Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 Report: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Report of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation entitled ‘Scrutiny of Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016’, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 30 June 2017.

As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on what I believe is a very comprehensive report on the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 produced by the then Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I will speak to the Bill as an impartial Chairman, speaking about exactly what we heard and what we decided on as a committee.

A Second Stage deferral motion in respect of the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016, introduced by Deputy David Cullinane, was agreed by the Dáil on 7 July 2016. This was to allow the then Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to carry out detailed scrutiny of the Bill and a range of additional issues raised in the reasoned amendment to the second reading motion tabled by Fianna Fáil. At a subsequent meeting of the joint committee, it was agreed that scrutiny of the Bill would be a priority for the committee. From the outset there was unanimous agreement in the committee that the issues of low pay and variable hours and the increased casualisation of work needed to be addressed. Members were totally supportive of the right of employees to have the hours they habitually work over a defined reference period reflected in their contracts of employment.

The joint committee commenced hearings on the Bill on 31 January 2017. Six meetings were held, concluding on 23 May. This extensive engagement allowed the committee to hear the views of a broad range of stakeholders, including employer organisations, trade unions and employment law experts. The sponsor of the Bill, Deputy David Cullinane, also came before the committee twice, at the outset to discuss the principles of the Bill and, subsequently, to respond to what the committee had heard over the course of its meetings. Over the course of its engagement with stakeholders, the committee developed a deep understanding of the very important issues faced by workers on insecure contracts in a number of sectors. I will now refer to some of the recommendations of the committee.

First, the committee recommended that the Central Statistics Office, CSO, engage with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Low Pay Commission, employer groups, such as IBEC, and employee groups, such as ICTU, to develop statistical measures that will better inform the debate on low pay and low or variable hour work.

The committee heard from a variety of witnesses that there is a lack of relevant statistics in this area. The CSO statistics, while useful, do not provide a detailed breakdown of the number of people working zero-hour, if-and-when or hybrid contracts. The University of Limerick study states that 2.6% of employees are on variable hour, part-time contracts. With approximately 2 million people at work, this equates to approximately 50,000 employees. It is important to note that this does not give an indication if the employees concerned are on low pay or if the hours are at their request. Various witnesses have provided data. However, it seems that many surveys carried out are more qualitative in nature. The committee believes that there needs to be an increase in the collection and publication of data in this area by both State bodies and other organisations such as trade unions and employer groups.

The committee's second recommendation is that the Bill requires further amendment to ensure that it is constitutionally sound. A number of legal experts who appeared before the committee expressed concerns about the constitutionality of this test, considering it to be onerous for the employer. The requirement to prove that the business is in severe financial difficulties was highlighted as being particularly onerous. In particular, Ms Marguerite Bolger, SC, and Dr. Des Ryan, BL, refer to the Employment Equality Bill 1996, which was found to be unconstitutional because it required employers to disclose the financial status of their businesses to third parties. The employer groups before the committee also contested this test, stating that businesses would not want to publicly advertise their financial difficulties to their customers and competitors. The committee also heard that an objective justification test, which is referred to in the Long Title of the Bill but not in the subsequent sections, would provide a more robust test for employers to refuse a move in bands.

The committee's third recommendation is that the severe financial difficulties test in the Bill be replaced with a test of objective justification as already exists in employment legislation. We decided on this because concerns were raised with the committee that the Bill placed a disproportionate burden on employers. Employers will be obliged to offer increased hours but there appears to be a lack of mutuality of obligation because employees are not obliged to accept the hours offered. Mutuality of obligation is a cornerstone of the contract of employment. It is not clear if the intention is to create a contractual obligation on the employee to fulfil the hours in the band. If not, there is a concern that an employee's refusal to take up the hours could lead to another employee acquiring the right to move to an increased band, resulting in the employer having two people on increased bands despite the hours not having been available previously. It would therefore appear necessary for an employee to be obliged to accept work offered at his or her current band or to allow the employer to move the employee to a lower band if the employee refuses hours offered in the current band.

The committee's fourth recommendation is that an obligation on the employee to work the minimum hours of the band be inserted in the Bill. This will create the mutuality of obligation necessary for the contract of employment.

The committee recommends that the definitions being used be imported from the same Act or that new definitions be inserted into the Bill. The committee was advised that it may be preferable to seek to convert the Bill from stand-alone legislation into an amendment to existing legislation, notably the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. This would allow the Bill to fit into existing legislation, thus not creating an additional Act covering employment. It would also guard against there being inconsistencies between the Bill and the existing body of legislation.

The committee recommends that provisions to protect employees from penalisation be included in the Bill. The committee felt that the Bill did not contain any provisions to protect employees from experiencing punishment or even dismissal for seeking to assert their rights. This is an important protection for employees, since it guarantees that their working conditions cannot change dramatically if they attempt to get their employer to comply with the legislation.

The committee recommends that provisions for additional remedy be included in the Bill, beyond the simple conferring of hours. Ms Bolger stated that for a right to be real and effective, it must have real and effective remedy. However, the Bill does not provide for any remedy for the employee other than being moved on to the new band. Ms Bolger and Ms Cathy Maguire highlighted that this would not be of use to an employee who left his or her employment due to unreasonable refusal to move him or her to a higher band. Ms Bolger therefore recommended that the committee consider expanding the remedies beyond simply conferring the hours by addressing issues such as compensation and unfair dismissal.

The committee recommends that avenues be explored to reduce the recourse to casual work practices.

The committee also recommends that consideration be given to using new, specific definitions in the Bill, where the term worker refers to employees who do not have fixed or regular hours of work outlined in their contracts. The committee notes that these definitions will require very precise drafting in consultation with a range of experts including the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor. The witnesses from the University of Limerick were of the opinion that the Bill needs to set out clearly who it protects. They highlighted that the UK attempted to create an intermediate category of worker. However, it has complicated matters and there have been a number of cases to determine who was covered by the definition. As a result, it is imperative that the Bill be clear and precise in this regard.

The committee's tenth recommendation is that the period be extended to 12 months. This will take into account the seasonal nature of the business. It is also in line with the timeframe for unfair dismissals. The committee spent a long time discussing what the correct amount of time would be. The Bill provides for the employee to request a move to a band of hours. However, the committee has some concerns about the drafting of this section. The Bill initially set this at six months. The committee has heard from many witnesses that this is too short. The employer group was particularly strong in highlighting that it was not a sufficient period to cover the seasonal nature of such employment. As it is up to employees to make the request, the timing of the request could lead to a significant difference in the hours worked. For the Christmas period, employees' hours are likely to be considerably higher than if the request had been made three months previously. The committee also heard from a number of witnesses that the 12 month period for unfair dismissals causes some concern. Other witnesses including Ms Patricia King of ICTU and the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, indicated their preference for an 18-month period. The committee also notes that Deputy Cullinane, on his second visit to the committee, accepted that there was room to compromise on the period, suggesting nine months. In the end, the committee settled on 12 months, stating that it should be the maximum period considered.

The committee's 11th recommendation is that the word "exceeds" in section 3(1) be replaced with "reflects" or another form of wording to that effect. The committee notes that the Bill's sponsor, Deputy Cullinane, agreed with this.

The committee recommends that section 3(4) be deleted and replaced with a test of objective justification. The committee notes that the Bill's sponsor, Deputy Cullinane, was supportive of this change.

The committee further recommends that section 4(2) of the Bill be amended by replacing "the next band" with "the relevant band".

The committee's 14th recommendation is that the possibility of mediation at the Workplace Relations Commission, as per the Workplace Relations Act 2015, be considered for inclusion in the Bill. The representatives from the University of Limerick stated that the Bill does not seem to provide for the option of mediation in the Workplace Relations Commission following a complaint as per the Workplace Relations Act 2015. They were concerned about that. The committee has not heard sufficient information on this point and believes that it merits further consideration.

The committee's 15th recommendation is that section 4(2) be amended to delete "section 2" and replace with "section 3(2)", which is only a technicality.

The committee's 16th recommendation is that section 5 of the Bill be deleted and replaced with a provision that requires employers to provide employees with regular updates on the average hours worked and the bands in which they fall.

In recommendation No. 17 the committee suggests that further consideration be given to the merit of specifying the language of the notice.

Recommendation No. 18 proposes that consideration be given to amending section 17 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 to address issues such as the location of the notice and that it be easily understandable for employees, as opposed to introducing new provisions legislation which may be contradictory to existing legislation.

The last three recommendations, Nos. 19, 20 and 21, relate to the bands. The committee recommends that the starting point at which the bands commence should be reduced through the inclusion of an additional band or bands to cover hours below 11.5 hours. The committee also recommends that the bands provided for be amended to remove the overlap between bands. The committee recommends that band F be amended due to the short timeframe in the band. The committee believes that 36 hours or more should be considered as the final band, not 41 hours.

On behalf of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation I express my gratitude to the committee members for their input. We work very well together as a committee. We have always managed to put forward a document on which we got total agreement. We did not have to push to any votes and were able to reach agreement. I reiterate what I said at the start, there was unanimous agreement in the committee that the issue of low pay and variable hours, and the increased casualisation of work, needs to be addressed. Members of the committee were totally supportive of the right of employees to have the hours they work over a defined reference period reflected in their contracts of employment.

I also thank the committee secretariat and the staff of the Library and Research Service for their work in producing this report. I especially thank the organisations and individuals who appeared before and made submissions to the joint committee. The committee gained valuable insights from all those who had an input into the preparation of this report.

I speak with regard to the Bill today as an impartial chairman, and I hope that I have reflected exactly what was put before the committee and what the committee reflected in its document.

I thank Deputy Butler. I am sure Deputy Butler has done that, and has done so comprehensively. I draw Members' attention to the fact that more Deputies have offered to contribute than we have time available. Perhaps the Members who entered the Chamber somewhat later might talk to each other with a view to sharing time.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to be here this evening for the scrutiny of this report. I acknowledge the good work done by the chairman, Deputy Mary Butler, and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on their detailed scrutiny of Sinn Féin's Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016. I believe they have produced a balanced and very fair report. I am pleased to see that the committee took account of some of the flaws in this Bill, which I pointed out when I spoke here during the Second Stage debate on this Bill in 2016 and as part of the scrutiny process on 23 May 2017.

I propose to comment briefly on recommendations by the committee. They are well-made. Recommendation No. 1 states that the Central Statistics Office should engage with what is now the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Low Pay Commission, IBEC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to develop statistical measures that will better inform the debate on low pay and low or variable hours work. The committee may be aware that in 2016 the CSO accepted a request from the Low Pay Commission to include a pilot question on the national minimum wage in the Quarterly National Household Survey, QNHS, beginning in the second quarter of 2016. This was a major initiative on the part of the commission and the CSO. The first data from the initiative became available in April 2017 and it followed up-to-date information on the numbers of people who are affected by the minimum wage rates, information that can be used by the commission in its 2017 report. The QNHS also allows for up-to-date profiling of minimum wage workers based on characteristics such as age, gender, education and region of residence.

Recommendation No. 2 proposes that the Sinn Féin Bill requires further amendments to ensure that it is constitutionally sound. I reiterate my views from earlier this year that the Bill that we are discussing today is flawed. Significant amendments would have to be made to address concerns about its constitutionality.

Recommendations Nos. 3 and 12 propose that the severe financial difficulties test be replaced with the objective justification test. This is a very sensible proposal by the committee. The test included in the Government’s legislative proposals includes a test very similar to the objective justification defence.

Recommendation No. 4 of the committee says that an obligation to work the minimum hours of the band should be inserted into this Bill. We welcome this. The Government has already made provision for this in our legislative proposals.

The Government is in full agreement with the committees' fifth recommendation that the definitions being used should be imported from the same Act. That is why the Government intends using the existing definitions from the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 in our legislative proposals.

Recommendation No. 6 of the committee proposes that the Sinn Féin Banded Hours Bill includes a penalisation provision. One of the key planks of the Government’s proposals is a strong anti-victimisation provision for employees who seek to invoke their rights. It is very important that employees are not afraid of repercussions as a result of requesting to be placed on a band of hours. Under the Government proposals, if an employee is treated adversely as a result of invoking any right under the proposed legislation, he or she will be able to pursue a penalisation claim to the Workplace Relations Commission. Either the employer or the employee can appeal the WRC decision to the Labour Court.

Recommendation No. 7 says that provisions should be made for an additional remedy to be included beyond being placed on a band of hours. In the Government’s proposals it is not intended to include such a provision as it could lead to frivolous and vexatious complaints. The banded hours provision will be a new statutory right for employees. The whole purpose of the provision is to ensure the employee's contract properly reflects the hours that he or she works on a consistent basis. This is what we want to achieve and the appropriate remedy is to have the employee placed on a band of hours that reflects the reality of the hours that he or she works.

Recommendation No. 8 is that avenues be explored to reduce the recourse to casual work practices. We believe that our proposed legislation is a major step in the right direction towards tackling the problems caused by precarious employment. The Government intends to prohibit zero-hours practices in most circumstances. There will, however, always be circumstances where people need to be employed on an if-and-when basis to provide emergency or short-term relief cover for the employer; panels of substitute teachers or care workers for example.

There has been much commentary that unscrupulous employers will try to circumvent the Government’s proposed legislation by categorising almost all employees as casual. The Organisation of Working Time Act was enacted in 1997. Section 18 of that Act refers to work of a casual nature but does not define it. In the 20 years since enactment this has not led to a regulatory problem of employers incorrectly categorising employees as casual. It is not good practice to put definitions in legislation when the plain, ordinary meaning of a word is capable of being understood by the bodies adjudicating on it. The WRC and the Labour Court are capable of examining all of the circumstances of a particular case and then making the appropriate judgment as to whether or not a particular arrangement is genuinely casual.

The Government is in agreement with the recommendation No. 9 that the definition of a worker in the Sinn Féin Bill requires more precise drafting. In the Government’s draft employment (miscellaneous provisions) Bill careful consideration has been given to the definition of employee and employer to avoid this problem.

Recommendation No. 10 is that the reference period should be 12 months. The Government proposes an 18-month reference period in its draft employment (miscellaneous provisions) Bill to take account of peaks and troughs in business. This reference period was arrived at following discussion with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and IBEC. Consideration also needs to be given to the fact in the education sector the academic year does not match the calendar year.

Recommendations Nos. 11, 13 and 15 are drafting issues. Recommendation No. 14 is very important and deals with the issue of mediation.

It is Government policy that mediation be used to solve workplace disputes wherever possible. That is why mediation is provided for in the Government's legislative proposals. Currently, cases taken to the WRC can proceed by way of mediation, if both parties are agreeable, or adjudication. If parties can come to a mutually agreeable resolution during mediation, this is committed to writing by the mediator and the agreement is legally enforceable. We want this constructive process to continue as part of our proposals.

Section 5 of the Sinn Féin Bill introduces an obligation on every employer to display on a weekly or monthly basis in a prominent position in the workplace the number of working hours being allocated to workers, in Irish, English and other languages, as required. The committee recommends that this be amended to provide employees with regular updates on the average hours worked and the bands into which they fall. Employees are already entitled to significant information about rosters, working time and payment under existing legislation, namely the Organisation of Work Time Act 1997 and the Payment of Wages Act 1991. The Government agrees with recommendation No. 17 of the committee that further consideration should be given to the merit of specifying the language of the notice as included in the Sinn Féin Bill. If enacted, this would impose a very significant administrative burden on employers and might leave them wide open to claims of discrimination if the notice was not in all languages of all employees. The Sinn Féin proposal also incorrectly assumes that every employee has a fixed workplace.

The committee's 18th recommendation that, where possible, existing legislation should be amended rather than increasing the regulatory burden is an important one and the Government wholeheartedly agrees with it. I am pleased that the Government has taken account of the committee's 19th recommendation regarding a band below 11.5 hours. The committee's 20th and 21st recommendations are also welcome. However, there are flaws that do not occur in the Government's legislative proposals. As I stated earlier this year, the Bill sponsored by Deputy Cullinane has a laudable aim. All Members have empathy with employees who cannot access a mortgage or even a loan from a credit union because their contracts of employment do not reflect the reality of the hours they work. That is why the Government is bringing forward legislative proposals in this important area of employment rights. Our proposals are balanced and practical. I am pleased to be able to say it is intended that the employment miscellaneous provisions Bill will be published before the end of the year. Tackling the problems caused by the increasing casualisation of work and regulating for precarious work are commitments in the programme for Government. The Government is delivering on its commitments. Our proposals are the result of extensive consultations, including a public consultation on foot of the University of Limerick study on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in the Irish economy and a detailed dialogue process with ICTU and IBEC over a period of many months.

I thank the joint committee for the significant work it has done on the scrutiny of this Bill. It is really good parliamentary practice. Even if all of the committee's recommendations were taken on board, however, Sinn Féin's Banded Hours Contracts Bill remains a limited response to regulating precarious work. The Government's Bill, on the other hand, will be a comprehensive and balanced response to strengthening employment rights in this area. Indeed, all of the committee's recommendations in relation the Sinn Féin Bill are addressed in, or do not arise in relation to, the draft Government Bill. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the time and the opportunity to discuss the scrutiny report and I look forward to what other speakers have to say.

I thank the Chair of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation for her work and acknowledge the diligence of the members of the committee in their examination of the Bill over the course of a number of months. Deputy Mary Butler mentioned my name more times in the last half hour than she has in all the time since she was elected to the Dáil.

We will not hold that against her.

When I moved the Bill, I noted that I was not perfect. It might be a surprise to the Ceann Comhairle that I have imperfections. I also acknowledged that the Bill was not perfect. Any Bill sponsored by an Opposition party, which does not have the team of civil servants Ministers enjoy, will have flaws. Not only did Fine Gael disagree with the Bill, however, it lambasted it and my party for bringing it forward. Others supported it, however, and it went to the joint committee for scrutiny. The Minister of State is whistling a different tune today, but at the time it was first moved, he and some of his ministerial colleagues were strident in their criticisms of me personally and my party for bringing forward a Bill which attempted to address a real problem. That is why I thank the committee members for their work. Over six sessions, they spent 13 hours hearing from 45 witnesses and preparing 23 recommendations. I support every single recommendation because they strengthen the Bill. There are some recommendations with which I do not necessarily agree, however. Deputy Mary Butler referred to the look-back period which the joint committee recommends should be 12 months. The Minister of State says it should be 18 months and I say it should be nine. We consulted with the trade unions representing low-paid workers who are on if-and-when contracts and they have told us that 18 months is far too long. They believe 12 months is too long also, but they can live with it. I could live with it too if it meant progressing the legislation.

What the Minister of State has done, of course, having lambasted Sinn Féin for bringing forward a Bill to deal with a real issue, is to play catch up and bring forward a Bill of his own. Far from his Bill being more practical and balanced, as he puts it, it is in fact much more limited in scope and intent than the Sinn Féin Bill and the recommendations of the committee. His Bill is balanced not in favour of workers but in favour of employers. In fact, IBEC could have written the Minister of State's entire speech today given how many of the criticisms in it were similar to those I heard at the joint committee when IBEC was before it. The Minister of State said the Sinn Féin Bill would remain limited in its response to regulating precarious work even if all of the proposed recommendations were incorporated. That is an issue where we agree. Of course, it is limited in regulating precarious work because there is a great deal more that we need to do in this area. The Bill was intended to deal with a single specific problem. We have never pretended it was a panacea for all of the problems relating to precarious work. The Bill is intended to ensure that employees have contracts which reflect the hours they work. That is its simple and core purpose. I am pleased the Government now agrees, at least in principle, that this needs to be done.

The Minister of State said his Bill was more comprehensive and balanced. Can he spell out to me how it is more comprehensive? What additional provisions does it bring to the table? What does it do that the Sinn Féin Bill and the recommendations proposed by the joint committee do not? All it does is broaden the look-back period and provide for bigger bands rather than the tighter ones we sought. In fact, it does not solve the problem at all. In launching all of this with great fanfare, the Minister of State said the Government's Bill would ban zero-hour contracts. This is part of the pretence we get from this Government. It is a bit like what is happening in housing currently where it pretends it is doing something it is not.

First, its Bill does not ban zero-hour contracts and the Minister has already acknowledged that there are certain exemptions. Second, the University of Limerick study acknowledged that the issue was not zero-hour contracts and it did not look to ban them. In fact, it is if-and-when and low-hour contracts which need to be regulated.

The Minister lauded the University of Limerick report on a number of occasions but he does not seem to know that the Sinn Féin Bill took many of the recommendations from that report. He cannot, on the one hand, attack Sinn Féin for a fatally flawed Bill and, on the other, commend the authors of a report that made the same recommendations. It was the report that recommended the six-month look-back period, not Sinn Féin. We accepted what was in the report, which the Government actually commissioned.

The Government Bill does not solve the problem at all. It is going to pretend that it bans zero-hour contracts but it does not. The bands are going to be too broad, which means it will not have any significant impact on those who are victims of this. The Minister rightly identified the problem and he and the Government are very good at this. They will tell us what the problem is and then what the solution is but it is not a solution at all. One problem was the low hours which workers were on and many have worked for 30 or 40 hours per week for up to 20 years but they remain on 15-hour contracts, which means when they go for a mortgage or a credit union loan and are asked for evidence of their contract, they cannot get the loan or mortgage. The Government identified that problem but the bands in its Bill are too broad and will not solve the problem. I met with representatives of the Mandate trade union, which represents the vast majority of these workers, and they do not believe the Government Bill will do the job. John Douglas from Mandate said on "Morning Ireland" that the Government Bill does not do what it says on the tin. He could not have put it any better. It is obvious the Government is not really interested in addressing this problem.

I acknowledge that the Government has come some way from being viciously opposed to the concept of the Bill when I and my party first moved it last year, to acknowledging that something has to be done. The Minister gave my Bill an "F" at the time but the Government's Bill would not even register an "NG" as it will not solve the problem at all.

I commend Teachta Clare Daly for her support and she pushed the Business Committee to allow the report to be debated. I commend Teachta Niall Collins for the support he has given in the committee, Teachta Quinlivan, and Teachta Joan Collins for her support, as well as my Sinn Féin colleagues. There are people in this House who want this issue resolved and they put a lot of work into this. Notwithstanding Fine Gael's view or that of the Government, we will have a Bill and an opportunity to amend it. We will put forward amendments and will take many of the recommendations in the Oireachtas Joint Committee report to try to make the Government Bill somewhat presentable, somewhat logical and somewhat practical so that it can go some way to deal with the problems. However, we have to wait until there is a Sinn Féin Government and a Sinn Féin Minister sitting where the Minister is sitting before there will be any justice for workers on low and if-and-when contracts. They most certainly will not get it from a Fine Gael Minister.

I am sharing time with Deputy John Curran. I am glad to be able to discuss the next stage in the process of drafting workable legislation that will impact many vulnerable workers. I reiterate my party's absolute commitment to our tradition of protecting workers and their rights. It has always been at the forefront of our policy, whether in Government or in Opposition, and our track record will stand up to any scrutiny of that. We had precarious employment, banded hour contracts, if-and-when and zero-hour contracts in our election manifesto because we meet people every day who are negatively impacted by these things. In the confidence and supply agreement which this party has with the Minister's party for a minority Government, this is one of the key priorities.

Over the past 16 months there has been progressive and fruitful work in the Oireachtas. This Dáil often gets criticised for being a do-nothing Dáil but with the legislation offered by Deputy Cullinane and the parallel legislation from the Government, as well as the work done by our committee, chaired by Deputy Mary Butler, we have arrived at a situation where it is time to deliver. We do not mind whether we process the Sinn Féin Bill or amend the Government Bill in order to reach the aims we all have but it is time to bring it forward. The Minister did not say when he would bring the Government Bill forward but it is needed because too many people are being negatively impacted by this situation. It does not just affect the private sector, those in hospitality and retail; it also affects many in the public sector and the Government, for example across the HSE and the education sectors. It is not good enough for people to be coming to me every week, at my office or in the satellite clinics around my constituency, to tell me of the issues they have with regard to the uncertainty of their employment, all because we have not dealt with it.

There are some major differences between us. First is banding and we need to amend the Government Bill in respect of bands. There have to be more so that we capture a greater number of people. The proposed 18-month reference period does not make sense. The normal business cycle, whether for private employers or the State, is 12 months and accounts and budgets are normally for 12 months. I do not know how the Government came up with an 18-month period, which will simply not be workable.

We have done our job and the Minister needs to take that message away. I thank all the people who presented at the Oireachtas Joint Committee to give of their time, knowledge and experience in order to inform us. We will take Deputy Cullinane's Bill, with our set of proposals to improve it, or we will take the Government Bill to improve it to meet the same aims. It is high time to deliver on this. I thank the academics in the University of Limerick who, with their study, triggered this debate and helped to inform it. I also acknowledge the input of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on behalf of the many vulnerable and exploited workers who have felt the effects of the situation as it stands. It is high time that we dealt with it and we need to move on it as soon as possible.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Our party has been concerned about zero-hour and low-hour contracts and banded hours for a long time. The issue appeared in our manifesto and it was part of our negotiation for the support of a minority Government. I acknowledge the work of the committee in the preparation of this report, which is very specific, detailed and well researched, the work having been carried out over six meetings and with the participation of over 40 witnesses.

The committee has captured the essence of some of the flaws in the Bill. Deputy Cullinane quite rightly said, as he presented the Bill initially, that he knew there would be flaws in it and that he was open to recommendations and suggestions. In the Dáil this morning and now, he reiterated his comments that he was open to making the amendments as proposed by the committee. The committee's recommendations have a very solid basis and it would be very hard not to accept them. They are well-founded in this regard.

Since the Bill was initiated things have moved on. We have a new Taoiseach and new Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. In that regard, on 3 October the Bill was referred from Deputy Butler's committee to my committee. When the committee received the report we looked at it in full. In Deputy Butler's opening remarks in the foreword to the report, she states:

In the course of the engagement with stakeholders, some issues with the drafting of the Bill were identified. This report proposes changes to the Bill which the Committee believes would address many of those issues. A major concern regarding the constitutionality of the Bill was raised by lawyers who addressed the Committee. Recognising this, the Committee has recommended that the Bill be examined to ensure that it is constitutionally sound.

Our committee, on receipt of the report, not wanting in any way to frustrate the development or passage of the Bill as it may go as that is for others to determine, immediately referred the report to the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser to address the constitutionality issue. Deputy Cullinane has clearly said he is prepared to make the recommended changes, and the committee is of the view that if the Bill is presented and there are amendments we will in no way frustrate it and we will do our work. Whether it is a Government Bill or a Sinn Féin Bill we will do the work of the committee in an effective, fair and efficient manner. The Bill as presented to the committee has already gone for legal advice.

Deputy Cullinane was absolutely right when he said that resources of a Department are far superior to any available to us on this side of the House, and the drafting of a Government Bill should be far better. It has the advice of the Attorney General, and issues such as those we are grappling with in terms of this Bill would have far greater scrutiny coming from a Department. That being said, there is always a concern about the time issue.

Second Stage of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill was taken in a dramatic hurry before the summer recess. The section on defined benefits was missing and we were told it would be reintroduced when we came back. Committee Stage, notice for Committee Stage or amendments have not been presented. I am concerned the issue will not be dealt with as quickly as it should be. The longer we sit around, the cohort of people who would benefit from the legislation can still be exploited. People identify with these people. It is not just the wage they earn or the lack of money. It is the lack of opportunity for things we all take for granted. They cannot get a loan, they cannot sign on and they cannot get family income supplement because their figures change from week to week. They do not have the basic criteria required by the schemes.

There needs to be some urgency. The Minister of State has said the Bill will be published before the end of the year but it was the same with the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill. It was published and we had Second Stage on the dying day before the summer recess, but no progress has been made since. We cannot introduce a Government Bill with the potential to do something really positive and let it sit around month after month. Deputy Cullinane quite rightly said, and I welcome his comments, that he was prepared to accept amendments and redraft the Bill. The ball is in the court of the Minister of State. If he has a superior Bill and he is first out of the blocks with it then fair play to him, but I do not believe people who could benefit from Deputy Cullinane's Bill should be disadvantaged if the Government cannot meet the timeline as set out.

I call Deputy Joan Collins, who will share time with Deputy Clare Daly.

This morning I listened to an interview on the radio with Arne Kalleberg, Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina. Recently he produced a book, Precarious Lives: Job Insecurity and Well-Being in Rich Democracies. He reported on precarious work and if-and-when contracts in five countries, namely, the UK, the US, Denmark, Spain and Japan. He made the very important point that this is all part of the neoliberal agenda and the neoliberal diktat that has gone across the world in the past 20 years. When our unions and previous Governments were in social partnership these contracts slipped in and were allowed to happen. The ones who stood up were the workers themselves, and the 6,000 Dunnes Stores workers who went out on strike in April 2015 demanding decent pay and decent working hours. Yesterday, Mandate launched its secure hours better future campaign. Researchers at the University of Limerick made it quite clear the 18 month look back is not sufficient. The question was raised at the launch of Mandate's campaign as to whether we would have to wait until 18 months after the Bill was enacted to look back on the hours worked.

We have Deputy Cullinane's Bill and it can be amended. Everyone has said it can be amended and we are waiting for the money issue to come down from the Government. We could amend it quite effectively over the next month or so if the Government was willing to do this. I agree with Deputy Curran. The Government is trying to draw this out and push it down the line. Dunnes Stores worker Muireann Dalton was at the launch on Tuesday of the secure hours better future campaign. She is putting her neck on the line with regard to Dunnes Stores management watching very closely what she is saying. It could reduce her hours over the next period of time. She is well aware of this, but she is willing to come out and state she needs security of hours.

Workers need tighter banded hours. They do not need broad banded hours. A worker who generally has 25 hours work a week and whose hours are cut by ten hours to 15 hours could lose €100 a week. This completely messes up their lives. Would the Minister of State accept this? Would he accept that happening? Those bands must be much tighter and the look back period much shorter. The unions are willing to concede at least 12 months when the Bill is brought in and not 12 months after that again so it is a 24 month look back.

I urge the Minister of State to listen to what has been said on this side of the House. Fianna Fáil has said it supports tighter bands and a shorter look back. The Opposition will make these points even if the Government comes in with a Bill. I urge the Minister of State to look at these workers and what they are going through, the lives they have to lead and the work environment they have to work in, and get on with the job of introducing legislation that is robust and will protect these workers.

On Tuesday morning, a representative from IBEC on the radio stated it would take a lot of time, energy and management to look at hours worked. Employers are already legally required to keep working time records, so there is nothing in the proposal that would result in any new or additional administrative or regulatory burden for employers. No employer has anything to worry about because it is cost neutral. Extra hours are not being made. Workers would be given the hours they have worked regularly, which means if a new worker comes in he or she would be on fewer hours on whatever band was set for them. It would not put any extra burden on employers. This is about employers wanting to control workers and this has to stop. As a legislative body, we must ensure workers are protected, have their rights, have tighter bands and a shorter look back, and that they are protected in their workplace.

I thank Deputy Collins for allowing me to share her time. It is indicative of the seriousness of this issue that we have had to fight for the space to speak today. It is absolutely critical and I support the launch this week of Mandate Trade Union's campaign on the secure hours better future charter. This campaign stresses the need for us as legislators to act now on the issue of banded hours contracts and not in a couple of months.

This issue came to the fore as a result of the heroic struggle of Dunnes Stores workers, in particular, in 2015. Other Deputies have alluded to the rise of insecure, temporary and low-paid work in this State. It has absolutely skyrocketed over the past decade. The share of work that is part-time work has increased from 17% to approximately 22%. The share of part-time work that is involuntary part-time work is 51%, compared to 24% before the crisis. In other words, people want more hours but they cannot get them. As a result, Ireland has the second-highest rate of under-employment in the EU, which is an absolutely damning statistic.

There is a direct correlation between the increase in casual employment and the rate of State subsidy to those in employment. We have the despicable spectacle of profitable companies like Dunnes Stores and Tesco seeing their share of wealth massively increase while taxpayers subsidise their wage bills. Some 21,800 families were in receipt of family income support in 2001, but this figure had increased to 50,000 by 2014. Similarly, the number of payments of jobseekers benefit to casual workers increased from 16,400 in 2001 to 65,600 in 2014. Public money which could be used to improve the social wage or the health, education and child care systems is being used to subsidise profitable companies at the expense of the taxpayer and, as other Deputies have said, at the expense of workers whose lives have been destroyed by precarious employment. It is incredibly stressful for such people because they cannot save, get credit or plan for the long or short term. They cannot even get a night's sleep because they do not know what roster they will be on next week or how many hours' work they will get. They are having to contend with the stress of wondering whether they can pay the rent or the food bill or meet the cost of their children's school needs.

We have heard the stories from Dunnes Stores workers and others. It is fair to say that women workers, in particular, bear the brunt of this type of precarious employment. The main point we have to stress is that the committee has done the work and Deputy Cullinane has brought forward a very good baseline from which we can work. As an Opposition Deputy, he has to be mindful of issues like money messages. His Bill is a good piece of work. The committee has spent many hours working to improve that legislation. I emphasise that halting the progress of Deputy Cullinane's Bill would be an enormous setback for workers who need certainty in their contracts. It would be a particular blow for workers in Dunnes Stores, who will return to the Labour Court in February 2018 after a six-month suspension of their case. It would be incredibly cynical if we were to allow that to happen with no legislation in place to defend their position. The only way we can ensure they can get justice in the Labour Court is by proceeding with the committee's work and Deputy Cullinane's Bill. There is no other way.

A couple of weeks ago, media headlines suggested that the Taoiseach was about to tackle zero-hour and low-wage contracts by introducing a new Government Bill. It is a real indictment of the lack of a critical media in this State that there was no mention of the fact that this House, through Deputy Cullinane's Bill and the work of the all parties on the committee, including Government parties, had already made progress with a separate Bill to do precisely what the Government Bill supposedly intends to do. In fact, the Government's proposal will block the situation rather than helping it. We need to call it what it is. That is what the Government is trying to do here. I plead with the Government to support the work of the committee and to get behind the Bill that has already been introduced. Deputy Cullinane and the committee have said they are prepared to work to improve the Bill in question. That is the only way in which we can tackle the situation for workers now. It is imperative that we do so on behalf of the workers who are before the Labour Court. Even at this stage, I implore the Government to take Deputy Cullinane's Bill on board.

I would like to share time with my colleague, Deputy Quinlivan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I attended the launch of Mandate's Secure Hours - Better Future campaign earlier this week. One of the workers who spoke at that event, Muireann Dalton, happens to be a constituent of mine in Wicklow. She detailed her experiences as an employee of Dunnes Stores. She explained that she works 35 hours in some weeks but just 15 hours in other weeks. Her contract is for 15 hours. She has no idea from week to week if she will be able to afford to pay her mortgage. Some weeks, she has to decide whether to pay her mortgage or put food on the table for her family. She is one of many workers across the State who get up very early every day to go to work to provide for their families. The Government talks about supporting such people. They are supposed to be benefitting from this Government.

At the Mandate briefing, I signed the Secure Hours - Better Future charter, which commits me to work to legislate for secure hours, to give workers security of hours and of income, to support decency for workers and to reject entirely exploitation and abuse of power. The Bill proposed by Deputy Cullinane on behalf of Sinn Féin does exactly that. The Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 aims to enshrine the actual hours worked by employees in their contracts of employment. It is as simple as that. We cannot overstate the importance of this legislation and the meaning it bears for so many people across the State. We are talking about the difference between qualifying for a mortgage and not qualifying for a mortgage. We are talking about the difference between being able to plan for the future and not being able to plan from one end of the week to the next because of the lack of security of hours or income. We are talking about the difference between parents being able to provide for their children and not being able to meet their basic needs.

Providing for security of hours will lead to no additional costs for employers like Dunnes Stores and will have no financial impact on them. As the workers are working these hours already, this proposal is completely cost-neutral. It is simply a question of reflecting in employee contracts the actual hours they work, and nothing more. The Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 was passed by the Dáil on Second Stage and proceeded to the committee. That is why we are here. There was a lengthy discussion at the Business Committee about arranging today's debate in the Dáil Chamber. I am glad the debate is taking place. I commend the Deputies who pushed for it. I applaud the members of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation who took part in the discussions at that forum. My colleague, Deputy Cullinane, is big enough to acknowledge that his Bill might not be perfect for all the reasons that have been outlined. The committee examined it extensively. It brought in a vast range of witnesses and made 21 recommendations on foot of its work.

Unfortunately, the tactic being used by the Government in respect of this Bill and many other Opposition Bills is to park or shelve it while we wait on a money message. In this case, its strategy also involves the introduction of a Bill of its own. As Mandate has described, the Government Bill will certainly not do anything near what it says on the can. It will not abolish zero-hour contracts. It will actually cause more difficulties. Many people who have examined the heads of the Government Bill share my view that elements of it may well be unconstitutional. One of the heads of the Bill purports to ban zero-hour contracts except where the employment is of a casual nature, which is absolutely farcical because zero-hour contracts are casual by their very nature. The Government's proposal would create more problems. The legislation introduced by Deputy Cullinane provides for a nine-month look-back period. The committee has recommended that there should be a 12-month look-back period. The heads of the Government Bill, which are all we have to go on because we have not seen the Bill itself, talk about an 18-month look-back period, which would cause serious problems for workers. It would immediately lead to employers messing around with employment.

I ask the Government to stop playing around with this issue. It should stop playing politics. If it is serious about addressing the concerns of workers across the State, it should grant a money message and allow Deputy Cullinane's Bill to move forward.

Workers cannot afford to wait for what will be flawed legislation from the Government. That legislation will certainly not address the issues and it will not do what it says on the tin.

I acknowledge the vast amount of work Deputy Cullinane has put into this Bill. There is a very simple agenda behind this legislation, which is to give workers more security regarding the number of hours they work and the amount they are paid as a result. To give workers this small level of assurance and security is not a big ask. In fact, it begs the question as to why the current situation has been allowed to obtain for so long. This Bill does not seek to give workers additional hours or more pay. It just aims to give them an entitlement to know the hours they will be required to work based on their usual work patterns. How unfair is it that some workers do not know how many hours they will receive the following week and so cannot budget for simple everyday expenses, plan how many hours of child care they will need or apply for loans because they do not know what their income will be? That is not right and it needs to be changed. This is why it is important that the Bill be progressed.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which subjected the Bill to a great deal of scrutiny and debate over a number of months. In fact, I think it was the item that received the most attention from the committee this year and rightly so because this is a real problem that requires a strong solution. I thank the Chairman, Deputy Butler, for her co-operation, the committee secretariat for all its work, Deputies and Senators for engaging in scrutiny of the Bill and, of course, all the representatives on both sides of the argument who helped the committee come to its conclusions. This analysis and examination of the Bill had the positive effect of highlighting how many people are affected by this problem and putting it back on to the political agenda. Our committee heard from a broad range of representatives on both sides. We heard from 44 different individuals from over 20 separate organisations over a five-month period.

After hearing all the arguments, I am in no doubt that the benefits this Bill would bring to workers will far outweigh the small inconvenience employers might face in giving workers hours that reflect the hours they work in any event. The committee made a number of recommendations regarding changes to the Bill that Deputy Cullinane has indicated he is willing to accept. Deputy Cullinane has always stated that he welcomes amendments that will improve the Bill and this report on the scrutiny of the Banded Hours Contract Bill achieved the objective of Committee Stage of our legislative process in identifying issues and proposing changes to make our proposed laws stronger and better.

The Government now intends to bring forward its own legislation on this topic. I honestly believe it is only bringing that forward because a Sinn Féin Bill was going through the Oireachtas. God forbid that a Sinn Féin Bill would be allowed pass through this House because it might highlight how much of a do-nothing, ineffective Government this Administration has been, particularly in respect of this issue. Bringing forward brand new and much weaker legislation is a waste of time because the Bill introduced by Deputy Cullinane has already proceeded through a number of the legislative Stages. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection's Bill will be extremely weak in comparison to that brought forward by Deputy Cullinane because the Government intends to exclude casual workers from accessing its provisions. This would affect a massive cohort of people and make the provisions of the Bill practically useless to most. Perhaps that is the Government's intention. Student workers or those one would describe as casual workers are still workers at the end of the day and should not be entitled to fewer rights or be treated worse than their counterparts. Last year, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, said that this type of legislation would not be required because it is only an issue in a number of sectors. However, due to the attention this Bill has received, the Government is now conceding that it is a real problem. Instead of addressing the problem, the Government now intends to introduce a weak Bill that will exclude most and be nothing more than a hollow legislative provision with no substance.

The Minister needs to accept that the Oireachtas legislative process has worked in this instance. I would say it has worked quite well thus far. This Bill was introduced and was referred to the committee for scrutiny. The committee examined it intensely over a number of months, heard from witnesses on both sides of the argument, including Government Deputies, and recommended that the Bill proceed with some amendments. The Government's action in dismissing this extensive work, which included input from Deputies from Fine Gael, throws this effort back in our faces and belittles our legislative process.

As much as the Government does not want to hear it, Sinn Féin does bring forward good Bills and is open to working with all other Deputies to make laws that will make a real difference in people's lives. Of course, this does not sit well with Fine Gael's agenda of Sinn Féin-bashing, which is the only reason it wants to throw this Bill out. What the Minister is trying to do here is really pathetic. I urge her to reconsider her course of action, let this Bill proceed, give workers greater security of income and allow them to better plan their lives and futures. That is not too much to ask for.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I thank Deputy Cullinane for bringing forward the Bill that is the subject of this report. I also thank the committee for the work it did in putting forward suggested amendments and improvements.

Over the past seven years, I have seen many items of legislation go through this House but few have been as necessary as this one, which would have a direct impact on people's quality of life. The Sinn Féin Bill that is the subject of the committee's report is one of the items of legislation that would have a direct impact on people who are very vulnerable. This Bill is about ending the if-and-when scenario in which many workers are trapped by powerful employers. The scenario whereby workers do not know from one end of the month to the next the number of hours of work they will have or the amount of wages they will be paid must end now. It is exploitation. To be left in limbo and at the whim of an employer is a horrific scenario for anyone to face. We are not in this scenario and neither are civil servants because our wages are guaranteed. We receive a set salary every month, as do civil servants and most other people. However, the workers to which the Bill relates do not have that. Many workers who regularly work 30 to 40 hours per week only have a contract for 15 hours or even zero hours. It would seem basic that workers would receive a contract to reflect the hours they work. What is radical about that? It is not radical but it would bring about a significant improvement in people's lives if the Bill was passed.

Workers with uncertain hours face stress. I know some of these workers with uncertain hours. They cannot get mortgages or even work other part-time jobs or access social welfare payments because they work two or three hours every day. I know people in this appalling situation. This stress and hardship must be ended and the legislation brought forward by Deputy Cullinane sets about doing that. The workers to whom I refer are also denied proper holiday pay as a result of this situation. However, there is Government resistance and political reluctance to end the exploitation of workers, but it must go. I feel the Government's arm is being twisted by IBEC and other powerful forces. I see these if-and-when contracts across County Laois and in other parts of the midlands. They reflect common practice in the so-called hospitality sector and in the child care and, in particular, retail sectors. These contracts are used by big companies such as Tesco and Dunnes Stores. The workers in question have to be protected now.

There is a level of cross-party support for the Bill introduced by Deputy Cullinane and not the type of legislation the Minister of State is talking about, which is watery in nature. What is required is legislation that will bring about changes.

I acknowledge the problem regarding other contracts of employment in the State. This includes bogus self-employment, which, again, is used, particularly in construction, as a way of exploiting workers who are really employees of a company but have self-employed status. The flip side of that is that it can be used for high flyers as well, for example, people in RTÉ who answer a phone for five hours a week and earn €300,000 per year because of bogus self-employment. We need to stamp this out as well.

The problem with zero-hour contracts and no banded hours is that it is a lose-lose scenario for the worker and a win-win scenario for the wealthy. The Government knows there is a problem with uncertain hours for workers. We all know workers caught in this situation need basic protection. The Government knows this. However, instead of Fine Gael supporting Deputy Cullinane's Bill, it has put forward its own Bill, which is as weak as dishwater. The Government is playing politics and dancing to the tune of IBEC and powerful employers that do not want to protect workers. The latter is the last thing they want to do. What the Government should do is represent them and put what is a basic requirement in place but people will see this for what it is. It is Fine Gael's decision as to whether it wants to be the party that represents the person who gets out of bed in the morning to clean and make up hotel rooms, stack shelves in supermarkets and do other work for very low rates of pay or whether it wants to continue representing the exploitation of those workers.

The Government brought in the 9% VAT rate in the hospitality sector and Sinn Féin supported it at the time as a temporary measure during the recession. We recognised it was a measure that needed to be taken at that time. We also recognise that particularly in the hospitality sector and in respect of hotel beds, the rate now needs to be removed. What did the hotel sector get in the budget? It got to retain the 9% VAT rate despite the fact its profits which, as the Minister of State is aware, are skyrocketing. Their profits are skyrocketing but some of them refuse to pay the basic minimum wage and get out of so doing with all sorts of tricks such as citing workers' training and so on. A little bit of honesty is needed. We are going backwards because 100 years of work and struggle for workers' rights is being wiped away by powerful employers and their agents. We need to send out a clear signal and the Government is not doing that. The only people to whom the Government is sending a signal are IBEC and those employers who do not care. Our proposal is not a radical idea from a far-left party and is sensible. We are a party of the left; we make no bones about that. What we are proposing is practical and reasonable and is widely accepted in other countries. It is not an attempt to drag anyone down or have a go at anybody. It is a basic right of workers. One can imagine what it is like on minimum wage when working 39 hours a week but Members should imagine being on minimum wage and not knowing how many hours one will get. Imagine trying to plan for kids going back to school in such circumstances or trying to buy clothes for children. I can guarantee there would be no mention of a holiday as one would not get a day to the zoo out of it. It is a difficult and stressful situation for people in these precarious types of employment. When we meet them and talk to them, we understand that clearly. We are talking about basic entitlements and basic honesty. Surely the Minister of State does not disagree with basic honesty. I am asking the Minister of State to face this head on and for workers to get contracts that reflect the hours they work.

I compliment Mandate, particularly John Douglas, the people who head up Mandate and its shop stewards throughout the country. They operate in a hostile environment. While being a trade union official and a shop steward on the shop floor can be a difficult task in any employment, it is particularly difficult in the hospitality, child care and retail sectors, as well as other areas in which there are low-paid workers on zero-hour contracts. It is very difficult for them. I want to recognise that. We should support them.

The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has talked about a republic of opportunities. Workers want the opportunity to have a decent living. Is it too much to ask for? It is the most reasonable thing people can ask for. What sort of opportunities are we talking about? Is it the opportunity to work as slave labour or to lie awake at night worrying about where one will get the money to pay gas or electricity bills, to send children back to school, for fuel and the basics or for rent or mortgages? What kind of opportunity are we talking about? I want people to have opportunities. Sinn Féin and I want people, particularly these people who get up very early in the morning, to have the opportunity to have a decent life. As a left republican party, we make no bones about putting that forward, North and South. We want that clearly. I encourage workers to join trade unions. The only protection they have is to be a member of a trade union. On a one-by-one basis, they will be picked off.

We need to get back to basics in this country. We have a duty in the House, where the laws of the State are made, to support those trade unions that are doing a difficult job. What they are looking for here is most basic and reasonable. The Government's Bill is simply a blocking exercise. Deputy Cullinane's Bill is not perfect. I have never seen the Government bring forward a perfect Bill. Any Bill it has brought forward in my time in the House has been amended. That is a fact of life. We are open to amendments. Deputy Cullinane will speak better than me about that. I ask the Minister of State to put the heads of the Government's Bill into the shredder and let us protect these workers.

I have ten minutes.

There are some good singers in Cork. One of them is John Spillane.

I thought the Deputy was going to burst into song.

I did too. I was going to say, "It's not you Mick."

We would clear the House very quickly if that were to happen so I will spare the House that scenario. One of John's songs, which is played on the radio, is "The Dunnes Stores Girl". I do not know if it is possible to have a punch line in a song, but he says of the Dunnes Stores girl, on whom he has had his eye for a while, that "She rules my world". The point of the matter here is that the Dunnes Stores girl does not even get to rule her own world because she works in a system based on very uncertain hours. Of the Dunnes Stores workers polled, 85% said they believe the uncertain-hours regime that exists in Dunnes Stores is used as a weapon to control the work force. One could work 30 hours one week and 20 hours the next week, or 30 hours one week and 12 or 15 hours the next week. One could take home €400 one week and €160 the next week. How are people supposed to organise their lives when they are subjected to those conditions? They do not know what they will be paid for their holidays because holiday pay is calculated on the basis of the average number of hours and the average wage for the 12 weeks previous to the holiday. Dunnes Stores cuts the hours for the 12 weeks before workers go on holidays so they get less holiday pay. It is a way of controlling people but how does it operate? Imagine a person arrives in the job and is a little bit bolshie - one of those Solidarity types perhaps - and does not allow him or herself to be walked on. If people raise their voices, their cards are marked. Such people better be quiet or their hours might be cut. Being active in a union is another matter. How can it be used against union activists? It is the reason Dunnes Stores workers went on strike against two and a half years ago. Yet, two and a half years on, despite promises that were made to them by political parties, including the Taoiseach, the issues have not been resolved. The Bill is an honest attempt to address the issues. These issues do not just affect Dunnes Stores workers. In America there is the expression "blue collar worker". These issues do not just affect blue collar workers. One also sees uncertain-hour contracts and zero-hour contracts in journalism and third level education.

There has been a certain amount of debate about whether big numbers of people are affected by these contracts in Ireland compared with the UK, for example. That debate misses the point a little. The issue is more about whether the number of workers on these contracts is on the way up or down. The anecdotal evidence I have and the evidence of my own eyes is they are on the way up. It is a matter of great importance that the issues be addressed. Workers are affected in many different ways when these types of contracts are in operation. When people phone their bank or sit across the table from their bank manager because they want to get a mortgage, they are asked "What is the story with your hours at work?" and "What is the story with your contract at work?" If a person is on one of these contracts, he or she will not get a mortgage. We can be pretty sure of that. If a person wants to make child care arrangements but says to the child care provider he or she does not know how many hours the person will be needed next week, how is that person supposed to operate?

I remember a film from some years ago, "The Fisher King", in which a character remarks that every worker is only one pay cheque away from being homeless. That film was set in the United States but the same applies now in this country. I was reminded of that line when I read an interview recently with a worker on one of these contracts who remarked that being able to secure a greater number of hours is the difference between being able to pay one's rent in any given week or month and not being able to do so. That this type of exploitation is taking place in this country in 2017 is absolutely disgraceful, and it must be tackled. Solidarity-People Before Profit's view is that the Government's position on this issue is cynical. What we are seeing, in fact, is a strong attempt to block the Bill introduced by Deputy Cullinane. I understand a money objection was raised to it, which can be nothing other than a blocking mechanism. It is bizarre given that the Bill's introduction, rather than costing the State money, would actually facilitate savings for the Exchequer as it would lead to more workers earning better wages and fewer people having to apply for family income supplement. To block the legislation on a false premise seems very cynical.

Of course, the Government, while blocking these proposals, is also trying to pose as a friend to workers by bringing forward its own Bill. However, that Bill is so flawed and has so many loopholes that ruthless employers will be able to drive a horse and cart through it. It is hardly surprising that the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, has identified problems with the Government's proposals on the basis that they are a little bit restrictive. The reality, however, is that the restrictions are such that all employers who have their wits about them and are ruthless enough will be able to override them. Casual workers are not protected under the provisions proposed by the Government. Instead of five-hour gaps between the different bands, there is to be a gap of 15 hours. This means a person could be in one band one week on 35 hours and the next week be on only 20 hours and get a pay cheque that is one third lighter than it was the week before. That does not amount to protection for workers. In place of a six-month lead-in period, as proposed in Deputy Cullinane's Bill, the Government's proposal of an 18-month lead-in before the bands are fixed amounts to an employer's charter.

The Sinn Féin Bill is very positive in its intent and in its content. There might be a few i's to dot and t's to cross on Committee Stage, but it is a positive proposal that would represent a gain for workers' rights. As such, we will support it, and we urge the Government to abandon what has thus far been a very cynical approach to the debate on these issues.

Deputies Martin Kenny and Bríd Smith have agreed to share time.

I compliment Deputy Cullinane on bringing forward the Banded Hours Contract Bill and thank the Members who did great work in both committees to develop the proposals set out in the Bill. I commend, in particular, the committee chaired by Deputy Mary Butler, which put a great deal of effort into enhancing the legislation. All that work has brought us to a place many of us thought we would not be, namely, on the cusp of finding a solution for workers who are in the difficult situation outlined by other speakers. That is a tremendous achievement in the space of a year or thereabouts. As Deputy Mick Barry noted, the Government has indicated an intention to bring forward its own Bill. None of us wants to be too cynical but it seems fairly clear to all concerned that this is really about blocking the proposals that are there and holding back their progress. It is a very disappointing approach from a Government that is telling us it wants to do the right thing and move forward on these issues.

The intent behind the Bill is to tackle the casualisation of work and the culture of short termism that has developed in modern western society in such a big way. Everything business does is about looking at how much profit can be made in the next quarter and the quarter after that. This short termism acts to the detriment of the lifelong work people do. People do not live their lives in quarters but over the 40 years they work or the 100 years they hope to live. That is how we should be setting out our society and everything we do. I knew a man who has since died who worked for one of the large national hardware chains. He told me how he travelled from his home in Carrigallen in County Leitrim to the job in Longford, where he would work for maybe four hours before being sent home again. The next day he might be in work for eight hours, but he never knew from one week to the next what hours he would get. He was a seasoned worker who was not looking for a mortgage or anything like that, but even at that stage in his life it was an unsatisfactory arrangement. The idea behind it, as this man described it to me, was so that the management, which was messing everybody about in the same way, would have no commitment to their staff and could, therefore, let people go whenever they wanted. That is what they did to him eventually.

We need to consider how we can turn these types of situations around for the benefit of workers. It will require a solution that is firm and which will actually work for the people affected. Adam Smith, that great proponent of the capitalist system, was of the view that government had a role to play in economic matters, which involved being a firm hand to ensure there was balance and a level playing field between employers and workers. He observed that when two merchants came together for the most casual conversation, the talk would invariably turn within minutes to how they might fix the market for themselves. The Government, as representative of the people, was obliged to step in and offer some degree of protection. This was the view of one of the chief proponents of capitalism.

He got it wrong.

Yes, he got it wrong in that Governments have not played that role. It is our job in this House to ensure the Government uses a firm hand now to make things better for the ordinary people who are going to work everyday and doing their best.

Deputy Cullinane's Bill has been considerably amended and enhanced such that most Deputies are in agreement that it offers a way to put in place a system that will protect workers into the future. I appeal to the Government to accept the proposed solution, which has been approved by a cross-party committee which includes members of the party in government. I urge the Government to reconsider the road it is going down and instead acknowledge that these proposals can work for everyone, including the Government and employers. Other speakers referred to concerns expressed by IBEC and other business interests. In fact, the people who do best out of all these things are those with money. It is in the interests of employers and big business, although it pains me to acknowledge it, that we have a stable and solvent economy. Stability and solvency are secured via a situation where people have money to spend and can plan to go for their dinner in a hotel next Sunday, go on holiday in a couple of months and buy a car next year. Without strong Government action and effective legislation, the people on the types of contracts we are discussing will never have that type of disposable income and will not, therefore, be able to contribute to the economy. We must help them out of that predicament. I appeal to the Government to support the proposals put forward by the Oireachtas committee.

I thank Deputy Martin Kenny for sharing time. As we come up to Christmas in areas like Ballyfermot, where I live, and other large working-class communities, moneylenders will be seen knocking on the doors of workers. In the past, they would have been trying the doors of the very poorest, those locked into long-term unemployment. This year, however, they will get a positive response from many people who are in employment but who nevertheless require a moneylending service because of the effects of disgraceful if-and-when contracts, a lack of banded hours and the precarious nature of so much modern employment.

I question the whole business of the committee in spending 16 months and 14 hours considering this Bill and seeing 45 witnesses. The Fianna Fáil Deputy present chaired the committee very well and I served on it but I no longer do so. That is testimony to the fact that we put a great deal of work into this Bill and we are now being told that it is being pulled for a Government Bill. I question the whole process of democracy here. Workers and other people elect us to do a job and the evidence is there that we have done the job. Everybody would acknowledge, and the Minister of State acknowledged this also, that we did a good job, that good work was done, but now the rug is being pulled from under us. It is not because the Minister of State has something better up his sleeve. It is not because he is concerned about these workers who will have to turn to moneylenders because they are utterly broke and cannot even plan for Christmas for their families. It is because he has been lobbied hard by ISME, IBEC and all those witnesses who appeared before the committee and said that this measure was intolerable and that it would cost them too much.

Previous speakers spoke about the lives of workers but I want to speak about the lives of the wealthy and those who make the profit. EUROSTAT figures show that profitability up to 2014 - I do not have the figures for the last three years - in the accommodation and food sector exceeded the 2007 pre-crash high by 40%. Profits in that sector are 40% higher than they were in 2007 prior to the crash. What might they be now three years later? God only knows. In the wholesale and retail sector profits are 11% higher than they were in the pre-crash years. However, workers' wages have fallen because their hours have fallen. Their income and living standards have fallen but the profits of the 1% who rule this world have gone through the roof. That is not a peculiarly Irish or a "Father Ted" phenomenon. The pattern can be found across modern developed countries where precarious if-and-when contracts are being used not by only by small firms but by very large firms whose profits have gone through the roof. Unless we have legislation enacted very soon to rein these people in, we will deny workers throughout this country the ability to have fairness and decency.

I want to cite a quote from one of the Dunnes Stores workers. She said: "They use the allocation of hours as a mechanism to control us." That is exactly what is going on here. A control mechanism is being used over workers, for them to be bullied, to be threatened and to live in fear in order to keep them in their place. As it happens, the largest cohort of them are women. This society is getting sick of the control, degradation and abuse of women right from the sexism of the industries down to the hours we work. If there is any pussyfooting or delay on this Bill I would like over the next period to see the unions organise strikes and demonstrations and begin to threaten this Government and the political forces within it. The Minister of State is not listening to democracy, to the elected people, to the workers who elected those people or to their trade unions. He is listening to the IBECs of this world. Senator Frances Black told me the other day when we talked about the alcohol Bill that IBEC has lobbied this Parliament 600 times on that Bill. I would love to know how often it has lobbied on this Bill. It would be interesting to find that out and I will check how often it has lobbied the Government on this Bill. That is what is going on but it has to end. The only force that can end it is the force and the power of the people, organised by their trade unions. That will be the solution unless the Minister of State delivers the change through this House.

I listened attentively to all the speakers. As I said, this report is very welcome and it is important to discuss this issue. It is a very important issue regarding banded hours contracts and measures to tackle problems caused by the increased casualisation of work.

Our debate, first and foremost, must be placed in the context of the programme for Government commitment to tackle the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. The maintenance and improvement of strong protections for workers have been and will continue to be a key element of the Government's policy as we seek to build on the progress made in recent years in our economic recovery.

It is clear to me as Minister with responsibility not only for employment matters but also for small business, that in addressing these issues we must strike the correct balance between the rights and the needs of employers and workers. That is at the core of the legislation we are preparing. We must find solutions that make sense and that work in practice for all concerned. That is important also. Everybody must be involved. Striking the right balance will also be important in terms of continuing to make progress on the jobs and employment front. The rate of unemployment was 15.1% in 2010, today it is 6% and falling, and it will be under that percentage after Christmas. A lot has been happening here.

Members may recall that in earlier debates on this Bill I expressed the view that the Sinn Féin Bill, though well intentioned - I never doubted that at any stage throughout the debate - was motivated by a particular industrial relations dispute in the retail sector at that time. However, we must remember that our legislation, in particular, will apply right across the economy to all sectors, which is extremely important, and to all employers. We must therefore ensure that any legislation is balanced and proportionate and avoids unintended consequences, which can happen in flawed legislation. It must also strike the right balance between improving protections for workers, particularly low paid, vulnerable workers about whom Members on all sides the House have spoken, and providing a reasonable degree of flexibility that allows employers to manage their workforce. This Bill does not strike the right balance.

This Bill would impose new and unnecessary obligation on employers. Moreover, the bands set out in the Bill are very narrow and provide very little flexibility. It would have adverse impacts in terms of limiting an employer's ability to manage their business and staffing needs in line with the needs of the business and its customers. It simply would not work.

One can only conclude that if all of the joint committee's recommendations were to be addressed, the Banded Hours Contracts Bill would remain a very narrow and limited response to the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work. As I said earlier, we talked at length to ICTU-----

-----IBEC and all the main players.

On the other hand, I believe the Government's Bill, which the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, is committed to publishing before Christmas, is a much more comprehensive response to the issue of casualisation of work and the strengthening of regulation of precarious work. The Bill will address a number of issues which have been identified as being areas where current employment rights legislation can only be strengthened, without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers and businesses. In addition to introducing banded hours provisions for employees whose contract of employment does not reflect the reality of the hours they work on a consistent basis, the Bill will ensure that employees are much better informed about the hours they can expect to work on a daily and weekly basis. The Bill will also create a new offence where employers fail to inform their employees of their core terms of employment. Furthermore, the Bill will prohibit zero-hour contracts in most circumstances and will provide for better financial compensation for employees who may be called in to work but who do not get the promised hours of work. The Bill will provide for strengthened anti-penalisation provisions to better protect employees who try to invoke a right under the legislation. Unlike the Sinn Féin Bill - I want to state in the House that I have never provoked Sinn Féin - the Government Bill will contain measures specifically targeted at low paid, vulnerable workers.

I have listened with great attentiveness to the debate and I understand the genuine interest on all sides of the House in putting in place improved legislative measures to help those who may be in precarious or insecure employment arrangements. We all know these people. We deal with them in our constituency clinics. I can assure Members that the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, and myself look forward to working in a positive manner with Members on all sides and in both Houses in progressing that legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

We are not kicking matters down the road, as some speakers suggested. We want to bring forward good legislation in the interests of all parties concerned.

I acknowledge again the good work carried out by the joint committee in conducting a thorough scrutiny of the Banded Hours Contract Bill. I believe the scrutiny report is balanced. It is a fair assessment of the Bill and reflects on all who have contributed to the process including stakeholders who attended hearings of the committee, individual members and the Chair, Deputy Butler, who has been in the Chamber throughout the debate this evening, as well as the clerk to the committee and the staff of the committee secretariat. I thank them all for their work.

I invite Deputy Butler, who proposed the motion, to make some concluding remarks.

I will be brief as I think it has all been said. I thank everyone for their contributions today and thank the Minister of State for remaining here for the whole debate. It was great to hear such a wide range of speakers. As Deputy Niall Collins said earlier, we are sometimes accused of being the do-nothing Dáil. However, a body of work is being done downstairs in the committee rooms day on day, which should be acknowledged inside and outside the House.

There is no doubt that there are significant issues. Like every other Deputy and Senator, I see them in my offices and clinics on a weekly basis. It is great that we are discussing it here today. The reason Deputy Cullinane brought the Bill forward, and he was very well intentioned, is that the issue is there and it is real. We heard from both sides of the debate in our committee, including opposing views and strong views. I will quote a passage from the scrutiny report to put it on the record of the House:

The committee heard of the difficulties and hardship experienced by workers on variable, low-hour contracts and the particular problems for workers whose contract does not reflect the number of hours they work.

A major issue raised was the income uncertainty it creates. Employees have difficulty planning their finances and life decisions (such as starting a family) as they have no guarantee of their income from week to week.

It is also difficult for employees to plan their time in advance as there is no certainty surrounding which days and hours they will be required to work. This makes it particularly difficult to plan childcare, family life and social activities.

Many employees have experienced difficulty obtaining credit, as banks will only look at the minimum number of hours in the person’s contract, despite the actual working hours vastly exceeding what is stated in the contract. This causes difficulty for workers seeking to purchase a home, car, etc. A contract that reflects the hours worked would provide [immediate] certainty for employees and aid in obtaining credit.

I know this document upside-down and inside-out. I feel I have lived it for quite a number of months. There is one defining line in it which sums up the whole document: "The committee is unanimously of the opinion that employees are entitled to a contract reflective of the hours they work over a defined period." If we take nothing else away from today's debate, we should take cognisance of this. People should not have to wait any longer. They need the legislation. We need the legislation for the employees who are not being treated fairly. I urge the Minister of State, if he cannot accept the Bill or the recommendations of the committee, to bring forward his own legislation as a matter of priority. There is no doubt that this matter and the people affected cannot wait any longer.

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.55 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 November 2017.