I hope I am on the record stating my determination to tackle false self-employment. We have reallocated some significant resources, particularly this year in the Department to do so.
Since I became Minister, the Department's social welfare inspectors have been instructed to redouble their efforts with a nationwide campaign of employer inspections. That happens through our scope section which is long established and spread all around the country where we have our inspectors. As the Deputy is aware they do other inspections apart from bogus self-employment and because of that I decided earlier this year to establish a dedicated new unit of inspectors with a specific focus on tackling false self-employment. I have increased the number of deciding officers in that scope section.
Although they are new and separate, they still operate under the umbrella of the scope section. I have increased the number of deciding officers in anticipation of an increase in referrals to the scope section as a result of the increased and targeted inspections. I have also instructed my officials to develop legislation in the form of a new criminal offence to prohibit and penalise the willful misclassification of a person as being self-employed when he or she is an employee; new anti-victimisation measures, with recourse to the WRC for fearful workers who wish to seek a determination on their employment status from the scope section but have told me privately that they are afraid to do so, which cannot be countenanced; and a new guidance document on employment status that is to be put on a statutory footing so that everybody will be clear about their obligations and rights with regard to employment.
The employment status investigation unit, ESIU, comprises the new team of social welfare inspectors. I have specifically tasked the unit with detecting, targeting and reducing false self-employment. The ESIU has a current caseload that potentially affects over 500 workers across a range of sectors, including the tourism, fitness, dental, and retail sectors. Two employer cases have been decided since the introduction of the changes I have just outlined. It is not just two because we are now entering organisations and assessing an entire body of employees. One person was confirmed as being properly self-employed but the case covered a potential 156 workers. We have determined that all of these 156 workers are classified correctly and no further action is needed. The other case covered 19 workers found initially to have been inaccurately categorised as being self-employed. An appeal has been lodged in that case. If we win the appeal, we will assess arrears and seek compliance in that case.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The ESIU has initiated a programme of solo inspections in the construction industry and English language training sectors. It is also planning to carry out joint inspection projects with the joint investigation unit, that is, the special investigation unit, Revenue and the WRC, focused on the construction industry early in the new year.
The ESIU is also working with our business analytics unit using predictive analytics to assist with the targeting of companies where false self-employment is likely to occur. This work is in its initial phase and it is intended to develop it over time.
More generally, the scope section receives requests for decisions on employment status from a variety of sources. These include requests from employers, employees, social welfare Inspectors, social welfare scheme areas and Revenue. Two such requests have been received so far this year from Revenue.
Regarding inspections and reviews, there are approximately 350 social welfare inspectors appointed nationwide who carry out work across PRSI and social welfare schemes, including the special investigation unit and the ESIU. I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.