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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Jan 2016

Vol. 903 No. 2

Priority Questions

Company Closures

Dara Calleary


1. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the status of his investigations and follow-up following the closure of Clerys; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2143/16]

This question looks for an update to be given to the House on the Minister of State's follow-up investigations into the closure of Clerys department store. I particular want to focus on section 224 of the Companies Act, which states directors must have regard to the interests of employees. I welcome the report the Minister of State commissioned from Kevin Duffy and Nessa Cahill, both of whom are very well skilled to do it. However, the deadline is not until 11 March. I do not know what is going to come of the report but the existing legislation might have provisions whereby these issues can be pursued.

Elements of existing legislation are currently under scrutiny. As the Deputy will be aware in the context of the review, I commissioned the report which I presented to Cabinet in July. Reference was also made to section 599 in company law and we think this is still relevant and may yet be used to test the law in this case. Last week the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and I announced a twin-track examination of protections in law for employees and unsecured creditors, particularly to ensure limited liability or restructuring are not used to avoid a company's obligations to its employees and unsecured creditors. We have appointed two experts to examine the legal protections for workers, particularly where operations and assets may be moved to separate legal entities as part of a restructuring. This examination will specifically look at situations where valuable assets in a company are separated from the operating entity, and how the position of employees can be better protected in such situations. The experts have been asked to report by 11 March 2016.

As part of the twin-track process, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, also requested the Company Law Review Group to examine legislation with a view to recommending ways company law could be amended to better safeguard employees and creditors. In addition, on the establishment of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, in 2001, the existing functions of the Minister relating to the enforcement of the Companies Acts transferred to the director of corporate enforcement. These functions included the investigation of suspected offences under the Companies Acts and prosecuting detected breaches of the Acts. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has no investigative function under the Companies Act, 2014. The liquidators of OCS Operations Limited, which was the firm operating Clerys, have confirmed that they have submitted a report in the past couple of weeks to the ODCE in accordance with their statutory duties. The director of corporate enforcement is independent in the exercise of his statutory functions.

I have written to the ODCE asking it to look at the whole scenario that unfolded, particularly relating to section 224. What happened was cowboy capitalism at its worst and, as outlined by "RTE Investigates" a few weeks ago, there was a high level of thought and investment in preparing it. While we delay with our response there is a danger it could happen again. We are in a bit of a lacuna because nobody knows where we will be on 11 March, except the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but what is going to happen then? Has the Minister of State had any engagement with the liquidators since they submitted their report? Have we any sense of Government taking an active interest in the specific case so as to avoid a repeat of what happened here?

One of the first actions that was taken in the context of the Clerys liquidation was the undertaking of a review by me of the circumstances around it. We were all appalled at the treatment of the Clerys workers and concession holders. We were very focused on the need for the Department of Social Protection, as the main creditor who had to pay out of its insolvency fund for statutory entitlements as workers were left high and dry, to become members of the committee of inspection under the liquidation process. The Department of Social Protection has been working at a very senior level with the liquidators. It is still possible that, outside the process the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, and I initiated last week, we could look at the interface between employment law and company law and see how workers and creditors can be better protected. A review of certain aspects of company law as it applies to situations like this is possible via the Company Law Review Group and it is still open to a creditor, under section 599 of the Companies Act, to go after related assets of a company in circumstances such as these.

The liquidation has not been completed yet. I am aware from media reports that Deputy Calleary has written to the ODCE relating to certain aspects of the applications of company law to cases like this.

To date the liquidation has cost the taxpayer over €2.5 million. Natrium or the previous holding company have not paid anything. This is money which could have been spent in many other places but people are running away with millions in their back pocket and substantial assets while 600 workers and concession holders, who are often forgotten, are left high and dry.

This may be a question for the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Damien English, but watching the programme it struck me that, now that resources are becoming available again, we need to move back into in-company training and give support to companies for the upskilling of existing staff. Job demands are changing so much that people who may have been in a job for some years need to be given support and employers who want to upskill their staff need to be given assistance to bring skill levels up to where we are at in the current jobs market. I ask the Minister of State to look at Skillnets in the context of a new budget.

I agree that the focus needs to change. The Skillnets programme is operated by a lot of our business representative organisations and I have seen some of the programmes sponsored by, for example, ISME, which work very well for SMEs right across the country in upskilling people who are in employment to make sure we have the appropriate skills for the job and career challenges of the future. There is no doubt that this is very important.

However, I am satisfied that we have reached this point now with the Clerys situation, a situation that appalled all of us. The trade unions, for example, are satisfied that we have a comprehensive review of that intersection between employment law and company law to try to ensure, in so far as we can, that the occurrence of situations such as that is minimised in the future so other people across the country do not have to experience what was experienced by the Clerys workers. I also wish to pay tribute to the dignity of the Clerys workers and the way in which they went about their campaign to have a review of the law initiated to ensure such situations do not recur. They were not putting themselves first. They were treated in an appalling fashion and I pay tribute to the way they have conducted themselves over the last period of time during very difficult circumstances.

Job Creation

Peadar Tóibín


2. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation given the high level of job activation and high levels of unemployment, the steps he will take to create more jobs in the economy. [2147/16]

Every job that is created is good news, and we welcome the improved figures. However, we must examine the situation honestly. Ireland is still suffering from an unemployment crisis, with 81,000 people on job activation schemes, 106,000 people who are under-employed and 147,000 people having emigrated. If one looks at all of the figures, the truth is that the Government has not yet made a dent in the unemployment crisis in this country.

Deputy Tóibín fails to recognise what the Central Statistics Office, CSO, has confirmed on each occasion it has published statistics in this area. Unemployment, which peaked at 15.1%, is now down to 8.8% and is falling continuously. Under-employment has fallen by 33% in the last two years and is reducing rapidly. From the outset, our goal has been to shift an economy that became too reliant on the construction sector, which collapsed in a property bubble, by rebuilding it based on a solid foundation of sectors across all areas of enterprise based on innovation and exporting. That has been highly successful.

There are 135,800 people back at work. In the first three quarters of last year 43,400 new jobs were created, which is well ahead of our ambitious target of 40,000 for the entire year. The rate of growth of employment in the Irish economy is 2.9% on an annual basis. That is far faster than the rate in any other European country. We are making progress but I am the first to recognise that we must make more progress in reducing further the rate of unemployment and the rate of migration and in seeing people returning to work in Ireland. The 2016 Action Plan for Jobs is focused on that. It is a decisive shift from the first phase, which was recovery from a crisis economy. We set a target of having 100,000 people back at work and we have comfortably exceeded that before the 2016 deadline. We are now entering a new phase where we have doubled the target by setting a target of 200,000 extra people back at work. This phase is all about implementing the medium-term plan that we set out in Enterprise 2025 and Innovation 2020. We have a strong record built on entrepreneurship, the regional enterprise plans and the innovation strategy. We will continue to work on delivering that.

Let us look at the figures more closely. The Minister says 135,000 jobs have been created, but he takes the base year as 2012. The Government took office in 2011. In that period, supposedly 120,000 jobs have been created. In the same period of time, the number on activation courses has jumped from 50,000 to 80,000. Of the 120,000 is it safe to assume that 30,000 are activation jobs or schemes, in other words, not fully waged jobs? That brings the figure down to 90,000 in that period of time. The truth is that, thankfully, there are strong external tail-winds helping this country along at present. Quantitative easing, exchange rates, interest rates, oil prices and so forth are all helping this economy. However, the internal competitive advantages which the Government should be putting in place to ensure there is a sustainable economy into the future have not been put in place, unfortunately. The truth is that the singular competitive advantage that this Government seeks is a bargain basement corporation tax.

The Deputy again refuses to recognise what every international publication has recognised - that Ireland has improved its competitive position consistently. Forbes magazine recently listed Ireland as the best place to do business in the world, at No. 1 globally. All of the various competition rankings show Ireland consistently improving its placing and, importantly, in areas that matter, such as skills, innovation and technology, where we have targeted improvements. The Deputy is correct that we cannot take recovery for granted and that there are international pressures which could change it. That is the reason our focus is relentlessly on building a strong enterprise base, strengthening our innovation and expanding the number of countries to which we export and the range of goods and services we export. That is what builds a robust base to be strong in the face of any changes.

The Deputy is simply wrong about activation schemes. Many of these schemes have nothing to do with the CSO's record of people at work. Some of them do, such as back-to-work enterprise. There has been an increase in the number of people who are setting up their own enterprises on returning from the social welfare code. That is to be welcomed. Overall, however, with regard to the number of extra people who might be on schemes, there are 8,500 more people on schemes than when we launched the Action Plan for Jobs. Over 93% of the jobs are real jobs in the private sector. The vast majority are full-time jobs with good conditions.

The waters are muddied to a certain extent with regard to these figures and much of the truth is hidden. However, if one adds the numbers of people who are under-employed, on activation schemes and have been forced to emigrate, the total amounts to approximately 334,000. If one then adds the number of people who are on the live register, one reaches a total of 662,000 people. Those 662,000 people are the collateral damage of this Government's economic policy with regard to jobs. That is a very large section of the population. It is approximately a quarter of the labour force in the State. I urge the Government, in the dying days of its term of office, to put down real competitive advantages. That means investing in roads and rail so people can move around the country or move products around it. It should invest in telecommunications and broadband, the transportation system and in education and health, which have been divested from massively by this Government. However, the Government's plan, according to the spring budget, is to reduce Government investment from 1.8% of GDP to 1.5%, which is the lowest rate in Europe. This Government's ambition is to have the lowest investment in Europe. It is considered that 4% is necessary just to maintain the capital stock from depreciation. How will we have competitive infrastructure in the State at that level of Government divestment?

Ireland's performance in our export markets has exceeded that of any other European state.

Take out foreign direct investment.

We are growing more rapidly than any other European state. Net migration, which was mentioned by the Deputy, is down by 66%. Involuntary under-employment is down by 34% while unemployment is down by 40%.

That is since 2011.

These figures are all consistently going in the right direction. We have published the 2016 Action Plan for Jobs and a medium-term strategy that will ensure we copperfasten those competitive advantages and build on them for the future to have 200,000 extra people at work. That is the impact we will make if we stick to the policies we are pursuing. They have a track record which is there to be seen if one is fair-minded in one's evaluation of them.

Employment Rights

Paul Murphy


3. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his views on undocumented non-European Union crew members in the Irish fishing industry; and his actions to assist these workers and to improve compliance with workers' rights legislation in the industry. [2145/16]

I ask again about the gross exploitation of undocumented migrant workers in the fishing industry and what action the Government is taking to ensure that such exploitation does not recur. I also remind the Minister of his statement when this matter was raised in the Dáil under the impact of the International Transport Workers Federation, ITWF, by Deputy Higgins that this was mere contention.

Concerns about exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers in this sector are global in nature. In order to address the complex array of issues facing the State in monitoring compliance with workplace legislation in the fishing industry, the Government established a task force on allegations regarding treatment of workers on Irish fishing trawlers, which was chaired by my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney. Arising out of the conclusion of the task force’s work in November last, we have developed a scheme in Ireland to assist such workers. I welcome the agreement reached by members of the task force, which saw all Government and State agencies involved in the sector coming together to come up with a solution. This cross-departmental approach makes the scheme robust and fair, as well as helping to reduce the potential for migrant workers in this sector to be abused by unscrupulous employers. The new atypical employment scheme provides that non-EEA nationals will enter into a new employment relationship with an employer in the State, as opposed to being share fishermen, which has been the predominant model in the sector. As such, they will be guaranteed all appropriate employment rights and protections during their period of employment and the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, will have a remit in respect of compliance with employment rights legislation and enforcing these workers’ rights. Enforcement of legislation relating to the rest periods and maximum working time of seafarers and fishing vessel crews will continue to be under the remit of the marine surveyors of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The Health and Safety Authority as part of its broader national remit also undertakes inspections of fishing vessels as these are defined as workplaces under health and safety legislation.

Complementary to the new scheme, the powers of the inspection service of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, have been broadened under the recently enacted Workplace Relations Act to empower WRC inspectors to board vessels to enforce the full suite of employment rights legislation for non-EEA workers who will be employees under this scheme.

An essential part of the follow-up to the introduction of the new scheme is the Government’s stated intention to see a memorandum of understanding put in place by relevant State enforcement bodies to provide a rigorous and effective cross-agency inspection system. A subgroup of the relevant enforcement agencies, which I have chaired, has worked intensively in recent weeks to agree the terms of the memorandum to be put in place before the commencement of the new scheme. The memorandum will underpin a robust system of risk-based inspections, based on information sharing and joint inspections where appropriate. I expect the memorandum to be in place shortly, in tandem with the new arrangements for non-EEA workers in the fishing industry.

I ask the Minister of State if the Government accepts - I quote from The Guardian - that African and Asian migrant workers were being routinely but illegally used as cheap labour on Irish fishing trawlers working out of some of the country's most popular tourist ports. If that is accepted - it is good that it accepts the facts - why did the Government not do something about it? Rather than just repeating our last engagement from a couple of months ago I want to ask some more questions on the permit scheme. Were any representations made by fishing employer organisations to increase the number of permits from 500 to a higher number? Also, would the Minister of State agree that it is quite problematic to have the permits tied in to an employer? It obviously restricts the freedom and the relative power of the worker in the circumstance relative to the employer and the fishing industry.

The scheme will be operated by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Where my interest lies is in terms of the operation of the National Minimum Wage Act. Under the scheme non-EEA workers, having gone through a system and a process in terms of a contract where a fishing vessel licence owner will have to go through a solicitor and a general contract is developed to govern the whole scheme, would be protected under employment legislation because there is a basic requirement to pay non-EEA workers the national minimum wage. Therefore, they come under the suite of employment rights legislation that applies to everybody in the State. That is a recognition of the need for the industry to change and the way in which migrant workers from non-EEA states are treated in the context of the Irish fishing industry.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

I thank the Minister of State.

In terms of whether fishing industry representatives have sought additional permits that is not information that I hold. The scheme is operated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

So there have been reports that fishing industry representatives have sought to increase the number of permits from 500 to 1,000. I do not know whether they have made representations to the relevant Minister. It seems to me that is in contradiction to the initial response to the fishing industry representatives which was to be extremely dismissive, a bit like the Government at that stage saying that this was not really happening and, therefore, it would not make sense to call for an increase in the number of permits. I wish to ask the Minister of State two questions which relate to workers' rights. I welcome the fact that they will be covered under employment legislation. First, will he agree that it is wrong for the permit to be tied to a particular employer as it makes it difficult for an employee to whistleblow on an employer, to speak out about their conditions, because of the threat that they will lose the permit and lose the right to stay in the country? Second, will he agree that all those who are in Ireland should be offered an amnesty in terms of migration in order to encourage people to speak out about their conditions?

We are in a much better situation now. I reject any claims that the Government was less than swift to respond to reports as outlined in The Guardian. We acted very quickly to put the new system in place. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, and I acted very quickly to put the new system in place to deal with this very difficult situation. It is useful to take a step back and consider what type of changes will be introduced. We have a new atypical work scheme which is to be put in place for non-EEA workers for the first time. The scheme will provide that during the first three months after its commencement, permissions will be limited to those non-EEA workers already operating on Irish fishing vessels. That is an opportunity for those who are here at the moment to regularise their situation. Cross-sectoral pre-clearance systems ensuring a comprehensive, legally binding contract of employment will be put in place. Anybody who has concerns about how they are treated in the workplace has the same protections as everybody else in this country in terms of making complaints through the usual channels-----

I thank the Minister of State.

-----which we have legislated to improve in recent times. The full suite of employment legislation is available to protect people who will be operating this particular scheme.

Job Creation

Dara Calleary


4. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation why the Government’s timeline for job targets has been extended to 2020 from what was previously declared by the Taoiseach in January 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2144/16]

When it comes to facts the Taoiseach is about as reliable as the Irish weather. He changed completely the goalposts in regard to job creation targets, conveniently enough during the Christmas break, in the hope that nobody would notice. He says that full employment, which the Minister defines at 6%, will be achieved by 2020 instead of 2018. Will the Minister outline the background to that change? Will he also clarify why the Government agreed that 6% would be regarded as full employment?

This week we launched the fifth Action Plan for Jobs. A key objective of the Action Plan for Jobs process has been to rebuild our economy based on enterprise and entrepreneurship, talent, innovation and exports and provide a solid foundation for future growth. The action plan is a to-do list for the economy - a to-do list for the whole of Government. Most importantly it publicly commits to exact timetables for delivery with the Department of the Taoiseach together with my Department overseeing and driving implementation and publishing a delivery record each quarter for all to see. It is because of these structures and this approach that the OECD in its review of the APJ in 2014 said it: "marks an important innovation in Irish governance." When we launched the first Action Plan for Jobs in 2012, we set ourselves the target of creating 100,000 extra jobs by 2016, which we surpassed a year and a half ahead of schedule. Therefore, when we launched the 2015 action plan last January, we set a new target to have 2.1 million people in employment by 2018. That target has not changed and is one of the five strategic ambitions we have committed to in the 2016 plan.

In November 2015, we published Enterprise 2025, the ten-year jobs and enterprise strategy which provides the roadmap to build a sustainable economy and have 2.18 million people at work by 2020, an additional 80,000. This would mean more people at work than at any time in the history of the State. We now have the ambition of bringing home 70,000 of the emigrants who were forced to leave due to the crash caused by the policies pursued by the last Government.

The Action Plan for Jobs complements the Government’s Pathways to Work which sets out actions to be taken in support of those who are currently unemployed to help them access the labour market and new job opportunities. Last week, the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection published the new Pathways to Work strategy for the period to 2020. Our Departments will continue to build on the progress to date through the Action Plan for Jobs and Pathways to Work to ensure that more employment opportunities are available to those who are seeking work and, therefore, reducing unemployment.

The Taoiseach said that the 6% would be achieved by 2018.

Why is it that in other economies, such as Germany's, 4.5% is regarded as full employment whereas we are going for the higher rate?

The Minister has not outlined the reason for the change or why the targets are being pushed back. The Department of Finance indicated in October that we would not achieve a 6.4% rate in 2020 or a 6.2% rate in 2021. The Minister can talk about action plans for jobs and targets and everything the OECD says but this represents a serious shift in the goalposts.

It is true that emigration happened. The amount of emigration that happened is equivalent to another 6% on top of the unemployment rate. Even bringing those people back and giving them the opportunity to come back into employment does not account for the shift in the goalposts that has occurred.

The Deputy should understand that what we can influence is the number of jobs that are created. That is the central target we have always set ourselves. It was a target of 100,000 and it is now a 200,000 target. Obviously, projecting the impact that has on the number of unemployed will depend on a number of factors that are less easy for a government to predict exactly because they include the flow of inward and outward migration, a natural increase in the labour force and so on. Essentially, we are predicting and building our targets around a growth of 10% in the total number at work. We envisage that a significant part of that will impact on those who are out of work and that has been the record in recent years. That ten points will be spread between reducing the 8.8% rate below 6% as well as accommodating 70,000 people who we now believe can be attracted to come home.

We have not changed the job targets in any way but I suppose we are being a little more conservative in terms of when the 6% rate will be reached. That is part of official forecasting.

I remind the Deputy that when I launched the Action Plan for Jobs and forecasted 100,000 extra jobs, the Department of Finance forecasted that unemployment this year would be 11.6%. We have comfortably beaten that because of the ambition we have set and the implementation that we have delivered.

I welcome that the Minister's ambition is better than that of the Department of Finance. However, can the Minister explain why he is focusing on 6% versus 4.5% in Germany? As Deputy Tóibín has said, the reality is that we still have 88,000 people on activation schemes. We still have another 100,000 part-time workers who are seeking full-time employment and who are in receipt of a payment. We have many people abroad but if they were here, they would be part of that figure. The Minister has dismissed the activation schemes somewhat as not forming part of the jobs plan but most of those 88,000 people are looking for full-time employment. If they are not feeding in to the labour market or providing opportunities for the labour market, then it is an issue the Tánaiste needs to address. As long as the Government continues to exclude them from the overall figures, there is something seriously flawed with our unemployment model.

Let us consider the Irish economy other than in the period when it was overheating. Full employment was in the range of 5% to 6%. That is where we aim to get to by 2020. However, one of our key ambitions is that it will be a sustainable level of full employment and that the economy will not be subject to the buffeting that happened when we were reliant on the construction sector to get to those low rates.

We want to build a strong economy. The Minister for Social Protection set out a number of successful programmes that have delivered more people from the unemployment numbers. Let us consider the fall in the unemployment rate. It has consistently outperformed forecasts because we have been successful in getting people from the live register onto work schemes. In 2015, the year gone by, 135,000 people left the live register to take up work. That is a strong performance. As a proportion of those unemployed, that is the highest in five years, with some 42% leaving the live register to take up work. Strategies such as Pathways to Work are impacting on the live register and we aim to continue and improve them.

Zero-hour Contracts

Paul Murphy


5. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to set out his views on the findings of the University of Limerick study into zero-hour and low-hour contracts which the Government commissioned in 2015. [2146/16]

Will the Minister set out his views on the findings of the report of the University of Limerick and the study on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts? The study confirms the precarious nature of work in this economy. It confirms that the labour market has become increasingly flexible through the use not of zero-hour contracts in particular, but of if-and-when contracts. What is the Government going to do to ensure that the jobs being created are decent jobs such that people can provide decent living standards for themselves and their families?

The statement of Government priorities in July 2014 committed to conducting a study on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts among Irish employers and their impact on employees and making policy recommendations to Government on foot of the study. Following a competitive tendering process, a team from the University of Limerick was appointed in February 2015 to carry out a study into the prevalence of zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts in the Irish economy and their impact on employees.

The study, published in November last year, found that zero-hour contracts, as defined within current Irish employment rights legislation, are not extensively used in Ireland. It found low working hours can arise in different forms in employment contracts, such as regular part-time contracts with fixed hours or a contract with if-and-when hours only or a hybrid of the two. If-and-when contracts are contracts where workers are not contractually required to make themselves available for work.

The UL report made a range of recommendations relating to contracts, hours of work and notice, minimum hours, how contracted hours should be determined, collective agreements, data gathering and wider contextual issues. The UL study was an independent study and the conclusions drawn and the recommendations made are those of UL. Therefore, it was essential for the various stakeholders who contributed to the study, and any other interested parties who may not have had an opportunity to discuss their views with the University of Limerick during the data gathering period to be given an opportunity to consider and respond to the report. To this end, I sought submissions from interested parties by way of a public consultation. That process concluded on 4 January 2016. That was the closing date for the receipt of submissions. As Deputies can imagine, the responses contain a variety of views both for and against the findings and recommendations made by the University of Limerick. They will require careful consideration by my Department over the coming period. This will inform the policy response to be considered by Government arising from the study.

As I said at the committee yesterday, it is my intention, as per the Government agreement in November, to bring forward proposals to Government colleagues in the coming period.

Does the Minister accept that the prevalence of if-and-when contracts and precarious work gives the lie to the idea of a strong recovery and good quality jobs being created? Given that 32% of workers are working fewer than 35 hours per week, 24% of workers work different hours each week and 41% of workers work part-time because they cannot find full-time work, compared to less than 30% across the European Union, it is clear we have a worrying drive towards increasing labour market flexibility. This comes at the expense of workers' security and workers knowing what is happening next week and being able to access mortgages, etc. In reality, we have vicious exploitation of workers, in particular, workers in certain sectors, such as retail, and women. This issue is distinctly gendered.

What is the Government going to do about it? Which of the recommendations - I agree that they are good - is the Government going to accept and try to legislate for?

I know that Deputy Murphy has a particular worldview. Regardless of what the CSO might say about the increase in full-time work, the increase in employment generally and the falling numbers of those in underemployment, all of which are welcome, he would always beg to differ with the view of the CSO and the Government.

There is of course a challenge for the economy, the Government and employers to ensure that the jobs we are creating are good decent sustainable jobs that reward people appropriately and have strong terms and conditions. We have introduced a suite of reforms in the industrial relations landscape and in employment rights. This has been done by the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and by me in recent years. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, introduced legislation to replace the joint labour committee system which fell in the courts some years ago. In October, I signed into law employment regulation orders applying to the contract cleaning and security industries. These brought forward in law new minimum rates of pay for those working in those industries. It has resulted in 55,000 people with better protection and terms and conditions.

When we analyse the performance of the economy and the type of jobs that are being created, we should not necessarily look at one area in particular. The broad range of employment protection legislation, the increases to the minimum wage and new arrangements are all positive.

My particular worldview is one that would have been shared by the Labour Party not long ago. It is the idea that no one who is in work should be living in poverty. We should not be the second highest country in the OECD in terms of prevalence of low pay. We should not have 20% of workers living in deprivation. I do not think that is such a radical worldview.

What will the Government do about this?

A key point made in the report was on the rising cost to the State of income supports. The State is subsidising low-pay, precarious employers through the likes of the family income supplement, FIS. Will the Government take action to eliminate what are largely the equivalent of zero-hour contracts and introduce banded-hour contracts and guaranteed-hour contracts so that people might know what hours they must work, plan accordingly and have enough money on which to survive?

We are considering the proposals. It is important to ensure that employers have a degree of flexibility in the labour market, but not to the point where anyone is allowed to be exploited or abused by unscrupulous employers. We undertook this study because we were conscious of that. We wanted to get a handle on the nature and extent of low-hour contracts and the survey has made a useful contribution to that debate.

Ours is the first Government that has taken a keen interest in this matter and it is our view that we should be tackling some of the more egregious aspects of these practices in order to end abuse. We are considering a suite of proposals made by the University of Limerick, but the Government has not formed a view on how to progress them yet. I have views on that front, however, and I want to do everything that I can to ensure that the interests of low-paid workers and people in precarious work situations are protected and their circumstances are enhanced. All of the measures that I have taken on this matter since being appointed Minister of State with responsibility for business and employment have fed into that process and been successful.