Organisation of Working Time (Workers Rights and Bogus Self-Employment) (Amendment) Bill 2019: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 to prohibit the practice of designating employment as self-employment; to bring the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, and doctors in training, under the protection of the Act; to limit the race to the bottom on workers’ rights by extending elements of the Act to the self-employed; and to provide for related matters.

Bogus self-employment is rife in a number of sectors, such as the construction, media and aviation sectors. I have met countless workers in the construction sector and their trade union representatives who are deeply concerned about this growing problem. These are workers who ordinarily should be directly employed but instead are on bogus self-employment contracts and are denied basic rights and entitlements as workers. These are entitlements such as sick pay, holiday pay, pension entitlements and trade union representation. The State loses out in respect of PRSI contributions. It is illegal for employers to engage in practices of bogus self-employment. We have seen potential examples in RTÉ, the State broadcaster. Its representatives were before the Committee of Public Accounts on this issue. A report had to be published that identified problems in the organisation. It is obvious, therefore, that the law needs to change. It needs to change to ensure these practices are outlawed. We also need to give protections to workers who are on these contracts who come forward and who are essentially whistleblowers and who should be treated as whistleblowers. Our Bill intends to achieve this and to give protection to workers. Our Bill has two purposes. First, it is to deal with the reality that this is a growing problem and to deal with it as best we can through new laws. Second, it is to protect workers who need to be protected when they do come forward. I sincerely hope the Government will support this Bill when Sinn Féin introduces it on Second Stage, as I hope will happen.

For some time in numerous sectors, bogus self-employment has created big winners and even bigger losers. For an employer who classifies an employee as self-employed, there is no employer PRSI to pay, no pension contributions to make, no sick leave payments, no paternity or maternity leave payments, no redundancy payments, and no annual leave or public holiday payments to make. For a worker misclassified as self-employed, it means fewer entitlements to social welfare supports, if and when needed. There is no access to an occupational pension. There is no sick pay, paternity leave or maternity leave. It means no job security and no protection from unfair dismissal. It means not having enough PRSI contributions to qualify for a State pension on retirement.

The winner is the fraudulent employer who dodges responsibility by bypassing the employment laws of the land. The losers are those who pay the price for the actions of their employer, the workers. The big loser, however, is the State, which suffers major losses in PRSI contributions, having serious consequences for the public finances and the Exchequer. In the construction sector alone, ICTU has estimated the loss of PRSI paid to the State due to bogus self-employment as €640 million over eight years. That is only one sector in which we know bogus self-employment is an issue.

This Bill stands up for the workers and the State. It seeks not only to make it an offence to issue a self-employment contract to an employee but it goes much further in ensuring the self-employed receive basic rights and protections.

Bogus self-employment has very negative consequences for workers as they are not protected by key employment legislation and are entitled to fewer benefits, such as sick pay, overtime, pension contributions, maternity leave and holiday pay. Bogus self-employment isolates workers and ensures they are not members of trade unions and cannot bargain collectively for better pay and conditions. Unscrupulous businesses are using this loophole in employment law to force employees to operate as sole traders or through a separate company so they, the employers, can avoid honouring employment rights and tax obligations.

Bogus self-employment has been identified in various areas, most commonly the construction industry, but it is also prevalent in the media, transport, food delivery and education sectors. Sinn Féin is introducing this Bill to protect workers and their hard-won rights.

The Government has failed to deal with bogus self-employment, which not only leaves workers exposed but also results in massive losses to the State of hundreds of millions of euro. ICTU has estimated a loss to the Exchequer of €640 million in unpaid PRSI due to bogus self-employment in the construction industry alone over an eight-year period.

I appreciate other Bills on this topic have been introduced but our Bill goes further, to extend workers’ rights to members of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, persons engaged in sea fishing and other work at sea and trainee doctors. This is another positive Bill from Sinn Féin that protects workers and their hard-won rights and a Bill that should receive cross-party support. The Government must stop sitting on its hands on this issue and now stamp out the problem of bogus self-employment.

Is the Bill been 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.