Delivering Sustainable Full Employment: Statements (Resumed)

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, to the House and appreciate his patience in respect of the delays earlier.

A week on from referendum day in the United Kingdom, some people have expressed frustration that we are still discussing Brexit. I am sorry to disappoint them but in the context of delivering sustainable full employment, the results of the referendum are extremely important. They present challenges, but also a few opportunities.

In the run up to the referendum, a small minority of commentators, such as David McWilliams, claimed that a Brexit would be a good development that Ireland could capitalise on for economic gain, despite the warnings of chaos and turmoil that are now starting to occur. They have got their wish. Writing in the Sunday Independent this week, former Minister and MEP Gay Mitchell put it well when he stated:

Britain will look after its own interests. It is our duty to ensure we put our best foot forward and that we maximise the benefits for Ireland, while minimising the fallout.

Ireland's place in Europe and the wider world is vital to delivering sustainable full employment, and that place has drastically changed in just a week.

As Senator James Reilly mentioned in the House on Tuesday, since 1999 Ireland has been the only English speaking country in the eurozone, and by 2018 it is likely that we will be the only English speaking country left in the EU, pending events in Scotland. It is important to emphasise that Ireland will continue to be an EU member, with full access to the Single Market and retaining all of our advantages for inward investment. We are committed to working within the EU to achieve the jobs and growth that are vital to deepening and broadening our economic recovery. I am heartened to hear that the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, has already held a meeting with Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to discuss contingency plans and that she, together with the enterprise agencies and the Ministers of State under her remit, will also be working to ensure that businesses, investors and potential investors in Ireland are fully informed of Ireland's continued commitment to the EU.

Already we have heard that both Morgan Stanley and HSBC are looking to move up to 3,000 employees from their offices in London to alternative European cities. According to a report in May, Brexit could push about £6 billion of investment into Ireland's financial services sector. One bank that has already moved some operations to Ireland is Switzerland's Credit Suisse, which said in December that it would make Dublin its primary hub for servicing hedge funds in Europe and move staff from London to here.

Ireland has an excellent global reputation in the financial services and financial technology sectors and I ask the Minister and the agencies under her remit to set up a special unit solely charged with trying to lure businesses looking to move from London to Ireland. Dublin in particular offers exiled bankers the English language and a similar legal system, and it is already home to back-office and servicing divisions for many international banks. The Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has already visited London as part of the advance contingency planning and I welcome his and the Government's vision to ensure Ireland is recognised as a global location of choice for specialised international financial services, building on our strengths in talent, technology, innovation and excellent client service while focusing on capturing new opportunities in a changing market and embracing the highest forms of governance.

Central to attracting more companies to Ireland and encouraging existing companies to expand their operations here is our corporate tax rate. When the UK eventually leaves the EU, we will be losing a great ally in the fight against efforts by the European Commission and other member states like France to bully Ireland into increasing this rate or to join in a harmonised European corporate tax rate. No one should forget that Ireland has a veto in this area and that there will be no move to alter that rate under this Fine Gael-led Government.

A report from Bloomberg earlier this week compared Dublin with Paris, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Amsterdam and even Edinburgh as possible destinations for financial institutions now looking to relocate from London in a post-Brexit world. A glowing recommendation brought just two negative concerns to light: a relative lack of office space and high personal tax rates. Our top line personal tax rate of 52% is much higher than the 45% rate in London or Paris or the 42% rate in Frankfurt. When it comes to office space, Dublin is on the back foot but there is scope to improve that with interesting and ambitious plans for a strategic development zone at the former Irish Glass Bottle Company site, while work continues apace in Cherrywood.

If office space is a concern, housing is a far bigger one. While the average monthly rent in Dublin compares very favourably to London or Paris, every one of us knows that there is a shortage of suitable housing in Dublin, especially to rent but also to buy. I welcome commitments by the Government to provide local authorities in Dublin with additional resources to deliver housing units, which will in turn alleviate the pressure on the private rental market, but more must be done to remove the barriers that are preventing private developers to proceed with plans on already zoned sites.

I thank the Minister again for taking the time to engage with the Seanad on this vital issue. Bearing in mind the events of the past week in the UK, I encourage everyone not to leave it solely to the Minister, IDA Ireland or Enterprise Ireland. We should all shout out loud and clear that Ireland is open for business.

I omitted at the outset to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Breen. I believe it is his first time to contribute since his appointment so I wish him well and congratulate him on the appointment. I call Senator Gavan who has six minutes.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment.

My focus as a congress nominee will be on low pay. There is a scandal in terms of low pay in this country on which a light needs to be shone, and I am conscious that the debate is on sustainable employment because much of what passes for employment today is simply not sustainable.

I want to focus in particular on the hospitality industry, which we have heard a good deal about, particularly from this side of the House. It is an industry that for some time has enjoyed a generous tax break in terms of a reduced VAT rate of 9%, costing taxpayers €650 million a year. We know that the hotels industry is booming, with record levels of room occupancy, but that stands in stark contrast to the terms of conditions of workers in that sector. We know that of the 137,000 workers employed in accommodation and food services, more than 50% earn less than €400. Some 17% of all employees in the sector only earned the national minimum hourly wage, while 41% of workers are part-time and 59% are full-time. The weekly average wage is €697, while in the hospitality sector the average wage is €324.86, which is less than half that amount.

Recent research from TASC described the sector as characterised by what are effectively zero-hour contracts. I have examples of these contracts which I will read into the record of the House. The first is from one of the most prominent hotels in Limerick. It states: "Given the nature of the hotel business, the hotel cannot be specific on the number of hours each member of staff will be required to work each week."

Another states:

Your hours will be assigned on a roster basis and will normally include working weekends. It is your responsibility to check the roster to ascertain when you will be required to work.

A contract from McDonald's in Limerick states:

Your hours of work cannot be permanently guaranteed, because the number of staff we can employ depends on how busy the restaurant is. However, you have indicated that your availability for work is as follows.

They get the employee to fill in boxes as to when they are available. It is taking a contract of employment and turning it on its head. It is outrageous. None of these contracts, which are the new norm for the hospitality sector, gives any guarantees on hours of work, no matter how long one is working there, which leaves tens of thousands of workers each week in a state of complete financial insecurity not knowing from one week to another what hours they will get. Would the Minister of State be happy working with a clause such as that in his contract? Would he like his son or daughter to work under those conditions with no guarantee of hours or income from one week to the next? Does the Minister of State think it is acceptable or that these people are lucky to have a job? Will he recognise that this is a modern day throwback to the hiring fairs of old where the employer got to pick and choose each week who would work and for how long?

Is the Minister of State happy that the Irish Hotels Federation refuses to engage with industrial relations statutory bodies, such as the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court, on establishing a new joint labour committee for the sector? What message is the Department sending to the Irish Hotels Federation by continuing the €650 million subsidy in the face of this disgraceful stance by employers in this sector? The message from the Department is "You're grand lads, work away." What is doubly frustrating is that there has been a report sitting in the Department for eight months telling it that these problems exist and giving clear guidelines on the legislative changes that are needed. I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Nash, for the very good work he did on this issue. When will the Department implement the recommendations of the University of Limerick report on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts?

Another key point all members in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are concerned about is when the Department will introduce a statutory instrument to provide for a fair transposition of the EU public procurement directives in line with the provisions of Article 18.2. Will the Department ensure there are proper social clause provisions in place requiring companies that tender to recognise trade unions and pay a living wage?

I raise the issue of TTIP and last month's European Commission study on the agreement, which only confirms my party's worst fears. TTIP will cause significant competition between Ireland and the US, a country which compared to the EU has much lower labour standards and trade union rights. It is, therefore, expected that the Irish economy will see a severe decline in food standards, workers' rights and the agricultural sector. Considering there is such a potential for TTIP to reduce workers' rights in Ireland, Sinn Féin will oppose TTIP under its current mandate. Very few people really understand the dangers of TTIP. I appeal to everyone in the Chamber to address this issue, particularly those of us on the left. It is time for us all to speak out because if we do not, this will be imposed on us. It is an example of the very worst aspects of the EU which probably explains why people are now feeling so alienated by the European project. It is totally in contrast to the ideals of the 1980s.