Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages

We are now dealing with Report Stage of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. Before we commence, I remind Senators they may speak only once on Report Stage except the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on that amendment. On Report Stage each non-Government amendment must be seconded.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 23, to delete “six months” and substitute “three months”.

Is the amendment being seconded?

I second the amendment.

Does the Senator wish to speak on the amendment?

I appeal to the Minister to see if there is any prospect of her considering moving the date from which the Act will be commenced to three months rather than six months. We had a discussion on this issue the last time and I understand there needs to be a level of preparedness for business, other stakeholders and for the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, to get their heads around what is reasonably complex legislation. I propose that we delete six months and substitute that with three months to ensure the implementation of the Bill commences at the very earliest opportunity after its enactment by these Houses and passing through that process and we would hope to have it signed into law by the President. We have waited a significant number of years, as the Minister is aware, for this legislation to come through these Houses so I ask the Minister and this House to consider this request.

Does the Minister agree to this?

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 2 involves a potential charge on the Exchequer and has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Amendment No. 3 is in the names of Senators Higgins and Ruane. Neither Senator is present.

I have permission and I would like to move the amendment.

As the Senator has permission, he may move it.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 19, after line 25, to insert the following:

“Report on involuntary underemployment

21. The Minister shall, within twelve months of the passing of this Act and following an appropriate public consultation, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas, a report and recommendations on the issue of involuntary underemployment and the advertisement or allocation of additional hours within the workplace.”.

We had a detailed discussion about the original proposal from Senator Ruane and she clearly replaced that original proposal, which I believe was problematic as well in terms of operability and practicality. The Senator has a fair point on the need for very clear analysis to inform policy discussions around underemployment and so on, particularly for part-time workers.

I am happy to withdraw the amendment on behalf of Senator Ruane if the Minister could give a commitment that her Department would look closely at this matter and possibly present a report or take the opportunity to consider it in advance of the social welfare Bill and come back to the House with some suggestions as to how we could move forward to try to ensure we have a strong evidence base to inform policymaking on underemployment in Ireland, which is an issue for some, as we know.

Does Senator Gavan wish to comment?

I second the amendment. I welcome the Minister. I support what Senator Nash has said. I have come across the issue of underemployment regularly during my time as a trade union official. There was an interesting report published this week from Social Justice Ireland and it suggested a figure of well in excess of 100,000 workers. It is a major issue. Sinn Féin supports this Bill and wants to be constructive. It is worth reiterating the points made by Senator Nash and requesting the Government to give strong consideration to acting on it in due course.

I thank the Senator for withdrawing the amendment. I cannot say strongly enough, both in this and the other House, how vehemently I oppose putting reports into legislation, particularly legislation that is not amended thereafter.

Let me reassure the Senator that, arising from what we agreed in the House on foot of what Senator Ruane was trying to do last week, I wrote to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, the following morning, and it has agreed to undertake a body of work on the current part-time work statutory code of practice. It replied to me today saying that it will take about six months to complete this body of work. I have made arrangements that when it comes back to me with recommendations, we will look seriously at them with a view to changing, if changes are required.

The officials in my Department consistently look at data. We consistently look at underemployment in this country and at people who are not in employment but are not registered as unemployed. We have our jobless household strategy, our disability strategy and we have an open door. If anybody wants to work, he or she can go into an Intreo office and avail of the services that are there, although he or she may not be on the live register.

What we very much need to do is to look at the Central Statistics Office, CSO, data, look at the people who are underemployed who want to work for a longer period, and ensure they avail of all of the services of the State so that they can get as much employment as they possibly need to have a decent standard of living. There are some people, and I acknowledge that most of them are women, who choose to be employed part-time and I want to make sure we get the balance right with the services that we offer so as not to push these women into making choices that they otherwise do not want to make, or not make them feel stigmatised because they make the choice to stay at home with their children when they are small or when they are not in school.

I am willing to have a look at it and come back to the House. It might even be worthwhile to have a course of hearings by the Joint Committee on Social Protection, and I can certainly ask for that, if the Senators are agreeable to it.

Is Senator Nash reasonably satisfied with that response?

Yes, I am happy to withdraw Senator Ruane's amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration and passed.