Industrial Relations (Right to Access) (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am sharing time with a number of other Deputies.

James Connolly once famously said that the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. He recognised that a republic is only a republic in name if it does not vindicate the rights of citizens. Central to this tenet is the vindication of the rights of people in the workplace. Sinn Féin believes in strong, robust, fair and effective employment rights. We believe in the right of workers to organise, join a trade union and be represented by a trade union. We support the right of workers to bargain collectively. We see this as inextricably linked to trade union recognition.

The current voluntary system has worked for some but has failed many. Some unscrupulous employers refuse to recognise trade unions and engage in campaigns of bullying, harassment and intimidation. This cannot be said of all employers; the vast majority are decent. However, for those who are not, we must ensure that appropriate laws are in place. Those who are unscrupulous operate as they do because they can and because the current system allows them to. Decent employers should have no truck with such tactics and neither should any Government interested in the rights of workers. A voluntary system of trade union recognition allows unscrupulous employers a hiding place. If an employer has nothing to hide, then it has nothing to fear.

During the infamous Ryanair dispute of 2007, Mr. Justice Geoghegan stated:

As a matter of law Ryanair is perfectly entitled not to deal with trade unions nor can a law be passed compelling them to do so. There is an obvious danger however in a non-unionised company that employees may be exploited and may have to submit to what most reasonable people would consider to be grossly unfair terms and conditions of employment.

How right he was.

This Bill does not confer the right to trade union recognition. It does confer the right for trade union members to associate with and meet trade union officials in the workplace. The general secretary of Mandate, John Douglas, recently remarked that being a member of a trade union in Ireland was like being a member of a golf club but not being allowed to play golf.

Employers who value their employees have nothing to fear from strengthened labour laws. Those who seek to bully and routinely to ignore industrial relations laws and trade unions do so to protect their interests over those of their employees.

A successful economy is one that values those who contribute to it. A successful employment rights infrastructure is one that operates on the basis of equality and a level playing field between worker and employer. There is no level playing field if workers cannot be fairly and properly represented by their trade union. In far too many sectors, the odds are stacked in favour of the employer. This has resulted in instances of abuse and exploitation. The best way to avoid industrial disputes is to have genuine engagement and respect for all sides. The most effective way to avoid workplace conflict is to resolve disputes at the earliest possible opportunity. What better place than the shop floor or place of employment? The right of trade union representatives to engage with trade union members in the workplace should not be feared by anyone, including Government; rather, it should be embraced. It is a right afforded to workers in many countries that are competitive and that lead the way in workers' rights.

The Bill mirrors the Australian and New Zealand model. The model works effectively and is supported by employer groups and trade unions in those countries. It is seen, rightly, as an opportunity to avoid conflict in the workplace and as a way to promote harmonious relationships between employee and employer.

Far too often, we hear examples of employers granting the right to trade union access in the workplace only to withdraw it when it suits. It is a right conferred when everything is going well but used as a punitive measure when conflict arises. This à la carte approach to workers' rights cannot and must not be tolerated. It is telling that instances of abuse and intolerance and breaches of employment law are highest in sectors where low pay, precarious work and if-and-when contracts are the norm. This is the case in the hospitality, retail and construction sectors.

The secretary general of Mandate, John Douglas, said last week that in companies like Dunnes Stores workers are often called into disciplinary meetings with highly trained human resource managers.

I call on the Deputy not to refer to people specifically.

They are refused access to trade union officials. This is completely unfair. As I speak, the Mandate trade union and its members are in conflict with Tesco. The dispute is about an attempt to change the terms and conditions of employment unilaterally for pre-1996 workers. This is rightly seen as the thin end of the wedge. It is also part of an attempt by the company to break the union as part of what has been termed project black. In fact, in recent days Tesco has boasted and put out false figures of the number of people who have passed the picket line. That is what these workers have to deal with. The company has withdrawn the right to access for trade union representatives in several stores in a vindictive attempt to break the union and deny workers their proper entitlement, including their right to deal with trade union representatives. This is what our voluntary system provides. This is what the Minister and her Government provide for and preside over.

Trade union representatives have been routinely denied access to the workplace in the financial services sector, the banking sector and even, at times, in the public service. The Bill is for workers in the public and private sectors. A denial of workers' rights is part of the race to the bottom. It is an attempt to replace reasonably paid workers on decent contracts with lower paid workers on low-hour contracts. The rise in low pay, precarious work and zero-hour and low-hour contracts has not come about by accident but design.

It is done under the cloak of competitiveness and flexibility. We hear Fine Gael Ministers state repeatedly, when they deny workers rights, that it is about being competitive and flexible but for far too many workers flexibility is synonymous with abuse and exploitation. Flexible work is good, but undermining workers' rights is about only one thing - greed. We are the lawmakers. It falls to us to protect workers and to put in place a strong, robust and effective legislative framework that protects the interests of working people. Our current labour laws have positive aspects that should be recognised and celebrated. While I do, there are far too many gaps and weaknesses which must be filled. This Bill seeks to address one such weakness. It is not a panacea for all the problems that affect workers or the plethora of rights they are denied.

I have published legislation on piercing the corporate veil, on dealing with low-hour and if-and-when contracts, on trade union recognition and on tactical insolvencies. All were rejected by the Government. Every proposal my party puts forward to deal with workers' rights is thrown out the window because the Government is not supportive of such concepts. However, this Bill is about the right of workers to engage with their trade union representative in the workplace. Ministers repeatedly accuse Sinn Féin of opposing and not offering solutions. Today, we offer a solution but the response of the Government is once again to hide behind its ideology and deny workers' basic rights. Fine Gael is a party that represents a privileged, cosseted class. In Fine Gael's world the working class is ignored while it represents the interests of big business and the elites. Does the Minister or the Government care about exploitation and abuse in the workplace? Have they any idea what life is like for many workers? These workers are often pitted against highly trained human resources managers or an employer's legal team and yet are refused access to their trade union official. The Minister stands over this. Workers on low-hour contracts who complain about their terms and conditions of employment have their hours cut by unscrupulous employers, because the employers are allowed to do it. The Minister sits on her hands and does nothing about it aside from vote down Bills brought forward by Members on this side of the House.

This Bill seeks to amend the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 to allow trade unions access to their members in the workplace for purposes related to the employment of their members, for purposes related to the union's business or both. There are sufficient checks and balances in the Bill. It sets out conditionality relating to the permission which must be sought to allow trade unions to engage with their members in the workplace.

I ask all Members, including those in Fianna Fáil, to support the Bill. No Bill is without flaws. I have acknowledged that in recent times when my party has supported many Bills brought forward by Fianna Fáil that were flawed. When we agree with the principle, we support them. Too often, however, Fianna Fáil does not support our Bills. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Mandate and unions that represent workers in the financial services sector, the banking sector, the private sector and the public sector all support this Bill. The only people who do not support it are Fine Gael Members. We have yet to hear from Fianna Fáil Members but the word is they will not support it. That says it all about both parties.

Members have a job to do, which is to legislate in the interest of workers who need to be properly represented. We are doing our job. It is now over to the Government and Fianna Fáil to do their jobs. I commend the Bill to the House. I thank the Independent Members and Members from other parties who have indicated their support for the legislation and I look forward to their contributions.

I remind Deputies that they may refer not only to what is in the Bill but also to what could relevantly be put into the Bill. There are four more speakers sharing time, so they have approximately two minutes each.

At the outset, I am very disappointed with the position taken by Fianna Fáil on this Bill. Judging by the eagerness with which Fianna Fáil representatives were scrambling to get into photographs beside striking Tesco workers this week, I was almost fooled into thinking that the party had experienced a road-to-Damascus moment and had been converted to the side of workers. Unfortunately, Fianna Fáil remains a party of photograph opportunities, not principles. That this very reasonable Bill could be opposed by a party which claims to represent ordinary people, as Fianna Fáil does, indicates how far we have fallen with regard to protecting workers' rights in this State. Obviously, we had problems, having followed the Thatcherite path of the UK in the late 1980s and having legally hamstrung unions with industrial regulations that practically outlawed effective strikes in the 1990s. It now appears radical merely to argue for the right of unions to access workers and attempt to organise. The fact that this law is not already in place is sad and the fact it is necessary is an indictment of the State and lays bare whose side Governments have taken.

The erosion of workers' rights over recent years is clear. Zero-hour contracts, intimidation, blacklisting, punishment for union activities and bogus self-employment contracts are just a few examples of daily attacks on the rights of workers to organise. With the increasing move towards automation, the role of unions has never been so important in ensuring that workers are not cast by the wayside in the name of ever-increasing profits for an increasingly small number of shareholders. The effect of this erosion is insidious but pervasive on the public perception of fellow workers in other industries. Many ordinary people who would have stood with their class a generation ago now decry the idea that anybody working in an ordinary job should earn wages that allow them to live. It appears that people who work in unskilled or semi-skilled positions should be punished. The consequences of not defending workers from the increasingly savage attacks of capitalism will be truly dire, most of all for those in power who will reap the whirlwind of the discontent they have sown.

It has been obvious for some years that the race to the bottom for Irish workers is in full swing but the Government continues to turn a blind eye to it. Workers' hard earned rights and conditions are under attack. We see it with Bus Éireann and Tesco workers, newly qualified teachers, workers in the hospitality sector and part-time workers, as well as with minimum wage and minimum-hour contracts, zero-hour contracts, non-union shops and workers not knowing from one end of the week to the next what will be their hours or pay. They cannot plan a week in advance, never mind plan their future. All of this is happening on the Government's watch. The Government states the economy is in a recovery but there is no recovery for workers. There is a clear policy of busting unions, as can be seen in Tesco and other large retail outlets at present even though these companies make enormous profits in Ireland. Again, the Government turns a blind eye.

This Bill is about unions having access to the workplace and their members. In fact, it is about workers' rights. Under the Bill, workers can ask their union representative to come to their workplace to speak to them. The Government opposes this measure. Why would it oppose a worker's basic right to have his or her union representative come to his or her workplace? Is Fianna Fáil actually opposed to allowing a worker have his or her union representative come to his or her workplace? If that is the case, then in the last week I will have witnessed the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil Deputies standing on the picket line with Tesco workers and getting their photograph taken. It will be a cheap and hollow photo-opportunity if those Deputies vote against the Bill or abstain in the vote. The vote on this Bill will show up the Members who are talking the talk but will not walk the walk. It will also show up those who are making fools of Irish workers, the same workers who have fought hard for their employment rights and conditions over the years. Those Members will have had a hand in eroding workers' rights even further.

There have been many improvements in Irish society over the past 20 years but one area that has been steadily regressing is that of employees' rights. It is evident that workers' rights are now worse in many areas than they were when we joined the European Union in the early 1970s. The race to the bottom with regard to wages and rights started many years ago but it has accelerated greatly in recent years under both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments and, amazingly, under Governments in which the Labour Party was a partner. The Bill brought forward by Sinn Féin will allow trade unions to have access to the workplace to meet their members regarding official trade union business. This is a fundamental right that many people in this country have strived for since the beginning of the last century and before that in some cases. The Bill will allow trade unions to work out a reasonable time with an employer for access to trade union members in terms of discussing collective agreements as well as wider workplace issues.

This will prevent unscrupulous employers using the law to stymie trade unions in their work. The purpose of this Bill is to bring some necessary balance to the situation. It might not be popular for some Members of this House or for those in the media to admit the work that trade unions have done on equality and working conditions, their many other positive contributions to this country or the importance of their role in society. Trade unions protect the rights of employees and, by doing so, serve a vital social and economic function.

It is disgraceful in this day and age that we are standing in this Chamber discussing the need to pass this Bill while there is an ongoing battle against a race to the bottom in terms of workers' pay and conditions. The State cannot continue to allow companies to slash wages to increase profits when those wage cuts end up as an expense for the State. For example, 10% of Tesco staff are already on low pay. The State has to top up their incomes with supplementary social welfare. Now the company is trying to drive down wages and conditions of employment for their longest serving staff, leaving the State to step in to subsidise these low wages with welfare payments. I ask the Government and its partner, Fianna Fáil, to support our Bill, especially as the Government itself regularly deals with unions and has seen the benefits of negotiations with these unions.

I, like others, commend the Bill and I look forward to the debate. The Bill allows trade unions access to the workplace to meet their members regarding official trade union business. I am at a loss as to why anyone would oppose such a reasonable proposition. It is not something that is in any way radical. It may have been seen as radical 100 years ago but I would have thought the idea of workers being organised in a modern Ireland was very much a positive thing. If we look at other jurisdictions, this is clearly working. It is about preventing, not encouraging, disputes. If there are people on the ground who can come into a workplace and resolve issues, that is a big plus.

We will probably hear tonight from some of the hard cases that it will not work. We will be given all sorts of excuses and told that it will somehow switch off multinationals coming to Ireland. I could give the same argument. Has it stopped multinationals coming to Australia, New Zealand and other jurisdictions around the world where there is legislation in place? No, it has not. That is a nonsense argument.

Again people will give examples of where it is going to cause problems for some employers. We are now told the economy is back on its feet and yet we see the difficulties, for instance, in the construction industry. If we look at what was happening there, we as a State turned a blind eye to what was going on in respect of these self-employed contracts that people were forced into and so on. There are huge problems facing workers.

People have mentioned different strikes and so on. IBEC said what a great employer Tesco is. Great employers, in my opinion, if there is a Labour Court decision against them, follow through on that, but we know that there are outstanding claims relating to the great employer Tesco at the moment. We know, of course, of other employers that are brought to the Labour Court every year and they just tear up those agreements. It is about workers' rights. It is about bringing about a fairer society. Why would we be opposed to that?

Go raibh maith agat. I remind Deputies that there are a lot of speakers on this Bill. Somebody will run out of time if we do not stick to the allocated times.

Ireland has a long history of trade unionism and the legislative framework supporting the operation of the trade union movement in the State has evolved over several decades in response to social and economic factors. Let me state from the outset that it is vital that trade unions are able to represent and take action in support of the interests of their members and that the laws of the State vindicate that right.

It has been the consistent policy of successive Irish Governments to support the development of an institutional framework supportive of a voluntary system of industrial relations that is premised upon freedom of contract and freedom of association. Our industrial relations legislation offers robust protections to trade unions to allow them to go about their business of protecting workers' rights. These include protection from tort regardless of any damage caused to an employer's business because of a trade dispute. Furthermore the code of practice on victimisation drawn up under the industrial relations legislation offers protection against victimisation arising from an employee's membership or non-membership of a trade union. This was further enhanced in 2015 to include an explicit prohibition on the use by employers of inducements, financial or otherwise, designed specifically to have staff forgo collective representation by a trade union.

We should acknowledge that our industrial relations structures are very successful. Hundreds of disputes are resolved each year by the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court and many more are resolved by the parties themselves through dialogue. There is an extensive range of statutory provisions designed to back up this voluntary framework. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012 provides for a revised framework for wage setting under the joint labour committee framework.

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 significantly changed the existing industrial relations landscape in Ireland and it provides for a new statutory framework for establishing minimum rates of remuneration, pension and sick pay, to replace the former sectoral registered employment agreements. It also ensures that where an employer does not engage in collective bargaining, an effective framework now exists that allows a trade union to have the remuneration and terms and conditions of its members assessed against relevant comparators and determined in a binding way by the Labour Court.

The 2015 Act was the culmination of a process of in-depth consultation with stakeholders, including employer and worker representatives, and a review of the experience of the operation of the existing legislative framework as put in place under the Industrial Relations Acts of 2001 and 2004.

From my perspective, the most important concept to consider in this debate is that of balance. The 2015 legislation provides a clear and balanced mechanism by which the fairness of the employment conditions of workers in their totality can be assessed in employments where collective bargaining does not take place and brings clarity and certainty for employers in terms of managing their workplaces in this respect. Of course the industrial relations structures of any jurisdiction must be fit for purpose. We cannot simply cut and paste what exists in another country and apply it here.

The Bill under discussion today has many flaws, particularly in relation to balance. The practical issues which would arise if this Bill were to be enacted are numerous and capable of creating many difficulties across our economy and in these respects it is unworkable.

The House may not be aware but there are currently 56 registered trade unions in Ireland. This Bill sets no limits on the number of trade unions that can seek access to a place of work. Granting statutory rights to enter premises is a very serious matter. Thus, potentially, an employer could have multiple unions and multiple trade union representatives seeking access to a place of employment. This applies even if the union does not have a single member in the employment. This may present an onerous burden for employers, regardless of whether they have one or a thousand employees.

The consent provisions outlined in this Bill effectively mean no consent is needed. The timelines are unworkable.

The Bill proposes that the only ground under which an employer can deny access to a union representative is if it is certified by the Attorney General that access would prejudice the security of the State or the investigation or detection of offences. This is not a function the Office of the Attorney General can perform.

The Bill as presented also proposes that a union representative may enter a workplace to deal with matters concerning the health and safety of union members. Ireland has a competent and specialist Health and Safety Authority that includes an inspectorate warranted to enter premises. The Bill would cut across the statutory mandate of the Health and Safety Authority.

Furthermore, the Bill seeks to empower union representatives to monitor compliance with employment rights-related matters. Inspectors of the Workplace Relations Commission have strong powers to monitor and enforce a robust suite of employment and equality legislation and I cannot see how a statutory role for union representatives in this area could work.

I am open to considering any issues that arise in practice in terms of access and the potential for further developments regarding access that enhance our industrial relations landscape. I believe that this is a subject the Joint Committee for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation might usefully consider for inclusion on its work programme should it so wish. I am sure that employer and worker representative bodies would be eager to contribute their own analyses and suggestions and I am sure many of my colleagues in the Chamber would welcome the opportunity to explore any potential developments, particularly where there is some common ground. I would welcome any conclusions or findings from such a process, if the committee were to decide to give the matter some consideration.

However, the flaws in the Bill are such that I cannot support it.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Bill. Fianna Fáil has a long track record of supporting workers' rights and balanced industrial relations legislation. The constitutional right of citizens to form associations and unions is enshrined in our progressive Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, which was introduced under Eamon de Valera back in 1937. My party has a strong record on worker protection from introducing the National Minimum Wage Act to instituting the labour relations machinery of the State by establishing the Labour Relations Commission, which is now the Workplace Relations Commission.

Furthermore, it has been a consistent policy of ours to end exploitable low-hour-type arrangements and we supported a Private Members' Bill on freelance workers' rights in the Seanad last year. I believe this Bill is being taken next week in the Dáil under Private Members' time also and look forward to discussing its legislative proposals.

However, having reviewed the Bill before us, Fianna Fáil will not be supporting it for a number of reasons. There are many weaknesses and much legal ambiguity in the Bill, which would place excessive and disproportionate regulatory requirements on existing enterprises, fundamentally risking the strong FDI footprint in Ireland, which employs some 200,000 people directly. Significantly, it could undermine the current functioning of the Workplace Relations Commission and give rise to serious data protection concerns. This Bill is not fit for purpose and sends out the message that Ireland is closed for business to international investors.

There is a strong body of industrial relations law currently in operation in Ireland. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015, enacted just over 18 months ago, struck a proportionate balance between increased collective bargaining rights and anti-victimisation provisions for workers, while maintaining the voluntarist approach to collective bargaining in Ireland. Importantly both main social partners had a direct role in shaping this legislation to ensure it would work in the best interests of workers and employers.

Were all the main social partners consulted on this Sinn Féin Bill? Were labour officials in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation consulted? Were representatives from the Workplace Relations Commission consulted? If yes, I would be very curious to hear their feedback. As the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, I was not lobbied by ICTU or any other trade union, with the exception of Mandate. I received three or four e-mails on it. I received correspondence from Deputy Cullinane, who invited me to a briefing. Other than that nobody asked to meet me about it and I have not received any big lobby on it. I look forward to getting clarification on the consultation that was carried out in drafting the Bill.

The first cases under the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 are only working through the industrial relations system now. It would be premature to change this legislation at this early stage. The 2015 legislation is progressive and has the capacity significantly to improve the rights of workers seeking to negotiate collectively with employers through their unions. It provides an avenue for workers through their trade unions to secure improvements in pay and conditions when an employer refuses to engage in collective bargaining. This means, in cases where it can be demonstrated that collective bargaining does not exist in a company, a group of workers have a right to a hearing at the Labour Court where they can be represented by a trade union and have their case examined. In these cases, legislation allows for the Labour Court to make a determination in a dispute, which can then be enforced by way of a Circuit Court order.

Ultimately, the 2015 Act will be judged by its ability to resolve industrial disputes. My party will carefully monitor this situation and the need for any potential future changes, provided there is clear evidence showing that the existing industrial relations architecture needs to be strengthened in this regard.

Significantly, the Bill fails to differentiate between unionised and non-unionised employers. It provides that all employers, regardless of whether they are unionised or non-unionised, must allow a union representative access to its employees at the workplace at any time during working hours. This is clearly not a proportionate piece of legislation. The Bill fails to recognise the voluntarist industrial relations model operating in Ireland. It is claimed that Ireland's voluntarist approach is key to our ability to attract foreign investment. The Bill empowers a union representative to enter any workplace and "monitor compliance" with collective agreements and legislation regarding employment rights. In effect, it could undermine the current functioning role of the Workplace Relations Commission.

Did the Deputy get his briefing from the Minister?

The Workplace Relations Act 2015 gives Workplace Relations Commission inspectors the power of inspection and enforcement. Enabling union representatives to monitor compliance would duplicate existing regulation in this area and create an unnecessary and overlapping legislative layer of workplace inspection law.

Currently, Workplace Relations Commission inspectors have the statutory right to enter an employer's premises and oblige the owner to give information as requested. Workplace Relations Commission inspectors may also issue compliance notices as well as fixed-payment notices to employers for non-compliance, which may ultimately lead to a criminal offence.

There are also serious data protection concerns emanating from the Bill. The power to monitor compliance would require an employer, as the data controller, to disclose personal data of workers to a third party which would give rise to serious concerns under the Data Protection Acts.

Section 8B of the Bill ambiguously provides that discussions between a worker and an employer must "not exceed a reasonable duration". However, the Bill fails to define what is a reasonable duration. This is very vague legal drafting. The Bill also requires employers to reply to such a request "no later than the working day after the day on which the request was made". This seems quite rigid and disproportionate.

I note Sinn Féin's criticism of our position. I measure this against how it treats its own employees, which I read about in the newspapers over the weekend. I did not see any reference to trade union representation or indeed-----

On a point of order, that is absolutely inappropriate.

The Deputy does not need a point of order.

I am asking the Deputy to withdraw that.

Any employer is entitled-----

Excuse me, I will deal with that. I ask Deputy Cullinane to resume his seat.

-----to defend themselves at the Workplace Relations Commission, just as an employee is entitled to have a case heard.

I ask Deputy Cullinane to resume his seat.

For the Deputy to call into question the integrity of my party and anybody associated with my party because of an ongoing case is despicable on his part. It shows his absolute lack of interest in procedures.

The Deputy should suí síos and have a small bit of manners.

I measured-----

It is nonsense from the Deputy.

The Deputy should respect the Chair.

I measured the criticism-----

I have already asked people to stick strictly to the Bill. I am asking Deputy Niall Collins to do so now.

I measured the criticism of the Fianna Fáil position against how Sinn Féin treats its employees. I read about the matter in a newspaper, a public document. In particular, I noted with interest its position on non-disclosure agreements.

Is the Sunday Independent a public document?

This Bill is yet another example of Sinn Féin’s anti-jobs and anti-business platform, which would scare off foreign direct investment, FDI, and create unnecessary divisiveness across the current balanced industrial relations landscape. Perhaps we should not be surprised because Sinn Féin's anti-jobs platform is consistent considering its proposal to introduce a new rate of 15.75% employer PRSI. An increase in PRSI would make it more difficult for Ireland to compete with other countries for much sought after investment and job opportunities. These are exactly the sort of policies that are counterproductive at a time when we face an oncoming hard Brexit and are trying to attract high skilled, well paid jobs. Initiatives such as this will repel future multinational investment as well as threatening existing jobs. For every ten jobs created through FDI, a further seven are generated in the wider economy. This translates to more than 300,000 people employed directly and indirectly in IDA Ireland supported companies nationwide or one in five private sector workers.

As legislators, we must do all within our remit to sustain existing employment levels and create a regulatory framework to sustain high quality, long lasting jobs with the competitiveness challenges ahead. With a hard Brexit on the horizon, this is a more salient point than ever. Last month, the chief economist at the Department of Finance said that the emerging Brexit scenario could lead to a 33% reduction in exports to the UK and may result in 40,000 Irish job losses. Notwithstanding this, we believe that immediate Government focus needs to be on doing everything possible to safeguard Irish exports and jobs from Brexit. This includes transitional aid measures to the most exposed sectors. Government action in this area has been sorely lacking.

The Bill, if enacted, would have a detrimental effect on retaining the FDI by means of which more than 300,000 people are employed in direct and indirect jobs and affect our ability to attract new companies to invest and grow jobs in Ireland. For the reasons outlined, we will not be supporting the Bill.

In June, a Labour Party motion on workers' rights was passed by the House but the Government has done nothing to implement what was passed.

The motion was passed by everyone in the House except those in government. The foundation of my party is inextricably linked with the trade union movement. We have argued throughout our history that the best means of strengthening the hand of workers and their unions is through co-operation of both organised and political labour. This means that we have been unwavering in our support for workers when in government and in opposition, during bad times as well as good. For that reason, I welcome this Bill, which the Labour Party will support. It is a very well-intentioned Bill that seeks to put into law an important principle which should be available to all trade unions representing workers and seeking to meet them in their places of work. It is a Bill that needs some work and there are some flaws in it that will need to be examined on Committee Stage. There are questions about some of the language and generalisations used. I refer, for example, to the continual use of the words "reasonable" and "practicable". There are concerns about how enforceable some of the provisions would be in law and how they might be put into practice in real terms in the workplace. In saying that, however, we will work with the instigators of the Bill, who are putting it forward for the right reasons, to improve it and to ensure that it becomes better legislation. We feel it is worthy of that effort.

Parts of the Bill could also be covered by collective agreements already in place between trade unions and employers. That is something I would like to see thrashed out on a later Stage. We have seen with the Tesco strike in recent weeks and the cack-handed approach by Bus Éireann management recently that in many cases employers do not treat their employees in the way they should.

I welcome the Bill. I also welcome Sinn Féin's recent alignment to my party's work in this area and its embrace of the workers' rights agenda, which we have championed for many years. I hope Sinn Féin will adopt the same stance in Northern Ireland as it does in the Republic.

The Deputy should tell us what he did when in government.

I will do so in a moment. The president of SIPTU, Jack O'Connor, stated that this is the only country in the entire OECD in which legislative protections were put in place for workers during the financial meltdown. Those protections improved workers' rights during those crisis years. Ireland is the only country in the OECD in which that happened.

That is Jack O'Connor of the Labour Party.

Deputy Crowe is right. It is Jack O'Connor of the Labour Party. As a former SIPTU shop steward-----

I thought we were not supposed to name names or is that just bias?

Can I have this time back?

There should be some consistency.

As a former SIPTU shop steward for many years, I know of the campaigns of intimidation and anti-union tactics that can go on in workplaces. I stand here as one of the few people who knows what it is to take workers out on strike. A young organiser told me recently that he invited some fellow workers to join his union but they asked him why they would do that because they want to be promoted at some point. There is often a fear of retaliation in joining a trade union. Many employers have used this fear to drive down terms and conditions, increase casualisation and get more work out of people outside of contracted terms and conditions. They are all threatening in the way they do that. They ensure that there is precarious work and unions cannot strengthen the rights of workers through the tactics they employ.

Since this Government was formed, efforts to improve workers' rights have stalled. We have no Minister with responsibility for labour affairs. There was an excellent Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs in the previous Government. The amount of legislation that former Deputy Ged Nash got through was incredible. In the programme for Government, only two paragraphs relate to this area. That is depressing. The Low Pay Commission, while still carrying out valuable work, has not been given a new mandate to reach a living wage and has awarded only a 10 cent increase in the minimum wage for this year. There have been no Government efforts to tackle the increasing use of precarious contracts. The Protection of Employment (Uncertain Hours) Bill proposed by my party would protect against the use of zero-hour and if-and-when contracts and would support workers and create stable employment. The place where the highest number of these contracts exists is over the Border in Northern Ireland. The world of work is rapidly changing and yet we have seen no Government response. It is easier for employers to impose non-standard terms and conditions and precarious work on low paid workers. Low pay, insecure hours and enforced and bogus self-employment are all contributing to a weakening of social mobility and secure work.

During the crisis across Europe and the developed world, many governments dealt with the crisis by cutting the rights of workers. The Labour Party ensured this did not happen in Ireland and that is a fact. I have quoted Jack O'Connor but I could also quote Patricia King of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. We restored the €1 cut to the minimum wage, which was made by Fianna Fáil, the so-called social democratic party, after its recent branding. We then went on to increase it by a further 50 cent. In 2012 we restored the joint labour committee, JLC, system through the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act and employment regulation orders are now in place for over 55,000 low-paid security and contract cleaning staff. This has ensured these workers received pay rises over recent years. From December 2016, contract cleaning staff will receive their second pay increase of just over 10% under the employment regulation order that the Labour Party made possible. In 2015, we historically brought into law collective bargaining rights for workers. We are seeing the benefit of that law now. SIPTU secured a landmark Labour Court ruling against a sandwich maker in June with a €2.12 per hour pay increase for over 50 staff at a company in Ballymun. A sick leave scheme is to be introduced and a number of other benefits are going to all the workers. SIPTU's manufacturing division took the case under the legislation which provides for binding increases in pay and conditions in circumstances where an employer does not engage in collective bargaining.

The Communications Workers Union was also able to use the legislation against a company recently operating a 999 call centre, and there are many more examples.

The first new registered employment agreement, REA, was put in place for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. Disgracefully, however, the management is currently ignoring it. We will know how this will end. As the crisis in Bus Éireann unfolds, the Labour Party, again trying to be progressive, has proposed that it is time to look at a sectoral employment order for the bus transport industry in order to ensure that workers will be protected and that there will not be a race to the bottom. We need to examine the workplace bullying legislation, the bogus self-employment legislation that is hitting small businesses and the self-employed and if-and-when contracts. The latter must be dealt with. We also need to extend the hours laid down under the transfer of undertakings directive and regulations, TUPE, to many other sectors, including the security and hospitality sectors.

To end on a better note and in fairness to the Minister - we do not always see eye to eye - she has supported a Bill, which has passed through the Seanad, the Competition (Amendment) Bill, which relates to freelance workers and which protects songwriters, singers and performers. She also supported amendments to that legislation which we will be accepting. We will introduce that Bill in the Dáil in the coming weeks and I ask every Member to support it in order to allow collective bargaining and negotiating on behalf of all those workers also.

We will be supporting the Bill before the House and we hope to work on it in committee.

I want to make it clear to Deputy Cullinane that I do not show any favouritism in the Chair. I show no fear or favour in seeking that Members respect one another and the orders of debate.

With respect, the Acting Chairman pulled me up on naming names but he did not pull up-----

I did not name any names. Deputy Cullinane was very quick on his feet. I did not name any names.

At the risk of having to repeat myself, I already read out the rules of debate. The Deputies may refer only to what is in the Bill and to what could relevantly be put into it. I draw all Deputies' attention to that, as I did at the outset.

The Acting Chairman did not do that.

I call Deputy Barry. The Deputy is sharing an eight-minute time slot with Deputy Bríd Smith.

We will be voting in favour of this Bill on Second Stage. We believe it can improve the ability of unions to more fully function in workplaces where they have a membership base. We believe it can be a useful tool against union busting. When we think of union busting, we think of the United States of America where it is a multi-billion dollar industry. We think of companies such as Walmart, Coors, Coca-Cola and so on, but we also have union-busting in Ireland. It is nothing new. We all know about 1913 and William Martin Murphy, but we have a modern brand of union-busting too, and we see that very clearly currently in Tesco where union officials have been banned from the premises.

The Minister made an interesting point. She conjured up a picture of 56 different unions trying to get in the front door, the back door and perhaps wriggle in the window also in order to try to unionise companies which might have two, three or four people working for them. What about a company that has 12,000 workers and where there is not a single union official allowed on the premises? Where is the famous balance in that situation? This is a company from which unions are banned from putting their notices on notice boards and from holding meetings on the premises, such as in a canteen. It is a company which rips up the contracts of its longest serving staff members without their consent and which engages in intimidation. Let me be quite clear, this is happening on a nightly basis at present. Workers, an hour before they ballot on whether to strike in their shop, are being called in by managers and told that if they do not have contracts, they will not work there again if they vote the wrong way. If they have contracts, they are being told that they will see their hours being cut if they vote the wrong way. What we are seeing is a campaign of economic terrorism by a corporate giant against working men and women in this country. It is happening right under the Minister's nose and she is refusing to support legislation which would assist those workers. That is shameful.

The UK law firm Eversheds Sutherland now has an Irish wing. The lawyers in that firm have been the top union busting advisers in the UK for nearly 20 years, and they are working with Tesco. They deny that they are involved in union busting in Ireland, but it does take a rocket scientist to work out what is going on. In terms of politics, the number of union busting companies in the United States grew from approximately 100 to a figure in the thousands in the 1980s. Such firms seem to be getting a foothold in Ireland under Fine Gael's watch. In the US, the union busters flourished under Reagan. Are they now going to gain a foothold in Ireland under Fine Gael?

Fianna Fáil deserves mention as well. We talk about foreign direct investment, FDI, companies, but that party is protecting precisely those companies that come from a union busting culture in the United States and their right to try to deny the union rights of Irish workers. When Deputy Donnelly joined that party a few weeks ago, he talked about joining a party of republican social democracy. I do not see much of that on show in the debate tonight.

There is a need for legislation to outlaw what Tesco has done in stopping the check-off of union dues on its workers' payslips. There is also a need for mandatory union recognition to complement that legislation. We will table amendments on Second Stage but the Bill is a positive step and we will be voting in favour of it this week.

I want to have a go at the Minister because I am a member of the committee which deals with issues that are the responsibility of her Department. On each occasion that an issue relating to workers' rights arises or when discrimination against workers comes to the fore, regardless of whether it is in an FDI company, the Minister always finds fancy language to use when washing her hands of any responsibility for jobs. She is the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. When we refer to jobs, we do not mean jobs at any price. What we are talking about are good, decent jobs for the decent people who live in this country and who we are trying to represent.

The Minister and Fianna Fáil seem to think that we live in this bubble. In a way, the Dáil is a bubble in which there is a belief that somehow we are all in this together. There are those who support FDI companies, there are Fianna Fáilers, Fine Gaelers, the left and those who represent the workers and there is a belief that we all share the same agenda and are pursing the same issues. We do not share the same agenda as FDI companies, employers such as Tesco, De Beers Industrial Diamonds in Clare and other employers that will run down workers' rights, issue them with if-and-when contracts, as Bus Éireann is trying to do at present, undermine their existing contracts and try to break the law, as the bosses in Tesco are doing. The Minister should have the latter in her office for breaking contract law, which is what they are doing. They are breaching the legislation. Those workers have contracts and they cannot be taken from them until they agree to a change in the terms. The Minister, who has responsibility for jobs, has got to answer in respect of that matter.

Fianna Fáil has the biggest cheek. It is the party that told us in the 1930s that labour had to wait, that we could deal with the issue of workers' rights and equality for ordinary people and that we had to look after the national question. However, it did not do that. It neither looked after the national question nor did it look after workers, yet its members put on the red shirt when it suits them and go down to the Luas pickets or across to the Tesco pickets and pretend that they are on the side of the working people. At least the Minister wears her blue shirt and we can see her true colours. The Fianna Fáil guys are like chameleons and change their colours all the time.

I say to workers outside this House that there is a big test coming down the tracks for both Irish workers and workers who are not from Ireland but who work in this country. That test is to do with the Tesco strike. It is a big test for trade unionism, the right to organise and the right to be represented. We have to get 100% behind those on the picket lines. I call for people across the country to participate in mass protests at 12 noon on Saturday afternoon at every Tesco store in this country on which there is a picket. I ask them to support the workers, help them to finance their solidarity fund and ensure that they can win this battle. It is not just their battle, it is everyone's battle. It is a battle against the type of employment offered by a company such as Tesco that can made €250 million in profits each year in this country, which it refers to as "Treasure Ireland". That is the name the British bosses put on Tesco stores in this country.

It is outrageous that we have a Government and a so-called Opposition that will say diddly-squat about it and pretend that they are all things to all men. Ultimately, they represent one class interest in this country, namely, that of the boss class. They do not give a damn about workers' rights. They will sell our souls, not just their own, for so-called FDI. However, the game is up in that regard as a result of Brexit and Trump. The game is up on their low-tax economy and they had better wake up to the fact that there is such a thing as worker solidarity in this country.

We will ensure, along with the Tesco strikers, the Bus Éireann strikers and all those being exploited outside of the House, that this voice is heard and this House is forced to legislate for it. I welcome the legislation. Well done to Sinn Féin.

I fully support the Bill. It is vital and important legislation. All workers should be entitled to access their union representatives at places of their convenience. In most workplaces, this would be the shop floor of the place where the workers are working together. It is vital that we allow workers to organise and be represented by people who know the ins and outs of labour law and can advise workers properly. The relationship between workers and management in companies throughout the country is not an equal one. The workers on an individual level do not have any power. All the power is held by management and the workers need the support of organised labour to help them negotiate with their management.

Many examples have been outlined in the House of the reasons we need this support. Others have mentioned the Tesco workers and the disgraceful intimidation by management of those workers, attacking their right to ballot and to access the union representatives in their workplaces and forcing and intimidating them into voting against strike action. Management should be forced to allow the workers to have free and fair discussions with their shop stewards and union representatives and to make free and fair decisions.

Then again, we should not be surprised that the Government will oppose the Bill when one considers what the Government is doing and allowing to be done in respect of Bus Éireann. It is clear that management in Bus Éireann wants to break the unions representing its workers and create a budget bus company in which precarious work, casualisation of labour and massive pay cuts will all take place for the workers. The Government appears to be quite happy to allow this to happen.

I note that the Minister in her contribution outlined all the great industrial relations procedures already in place in the country and how, in her mind, they are effective. However, if they were effective, we would not need this legislation. If they were effective, Tesco workers would not be intimidated in their workplaces. If they were effective, Bus Éireann management would not be trying to undermine union representation and attack bus workers throughout the country.

I believe it is a policy of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to ensure the ongoing casualisation of work and creation of precarious work for workers throughout the country is pushed forward. That is the agenda they are driving and it will do no good for anybody in work who needs the protection of union representation when dealing with management and its power structure.

I am pleased to support this important Bill, the Industrial Relations (Right to Access) (Amendment) Bill 2016, brought forward by Deputy Cullinane and backed by a number of unions, including Mandate, the Technical Engineering & Electrical Union, TEEU, the Financial Services Union and ICTU.

In recent years, Ireland has become a leader in the developed world for low-paid work, with the latest figures showing us second in the OECD in this regard. The Government's recent survey on income and living conditions, SILC, report backed this up, finding that 105,000 people in Ireland are now "working poor" - in employment but unable to escape poverty. Precarious work practices are also rampant. Ireland has the second highest level of underemployment in the EU 15. This reflects information from the International Labour Organization showing part-time work here doubled between 2004 and 2014. Bogus self-employment has also skyrocketed, a prominent example being the number of self-employed people working in construction, which has risen from 24% in 2004 to over 40% today. In other words, almost half of construction workers are in bogus self-employment. Under the Minister's watch, large and important sectors of the Irish economy, from retail, restaurants and hotels to social care, construction and farm labour, are being turned over to part-time, low-paid and precarious work. One of the key factors in this is an aggressive campaign on behalf of exploitative businesses to keep trade unions out. This is what this Bill, modelled on legislation already in place in Australia and New Zealand, aims to remedy. It aims to give trade unions the right to access workplaces where they have members on site.

In recent years in Ireland, trade unions have been physically removed from the car parks of hugely profitable companies such as IKEA. They have been blocked from building sites on which their members have been seriously injured. They have been unable to set foot on construction projects such as schools, funded with taxpayer money, where exploitative employment practices continue right under our nose. I spoke yesterday to an official from the Financial Services Union who told me he had been denied access repeatedly to workplaces in the Irish Financial Services Centre, IFSC, where people were dealing with serious cases of work related stress.

A number of years ago, the Taoiseach promised Ireland would be the best little country in which to do business. I put it to the House that the Government has allowed Ireland to become a wild west for work. However, it is not only Fine Gael that is refusing to stand up for workers' rights today. Fianna Fáil is joining it in opposing the Bill. There are some Tesco workers in the Gallery today, fighting very bravely against an unscrupulous employer for their legal contracts to be respected. Deputy Barry Cowen joined those workers on their picket in Tullamore recently. Meanwhile, their union must carry out ballots in hotels and pubs because they are banned from the staffrooms in Tesco. That is what this Bill is about. Deputy Cowen now intends to vote for this situation to continue. The Bill is a litmus test and a small but hugely necessary step for workers' rights, and we will find out much more about where people stand by how they vote on the Bill.

I am delighted to speak in support of the Industrial Relations (Right to Access) (Amendment) Bill and congratulate our Sinn Féin colleagues, specifically Deputy David Cullinane, on bringing this timely Bill before us. Deputy Cullinane also held an informative briefing recently at which representatives from some of our major unions were present and showed quite clearly the difference this Bill, if passed through these Houses, would make for trade union members. I note this wide level of support across the trade union movement. Those of us who have been shop stewards realise the importance of the Bill for the welfare of workers and indeed of the enterprises and institutions in which they work to ensure industrial relations problems and issues are identified and addressed early on to the satisfaction of everybody, workers and employers alike. It is very disappointing, therefore, that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will oppose the Bill. It was in this context that I introduced the very first Trade Union Recognition Bill in the Twenty-eighth Dáil, parts of which later became law. That Bill was introduced against the background of a ferocious campaign of intimidation against SIPTU and Irish Air Line Pilots' Association, IALPA, which were representing workers in Ryanair.

The Bill before us is legally sound. It is based on legislation in place in New Zealand and Australia. It works very well in those common law jurisdictions. We know that access to trade union representatives happens on a voluntary basis in many workplaces, but proper, structured access would help to avoid industrial unrest and, as I said, help businesses as well. Voluntary access is just that – voluntary - and can therefore be revoked when any ripples of problems or unrest start. For example, we have seen recently in the case of Tesco, as my colleagues have said, a business that was previously seen as a reasonable employer with a positive relationship with its main trade union, Mandate, but which has now limited trade unions' access to their premises.

I am delighted to commend our Sinn Féin colleagues and to support the Bill.

The Bill is entitled "an Act [...] to allow Trade Unions access to their members in the workplace for purposes related to the employment of its members or for purposes related to the Union’s business or both". The Bill provides for a representative of a union to obtain consent to enter a workplace, places conditions on access to workplaces and provides for members to have time off from work for union meetings.

I better declare an interest. I speak as an employer. Any new law in this area must strike a balance between the interests of workers and employers by providing certainty and clarity for businesses while protecting union activity in workplaces. We must be very careful because it is a very difficult time and has been for the past ten years since the recession. We must all ensure exploitative work practices, where they exist, are challenged and ensure a sufficiently robust system of representation for workers. That goes without saying.

However, as I said a moment ago, there needs to be a balance, and that balance is very fine, very delicate and very thin. Unilateral demands from union representatives to enter places of private business or work would simply ignore any legitimate concerns of employers. This must be resisted because we cannot have that. We are trying to nurture and encourage employers all the time and trying to keep them in Ireland.

Many of the people promoting this Bill, and I am not disrespecting any trade unionists or workers, have never employed anybody in their lives and have no intention of doing so. They have no understanding of the difficulties or the sleepless nights involved in running a small business.

Does the Deputy think trade unions work without staff?

I have no truck or issue with the Deputy on Tesco and big companies of that sort. I have no time for them and what they do. I am talking about small employers and the fledgling employers Enterprise Ireland supports to help the economy recover. Unions have a vital role to play but membership should not be compulsory. I would want very clear guarantees that the rights of non-union members will not be impinged upon by any new legal entitlements which give union representatives access to the workplace. People have a right to join a union or not. We cannot make that compulsory. What if the workplace has to close? What about the deduction of pay for non-union members in those circumstances? Unfortunately, many have closed and will close because of Brexit and other reasons and issues which have not been dealt with by successive Governments. They are not all Tesco or big multinationals. There are serious problems in the way workers are being treated. If a company has to close what will happen to non-union members?

It is already extremely difficult to set up and operate a small business in this State. There are significant and costly levels of red tape and regulations to be adhered to. Deputies have no idea of the amount red tape and regulation. Will there be another plethora of red tape? We have all had the experience of over-zealous union members interfering with work practices. That is not good and the unions would not want that. It has happened and I have experience of it. I have no experience as an employer but I am involved, as I am sure many Members are, in community and voluntary organisations and I am chairman of a community employment scheme which employs 17 or 18 people. I have some understanding of work regulations and workers' rights and health and safety. It is very arduous and people will not be interested in being involved in community development associations and social benefit schemes because of the threat of legislation. We deal with the unions and have a good relationship with them. Will we have union representatives on the scheme who will demand time be given to meetings with the volunteer board members who have to give up time from their own employment? It is not feasible. We should not be introducing further legislation which makes it even more difficult to run a business in a smooth and efficient manner.

I respect and support Deputy Cullinane's motivation to protect the rights of workers from exploitative practices but it goes way too far and I could not support the Bill. There is a parallel in the denial of access to those willing to assist lay litigants in courts. That is a shameful thing that I have protested against. I have been with some lay litigants who are not allowed in either. There are many areas where people are denied support.

People and families are under continual threat of exploitation by judgments of county registrars and yet they are forbidden to have access to people who may advocate on their behalf but who are not in the legal profession. I heard the King's Inns or one of those organisations advertising for people to become barristers from their homes. That is badly needed but lay litigants need to be able to get help and support from friends or people who can assist them.

The worker needs to be protected in the workplace but so does the employer. It is not beyond our comprehension to accept the fact that employees can utilise union representatives to make vexatious and frivolous claims. Most employees would not do that but it has happened. There must be safeguards in place for both parties.

A plethora of bodies are responsible for health and safety, etc. The Deputy invokes the Attorney General in the Bill. The National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, was very antagonistic to employers. It had far too much power and a plethora of officials in the good times. Those officials could arrive at any premises and argue about the time the employees worked, whether before or after midnight, and about the age of the employees, etc. I said countless times in the middle of the recession that NERA should be stood down and its name changed to one which signified that it was an employers' support agency. We respect the workers but employers need support. Who is going to help them? Who will fill out their P45 tax certificates and pay their taxes? What pensions do they get? They have rights too.

If we want our economy to grow, we need entrepreneurs and young people in business to employ people and go out to work. We cannot have parties of the left continuously frightening off employers and foreign direct investment. That is what is happening. Some of those who have left the Chamber – not members of Sinn Féin – were lecturing employers as much as to say that we do not have a right to help on the picket. We need balance. We need to encourage employers and we need employer supports. It is not all one-way traffic and it is a difficult and thankless job often to have one, five, ten or 12 employees and to keep the doors open, particularly when rates, income tax, wages, insurance and pension schemes must be dealt with. There are more and more regulations and inspectors, flashing badges and books but none of them could run a henhouse. They could not run a corner shop or a sweet shop. That is what is wrong.

Some aspects of this legislation are badly thought out and come from a totally different ideology that has no place in modern employment. I certainly cannot support this Bill.

Go raibh maith agat a Cheann Comhairle as ucht an deis chun labhairt ar an mBille seo anocht. As I listened to the previous contributions, the hypocrisy and sheer brass neck of Fianna Fáil was staggering but not surprising.

On Leaders' Questions this morning, Deputy Micheál Martin spoke about the race to the bottom, terms and conditions for Bus Éireann workers and the need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to engage with the unions. Fianna Fáil seems to think that people forget and that the public is not aware of what it is doing. It is important to send out a message that this is happening in here. Deputy Micheál Martin waxed lyrical about the need to protect workers and ensure that they do not bear the brunt of Government policy. Now, however, when Fianna Fáil has an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is and do something that will bring positive change, encourage fairness for workers - particularly as the Bill seeks fairness - and help stop the race to the bottom, the fake outrage and concern have disappeared, as has Deputy Micheál Martin. Fianna Fáil shows its contempt for ordinary workers as it stands firmly behind the corporations that reap millions of euro in profits on the back of the sweat and hard work of our people.

This legislation is simple, it is common sense and reasonable. Similar legislation is in operation in Australia and New Zealand. The Bill simply gives trade unions the right to meet their members regarding official trade union business in the workplace. It seeks to bring balance to labour relations. There is no such balance at present. The Bill also seeks to limit the ability of employers to undermine trade union membership and the solidarity of workers. What reason, apart from pandering to corporate interests, do Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael give for opposing this Bill? Why are they opposing a fair Bill to protect workers? I ask that all Deputies stand with the ordinary workers across this State and support this legislation.

Listening to the Government, Fianna Fáil and perhaps Deputy Mattie McGrath, one would think that the Bill proposes something beyond radical, some form of mandatory trade union membership on pain of hard labour. This is a very simple Bill, with a straightforward purpose, the intention of which is to solve a relatively straightforward problem. It is far too easy for businesses to discourage union membership or activity through inducement or intimidation. Both tactics are used. We need to be conscious of inducement. Unscrupulously anti-union businesses will do all in their power to obstruct union activity or even membership, including entirely ignoring the existence of unions.

To redress the balance even slightly, it is a perfectly reasonable approach to allow the union access to its members.

I am not entirely certain that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael understand this Bill fully. We are not talking about unannounced visits. We are talking about prearranged visits that would be agreed in advance unless it is unreasonable to allow such access.

We are not talking about the Green Berets arriving up to a business in a Humvee. We are talking about a trade union official with a briefcase arriving by appointment and looking to speak to the members of the union on issues of concern to them. I cannot fathom how the Government or Fianna Fáil can object to such a proposal.

Fianna Fáil has argued against this Bill on the basis of technicalities that could easily be rectified by way of amendment on Committee Stage. I will give an example. Last night, we supported Fianna Fail's Public Services and Procurement (Social Value) Bill 2017 on Second Stage with a view to amending it on Committee Stage. Fianna Fáil would not be objecting to our Bill on Second Stage unless it was opposed to it on principle. Given the reasonable and careful manner in which we have structured this Bill, which provides for recourse, the idea that foreign direct investment would be frightened off or intimidated by this proposal is absolutely worthy of ridicule. I cannot imagine that a business which has invested in Ireland would be put off by the idea that it might occasionally have to accept an appointment to meet a trade union official or allow such an official to visit one of its locations.

I will conclude by making a related point about the recognition of trade unions and respect for trade union rights. The fifth anniversary of the start of the Vita Cortex sit-in, which lasted 161 days, was marked just before Christmas. I remind the House that the Government of the time, which was supported by two of the three Ministers and Ministers of State currently sitting on the Government benches, gave a commitment at that time that it would introduce legislation to ensure workers who are made redundant get their entitlements. This commitment was made again and again by the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. Sinn Féin introduced legislation in this area. Five years on, absolutely nothing has been done regarding this matter, to which the Government needs to return.

I want to correct some of the misinformation that was presented by Deputy Niall Collins earlier. Sinn Féin is in favour of workers and the rights of workers. Fianna Fáil is as anti-worker today as it was when it cut the minimum wage. I am proud to be the daughter of a trade union organiser. I worked as a trade union organiser for many years. The Government is seeking to deny access to the workplace to me and people exactly like me. There is nothing intimidating or threatening about a union organiser seeking to meet her members in their workplace. It happens in schools throughout the country every day of the week. The trade union movement does not carry out its work to put employers out of business. It would be ridiculous to do so. If there were no employers, there would be no workers and no trade unions. We seek to improve the terms and conditions of the people we represent. That is exactly what this Bill is about. It seeks to give trade union officials access to workers - their own members - in the places where they work. There is nothing massively revolutionary about it. In fact, it should be a basic right.

Deputy Kelly spoke about the Labour Party's record when it was in government. If he had stayed around long enough, he would have heard me telling the House that when I was a trade union organiser during that period, the most requested form in every workplace was the one to ensure none of the workers' union dues went to the Labour Party. The last time we discussed workers' rights in the House, I said that the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, must have lived a charmed life.

I repeat that assertion now. Nobody who has ever been at the coalface of union organising would do anything to stand in the way of this legislation. Anyone who has ever tried to organise workers, as I did when I sat with them in their kitchens, in my car and in the back rooms of pubs, knows that workers are terrified when they think the whole world is on the side of their bosses. The Government and its best friends and helpers in Fianna Fáil are on the side of the bosses rather than on the side of the workers. They should be ashamed because they have never had to consider what it would be like to feel intimidated in their own workplaces. I assure those who look to the Dáil, the Government or the local Fianna Fáil Deputy when they want to see who is on their side and who will help them that trade unions, members of Sinn Féin and the Deputies who will support this Bill are firmly on the side of workers, but the Minister and her best friends in Fianna Fáil are on the side of the bosses, those who seek to terrorise and intimidate workers in their own workplaces and those who do not care if their workers are petrified when they come to work.

As far as those who pursue a policy of supposed flexibility are concerned, flexibility is when workers will work all day and beyond for very little reward because they are afraid. The Minister must have lived a very charmed life if she does not see the need for this legislation. There are workers in this State who are terrified to organise. While it might be true to say we have a marvellous system of industrial relations machinery, that system is no use to workers who cannot avail of it because their unions cannot access them in their workplaces. Those Deputies who look at the available evidence and suggest that the Government is on the side of the workers, despite what their party leaders might say, are not on the side of the workers, even if they stand with Tesco workers on the picket line. Fianna Fáil is not on the side of workers. I remind the House that there is a simple choice to be made. Deputies need to decide whether they stand with Sinn Féin and the workers, or with the bosses and their Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael lackeys.

I am speaking on this Bill on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, who has laryngitis and is unable to speak. I reiterate the view of the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, that it is only right that trade unions are able to represent and take action in support of the interests of their members and that our laws support that right. The policy of successive Governments has been to support industrial relations. Our laws protect our trade unions to allow them to go about their business of protecting workers' rights. Protections from tort are provided where damage to employers results from legitimate trade disputes. Protections against victimisation are provided and were enhanced in 2015 to include an explicit prohibition on any inducements that might be offered to have staff forgo collective representation by a trade union. A revised framework for setting wages under the joint labour committee framework was introduced through the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 provides a new statutory framework for establishing minimum rates of remuneration, pensions and sick pay, in the form of sector employment orders. The 2015 Act ensures that when an employer does not engage in collective bargaining, an effective framework exists to allows a trade union to have the remuneration and terms and conditions of its members assessed against relevant comparators and determined in a binding way by the Labour Court. This has been successfully used by trade unions. The Government will continue to support the important role played by trade unions in our society.

Unfortunately, the Bill before the House fails to appreciate properly the tried and trusted voluntary nature of industrial relations in Ireland. It does not try to achieve a sense of balance or reasonableness. If it is enacted, we will transplant a system that has been copied and pasted from a country in another hemisphere directly into Ireland without consideration of the economic, social, legal or historical differences. It is interesting that examples from closer to home were not considered when this Bill was being drafted.

We looked at the position across the water.

In the UK, the issue of physical access to workplaces is not covered by legislation. It is a matter for employers to decide if they wish to allow trade unions to have access to their premises. Physical access is much less of an issue than it might have been in the past due to the advent of the Internet, e-mail and social media, which make it much easier for trade unions to communicate with potential members. Perhaps the opportunities offered by modern methods of communication should be considered. In France, only elected trade union representatives in a company have unlimited access. In the Netherlands, there is no legal obligation on employers and employers' organisations to negotiate with trade unions. Collective agreements between unions and employers depend entirely on the willingness of both sides to negotiate.

Ireland's economy is unique and we must protect what is good about it and build on those positives. Our economy is performing well and our existing systems and structures are contributing strongly to bringing our unemployment levels down to 6.8%. An additional 66,100 jobs were created during 2016, an annual increase in employment of 3.3%. Full-time employment increased by 4.7%, while the number of part-time workers declined by 1.4%. These figures are very positive for workers.

This Bill is neither reasonable nor balanced and is simply unworkable. The word "reasonable" is strewn throughout the Bill yet there is no definition of what constitutes reasonable in the view of the drafter or, indeed, who is to be the arbiter of what is reasonable. The consent provisions outlined in this Bill effectively mean no consent is needed. The timelines are unworkable and the Bill proposes that the only grounds under which an employer can deny access to any number of union representative is if it is certified by the Attorney General that access would prejudice the security of the State or the investigation or detection of offences. This is not a function the Office of the Attorney General can perform, which means there will never be a basis for an employer to decline access.

The Bill also proposes that a union representative can enter a workplace to deal with matters concerning the health and safety of union members. Ireland has a highly competent and specialist Health and Safety Authority that includes an inspectorate warranted to enter premises. This Bill would cut across the statutory mandate of the Health and Safety Authority. Furthermore, the Bill seeks to empower union representatives to monitor compliance with employment rights-related matters. Workplace Relations Commission inspectors have strong powers to monitor and enforce a robust suite of employment and equality legislation and I cannot see how a statutory role for union representatives in this area could work. Under the Workplace Relations Act 2015, inspectors are appointed by the director general, with the consent of the Minister, and they exercise such powers as are conferred upon them by the Workplace Relations Act 2015. I cannot agree that it is appropriate for a union official to have a statutory function not dissimilar to an employment rights inspector and would strongly oppose any move in this direction.

The Bill is not balanced and fails to sufficiently respect employers’ rights. It fails to create a fair balance between trade unions having access to employees in the workplace and an employer’s right to carry on business and survive in a very challenging environment. Neither does it consider the burden the obligations it lays down will impose on enterprise. What about the employer with one employee? The obligations contained in the Bill are the same whether one employs one person or 1,000 people. The burden imposed by the Bill on small businesses has obviously not been thought through. The paid time off for employees and the administrative time which management would have to expend on dealing with requests for access would be costly. All the obligations set out in this Bill are a direct cost to business.

I have just touched on the more obvious defects of the Bill. Overall, the Bill does not sit well with our tradition of voluntary engagement and it ignores the unique make-up of our economic, social and cultural history. I strongly support the range of addition protections and enhancements legislated for in recent years. These have included significant enhancements to the protection of trade unions and their members through extended discussion and negotiation. This Bill has none of the hallmarks of any discussion or negotiation between representatives of workers and representatives of employers and therefore lacks the balance required to make it workable. I support the comments of the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, regarding further discussion and development of thinking in this area, including with the committee dealing with jobs, enterprise and innovation, with inputs from all sectors of industry. However, for the reasons stated, I cannot support the Bill.

Deputy Adams is sharing time with Deputy Cullinane.

Ba mhaith liom an Bille os ár gcomhair um thráthnóna a mholadh. Tá buíochas ag dul do Theachta David Cullinane as ucht é a chur faoi bhráid na Dála. Iarraim tacaíocht ó achan Teachta don Bhille os ár gcómhair, go háirithe Teachtaí Fhianna Fáil agus Fine Gael. This is an important Bill and I hope Teachtaí will see that it strengthens the rights of workers by allowing trade unions access to their members in the workplace in respect of official union business. The current voluntary system has worked for some but it has failed many others. We all know there are employers who engage in campaigns of bullying, harassment and intimidation of workers engaged with union activity, and that must be ended.

We believe in the rights of workers to organise, join a union and be represented by a union. In a topical issue, Bus Éireann management has sought to unilaterally cut overtime and Sunday rates, as well as stopping pay increments for employees. In another topical issue, we have seen the shocking treatment of employees at Tesco, with the company refusing to engage with unions and trying to unilaterally cut the pay of their longest-serving workers. We have seen this two-tier race to the bottom culture many times, which particularly affects some of the larger employers. A successful employment rights infrastructure operates on the basis of equality between workers and employers. That is what is needed and this Bill will assist that process.

I am surprised Fianna Fáil is not supporting the Bill and I did not know that until I came here this evening. Surely the newly minted progressive radical Fianna Fáil of "Comrade" Martin and "Brother" Collins would have been delighted with a Bill to permit the basic and modest right of workers to access unions. Sin revolution Fianna Fáil style.

I thank all the Deputies who made contributions, including the Ministers and Teachta Niall Collins, whose views I strongly disagree with. I will get to some of that in a moment. I thank the Deputies of Independents 4 Change, the Labour Party speaker and other Independents who spoke in favour of the Bill. I also thank my colleagues in Sinn Féin who made contributions and will be supporting the Bill.

I listened to the contributions of the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and an Teachta Collins and the first thing I said was "Roll on the day when Sinn Féin is in government and the day we have Sinn Féin Ministers sitting where they are sitting now". For all the talk we hear from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael about not wanting to talk to Sinn Féin or see us in Government, I have asked myself why that is so. It is because they do not think the same as us. They do not agree with basic rights. They do not believe a workers who is being victimised, on a low-hour contract or is employed by one of the multiples or a multinational company can be isolated and sometimes harassed and bullied by an employer and should have access to a trade union representative in the work place. They have no difficulty, of course, with employers having the right to highly paid human resource managers or very expensive barristers. I do not have a difficulty with that. The Ministers and Deputy Niall Collins seem to have a problem with ordinary working people having the basic entitlement to engage with trade union representatives in the workplace.

Some of the comments from the Ministers for opposing the Bill are laughable in the extreme but they have been outdone in the game by Fianna Fáil. I will go through some of the comments in the short time I have. It is extraordinary. The Minister spoke about balance but what has she done about the Vita Cortex issue raised earlier and redundancy payments being dealt with through legislation? Nothing. What has she done with if-and-when contracts and low-hour contracts? Nothing. What has she done with regard to trade union recognition? Nothing. What has she done about tactical insolvencies and not having the Clerys situation repeated? Nothing. She speaks about balance but she should tell that to the workers at Vita Cortex, Lagan Brick, TalkTalk, Waterford Crystal, Dunnes Stores or Tesco. All those workers have been treated disgracefully by employers in this State because they could do it. The Minister and Fianna Fáil have allowed it because they will not bring forward any reasonable legislation to deal with any of these issues.

We heard hollow words from an Teachta Niall Collins and it is quite clear he does not agree with the principle of the Bill.

If the Deputy had concerns with what the Government had called weaknesses and ambiguity in the Bill, which I do not accept, he could put forward amendments on Committee Stage. There have been several examples of Bills with which we have had difficulty and which were brought forward by Fianna Fáil, but which we supported on Second Stage on the basis that they could be dealt with on Committee Stage. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water and having no Bill whatsoever, one amends the Bill on Committee Stage. All I can take from the Fianna Fáil contribution is the brass neck of those Deputies who stand on picket lines with Tesco workers to show faith and feign solidarity and who then come here with their hollow comments and fake concern about flaws in the Bill. Deputy Niall Collins has a brass neck. He has absolutely no interest in the rights of working people.

The Minister talked about copy and paste. We made no secret of the fact that the Bill is built on what is called the gold standard on trade union access in New Zealand and Australia. I have spoken to trade union representatives who work the system in those countries and they say it works well. Employers' organisations in those countries also state it works well. I always hear from Fine Gael that the best way to resolve workplace conflict is through dialogue and discussion. If that is the case, why not allow it on the shop floor, in companies and in the workplace? What does the Government fear from an ordinary working person having an entitlement to deal with his or her trade union representative? What does Fianna Fáil fear from it?

All sorts of concerns were expressed about foreign direct investment. Many multinational companies in the State recognise trade unions and deal with them all around the world in multiple manufacturing plants. It is a false argument.

Deputy Niall Collins talked about ICTU, which has given the Bill its full support. It represents trade union officials who have been thrown out of companies, who have been refused permission to enter premises to even talk to their workers and turned away and who have faced intimidation because of unscrupulous employers. Many other trade unions have also given the Bill their full support.

Deputy Niall Collins stated the Bill failed to differentiate between unionised and non-unionised workplaces. This links in with some of what the Minister said when she painted a scenario in which 43 or 44 trade unions could be seeking to come into a premises and get time to speak to their representatives. It is nonsense. It is outrageous to put that proposition out as a credible reason for which the Government would oppose the Bill. Trade unions behave in a responsible way. Most trade unions operate in a company in which there is one trade union. They do not overlap. It is the nature of trade unions. The Minister knows it, yet she throws it out just to muddy the waters and confuse the issue. She knows it is not reality.

The Bill is based on a model that works in other countries. If there are flaws, why have those flaws not manifested themselves in Australia and New Zealand? However, if there are flaws and if the Minister really has concerns, she could have addressed them on Committee Stage.

The reason the Government supports the voluntary system is because it is a get-out-of-jail card for unscrupulous employers. In his speech, the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, stated the Bill "fails to properly appreciate the tried and trusted voluntary nature of industrial relations in Ireland". This is the same tried and trusted system that has resulted in disputes in Tesco, Dunnes Stores and all the other examples I gave, including Vita Cortex, Lagan Brick and Waterford Crystal, where workers' rights were trampled on by employer after employer. Tried and trusted? Spare me. What are needed on the Government benches are Sinn Féin Ministers who will actually deliver real workers' rights for people, not what we are getting from the Ministers who sit there now.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 23 February 2017.