Public Services and Procurement (Workers' Rights) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to remove wages and working conditions of employees from being used as elements of competition among bidders for public contracts; to resist any downward pressure in wage rates and workers' rights; to safeguard the highest minimum standards established nationally by law, arbitration or collective bargaining and for that purpose to specify particular considerations which will apply to the selection of tenderers and to specify particular considerations which will apply to the awarding of contracts to economic operators and to provide that different considerations may apply in respect of procurements whose value are either above or below the EU threshold and to provide for related matters.

In simple terms, I wish to address a major issue that has struck me since I entered Dáil Éireann. I have been contacted repeatedly by workers whose employers either refuse to recognise their unions, pay into a pension scheme or abide by a registered employment agreement or all of the above. This in itself is not unusual. The growth of precarious and low-contract hours that has mushroomed during the recession is not what surprises or worries me nor is it the ability of some employers to justify bogus self-employment ruses. It is the fact that this State is actually complicit in many of these practices. The State dispenses through its procurement policies and contracting for services directly and indirectly billions of euro every year yet it takes no real responsibility for what kind of conditions, pay or rights the workers who do the work for those companies are subjected to. Beyond the very minimal legal rights afforded by legislation, the State seems to have no interest in what happens to workers in companies it hires to carry out various practices or to provide various services. I believe this must end. This procurement Bill is about trying to start the process of ending the issue and addressing the wider issue at its heart.

The Bill states that in procuring services or contracts, a public body can have regard to wider concerns other than simply the most economically advantageous tender, MEAT. This means that a public body when using public funds must have regard to the wider social and economic good of the country. It seeks two different categories of thresholds - to raise the bar in terms of workers' rights and to say that the State has a responsibility to ensure that employers that have the highest standard of employment rights are not at a disadvantage when seeking public contracts. It seeks to remove competition in terms of wages and working conditions among bidders for public contracts and to stop the State colluding either deliberately or by accident in a race to the bottom in terms of workers' rights. It specifically says that companies with a history of abusing workers or denying them the right to organise and be recognised as members of a trade union or companies that have failed for the previous three years to abide by a Workplace Relations Commission decision should be denied the right to enter into a tender for contracts from the State. It goes beyond these minimal steps and says that public contracting bodies should weight tenders in a way that will positively advantage those companies that allow union recognition, pay a living wage, ethically source their goods and services and do not use low-paid and precarious contracts. I will give a few examples. I started by saying that I have been consistently approached by people and workers who have failed by this state of affairs. Viking Direct supplies the Dáil with much material.

It recently made its workers redundant because it wants to move to a lower-paid type engagement, which is much more profitable for it. It is not unprofitable - it makes considerable profit - but it wanted to move to a much different, lower-wage economy. It would not negotiate with the union that represents its workers about the redundancy they are receiving. I do not believe this State should support those actions.

Conduit and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment will know about another company that was recently awarded a lucrative contract for the emergency call-out service. This contract was awarded to British Telecommunications. It subcontracted to Conduit. I brought this to the attention of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and I brought to him the fact that it refused to recognise those workers' rights to join a trade union. It will not go to the Workplace Relations Commission and it will not deal with the union, and yet we are supporting that company.

Another case recently came to my attention. An employment order was passed by the State for security services, to allow for a small wage rise to €11.05 per hour. The State passed that order, yet 40 security companies have refused to increase workers' wages and have said that they are going to take a court case against the State to overturn that order. I believe that some of the security companies being used by local authorities, one being Top Security, are among those refusing to pay this increase. The State should not be financially rewarding those who are actively seeking to usurp basic attempts to give workers security, a decent wage, and a right to be recognised by trade unions. I recommend the Bill to the House.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.