Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce the Bill. The Government is delivering on its commitments and this Bill is being brought forward in response to the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to tackle “the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work”.

If enacted, this Bill will improve the security and predictability of working conditions for employees on precarious contracts. I make no apologies for saying there is a particular focus on low-paid, more vulnerable employees in this Bill and I acknowledge that many Members share my interest in workers' rights and have strong views on this legislation. I genuinely look forward to hearing them during the debate.

However, I am conscious that the vulnerable employees whose lives the Bill will improve have been waiting almost a year since it was published. I would like a Bill that emerges out of this House that the President is able to sign into law as quickly as possible and, please God, it will be before Christmas. We also want to make sure that the legislation is balanced, resilient and that it works in practice.

In a dynamic and ever changing global environment, thankfully, the economy continues to strengthen and expand. The number of people on the live register is the lowest today since May 2008. The number of people in full-time employment accounts for 80% of all employment. However, we must remember those people who, not by choice, are in less secure arrangements and may not know from week to week what hours they will be working. This makes it difficult for them to plan their lives outside of work and the Bill will significantly improve employment protections for them.

Ireland should be proud of its robust suite of employment rights, which provide broad protections to all employees. We have modern dispute resolution structures in the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court which are easy to access for both employers and employees. The WRC provides comprehensive early resolution, mediation and adjudication services in relation to the full spectrum of employment rights cases and all of these services are free to the users. It also has a proactive labour inspectorate which carries out workplace inspections to ensure the employment rights of workers and responsibilities of employers are respected. The WRC has an enforcement function in respect of breaches of employment legislation and we have the second highest national minimum wage in the European Union. This Bill is intended to build on that strong foundation.

I took over responsibility for this Bill in September 2017 when certain employment affairs functions were transferred from the former Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to what is now the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the work of those who came before me on this Bill’s journey. In that respect I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State at the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Social Protection, the Taoiseach and Justice and Equality, Deputy Breen, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, and Senator Ged Nash, who as Minister of Stat with responsibility for business and employment in the previous Government, commissioned the University of Limerick, UL, to conduct a study of the prevalence of zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts in the economy.

The Bill is more than three years in the making and it is important for Senators to understand the work that has gone into the Bill, including the extensive consultations that have helped to shape and focus it. This work includes the UL study and the public consultation that followed it and it also includes detailed discussions with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, over many months. I thank the many stakeholders who contributed to the development of this Bill at the different stages of the process.

We must remember that this legislation will apply to all employers in every sector of the economy. It is important that we strike a fair balance between the respective rights and obligations of employees and employers. The Government’s approach in the legislation is to ensure that where we introduce new rights for employees or strengthening existing provisions in the law, the measures are proportionate and counterbalanced by reasonable defences for employers. We need to recognise the challenges faced by employers in running their businesses or providing their services. We must also remember that the vast majority of employers are good employers who treat their employees well and meet their responsibilities under employment law. These employers should have nothing to fear in this Bill. On the contrary, it is aimed at tackling exploitative employment arrangements.

I refer to a number of important points that came up in commentary as the Bill passed through the Dáil. First, there has been much discussion in recent weeks on bogus self-employment. I remind the House that if an individual believes that he or she is being denied employment rights appropriate to an employee, he or she should pursue a case to the WRC. Similarly if one believes he or she may be falsely self-employed for PRSI purposes, he or she should contact my Department’s scope section. Both services are free to the user and easy to access.

The second point concerns the use of if-and-when contracts. There is a suggestion that the Bill does nothing for employees on such contracts. That is not true. On the contrary, the measures in the Bill both individually and in the round will also help to protect employees on if-and-when contracts. The banded hours provision, for example, will apply to someone on an if-and-when contract so that where they have worked an average number of hours over the previous 12-month reference period, they will be entitled to be placed on a band of hours that reflects the reality of the hours they have worked. Employers are obliged to inform employees by the fifth day of their employment what the employer reasonably expects the normal length of the working day or the working week will be. There will be no more waiting on a Sunday night for a text message as to whether one will work for one hour or 30 hours the following week. Employers are also obliged to state the expected duration of the contract and whether the contract is temporary or fixed term on or before the fifth day of employment. Employees on if-and-when contracts will also benefit from the new minimum compensation provisions where they are given notice of hours of work but do not receive those hours. Finally, employees on such contracts will also benefit from the various anti-penalisation measures.

When I completed my Second Stage contribution in the Dáil, I said that I was proud to commend the Bill to that House. However, the passage of the Bill through the Dáil resulted in a number of Opposition amendments being made. There was much compromise on Committee Stage between amendments that went back and forth. For example, we will reduce the reference period in the banded hours provision from 18 months to 12 months on the suggestion of the Opposition. We also accepted an amendment to reduce from 2 months to 4 weeks the time within which an employer must respond to an employee’s request to be placed on a band of hours. Unfortunately, I was not able to persuade all Deputies on a small number of problematic amendments, with the result that the Bill, as passed by the Dáil, contains a number of provisions that need to be revisited. I intend to table a small number of amendments on Committee Stage and I will outline them as we come to the relevant section.

I now propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill, as passed by the Dáil. Section 1 is the commencement provision. Section 1(2) is a deviation from the standard commencement provision and is the result of an Opposition amendment that was carried. I said on Report Stage in the Dáil that this amendment to the commencement provision was problematic for us. It does not exist anywhere else on the Statute Book and it genuinely could have unintended consequences. My officials are discussing this with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and, therefore, I highlight that it may require an amendment.

Could the Minister specify the unintended consequences so that we can note them?

I will but I will not do so until Committee Stage. I will let the Senator know beforehand.

The Minister does not have to respond at this stage. The Senator will have an opportunity to make his contribution in due course.

Section 2 is a standard provision setting out definitions. The Bill amends the Terms of Employment (Information) Act, 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997.

It is important to remember that the existing definitions relating to "contract of employment", "employee" and "employer" in both Acts will apply to this Bill. It is necessary to repeal certain sections of existing legislation to improve on them in this Bill.

Section 3 repeals certain terms of employment listed in section 3(1) of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994. These terms are inserted into section 3(1A) of the same Act by section 7, so that they are required to be provided within five days of commencement of employment. Section 3(b) repeals section 16 of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 so that section 18 of this Bill will replace it.

Section 4 is an amendment the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation requested on behalf of the WRC. Currently, adjudication officers of the WRC do not have powers to compel witnesses to attend a hearing to give evidence in cases taken under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977. The WRC has powers of witness compellability under other employment rights legislation and the intention is to remedy this situation and to put unfair dismissals legislation on the same footing. When the Terms of Employment (Information) Act was enacted in 1994, the WRC did not exist.

Section 5 enters the definition of the WRC into that Act.

Section 6 removes the exclusion of employees who normally work less than eight hours per week in order that such employees will be entitled to receive the written statements of their terms of employment that will be required under the amended 1994 Act. This is to protect employees on low-hour contracts so that they too will be entitled to receive the essential aspects of the employment relationship in writing shortly after starting work for a new employer. The Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 provides that employees have to be a month in continuous employment of the employer before a case can be pursued under the Act. That remains the case in this Bill. This provision acts as a deterrent against frivolous or vexatious complaints.

Section 7 amends section 3 of the 1994 Act to require that an employer shall provide employees with a written statement containing the following five core terms of employment within five days of the commencement of employment; the full names of the employer and the employee; the address of the employer; the duration of the contract, where temporary or fixed term; the rate or method of calculation of the employee’s pay; and the number of hours the employer reasonably expects the employee to work on a daily and weekly basis. This is an important element of the Bill and is designed to ensure that employees are much better informed of the crucial terms of employment at a much earlier stage. This provision is a significant change, which is designed to ensure employees have much greater clarity and predictability about their daily and weekly hours of work. It is not acceptable for employers to provide contracts of employment that are so vague about an employee’s hours of work as to be completely meaningless.

Section 8 deals with posted workers. It amends section 4 of the 1994 Act to require that an employer must provide employees who are required to work outside the State for a period longer than one month, with the written statement containing the aforementioned five essential terms of employment prior to their departure.

Section 9 sets out matters relating to existing contracts of employment. The section amends section 6 of the 1994 Act to provide that where an existing employee requests an employer to provide the written statement containing the five core terms of employment the employer must do so within two months.

Section 10 is the offence provision. It introduces an offence for an employer who fails to provide the statement of core terms of employment required under section 7 within one month of commencement of employment. This section also makes it an offence for an employer who deliberately or recklessly provides false or misleading information to an employee as part of the statement of core terms of employment. For example, an employer who gives a false name so that an employee cannot litigate against that employer will be deemed to have committed an offence under this provision. It is important this section also provides for appropriate defences for employers, namely that they exercised due diligence and took reasonable precautions to ensure the Act was complied with. The ultimate sanction for employers who fail to provide a written statement of core terms of employment or who deliberately misrepresent what is on this day 5 statement is a class A fine up to €5000 or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months, or both. However, a WRC inspector may issue a fixed payment notice in lieu of prosecution for less egregious offences. The fixed payment imposed will be less than the court fine. The purpose of creating this offence provision is to promote better work practices and provide greater clarity around the essential elements of the employment relationship for both the employer and the employee. At the start of the employment relationship, every employee should be entitled to know basic information such as who their employer is, how much they will get paid and what is reasonably expected from them with regard to the normal length of the working day or week. It should not be too difficult for employers to provide this kind of information.

Section 11 inserts a new section 6C in the 1994 Act which prohibits the penalisation of an employee for exercising their rights under the Act. This is a new departure. An anti-penalisation provision never existed in the 1994 Act. Penalisation is broadly defined in the section and includes threats of penalisation. It is important employees believe they can exercise their rights under the Act without any repercussions. This is all the more important in the case of vulnerable employees.

Section 12 provides that an employee must remain in the employment for one month before he or she is entitled to seek redress under the Act. It also provides that an employee cannot proceed with a case against an employer that has been prosecuted for the same contravention if it involves the same employee and the same facts. This is to prevent double jeopardy for employers. There is a similar provision in section 24 of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000.

Section 13 amends the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 to provide for the insertion of relevant definitions. I will table a Government amendment on Committee Stage to delete the definition of "employment regulation order", as it is defined in that Act.

Section 14 amends section 5 of the Organisation of Working Time Act which relieves an employer from complying with the new banded hours provisions in exceptional circumstances or an emergency.

Section 15 replaces the existing section 18 in the Organisation of Working Time Act with a new section 18, which has two effects. It prohibits zero-hours contracts in most circumstances. The UL study found the use of zero-hour contracts is not extensive in Ireland. However, we want to ensure that remains the position. Such contracts will be prohibited in most circumstances except where they are essential to allow employers to provide cover in emergencies, to cover short-term routine absences or if the work is genuinely casual. The section also introduces a new minimum payment of three times the hourly rate of the national minimum wage or three times the minimum rate set down in an employment regulation order, ERO, to compensate workers if they are called into work but do not receive the expected hours of work. For example, if an employer calls an employee into work but then decides they are not needed, that employee would be entitled to three times the hourly minimum wage. This is to discourage the unscrupulous practice of calling in more employees than one needs and giving the ones who show up first the work. Under this new legislation, they will get meaningful compensation for that error.

Is it one payment of €28.65?

Senator Norris will have time to contribute.

It will be the three hours. It will be the minimum wage multiplied by three.

The Minister does not have to respond to the Senator. He will make his contribution when his turn comes.

This is a way of getting answers and the Minister is graciously giving them.

Senator Norris has this awful habit of contributing ad lib when other people are speaking.

I am seeking information.

I have made it clear. The Senator's turn will come. The Minister, without interruption.

The current rate is €9.55 an hour, multiplied by three would make it €28.65.

That is the only payment they get.

Yes, for those three hours.

I thank the Minister.

I do not want this to continue. The Senator is out of order.

The minimum wage will increase in January.

The ERO fixes minimum rates of payment and conditions of employment for workers usually in the low-wage sectors. EROs are in place for the contract cleaning and security industries. There have been requests from some quarters to define casual work. However, the term "work of a casual nature" has existed in the Organisation of Working Time Act since 1997 without ever having to be defined. It has not led to a regulatory problem of employers incorrectly categorising employees as casual in the 20 years since its enactment. It is not good practice to put definitions in legislation when the plain, ordinary meaning of a word is capable of being understood by the bodies adjudicating on it. The WRC and the Labour Court are capable of examining all of the circumstances of a particular case and then making an appropriate judgment as to whether an arrangement is genuinely casual. They have been doing a sterling job up until now.

Section 16 inserts a new section 18A into the Organisation of Working Time Act. It introduces a new right for employees who habitually work more hours each week than is provided for in their contracts of employment to request to be placed in a band of weekly working hours that better reflects the reality of the hours they have worked over the previous 12 months. There was much debate in the Dáil about how workers on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours than provided for in their contracts have difficulties in applying for mortgages, loans from their credit unions or any interaction that involves a financial arrangement.

The situation is also open to abuse by an employer who may use it as a means of exercising undue control over employees where the threat of being put back on the lower contract hours hangs over the employee.

How will the banded hours provision work? An employee will request in writing to be placed in the relevant band of hours. The employer has four weeks to consider the request. The section provides reasonable defences for employers to refuse an employee's request where, perhaps, the facts do not support the employee's claim; significant adverse changes have impacted on the business - an example would be the loss of an important contract and the employer might not be able to offer the same kind of work; an emergency situation for example some businesses have recently been subject to major adverse weather conditions such as flooding which would impact on their business arrangements; and where the hours worked by the employee were due to a genuinely temporary situation such as, for example, providing cover for somebody on maternity leave. The latter would not be considered to be an ongoing arrangement. Where a claim is disputed or refused the employee can refer it to the WRC for mediation or adjudication. If the adjudication officer finds in the employee's favour, the redress will be that he or she will be placed in the appropriate band of hours. No other compensation is provided in order to avoid vexatious or frivolous claims. An appeal against an adjudication officer's decision will be to the Labour Court. Enforcement of a WRC or Labour Court decision will be by way of a District Court order. The section will not apply to employers who have entered into banded hours arrangements through agreements arrived at as a result of collective bargaining with employees. This is to recognise that in some sectors, particularly the retail sector, banded hours arrangements have been agreed between the employer and employees for years and years and have been working exceptionally well. It is important to remember that an employer is not obliged to offer hours of work in a week where the employees were not expected to work or when the business is not open. I refer here, for example, to a hotel in a west of Ireland seaside town that closes for the winter months and that would not be obliged to pay a waiter while the premises is closed.

The Government will be tabling an amendment on Committee Stage to address a drafting issue with the Opposition amendment that was carried. It will be to remove the phrases "more than" and "less than". The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has advised that if these phrases remain, it will cause confusion and uncertainty to both employers and employees attempting to understand the rights provided to them under the Bill. The amendment will be to improve the drafting of the provision only; it is not the intention to interfere with the width of the bands agreed in the Dáil.

Section 17 replaces the existing section 26 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 to strengthen the protection against penalisation of employees who wish to invoke their rights under that Act. Employees need to feel safe in vindicating an employment right. If an employee believes he or she has been penalised or threatened with penalisation for invoking any right under the Organisation of Working Time Act, the adjudication officer may award up to two years of salary.

Section 18 is introduced on foot of the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, LPC, in respect of current sub-minima rates of the national minimum wage. The current system allows for reduced rates of the national minimum wage to apply for those under 18 and for those over 18 in the first and second year of their first employment, and for certain types of traineeships. The LPC's recommendations are straightforward: first, the commission recommended the abolition of the trainee rates, which it felt lacked clear definition of the nature of what constituted appropriate training, and were, in any event, relatively little used; and, second, that the age-based and first employment rates should be retained in light of the statutory protections offered by other employment rights legislation, and in order to protect younger workers' access to the labour market, but on a simplified basis to improve both compliance and the ease of operation. This section will mean that nobody who is aged 20 or over can be placed on a sub-minima rate of minimum wage. The current legislation has no upper age limit in circumstances where it is a person's first employment. It also makes provision for the percentages at which these sub-minima wages are set to be adjusted in the future by statutory instrument, taking into account the labour market conditions at the time. This provision will permit possible further upward adjustment in the rates in a controlled manner where the possibility of any negative impacts on employment for young people can be monitored and assessed. The LPC recommendations in this matter, grounded on research carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, were, for the first time, supported by all nine members of the commission, employer and employee interests, and by the independent members. Section 19 will allow an inspector of the WRC to issue a fixed payment notice where the inspector has reasonable grounds for believing that a person has committed an offence, that is, by not providing the written statement of core terms of employment within the prescribed time or by deliberately or recklessly providing false or misleading information as part of the statement. Such fixed payment notices are already issued under the Payment of Wages Act 1991 and the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. This is considered to be an effective way of securing compliance with the relevant provisions and an effective alternative to prosecution.

Section 20 deals with the false designation of self-employment. I said on Report Stage in the Dáil that I genuinely shared Deputy O'Dea's interest in tackling bogus self-employment. From a policy perspective, however, the Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for reaching a collective agreement on how to tackle it. The amendment is of such potential impact that it should be subject to proper and thorough scrutiny at a pre-legislative forum in order to provide the Houses of the Oireachtas and all stakeholders with the opportunity to consider the full implications of what is being proposed. There is broad agreement that the issue of false self-employment deprives employees of important employment rights and the State of important revenues. However, we already have significant and comprehensive provisions in legislation to tackle it. We will do more to identify, investigate and enforce the false declaration of employment as self-employment. I am pleased to note that the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection recently commenced hearings on this very issue and has indicated that it intends to examine the issue in a comprehensive manner with a wide range of stakeholders. It is envisaged that this work will take a number of months. The joint committee's work in this area is timely and I welcome. My Department has already been represented a hearing of the committee and is committed to assisting the committee further in its work. Against this background, it makes sense for this section to be removed from the Bill to allow the Bill complete its passage through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible. I will be tabling a Government amendment to this effect on Committee Stage.

Legislation can be a stubborn creature. It tends to remain on the Statute Book and we must be cognisant that employment legislation has a significant influence on the labour market. That is why it is really important that we get this legislation right the first time. I hope that we can work together to ensure that this important legislation, which I believe is probably the most significant employment rights legislation in a generation, can be put on the Statute Book prior to Christmas. The Bill is intended to help those employees in precarious employment and most in need of stronger employment protections. They have waited long enough for this legislation. They are relying on us to finalise this Bill as quickly as possible. I urge Senators to work with me to make that a reality.

As the Minister indicated, this legislation directly affects many people who are in receipt of very low wages. Fianna Fáil supports the passing of this Bill to Committee Stage. Our party policy is to ban zero-hour and low-hour contracts that are abusive to workers. We have consistently advocated our policy for the provision of banded hour contracts that work for both worker and employer in a balanced and proportionate way. These commitments were in our party's manifesto in 2016. Significantly, both of these key features are provided for in this Bill and represent progress on policy commitments secured by Fianna Fáil in the confidence and supply arrangement during the formation of this Government. We are happy to work with the Minister on some of the amendments she has outlined in order that the Bill will pass seamlessly through Committee Stage.

The main provisions of the Bill are: to ensure that employees are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements; to prohibit zero-hour contracts in most circumstances; and to strengthen the provisions relating to minimum payments to low-paid employees who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with that work. It introduces a banded hours provision so that employees on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than provided for in their contracts of employment, are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that better reflects the reality of the hours they have worked over a reference period. The Bill strengthens the anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke a right under the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

With regard to zero-hour contracts, section 15 replaces the existing section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act with a new section 18, which prohibits zero-hour practices in most circumstances.

It provides that zero-hour practices are allowed in limited circumstances, for example, emergencies or short-term relief work to cover routine absences. In situations where employees are called into work but sent home without work, there will be a new minimum payment of three times the national minimum wage or three times the minimum hourly rate in an employment regulation order. Employees who are on call will continue to be excluded from this minimum payment.

Section 16 deals with banded hours. The Bill introduces banded hour contracts in primary employment legislation. A banded hours system means that the employee is aware of his or her minimum guaranteed weekly working hours and the likely maximum number of hours he or she will be required to work. This directly affects employees looking for a loan or applying for a mortgage in that it can be taken into account in their application, thereby giving some certainty in their lives. Banded hours mean that employees are guaranteed working hours that do not fall below the minimum of the band that applies to them. Under the provisions of the Bill an employee will be entitled, where his or her contract of employment does not reflect the number of hours habitually worked per week over a reference period, to be placed on a band of working hours that is a more accurate reflection of hours worked. The reference period provided for is 12 months, whereas it was previously 18 months. If an employee believes his or her contract does not accurately reflect the hours worked, that employee requests to be placed on the band of weekly working hours. The employer will have four weeks to consider the request and to place the employee in the relevant band of hours. Disputes will be referred to the Workplace Relations Commission and to the Labour Court, on appeal.

This section of the Bill also includes reasonable defences for employers to refuse an employee’s request to be placed on a particular band, for example, where the facts do not support the employee’s claim, where significant adverse changes have impacted on the business, for example, emergency circumstances, where the business has had to close due to flooding or other events, and where the hours worked by the employee were due to a genuinely temporary situation. It is important that we balance safeguarding workers’ rights with the rights of employers.

The Minister referred to section 20 dealing with bogus self-employment. Deputy O'Dea has raised this issue with a view to ensuring we tackle the prolific use of bogus self-employment, not just in the private sector but also in the public sector. It is not just employees who are being deprived of their social welfare benefits, but taxpayers and the Revenue are also deprived of employer's PRSI by both the private sector and the public sector. It is not just an issue that affects the private sector.

Fianna Fáil included and secured an amendment on Report Stage to make it an offence for an employer to incorrectly designate an employee as self-employed. This is very much to make the point that this is a serious issue and has to be tackled. I welcome that the Minister is creating a separate forum to tackle this issue. As I said, we are happy to work with the Minister on the basis that this provision will be removed and the Bill goes through Committee Stage without delay. Our main focus is to facilitate the passage of the Bill and under no circumstances do we want to block it. This is a serious issue that has to be addressed. We are committed to workers’ rights and ending situations where workers are erroneously designated as self-employed.

The Fianna Fáil position is that workers on low and zero-hour contracts have no security when it comes to hours or pay from week to week. It is very unfair that workers in such precarious positions face uncertainty every week and every month. Under the confidence and supply arrangement we extracted a policy commitment to tackle the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work that prevents workers from being able to save or have any job security. Workers deserve a fair reward for the work performed. We believe that priority focus should be on low and medium paid workers and improving their job security. Too many workers, most of whom are women, are in unstable work as they are only offered part-time or temporary employment, or zero-hour contracts. We support fair and decent living wages for all workers in Ireland. Zero-hour contracts must be changed to allow workers more certainty. Workers on low and zero-hour contracts must be allowed the right to request more hours of work.

We support proportionate legislation on banded-hour contracts for those on low pay. This will allow workers on low and zero-hour contracts a minimum set of hours and the right to request more hours, as practised in other larger retailers. As a party, we recognise that the majority of employers act in a fair and decent manner and treat their employees appropriately. On Committee Stage we will be receptive to amendments to section 10, which states that an employer who fails to furnish an employee with a statement in writing no later than five days after commencement of the particulars of their employment may be subject to a summary conviction and a class A fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both. This is civil legislation and I do not believe it should contain criminal sanctions. The WRC is a very effective tool; it has been given many more powers since its establishment and is working well. Ultimately, we would be happy to review the amendments the Minister tables in regard to section 10. A law which states that somebody can go to jail for 12 months if he or she does not provide information in time seems disproportionate and unfairly harsh on employers, and we will be receptive to amendments to improve this section on Committee Stage.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I look forward to the speedy passage of the Bill before Christmas.

I welcome the Minister. I want to indicate my personal support for this Bill in substance. Whereas one might instinctively hold back on further regulation of the employment relationship, looking internationally across the western world, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, the republican value of having a coherent economic community in which there is not a class of the wealthy exploiting the poor is being diminished constantly. One only has to look to what has happened in the United Kingdom, where, for ten years now, there has been virtually no change in the real value of workers' wages at a time when the remuneration of the wealthy, those who are in charge of the banks and so on, seems to be unlimited. One wonders what kind of society thinks it is sustainable to have that increasing divergence between those who are the bottom of the economic heap, who are trying to participate, and those who are at the top of the economic heap, who are trying to become wealthier. One only has to look at the divergence in the US between the group which they refer to as the middle class - a phrase which seems to mean the working class, in our view of the world - such as the people working in Walmart, for instance, and the wealthy, who seem to be pursuing at all costs the idea that their retirement funds and their personal wealth should accumulate at a far faster rate than the capacity of ordinary workers, on whom their wealth is fundamentally dependent.

It seems the casualisation of employment relations is something which is disempowering for the most vulnerable and unorganised employees, and is convenient for those who are in a position to exploit them economically. Although we are now in a far better position than we were a few years ago in terms of employment and we are approaching full employment, which should give workers greater opportunities to earn more and be more justly remunerated than would be the case if there was high unemployment, we are right to do something about the disempowering aspects of casualisation. I support the principle of this legislation.

I want to say two things about the Minister's speech.

I looked carefully at the amendment that was inserted as Part 7 on designation of persons as self-employed. I know exactly what Deputy O'Dea was driving at in tabling this amendment and what he was trying to achieve, which is twofold. First, it is to ensure that those who are in de facto employment actually enjoy de jure rights as an employee; I am fully in favour of that. Second, it is to ensure that those who are in enterprises in competition with each other are not in a position to effectively avoid their employment law, social welfare law and tax law obligations to the detriment of their competitors, and to drive down their costs by exploiting unfair designation of employees as independent contractors.

However, I agree with the Minister. The Long Title makes no mention of Part 7 and the designation offence because obviously it was a late amendment to the Bill.

The Title could be changed.

If it should be there, it should be there and the fact that it arrives late is immaterial. However, section 20 states: "It shall be an offence for an employer to incorrectly designate an employee as self-employed." It also provides punishments for that offence. This is creating a criminal offence. To find out who commits this offence and who does not, it is necessary to go to section 20(8) which provides two indicative lists which are admitted not to be either exhaustive or in any sense absolutely necessary for a court, presumably, to determine whether someone is or is not an employee, or is or is not self-employed.

There seems to be a drafting error in section 20(6) which states: "In proceedings for an offence under this section, it shall be a defence for the accused to prove that he or she exercised due diligence and took reasonable precautions or any person under the control of the accused to ensure that this designation was correct." I do not blame a Deputy for making an error of this kind, but it would have to be reconsidered.

Page 19 of the Bill deals with indicative characteristics of self-employment. One of the characteristics of employment is that the person, "receives expense payments to cover subsistence and/or travel expenses". I can well imagine self-employed people asking for subsistence or travel expenses in carrying out a function. I do not think that would actually tip the balance one way or another. Sections 20(9)(e), (f) and (g) do not seem to be indicative of self-employment or non-self-employment. Section 20(9)(j)provides that someone, "has a fixed place of business where materials, equipment etc. can be stored". I do not think that the absence of such a fixed place of business is an indication that somebody is not a self-employed person.

I agree with the Minister that the table in section 16 should be amended in the way the draftsman has suggested because it is confusing in its current form. I welcome the Bill. I happen to agree with the Minister on both of those issues. I ask all Members of the House to listen carefully to what she has said. She has made reasonable points. She is not attempting to avoid the problem of false designation of self-employment, but she is asking the following very reasonable questions. Is this the vehicle in which to do it? Will penalisation in a summary offence be effective? Is the formulation of criteria for deciding whether somebody has been falsely designated, as set out in the particular section, apt to underlie a criminal conviction beyond reasonable doubt against an individual who may or may not be trying to do his or her best?

I welcome the Minister to the House. I believe this is the first time I have spoken in the House with her present since the budget. I thank her for what she did for the self-employed in the budget. In the middle of next year for the first time the 400,000 self-employed people will get social protection recognition through jobseeker's payments.

The Bill provides that employers must give employees five core terms of employment within five days of commencement of employment. Employers who have not provided this statement after one month will be open to prosecution. This is a new offence. It will also be an offence for an employer to deliberately misrepresent the information required in the statement of the five core terms.

The Bill prohibits zero-hour contracts in most circumstances, except in situations of genuine casual employment and where they are essential to allow employers to provide cover in emergency situations or to cover short-term absence. All employees, including people on if-and-when contracts will benefit from the balance of measures proposed in the Bill.

The Bill provides for a new minimum payment for low-paid workers who may be called into work but sent home again without the promised work or any meaningful compensation. The focus here is on low-paid employees. The Bill provides for a new minimum compensation payment of three times the national minimum wage hourly rate or three times the hourly rate set out in an employment regulation order, ERO. Traditionally EROs have operated in low-wage sectors. Currently, EROs are in place for the contract cleaning and security industries, providing for minimum hourly rates of pay of €10.40, which will rise to €10.80 from 1 December 2018, and €11.35 respectively. The provision applies to low-paid workers to ensure it is focused on those most in need of stronger protections in this area. The provision will also act as a deterrent against the unscrupulous practice of employers calling into work, for example, ten people where there is only work for five people and the first five to show up get the work.

The Bill introduces a right for employees whose contract of employment does not reflect the reality of the hours they habitually work. This creates difficulties for employees in accessing credit, including mortgages. Under the Bill, such employees will be entitled to be placed in a band of hours that better reflects the hours they worked over a 12-month reference period. The banded hours provisions will significantly improve the predictability and security of working hours for employees, so that they can better plan and get on with their lives outside of work.

The Bill provides strong anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke their rights under this legislation. This is a key element of the Bill for workers in less secure employment who may be afraid to exercise their rights.

There has been much talk about bogus self-employed people. I am delighted that section 20 has been removed from the Bill and that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection will commence hearings on the matters. I have seen this at first hand. During the recession many bogus self-employed people in the courier business, through no fault of their own, when things were going well were given big fancy vehicles to drive around.

The terms of employment were that one was made self-employed. When things were going well, these people made a living for themselves. When the crash came, they were bogus self-employed and they were entitled to nothing. What families had to go through to try to get social protection payments was horrendous. In certain cases, it took 12 to 18 months before a payment came through. I welcome that we are going to look at this through the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection and that we will bring in stronger legislation in this area. I congratulate the Minister on this Bill and look forward to bringing it further in this House.

I welcome the Minister and this important Bill. I know it has been a long time in the making and that consistent and persistent work has been done by my colleagues in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, my own union, SIPTU, Mandate and Unite. I acknowledge the work of the former Minister of State, our colleague, Senator Nash, and the important report from the University of Limerick on zero and low-hour contracts. I am delighted to see a number of aspects of my party's Banded Hours Contract Bill have been incorporated into the legislation. I think this is due recognition of my party colleagues, Deputies Cullinane and Brady, and Conor McCabe.

I thought it might be useful to start by talking about the contracts people have. Here is one from the hotel industry which is very common throughout Limerick. It states that "[g]iven 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." One from a prominent manufacturing site in Limerick states:

Hours of work are solely dependent on the department and daily volume of orders that need to be completed. This can and does vary on a daily basis. The company operates from Sunday to Saturday.

It goes on to state:

The Company reserves the right to change these working hours should circumstances require it. As much notice as possible of any such change will be given to you.

On occasions, however ... little, if any, notice will be possible and you should be aware of same.

That is a very standard contract from a very prominent manufacturing site in Limerick. One from the nursing home industry stated that "your normal working hours will be up to 48 hours per week, Monday to Sunday". It is that stark.

Due to my background as a trade union official, people often ask me, while they know these contracts exist, how common they are. They are extremely common and are becoming more common. A frightening statistic I saw today is that of the jobs created in the last 15 months, 66% are temporary. That is quite shocking. We have very good rates of employment growth but two out of three of those jobs are temporary. That comes from CSO figures and from Michael Taft, a respected economist. We have a major problem. Some fantastic work was launched last week. Senator Nash was at the launch with me. It was called Precarious Work, Precarious Lives, by Sinéad Pembroke from the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC. It details that in Ireland, 20% of workers are part-time, many of them in involuntary part-time work. A further 8% are on temporary contracts and 2.5% are temporary agency staff. This type of contract has been inflicted on a big portion of the workforce.

I welcome the Minister's speech. As she points out, people have no security. They cannot plan for the future and cannot get a bank loan. They could not even dream about a mortgage. It is important this Bill is enacted. While we have some concerns about it, I assure the Minister of Sinn Féin's support for it and we will do all in our power to ensure that the Bill is swiftly completed. That includes trying to complete it this evening. I might shorten my speech to allow others in because I think we are due to finish at 7 p.m.

We will adjourn the debate at 7 p.m.

I encourage colleagues to take a lead from us. I do not think we need to come back to do this on a second day. I mean that respectfully since I know everyone has important points to make. We need to get this Bill through before Christmas and the Minister will have our support. I welcome all the provisions in the Bill. The points about specifying hours are welcome. I would like to see a complete ban of if-and-when contracts but we will support this Bill as it stands. The point about introducing a payment floor is welcome, as are the narrow bands in the Bill. We are happy to look at the point the Minister makes about how to redraft the "more or less" phrasing and we will hopefully not have any issues with it.

We need a definition of casual work. We are not going to object to it in this Bill. I see it across the hotel sector in Limerick. People have been working for years in hotels under a casual contract and employment so there is a problem there. I want to talk about self-employment. Deputy O'Dea's amendment is well-intended but it will delay this Bill and, therefore, we will work with the Government to make sure this Bill comes through. There is a major problem with bogus self-employment. I speak from my experience as a union official. We need new legislation. Current legislation is not comprehensive enough. I hope, as does the Minister, that the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection will deal with that swiftly. We differ with regard to sub-minimum rates of pay. The Minister knows that from a previous conversation. We will not lodge objections at this point because we want to see this Bill go through.

It is important that we look at Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, resources. Some €444,000 of unpaid wages were recovered last year in the food and drink sector alone from 600 investigations. When there is a non-compliance rate for employers as high as 54%, that tells us there is a major problem, so we need to look at that with regard to making sure we have more resources. I respectfully disagree with our colleague, Senator Ardagh, about criminalisation. We need it because unfortunately increasing numbers of employers are ignoring WRC recommendations and even enforcement orders. I have brought some of those issues to the attention of Cabinet colleagues of the Minister. We should welcome this Bill. It reflects well on the Minister, on the committee and on the tremendous work of trade union movements and colleagues across all parties. I wish it every success.

I welcome the Minister and commend the Government for this important legislation. As a former member of Mandate, I also commend its work in pushing for this legislation. Other trade unions have been involved too. It is a long overdue step in promoting workers' rights and a realisation of the plight that many workers in our workplaces, in the services, retail, hospitality, care, cleaning and security sectors, face daily. Women are often forced into these kinds of work with a subsequent knock-on effect on their children and ensuing poverty. I agree with John Douglas, general secretary of Mandate, which represents 40,000 workers. He stated: "This piece of legislation is the single most important piece of legislation for vulnerable workers in decades." It is urgent that we pass it speedily to provide for the prohibition of zero-hour contracts, which are deeply damaging to employees and their families, many of them women, who are bound by the contracts.

These contracts create a dictatorial environment where there is little or no certainty for the employee about hours or conditions. These blatantly unfair practices push people and families into the grip of poverty and I welcome moves to abolish them. I welcome the minimum payments and the disincentive that that will create for employers to call people in when they do not need them and not giving them work. The banded hours provisions are to be welcomed. I especially welcome sections 7, 9 and 10 relating to the written statement of core terms and conditions. People often do not know what they are entitled to and what they can ask for and that is shocking. The written statement that people are entitled to would go a long way to enhancing workers' rights and also for people to seek redress when rights are infringed.

I commend the spirit of the Bill and the protection of the most vulnerable workers. I am concerned about bogus self employment and those people who deliver food to us. I am concerned about who will look after those people, who are very often young, if they have an accident and come off their bicycle and where they will get the care they need. That might not fit in this but it is an urgent matter. We are exploiting our young people particularly in exposing them to that type of employment. It is grossly unfair, it is dangerous and it needs to be outlawed, if not in this legislation then elsewhere. However this legislation gives us the opportunity to outlaw some of these unfair practices now and for good. We must also do all we can to protect those vulnerable people who do not come under the Bill’s remit. I commend the Bill.

The Bill has many positive elements and there are sections that I commend specifically. There may be opportunity on Committee Stage to go through some of those sections. I am happy to see the narrow bands in the banded contracts. There have been some good decisions on this and that should be retained.

I had the opportunity in April to launch the TASC report “Living with uncertainty” which examined the social implications of precarious work. It examined the context of pressure, abuse and exploitation, its very significant impact on health, family life and security, and on capacity to plan for the future, as others have outlined. There is also a knock on-effect on communities in their social fabric and cohesion, because it is not only people’s own family lives that are affected but also their capacity to engage with others, and build society. Recently, that report has been followed up with the report “Precarious Lives”. The impacts are very significant and are not only cause for serious concern among the individuals affected but all of us in society.

As I am trying to be brief, I will discuss only two or three of my concerns with this Bill, although I am extremely supportive of it, welcome it and wish to expedite its passage through the House. There may be areas in the Bill which, though not designed as such, might prove to be loopholes in future. The University of Limerick’s excellent research was mentioned. I learned something when I read this Bill. We have always been told that people got 15 hours but looking at the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 it can often be less than that. There had been a perception that that was the default form of contract when, in fact, if and when contracts prevailed. The University of Limerick report gave great insight into the ways in which loopholes were being used in a way that was not being monitored. I would be happy to work with the Minister on this, but I want us to build some form of review or capacity into this Bill so that we can examine some of the areas that may become loopholes in the future and ensure that we do not wait a decade for university research to identify them. The areas for concern that I have seen are if and when contracts, questions of how hours are determined, such as whether it is usually 15 hours, or if there a default. There is the matter of the caveat that allows an employer to secure an exemption if the employee is not available for any other reason. There is the question of casual work and protection against penalisation. I may come back to the Minster but there are a few areas where we could schedule a review to ensure that the Bill is functioning as planned.

Self-employment has been addressed. I would not like to see that delayed because of the committee but we will continue to press on it. There is also the matter of appeals on scope determination of self-employment which is something that we can progress without legislation. There is concern about the overturning of scope determinations of employee status.

Finally, I urge that the Minister would consider accepting amendments on the request for more hours which is a crucial issue. Employees should have the right to request extra hours. The committee has seen people having to access family income supplement or finding themselves one or two hours short of accessing family income supplement. This might be addressed on Committee Stage.

I cannot assure the Minister that I will be brief and I hope that she and the Cathaoirleach will indulge me. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. I welcome the Minister and her officials who have worked very hard over many years to get to this point. In fairness, I also wish to give the Minister her due credit for sticking with this project. I wondered at times if we would ever get to this point, but we did, and it looks as though there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I thank the Minister for her kind words earlier. Four years ago, I was involved in appointing Dr. Michelle O’Sullivan and her team in the University of Limerick to undertake a study on the prevalence and impact of zero and low-hour contracts in Ireland. We asked that team to develop with us some recommendations as to how this policy area could be best addressed. This initiative was part of a broader, interconnected set of policy interventions that the last Government undertook designed to make work pay and to ensure that people were guaranteed a greater degree of dignity at work. These included the establishment of the Low Pay Commission; increases to the minimum wage, which, as the Minister rightly pointed out, is the second highest minimum wage in the European Union; the establishment of employment regulation orders; new sector employment orders; and, the institution of a new constitutionally robust system within which collective bargaining could take place. These changes positively impacted on around 250,000 or perhaps up to 300,000 workers and these workers continue to benefit from these measures. When we introduce good legal minimum standards and enforce them our economy and society does well. This floor of rights and decency benefits all of us. In the tentative and very early stages of our economic recovery, everyone’s focus was on getting people back to work. That was the ultimate objective for everyone. At the height of the economic catastrophe which we hit in this country, some half a million people were out of work. Back in 2011 or 2012 there were many people who might have left work on a Friday or closed the doors of their business on a Friday evening not knowing whether they would have a business or a job to go back to on Monday morning. That targeted focus that the previous Government had on job creation was never about job creation at any price, but about the creation of sustainable jobs where conditions were decent and where the pay rates would allow one not only to exist but to live.

Senator McDowell mentioned earlier how all around us we could see the growth of casual and atypical work. This was not a phenomenon that just grew out of the recession. We could see for many years that the traditional employment model was fraying around the edges. We all knew that some employers did not waste the opportunity presented to them by a good recession to drive down the pay and terms and conditions of workers. I have argued to death with economists about data and trends on casualisation of work in this country over the past 20 years or so. Some do not feel there is a particular problem and argue that the data have remained consistent over the years. That may be the case in relation to the headline figures but the composition has certainly changed and I dispute much of what economists say. Many say that casualisation is a reality as is atypical work but I can never accept that there should be a cohort of people who will be left behind, who would not get the same types of protections and supports that everyone should take for granted in a decent society. We should never be happy that there are people who form a subgroup or sub- cohort of our labour market who are in work environments which are permanently precarious.

People work hard for a living and, as the Minister has said time and again, they are entitled to certainty over their hours and security over their income.

There is no doubt this Bill, which has wound its way through the Dáil over the past few months, reflects the bulk of the key recommendations made by the University of Limerick team three years ago. I will not go into the provisions of the Bill in any great detail other than to say I welcome them all. For me, probably the most critical reform is the one that allows the reality of somebody's working hours to be reflected in his or her working and contractual arrangements after a period of time. The reform will have an enormously positive impact in situations where workers find themselves with ten hour or 15 hour contracts but where their work pattern finds them routinely working for much longer.

As the Minister knows, and I have rehearsed these arguments time and again, I have a deep and genuine concern about one aspect of this that I believe has been neglected. The University of Limerick study, as emphasised by my colleague, Senator Higgins, identified the phenomena that we term if-and-when contracts. Since the report and its recommendations were launched in October 2015 I have sounded like a broken record, repeatedly reminding people about the importance of amending legislation to ensure workers on if-and-when contracts are protected. I know the Minister and her officials are convinced this legislation deals comprehensively with that issue but I have a different view. That is why we should take a belt and braces approach and amend the Bill to enable all workers, including those on if-and-when contracts, to have access to the excellent terms and protections contained in this legislation, without any exceptions. Senator Higgins and I would like to work with the Minister and her officials to see if some pragmatic arrangement could be made to reflect my concerns in the Bill and address those issues.

I will conclude by congratulating the Minister again on the work she has done and thank her for sticking with this project. It would have been easy to walk away from it and accept the views of some on the employers' side that there is nothing to see here or there is no problem. Thankfully, she stuck with this project. She has been true to her word and to the programme for Government.

Credit is due also to Senator Ardagh. Fianna Fáil, in its manifesto, assured us that it wanted this area covered in terms of any future government it may participate in or any future arrangement. There is a consensus in this House and across society that we should not have cohorts of workers who are simply left behind and that we should have a labour market model that is fair and respects people's rights at work and ensures that work pays. I want to work with the Minister over the next few weeks to make sure we get this legislation over the line because the best Christmas present we can give workers in precarious work in this country is the protections of this legislation, thus enabling them to have a decent quality of life and to be respected in the workplace.

Senator Norris has eight minutes.

I welcome the Minister and the Bill. I am 74 years old, so I grew up in a different age. Circumstances change very rapidly nowadays. When I was younger and started working, we had an expectation of a lifetime job and a pension at the end. That is all gone now. We have the casualisation of work and we have disposable workers. Everywhere I look in my own university, people are on short-term contracts. It is the same in RTÉ. All these big organisations have them. There has been a campaign, and I think the Minister would agree, stemming from trade union sources, to address this situation. The campaign as I understand it, and I have had quite a lot of emails on this subject, is composed of six target areas that have, by and large, been pretty well met by this legislation. The target areas are as follows: ban zero-hour practices, including exploitative if-and-when contracts; provide workers with secure-hour contracts that reflect the reality of the average weekly hours worked; ensure a maximum look-back period of 12 months or less to calculate the average weekly hours; ensure the maximum width of all band of hours is no greater than five hours per week; and protect workers from victimisation for enforcing their rights under this legislation. All of them have been pretty well addressed. I am not so sure about the last target area about ensuring the legislation is implemented so that current workers can avail of its provisions for hours already completed. I do not think that is contemplated by the Bill and, in fact, I think it is explicitly prohibited.

I said I received a large amount of correspondence and I will read some of it into the record. One is from a highly educated person who is very well informed about this area. He made the following point:

The situation in Ireland currently is not the norm in Europe and is creating a race to the bottom situation. In Germany, for instance, workers can either work full time or in a 'mini-job' of 15 hours a week, with a minimum pay level of 450 euro a week. Those hours can be as flexible as employer and employee like - as long as they are met. I would struggle to find anyone to argue that this has negatively the German economy, its employment levels or its level of female workplace participation - all arguments that critics of this bill have floated.

The next piece of correspondence is more from someone at the coalface, where this legislation really hits. She made a brief statement but it is really indicative. She said:

Please, please pass this Bill as Dunnes are getting away with so much. If the staff asks for a new contract or extra hours they are given less hours the next week. Dunnes will make it harder on workers, for example, when they out on strike. After the strike the workers' hours were lowered until the shortfall was made up of what they lost on most days. Clearly, the workers cannot stand up for themselves for fear of reprisals. I am sorry that I cannot give my name but my son works for Dunnes.

That just shows the degree of victimisation. When one thinks that Dunnes Stores workers, who went out on strike protesting against apartheid and in solidarity with the people in South Africa, who are being victimised, then we really need to listen to that voice from inside Dunnes Stores.

I will talk briefly about the Bill. There are a number of highly important sections, of which section 7 is one. The section amends the 1994 Act by the insertion of a section, which provides that an employer within five days shall give a certain amount of information. That is pretty basic but I say well done to the Minister for putting the provision in legislation for, I think, the first time. Section 7(1A) states:

(a) the full names of the employer and the employee;

(b) the address of the employer in the State ...; and

(c) in the case of a temporary contract of employment, the expected duration thereof-----

I apologise but I wish to advise that Senator Nash had eight minutes as spokesperson, so Senator Norris is entitled to just five minutes.

How many have I had?

The Senator has one minute left.

Section 7 guarantees a series of things. Section 10 relates to offences. The section is very important as it states that an employer who fails to provide within a reasonable amount of time or who gives wrong information can be penalised. Penalisation, which I would call victimisation, is being outlawed. I say well done to the Minister as the practice should be outlawed. Another section of the Bill directly addresses the prohibition of zero hours.

I am concerned that Deputy O'Dea went to a lot of trouble to provide a very detailed amendment about the incorrect designation of employees as self-employed. His contribution is very detailed and important. Fianna Fáil has withdrawn the amendment but I urge that it is contemplated with a sense of great-----

Sorry, Senator, if you could conclude, I would appreciate it.

I will conclude in a minute.

I have mentioned the possibility of victimisation and there are a couple of other issues. The Minister put a human face on the matter when she said: "There will be no more waiting on a Sunday night for a text as to whether one will be working for one hour or 30 hours". She also mentioned the problems people have in getting mortgages and bank loans. She has put a human face on the issue, which is being properly addressed by the legislation.

I refer again to the false designation of self-employment. The Minister said that "we already have significant and comprehensive provisions in legislation to tackle it" but I do not think so. Otherwise, why would it continue? Why does it continue to be a significant feature of employment difficulties? Why did the Minister say that this issue has been relegated to a committee for examination, that its work is ongoing and that it is so important? I do not believe for one second that the legislation is at all adequate and I call on the Minister to introduce the kind of legislation that is contemplated in the amendment. I would have voted for the amendment. I am surprised Fianna Fáil has withdrawn it but that is its decision.

I thank the Senator. Does the Leader want to make a statement?

I propose that the debate on Second Stage of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 be adjourned not later than 7.10 p.m., if not previously concluded, to allow Senator Murnane O'Connor to participate and the Minister to reply.

Is that agreed? Agreed. I call Senator Murnane O'Connor who has five minutes.

I thank the Minister. I and my Fianna Fáil colleagues welcome the Bill. The Minister's contribution was excellent. I will look at this from a different angle. We also see how hard Irish people have worked. If we learned anything from the recession, we learned that. They work so hard and have been upskilling and changing their careers. They are moving forward and getting by as best they can. The great thing about this is that they contribute to the figures that are constantly quoted in respect of the return to almost full employment. However, the type of work they have found is not what we can really call full employment. These famous figures should be scrutinised. In recent years we have seen a new category of employee, the zero-hour employee. This employee has a contract but it is not worth the paper it is written on. Under this contract, the employee is available for work but does not have specific hours of work. It is a formal arrangement where the worker is required to be available for a certain number of hours per week or when required, or a combination of both.

Employees on zero-hour contracts are protected by the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 but this does not apply to casual employment. Sometimes they do not feel part of a team. They work just as hard as everyone else in the company. In some cases, they get no holidays, no sick days and no parental leave. This type of work offers them no security, no commitment and certainly no standing that would allow them to seek to obtain mortgages or assistance with paying rent because their wages are averaged over the year and they work so haphazardly that the numbers never quite add up. The Bill has been sorely needed for a very long time. It has already taken too long to get to this House. It has some great aspects. I see the work of my colleague, Deputy O'Dea, in this. It is important to acknowledge that. I welcome anything that would enhance minimum payments to workers who are called in to work only to be sent home. We need to empower the workforce again. We need to see a true reflection of who is working and the types of work they are doing if we are to develop correct policies. We cannot pat ourselves on the back and state that the country is working again if so many workers do not know if they will work next week or next month, or for how long.

There has been an increase in the number of companies hiring people on the basis of bogus self-employment. The Minister is addressing that, which I welcome. These workers do not own their own companies and are not financially in a position to assume risk. They pay their taxes but often seek assistance from charities because they are caught in zero-hour contracts. They have little other choice. They want to work, so let us put the power back into their hands and get them real contracts. The Minister and others stated that there are very good employers out there and I agree that it is important to recognise them. The Bill is required for those who need it most. I am thinking of families who come into my clinic and who cannot get mortgages because of zero-hour contracts. We need to get this through before Christmas. I congratulate the Minister. The legislation is really positive for the working person.

I thank Senators for their praise for the Bill. We will pass it before Christmas and it will be a collective achievement. I cannot overemphasise that there is no monopoly on wisdom for any political party or for people of any particular persuasion. Everybody in this House and in Dáil Éireann has an opportunity to enhance an idea. This idea was sprouted long years ago and, as Senators have stated, it is in many party manifestos and in speeches made by advocates and union representatives. When the legislation is passed, it will probably be much better than it was when it was first mooted. It will be our collective achievement. I join Senator Nash in acknowledging the officials seated behind me who have worked for the past four years to get the legislation to where it is now. I thank them for their hard work.

I want to make two brief points before I wrap up. Senator Nash and I differ on some elements of the Bill. I think the if-and-when contracts issue is managed well but he disagrees. I am certainly willing to talk to him and to Senator Higgins in the coming days. If we can reach some accommodation, we certainly will do so. If we cannot, I hope we will not fall out over it. I think it is a good idea to have a review. Most legislation is supposed to be reviewed after 12 months but we are all busy; we move on and the next issue comes around. If there are any unintended pluses or minuses we should have a look at them. Perhaps we can agree on when that should happen and I can introduce it into a speech at some point before the recess.

There are two issues in the context of people declaring themselves to be self-employed, whether they do so willingly or otherwise. First, there is the loss of revenue that we could spend in a variety of ways. I do not know how much that loss is but even if it is only small, it is still money out of the taxpayer's pocket and it is in businesses' pockets instead, where it should not be. Second, we need equalisation across all of our social welfare schemes for self-employed and employed people. It should not matter whether a person creates his or her own job or works for Dunnes Stores. The employment rights should be same and access to social security should be the same. We started to move towards equalising some of the social security schemes. We are now moving to equalise some of the employment rights legislation. Not everybody agrees with me; even people on my side of the House. However, it is my view that the last thing to be done to equalise the situation is to remove the reason people declare themselves as being self-employed. If we can equalise that last platform, then there are no advantages any more to being self-employed or employed, other than the ability to direct one's own work, which comes with being truly self-employed. That is what self-employment should actually be all about. It is the creation of work and the ability to direct it. If the monetary difference was taken out of the equation, we would see that issue being addressed with a bit of a sledgehammer. That is for the future. We are going to address it with the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection and will find other ways of approaching it. I look forward to making my contribution before the committee.

This is significant legislation. It has been described as once in a generation. Senator Murnane O'Connor stated that people are watching tonight who are waiting in expectation to be able to ask their employers to put them on a particular band of hours reflective of the work they have done in the past 12 months. It will be a collective achievement and a job really well done by this Oireachtas if we can do that before Christmas.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 27 November 2018.