Thank you. I join with Senators in the good wishes expressed to you. I did not see you but I sent numerous messages. I am disturbed to hear you will be livelier with 20 extra heartbeats per minute. I hope it does not mean you will be running around the consituency but I am sure your duties as Cathaoirleach will not allow that. We are genuinely glad to see you back.
The Seanad will recall that in early May of this year I introduced the Unfair Dismissals (Amendment) Bill, 1993, to this House. I was glad to introduce it in the Seanad, I listened to a variety of proposals and amendments from Senators aimed at improving the provisions of the Bill. I was pleased to accept some of those proposals in amendments put forward by Senators and by myself. Similarly, further proposals were put forward by Deputies during the passage of the Bill through the Dáil. As in this House a few weeks earlier, I was happy to accommodate Deputies where possible. I now wish to report to this House the amendments made in the Dáil and to explain briefly why each one was made.
I proposed amendment No. 1 in the Dáil after listening to the concerns of several Deputies regarding a practice of some employers. This practice relates to what I would term ordinary open-ended contracts of employment being terminated after, say, 11 months followed shortly afterwards by the offer by the same employer to the same employee of a new open-ended contract of employment which, in turn, is terminated after the expiry of another period of 11 months.
Senators will recall that section 3 of the Bill as initiated in this House aimed to prevent abuse of fixed term and fixed purpose contracts by employers who use such contracts, wholly or in part, to avoid liability under unfair dismissals legislation. Having listened to Deputies I considered a similar provision was necessary for ordinary open-ended contracts of employment so as to prevent their misuse by a small number of employers.
The purpose of this amendment, therefore, is to provide that a Rights Commissioner or the Employment Appeals Tribunal will have the discretion to consider whether the dismissal of an employee by an employer followed by the re-employment of the employee within 26 weeks of the dismissal was used for the purpose of avoiding obligations under unfair dismissals legislation and where it is so decided, will not operate to break the continuity of service of the employee.
This amendment will help provide a remedy for certain employees who find their employer persistently breaks their service by their dismissal after 11 or 11½ months of successive contracts so as to prevent them gaining the 12 months' service necessary to qualify for protection and rights under the original Unfair Dismissals Act. Henceforth it will be possible for such cases to be brought before a Rights Commissioner or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
Section 13 of the Bill as originally drafted extended the scope of unfair dismissals legislation to include persons employed through employment agencies. For the purposes of the legislation the party hiring the individual from the employment agency was deemed to be the employer. This provision was drafted so that the extension of the protection of the 1977 Unfair Dismissals Act to workers placed by employment agencies would apply only to contracts entered into after the legislation comes into effect, i.e., after 1 October 1993. On that basis, therefore, an agency worker working for a user firm at the time the new Act comes into operation would not be covered until a new placement contract is made.
On reflection, I considered this would be discriminatory. Amendment No. 5 therefore clarifies that on the coming into operation of the new Act existing agency workers will be placed on a par with future such workers in that as and from that date their service will begin to count towards the calculation of the one year's service requirement necessary to obtain the protection of the Act.
I think the House will agree they are two useful amendments. In this House I had an open mind in accepting amendment as far as I could. I applied the same in the Dáil with the same fruitful effects.
Amendment No. 2 is a technical amendment to an amendment which I accepted in this House from Senator Joe O'Toole, the effect of which is to include in the list of automatically unfair reasons for dismissal the employee's membership of the travelling community. The wording of the amendment passed in this House was subsequently found to be at variance with the rest of the list in the Bill and in the principal Act in that it makes no specific reference to the employee. I am, therefore, proposing this technical amendment specifying the employee's membership of the travelling community as being an automatically unfair reason for dismissal.
Amendment No. 3 is similar to an amendment made in this House. It is a technical amendment and arises from the enactment of the Social Welfare Act, 1993. Accordingly the reference in the Bill to the Social Welfare Acts, 1981 to 1992, at this part of the Bill requires to be amended to read the "Social Welfare Acts, 1981 to 1993".
Amendment No. 4 arose from representations that were made to me by the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the period between the passage of the Bill through the Seanad and its passage through the Dáil. The purpose of the amendment is to remove the rigidity of the time limit provided to the Employment Appeals Tribunal for notifying the other party of an appeal to the tribunal from a Rights Commissioner recommendation. This amendment will give to the tribunal the same flexibility in the matter of notification of an appeal as is provided to it in respect of notification of a claim at section 7 (2) of this Bill.
I am satisfied that these amendments will not affect the balance which I sought to achieve in preparing this legislation between the needs of employers and employees. Naturally I believe these amendments will enhance the provisions of the Bill and I trust this House will have no difficulty in accepting them. I commend the Bill as amended by Dáil Éireann to Seanad Éireann.