Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Workplace Relations Commission

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

1. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, is not informing the relevant agencies and departments of breaches of the atypical work permit scheme in the fishing sector. [53072/21]

The question is, like all of my questions, very straightforward. I hope that the answer will be forthcoming. It is simply to ask if the Minister of State's attention has been drawn to the fact that the WRC is not informing the relevant agencies and Departments of breaches in the atypical work permit scheme in the fishing sector. I am sure that the importance of this scheme is not lost on the Minister of State, Deputy English. The importance of using every opportunity to ensure that it is applied and applied fairly should also not be lost.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The WRC is one of a number of agencies that contribute to the enforcement of the atypical workers commission scheme for non-EEA fisheries workers employed in certain Irish-registered fishing vessels. The commission has a particular responsibility for checking compliance insofar as terms of employment, permission to work, payment of wages, annual leave, public holidays, and the national minimum wage entitlements are concerned.

Where contraventions are detected, WRC inspectors will engage with the vessel owner to achieve compliance and, where relevant, secure any associated unpaid wages. Prosecutions are, in general, initiated in all cases where non-EEA fishers are employed without an atypical worker permission or without another valid permission to work and where owners have failed to address contraventions following the issue of a contravention notice.

Some 490 inspections of fishing vessels have been undertaken by WRC inspectors between the launch of the scheme in February 2016 to the end of September this year. The vast majority of fishery inspections are unannounced and are undertaken in port. In addition to ongoing inspection and compliance activities, there have been eight specific target operations to date, the latest of which, Operation Palace, took place in September this year and involved 30 inspections. A total of 20 prosecutions have been brought against fishing vessel owners regarding offences under employment legislation, of which 16 have concluded and four are currently pending and awaiting a final hearing.

The memorandum of understanding on the monitoring and enforcement of the atypical worker permission scheme, which was signed by 11 Departments and agencies in May 2016, provides, among other matters, for the further co-ordination, co-operation and information exchange between the parties. The memorandum does not make specific provision in respect of the WRC notifying other parties of contraventions of employment legislation. However, details of convictions are published in the commission's annual report. In addition, in accordance with an agreement reached with the Department of Transport in April 2019, the WRC informs that Department's marine survey office of any contraventions or potential contraventions of fishery working time legislation. I am aware that this matter was raised on 20 October at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment regarding the capacity and resourcing of the WRC and its work in addressing issues relating to migrant workers. I am also aware that the director general of the commission gave a commitment to the committee to inform the Department of Justice, which administers the scheme, as soon as convictions against fishing vessels' owners are secured. I am advised by the director general that a schedule of such convictions was forwarded to the Department of Justice on 21 October and that arrangements are in place to inform the Department of further convictions as they arise. I would agree with that approach.

Is it suggested that every time notification does not happen, there has to be a meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment? That is not sustainable or fair, particularly to the workers in the fishing industry who are dependent on these arrangements. We are talking about breaches ranging from a failure to grant annual leave or a public holiday entitlement right up to unauthorised deductions from wages. What really worry me are the contraventions of the working time regulations. We have heard the stories in this regard.

The vast majority of employers in the sector are trying to do the right thing. They are the ones who want to ensure rigorous inspections. They do not fear an inspection; they welcome it, but they want a level playing field.

Is it the intention to include the mechanism I describe in a revised memorandum of understanding or to put it on a more sustainable footing? The Department of Justice was not being informed. We raised this on 20 October and now the WRC is informing the Department, but we cannot keep checking on it. It should be par for the course; it should be part of the memorandum.

We can certainly examine that. The memorandum was signed several years ago by 11 Departments and Government agencies. The working time directive is generally administered by the Department covering the marine, not necessarily my Department. This is the difficulty with the scheme. That responsibility for the scheme extends across Departments and agencies is the difficultly with it. Best practice is what has been done since October. I am glad the decision in this regard has been made. We can certainly carry out a review, including in respect of the memorandum of understanding.

I have had discussions with representatives of various Departments on the view that we should review the scheme overall. It has been in place for more than five year. Having spoken to various stakeholders, I believe it is timely to review it and make a decision on its future. That process will be led by the Department of Justice or the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in conjunction with my Department because the scheme is administered by a range of Departments. We should take the opportunity now to review it and make some decisions. I am happy to involve all stakeholders in that. I have had discussions with officials and, therefore, it is a matter of putting the review in motion. The Deputy might agree it is timely.

I absolutely agree; it is past time. The Minister of State said an update is something to consider. I agree on that. Perhaps he will, at the next opportunity, create a timeline for the update because these things tend to drift if a robust timeframe is not put in place. I am thinking about the necessary work done by the WRC, but the fact that there is no follow-up regarding prosecutions means the deterrent does not exist. The majority of employers in this area are fine and want to do the right thing but tackling the rogue employers is necessary.

I welcome the fact that there is to be a review. I would like the Minister of State to give a timeframe. I would also like to hear him commit to speaking to representatives of the WRC and ensure the obligations will be met until such time as it is completed. Informing the Department should occur as a matter of course. This is not in the memorandum of understanding, but the opportunity now exists to ensure, between now and the completion of the review, that the Department will be informed in a timely manner.

I agree with the Deputy that the vast majority of employers in this area are good and genuine and treat their workers extremely well. The investigations cover the cases where there might be some rogue employers. They are dealt with and followed up on. The WRC has the inspectors in place and the additional resources following budget 2022 to complement and increase its work in this area.

The scheme covers 170 vessels and approximately 149 owners. We should be very clear on that. Over the period in question, nearly every vessel or owner has been investigated. We track the scheme quite well. It was put in place to try to deal with a difficulty arising in the courts in 2015.

If we are to have a review, it should be done quite quickly. I do not see why these things have to drag on. I looked into this several months ago. I had meetings with officials from one or two relevant Departments to try to make progress, but not all of them yet. I hope to see a review quite soon. When it is done, we can either keep the scheme, make changes to it or replace it with another. To me, that could be done quite quickly.

Corporate Governance

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

2. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the corporate enforcement authority will replace the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE; and the exact powers that will be afforded to the authority. [52006/21]

White-collar crime in this country has an enormous effect on how society functions. The inability to eradicate white-collar crime can skew and distort markets. There are many examples of white-collar crime and fraud being perpetrated in markets and businesses, meaning a significant number of victims who will suffer radically. There has been none of the necessary enforcement to date. When is the enforcement likely to happen?

Legislation to establish the new corporate enforcement authority is currently before the Houses. The Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2021 was published on 3 September. Second and Committee Stages have been completed in the Dáil, and Report Stage is scheduled for 10 November. Operational arrangements for the transition to an agency continue to advance in parallel, with progress being overseen by a steering group of officials from the Department and the ODCE.

The Government's objective, with the support of the Houses, is to enact the legislation as soon as possible with a view to the establishment of the agency in January 2022.

The legislation, when enacted, will be a milestone in the area of corporate enforcement in Ireland. With new technology and more sophisticated economic crime, it is more important than ever to have a well-resourced, stand-alone agency to identify those not complying with company law. The Bill provides the corporate enforcement authority with more autonomy, particularly the ability to recruit those with the required skills and expertise. Having the autonomy to recruit those with specialist skills and expertise will be essential to ensuring the continued capacity of the authority to fulfil its mandate. The authority will have a structure similar to that of a commission, with a chairperson assisted by other members, who may have delegated responsibilities for other specific functions. The Bill provides for flexibility of up to three full-time members, including the chairperson. This is designed to enable the new authority to bring in expertise to meet the differing demands pertaining to its remit, and it will enhance the capacity of the authority to investigate multiple and more complex investigations in parallel.

The Bill invests the new authority with all the same functions and powers that the ODCE currently has, with some modifications to meet the differing demands of its remit, which includes investigation, prosecution, supervision and advocacy roles. These functions include encouraging compliance with the Companies Act 2014; investigation of suspected offences, including through the appointment of inspectors; criminal investigation and prosecution; and civil enforcement of the obligations, standards and procedures to which companies and their officers are subject under the 2014 Act. Furthermore, the Garda members of the new authority have, and will continue to have, all the powers of An Garda Síochána.

The ODCE has had a troubled existence, mostly because of the lack of resources it has received.

We spend so much time in this Chamber discussing legislation and fretting over wording or phrasing but it is usually the case that unless there is proper enforcement, the legislation is not worth the paper it is written on. There are many examples of businesses, and staff and employees especially, around the country that have suffered as a result of this issue.

The ODCE probably hit rock bottom when the trial of Seán FitzPatrick, the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, for allegedly misleading the bank's auditors fell apart. That was another example of an organisation that did not have the necessary resources. The Minister famously stated that this will be an Irish FBI for white-collar crime. When will it happen? When will the corporate enforcement authority be launched? How many staff will it have? What budget will it have? What exact independence will it have from the Department?

It will no longer be an office of the Department; it will be an independent agency under the remit of the Department. The new authority will have all the necessary human resources required, both civil servants and members of An Garda Síochána, to fulfil its mandate. The budget for the ODCE has been increased by 20% since 2018 and the Department has sanctioned 14 additional staff to be assigned to the new authority. The permanent complement of members of An Garda Síochána will increase from seven to 16 and the total headcount of the authority will increase by 50%. This is in line with the assessment by the current director of the staffing needs of the authority. I look forward to the enactment of the Bill before the Christmas recess and I would like to be in a position to sign the establishment order so that the body can come into being in January next year.

As regards the Anglo Irish Bank trials, it is important to point out that the investigation of the ODCE into Anglo Irish Bank comprised five separate investigations and resulted in four trials, all of which resulted in persons being convicted on indictment of criminal offences. It is accepted that there were investigative failures relating to DPP v. FitzPatrick, but I do not think they were entirely down to resource issues.

On a slightly left-field note, this country is also dealing with a big problem relating to commissions of investigation. For example, the NAMA investigation established in June 2017 was meant to be completed in 2018 but now has an extension until December 2021 at least. It has spent approximately €2.5 million but that figure is likely to reach approximately €10 million. There is also the Siteserv commission of investigation established in 2015. I recall the Government of the time was rocked by it in 2015. It had an estimated cost of €4 million but it is still rumbling on. I think it was the Minister himself who estimated it could top out at €30 million, while some analysts have said it could top out at approximately €70 million. It strikes me that there is a need for a permanent office of investigation rather than just creating ad hoc commissions for each crisis. Would it not be a reasonable proposition to build a fully resourced office for commissions of investigation into corporate misgovernance, fraud and crime in this area so that we do not have to deal with these never-ending investigations with unlimited budgets?

It is fair to say that when commissions of investigation were established and that legislation came through the House - I remember it well during my first or second Dáil term - the view at the time was that they would replace tribunals and would be much less costly. They have certainly been less costly but the view was that they would happen more quickly, which has not been the case. Frankly, there is a real difficulty in inquiring into any kind of commercial transaction because there will always be people who will argue that a better result or price might have been secured for something had it been sold to someone else or done sooner or later and that is very difficult to prove. I hope this new stand-alone agency will reduce the need for commissions of investigation, at least in the context of issues of company law. It does beg the question of why, if there was evidence of criminal activity in connection with those matters that are now being considered by the commission of investigation, they were not investigated by the ODCE or the Garda rather than a commission of investigation.

Company Registration

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

3. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to strengthen the role of the Companies Registration Office, CRO, to deal with the increase in fake or bogus companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53078/21]

I ask this question on the back of an article written by John Mulligan, a journalist with the Irish Independent, in July. The article suggested that several bogus companies have been created across the State. The CRO advised that it had no role to play in verifying the details of these new companies. In my capacity as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I wrote to the Minister's Department regarding the CRO and seeking clarification on this issue. I was not happy with the response I received and, therefore, I ask the Minister to address the issue now.

Ireland has a reputation for being a well regulated and business-friendly country in which to establish and operate a business. Company law has an important role to play in that regard. At the end of 2020, there were more than 500,000 companies on the register of companies in Ireland and more than 600,000 business names on the register of business names. This resulted in more than 131,000 filings made with the CRO last year.

The office also maintains several other registers. These registers exist to provide transparency about corporate entities through their life cycle. They are examined by a wide range of stakeholders, including those who have a commercial interest, such as potential investors, professional advisers, financial institutions and suppliers. Other interested stakeholders include civil litigants and regulatory and enforcement authorities.

Company law is primarily concerned with providing the legislative framework for the structure and operation of companies incorporated in Ireland, whether domestic or foreign, and does not regulate or supervise the activities of the companies. Such activities are governed by other legislation including, for example, in the areas of consumer protection, competition, taxation, anti-money-laundering and fraud. Compliance matters in these areas come under the remit of other relevant statutory bodies.

The long-standing policy in respect of company incorporation has been to accept the bona fides of those filing documentation, subject to a completeness check, and to ensure that all the necessary documents have been provided and appropriately completed and signed. While it is not the role of the CRO to question the motivation for incorporating a company, the office is developing a risk-based approach to integrity checking of applications and it is following up on some issues that are arising. The provision of false information is a criminal offence under section 876 of the Companies Acts and when the CRO has concerns in this regard, such matters are referred to the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

I thank the Minister for his response but I am unclear as to the precise action he will take on the issue. I am sure he will agree that the establishment of fake firms in the State is not only a risk to consumers who could be defrauded by these companies, but is also a stain on our reputation internationally. Furthermore, I am sure he will agree that the maintenance of a good faith register of companies without due diligence in respect of important details such as who the directors are and whether the registered address is an actual existing premises is not the best way for the CRO to operate. I hope the Minister can outline the steps he can take to address the problems and the timeframe in which he expects the necessary changes to be made.

As regards fake or bogus companies, the position is that once a company has been incorporated, it is subject to the provisions of company law and other legislation. This includes filing obligations with the CRO when company circumstances change and the filing of annual returns. In addition, newly incorporated companies have reporting obligations to the Revenue Commissioners and under anti-money-laundering legislation are required to register certain information in respect of their beneficial owners with the central register of beneficial ownership of companies and industrial and provident societies, that is, the RBO. My officials closely monitor existing company law frameworks to ensure they remain fit for purpose and are responsive to emerging challenges. For example, the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill, which is currently before the Oireachtas, contains new provisions requiring directors to provide personal public service numbers to the CRO. We believe this is a significant enhancement of the current regime and will assist the office in verifying the authenticity of directors and companies.

As we become increasingly dependent on technology, the way consumers interact with businesses is changing rapidly. Although there are significant benefits to that, it does come with greater risk of fraud and, unfortunately, it seems that is what we are seeing at the moment. The fact that there is possibly a large number of bogus and fake companies must be addressed as a matter of urgency. I wrote to the Minister's Department in July regarding the issue but the response from the Department was pretty woeful. It previously insisted that the CRO relies on a good faith approach. It is clear that is easier for business and it is effective but it is also clear that it leaves the register open to serious abuse, which we are now seeing. We can clearly see what is happening in the context of a significant number of companies being registered. I refer to 100 companies that were registered to one address. One fake company registered using the address of the CRO itself. We need action on this issue. I appreciate that time is limited.

I am happy to follow up with the Minister later regarding how we can work together to end what seems to be a fairly widespread practice. We need to stamp it out.

I am aware that the Deputy wrote to the Secretary General of my Department about this issue. I believe she replied on 30 July, setting out a detailed response to some of the matters raised, particularly regarding 100 companies being registered at one address, and companies even being registered at the same building that the CRO is based in. I think the reply is robust, but that is not to say that we cannot improve things further.

I would like to restate that providing false information to the CRO is a criminal offence and can result in prosecution by the Director of Corporate Enforcement or the Director of Public Prosecutions. Arising from integrity checking undertaken by the CRO, concerns remain about 34 companies currently on the register. In addition, the CRO has not progressed the incorporation of a further 22 applications. In recent months the CRO has made six referrals to the Director of Corporate Enforcement arising from information provided in these cases.

Job Creation

Michael Collins

Question:

4. Deputy Michael Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the jobs that have been created in the past 12 months in south western areas of Cork. [53403/21]

I ask the Minister of State to outline the number of jobs that have been created in the last 12 months in the constituency of Cork South-West. I would appreciate it if he could provide me with a breakdown of the figures and the geographical spread of those jobs. It is a huge constituency that spans all the way from Inishannon and Kinsale to Dursey Island, Mizen Head and Sheep's Head. Employment and the provision of good, decent jobs is a huge concern in the constituency. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could outline where the jobs have been created in the past 12 months.

I thank the Deputy for the question. I am sorry that the exact information that the Deputy requested is not readily available just yet, but as soon as we have it, or updated figures for the last number of months, we will bring it to the Deputy.

I can inform the Deputy about the jobs created within Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland's client base for 2020. The CSO also provides data from the labour force survey, although it does not record whether a job is newly created.

My Department collects data on employment in the client companies of our agencies, namely, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta, as well as engaging with the local enterprise offices, LEOs, on an annual basis. The data provided through the annual employment survey for 2020 tells us that 2,702 net jobs were created within Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland client companies in the south-west region, including counties Kerry and Cork, which covers the region referenced by the Deputy.

According to the CSO, the most recent employment figures available under the labour force survey are for quarter 2 of 2021. Employment for the south-west region was 309,000 in quarter 2 of 2020 and increased to 332,200 in quarter 2 of this year, an increase of 23,200. Looking at employment in quarter 2 of 2019 to show pre-pandemic times, employment was 319,900. Therefore, the increase from pre-Covid times to quarter 2 of this year is 12,300 for the region.

Employment figures for LEO clients are also available for 2019 and 2020. The net change in jobs for the south Cork LEO, which covers the Deputy's area was 97 jobs created in 2019 and ten in 2020, which reflects the pandemic that we have just come through.

As the Deputy will be aware, the economic recovery plan, which was published in June, sets an ambitious target to exceed pre-crisis employment levels by having 2.5 million people in work by 2024, and in more productive and resilient jobs. The plan sets out the Government's commitment to create the right environment for a jobs-led recovery by helping businesses to become more resilient and agile, and by supporting people to transition to new jobs in growing sectors of the economy. As the Deputy is aware, SMEs account for over two thirds of the total employment and, as such, a strong focus on indigenous SMEs is critical to a jobs-led recovery.

Under the Enterprise Ireland's regional enterprise development fund-----

Thank you, Minister of State. You will have a further opportunity to come back in.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The Minister of State said that 2,702 jobs were created, but that figure relates to the whole south-west region, including counties Kerry and Cork. I am particularly interested in the west Cork figures, because the specific question I asked relates to that area. Unfortunately, the Minister of State does not have figures for 2021, when we are at the latter stages of the year. He stated that 97 jobs were created in 2019 and ten jobs were created in 2020.

We are feeling the pinch in west Cork. I would have preferred a breakdown of the figures including information on jobs created in towns such as Bandon, Clonakilty, Kinsale, Skibbereen, Bantry and Dunmanway. We also must think of the peninsulas. Over the past number of years, these areas have been totally dependent on the farming and fishing industries. Both of those industries are on their knees at this stage. The fishing crisis is unbelievable, but the farming crisis is rumbling on on top of that.

What future has the Government created for people living on peninsulas who are going to suffer quite a lot over the next number of years?

Previously, I was going to reference the Enterprise Ireland fund of €115 million for regional enterprise strategies and plans. It is a good time for the Deputy to raise the issue, because we are about to sign off on the regional enterprise plan for his area. I have no doubt that he made a submission to that with some suggestions as to how we can create jobs and serve the peninsula and the various towns he referenced previously.

I am conscious that in the Deputy's area, the farming and fishing sectors are very strong areas of employment. Farming has had some good years. Yes, there are difficult challenges ahead, but they can also be regarded as opportunities. Both Kerry and Cork LEOs and the enterprise strategies in the area reflect the agrifood opportunities that are there, both in terms of agriculture and fisheries. Naturally, the areas of farming, life sciences, ICT, tourism and hospitality are key areas. We want to work with all interested partners in the region. The best way to implement enterprise supports is through the LEOs in the local areas. However, the regional strategy is key. I chair the strategy for the Deputy's area. We expect to be able to sign off on the plan in the next few weeks, and certainly, before the end of the year. November will be key to doing that. The plan will reflect a number of actions that can be implemented and funded through Enterprise Ireland through our Department in the years ahead to try to protect existing jobs and also increase the opportunities to create new jobs. I am happy to work with all interested partners in the area in doing so.

I look forward to working with the Minister of State on that. However, to create jobs in rural Ireland, we must focus on the seriousness of the situation regarding the collapse of the fishing industry and what looks like the future collapse of the farming industry in this country. We need to look at issues like the provision of broadband in rural areas. Broadband has not come to rural areas such as west Cork. It was promised, five years, six years, seven years ahead. I looked at the local newspaper, the Southern Star, last week. Johnny Crowley's pub in Inishannon wants to open up a local hub, obviously to keep the pub business going, but also to provide a service to the local community. There is no broadband in Inishannon, which is just down from Cork city. That tells you how many light years we are from reality. I spoke to the Tánaiste this morning about roads in west Cork. There is no vision for the development of roads in west Cork. To create employment in west Cork, there needs to be a proper roads structure. We have a failing roads structure. Neither the southern or northern relief roads or the Inishannon or Bantry bypasses have been included in plans going forward for this year. The provision of public transport is at an all-time low. We need change if we want to create good jobs for west Cork and to put it on the same level playing field as every other constituency in this country.

I can assure the Deputy that all our development agencies have that regional approach. The proof is in the pudding when one looks at the figures for Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Over 65% of jobs created by both agencies are created in the regions. Through the enterprise plan, the LEOs also very much focus on their own areas. The Deputy mentioned two issues in particular, that is, rural areas and rural investment. If the Deputy analyses the budget that was allocated to the Minister of Rural and Community Development and her Department over the next four years, he will see that close to €1 billion will be spent on rural areas. I have no doubt that the Deputy and many others will be involved in a number of projects that will drawn down on that funding.

Many parts of rural Ireland have the opportunity to thrive. The remote working strategy that the Tánaiste launched last January will complement that offering and give people the chance to be able to live and work in rural Ireland and many areas that the Deputy represents. I do not share the Deputy's view that agriculture is going to suffer as a result of our future plans. The Deputy will be reluctant to admit that agriculture has thrived in many areas over the last few years. We can build on that with the right approach. I have a more positive approach and outlook than the Deputy. That is his prerogative and choice.

On the issue of rural broadband, what is key is that the contract is signed. There are plans in place to deliver rural broadband into everyone's home and to every business. That is a lot further on than we were a couple of years ago. We all know that for that to happen on the ground will take a number of years. There are negotiations on the way in relation to the remote working strategy launched by the Tánaiste last January to have that contract reviewed. Where we can, we will expedite it. Key for me, and it should be the same for the Deputy, is that the contract is signed, which will result in a spend of over €5 billion in the delivery of broadband in this country. It means that everybody represented by the Deputy will have broadband soon. Yes, we all wish they had it yesterday and will have it tomorrow, but at least they know it is coming. If the Deputy has some great way to expedite it, I would love to hear about it.

Employment Rights

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

5. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to research (details supplied); his views on the findings of the research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53079/21]

The question relates to a research paper entitled Inside Out Hospitality: A Study of Working Conditions in the Hospitality Sector in Ireland, which was published during the summer by Dr. Deirdre Curran of NUI Galway.

The findings it contains are quite stark. They are very troubling. My questions are simple. Has the Tánaiste read the paper? Was he disturbed by what is in it? Does he plan on taking any action directly on the back of it?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of working conditions in the hospitality sector. I have seen a synopsis of the report and the Oireachtas briefing document that Dr. Curran provided to the committee. The research by Dr. Deirdre Curran of NUI Galway, Inside Out Hospitality: A Study of Working Conditions in the Hospitality Sector in Ireland, was undertaken during 2019 and published in the summer. I was very concerned to read of the working conditions reported by the 257 hospitality workers surveyed. I have asked departmental officials to consider the report's findings. I know the research may not be representative but it still should not be discounted. Earlier this month, it was discussed at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.

As the House knows, Ireland has a robust set of employment rights that protects employees. All employers in all sectors carry the same obligations regarding compliance with employment rights. The Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, is the statutory body charged with promoting and enforcing compliance with the relevant employment law statutes in the State, while the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, has specific powers on issues relating to abuse, harassment and bullying. The HSA's workplace contact unit is available to receive reports on such matters by phone or email. In addition, complaints seeking redress may be referenced by an individual employee to the adjudication services of the WRC, which will hear the complaints and issue a direction or recommendation depending on the subject matter of the complaint.

The hospitality sector is subject to announced and unannounced inspections by WRC inspectors, including at night. In 2018, the sector comprised just under 20% of inspections. In 2019, which was the last full year of unrestricted inspection activity prior to the pandemic, the sector comprised almost 40% of all WRC inspections and visits. In this regard, 14,000 employees were directly impacted by the activity and it resulted in more than €640,000 in unpaid wages being identified and paid.

I thank the Tánaiste for the response. The findings are very worrying. The Tánaiste outlined what is in place to protect workers, but the findings not just from Dr. Curran's research but also from Unite the Union's research paper, Hidden Truths - The reality of work in Ireland's hospitality and tourism sector, point to an industry where there are significant issues. As I have to say every time, it is not all employers. These findings relate to the current system the Tánaiste outlined. He has outlined what protections there are for workers. I have to put it to him that they are not doing their job if we see findings such as those in Dr. Curran's report. With regard to ill-treatment, 77% reported verbal abuse, 64% reported psychological abuse, 15% reported physical abuse and 55% have either witnessed or experienced harassment. These are very stark figures that highlight what is taking place in the climate outlined by the Tánaiste. What does he propose to do in response to these findings, which have emerged under the regime he has just outlined?

Principally, what we need to do is to encourage people to make complaints to the WRC and the HSA. No matter how many inspectors we have and no matter how robust the regime of inspection we have, it will only ever be possible to inspect a small minority of businesses at a particular level of frequency. As we all know from experience, starting with when the cigire came to school and then inspections in our workplaces, things may look fine when the inspector is there but it may be very different when he or she is not. We need to encourage people to make complaints. This can be done through the free phone line, the WRC website and the HSA. I very much appreciate in saying all of this that many people feel unable to make complaints for fear of intimidation or victimisation. Many of those working in particular sectors often come from migrant backgrounds and may have limited language competencies. This can also make it harder for them. We need to particularly target these sectors for unannounced inspections in particular.

The cigire cannot be there all of the time but, for the avoidance of doubt, the trade union will be there all of the time. This is the best defence a worker has and the best chance of vindicating people's rights at work. The Tánaiste pointed to the issues in the sector. Some of them relate to the fact that there are many migrant workers in the sector. Some of them also relate to the fact that people do not feel supported to make complaints. The solution to this cannot just be more inspections. There was only €1 million in additional funding provided for the WRC in the budget. This should be increased dramatically. If what the Tánaiste is telling me, and it appears to be, is that he is reliant on the inspection regime and people having the courage to come forward, which I do not think they will have, then we need to see additional inspectors in the WRC and in the HSA and a bit more proactive surveillance taking place. All of the available evidence suggests that where there are inspections, they are delivering for workers - not to the extent a trade union would do but it is happening. We need to do a bit more than simply just talk about more inspections. More needs to be done to speak directly to these workers.

The budget provides for increases for the HSA and the WRC next year. When it comes to the WRC, the budget provides for the recruitment of an extra ten inspectors in addition to replacing those who retire. We can build on this in the years ahead.

Another matter I am progressing is legislation on tips and gratuities. I hope to get this legislation done in the next couple of months. It will outlaw the practice of using tips or gratuities to top up wages. It is already illegal in respect of the minimum wage but not illegal when it comes to higher rates of pay. It will also ensure that electronic tips and gratuities, which are much more common these days, have to be divided fairly and equitably among the staff. As well as this, it will provide transparency to customers so they will know what the policy is on tips and service charges, how they are managed and to whom they go.