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.
Before I introduce the Bill, I wish to be associated with the remarks made previously about the late Tom Burke and to offer sympathy to his family and friends. He was a lovely man. It was nice to see him on my first day in Leinster House and he was very kind to me. Go raibh maith aige.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for granting me leave to introduce this Bill, the purpose of which is to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 to bring it into line with recent changes in work practices that have seen a growth in bogus self-employment. It would also amend the principal Act to extend the terms of the Act to members of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, persons engaged in sea fishing or other work at sea and to trainee doctors. Finally, it would extend certain rest and holiday rights to those who are self-employed in order to lessen the incentive for employers to engage in the practice of bogus self-employment.
The practice of bogus self-employment has been rampant across numerous sectors for a considerable time. Indeed, we have had many discussions about it in this Chamber. It is particularly prevalent in construction, IT, universities and the gig economy. This abhorrent practice makes winners out of bad employers and losers out of good employers, workers and the State. For an employer who classifies a worker who is actually an employee as self-employed or as an independent contractor, there is no employer PRSI to pay, no pension contributions to make and no sick pay, no maternity or paternity leave to pay, no redundancy payments and no annual leave or public holiday pay to pay. For a worker misclassified as self-employed, this means less entitlement to social welfare supports if and when they need them. It also means no access to an occupational pension, no paid sick leave, no paternity or maternity leave, no redundancy, no fixed breaks, no rest periods and no paid annual leave or public holidays, the type of benefits that would be standard in most employment.
The winner is the fraudulent employer who dodges his or her responsibilities and bypasses employment law. The losers are the workers, who pay the price for the actions of their employer. For them, it means lower wages, no job security, no protection from unfair dismissal and no cover for the tools of their trade, be that a drill or a bicycle. The other big loser is the State which suffers huge losses in respect of PRSI contributions, with serious consequences for the public finances and the Exchequer.
The State should commit to outlawing this practice in every sector of the economy. We cannot ignore the impacts this practice has on workers. It is impossible to build a safe, secure or decent life for oneself and one's family if one's employer refuses to recognise the employment relationship that exists. This practice must change. We should not, and we cannot allow ourselves to, rebuild the economy on the basis of precarious work and bogus self-employment, but that is what will happen unless we take the necessary steps to stamp out the practice of bogus self-employment.