Deputy Bernard Durkan was in possession when the debate adjourned and I understand he has concluded his contribution.
Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed)
Precarious employment is an extremely important issue and the Government's move in the direction of addressing it is long overdue. Precarious employment is a plague affecting large numbers of workers and one of the most terrible consequences of three decades of neoliberal policy under the guise of flexibility and competitiveness, two of the favourite words of employers. As a result, the conditions of employment for hundreds of thousands of workers have been severely degraded. Once upon a time, workers could expect some employment security and some sense of what their working week or month would look like. Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of workers are in temporary employment and do not know from week to week or month to month what hours they will work and, as a consequence, what earnings they will have. This has serious financial and personal implications for the workers in question, many of whom are women with families who suffer particularly from this type of precarious employment.
Precarious employment has serious impacts on family life and workers' ability to plan and have a life because they do not know how many hours they will work or how much they will earn. For example, the notion of securing a mortgage has become a complete fantasy for large numbers of workers owing to the precarious nature of their employment and the remuneration they may receive for it. In any event, low pay also plagues the sectors in which precarious employment is rife. Approximately 20% of workers in this country are low paid and working in terrible, precarious jobs.
To put some perspective on the claims of economic recovery and the often trumpeted figures about employment, for which the Government slaps itself on the back, despite the increase in employment in recent years, there are now 109,000 fewer permanent jobs than there were in 2008. The ongoing process of implementing neoliberal policy in this country, which has been largely championed by the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties for three decades, intensified during the period of austerity. For neoliberals, the crash was as if all their birthdays had arrived at once because the economic downturn provided employers with an excuse to ramp up precarious employment. Workers were so desperate for employment that employers had the whip hand and were able to employ people under precarious conditions. The quality of life of hundreds of thousands of low paid workers is diminished greatly by having to put up with these conditions.
It is worth noting the deterioration in the quality of life for workers in precarious employments when compared with the conditions enjoyed by previous generations of workers who could expect to be able to put a roof over their heads, make plans in life and obtain a pension. All of these expectations have been degraded for large numbers of workers. At the same time, many people have done very well because profits have increased significantly as a result of this development in the past decade.
It is not the case that we all felt the same pain in the past ten years. With the exception of 2008, employers have been doing better under austerity. The economic collapse worked for employers and the rich because it gave them the whip hand and allowed them to drive up profits. Since 2008, profits have gone through the roof. As I have noted several times, wealth inequality has grown dramatically and is linked to the downgrading of conditions for workers and a consequent boost of profits for employers. Another indicator of how the balance has shifted in favour of employers to the detriment of workers is that while wages accounted for approximately 60% of national income in the 1970s, with profits and shares accounting for the remaining 40%, the inverse is now the case. In Ireland, this reversal has been more significant than in any other country in Europe, with 60% of the national cake currently going to employers in the form of profits and only 40% going to workers. There has been a dramatic shift of wealth from the have-nots to the haves in recent decades, as reflected in the astonishing rise in wealth inequality in society.
On the face of it, the Bill attempts to address some aspects of precarious employment. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions sent a letter to the Minister after it published a document on precarious work. In its executive summary, ICTU makes a number of demands for dealing with precarious employment, including the provision of statements of core conditions and compensation for employees who are called in to work to find they are not given hours of work, measures to deal with banded hours and the imposition of penalties on employers who fail to comply with legal requirements.
On the face of it, the Government has responded to the lobbying of the trade union movement but in looking at the detail, we can see the Government has diluted the propositions to the point where the Bill will be barely effective at all in many circumstances.
We can give some examples of how the Government has diluted the proposals. The bands proposed by the Government in the Bill are so wide as to give enormous flexibility to employers to continue imposing a great deal of precariousness on affected workers. The first band is between one and ten hours and there is a hell of a difference between one hour and nine hours. The next band is between 11 and 24 hours; if a contract indicates a person will generally work 12 hours in a week but that person consistently works 23 hours per week, under the Government's proposals that worker will not move into a different band and will have no claim to say the employer is being unfair. This can be systematically abused. In contrast, Deputy Cullinane's Bill on banded hours had several more bands. If the hours people were asked to work by the employer varied on a regular basis across the narrower bands, the worker could claim to move to a different band and for this to be acknowledged as a condition of employment. This suits the employers and does not really change much in what they will do in abusing the position of many vulnerable workers.
If a person is trying to plan life around kids, family and time off, having to do everything people have to do, with the variation in a working pattern up to 13 hours in a week, it can have a huge impact. If that happens on a regular basis, there would potentially be enormous consequences for family, earnings and all the knock-on effects. This could happen systematically even if this legislation is passed, so it is not good enough and must be substantially amended.
There are similar concerns with the compensation for workers called in who do not receive work. The University of Limerick, which did the study that is supposed to inform this legislation, proposed that if a person was called in but did not get work, he or she would get the normal wage for that employment for three hours. Under this legislation, the payment rate will be the national minimum wage, which is substantially less than the payment that could be due in many cases, unless it is covered by an employment regulation order. Many types of employment are not covered by those orders, so that is not good enough. The Government must explain why it has diluted and downgraded compensation that would accrue to employees called in under those circumstances.
The provision of contracts and statements of terms and conditions within five days is an improvement but there is a big problem that is fundamental to this Bill. Workers' rights and employment legislation are as we speak being flouted left, right and centre. Even the existing inadequate and weak legislation is being flouted all over the place. I mentioned the Boland's Mills site, which is an iconic site connected to the 1916 Rising, which is seeing enormous redevelopment. The main contractor there will also be doing the new national children's hospital. I have heard reports of workers, many but not all of them immigrant workers, getting paid dramatically less than the sectoral rate for the area by a subcontractor. These workers feel very vulnerable and do not know their rights and entitlements. Part of the problem is that the main contractor can wash its hands of this as a subcontractor has been brought in. The subcontractor keeps changing name and it has operated under several guises. Those workers are very vulnerable and frightened and they do not know their rights. They are being underpaid dramatically and they are not getting payslips.
I know this because an Irish person employed as a foreman on that site complained about the underpayment of these workers and the fact that many workers, including himself, were not getting payslips. He said he would not put up with it unless something was done. He started a protest but nothing has been done.
To whom did he complain?
He complained to the employer. That is the problem. Unless there will be a very proactive move by the authorities, with inspections and raids happening on a much greater level, all the legislation in the world will make no difference. A person is legally entitled to a payslip but workers are not getting them. Such practice is rampant in the construction industry. There is also the problem of agencies, as it means there is a buffer for the main contractor, which might be responsible for big sites. This legislation does not deal with agencies abusing people at will with respect to hours of employment. If anybody kicks up about such issues, he or she is gone and will not get work again for months. What will we do about this?
The final demand of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, is not included in the legislation. I have raised it, along with many others here, time and again. It is bogus self-employment, which is rampant in construction and other areas. There are serious allegations about this happening in the film industry and we have been getting reports similar to what we have received week in, week out, month in, month out, year in and year out from construction workers for the past decade. If workers walk on to a site and ask for PAYE employment, they can forget it as they will be shown the door. They either agree to being classified as subcontractors or they can forget it. The employer does not want to have any responsibility or give sick or holiday pay, or the various entitlements a person might have in direct employment.
It is very obviously the case that these workers are not entrepreneurs. The numbers of supposed entrepreneurs in construction are ridiculous, with the latest figures at approximately 60,000 from the total construction work force of approximately 130,000. Nearly half of construction workers in this country seem to be entrepreneurs, including the labourers. It is an absolute joke. To be classified as self-employed and an entrepreneur, a series of conditions must be met but they do not apply to these workers. Nobody is independently assessing this and instead the employer can go online and classify people as self-employed. That is the way it works. The onus is put on the worker again in this respect. When I mention the problem in this House I am told a worker can get on to the Revenue Commissioners and complain but if they do this, they will get sacked or blacklisted and never get on a site again. That is what happens. We now see allegations of similar carry-on in the film industry. None of it is dealt with in the legislation.
We will support the passage of the Bill because anything is better than nothing but I do not believe the suggestion that it will substantially address the plague of precarious employment which is affecting hundreds of thousands of workers. There are too many get-out clauses. It looks to me as if the employers have lobbied the Government intensively to dilute the legislation to ensure that it is easy for them to get around it. This is not good enough because, to return to my original point, profits have gone through the roof in every single sector where precarious and temporary employment and bogus self-employment are rampant. These are the sectors that have seen dramatic increases in profitability. Precarious employment is good for some but it is very bad for huge numbers of workers, and employers are lobbying and having an influence on the framing of this legislation which the Government claimed would address the issue of precarity.
We will seek to amend the Bill and I suspect many others will too. I welcome that we are at least debating it but we have to go a hell of a lot further than this if we are to address the problem.
In my last 43 seconds, I will raise one other matter about the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which is the appeals process. Take, for example, the Rhatigan dispute where the workers had a ruling in their favour. Rhatigan appealed it and the matter went into the social welfare appeals office where the appeal hearing was a kangaroo court.
It was a kangaroo court. Rhatigan came in lawyered up-----
I am sorry but I cannot let the Deputy say that.
The Deputy is getting into an area that is not appropriate for the floor of the House.
That is the report I got from workers.
It is not true.
We will debate it again but that is the report I got from the workers.
I thank the Deputy for his contribution but that area is not appropriate to this debate. I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.
I am pleased to speak on the Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018. I have to declare that I am a long-standing employer although I am an employee as well. Listening to my good friend and colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett, we are an endangered species. It is not safe to be an employer any more because we all should be locked up and the key thrown away. I am not having a go at Deputy Boyd Barrett but there are an awful lot of good employers and decent self-employed small business people who trudge daily and deal with all the regulations pertaining to their particular occupation. I cannot envisage the situation where, as the Deputy said, it is only a matter of going online and registering as self-employed. A person has to have a certain turnover and legitimate employment records in the business. He or she also must apply to the Revenue to register for VAT and everything else. I cannot imagine that it is like getting a lucky bag in a shop or online to become self-employed. That is not true at all. I agree with some parts of his comments, however, on some of the bigger companies and the subcontracted work where there might be bullying and intimidation going on, with people being forced to be self-employed in some areas.
I must interrupt the Deputy. My apologies.
The Deputy is so prodigious in his output, however, that this is his second contribution on the Employment (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill 2017.
Gabh mo leithscéal.
Apparently the Deputy spoke for 20 minutes last evening on it. While we would love to hear him again, Standing Orders do not allow it.
Not to worry. There was no harm done. We will move on to Deputy Burton.
I understood Deputy Mattie McGrath was going to speak for a while.
I would have if I was let.
I would be happy to hear him speak but the Ceann Comhairle is in charge of the House.
And he is right.
The Employment (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill 2017 is inadequate to address what is one of the most difficult and dreadful developments of our age, which is the continuing expansion and growth of different forms of precarious work. To be perfectly honest, this area is becoming like that of tax legislation. In other words, people in HR departments continually review and change work arrangements to beat, if one likes, the system of labour and wage regulation. The Government needs to acknowledge and wake up to that fact.
During my time in government, one of the first things I did was raise the minimum wage by €1 per hour, reversing the reduction introduced by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party at the height of the crisis. When I was Tánaiste, I got the agreement of Fine Gael to bring in the Low Pay Commission and to introduce the only labour legislation throughout the EU, and certainly in any of the countries which had experienced economic collapses such as Ireland's, to give additional powers to trade unions and strengthen provision in the area of collective bargaining.
The concept of what a job is and what is work is important. We all know how important work is to people and how important it is that they can get work. One of the very good things of recent years is the fact that, notwithstanding the 330,000 jobs lost at the height of the crisis, many people have been able to return to work. In some cases, people have set up their own businesses. All of that has been positive. The concept of work, however, is that a person will do work which is satisfying and important to him or her or gives experience so that the person can go on to do those things that he or she wants to do. It is important to people's lives and well-being. Furthermore, if people work hard, they can support themselves and their family. Through their PRSI contributions and taxation, they can collectively provide for a social insurance and social welfare system that will provide for income support in periods of unemployment and for pension entitlement on retirement. That is the way the social democratic model works and it has worked well in countries such as Germany, Austria and those in Scandinavia. It has also worked well here for generations.
The other key element is collective bargaining, but the Fine Gael Party is highly adverse to it. For the social democratic model to work, it must include collective bargaining. Fine Gael shies away from collective bargaining, however, and we can see that running through this legislation. Although the Bill seeks to improve on the serious flaws and gaps in current legislation, it simply does not go far enough, and this is not in our interests as a country. We want to attract more development, employment, business and foreign direct investment. We also want to develop Ireland in a way which provides employment and all of the different things we want in our society, whether that is education, health care, public development or public works.
When I was a Minister, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions brought to my attention issues relating to this area, including the issue of bogus self-employment. After a long wait and continuing questioning on my part of the Taoiseach on the matter, the report was finally published in the past week or two. It was approximately ten days ago. Lo and behold, there was no debate or discussion. In two tables, however, the report showed that there was a loss to the Exchequer of approximately €60 million in tax and social welfare revenue as a consequence of disguised or bogus self-employment, or whatever one might want to call it. That is part of the problem. There are very few days a Government will sniff at recovering an extra €60 million in either PRSI or taxation because that money would go into the collective to fund our system and give people assurance.
Will the Minister arrange a debate in the House on the report on bogus self-employment? Why is the Government looking this gift horse of €60 million in tax and social welfare receipts in the mouth? It deserves a debate. The Minister made a short comment when the report was released but it received almost no media attention.
From my ministerial experience in this area over five and a half years, there are two sectors of workers who face particular difficulties, namely, younger workers, particularly those under 25, and older workers, particularly those over 55. If they have had spells of unemployment, be they in an urban or in a rural area, they may find it extremely difficult to get a job. They are extremely vulnerable when it comes to precarious work. We need to take a sectoral approach to this and provide for a mechanism over and above the Low Pay Commission. I put forward this in the previous Government and Fine Gael agreed to it on a limited basis. I also appointed my colleague, Senator Ged Nash, as Minister of State in the then Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to work on the required legislation and on which he did a good job. As this field is evolving so rapidly, however, it is difficult to keep up with the development of the structures, which continuously outrun and outwit the formal structure.
One of the best protections against this would be for the Minister to work in partnership with both employers and with the representatives of employees, particularly the trade unions. Including in this legislation a framework for an ongoing social partnership would be the greatest guarantee for the Minister and the Government, ensuring they would be advised and informed of new mechanisms emerging. This was traditional but disappeared at the height of the crisis, partly because it got a bad name. When I was in government, I argued strongly for a social dialogue, which was essentially the beginning of a return to social partnership. If we really want to tackle this issue, we need more institutional development.
Our society has a difficulty with certain kinds of jobs where the skills of our people are now being intensely sought internationally. We sorted this issue out with primary school teachers when the Labour Party was in government. However, we have researchers and teachers in colleges and universities whose skills are highly sought internationally. Our society invested in their education and in the development of their PhDs and other postgraduate qualifications. However, they have no proper employment contract structure or security. The bands set out by the Minister are too wide. Far more bands are needed to ensure it is possible to address different situations where, for periods, the amount of work available might be relatively small. However, as the person builds up in a job, there may be a callous disregard for that individual's right to employment. Accordingly, they may never get a permanent contract.
What are the social implications of this? If a skilled university researcher, qualified secondary school teacher or third level librarian is not able to get an actual contract of employment, it may mean that when they want to get a mortgage, they have no status of employment. In turn, this will prevent them from buying a home for themselves or their family. That is tearing the social fabric of the society apart. The Minister needs to give thought as to how she will strengthen the power of employers, employer organisations and the trade unions to have a social partnership which will seek to address these issues. As I said, the idea of social partnership is deeply unfashionable with Fine Gael. However, without that kind of structure, it is impossible to keep up with what is happening in the employment field.
Young people, those over 55 and those who live in jobless households, if they cannot get part-time or full-time employment, are more likely to be at risk of poverty than other groups. The economist, Joseph Stiglitz, who has written extensively on poverty, acknowledges the European model of social welfare and supports in Ireland has prevented the kind of poverty levels one sees in societies, such as Greece, where the social welfare system is either limited or non-existent over large elements of the economy. Similarly in the United States, if one loses employment, one loses medical insurance and so forth. In turn, as there is no replacement, one can sink rapidly down to losing one's home and so on. Joseph Stiglitz commends the European model, which we have here. While we need to strengthen it, all the longitudinal surveys showed that, notwithstanding our economic crash, our social welfare system saved significant numbers of people from falling into poverty. Joseph Stiglitz acknowledged this in his writings and when he visited UCD.
Is the Minister open to amending the Bill to ensure strengthening of the social welfare and work protection framework in order that a job is treated in law as employment and the worker acquires rights? Is she prepared to address the bogus self-employment issue in which she is losing out on €50 million a year? The Labour Party will be happy to work with the Minister to achieve these two measures.
Notwithstanding all the work already done in providing younger people with opportunities around apprenticeships, little progress has been made by this Government. Apprenticeship numbers are staggeringly low.
While I welcome the new apprenticeships in finance and insurance, the old model in the construction trade, which is returning to high levels of activity, whereby plasterers and so on used to take on one, two or three apprentices, is no longer available with small employers. Many young people would love to take up apprenticeships as sparks, plumbers or so on in construction or the motor trade, but that option is not available to them because the structure of those industries means that the small traditional employers who used to provide apprenticeships can no longer do so. Larger companies can, however. During my time, we got the ESB to restart recruiting electrical apprentices. Many large companies, including the one doing the work on Leinster House, are employing a large number of apprentices, which is great. If we keep building at this pace, however, and in light of all the new housing that we will build, we will not have enough people to do the skilled work. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government knows this. As such, the Government must think afresh about how to get young people who are interested in a range of trades into good apprenticeships and how to give them the opportunity to get qualifications and well-paid, regulated jobs with good terms and conditions, as provided for in the legislation.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection should set up a monitoring unit in her Department if one is not already there. Since my time, employment has moved into her Department. Just as is the case with other areas of activity that are examined, there should be a unit that monitors continuously whether there are negative developments in respect of workers' rights. When I entered the Department, one of the tragedies of the time was that so many building companies had collapsed and gone into liquidation. The then Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation was not able to cope with the level of demand for redundancy payments. The then Department of Social Protection took that function over, built platforms and ensured that people received their redundancy payments within a relatively short period. If a monitoring unit was established in conjunction with social partnerships, given that this is a social partnership model requirement, it would be possible to examine those areas where employment patterns do not allow people to earn a decent living wage, have proper terms and conditions and have access to the social welfare system in a way that would grant them entitlements in the event of experiencing periods of unemployment or other difficulties for which they would need social welfare support.
If-and-when contracts are not properly covered in this legislation, but they should be. The bands are too few and too wide. The House should be able to agree that this matter can be addressed immediately in the form of an amendment. The legislation will be no good if it does not help the person who is in an exploitative situation and needs proper terms and conditions. When replying, the Minister might be in a position to make those commitments for the benefit of workers throughout the country.
I see people cycling around Dublin on Deliveroo bikes and carrying large boxes. I was a student and I worked in all kinds of jobs down the years. We have all done that, but to think that grown men and women - men, in particular - might spend large parts of their lives as human carriers on the streets of our cities without having proper terms and conditions is sad.
I appreciate the views that have been expressed today and yesterday. They have been useful for me and my officials, and I am looking forward to what will obviously be a humdinger of a debate when we get to Committee Stage.
Everyone inside and outside the House will agree that every worker and, indeed, human being has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. We have a right to be respected by one another. Most importantly in a work situation, we have the right to be respected by our employers. That is why this and the previous Government - yesterday, I mentioned Senator Nash and the Ministers of State, Deputies Breen and Mitchell O'Connor, as well as the tremendous amount of work and consultation that the officials have undertaken in the past three years - worked to introduce this legislation. We want to ensure that we have copper-fastened in our law the dignity and respect that we should adhere to in society.
I will revisit a number of the points that were made during the debate. I value Deputy Burton's opinion, given that she spent five years in this Department, although it is now slightly different. She has an intense interest in this area, not least because of her political ideology. Like some other Deputies, however, she suggested that we were doing nothing to protect people on if-and-when contracts. That is not correct. The banded hours provision will apply to people on if-and-when contracts so that when they have worked an average number of hours over the 18-month reference period, they will be entitled to be placed on a band of hours that reflects the reality of the hours they have worked during that time.
The amendment of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act will require an employer to inform employees by the fifth day after commencing their employment with that company what the employer reasonably expects the normal length of their working day and working week to be. An established intention of what their work will be will be given to them. An employer will be required to state the expected duration of the contract and whether it is a temporary or fixed term.
Employees on if-and-when contracts will benefit from the new minimum compensation provisions where they are given notice of work but, after they show up, they do not get that work. They will also benefit from the anti-penalisation provisions, in that, if an employer penalises an employee for raising a query or issue or for exercising any of his or her rights under existing laws, he or she will be entitled to pursue the matter with the Workplace Relations Commission.
Deputy Penrose stated that a person on an if-and-when contract would have no recourse to employment rights bodies. With respect, that is not true. It is well established in the jurisprudence of the constitutional courts and the Labour Court that they will look behind the written terms of a contract to establish the true nature of an arrangement. The particular concern that Deputy Penrose raised was addressed in the Labour Court in a case, entitled Ticketline Trading as Ticketmaster and Sarah Mullen. The court accepted that, while the written contract of employment was that of an if-and-when type with no mutuality of obligation, it was operated on the basis that the employee was required to be available for work at all times and, therefore, was entitled to the protections of the Organisation of Work Time Act, in particular the compensations provided for under section 18.
Regarding the prohibition of zero-hour contracts, while we understand and agree with the University of Limerick, UL, that such contracts are thankfully not prevalent in Ireland, we want to ensure that it stays that way. Prohibiting such contracts except in some very limited and specific circumstances will help to achieve this goal. However, it is important for everyone to understand that we are not saying in this Bill that all casual or flexible working arrangements are wrong and should be stopped. It is worth recalling that the UL study acknowledged that the flexibility offered by genuine casual work can be mutually beneficial for employees and employers in some cases. In certain sectors, such arrangements can help employers to satisfy peak demands and fill staffing gaps on a short-term basis. It has often been mentioned in this debate that flexible arrangements only suit the employer.
In some cases they do suit the employee, for example, students working during holiday periods, individuals who need to work around caring responsibilities for children or older people, or semi-retired persons who might only want to work hours that suit them on a flexible basis. We have to acknowledge that only a very small section of the community are engaged in casual work and that it works for them. While it has also been suggested employers will deliberately miscategorise employees as casual, it is important to remember that section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 refers to work of a casual nature but does not define it. In the 20 years since it was enacted, it has not led to a regulatory problem with employers incorrectly categorising employees as casual. The fears expressed about the Bill not specifically categorising or defining casual work are probably unfounded. Like all legislation, if, 12 months after it is introduced, it is not doing exactly what it says on the tin, we can reflect on it. It is not good practice to include definitions in legislation when the plain, ordinary meaning of a word is capable of being understood by all of the bodies responsible for adjudicating on it. The WRC and the Labour Court are capable of examining all of the circumstances of particular cases and making an appropriate judgment on whether a particular arrangement is genuinely casual, as they have been doing for the past 20 years.
Regarding the penalisation provisions, it is very important that all employees feel safe in order that they can exercise their employment rights without fear of being punished for doing so. It is worth bearing in mind that the penalisation provisions included in the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 were broadly drafted to cover a wide range of scenarios in which an employee could be adversely treated. The relevant provisions mirror all of those in other employment legislation and are core to the Bill, the new banded hours provisions in particular. Under the banded hours provisions, if an employer reduces an employee's working hours or even threatens to do so because the employee sought to exercise his or her right, the employee can pursue a penalisation case to the WRC. He or she would be awarded anything up to two year's salary if the adjudication officer finds on the balance of probabilities that he or she was penalised for invoking his or her right under the Organisation of Working Time Act.
A number of Deputies have expressed concern that employees will have to wait 18 months post-enactment of the Bill to benefit from the banded hours provisions. I want to be forceful on this issue. They have potentially misunderstood the Bill. Perhaps they have read it, but their concerns are misplaced. I assure everybody that that is not what we intend. I draw attention to the proposed new section 18A(14) which specifically states a continuous period of employment before the commencement of the section will be reckonable as the reference period of the look-back period. In other words, if the section is commenced on 1 July 2018, an employee who commenced work on 1 January 2017 will be entitled from 1 July 2018 to seek to have a band of hours that reflects the 18 month period before the day it was enacted. Last night Deputies raised concerns that if we did not enact the Bill until the summer, people would have to wait for a further 18 months. That is not the case and it certainly is not our intention. Almost every Deputy who spoke last night and today said the 18-month reference period was too long for the banded hours provisions. It is fair to say we will be happy to look at the issues raised when we reach the Committee Stage amendments.
There are a number of points I would like to make. It is important that the look-back period and the length of time an employee is statutorily entitled to stay in a band of hours remain the same. If we are to look back 18 months, the time the employee needs to stay in the band of hours is the same. If people want to reduce it to six months, as was suggested last night, we would only be providing security for six months. We need to reflect very carefully and come up with something that is simple. It is also important that we use an easy divisor; therefore, 13 months as a reference period might not be desirable from that point of view. Nevertheless, we are genuinely willing and open to considering a reference period of 15 months. Deputy Róisín Shortall reminded us last night that the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation had recommended 12 months as the reference period, but it would not work because it would not reflect real seasonality.
Several speakers expressed concern about the widths of the bands. I understand their concerns and their points were well made. I reiterate that the bands should be sufficiently broad to allow a reasonable degree of flexibility in managing what will be the new banded hours arrangements. Wherever we finally pitch them, they will have to be beneficial to both employees and employers. Many of the Deputies who have spoken are left of centre, but we have to recognise that if we do not have employers, we will not have employees. The balance we need to strike in this legislation has to benefit both sides. A greater number of bands with a narrower range of hours would be more difficult to manage, but we will look at the issue on Committee Stage. We also recognise that some companies that have bargained collectively on banded hours arrangements may already have a higher number of bands with a narrower range of hours in each band, which works for particular sectors of employment. We certainly do not want to interfere with these arrangements because they work very well for those sectors, but we have to recognise that we are not passing legislation that is specific to a particular section of the retail market or the construction industry. We are passing legislation that will affect every employer and employee in the country. That is something of which we have to be very conscious and we will reflect on it on Committee Stage.
Some Deputies asked about the schedule for the five pieces of crucial information being supplied to employees by their employers and why it was not day one instead of day five. We need to reflect on the fact that today an employer has two months in which to provide that information. While the University of Limerick suggested one day, we want to be reasonable to employers. Day five is not unreasonable in the context of new employment. To those who do not accept that day five is sufficient, it is the first time ever we have introduced a criminal offence. We are very serious about making sure people will have their right to receive the most basic information on their employment terms of contract. Day five is reasonable, but for somebody who takes the Mick thereafter, there should be serious consequences. The introduction of a criminal offence sets the tone. What we are trying to do is make sure employers will give the information. It is the most basic information and the least we would expect to be given to employees before day five.
Different Deputies brought up the issue of compensation where workers showed up for work and none was available. I make no apology for targeting at the low-paid the minimum payment provision. If somebody is earning much more money, he or she will not be as adversely affected as somebody on a much lower wage who is called into work and then turned around and sent home. He or she will not be as affected as those in a situation, as suggested last night, where ten people are called into work when the employer knows full well that it only has work for five and will give it to the first five who show up and to heck with the rest of them. They are the ones who need to avail of the stronger provisions and that is what we will make sure we do. It is also important to remember that the Bill deals with all employers and employees engaged in contracts of service, whether they work in the gig economy or any other part of the economy. As is the case where an individual believes he or she is being deprived of employment rights applicable to being an employee, he or she may refer a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission where it can be dealt with by way of mediation or adjudication, leading to a decision that will be enforceable through the District Court.
There is a section in my Department to which Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett referred. If there is anybody who has a difficulty in establishing his or her employment status, he or she can make a case independent of his or her employer to the scope division and it will be adjudicated on. If there are issues, they can be backdated. An established practice will be established in the context of what the person's social insurance contribution should be, including whether he or she is self-employed or employed.
What if they are vulnerable workers who are afraid?
We need to get past that issue. To that end, I will conduct a very large advertising campaign this year. People should not be afraid. I am not saying the scary examples the Deputy gave are not true, but in that case I need to do more to make sure people are not afraid. The penalisation measures included in the Bill, with what is in place in the scope division, will be complementary to make sure it is employers who should be afraid, not employees.
That is why we are going to pass this Bill. I know the Deputies all want to make amendments to it and that is fine. We can discuss it. The reason for passing this legislation is to make sure that employees are treated with dignity and respect by the people they work for.
Deputies have referred to the fact that employers have been yielding huge profits over recent years. It would be remiss of me not to say that when a company is making money, the people responsible for its success are those who work for it. Business owners who do not reflect on that are exceptionally foolish. A happy workforce is an exceptionally productive one. We all have people working for us in our local teams and in here and we all know that the more respect is paid to employees, the more they give back. That is what this legislation will achieve, as amended by those who will make amendments in the coming weeks.
Many have said that while this legislation will be great, if it does not have the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, inspectors to make sure it is implemented it will sit on a shelf and not be read. We have spoken to the WRC which has told us categorically that it is well equipped and has enough inspectors to be able to manage this legislation. It was brought to my attention last week that it set itself a target in the back of its annual report last year, expecting this legislation to be passed this year. I welcome that. As we should do with all legislation, if after a few months we reflect on it and find that it is not doing what we expected it to do, we will come back here to amend it. That may involve something as simple as giving more inspectors to the WRC. Our aim is to make sure employees feel comfortable making complaints and that those will be adjudicated on with respect for their dignity. They will have a sense of self-worth by getting up every day to go to a job they like, that pays the wages, and that allows them to have financial stability and to be treated with respect by other human beings who are making money off their backs.
I know the Deputies opposite will support the Bill because they want to do what I want to do, and we will come to a happy conclusion on Committee Stage and get a Bill that will protect workers. We want to make sure that in the few cases where unscrupulous employers take advantage of people, they will not be able to do it on our watch. I commend the Bill to the House.