechanism that is undermining their rights. We know that organisations like the Retired Aviation Staff Association have put in place a system that gives retired workers vehicles to organise their interests. A mechanism should be found in this legislation to enshrine access to these processes for groups of retired people whose standard of living is being affected. Under the current airport scheme, pensioners are expected to lose six weeks' pay per annum due to changes they had no hand, act or part in. I hope the Minister will address this issue in the final stages of this process. If we are serious about the new legislation being of benefit to workers, much more work needs to be done on it.

I welcome this Bill, which has been in the offing for a long time. It is probably a pity that the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation did not have a chance to discuss this matter further before the legislation was brought to the House. I accept that it came before us in 2012. Perhaps we could have discussed the heads of the Bill more recently. I have always welcomed the amalgamations that have taken place. All the way along, our objective has been to reduce the number of bodies out there. In the 2011 election, we gave a commitment to try to make some sort of savings. I am delighted to say that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has fulfilled that commitment on a number of occasions by providing for the amalgamation of a number of boards. This is another example of that.

It has often been said during debates on job creation in this House that people find it difficult to get funding for such purposes. There is no one portal that they can look at and examine; instead, there are various sources of funding. In this legislation, the Minister has decided to provide for a clear-cut process that will apply when there are difficulties with employment and employers. This clear-cut road will involve the new Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. There is a clear outline of what will happen going forward. Before today, people did not know what route they should take if there were employment issues for workers. I hope this legislation will improve the efficiency of the resolution process. This is important for workers who have difficulties with employers. We are all talking about workers, but we should bear in mind that the employers who employ these people need to be able to resolve their issues with employees in a clear-cut manner.

I would like to speak about an issue that has arisen on a number of occasions. I always refer back to the attitude in Germany. The National Employment Rights Authority is probably one of the worst examples of this. I understand that section 32 of the Bill identifies the bodies that will be covered by the inspectorate. It is important for a positive attitude to be taken when random inspections are taking place. Inspectors should not try to find faults in employment situations where there might not be any fault at all. Instead, they should praise the employers for the environments they have created. When most random inspections take place, in the health sector or in the workplace relations arena, the inspectors go in to try to find something wrong. More often than not, there is nothing wrong at all. In certain circumstances, inspectors have a negative attitude when they go into employers' premises. They should have a positive attitude. If there is something wrong, they should work through it rather than going through the Workplace Relations Commission process. It would be more beneficial if such common sense were shown. We should encourage all sides, as long as the employer is in favour of it, to sort out the issue without having to go through the resolution process. The inspectorate should take a much more positive attitude when it is doing inspections. Rather than trying to find fault, it should encourage positive workplace relationships.

How soon after the passing of this legislation does the Minister expect that the boards will be dissolved? As he knows, one of the purposes of this legislation is to make approximately €2 million in savings on an annual basis. How soon will the boards be dissolved? What sort of employment savings are expected as a result of this Bill? The Minister has indicated that he expects more inspectors and other staff to be employed in certain sections. Can he give us an indication of what the employment situation will be for most of the workers who are currently employed by these bodies? Will the board appointees be nominated by the relevant bodies? Given that we are removing a number of boards as things stand, will the board have a sufficiently broad spectrum to cater for the new role of the Workplace Relations Commission? Will its new role involve oversight? I know the Government sets policy, but will the board have a role with regard to the direction the workplace relations commission might take in the future?

Before I conclude, I would like to comment on the deferred pensioner issue, which was raised by Deputy Clare Daly. I have spoken about it here on a number of occasions. I have been told that trustees are supposed to be responsible for all members of pension funds. However, the deferred pensioners do not have the right to vote or to act as trustees. Maybe we could look at that in the context of this Bill. The workforce is very flexible at the moment - this is something we have encouraged - but flexibility can lead to problems.

One problem is that people who have pensions associated with an employment have no say in their pension funds when they switch employment. I have also raised this matter with the Tánaiste. Perhaps we could examine the possibility of allowing deferred pensioners some rights, for example, voting or appointing trustees to pension funds.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this important legislation which outlines some fundamental reforms of industrial relations and employment law. I have concerns about the resources allocated to the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, and the inspection-enforcement area. A few months ago, the Minister told me there were only 100 inspectors to police a workforce of almost 2 million citizens. This situation merited an attempt to streamline and standardise the system of dispute resolution, but there is a concern that it has been motivated more by cost savings than by having better industrial relations machinery.

Undoubtedly, the Bill involves a widescale and major reform of employment rights dispute resolution. I hope the reform will lead to improvements in upholding workers' rights and their access to justice. As I have done in recent months, many astonishing cases of workers being treated badly have been raised in the House. Addressing these injustices urgently is a necessity.

I welcome the creation of a specific section of the Minister's Department with responsibility for collective bargaining and small business. I hope there will be a similar commitment on the part of the Government, which is at most in its final year in office, to progressing the legislation on collective bargaining. The Minister might remember that it is nearly 16 years since I introduced the Trade Union Recognition Bill on behalf of ICTU and, in particular, SIPTU. Sixteen years later and the House still has not addressed this important part of people's lives. I hope the collective bargaining Bill will progress. The Minister might recall the background to my Bill, namely, the disgraceful treatment by Ryanair of many of its workers in the mid to late 1990s.

I have some concerns about the Workplace Relations Bill, especially that this major amalgamation may be driven more by cost savings than by improving the situation for workers hoping to have employment or industrial relations issues resolved. I am also concerned about the loss of the tripartite structure for cases currently falling within the remit of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and how that may affect the resolution of these disputes. I am similarly concerned about the qualification requirements for adjudication officers and the potential loss of expertise in not ensuring a significant number of these officers come from the legal profession.

In terms of enforcement, I welcome the strengthened provisions for upholding decisions of adjudication officers of the newly formed Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the enforcement of compliance notices and fixed charge notices. I am concerned, however, about the move to have the majority of decisions enforced through the District Court, which is already a busy system dealing with numerous issues and areas of law. For example, the implementation of traffic safety laws in the District Court has proven difficult and led to a backlog. There is a concern, therefore, that the same could happen in the case of appeals under this Bill.

The Minister stated he would introduce amendments on Committee Stage. I often wonder why a Department must introduce amendments to a Bill that has been in gestation for two and a half years. This Bill saw widespread consultation, but one imagines the Minister would enter the House with the Bill ready to go onto the Statute Book.

While I welcome the Minister's decision not to impose fees for accessing the WRC, I note that section 69 allows him to set fees for a second stage to the appeals procedure. Separately, there will be a cost involved in having recourse to the District Court system for the enforcement of awards. This could dissuade some parties, particularly workers, from taking that route. SIPTU has suggested that the Labour Court should be expanded to extend its scope to cover the enforcement of awards, thereby incurring no cost for workers. I agree with this view. Given the Labour Court's expertise, it would be better placed to enforce the WRC's awards.

The decision to have a new WRC as the body of first instance for employment related complaints and disputes as well as having inspection and enforcement powers is a good step forward overall with the development of the so-called one-stop-shop system. The amalgamation of the appellate features of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Labour Court into the new expanded Labour Court is welcome. The basics of Part 2 are to be welcomed. I note the functions of the WRC as outlined in section 10, and I welcome the establishment of the office of director general under sections 11 to 18, inclusive.

I welcome the appointment of a registrar whom I understand will be the legal adviser to the WRC and the director general. I question the decision to make the board of the WRC, the structure of which is outlined in Schedule 3, a non-executive board that reports directly to the Minister and the Department. This could undermine the board's independence and could be especially difficult when, for example, the industrial relations arms of the new WRC are dealing with disputes concerning public bodies or publicly funded employers.

The Bill provides for the standardisation of time limits for the institution of proceedings under Part 4, which deals with complaints and disputes. Section 41 provides for a time limit of six months for referring a complaint or dispute to an adjudication officer. This important feature should promote certainty for parties engaging with the new system. It will also be easier to understand than the current system, which has multiple fora and differing time limits for taking actions under various employment legislative provisions. I welcome the scope for the time limit to be extended to one year in certain circumstances where the failure to present the complaint or refer the dispute was due to what is called "reasonable cause" under section 41(7). I also welcome the standard time limits in place for compliance notices under section 27 and fixed payment notices under section 35 of 42 days within which an appeal can be lodged against a compliance notice and 42 days within which the amount indicated under a fixed payment notice must be paid.

I have an interest in the enforcement provisions contained in Part 3, which represent a key area. I was involved in campaigning for the establishment of NERA. I do not agree with IBEC's view that the inspectorate function currently exercised by NERA should not be included in the new WRC, as there will be an important pooling of resources and information between all aspects of the newly created umbrella body. Another key issue of concern is the cut in the number of inspectors, which has come to my attention several times. The Minister indicated to me last January that there were approximately 100 inspectors. My experience has been that there is a need to increase this number, but one of the Minister's stated aims in his introductory speech was to save on staffing costs.

A potentially significant measure in Part 3 is section 32, which provides for the disclosure of certain information in respect of public construction and other public contracts. The explanatory memorandum reads: "This section is designed to safeguard the wages and other statutory entitlements of employees who are working under public construction or other public contracts, while also ensuring competitive tendering and value for money in public expenditure." A number of Deputies, including Deputy Boyd Barrett, have referred to the Greyhound workers' plight. I was concerned about the issue, whereby workers were forced into accepting savage pay cuts by a company with a headquarters outside the State that was providing a key public service. The Minister will remember how, when he and I were members of Dublin City Council, I led a campaign to keep waste management within the remit of the public sector. I believed we would end up with the type of situation that has developed in the Dublin region and in which Greyhound has played a disgraceful role. There seems to be no identifiable reason for the cuts to its workers' pay other than increasing its profits. The fact this dispute occurred in a firm providing a service that should more properly have remained a State service is another disappointing feature of this Government's and the previous Government's lack of commitment to public services. As Deputy Boyd Barrett and others have stated, the Greyhound situation illustrates grave deficiencies in the protection of workers' rights.

Separately, as the Minister is aware, I have raised many times, including publically in this Chamber just before the summer recess, the issue of serious potential breaches of workers’ rights on some sites operating under the school building programme. This matter is evolving as Members speak and the situation has escalated in particular at the site at Kishoge Community College, Lucan in recent days. I believe the Acting Chairman, Deputy Troy, also raised this matter one morning during Leaders' Questions. As the Minister is aware, the key concern at this site and others is the use of the subcontracting system to erode workers’ rights and effectively reduce the price paid for construction services. According to media reports, some workers were effectively being paid half the minimum wage for carrying out highly-skilled jobs like blocklaying, bricklaying or whatever. I have referred this matter to the Minister’s colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, who I hope will revert with a substantive plan to address this problem. In addition, this matter was raised repeatedly with the former Minister, Deputy Quinn, for more than two years, as well as with the present Minister, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, as the sites in question are construction projects under the school building programme.

I have obtained figures from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, which show that between 40,000 to 45,000 workers have been registered under the relevant contracts tax, RCT, system in each of the past three years. It is hard to understand why that system has been tolerated by the Revenue Commissioners, given that it appears to be open to grave abuse. A number of trade unionists representing building workers have campaigned strongly to address this because the nub of the issue, as the Minister is aware, is that people who wish to be PAYE workers and who wish to be absolutely fully compliant are forced, against their will in a sham arrangement, to behave as though they are self-employed. The vast majority of such RCT workers are registered as being within the construction sector even though the RCT system also applies to the meat processing and forestry sectors. For example, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, has informed me that in 2012, 42,420 of the 44,178 RCT workers were registered under the construction sector category. Similarly, in 2013, 44,674 of the 46,431 RCT workers were registered as being in construction.

I also note that a private company, Contractors Administration Services, CAS, has been engaged to inspect the sites in question. Workers have rightly complained that public bodies would be better suited to this task. I understand this company specialises in auditing and accounting functions for building sites. This function might be well-suited, with requisite skilled staff, to the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, which perhaps could best carry out such a function. Perhaps this new section 32 therefore will have implications for the ongoing situation at these public construction sites. It is vitally important that any potential illegalities or breaches of employment law are addressed. However, the separate issue of the contractors on these sites relying on legal provisions of the RCT system effectively to opt out of having proper pay and conditions for construction workers must be tackled by the Government. I refer to the greatly diminished public capital programme and hope that next Wednesday, the House will be presented with an expanded public capital programme, as it has been cut repeatedly since 2008. However, while I commend the former Minister, Deputy Quinn, on his role in setting out a programme of school building, it has been highly remiss of the Government that on such sites, shenanigans are allowed to go on, one major contractor of which it is alleged being JJ Rhattigan & Company.

I understand the arguments made in relation to the RCT system. However, the recent experience of workers on these sites under the publicly-funded school building programme highlights the difficulties within the RCT system. It indicates that cost saving has meant that workers effectively are forced to become self-employed and thereby lose most of the protections and entitlements available to employees under employment law. Consequently, the Bill being debated today cannot protect these workers. Equally, by virtue of being self-employed, they will not have recourse to any of the revised and streamlined machinery under discussion. I urge the Minister to work with his colleagues, the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, to urgently resolve this issue in the interests of workers’ rights and ensuring the proper use of public funding. In addition, I urge the Minister to work closely with Revenue to ensure the evolution of a system that is fair to those workers while expediting the public capital programme.

I am supportive of the provisions in the Bill regarding mediation, under section 39, to deal with disputes where this is agreeable to the parties concerned. I note there is a move more generally in the context of all legal disputes to have recourse to mediation in the first instance. The Minister will be aware that our local Northside Community Law Centre is now called Community Law & Mediation, which symbolises the welcome move towards mediation in legal matters. It is important to have this reflected in the Workplace Relations Bill. Importantly, however, mediation is not being included to substitute the right of either party to have the complaint or dispute resolved in another manner under the legislation, as is provided for in section 39(1)(b).

I welcome the general thrust of the provisions of the Bill. I hope the concerns that other Deputies and I have raised will be examined on Committee Stage. While I did tell the Minister that he should come in with a finished Bill, I expect him to listen to the committee as well. What is unusual about this Bill is the Minister has told Members of his intention to table various amendments. He could have made them before he came in and then other amendments that I and my colleagues might suggest on the Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could be added later. I acknowledge the Minister has committed to introducing those amendments. Hopefully, this is an historic day in respect of the State's industrial machinery. I wish the Minister well in the manner in which the machinery in its entirety is being modernised. In particular, I hope it will not simply be grounds of cost that will influence this process and that adequate resources will be made available, especially to NERA, to ensure that our workforce - which fortunately again is approaching 2 million people - and in particular those low-paid workers in vulnerable situations to whom my colleagues, Deputies Clare Daly and Wallace referred, will be monitored carefully and protected.

I call on Deputy Catherine Murphy, who proposes to share time with Deputy Pringle.

Yes, ten minutes each.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this legislation. I probably have as many questions to ask as I have comments to make. It is really important to have a functional and fair industrial relations architecture that protects the rights of both workers and, by extension, employers. I note that many good employers will never find themselves in the position whereby they are obliged to call on such a framework. However, one must guarantee fairness and equality in the economy. It also is vital for employers and investors to know that when disputes arise, they will be dealt with in a speedy and just fashion and this is important for employees and employers alike. I recognise the need for reforms in this area and the new streamlined architecture should deal with some of the waiting times and should make the process of dispute resolution much faster. It only serves to have matters fester if someone is obliged to wait a long time to get into the dispute resolution architecture. People very often feel quite aggrieved if they see high-profile cases demanding time while they are queueing for a similar service.

The measures to improve enforcement and compliance with decisions also are welcome because there is nothing worse than getting a decision only to discover it has not been complied with. I encountered someone the other day who is a FÁS supervisor. I believe a Labour Court judgment was made some years ago on the supervisors, who believe they got a decision that was then simply ignored. As FÁS no longer is in being - the supervisors are in SOLAS now - they have concerns and there is a difficulty in knowing who or what will pay their pensions. It appears as though they are falling between two stools. This kind of scenario should not arise.

We would be quite critical of it if it was a private employer but where the State is involved, we should be doubly critical of it.

We are not particularly good at building institutional architecture in this country and I hope the architecture provided for under this Bill will be good and will lead by example. The HSE tends to be rolled out if one wants to cite a poor example of institutional architecture, but I am fearful that Irish Water might fall into that category as well. Will the Minister outline the way he envisages the staffing and resourcing model operating within the workplace relations bodies, given the major change provided for in the legislation? Far too often we set out with great intentions and aspirations to deliver world-class services, although we have been reasonably well served in this area, but often we have failed dismally in terms of the design of the vehicle that will deliver those services and in terms of resourcing them, which is just as important. I note there is latitude provided to employ people and I would like to hear more about that.

The Minister said great efficiencies can be achieved by merging the functions of five bodies into two and that it is hoped this will take care of the workload, in respect of which there is currently a substantial backlog. If five bodies could not cope with it, will two bodies cope with it any better? It can be inefficient to have five bodies but I want an assurance there will be an improvement in the time it takes to process cases.

Did the Minister arrange for an impact assessment to be carried out of the changes being made? If one was carried out, will he indicate what the findings of it were? I understand the Minister will have latitude to hire as many staff as will be required under the standard Civil Service Act and the public service appointments Act. Will he indicate if a staffing and resources plan has been developed at this stage? We are all familiar with the public service embargo and how difficult it is to have that embargo relaxed. While it is theoretically possible to do that, will it happen in practice?

It is expected the Labour Court will act as a court of appeal. Will it require new members to handle the increased workload and backlog of work? This appears to be provided for in the Bill. Is that catered for and will it be provided for immediately once the legislation is enacted and the system begins to be put in place? Will the Minister outline the new staffing for the Labour Court and how it will be arranged? Can the expanded function of the court be achieved if there are not the required staff to carry out the support work? The Minister will note that the last three questions are linked. Has the staff structure been agreed with the merged entity?

I have received a good deal of contact on the area of pensions and in this respect I am sure I will be reiterating points others have made. Many pensioners believe they do not have access to arbitration or that they are seen as being outside that process, yet decisions can be made on their behalf. There are two high-profile groups of pensioners, namely, those in Dublin Airport and ESB staff, from whom I have received the most contact. The issue is the right to representation and arbitration by retired staff in regard to their pension rights. I have been contacted by many on this issue. There was always going to be a problem with Aer Lingus pension benefits. I remember the debate on the partial sale of Aer Lingus which was a hot topic. The CEO of Aer Lingus appeared before one of the committees and spoke of the need to use some of the funds that were raised from that sale. That was in 2006 well before the economy fell off the cliff. Essentially, he made the point that some of that money needed to be put into the pension fund. There was a difficulty before there was an obvious difficulty in the economy.

There is also a concern about pension benefits among ESB workers. The central concern for all of those people is simply ensuring the right of pensioners to representation and arbitration through the industrial relations architecture of the State. Given that the quality of life and income of former employees can often be wedded to the current managerial decisions of their former employees and the decisions of the State to impose, for example, pension levies, it seems the proposal they make has some merit. If we consider what is happening in other countries, we will note it is not only here that argument has been made. We know pension trustees have the power in certain circumstances to alter and restructure pension schemes in payment, namely, to allow for the imposition of the pension levy. Bringing in a right to participation in arbitration would underscore the right of workers, which is existing labour law. If we go back to 1974, pensioners had rights in this regard. They had a right of audience and it was only after that time that this was dispensed with. In Sweden pensioners have the same rights to express their views as active members in the pension funds provided they remain members of their trade union. In the Netherlands the trend in more recent years has been for former employers or pensioners to be appointed to the governing board of the schemes as trustees. They are not disinterested parties when situations arise where the income derived is to be altered. I would be keen to know if the Minister would be open to considering such a provision by way of an amendment on Committee Stage.

Another issue is that we are told that many people are in the workforce but are not actually employees in that they are participants in schemes such as JobBridge. It is obvious that such placements are a replacement of a job that should be provided. We cannot talk about workplace relations and not mention that issue. That scheme is certainly open to abuse. I was given a good example of it today, which I will be bringing to the attention of the Minister for Social Protection.

Reference was made to a school building site in Lucan. Construction workers did not want to have to get C2 certificates. They did not want to be self-employed, rather they wanted to be directly employed. That area needs to be tightened up.

There is a great deal of merit in the legislation. I have concerns about the structure being adequately staffed to ensure it functions and that the delays in the system are removed. There are some welcome reforms in the legislation.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. Some speakers outlined that they welcome the streamlining of the complaints procedures for workers and workplace relations from five bodies down to two but I am not entirely convinced this is necessary. I note the argument in favour is that there will be a simple procedure for an employee who wants to make a complaint and there is a single body and single point of contact for that. I doubt very much that rationalising the structure to two bodies will speed up the process or reduce the length of time workers have to wait to have their cases heard before a two-body Workplace Relations Commission or the five-body Employment Appeals Tribunal, Equality Tribunal and the other bodies.

On the Minister's commitment to ensuring the new Workplace Relations Commission has the resources to move swiftly through the caseload of work to ensure cases are heard within a reasonable timeframe, we will only see if that proves to be the case as the commission starts to do its work.

It is difficult to move beyond focusing on the reason for the introduction of this Bill.

One of the driving forces behind the Bill is to save money and meet this Government's requirements to cut costs, at all costs, and to ensure that funds can be saved although bodies might be working reasonably well and satisfactorily.

I am unusual in that I have experience of the EAT and rights commissioners from both sides of the argument. I have represented workers there and have also appeared before them as an employer. Therefore, I have some experience of going through the procedures and I find the system very fair and good to deal with. Coming out on the right side of the decisions makes it easier. It works, and my only concern is about the time it takes to come before a tribunal or body.

Section 41 provides that the hearings should be held other than in public session. This should not be included in the Act. All the adjudications should take place in public. The current system is quasi-judicial and takes place in public, and it should continue to do so. In my experience in the regional areas, particularly in Donegal, there is no interest in the hearings. While the proceedings are open to the public, nobody attends and the media does not turn up. It is probably easier for a complainant whose hearing is held in Dublin to get media attention, given the concentration of media there. The possibility of embarrassing an employer seems to be the rationale for seeking media coverage, but there is no great interest by the public in proceedings. However, holding hearings in public is a reassurance for everybody involved and the principle should be retained.

Although subsuming NERA into the WRC might have some benefits regarding compliance notices and fixed-charge notices, I have doubts about the enforcement of compliance notices. The Minister mentioned a fixed-charge notice fee of €150. This is not enough for employers found in breach of workplace legislation. I wonder whether there will be any follow up on compliance notices. In one case in Donegal, a NERA inspection found an employer had underpaid staff by substantial sums running into thousands of euros, but there was no follow up. The employer simply refused to pay the employees the sums that were specified and it went on for a couple of years with no action taken. Any body that is established must ensure that there is follow up on compliance notices and employers are forced to comply.

The relationship between an employer and an employee is unequal and employees need access to bodies such as the WRC and EAT in order to have their rights protected. Given that very few employees are covered by unions, they act alone in looking after their interests and dealing with their employers. While most employers attempt to comply with the legal requirements, many do not. I know many hundreds of employees who do not have contracts, do not receive payslips and do not receive the minimum wage. Employees need to be able to access these services easily. Many employees do not have the benefit of having somebody to represent them when they try to assert their rights. The system must be made easy for employees.

While it is not intended, there is a possibility that a system of charging could be introduced for the WRCs, which would be a very worrying step because it would restrict employees' access to the remedies. It should not be implemented. I am worried because some form of charging is provided for in the Bill and, ultimately, in a year or two, it will probably come in, justified by the workload, the number of complaints and the need to streamline the process and recover costs.

Another item that worries me slightly is the provision that an adjudication officer can decide that a complaint is vexatious or frivolous. While I have no problem with such a decision in principle, it is open to the complainant to appeal the decision to the Labour Court. If the Labour Court decides that the original decision of the adjudication officer was wrong, the case is referred back to the same adjudication officer. It should be referred to a different adjudication officer. It would be natural to the human condition that if one decided a case was vexatious or frivolous and struck it down, and it returned to one's plate, one would be prejudiced against it.

Much remains to be seen regarding how the Bill will work in practice. The Minister should give serious consideration to ensuring the hearings are held in public. The decision to hold them in private is a retrograde step. He should examine some of the other changes. The Bill requires a commitment by the Government to ensure the WRC has the resources to carry out its work. This means getting away from the mindset of saving money. An initial investment may be required to get it up and running and clear a backlog of cases. As a result of the recession, many cases have come before the tribunals, over and above the usual numbers. After the first few years, when the backlog has been cleared and it is running smoothly, efficiencies may be brought in. However, there must be a commitment from the start to ensure the WRC can hit the ground running, do the job and deliver for employees and employers.

Under the existing system, many employers take a strategic decision to settle cases rather than fight them at the EAT because they perceive that the tribunal is biased in favour of employees. I do not think it is the case, but that employers take a decision based on costs not to fight a case and to pay the employee off and make it go away. The EAT can benefit employers and if they are proactive and fight cases, and have systems in place to ensure cases do not come before the WRC in the first place, it would benefit everybody.

Táim buíoch go bhfuil seans agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Ceapaim go bhfuil sé an-tábhachtach go mbeadh caidreamh san áit oibre go héifeachtach. The test will be whether it is effective and efficient. We all had lives before politics, and no doubt will afterwards, when we were in other workplaces. Given that we all have experience of being an employee or employer, we know the importance of employment rights, for both employee and employer. If the rights of both were respected, it would lead to better work, better work practices and harmony at work. In such cases, there is no need for any labour courts. However, I am being utopian and the reality is different. Although the principles of fairness and justice have almost become a cliché because we use them so much, they should be guiding principles of whatever we do. Given that there will be disputes and disagreements, there is a need for efficient and effective procedures to deal with disputes in a very timely way.

The procedures must be fair to both employers and employees and must not cost a fortune.

It is positive that five existing bodies will be merged into two - the new Workplace Relations Commission and the expanded Labour Court. Where there is an issue of concern in this country, we seem to have a penchant for having not only one organisation, but several, to deal with it. There are plenty of examples of that. The merger is positive. Having five bodies does not make for efficiency. It makes for confusion and lengthy delays and it also leads to resolutions not coming about in a timely fashion.

With new legislation, it is important to look at the view of stakeholders. Most of the stakeholders were positive about the Bill. Generally, they welcomed the broad reform, particularly for the single point of entry and the single route to appeal. What also is positive is support for early intervention because there are too many examples of where a dispute has gone on for years as opposed to being resolved in a timely way. The idea of mediation to try to solve matters at the initial stage before they escalate also has to be positive.

Some of the concerns raised relate to allowing the adjudicator to dismiss a complaint considered "frivolous or vexatious". That is something that is relative because what I might consider frivolous or vexatious could be something that is serious for somebody else. When this is being discussed further, perhaps that will be taken into account. The training for the adjudicator is also vital, as is the idea of transparency around the decision that is made. This aspect is of concern because it does not sit easily that one person will decide that one's complaint is not worthy of a hearing.

A further point relates to where the complainant might have to make a written submission. There are those, some of whom I know well, who have issues around literacy and where English is not their first language. There have been examples in this country of foreign national workers treated appallingly by employers, wages withheld, passports withheld and no breaks during excessive working hours. I would hope that there is provision in the Bill for such workers so that they will be represented and will have an opportunity to convey what is happening to them.

I was struck by the concern expressed by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation that a person with a grievance has a right to be heard. As an aside to this, on ease of access for those who have issues, last night I attended a briefing, at which the INMO was also in attendance with others. It was held by Patients First but it was on a similar point. It was for patients with a grievance, that they would have a way that their voices would be heard. It is not only workers who need that facility.

The use of the word "dismiss" is a little offhand. A better word could have been chosen. The word "dismiss" does not suggest that it has been an informed decision-making process where all sides have been heard.

There are differences of opinion around whether the adjudication should be in private or in public. I disagree with my colleague, Deputy Pringle, on this aspect. There is a need at times for a private hearing, particularly where the issue is of a sensitive nature. We have seen examples where the media have latched onto a particular case and their presentation of it has not done the complainant any favours. There must be allowance made for where there is a need for a hearing to be in private. Overall, it is better to hold hearings in public because it enhances transparency.

It is positive that fees are not being introduced. That is also beneficial to those for whom having to pay a fee would be off-putting. There must be a system where those with grievances have access to the system which is there to resolve issues and money and fees should not be a barrier.

Returning to the issue of the adjudicator, I believe there is a need for three-person panels. Such panels would protect those on both sides - those involved in the adjudication and the person whose case is being adjudicated - because there would be concerns around one person having so much say and responsibility. I would hope that the matter would be looked at where the three-person team would be considered more fair.

On the issue of the legally qualified adjudicator, balance is needed. There is a need for legal expertise. One certainly does not want an increasing number of appeals because of the lack of legal expertise in the first place. There are times when legal adjudication is required, but I am all for common sense prevailing. Common sense is not rated highly enough here. Sometimes common sense can be absent from those with degrees and letters after their names. I hope that there will be balance in adjudication teams.

Enforcement is vital. One can see measures on paper and think they are positive but it is only when they must be enforced that one can see sometimes the flaws and pitfalls. In the past few years there have been abuses of workers. At a certain point, for whatever reason, some employees who have given dedicated and loyal service over many years to an institution have become sidelined in their jobs. In spite of that dedicated loyal service, their work has been diminished in such a way that they have been left with no option but to take redundancy. These are persons with families, with mortgages. Usually, the institution is losing all of that experience to employ others on a quarter or one third of the salary of that person. In one case of which I am aware, the current options were not availed of due to what would have been a lengthy and onerous process. I hope that this system the Minister proposes will be successful.

On the concept of decent work, I will move outside of Ireland. We saw what happened in Rana Plaza and in other places in the developing world. One may ask what that has to do with Ireland. There are those in Ireland who are buying goods that are produced in slave-labour conditions and there are shops in Ireland which are also contributing to this. There has been a campaign and certain shops have refused to take goods from such companies. There is a role here for the Minister. We must adopt the concept of decent work, both in Ireland and abroad. The question has come up with the Minister. When he is involved in trade missions, I do not see why the idea of decent work conditions is not part of the discussions. We can lead by example by including that.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, I am aware that there is no difficulty in discussing human rights with the ambassadors and officials of countries where human rights have not been top of the agenda, and they take that on board. Dublin Port is involved in a middle management work initiative with ports in African countries. It asked me to speak at the recent launch and I made those points about decent work conditions because they make for much better relationships between employees and employers. There was much support around that. On Friday, 7 November, there will be a conference in Dublin Castle implementing the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. I hope that this Bill will be productive in the human rights of Irish workers but I also hope that the Minister, in looking at trade missions, will consider the human rights of workers in other countries.

What is important in the employer-employee relationship, and where there is a dispute, a conflict or a disagreement, is that there is ease of access to a resolution process, that there is a fair hearing, a prompt resolution, access to appeal and a resolution of that appeal, and that the language used is accessible to all. There is a petition, being circulated by National Adult Literacy Agency, asking that the official business we do here is in language that can be accessed by everybody. I hope the procedures the Minister is setting up will be fair and will be in language that everybody can understand.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed. I welcome the broad support for the Bill, including from Deputy Troy representing Fianna Fáil and Deputy Mac Lochlainn representing Sinn Féin. We have put a lot of thought into how we structure this and we believe we have done it in the best way.

There has been a lot of work done, to answer Deputy Troy's point, in integrating the bodies and the staff within them. A lot of preparatory work has been done on that. Where we will be bringing in new adjudication officers, they will have to go through a training process to ensure that we get the quality needed. To take up Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's point, they will be from diverse bacgrounds. We are not confining it to legal persons. We want to have a diverse range of staff because common sense is important in many cases.

What many adjudicators, namely, the rights commissioners and equality officers, have accumulated over a long period is a lot of common sense and understanding of the matters in hand.

The Deputy asked from where the savings will be derived. They will come from the ability to have shared services, to process complaints more quickly and to have a single registration process and single forms. It is all about streamlining the process. We believe that will give rise to an effective process.

A number of speakers raised questions about the term “frivolous and vexatious” and the implication that if one did not like the cut of one’s jib, one might decide to call a complaint frivolous or vexatious. However, they are legal terms; they are not pejorative in any sense. It is merely a question of saying that as far as the complainant is concerned, if he or she has no reasonable chance of succeeding, the law says it is frivolous to bring the case. Similarly, it is a hardship on the defendants to have to take steps to defend something which cannot succeed, and the law calls that vexatious.

The current regime operated by the director of the Equality Tribunal provides a very good example of the effective filtering of complaints on receipt. The tribunal has the power to dismiss a complaint at any stage if in its opinion the complaint has been made in bad faith or is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or relates to a trivial matter. It is entirely logical that we would have a similar system as prevails in the equality area.

Other issues were also raised, such as whether we should have multiple persons at the hearing and if the hearings should be in private or in public. The approach we sought to take is to make the process as simple and easy to use as possible. We have long experience with rights commissioners and equality officers sitting on their own and giving out very reasonable decisions. Holding the hearings in private is not in any way a breach of the obligations under the European Court of Human Rights because there is a right of appeal, and the appeal will be to a three-person body and will be held in public. The Labour Court has immense experience and its judgments are looked to as major precedent. The court has a very high reputation, not only in terms of fairness but in the legal argumentation behind its judgments, which means appeals are in very good hands.

Many speakers raised issues relating to individual disputes and, for example, the use of contractors which effectively put employees in the position of contractors, but they are not really germane to this legislation. Some of those matters are for the Revenue Commissioners, but in all cases where NERA is called upon, it makes advice available to the individuals concerned and points them in the right direction. Those roles will continue to be the case.

The issue of fees was raised on a number of occasions and this can be discussed on Committee Stage. We have taken the view that fees should not be put in place. Some argued for fees and others argued against them. We took the view that we would not introduce fees except in the case where the first court of appeal was not used. We believed that was a fair process and there ought to be a charge if a person refused to attend at the first port of call and then decided to appeal. Otherwise we have not introduced a charge. We are not closing out the possibility that there could be a role for fees. It is prudent to leave the option in, but we have taken the view that we do not see the need for them, and if the system runs as we hope it will, the issue will not arise.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn raised the manner in which equal status cases will be dealt with under the new structures. I assure him there will be no substantive changes in the Equal Status Acts under the new structures. The Bill provides that complaints under the Equal Status Acts will transfer at first instance to the adjudication service of the WRC with appeals remaining in the Circuit Court.

A number of speakers raised employment rights issues. The Bill does not seek to change the substantive law on employment rights. Those are issues that are broader than the purpose of this legislation, which is to try to ensure the architecture is efficient.

Issues were raised that relate to fixed payment notices. The fixed payment notice must be set in regulations. It is not true that is €150, as some Deputies suggested. The amount will be set in regulations and can go significantly higher than that.

Deputy Wallace suggested it was unfair that there would not be an appeal for a fixed payment notice. One is not obliged to pay the fixed payment notice but one is given a suspension of any prosecution during the period of 42 days. While one has the option of making the payment of the fixed payment notice, if one does not, the case goes through the normal prosecution and is heard in the court and that position does not change. To be fair to Deputy Wallace, he acknowledged that we do not want a highly legalistic process. The Labour Court has a very strong record and is legally robust. Deputy Wallace is entering the Chamber as I deal with his point. He argued that there should be a further avenue of appeal to a court, following an initial case being brought to an adjudication officer and then on appeal to the Labour Court. We are not anxious to go down the road of having appeals to the court. We believe the Labour Court has a very high reputation in terms of the quality of its judgments. It sets precedent and has expertise in dealing with labour law. It will be the place in which the interpretation of the existing law applies. If there is a dispute about a point of law, that can go to court, but such cases are not common appeals and do not relate to the cases cited by Deputy Wallace of which he has had personal experience.

If there is an unfair appliance of procedure, judicial review remains open to the court. We are trying to create a self-contained, world-class, quality system that does not have recourse to the courts unless in exceptional circumstances such as where the system has broken down and people are not treated in the way they ought to be or where there is a point of law that needs to be tested outside of the box, so to speak.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the difficulties experienced in the enforcement of awards in employment cases. I acknowledge the existence of such difficulties. One of the main planks of the reform is to establish a new and robust enforcement regime which will provide successful complainants with an accessible and inexpensive means whereby recalcitrant respondents can be compelled to honour the award of the WRC adjudication service or of the Labour Court, as the case may be. That is a matter for further discussion between ourselves and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC, and the Attorney General. I hope to be able to table amendments at a later stage in those areas.

Deputy Finian McGrath made the case for more social dialogue.

Social partnership does not exist as it did in the past but social dialogue is very active and there has been much dialogue on this Bill and the action plan for jobs. We are open to the views of all bodies on issues of policy in the Department and we try to ensure all voices are heard.

Deputy Seán Kyne made the point that there has been improvement and this is not the time to lower our interest in reform. I agree with that point.

Deputy Noel Harrington raised issues on time targets for early resolution and we can examine this but early resolution, by its nature, offers a narrow window during which resolution can be sought. I do not know whether statutory time limits can be set on this because it is essentially a voluntary process that people enter and can withdraw from at any stage. The Deputy referred to an Oireachtas liaison officer but I do not know whether the level of queries is sufficient to justify such a measure under the WRC - we will consider it. The Deputy also raised the poor recovery rates associated with NERA and we aim to raise these. I will not be drawn into a discussion of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP while debating the Workplace Relations Bill, though it would be interesting.

We will continue to deal with issues on Committee Stage. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan referred to the issue of a non-executive board but the role has not been downgraded and members will deal with strategy - their independence will not be undermined should the WRC deal with a public body. There are many non-executive boards and the key point in this case is the difference between an office of the Department and an agency of the Department. The Office of Corporate Enforcement and NERA are offices of the Department but they are independent bodies - the fact that they are offices under a Minister does not mean the Minister supervises the decision-making process.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor asked when the WRC will be established and the other agencies dissolved and this depends on the passage through the legislative process. We are in the hands of the Oireachtas but are keen to move as quickly as possible, subject to allowing Members enough time to fully consider the proposals.

Deputies Catherine Murphy and Pringle wanted to be assured that two agencies will be better than five. It is not simply a matter of numbers - there will no longer be multiple applications relating to the same complaint to a number of different bodies as this was wasteful in the use of resources, contributed to a lack of clarity and led to inconsistencies in how issues were treated. There were long delays too. This is not simply a case of reducing the number of entities from five to two - it is a case of having a first instance body and an appellate body. We aim to make the process simple and easy to understand. Many people spoke of the need for a compliance culture and this legislation will encourage that. Deputy Anthony Lawlor asked whether an inspection should seek to encourage compliance or be a case of going in all guns blazing. Clearly, we want to encourage compliance and this is why there will be compliance notices and the like to give people an opportunity to mend their hands. We will not be soft on those who are determined not to honour their obligations - a balance must be struck. The earlier a case is resolved, the better - ideally, some cases will not arise at all thanks to this legislation.

I have addressed the main issues that were raised. I thank the Members for their detailed consideration and thoughtful contributions came from all sides.

I wish to raise the matter of an appeals system relating to fines on employers.

I dealt with that already. Notices do not come into effect if they are not paid and such matters go to a hearing.

Question put and agreed to.