I welcome the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton. I call on Senator Averil Power to move the motion which will be seconded by her colleague, Senator Jillian van Turnhout.
Conditions of Work: Motion
As Senator Jillian van Turnhout is not able to be here, she has asked Senator John Kelly and I to second the motion.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
That Seanad Éireann:
- supports the key elements of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' Charter for Fair Conditions at Work as an important contribution to the ongoing work with representatives of employers on developments in industrial relations and the Government’s agenda of reform in this area, including the following elements:
- a living wage that affords an individual sufficient income to achieve an acceptable minimum standard of living, taking account of the need for food, clothing, heating, accommodation, transport and other essential costs;
- a right to fair hours of work and an end to unfair working conditions such as those highlighted in the recent Dunnes Stores dispute;
- a right to representation and collective bargaining as provided for in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015;
- respect, equality and ethics at work; and
- a fair public procurement system that protects workers’ rights and helps to achieve wider social and economic objectives such as supporting small businesses, boosting local employment, reducing long-term unemployment, providing training opportunities for the unemployed and young people, and protecting the environment;
- notes the imminent publication of the first report of the newly established Low Pay Commission and the completion of a study by the University of Limerick of zero and low-hour contracts;
- welcomes the progress being made to enact legislation in respect of collective bargaining currently before the Seanad; and
- calls on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to work constructively with employers and trade unions to continue to progress reform in this area.
As we seek to rebuild the economy, our focus must be on securing the availability of good quality employment for all. I refer to employment that pays workers enough on which to live, that gives sufficient security of hours and certainty of income and in which every employee is treated with respect and dignity. These are the basic elements of a fair workplace and society, yet, to our shame, they are being denied to many workers across the State. Many in full-time jobs are paid so badly that they cannot afford the basics such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation. People in full-time work and people who have worked all their lives have been made homeless as a result of spiralling rents. A growing number of employees are being hired on zero or low-hour contracts that give them no or very few guaranteed hours of work. They are vulnerable to having their usual working hours reduced at the whim of their employer.
We saw recently the disgusting way in which Clerys workers were treated. Some had served the company loyally for years. Members of staff whom I met outside the gates of Leinster House last week had worked in Clerys for over 40 years and were dismissed summarily in the most, cynical and disgusting way. Despite this, we have been told by the Minister and his colleagues that this was absolutely legal. That may well be the case, but it is immoral. It is incumbent on the Minister and the Oireachtas to change the law to ensure workers cannot be treated that way and are at least entitled to fair notice and dignity.
Owing to each of these developments, there is growing concern about the deterioration in the treatment of workers due to issues such as those I have raised and the prevalence of low-paid insecure employment. The Government likes to talk about job creation and decreasing unemployment. That is only right and it is positive that the economy is starting to take off again and that people are returning to work, but many of the jobs are not decent or of good quality. It is utterly unacceptable in this day and age that somebody could be in full-time employment but unable to feed his or her family or pay for the basics. It is for this reason that I support the proposed ICTU charter on fair working conditions. I have tabled the motion to call on all Senators, of all parties and none, to join me in expressing their support for the ICTU charter. I urge the Minister to do everything he can in his work with the trade unions and employers to help to secure each of the elements of the charter.
The charter has five objectives: a living wage; fair hours of work; the right to representation and collective bargaining; respect, equality and ethics at work; and fair public procurement. I acknowledge that work is already under way in some of these areas. We have legislation passing through the Oireachtas in respect of collective bargaining and representation for workers. There is legislation to set up the Low Pay Commission on a statutory basis. I support that legislation but believe there may be an excessive focus on the minimum wage. We also need to consider the broader issue of low pay and to do more to support employers in order that they can pay their staff more. Of course, we cannot put unfair burdens on people. Many employers are often unable to take home any pay because, after they have paid everybody else, there is nothing left. Many have struggled in the past few years to keep their businesses open and are just starting to enter a recovery phase. Therefore, we must work with them to make it easier for them to employ others. We must financially incentivise small businesses, in particular, to take on long-term unemployed persons.
We must ensure we are able to deliver increases in the minimum wage and work progressively towards a living wage. In supporting employers to meet their obligations in that regard it is in the State's interest to have appropriate subsidy schemes. Ultimately, if somebody on the minimum wage has a family and is not earning enough to support them, he or she is entitled to family income supplement. He or she would have to apply to the Department of Social Protection for a top-up from the State, but ultimately the State is paying to top up his or her wages because he or she is not earning enough from employment. There is a need for more creative thinking in this regard and to work with both the trade unions and employers to help to ensure companies are in a position to pay a proper living wage that enables staff to pay for basics.
The other issue about which I am very concerned is the prevalence of zero and low-hour contracts. Of course, these have been in the news recently because of the circumstances in Dunnes Stores. However, Dunnes Stores is by no means the only company using these contracts. Their use has increased significantly in the past few years, mirroring developments in the United Kingdom. Zero-hour contracts take workers back to a time when one had to stand at a designated corner in the hope of being selected for work on the day, as pointed out by IMPACT. These days, of course, people are waiting at home for a text message or a call rather than having to stand on the street corner, but the indignity and uncertainty are exactly the same. This makes it very difficult for people to plan their lives and next to impossible for them to obtain loans. I have met staff who, despite working in Dunnes Stores for years, are only on 15-hour contracts. They tell me they usually work 30 hours, but they cannot get a loan for a car or a credit union loan to cover costs incurred at Christmas time because the credit union sees they are contracted to work for only 15 hours. This puts staff in very unfair circumstances and means that they are afraid to speak up for themselves. They are afraid to become involved in a trade union because they worry their employer would push them back down to the minimum 15-hour entitlement and take action against them.
There is yet another difficulty. If someone is working less than 19 hours per week, he or she cannot receive family income supplement. This makes it impossible for people to claim the State benefits they need to bring their income up to a level that is sufficient to meet the needs of their family. Uncertainty about hours of work means that one cannot seek work elsewhere. If workers do not know what hours they will be working for their employer the following week, they cannot seek a second part-time job to supplement their income.
Employers have put employees in an unfair situation. This is unwise of employers, because organisations thrive on the basis of having high quality staff who care about their jobs, work hard and are positive about their working environment. It is short-sighted of employers not to treat people with dignity and respect and to have a high staff turnover because they are only looking at the bottom line and not providing quality jobs for their staff and a quality service for their customers.
It is imperative that the Minister acts now on this issue. IMPACT has suggested banded hour contracts and that is a reasonable proposition, but there is a need for flexibility in some sectors. For example, a small catering company might not know if it will have three weddings next week or none or what business it will have over the next few weeks, so it needs some flexibility. However, a huge enterprise like Dunnes Stores operates in a very predictable trading environment. It knows the busy and quiet times of the year. A company like this should not be allowed to employ people on low-hour contracts. It is not right that it should be allowed to continue those practices.
Another issue is the issue of public procurement. The State spends over €10 billion annually on goods, services and major capital projects such as roads and school building projects. It is essential that in addition to delivering those projects and getting better roads and schools, we should leverage that investment to help achieve social objectives, such as supporting local businesses, reducing unemployment, ensuring fair conditions for workers and protecting the environment. EU directives have moved away from the use of price only contracts, away from the idea that a decision be made between competing bids on the basis of price only analysis. The reason for this is that comparing bids purely on the basis of cost often fails to deliver real value for money for a state because they do not take into account the relative benefits of competing bids for the economy and society as a whole.
I urge the Minister to implement EU Directive 2014/24/EU as soon as possible. I urge him to ensure social clauses are used in public contracts to help secure social, economic and environmental objectives and to include as a condition of contracts for major public services factors such as the impact of the respective bids on local employment and opportunities for jobseekers, implementation of apprenticeships and training measures for the unemployed and payment of the living wage. Other states, including Scotland and Wales, are looking towards ensuring contractors pay the living wage to employees.
The Minister should also look at issues regarding safety, equality and the commitment of companies to complying with safety, equality and employment law and to respecting the State's industrial relations machinery. We should not give contracts to companies that have a track record of not engaging, for example, with the Labour Court, the LRC or other industrial relations mechanisms. We should be using our money and ensuring that companies getting taxpayers' money are treating their staff with dignity, delivering top quality projects and delivering value for money for taxpayers in a broader sense.
I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. I urge him to work with the employer bodies and the unions to deliver on each of the five issues addressed in the ICTU charter for fair working conditions.
I wish to share my time with Senator Paschal Moloney.
I welcome the Minister. I also welcome the legislation and commend the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, for bringing it before the House. Due to the importance of the provisions, I trust there will be no delay in making it the law of the land before the summer recess. The Bill provides for the reinstatement of REAs and for collective bargaining. At the same time, a further piece of legislation, the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015 is progressing through the Seanad.
I accept Senator Averil Power's point that if people cannot get 19 hours work, they do not get the family income supplement. I recommend to the Minister that he speak to the Minister for Social Protection about this. We should have a situation where the payment is tapered, so that if somebody gets 18 hours they would get 55% of the payment rather than 60% and if they get 17 hours they would get 50% of it. Consideration should be given to this at some stage.
This package of legislative proposals on industrial relations between employer and employee is the most far-reaching reform of Ireland's industrial relations machinery in decades. The new REA framework is particularly important as the old structure of REAs has been struck down by the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. Whole sectors of the workforce lost a critical component of industrial relations machinery. Now we have a statutory, robust framework to enable workers to negotiate terms and conditions of their employment in a civilised fashion, which will be registered and binding on both parties to the agreement.
A central part of the agreement on the sale of the State's shareholding in Aer Lingus to IAG was based on a commitment that this legislation would be passed urgently and that a series of REAs would be negotiated for various sectors of the Aer Lingus workforce and registered when this Bill becomes law. This is intended to protect against the outsourcing of jobs and compulsory redundancies and to provide for pay and improved conditions for Aer Lingus employees. The REA framework will provide a platform for good industrial relations and will contribute to industrial peace in the workplace.
Second, the programme for Government included a commitment to reform the current law on workers' rights to engage in collective bargaining, so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Henceforth, workers, with the assistance of their trade unions, will be able to progress claims about pay and conditions of employment and can have the Labour Court decide on the basis of comparisons with similar companies. This will allow workers, where there is no collective bargaining in place, to access the Labour Court and obtain a statutory remedy against exploitation. This entitlement will create a whole new precedent on workers' rights where trade unionism is not recognised by the employer at present. Collective bargaining is now a fundamental legal right in 24 of the 27 EU member states. However, 100 years from the Lock-out, this is still not the case in Ireland. It is a significant achievement of the Labour Party in government and of the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, that we are now introducing collective bargaining legislation.
The Deputy's three minutes are well up.
The Labour Party is in government to fix a broken economy. As we rebuild the economy and society, it is essential that our renewed country is based on equality and fairness. The sustained increase in employment we have seen is most welcome, but we must work to ensure that we are creating jobs with decent wages and conditions. Central to protecting working conditions is a strong trade union movement and collective bargaining.
The current dispute with Dunnes Stores is caused by the refusal of the supermarket chain to attend the Labour Court. This situation will no longer pertain when this legislation is passed. The national minimum wage will further enhance certainty and security for low paid workers when enacted -----
The Senator has passed four minutes.
The Senator is speaking on a different matter.
----- and will address the issue of a living wage for employees. All in all, this package of industrial relations legislation is critical to best practice in the relationship between employers and employees for the future. I apologise for going over time.
The Senator went well over his time.
He was speaking on the wrong business.
In the light of the fact he went over time, I reserve my right to speak and to have a full time slot.
I welcome the Minister and this constructive motion put forward by the Independent Senators.
This discussion is timely because in the past few years we have seen manifestations of very sharp practice by some employers. They seemingly value the euro over the well-being or entitlements of their employees. Every business has a need and a right to make a profit. Profitable businesses maintain and create employment. Employment is the greatest mechanism for lifting people out of poverty. What this congress document seeks to do is to crystallise what congress sees as a much improved, if not ideal, scenario for employees.
The first issue is the living wage. While I do not have any principled objection to this, it should be noted that we cannot simply fix on a monetary amount and then solve all the ills. Having sufficient funds, amounting to a living wage, is at its heart an individual matter.
It often depends on the level of State support, be it children’s allowance or family income support among other measures.
It should also be noted that in this country we have re-introduced both the joint labour committee, JLC, framework and sectoral employment orders. We debated the legislation last week and the measures are due to be introduced shortly. Both of those mechanisms involve wage setting above the minimum wage. The first thing the Government did was to restore the national minimum wage, which when one factors in the cost of living is, according to EUROSTAT, the sixth highest among EU member states which have a minimum wage.
The establishment of the Low Pay Commission was a priority for the Government. The commission was officially launched on 26 February this year, to operate on an interim administrative basis. Legislation to provide for the establishment of the Low Pay Commission on a statutory basis is progressing through the Oireachtas and will be enacted later this year.
The Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, has stated he intends to hold a forum on the living wage in autumn, to which civil society organisations, trade unions and employers will be invited to discuss the concept of a living wage in this country. That is a positive step and I am sure the Independent Members welcome it. Dialogue on the issue is critical.
Zero and low-hours contracts have attracted some debate, in particular in the United Kingdom. In the UK employees on zero-hours contracts are only paid for the time spent working, and if they are not given any hours by their employer they receive no compensation. That is not the position here. An employee in this country who suffers a loss by not being given hours to work, or told to be free to work, is compensated for 25% or 15 hours, whichever is the lesser. However, that is not to say that we should be mindless of the issue. In that light, the University of Limerick has started work on a study into the prevalence of zero-hour and low-hour contracts in the Irish economy and their impact on employees. Having canvassed widely, the study will provide the Minister with the basis on which to consider what, if any, policy recommendations should be brought to Government to address issues relating to the use of such contracts and their impact on employees. I hope Senators accept the Government is not turning a blind eye to the issue but any policy change or legislative initiative must be introduced on the basis of evidence, hence the study, which I hope will be completed as quickly as possible.
The programme for Government contained a commitment to reform the current legislation governing the right of employees to engage in collective bargaining, namely, the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001, so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. That was done by introducing the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015, which we debated last week and which will be on the Statute Book at the end of this month.
I wish to mention the references to tendering in the charter, and the proposal that they would have a social or economic dimension. The Government has a reform programme in hand to modernise the public sector and improve service delivery. The Government recognises that public procurement is a key element of the programme, maximising the impact procurement can have in enabling communities to benefit in areas such as employment, training, assisting small business and promoting innovation. The Government is not opposed to the principle of community benefit and has established a social clauses project group to examine public contracts where social clauses can be deployed. That has happened, for example, in the case of the Grangegorman redevelopment project. In developing this area we must be careful not to fall foul of EU procurement rules. It would be a breach of the rules for a public body to favour or discriminate against particular candidates, and there are legal remedies which may be used against any public body infringing those rules. Therefore, while we should develop the area further, we must do so carefully.
I again thank the Independent Senators for tabling their motion today. I hope they will concede that the Government does take seriously the rights of employees and that it has taken measures to uphold and strengthen them. This is a subject that requires ongoing scrutiny. I commend my colleagues for raising the issue.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I agree with the previous speaker, that the motion before us is very timely, coming as it does at the end of a recession and at the same time entering into a period of growth. Senator Averil Power made some very cogent arguments in support of the motion. It would be difficult for anybody who has the welfare of citizens at heart to disagree with the essence of what has been said here this evening.
We are especially lucky in this country in the past 20 years that we have very good industrial relations. In fact, we have had very little industrial unrest. That is a very important plank of development and growth in any economy. It is particularly true when one is considering investment from outside the country. There have been some glaring cases, which have upset many people. I refer first to what happened in Waterford Crystal and the long-drawn out saga which we had there, and the manner in which the workers had to fight for their pension rights. It seemed like daylight robbery for anybody who had even a cursory glance at the story. The Dunnes Stores episode also stands out as something of which we cannot be particularly proud.
On the other hand, there is nothing to be gained by setting out to hammer industrialists or employers who have stepped out of line. We must look at the matter in a positive and productive way. The minimum wage rate per hour of €8.65 has been in place since 2007, a period of eight years. Much has changed in that time. I do not believe there has been any assessment of the changes within the economy during the period to assess whether the rate amounts to a living wage. I accept it is a minimum wage but there is no doubt there is a difference between a minimum wage set by legislation and a living wage. We must decide on what constitutes a living wage. The Low Pay Commission should have some role in deciding what is a living wage. It would obviously vary from one part of the country to another. One must also take into account the fluctuations in the economy in terms of the construction sector, the acquisition of houses and mortgages. Many areas have changed the landscape radically, yet we have not stopped to think what it would mean to the person who is trying to live on a certain wage and the demands on them.
In addition, one must look for value for money. It all depends on what one is expected to buy with the minimum wage. It is necessary to examine the effect of the water tax, property tax and other taxes because they minimise the effectiveness of the wage one brings home. One cannot just talk about looking after the rights of employers, one must also look after rights in terms of public provision as well. However, one thing is certain, an hourly rate of €8.65 cannot be considered a living wage in any context whatsoever.
The most productive businesses are ones where the workforce is happy. That has been proven time and again. If the workforce is not happy then that will impact negatively on the work which is being done. I do not have figures to support the case, but I think there was a degree of exploitation once the recession set in. We saw the same exploitation with the undocumented Irish when they went to America, simply because they could not get their rights. The same applied during the recession. People found themselves in very precarious situations. Very often they were prepared to accept less than what they were entitled to. Given that we are entering into a period of growth, that day of exploitation must be confronted and made to stop.
In terms of conditions within the workplace itself, I could never understand why there is any resistance to collective bargaining, representation or to the trade union movement. It is the only mechanism that guarantees first, fair play for the people who are being represented, but it also contributes to a working environment which is conducive to providing the goods, so to speak. Therefore, we should be very clear about discouraging in every way the idea that dividing and conquering within a workforce is the way to make progress. It is not a good policy.
Other issues arise also which employers could examine. We are all very clear on one thing, namely, employers have a difficult position also. One cannot get water out of a stone.
The main thing is to provide the structures which are necessary for delivering what is correct. We have come a long way in regard to the idea of any type of discrimination in work. If there were discrimination, I think it would jump out very strongly and there would be a reaction to it straightaway.
I also feel there should be opportunities in the workplace to progress and improve people's position. It is one thing to have training opportunities in community employment schemes and so on. However, opportunities should also exist within the workplace in order that people can see it not just as a full stop type position but also as improving their position. It would be in the interest of any good employer to give employees the opportunity to do courses for self-advancement.
To come back to the motion, it is exceptionally well crafted and has a number of interacting elements which we should not deal with in isolation but together. The appeal we are making to the Government is to engage with all the partners in employment - trade unions, the Low Pay Commission, employees and employers - to give them all the opportunity to have an input into a proper charter as we go forward.
I welcome the Minister. I second the motion. I thank Senators Averil Power and Jillian van Turnhout, who asked me to second the motion in her absence, which I am delighted to do. Senator Power has set out the salient parts of the charter for fair conditions at work and has elaborated on its importance, in which I fully support her.
This motion is very timely and welcome in the light of what we have seen happen in the recent past, with Dunnes Stores workers striking for the right to fair hours of work and an end to zero-hour contracts and, subsequently, the treatment of the former workers of Clerys. The very minimum anyone can expect is to be treated fairly in the workplace and to have the right, at the very least, to a decent number of working hours. How can any employer expect someone to work for less than what they would get on social welfare?
Just this morning, I got a telephone call from a man who was recently offered a job after many years of searching and applying for positions. This man was thrilled to have secured employment, albeit part-time, and it made him feel 100 ft. tall. However, he now finds he is being given four hours on two days a week and three hours on a third day, that is, 11 hours per week at €10 per hour, which makes €110 per week. If he stays at home and draws social welfare, he will get €188 per week. How can this be right? Employers must realise what they are doing to their employees and, if they do not, then we are obligated, as legislators, to make them aware and to protect employees.
Everybody has a right to expect a decent living wage which enables them to live with a little dignity and a reasonable standard of living. As a former employee of a trade union, I am fully aware of how unfairly some employees are treated by their employer. Employers can, at the drop of a hat, change the terms of employment or working hours, increase the workload with no extra payments and, in some cases, they have even reduced the pay. Their attitude is: "Take it or leave it. If you don't do the job, there are many more who will." However, let me be quite clear in what I am saying. I am talking about some employers as not all are so ruthless.
I have attended some rights commissioner hearings with people and I know how intimidating this can be for the ordinary worker, hence the need for union representation. Funnily enough, every time I went there, the employers, who would not recognise the unions and would not allow their workers the right of union representation, always had legal representation at this hearing. They did not represent themselves as they expected their employees to do. They always had someone there to represent them.
What are the employers worried about? Is it dominance by a trade union in the workplace? That is not what trade unions are about, nor indeed do they want to be about that. What they want is to see fair working conditions for their members. Surely that is not too much to ask. Most people want to work and want to do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. It is common knowledge that the better one looks after one's employees, the better a return one gets, as Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú has just told the Chamber. That is why I very much welcome the legislation on collective bargaining. This is progressive legislation which will give workers whose employers do not recognise trade unions or collective bargaining the mechanism to put forward claims around their pay, terms and conditions and working conditions, and it means both sides can actively participate in negotiations. I also look forward to the legislation which will establish the new Low Pay Commission on a statutory basis. This commission will give a yearly report to the Minister with its recommendations. I believe the first report is due on 15 July and I eagerly await its findings.
This morning Senator Jillian van Turnhout read out statistics on the number of children who go to bed hungry. Why? It is because of a failure by successive Governments to ensure a living wage that will ensure a minimum standard of living and a former Government that saw fit to reduce the minimum wage. What was it thinking? Thankfully, we have addressed this, and it is to be hoped, following the report from the Low Pay Commission, that we will be looking at increasing this further.
In a poll conducted in June, the key findings showed that 86% agreed that the minimum wage should be increased while 77% agreed it should be the same as a living wage. It also found that 86% agreed the Government should do more to prevent the use of low-hour contracts. Last week the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Dáil and it will become the law of the land shortly. The Bill largely reinstates registered employment agreements, REAs, and also provides for sectoral agreements. Many of those who will be covered by the legislation work in exposed or low pay sectors of the economy. The Bill provides us with an important tool to protect their conditions of employment.
While there is an absence of specific data, it is believed that low-hour contracts are most commonly found in the retail, hospitality, health and education sectors. A research team from the Kemmy business school at the University of Limerick has been appointed to conduct the first Government study into the prevalence and impact of zero-hour and low-hour contracts in Ireland. Perhaps the Minister would update us on that.
The motion refers to procurement. I had a recent Commencement debate matter proposing that the tendering process be done on a regional basis rather than a national basis. Some small businesses cannot compete with the big multinationals and big businesses, which can tender at much lower prices. If it was done on a regional basis, it would keep the work in the regions. I have discussed this with the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, and we have been working on it.
I could say more but I will conclude. I commend the Taoiseach's nominees for bringing forward this timely motion which I am very happy to second.
I welcome the Minister. I commend the Independent Senators for bringing forward the motion. It was bizarre earlier that we had a Labour Party Senator who gave us a Second Stage speech on a Bill we had discussed last week, and we had what can best be described as a Thatcherite speech from one of the Fine Gael Senators; therefore, the debate did not get off to a good start. However, some very good contributions were made by others who have spoken.
I know some of the Independent Senators who have tabled this are trying to get support and consensus from across the board. However, I have to say that many people have been hurt by this Government - Senator Jillian van Turnhout spoke this morning about child poverty - and more people are living in poverty in this State now than was the case before the Government took office. It has deepened inequality and injustice, yet Government party Members seconded this motion today. That will not be lost on many people, and it is a matter for the Independent Senators who allowed that to happen. I understand what they were looking for was-----
They have done precious little to reverse inequality and poverty. In fact, they have deepened it, as all the evidence shows. This is a matter for all of us.
It does not matter who is in government; the facts speak for themselves. At some point my party may be in government and will have to make tough decisions. All of the reports that have been published on the issue of low pay by EUROSTAT, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC, and others show that 20% of all citizens in the State are in low paid jobs. That means they do not have a living wage; they are working, but they do not have money to pay basic bills and meet their needs.
In the past few years there have been several industrial relations conflicts: at Talk-Talk, Waterford Crystal, Game, La Senza, Lagan Brick, Clerys, Dunnes Stores and Vita Cortex. In every instance ordinary working people were shafted and not given the protection of the State. That shows that we have very weak industrial relations law. Nothing the Government has done would have prevented any of it from happening. In the next few years, unfortunately, owing to a lack of political will on the part of the Government, there will be more of this. It has brought forward a very weak form of collective bargaining which is voluntarist. It has not brought forward any legislation to prevent tactical insolvencies such as the one that affected the Clerys workers. There is nothing to deal with the prevalence of low-hour contracts and their exploitative nature which is driving under-employment and precarious employment in the State. In turn, it is driving many women into poverty. Women make up the huge ranks of those who live in poverty and “the precariate”, those in low paid, low-hour contract jobs. Nothing the Minister has done will prevent Dunnes Stores from treating its workers in the way it does, or prevent another tactical insolvency such as that in Clerys, or prevent all of the other problems that affect ordinary working people from arising. Every time this happens Ministers and Deputies roll out the tea and sympathy, saying it is terrible, but when it comes to supporting legislation such as the Bills we have published, including the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2015 to deal with the corporate veil and the Protection of Employees (Amendment) Bill 2012 which sought to deal with insolvencies, it votes all of them down because it does not have the political will to deal with the problem.
I judge the Government on what it does. I want to see legislation in place to prevent these issues from arising. Industrial relations law in the State is heavily weighted in favour of employers, not employees. If we want fair hours, decent work and pay, we have to bring forward legislation, which is what the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, wanted. I attended the briefing session which the Independent Senators also attended in the aftermath of the Dunnes Stores debacle. We have produced a Bill which we will publish next week to seek to give effect to the ICTU's proposals on banded hour contracts. That is the way forward. Most of those on low-hour contracts are working between 25 and 40 hours a week for long periods, some for four or five years, but they are stuck on ten, 12 or 15-hour contracts. Our Bill will seek to ensure a worker who works 20 or 30 hours a week would be able to move into that band and the contract should show this. Unscrupulous employers do not do this because they use low-hour contracts to exploit workers. The hours are cut if a worker steps out of line or joins a trade union. That affects many workers.
The Minister does not want to deal with any of these issues because when we raise them, he tells us it is a question of competitiveness. That word is always thrown about to prevent the State from doing what it should do to ensure proper treatment for workers. The most competitive countries in Europe are the ones in which there is decent work and pay and that have robust industrial relations laws and proper protections for workers. They do not build their economies on indecent work or low pay. They build them on strong wages, not poverty wages, and workers’ rights, not a denial of workers’ rights. That is what my party wants to see happen.
I commend the Independent Senators for bringing forward this important motion and the ICTU for its relentless campaign to have these issues dealt with.
I welcome the Minister. I am pleased to support the motion and thank Senator Averil Power for tabling it, as it gives us an opportunity to see where there is consensus and agreement for the betterment of all.
I compliment the ICTU on putting forward the charter for fair conditions at work. I have been an employer more often than I have been an employee. I worked in the private sector for almost 15 years with a small or medium-sized enterprise, SME, an office supplies company in which I rose to the position of director and took many decisions as an employer. When I approached the ICTU charter to sign it, I brought some of that experience with me. What it lays out is reasonable and something we should all be striving to achieve and ensure. That is why I am very happy to support the motion.
The living wage technical group, comprising the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, the Nevin Economic Research Institute, Social Justice Ireland, SIPTU and TASC, on Monday published a report which calculated that people needed to earn €450 a week or €11.50 an hour to achieve a minimal acceptable standard of living. That is one third more than the current national minimum wage of €8.65 an hour for an experienced adult, that is, an adult over the age of 18 years who has been in employment of any kind in any two years. A person under 18 years earns €6.06 an hour; someone in the first year of employment since turning 18 years is entitled to €6.92 an hour. I deal with groups dealing with children in crisis. A young person who comes out of the care system at the age of 18 years is expected to fend for himself or herself and make ends meet, but in a first job he or she is entitled to only €6.92 an hour. That is a meaningful €4.58 below the estimated living wage. How is anyone, especially a vulnerable young person leaving care with very little support, supposed to survive on this? I know that the Low Pay Commission is set to report on the issue next month.
The sum of €11.50 represents a 5% increase on the living wage calculated in 2014, despite a decrease in food, energy bill and universal social charge, USC, payments. I was surprised by this, but it includes the private rental sector which we discussed earlier today. It comes up time and again that a disproportionate amount of people’s incomes is eaten up every month. One in five families is in the private rental sector, quite a significant number. It is absolutely essential, therefore, to tackle the housing crisis. There is a chronic shortage of social housing and a lack of rent certainty and regulation. There are continual rent increases. Threshold has made several proposals on the Residential Tenancies Act 2004.
There is a lack of investment in child care services. I was very surprised to hear the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection suggest that in the next budget there be an increase of €5 in child benefit. Throughout the crisis we heard lectures in this House to the effect that cash transfers were not the answer, that the Government had to invest in services to reduce the cost of services and ensure quality services were available for all children. We have the highest child care costs in the European Union, at 35% of a family’s income, whereas the EU average is 12%. That is not because child care providers are charging more but because the Government is investing so little. Our rate of investment in child care is 0.4% of gross domestic product annually, which means that we are lagging way behind the European average of 1% of GDP. This issue needs to be tackled.
Colleagues have already raised the issue of fair hours of work and I certainly back what Senator Marie Moloney said.
I also wish to raise the issue of family income supplement. An employee must work at least 19 hours per week. Particularly for lone parents we were promised cuts would not be made without the aforementioned child care being in place. Even though that is not in place, draconian cuts were made. Having been an employer, I find it demeaning that employees have to bare their souls to employers. They have to fill out a form outlining all their life details and ask the employer to sign the form. All this information is known by the State. The employer, who is signing this, has that person over a barrel and knows his or her personal life story now, which, as an employer, I do not believe should be the case. That brings us into the exploitative low-hours contracts. It avoids obligations regarding pensions and holiday pay. It is immoral to keep staff in a permanent state of insecurity. It has a real impact on quality of life and family life.
I wish to deal with the right to representation and also, with my former employer's hat on, the right not to be represented. There are both rights. The difficulty is that when it comes to the gender pay gap, the figures clearly show that those who are represented by unions will do better. Figures from Britain show a staggering 22% difference between unionised women's pay and non-unionised women's pay. The gap is narrower in the public than in the private sector, which is primarily due to the higher rate of unionisation in the public sector. This is mirrored across the European Union where women's wages in the private sector are approximately 10% less than in the public sector.
This is borne out by a recent international analysis. In the United States in 2014 the National Women's Law Center found that the gender pay gap between what unionised male workers make and what unionised female workers make is just 9.4%, meaning that women working full time make more than 90% of what men do. This compares with a pay gap of 18.7% among non-union members.
US companies such as Facebook and Apple recently announced they would pay for female employees to have their eggs frozen to facilitate starting families later. It might be more useful for employers to consider giving facilities and fridges for the production and storage of breast milk. We really need practical Government policies, such as a one-year maternity and paternity leave.
I commend Senator Averil Power for tabling the motion which has given us an opportunity to explore the different aspects of the charter. It is a really good device for us for us all to strive to find better working conditions and to have the society we wish to have.
I welcome the opportunity to engage in this debate. I commend Senators Averil Power, Jillian van Turnhout and Marie Moloney for tabling the motion.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has brought the issue to the fore in recent times. I was very happy to sign the charter it presented to Members of the Oireachtas regarding subscribing to a national living wage that would be available to employees. I listened to what Senator Cullinane said about employees. There is a need for balance, which Senator Jillian van Turnhout from her days as an employer will recognise.
There is a need for a national debate on the issue, which goes beyond simply a wage. It is about what sort of society we want to have into the future. In Scandinavian countries and in Holland society is about much more than work. It is about living, leisure time, family time and having preschool facilities. All of that fits into the type of society. Today's debate is about having a living wage. While such a threshold would not be legislated for, all employees would strive towards it and employers would be encouraged to provide that level.
Dr. Micheál Collins of the Nevin Economic Research Institute produced an interesting initial document which can be used for part of the debate. He went into some of the work that was done in the greater London area looking at the minimum wage and the living wage there. In his budget today, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a national living wage that would be £9 by 2020 and the threshold would be somewhere around £7.50 or £7.60 this year, and the British low-paid commission would implement that. There is certainly something there we can use.
Particularly here in Dublin there is a rental crisis. In some parts of the city rents have increased by 48% over the past 24 months. That is creating widespread poverty in working-class areas. Setting the living wage might not necessarily deal with that, but there is a wider issue of where the State should be involved and where the State should not be involved. For example, should the State be involved in setting thresholds for rent to allow people to live in areas close to where they work or do people have to spend three hours commuting to Dublin? Is that the type of society we want? The State must be involved.
There is a theory of economics that suggests the state should not be involved in such issues. However, the state must be involved where there is market failure. Clearly there is market failure in the provision of adequate living standards to provide for people's needs - not their wants, just their basic needs - and that is what a living wage is about.
I commend the work done by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The technical document that has been published is certainly very detailed. It covers a multitude, including transportation costs, educational costs, social inclusion and participation, housing, household fuel, personal costs, child-care costs, insurance costs, savings and contingencies, health, personal care, clothing and food. These are essential items for anyone and the State has to intervene in this area. I hope that in conjunction with his Government colleagues the Minister will be in a position later this year to set a plateau. I understand the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Nevin Economic Research Institute identified €11.45 as the minimum living wage and we should strive towards this.
The research carried out in Britain identified £9 as the living wage required in London and the British Government announced today that it would achieve that by 2020. The information produced here and the research undertaken can facilitate a Government response, and I hope there will be a response to this important issue. It will distinguish our society. It will mean that the State has an onus to recognise and appreciate employees. We can recognise the valuable contribution workers make to our society by setting that living wage threshold. I hope the Government engage proactively on the issue.
I welcome the Minister. I congratulate him on some of the work he has done in recent times. There is no doubt that he is bringing employment into the country. I am concerned that we constantly look for big-ticket employment announcements by large companies such as the Vodafone one today which is, of course, tremendous.
However, sometimes, particularly in rural Ireland, we should be looking to create five or six jobs here and there instead. If enough small companies employing five or six people were created, eventually we would have 150 jobs. I wonder if we are concentrating enough on that aspect. Perhaps there is room for the education and training boards, ETBs, to get together with county development officers to do some work in that area.
I am delighted Senator Averil Power tabled this motion. She and Senator Jillian van Turnhout have been great advocates for the downtrodden in this country, the number of which is becoming fairly large the way things are going. We have a new term in this country which is "income poverty". It arises where a family, the people in the house, are working, but are living in constant poverty and are never going to get out of it. This causes me serious concern.
We are all aware of the Clerys debacle. Today the Tánaiste told the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that it will cost the country millions. We have Dunnes Stores and its appalling treatment of staff, who have been kept on low hours, low pay or a combination of both for years. However, this does not just happen in the private sector. Casualisation has become a feature of public sector work and I am not just talking about work at the bottom of the scale. Teachers, lecturers and nurses are being brought in on casual hours. What really annoys me when I look at that situation is that as a trade unionist, I, like my colleagues, have taken cases to the Labour Court and before rights commissioners. I recall taking one particular case to mediation, where the employer was told it was wrong. We moved from mediation to the rights commissioner, where the employer was told it was wrong and ordered to pay compensation. The employer decided not to take up the rights commissioner's judgment and forced us into the Labour Court. At the Labour Court, the employer was castigated for not doing the right thing by its employees and told to pay the compensation. I moved out of the role I was in but, as far as I recall, that case was ultimately taken to the courts to get the money paid over to those employees. This case involved a State employer using State money to block people's employment rights, which is simply wrong in every way.
Yesterday there was an announcement on 610 special needs assistants for schools. It was not announced that the work they are going into is fragmented. It is not right to have them sitting around the place all day waiting for a couple of hours work here and there. We have the issue of lone parents. We are constantly arguing in this Chamber and looking for the Minister to come in here to deal with the lone parents issue. The fact today is that a lone parent with 20 hours work is losing 16 hours per week and that is after family income supplement. A lone parent who has less than 19 hours will lose as much as €42 per week. We can ignore these things but ultimately it is grossly unfair.
I will be accused of politicking here but 25% of city and county councillors have no employment other than their representational role. One particular councillor who rang me recently has a life threatening disease, cannot work, has been told there is no sick pay and, because there is no proper PRSI, has no entitlement to PRSI benefits and will finish up in some means-tested system. This is totally and utterly wrong.
I heard something very interesting yesterday at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions event which stayed with me. It was from a Northern Ireland colleague who was talking about the equivalent of family income supplement, or tax credits, as they call them up there. The point she made was that we are subsidising bad employers. The congress has called for a fair living wage of €11.45 per hour and has circulated a document asking people to sign it to say they support the notion of a living wage. It would be something else if the Minister were to sign it and say he supports it, was prepared to back it and thinks it a fair, just and equitable thing to do. It would be an amazing move by a Minister in this Government or any Government to come out and say he or she supports people having a fair, decent livable wage with fair hours of work and fair terms and conditions of employment.
The Minister is doing an awful lot and is to be commended on what he is doing to bring employment back into the country. I believe in giving credit where it is due, but there are employers in this country for a long time who have been treating their employees in an appalling way and that includes employers in the public sector. Much has been done. The industrial relations Bill will solve some of the issues and congress is happy to see it although there are some issues it would like to see changed in future upgrades or amendments to the Bill.
I will finish on this point. There is nothing worse than the pain of unemployment and of getting up every morning not knowing what to do for the day - I have been there - but what is hell on earth is having employment and not having enough money to do the things one would like to do. Most of us in this House have enough money to do the things we would like to do. Let us support congress on this matter. I thank my colleagues for tabling the motion.
I will not keep the House long, but I add my voice in support of this motion, which is an all-party motion, although particular acknowledgement and tribute is due to Senators Averil Power, Jillian van Turnhout and others. Like many colleagues who have already referred to it, I too was happy to meet representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and to sign its petition on having a living wage of €11.45 per hour. I understand this to be a 5% increase on the 2014 figure. In its charter, ICTU notes:
A living wage affords an individual sufficient income to achieve an agreed, acceptable minimum standard of living, taking account of the need for food, clothing, heating, accommodation, transport and other essential costs. Currently, it is estimated that in order to earn a living income from full-time work - taking account of taxes and welfare - it would be necessary for a single adult to earn at least €11.45 per hour.
The living wage technical group publication also addresses family living incomes by setting out gross salary incomes per adult for a number of different family types.
To put that €11.45 in context, I will wear my other hat. I am chairman of the Leitrim County Childcare Committee. There is a crisis in child care. It is not necessarily an access or costs crisis. The crisis relates to the number of people who, encouraged by this and previous Governments, upskilled by undertaking further education and have obtained FETAC level 8 qualifications, which is graduate status. They are working in the child care sector for less than what is being asked here today. They are working for less than €11.50 an hour and, in some cases, it is as low as €10.00 and €10.50 an hour. These are graduates. These are people who have gone through the educational system as well as working to upskill themselves. This is the bedrock of the policy we have been hearing from the Minister's Cabinet colleague, the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, over the past number of weeks when she speaks about people getting out of welfare and into work. These are people doing just that. I am singling out this particular sector to put some flesh on the argument because it is in the context of what we are talking about here. We have people who are at just about or under the figure the Irish Congress of Trade Unions believes, as I quoted earlier, is a living wage that helps people raise families and put food on the table.
I could not help but reflect, in the context of this motion, on the horrors being inflicted on the poor people of Greece. One figure in the past few days stands out. A man was quoted as saying his mother's pension had been reduced from €2,400 a month to €700 a month. We are not quite as bad as that but there is a significant cohort of people who are living below the poverty line. A case was brought to my attention of a woman who approached the Society of St. Vincent de Paul somewhere in the country looking for support to put food on the table. She had sold her television the previous week in order to do just that. I inquired if the family was in receipt of social welfare and learned this woman is doing a course and is trying to get out of the poverty trap but is finding it almost impossible to live. I did not think a person would get money for selling a television in this day and age because they are a throwaway item nowadays. That brought the situation home for me. I am sure there are many other incidents of people in such situations despite all the economic statistics which show us as having an increase in GDP, growing jobs and that there are more people at work, all of which I welcome.
I am not disputing that notion and congratulate the Minister on the compassion and commitment he has brought to creating jobs since the recession hit hard. Long may he continue to do so. There is a cohort of people who find it almost impossible to live and, sadly, many children are suffering as a result.
Anybody who comes to this argument and approaches this motion could not help but be totally supportive of the initiative that has been put forward by ICTU. Within the confines and the restrictions being placed on the Government in terms of funding, surely the first people who must be helped are those at the lower end of the scale, those who need a hand up, not a hand out. I hope that in the framing of the budget in October there will be a collective view within the Cabinet that the most vulnerable in society, those who find it difficult to make ends meet, to put food on the table in this developed society, which Vincent Browne says regularly on television is one of the richest countries in the world, will be helped. It should not be happening. I am not suggesting that I or anybody in this House has a monopoly of sympathy and compassion. We all come into this and the other House in the hope that we will make life better for our citizens. Perhaps I can leave the Minister with one message, the theme of all that has been said during this debate, that behind the proposals for a living wage we urge the Government in the next budget to look at those at the lower end of society who desperately need some Government help.
I thank Senators Averil Power and Jillian van Turnhout for tabling the motion which I am happy to support. It is an important contribution to a debate on how we raise living standards and approach many issues in the industrial relations sphere. I take issue with one thing Senator Averil Power said. She gave the impression, perhaps not intentionally, that most of the new jobs are low paid jobs. That is not true. We have 105,000 extra people at work in the past three years, 91% of those are full-time jobs. Part-time working is in decline. Part-time working overall fell by 14,500 in the past two years. More significant than that is the fact that part-time underemployed persons, in other words, people who were working part time but were not happy to do so, has reduced by 41,000 in the past two years, down 26%. Much of the involuntary part-time working is in significant decline. Long-term unemployment has come down by 40% in the past three years; it is down by 61,000. We are making an impact on imbedded poverty in many of these areas.
I thank Senator Averil Power for paying tribute to the efforts in employment. I believe creating employment is one of the central anti-poverty measures that we can take. We still have almost 10% unemployment. Statistics show that the risk of being in poverty at work is one seventh that of those who are out of work. Therefore, getting people back to work is very significant. Of the 105,000 extra jobs, 40,000 have come from Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland companies, which are high paying employments. Some 8,000 are in education, 10,000 are in professional and scientific, nearly 8,000 are in construction. I accept there is increasing work in tourism. There is no doubt that much of that is on more irregular earnings. That has always been a part of the sector. It is a mixed sector as Senator Averil Power pointed out. There is irregularity in some of its work patterns.
Clearly, we are getting growth across the spectrum. It is clear from the social breakdown that every occupation is experiencing employment growth. We must keep employment growth central to our discussion on how we improve society. We want to get more people back at work and people enjoying a higher standard of living. Those are dual objectives. Given that we have 10% unemployment, we have to keep those objectives as part of what we are trying to achieve.
I reject totally the suggestion from Senator David Cullinane who is not present that we have done nothing but increase inequality. Those jobs have greatly reduced the problems of inequality and also some of the direct measures we took by restoring the minimum wage, the JLCs, the registered employment agreements, protecting temporary agency workers, establishing the Low Pay Commission, establishing a study into zero-hour contracts, all of which address practical issues such as the gap in collective bargaining legislation through which a horse and four was driven by the Ryanair decision of the courts. We have been diligent in rebuilding protection for workers and, particularly, for vulnerable workers. In terms of the minimum wage, the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, will set up a forum later in the year.
The living wage is a concept. It is not a legally binding concept, it is a concept where employers sign up voluntarily to such an approach. It is welcome. Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú said talent is the key to all growth. Employers should be setting out to create an environment where they maximise the potential and protect their workforce because that is the key to growth.
I welcome the approach of presenting dignity, providing development opportunities and improving the living standards of workers. That is something for which we must strive but, as the motion recognised, we have to do it in a balanced way. We have to recognise what is the position of employers. As Senator Averil Power recognised, some employers have gone through an appalling period. Some 81,000 businesses closed during the crash. One has only to think of the life's work that was put into building up those businesses, yet they are gone. We have to strike a balance. Congress is offering a charter and using that in a process of industrial relations development in the coming years is important.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill pointed to the United Kingdom and its decision today to increase the national minimum wage. It calls it the living wage but it is an increase in the national minimum wage. It is an interesting measure. However, there are also other things that people will want to look at. For example, it is withdrawing many of its social welfare benefits, and student grants. There is a whole shift away from welfare, cutting welfare and increasing the minimum wage. It is an interesting approach and one that people will examine but it has a very definite philosophy. One has to examine the package, not simply the headline.
Across the actual programme, on the wage levels we have done much to protect and restore work. As Senator Hildegarde Naughton said on zero-hour contracts, we have a different provision. We guarantee that if people are on zero-hour contracts they must get at least 25% of the wage or 15 hours. I do not think zero-hour contracts are such a widespread practice in Ireland as elsewhere. The study will throw up some elements that need to be examined as to the pattern of working in some sectors and how we can better protect it. One thing that is different from the United Kingdom is that it does not have REAs that can establish decent working standards in sectors where employers are in a position to pay. An REA is sanctioned and collectively endorsed by the Labour Court and signed into an order, making it effectively law, by me as Minister or a future Minister.
It is something different and creates a framework which allows the development of living wage concepts. The striking down of them was very damaging in the short term, for example, in the area of procurement, where we were potentially very vulnerable in the absence of an REA, to very low wage conditions in public contracts bids.
We are examining the issue of unfair hours, to which we will return when the study is finished. All sides have recognised that we have moved significantly to introduce a balanced measure on collective bargaining and there is something in it for everybody. It gives employers more certainty and workers, in cases in which an employer does not recognise workers' right to collective bargaining, the opportunity to go to the Labour Court to have realistic conditions provided by order, if the employer is not providing a comparable rate of pay or conditions to those in similar types of employment elsewhere, unionised or non-unionised. It also protects workers from victimisation in the workplace, which was one of the issues raised. It is balanced legislation.
Respect for people at work is one of the goals we have been trying to achieve. The reforms we have brought through in the Workplace Relations Bill bring together the five disparate bodies engaged to try to have a more streamlined process for dealing with workers' complaints. Much of the problem was due to long delays, multiple channels of application and the fact that it had become very legalistic. As Senator Marie Moloney said, employers were coming in with an army of lawyers. These factors made it more inaccessible and we are trying to simplify it to have a quicker turnaround.
On the issue of public procurement, in the Workplace Relations Commission we made it easier in that if the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, was pursuing cases, one could go not just to the employer but also to the subcontractors in a public procurement contract if they were not honouring the terms of an REA. We are moving towards having more social clauses in contracts. A number have been built into contracts. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has been keen on this and they have been included in school programmes, Grangegorman programmes and so on. They have had the dual effect of ensuring people who have been unemployed are given an opportunity and building in a certain proportion of apprenticeships.
As a community, we must set an objective in the coming years of returning to full employment. As Senator Gerard P. Craughwell said, people need to have the dignity of a job to go to, as it gets lives back on track. One estimate is that 200,000 people need to get their lives back on track through a concerted effort to achieve a national objective of full employment. It is not a soft or easy road but will demand many changes in how we do public policy, not least in education. If we put our hands on our hearts and ask whether the education system is equipping young people with modern skills, there are weaknesses and we need to make changes. If we want to equip the next generation with the skills they will need to cope in a globally competitive environment, we need to do better and introduce changes.
Setting a target of full employment would force us to iron out issues that might stand in our way, of which there are many. We need to engage in this important debate. We need people's living standards to rise, not by imposing obligations with which the system cannot comply but by way of a virtuous circle, by success and innovation in the workplace, leading to higher living standards and improvements in employment. We have the opportunity to create such a virtuous circle. There have been moments in our history when we have had the opportunity to create such a virtuous circle and keep steady in how we manage our affairs in order that the circle can fulfil its potential. The opportunity has come our way again and we must seize it. While we are starting from a difficult position, with many people still out of work, we have the opportunity to seize it if we take the right approach.
I thank the Senator for proposing the motion which is very constructive in this environment. Talent will be the key. Ireland will win by the way it orchestrates talent, builds new businesses and an innovative environment and fosters workplaces that allow people to fulfil their potential. That is how we will be able to deliver the services we want and have money back in communities. We have embarked, for the first time, on our regional enterprise strategy. It is a genuine, bottom-up strategy. We are sitting down with all players, involving our agencies, getting the best ideas, having competitive calls and giving people the chance to reshape their regions. That is the way we must go. This has been a very good debate. We must ensure we grow a strong economy that can provide full employment. That would give us the avenue to do so much in other areas.
Because we have been successful in getting people back to work in recent years, as we approach the budget there are resources to address the damage suffered in parts of our system. While Senator Gerard P. Craughwell is right to say there may have been problems with the terms and conditions under which SNAs were employed, it is a major change to be able to write a cheque and say we will have 610 extra special needs assistants in place in schools by September. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, has addressed the issue and is seeking more continuity and workflow. That is included in the decision she has recommended to the Government, which has been approved.
I thank the House for arranging this debate. We will return to the issue again and again and can progressively build on the agenda set out.
I thank everybody, on all sides of the House, who has contributed to the debate. In particular, I thank Senator Jillian van Turnhout, from the Independent group, for seconding the motion, for which I am glad that we have secured all-party agreement. As a group, we deliberately drafted it in such a way that it would be achievable. We did not seek to score points, throw petty criticisms at the Government or make it a party political matter. We deliberately recognised progress that had been made and reforms that had been introduced in areas such as the collective bargaining legislation, as the Minister mentioned, which strikes a reasonable balance and has managed to secure wide support not only from employees but also from employers. It has taken what has traditionally been a contentious, unresolved issue and resolved it in a fair way with access to the court, if necessary, to enforce workers' rights. I recognise the work done on the national minimum wage and the Low Pay Commission and accept that much work has been done. We have tabled the motion because there is still cause for concern.
As I said in my opening remarks, many employees who have been brought into employment during recent years have been brought into low paid employment. The record will show that I did not say “most” but “many”. It is a concern and has been held up by research published this week by the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC, which has shown that Ireland has the third highest incidence of low pay in the OECD and that the incidence of low pay is rising steadily and more quickly than in our international counterparts. The incidence of low pay relates not just to the economic collapse of recent years; the study has found that the number of workers experiencing low pay has been rising since 2003. This is a concern and we need to take stock of it.
We have many fine employers. Most employers have signed up on many of the issues we have raised such as good wages, fair working hours, the right to representation, respect, equality and ethos. Generally, employers understand the point the Minister, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú and I have made, that a good employer understands the best way to have a successful business is to keep staff happy and that employees who buy into the business on the same level as the owners and managers are part of a shared vision and want the business to be successful.
I can often tell as soon as I walk in the door of a shop whether staff are treated well by their employer. Most employers treat their staff well, but it is our job to stand up for those who are not afforded decent wages and working conditions or who do not enjoy equality and dignity in the workplace. That is why we have the State's industrial relations machinery and why we need to pass legislation to protect those who are exploited such as Dunnes Stores workers and others working in precarious employment.
I am glad that there is cross-party support for the motion and I urge the Minister to act on the issues of fair pay and decent conditions of work. An issue also arises of bogus self-employment, whereby people are effectively the employees of a company but they are hired as subcontractors in order that the employer can avoid putting them on the books or paying the employee's PRSI. They can be left in a difficult situation in that, not having been employees, they are not entitled to social protection if they lose their jobs. I ask the Minister to investigate this issue.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout has pointed out that fair pay, dignity at work and fair working conditions are not unreasonable. Any decent employer would seek to provide them. I urge the Minister to do all he can to work with employers and unions to ensure they are delivered in order that we do not see another Dunnes Stores or Clerys. The public was rightly outraged to see employees treated in that manner. We need to review our laws to ensure all workers can enjoy the decency and respect to which they are entitled.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.