I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. The purpose of this Bill is very simple. If enacted, it will end sub-minimum rates of pay for workers over the age of 16 unless the worker is engaged in an apprenticeship. We are delighted to be co-hosting this Bill with the Civil Engagement group. We believe the intention of this Bill is based on a reasonable and justified request on behalf of the 22,700 workers in Ireland who are currently being exploited by loopholes in the legislation.
Sinn Féin is delighted to have the support of the Mandate trade union, the Union of Students of Ireland, the National Youth Council of Ireland and Youth Work Ireland, all of which respect the principle of equal pay for equal work and have endorsed this Bill.
I note the significant amount of work and research done on this issue in recent years and I pay tribute to those concerned. Included is the substantial research carried out by the ESRI and the Low Pay Commission, in addition to submissions by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the National Women's Council of Ireland and the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice.
What was evident throughout this large body of research was that exploitation through sub-minimum rates of pay is actually quite widespread, affecting almost 23,000 workers. This widespread abuse was also evident through the social media feedback that we received after launching this Bill in April.
I want to read out a few testimonies to the Minister. One worker wrote: “I’ve been working for over a year and I am on €6.68 an hour. It was my intention to save money for college, but that is just not going to happen. This is slave labour in disguise.”
Another wrote: “There are people in my workplace being paid less than the national minimum wage working alongside those who are on the national minimum wage, but they are doing the same work. This is leading to a lot of tension and conflict between staff.”
A final testimony read: “I am 20 years of age, working for a major sports retailer in Dublin city centre and I am on €7.64 an hour. It is up to the staff to request at the end of each year to be put onto the wage we’re entitled to."
These stories offer us a glimpse into the reality of the workplace for young people, particularly in the context of precarious, temporary, if-and-when employment practices where young workers will be intimidated into not demanding what they are entitled to for fear of losing hours or their jobs. Mandate trade union also provided, in its submission, evidence of employers hiring workers in their 20s on 80% of the national minimum wage, and then letting them go after two years, only to hire another worker on the lower rate in their place. If passed, this Bill would outlaw these practices.
The Bill is very short, containing just two amendments to the principal National Minimum Wage Act. The first amendment is to section 14 of the principal Act. Currently, this section stipulates that a worker under the age of 18 is not entitled to the national minimum wage and can instead be paid as little as 70% of the minimum wage. Our Bill would amend that section to ensure that a worker would be entitled to the national minimum wage at the age of 16. The second amendment is to section 15 of the principal Act which currently stipulates that a worker is only entitled to the national minimum wage once that worker has been in the workforce for over two years. That worker can be paid as little as 80% of the minimum wage in their first year and 90% in their second. Our amendment would remove these two rates of pay and replace them with penalties for employers.
We believe that under current Irish equality legislation, these sub-minimum rates of pay constitute age discrimination with regard to pay. We currently have thousands of workers in their 20s being paid 20% below the minimum wage. These same workers do not get a 20% reduction in their cost of living, or their rent. Many of them may be living on their own or living in another city to their family, and are working part-time to pay off their third level fees. Many young people from working class backgrounds are expected to work and make contributions to their households. This is the reality for young people in Ireland in 2018.
I am sure many of those in the Chamber will remember the arguments in favour of Senators Warfield and Ruane's Bill seeking to give those aged 16 the right to vote. However, I will reiterate some of the points. One pays tax at 16. One can leave school. One is legally recognised as an adult at 18. One has a statutory right to vote, to drink, to get married, to own a gun and to leave home. Yet, there is no age at which one has a statutory right to the national minimum wage. For some people they will not have that right until their mid-20s. This is particularly worrying when one considers that the number of young people engaged in temporary, part-time, and if-and-when work is making up and an ever-growing share of the labour force. This trend and the absence of a statutory right to the national minimum wage is leaving young workers increasingly exposed to exploitation, and we cannot allow this to continue. The Government's very own special rapporteur on child protection, Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, said that these rates of pay constitute unjust discrimination and in his 2015 report he recommended that these rates be abolished completely. We agree with Mr Shannon that no worker should be expected to be exploited by the market in order for them to get their foot in the door.
As legislators, we set minimum standards for employment law. The idea that we would set sub-minimum standards for some groups is nothing short of facilitating the exploitation of others. I do not imagine anyone in this Chamber would believe it acceptable to allow for a sub-minimum rate of pay for those with a disability, a category of the workforce which is hugely under-represented in employment. However, the Minister may be surprised to learn that these archaic sub-minimum rates for disability do exist in America and South Korea. Fortunately, momentum is now building in America to remove those discriminatory rates of pay. I hope that South Korea will follow. In fact, since these sub-minimum rates were introduced into Irish law in 2000, they have subsequently been negotiated and totally removed from all sectoral collective agreements. They have been abolished in Germany, Spain, Canada and Belgium. These countries have each rejected the argument that we may hear tonight, which is that if we remove these rates of pay there would then be no recognition of a difference between a young, inexperienced worker and a more experience colleague. I believe this statement perhaps best represents the difference in ideological thinking on this subject between the left and the right. What should be happening is that the recognition of a difference should be represented in the experienced worker being on a wage higher than that of the minimum wage, rather than the inexperienced worker being on a wage below the national minimum wage. That is what the minimum wage is there for. It should be reserved for inexperienced workers entering the workforce, not for their experienced colleagues.
I also want to speak briefly to the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, published last December, and I want to put on record that I recognise that the commission made an effort to resolve the existing exploitation. This is reflected in the recommendation that all workers who have attained the age of 20 should be given a statutory right to the national minimum wage. However, I cannot overlook the fact that the proposed new structure reflects a step backwards for all workers under the age of 20. In fact, the new system would mean that a worker aged 19, regardless of how many years of experience her or she has, whether three or four years in a restaurant or bar, would still only be entitled to 90% of the minimum wage, and the worker at 18 would only be entitled to 80%. We are talking about adults here, who are not being given any adequate protection under the National Minimum Wage Act. I call on the Minister to consider what we are proposing here this evening as a alternative solution to what the Low Pay Commission have offered.
All we are asking for here is equal pay for equal work. I was genuinely surprised to hear my colleague in the Chamber tell me that Fine Gael is going to oppose this Bill. I cannot believe that it does not agree with the principle of equal pay for equal work. I ask that the Minister seriously consider that and agree to move this Bill forward. We are open to amendments, if necessary, on Committee Stage. What message is sent to young people if Fine Gael is opposing the principle of equal pay for equal work? If one does the same job, regardless of how old or young one is, regardless of disability, regardless of whether one is in Dublin or Donegal, one should get the same pay. I hope we can find some cross-party support for that principle in the Chamber this evening.