Extreme Weather (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to provide for the safety of employees during certain severe weather warnings issued by Met Éireann; to amend the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 to provide for the protection of public safety and the safety of rescue service personnel during such a weather warning and to provide for related matters.

I wish to share time with Deputy Munster.

We have been busy writing Bills. This is one on which we will be looking for the Taoiseach's support, and, hopefully, we will move as a Private Members' motion.

The purpose of the Bill is to protect workers during a red alert weather warning. This Bill will amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to provide for the safety of employees during certain severe weather warnings issued by Met Éireann. It will also provide for the protection of public safety and the safety of rescue service personnel during such a weather warning and provide for related matters.

In the event of a status red severe weather warning, under the Bill all employees in places of employment subject to the alert are to stay away from their place of work until the alert ends and they would be paid as if it was a normal working day. As the Taoiseach will be aware, during ex-Hurricane Ophelia we saw some businesses put their employees lives at risk by insisting they work only to send them home just as the storm reached its maximum strength. Under this Bill, this would no longer happen as businesses will have a statutory obligation to close and ensure that workers do not lose pay as a result.

I was taken at the time when the Taoiseach personally gave great leadership during that storm and appealed to people to stay at home, but what about those workers who were then told by their employers that they should come in and had to face the storm and the bad weather and take their lives in their hands to go to work, as I stated, only to be sent home?

This will be used, obviously, in very rare circumstances, only if there is a red alert weather warning. If the Taoiseach, Met Éireann and those in leadership are saying it is not safe to travel, then it is not safe to travel. It is as simple as that. One cannot then have employers telling employees to come to work unnecessarily.

There are, as I stated, provisions for emergency personnel and all of that would have to be taken into account.

I would ask the Taoiseach and the Government to reflect on this Bill. It is one that we want to see pass through this House as quickly as possible, and we will consider moving as a Private Members' motion in due course.

The aim of the Bill is to provide for the safety of employees during certain red alert severe weather warnings issued by Met Éireann, to enhance public safety and to ensure the safety of rescue service personnel during such a severe weather warning.

In the immediate aftermath of Storm Ophelia, the Taoiseach rightly acknowledged that there was significant confusion regarding what actions private sector businesses and the self-employed should take when an extreme weather warning was declared. There was a clear mechanism in place for closing schools and public offices and emergency services and local authorities responded to the crisis as best they could at the time but we, as legislators, must now take measures to guide employers, protect workers and strengthen the power of emergency services in the case of future extreme weather warnings.

Three people lost their lives in Storm Ophelia, one of whom was a constituent of mine, and I extend my condolences to the families of those who so tragically lost their lives during that storm. Our Bill would introduce new statutory guidelines for private sector employers and self-employed persons in the event of an extreme weather warning, putting workers' safety front and centre. Storm Ophelia was the worst storm to hit Ireland in almost 50 years. Almost 300,000 homes were left without power, and despite the stark warnings and tragic deaths on the day, we still had incidents of reckless behaviour in Louth, Galway and Kerry. This Bill seeks to impose penalties on those who would put lives in danger through reckless behaviour when an extreme weather warning has been enacted. It also seeks to give An Garda Síochána enhanced powers to pursue such behaviour under the law. I believe the legislation would prevent tragedies during future extreme weather events so I ask that it be supported.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

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

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

Question put and agreed to.