Other Questions

Employment Rights

Question No. 52 is in the name of Deputy Bríd Smith. Permission has been given to Deputy Gino Kenny to take the question in the House.

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

52. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she will consider supporting the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 currently undergoing scrutiny on Committee Stage rather than introducing a draft proposal of her own that seems to deal with the same issues of low hours and precarious hours contracts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23045/17]

Will the Minister consider supporting the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 currently undergoing scrutiny on Committee Stage rather than introducing a draft proposal of her own?

I am not in a position to support the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 for the reasons my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, and myself explained during the Second Stage debate on that Bill last summer. In summary, the Bill as drafted is flawed, lacks balance and does not achieve its stated aim. Moreover, it would have very significant adverse consequences for employers' rights across the economy, including job losses.

In contrast, the draft legislative proposals approved recently by Government for priority drafting are balanced and focused in particular on low-paid and more vulnerable workers. They are in response to a specific commitment in the programme for Government. The proposals address a number of key issues which have been identified as being areas in which current employment rights legislation can be strengthened to benefit the employees without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers and businesses. These are not comprehended by the Private Member's Bill.

The Government's proposals are the result of extensive consultations, including the public consultation by my Department following the University of Limerick study on zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts. They also encompass a detailed dialogue process with ICTU and IBEC over a period of several months.

I am referring the draft legislation to the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation for the committee to consider and determine if it wishes to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed Bill.

I am slightly puzzled as to why Fine Gael opposes the Sinn Féin Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016. What the Minister has said is that a similar proposal is being drafted currently. In the era of new politics - much is made of that around here - this is old politics. It is actually quite cynical. I understand that the Bill is going through pre-legislative scrutiny currently. However, it is being grounded by the vested interests of the employers' groups. Where I am from, there are a lot of people on low pay and doing very insecure work. It is imperative that a Bill copperfastens workers' rights, particularly in the low-pay sector. It is up to the Minister of State to support Deputy Cullinane's Bill. It is quite a good Bill, though in some ways it does not go far enough. It is imperative that the Government works with parties that it normally disagrees with in the age of new politics.

The Bill does not focus on low-paid vulnerable workers. Instead, it requires that all workers in every sector of the economy are given additional hours on request unless the employer can prove severe financial difficulties.

The Bill itself entirely misses the point of banded hours. I will tell the Deputy about what it does not do and what the Government's Bill does. Our Bill ensures that workers are better informed about their core terms of employment at a very early stage. That is important for any employee taking on a job. It strengthens the existing minimum compensation provisions for low-paid workers who are called to work and are not provided with the work itself. The six-month reference period in the Sinn Féin Bill is far too short to take into account the normal peaks of businesses, including seasonal businesses as well. The six-month period would certainly produce a skewed result. The Bill requires that every employer in the country displays notices in their workplaces indicating the number of hours being allocated to workers. The Bill, in our view, does not deal with the range of issues that we have encompassed in our Bill. We are also prohibiting zero-hour contracts in most circumstances, which is not included in the Sinn Féin Bill. We are ensuring that workers on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than are provided for in their contracts are designated those hours. We have seen many examples in the past where workers are on 15-hour contracts but are working 40 hours or so per week. This will strengthen the employees.

I ask Deputy Gino Kenny to study our Bill when it is put together-----

The Minister of State has exceeded his time by one minute.

I think he will be satisfied enough that we are going to ensure that workers are protected.

I will study the Bill when it comes out. I ask the Minister of State not to take offence to this, but Fine Gael does not have a great track record on workers' rights in this country - far from it.

The Minister of State should acknowledge that there are a lot of workers in this country who are extremely exploited and a lot of companies that are making vast profits from workers' labour. They are very vulnerable at the moment. Anything that copperfastens workers' rights will be welcomed. In the era of new politics, I believe Deputy Cullinane's Bill should be supported and not ground down.

I wish to express my disappointment with the Minister of State's response to Deputy Gino Kenny's contribution. I am involved in the jobs committee. We have been scrutinising Deputy Cullinane's Bill. We had a lot of representation from business organisations. The one thing that united them all is that they came in with no solution as to the problem we have. Deputy Kenny said it there as well. There are a lot of people in this country affected by this. It is not just the zero-hour contract but also the banded hours contract. I think the Minister of State misunderstood what banded hours means. The Bill is not asking for extra hours, it is asking for people to get the hours they actually work and for the hours to be defined. That would allow people to go to their local credit union and get a loan or probably even a mortgage because they would know exactly what hours they were working. I am very disappointed that the Government is not supporting that amendment.

Workers need to be protected. We have a huge problem in this country with people on low pay and precarious hours. People do not know what days they are working from one week to the next and cannot organise child care or get loans when they need them. The Bill has been scrutinised very strongly. We have been doing that for a number of months. We have had a balanced view in the last couple of weeks with the trade unions and USI having come before the committee. I believe the Bill is well-crafted and deserves to come back to the Dáil.

I ask both Deputies to hold back until they see the proposals in our Bill. I think they have seen most of them already. This is a carefully crafted Bill. It is good legislation.

It is a response to the UL study. It took a lot of time, in consultation with the unions and IBEC, to put it together. Sinn Féin's Bill is flawed and we will not put flawed legislation through the House. Employment legislation takes time to prepare. It is very hard to change legislation once it is in place. It is much easier to put a bit of work into and consult on it. There were 48 submissions after the UL study. This is good legislation and the response we have received from all sides has been very positive. We have heard very few concerns from employers about the banded hours we are proposing because the banded hours Bill will reflect the amount of time an employee has worked over an 18-month rather than a six-month period. It is more real and in the interests of the employee. We want to protect low-paid workers. That is the idea behind the legislation. It is to protect low-paid and vulnerable workers who have been abused in recent years. I ask Deputies to support our Bill when it is brought before the House.

Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

53. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to facilitate a Dáil Éireann debate on the CETA before the summer recess; the reason a debate has not been held to date; and her views on whether the investment court system is compliant with Bunreacht na hÉireann. [23033/17]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

55. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the EU-Canada comprehensive econimic and trade agreement; the status of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22956/17]

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

56. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she will provide the source of her information from the European Union on which chapters of the CETA will be provisionally applied and which will not, which she described to Dáil Éireann on 23 March 2017; the dates these provisional applications in each chapter are expected to take place; and if she will report on the area of transport which was not mentioned. [22662/17]

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

64. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the way in which the regulatory co-operation forum set up by the CETA agreement will function; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23040/17]

Deputies Thomas P. Broughan, Maureen O'Sullivan and Mick Wallace will also be speaking. I have asked the Minister the question before. Will she facilitate a Dáil debate on the CETA before the summer recess? Why has a debate not been held to date? Does she believe the investment court system is compliant with the Constitution? Does she believe we will have to have a referendum on the issue?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 53, 55, 56 and 64 together.

On 30 October 2016 the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA, was signed by representatives from Canada, the European Union and its member states. On 15 February 2017 the European Parliament voted in support of the provisional application of the CETA. As I have said many times before in the House, the provisions relating to investment protection, investment dispute settlement and the investment court system are excluded from the provisional application. The main provisions offering new opportunities for Irish industry and business will come into force once Canada has completed its own procedures.

The process of ratification can now commence in the member states according to their constitutional requirements. In Ireland’s case, the Dáil will be part of the final decision to ratify the agreement. Canada is finalising its internal implementation procedures to allow for its ratification of the agreement. It is expected that the CETA will provisionally apply from summer 2017. The Council's decision on provisional application of the CETA is available on the public register of documents on the Council's website. The document reference number is 10974/16. The decision provides that the majority of the provisions of the agreement will be provisionally applied.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan has asked which chapters will and will not be provisionally applied. The position is that only Articles 8.1 to 8.8, inclusive, Article 8.13, Article 8.15, with the exception of paragraph 3, and Article 8.16 will be provisionally applied in chapter 8 and only in so far as foreign direct investment is concerned. Paragraphs 3 and 4 of Article 13.2, Article 13.3 and Article 13.4, Article 13.9 and Article 13.21 of chapter 13 shall not be provisionally applied in so far as they concern portfolio investment, protection of investment or the resolution of investment disputes between investors and states. Article 20.12, Article 27.3 and Article 27.4 and paragraph 7 of Article 28.7 shall not be provisionally applied. The provisional application of chapters 22 to 24, inclusive, of the agreement shall respect the allocation of competences between the European Union and the member states.

On Deputy Mick Wallace's question, the CETA will establish a regulatory co-operation forum to discuss regulatory issues of mutual interest and develop bilateral co-operation activities. The forum is expected to enhance information sharing between Canadian and EU regulators, facilitate the development of more compatible regulatory measures, resulting in fewer barriers to trade and making it easier for the European Union to do business in Canada. The forum will be co-chaired by a senior representative of the Government of Canada and a senior representative of the European Commission and relevant officials from the European Union and Canada. The forum cannot change existing legislation or develop new legislation on its own and will not have any decision-making powers. It can only make recommendations to regulators and legislators. Any initiative entailing a change in EU regulations can only be introduced and pursued outside the CETA framework in compliance with the ordinary legislative procedure of the European Union.

I fully support provisional application of the agreement. I am of the view that there should be no impediment to Irish companies immediately taking advantage of the provisions of the CETA, including eliminating tariffs on almost all key exports, access to the Canadian procurement market, easing regulatory barriers and ensuring more transparent rules for market access such as a single website for public procurement.

To answer Deputy Maurice Quinlivan's question, it is important to wait to see the benefits of the CETA come into being before the CETA is put before the Dáil for ratification. We can then have a fully informed, evidence-based debate on the value of the agreement to Ireland.

To address Deputy Thomas P. Broughan's question on the EU-US transatlantic trade and investment partnership, TTIP, following the US presidential election, the negotiations are effectively on hold.

I have previously made my position crystal clear. I have asked the Minister if she thinks we need to hold a referendum, but she has not answered that question. It is vitally important that elected representatives in Ireland have the opportunity to scrutinise this trade deal and debate in the Dáil the pros and cons. On numerous occasions I have called for a debate to be held on the CETA, yet the Government continues to ignore the issue. Sinn Féin has serious concerns about aspects of the deal and believes parts of it will have a negative impact on Irish SMEs and the farming community, in particular. Legal advice obtained by my colleague, Matt Carthy, MEP, has indicated that the investment court system contained in the CETA is not compliant with the Constitution. The approach of implementing first and debating later is a drastic departure from normal democratic principles. The only conclusion to which I can come as to why the Government will not facilitate a debate on this topic is that the deficiencies in the agreement will be highlighted by Opposition parties, including us. The Minister has not answered my questions. I again ask her to outline a date for when the agreement will be debated in the Dáil.

With the permission of the Members, I will take the four supplementary questions together.

It is extraordinary for the Minister to say we will provisionally apply many sections of the CETA agreement without having a debate in the House and without seeking its approval. It seems to be an extraordinary way to proceed, given, in particular, the decision of the European Court of Justice on the Singapore Agreement that the approval of national parliaments was required when there was an investor state dispute settlement mechanism. On the positive side of the CETA, will it involve the Department's agencies such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland liaising with provincial governments in Canada and the Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Ontario?

It has been asserted that 99% of tariffs have been removed. In terms of the 1% of tariffs that remain, to what areas or goods do they apply?

I went to the reading room in the Department to get some information on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP. I examined some of the grave concerns that were expressed about that agreement. The Minister has said that TTIP is now totally on ice because of President Trump's attitude to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, and to the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, which involves Canada. Is the Department still working on the basis that there is a possibility that the TTIP negotiations will resume at some point in the future?

I hope the information provided by the Minister in her response will clarify what chapters and what sections of chapters are provisionally included. I have been told by people who have been trawling through the EU documents that there is a lack of real, reliable and specific information in the public domain on the provisional application. There was an EU press release which said that the investment court system, ICS, that is supposed to reform the investor-state dispute settlement, ISDS, within CETA has no basis in fact or law. It is not mentioned at all in the CETA legal text. It is vital, therefore, that we await the judgment of the European Court of Justice. A ruling was made on the EU-Singapore agreement that trade agreements with ISDS are mixed agreements and will require the unanimous agreement of the European Council of Ministers and ratification at EU, national and regional levels.

When will the provisional application begin? There are real fears that this could be a race to the bottom and that we will be looking at very poor quality jobs that will not provide a decent income.

I asked the Minister to outline the way in which the regulatory co-operation forum set up under the CETA agreement will function. In response, the Minister told me that it will mean fewer barriers and will make it easier for EU countries to do business. She also said that the forum will only be able to make recommendations. It will have no effect on how regulations are formulated. The Minister is telling us that the forum is just a talking shop with no power. It is just another smoke screen and will not serve any real purpose.

The Minister said that the forum will make it easier for EU countries to do business. This Government regularly boasts that this is a great little country in which to do business and it is - for big business. If one has a small business or a family business, this is not an easy country in which to do business. It is a great place if one is running a multinational corporation or a large foreign direct investment company but trying to run a small business in Ireland today is not easy.

CETA will make the playing field even less level and more unfair and I cannot see how it will benefit the people of Ireland.

Deputy Wallace made reference to small businesses. There are approximately 285,000 small business owners in this country employing approximately 700,000 people. I assure Deputy Wallace that my focus, as well as that of my Department and the Ministers of State, is to make sure that jobs are coming through. Believe it or not, we are embarking on a trade mission to Canada next week and more than 25 Irish companies will be taking part. The only reason they are going there is to sell their products and when they do, that will create jobs and that is what is important to us. It is vitally important that we go out and find markets because of Brexit. As Minister, I am fully in favour of going to Canada and finding whatever business we can.

I love listening to the Deputies talking about poor jobs, small jobs and badly paid jobs but these companies are paying well. There are Canadian companies in Ireland employing approximately 2,800 people. Those companies have invested almost €11 billion in Ireland. It is also interesting to look at Irish companies trading with Canadian companies. In 2015, foreign direct investment stocks in Canada from Ireland amounted to over €4 billion. There are over 400 Enterprise Ireland client companies doing business in Canada and please God, as a result of our trade mission next week, there will be more companies doing business with that country. There are 50 Irish companies with a local presence in Canada employing an estimated 6,000 people. These are Enterprise Ireland clients and they include Kingspan, Leading Edge, Keyword Studios and the Kerry Group. In 2015, Enterprise Ireland client companies exported more than €280 million worth of goods and services to the Canadian market. When I hear that, I know that it equals jobs. Export growth to Canada among Enterprise Ireland clients was greater than 7% in 2015 and was 14% in 2014.

I now invite the Deputies to ask a short supplementary question.

The Minister mentioned that she will be visiting Canada on a trade mission at the end of the month, during which she will discuss CETA and other issues. It would be beneficial to have a debate in the Dáil before then to ensure that the Minister and the Government are made aware of the very real concerns of various sectors about this agreement. The decision of the European Court of Justice this morning outlines that EU trade deals that include investor protection must be ratified by all 38 national and regional parliaments. This is a very welcome decision which ensures that member states will retain control over major trade decisions into the future. What is the Minister's response to the European Court of Justice's decision this morning? Will the Irish Parliament debate and vote on CETA?

The figures the Minister read out are quite impressive and I hope she will pursue that area vigorously. I read recently that Toronto has four very strong GAA clubs. There is a large network of young Irish men and women emigrants across the Canadian provinces, which provides great connections for us. That said, all our citizens would like us to debate the agreement. Why are we embarking on the provisional implementation of the treaty when so many, not least those in our agricultural sector, still have grave concerns about the agreement?

I have a specific concern regarding transport too. As an insight into the post-CETA world and ISDS, Canada has already sued the EU in attempt to get it to lower its standards on endocrine disrupters, potentially cancerous pesticides and plastics and wires, including those found in children's toys. That kind of action will increase and there is a likelihood of further pressure from Canada on the EU to drop some of its protections.

Next Tuesday I am holding a meeting in the audiovisual room on CETA. It would be great if the Minister could attend-----

-----or an official from her Department. I hope we can thrash out some of the issues that are coming up with regard to CETA and that we can debunk some of the myths around the agreement.

I am pretty fond of going to Canada too. Indeed, I worked there for a couple of years. I am all in favour of us exporting to Canada but that does mean that I should be in favour of the fact that CETA will challenge some regulations. There is no doubt that there will be a drop in certain standards to meet the interests of big business and the public will be poorly served by that. If there is a reduction in regulations that will have an impact on workers' rights and on the environment. We are all in favour of exporting to other countries and creating jobs but not for the price of downgraded working conditions and reduced environmental standards.

On the question of Dáil ratification, it is important that we wait to see the benefits of CETA coming into being before putting the agreement to the Dáil. Then we can have a fully informed, evidence based debate on the value of the agreement to Ireland. Reference was made to meat and worries about meat production.

I would like to refer to a letter sent from Meat Industry Ireland, which is under the stewardship of IBEC. While it urges "strict caution on the EU's approach to tariff-reduced or tariff-free meat import access as part of trade agreements", it supports "the ratification of the trade agreement between the EU and Canada". I remind the House that 14% of the Irish diaspora live in Canada. We have sought to ensure we can open trade with Canada as a response to Brexit, which is coming down the tracks. The Ministers of State, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Pat Breen, and the Taoiseach have been to Canada. As I have said, I am leading a trade mission with really good Enterprise Ireland businesses and companies with the hope of winning more trade, more investment into Ireland and more jobs. I am not going to apologise. I think we are on the right route. I think this is the way to go.

IDA Ireland Supports

Shane Cassells

Ceist:

54. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she will liaise with IDA Ireland and Meath County Council to help to facilitate and expedite the provision of a football pitch on IDA Ireland-owned lands in the Johnstown area of Navan, County Meath for the purpose of providing facilities for this residential area of Navan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23016/17]

Shane Cassells

Ceist:

59. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to outline the progress that has been made in securing additional investment in the IDA Ireland business park in the Johnstown area of Navan, County Meath. [23017/17]

I am delighted to raise the IDA Ireland business park in Navan with the Minister. I know that having worked in nearby Rathfeigh some time ago, she has a good appreciation and knowledge of this part of Navan and County Meath. I want to raise two questions with her. First, what progress is being made in securing additional investment in the IDA Ireland business park in the Johnstown area of Navan? My second question involves a social issue relating to land in the Johnstown area. Will the Minister liaise with IDA Ireland and Meath County Council to help to facilitate and expedite the provision of football pitches and sporting facilities on lands in Johnstown that are owned by IDA Ireland? Such facilities are needed by those living in the residential area that adjoins the IDA Ireland business park in the town.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 54 and 59 together.

I know the area referred to by Deputy Cassells very well. I was privileged to be able to rear my children in County Meath. I sent them to school in Skryne and reared them in the Seneschalstown-Hayestown area. We used to use the Johnstown road regularly.

My priority as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is to drive creation of high-quality and sustainable employment across Ireland, including in County Meath. We are making significant progress towards achieving our regional development targets, which include an increase of between 30% and 40% in foreign direct investment in the mid-east region, which incorporates counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. There are 56 multinational companies based in this region, 17 of which are located in Meath and employ 1,496 staff. IDA Ireland is committed to increasing investment in County Meath by ensuring there is an adequate supply of modern property solutions and supporting the development of the county’s foreign direct investment base. The agency is encouraging its client base in the county to undertake further investment projects. IDA Ireland will continue to work with local authorities and other relevant agencies to support the development of further quality infrastructure in County Meath. The Deputy will appreciate that my focus and that of the IDA must remain on how best to attract investment and jobs to the county. The IDA Ireland property in Navan is potentially attractive to investors. The agency continues to promote the site to its clients. Nevertheless, I have brought the Deputy's request to the attention of the agency.

The area in question has grown exponentially since the era when the Minister lived nearby. Approximately 10,000 people are now living in 3,000 homes in this pocket of Navan. As a growing town, Navan needs substantial attention when it comes to jobs, especially considering that one of the main employers in the area, Tara Mines, is in a precarious position because it is involved in the extraction of zinc, which is a finite resource. There were no IDA Ireland site visits to County Meath in the first quarter of this year. There were just eight such visits in all of last year. This pales into insignificance by comparison with our neighbours in County Westmeath, where there were 36 such visits, and in County Louth, where there were 24 such visits. The Minister spoke about investment in County Meath. The strategy in the county must stretch beyond securing back-office facilities for Facebook in Clonee. We need to see investment in the heart of our county. We need to ensure there are quality jobs in the areas where people are being housed under the national planning framework strategy.

One of these questions relates to social facilities. I have asked the Minister to ensure her Department liaises with Meath County Council in this regard. I do not want to confuse the two issues. Two questions I tabled separately have been grouped. There is scope within the IDA Ireland business park in Johnstown for the release of some of the land that adjoins a residential area in which there are 3,000 homes. This would facilitate the development of football fields and social amenities. My colleague on Meath County Council, Councillor Tommy Reilly, has raised this issue and has been working diligently with the council's enterprise section and with IDA Ireland. I ask the Minister to work with her Department and IDA Ireland to help Johnstown Football Club, which was founded in 2004, to extend its facilities. The only open lands that are available in this part of Navan are the excess lands in the IDA Ireland park. I ask the Minister to help those involved with the football club to realise their dream of providing additional facilities for young people in the locality.

I am aware that there are 3,000 homes in this part of Navan. I was in Johnstown shopping centre on bank holiday Monday. The Deputy has quoted statistics for IDA Ireland site visits. I remind him that companies which are already here in Ireland like to expand. It would be very difficult for me to hand this valuable land over for the development of a football field. Having worked as a school principal in Skryne, which is football country, I understand exactly how important land is for those involved in football. As I mentioned, I have brought this request to the attention of the agency and I will follow it up. However, I must inform the Deputy that as of now, we would like to make sure the land to which he refers is kept for investment.

I am disappointed to hear that. I appeal again to the Minister to work on this issue with Meath County Council and my colleague in Navan, Councillor Tommy Reilly. The successes at the IDA Ireland park in the town include Generali PanEurope, Timoney Technology, Welch Allyn and Lir Chocolates. Last Christmas, the Meath County Council's director of economic services, Kevin Stewart, submitted a planning application on behalf of Meath Enterprise Board, on which I formerly sat. This application would allow for the construction of an advanced technology building of 2,500 sq. m on the land in question. It has been specifically pitched to provide for the development of a purpose-built facility for new startups and companies that are looking at the potential of Navan. I would like to discuss the Navan economic plan with the Minister so that we can consider where Navan is going. I ask her to place a renewed focus on the proactive measures that are being proposed by the council's economics section, particularly the lodging of a planning application for a building of 2,500 sq. m to supplement what is already happening in companies like Generali PanEurope and Welch Allyn. I am also calling on her not to rule out what I have suggested on the social amenity side. There are 3,000 people living in this part of Navan. The Minister said she was there on bank holiday Monday. Johnstown Football Club needs a pocket of IDA Ireland's extensive and expansive landbank. I ask the Minister to work proactively with IDA Ireland in this respect so that the football club can develop.

I agree with the Deputy. The local enterprise office in Navan supported 927 jobs in 2016. Hardly anybody talks about what Enterprise Ireland does in counties like Meath. It supports 7,007 jobs in County Meath. As I said earlier, IDA Ireland supports 1,496 jobs in the county. I will take the Deputy up on his invitation to meet him in County Meath very soon to talk about the plans for the county.

I appreciate that.

I look forward to it. The other Deputies from County Meath are also invited.

I thank the Minister.

Questions Nos. 55 and 56 answered with Question No. 53.

Zero-hour Contracts

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

57. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to set out how she intends to tackle the prevalence of zero-hour contracts; her policies in relation to pay and conditions in if-and-when other uncertain contracts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22955/17]

In 2015, the University of Limerick produced a paper on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts. I made a submission in that respect at the end of 2015. We discussed precarious work and banded contracts earlier. The Minister announced a couple of weeks ago that she intends to introduce legislation on this matter. Will she legislate to ban zero-hour contracts and, especially, if-and-when contracts, where there is no contractual obligation to provide work at all?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. We have already dealt with it but it is important we discuss it again because, as the Deputy rightly pointed out, this is important legislation.

On 2 May the Government approved draft legislative proposals as a response to the programme for Government commitment to address the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. The draft legislation was referred to the Office of the Attorney General on 4 May for priority drafting of a Bill.

Regarding zero-hour contracts, the intention of the proposals is to avoid the contagion of an increase in these practices in this jurisdiction. The proposals provide that an employer will no longer be able to engage an employee on a contract within the meaning of section 18 (1)(a) or 18(1)(c) of the Organisation of Working Time Act where the stated contracted hours are zero unless it is genuinely casual, emergency cover or short-term relief work.

Other employees, including those with uncertain hours and those on if-and-when contracts, will benefit from the following proposals: ensuring that employees are better informed about their employment arrangements and especially their core terms shortly after commencing work; strengthening the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid workers who may be called into work for a period but not provided with that work; providing that workers 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 reflects the reality of the hours they have worked over a reference period; and reinforcing the anti-victimisation provisions for employees who try to invoke a right under these proposals.

The formulation of the Government's approach to the ending of zero-hour contracts will be very important. Clearly, across a wide range of sectors of our economy, especially in the retail, hospitality and caring sectors, we have seen what the Mandate trade union has called the gross exploitation of workers. In the next period in which the legislation is being drafted, it is critical the Minister of State is prepared to stand up to organisations such as IBEC which have spoken out against the imposing of what they call onerous restrictions. We would be counting on Ministers, including the Ministers of State, Deputies Halligan and Finian McGrath, to stiffen their resolve in that regard. The Citizens Information Board reported that 7% of its 1 million queries annually relate to employment and specifically to zero-hour and if-and-when contracts, which are contracts without any contractual obligations to give hours. I look forward to the legislation but I hope that the Government will move to act on this issue.

A debate on the gig economy in UK is taking place in the lead up to the general election there. It relates to what people are prepared to do about companies such as Uber in the gig economy. Is our Government thinking along the lines of the Labour Party in the UK in terms of taking drastic action to address the gross maltreatment of workers?

I am aware of the Uber case in the UK. We have been closely monitoring it. An appeal will be lodged, therefore, I would prefer not to comment on it.

Considerable time and effort went into the preparation of this legislation. We also engaged in consultation. We received 48 submissions following the completion of the University of Limerick study, which were very useful. We engaged in consultation with IBEC and the unions over a lengthy period. The Deputy can appreciate the degree of bargaining that took place with people raising their own cases during those discussions, which took place from September last year to March of this year.

The key issue is that we have good legislation. The four areas that will be covered in the legislation are the four the Deputy outlined. They include that an employee would be entitled to information at the start of his or her job, to know exactly who he or she is working for, the name and address of the employer, the hours he or she will work and how much he or she will be paid. There are 15 items listed but the employer does not have to provide those details until two months after the employment has commenced. It will not be onerous on an employer to provide information on the main areas that will be covered. An employee is entitled to know that information. We hope that the legislation we will put in place will be balanced. It will help low-paid workers, and I know the Deputy represents low-paid workers. There are three other areas and I might cover those when I reply to the Deputy later.

I thank the Minister for that information. I, and perhaps other Deputies, have received some complaints about job search websites. Constituents are concerned that some of the jobs advertised on those websites do not exist and that they are being used as a means for recruiters to access data on jobseekers. Sometimes misleading positions seem to be advertised where there is a mismatch between the salary versus the experience required and when applicants make contact they are told that the positions have been filled and then they are told about alternative positions, zero-hour and if-and-when contract positions. Could the Department examine the role of recruitment websites and recruiters generally to ensure they are not acting as a funnel to put vulnerable young people starting out on their work careers into precarious employment?

The idea behind this legislation is to eliminate precarious employment and that is something we have done in the proposed legislation. It has been referred to the Attorney General's office for priority drafting and it is important that we would get it back as soon as possible to put it in place to protect low-paid workers.

I will follow up on the issue the Deputy raised about job advertisements, if he wishes, and revert to him on it. If he has more information on it, I will discuss it with my Department officials to see if we can deal with that type of activity that is happening with respect to jobs that are being advertised.

The future of work is a major issue and the Deputy mentioned the gig economy. There will be a change in the way we will be working in ten years' time. We should not forget the rights of our employees, regardless of what changes occur in the digital economy in the next five to ten years. There is good legislation in place and it has been proven to protect the interests of employees. We should bear that in mind in moving forward with any legislation, regardless of the massive changes that will arise with the development of the digital economy in the next five to ten years, but we must be mindful that people come first.

Brexit Issues

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

58. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if the grave uncertainty regarding Brexit is impacting negatively on the motor industry and car sales sectors; the steps she will take to address these impacts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22954/17]

We had an opportunity to discuss Brexit with the visit of Mr. Michael Barnier to this House last week. I commend the Ceann Comhairle on his role in allowing the Dáil to have that discussion, which was very valuable. A concern is that the impact of Brexit is beginning to be felt in our country. One area that has felt the impact, which has been made known to me, is the motor trade. We have seen a huge increase in the imports off used cars in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 2016. Has that been brought to the Minister's attention as it is a matter of concern?

This Government, through the Action Plan for Jobs, has taken decisive action to support all sectors of the economy recover from the deepest recession we have experienced in recent decades. This sustained focus on job creation has resulted in the creation of over 209,000 additional jobs since 2012. The unemployment rate has declined from over 15.1% in 2012 to 6.2% in April this year.

The motor industry was impacted during the recession in the same way as all other sectors. The sector has recovered substantially over the last five years. New vehicle registrations reached their highest level since 2009 last year. While the data for the first four months of 2017 indicates a decline of over 9% compared with the same period last year, registrations remain above the levels in 2015 and immediately preceding years.

Data from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, also indicates an increase in imported vehicles being registered, in part reflecting the weakening of sterling and consumers seeking value for money.

The outlook for consumer spend remains positive. According to data provided by the Department of Finance, personal consumption expenditure is growing and consumer sentiment in March was higher than it was in February. Headline retail sales are up and the total number of private cars has increased over the year. Overall, consumer spending, employment trends and taxation receipts confirm that Ireland's economic fundamentals remain solid. This positive outlook should continue to benefit the motor sector in its recovery to a sustainable level. Additionally, my Department is undertaking extensive preparatory work and consultation to anticipate the impact of Brexit on key sectors, including the retail sector. As chair of the committee for responding to Brexit in my Department, I will continue to ensure we address the challenges and, of course, the opportunities arising from Brexit.

I thank the Minister for her response but there are growing concerns. We had reports yesterday concerning the slowdown in growth of our exports to the UK in the same period and they are less valuable to us now because of the decline in sterling. There is a fall-off in the hospitality industry of people coming here; I know this relates to the Department of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, rather than the Ministers who are present.

The motor trade is a very important industry in this country and it has over 40,000 workers, contributing approximately €1.5 billion to the Exchequer last year through vehicle registration tax, VAT and so on. That was significantly up on 2015. As the Minister states, the industry saw significant recovery after the recession. We will have a debate this week on the outrageous price gouging in car insurance for younger and older drivers, which is very annoying. I am glad to hear the Minister will have a sectoral response to the motor industry, as well as other areas of indigenous industry. I wonder if there are already any responses that could be taken in budget 2018 to alleviate concerns in the motor trade.

I hear what the Deputy is saying. He indicated there was a slowdown in exports to the UK but I make the emphatic point that overall, the Enterprise Ireland companies exported €21.6 billion of goods and services in 2016 but in 2015 they exported goods and services worth €20.5 billion, which means the value increased by €1 billion over that year. We are continuing to monitor the matter. I stated earlier that Enterprise Ireland is making sure that companies reach out to the eurozone, and we have put out a target of a 50% increase in this by 2020. I will make sure we will help Enterprise Ireland and the companies it supports in reaching those targets. The Deputy is correct that we are undertaking a sectoral impact assessment of Brexit, including the retail sector. This work will be completed later in the year and will help to reveal the Brexit issues, including in the car market.

Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 54.

Science Foundation Ireland Remit

James Lawless

Ceist:

60. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her views on whether the shift in Science Foundation Ireland's mission from basic oriented research to applied research, as per the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Act 2013, has been detrimental to the funding of frontier research here with attendant loss of skills; her plans to redress the balance; if the research priorities set out by ministerial directive following that Act are due for review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22982/17]

Before introducing the question I put on record the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, and I travelled to the European Space Agency recently as part of a very useful trade mission. I acknowledge and recognise the Minister of State's cross-party and collaborative approach in that matter and it was an excellent trip. The question is in a related field regarding Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, and its remit, specifically whether there has been a detrimental effect in research areas because of too much focus on applied research at the expense of basic research.

I thank Deputy Lawless for his company in the visit to the European Space Agency, where a number of contracts were signed for Irish companies. The Deputy was part of the discussions and I am glad he was there.

Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, funds a comprehensive suite of oriented basic and applied research funding programmes to deliver excellent research with impact in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, STEM. The annual budget for 2017 amounts to €162.5 million. Science Foundation Ireland's legal remit was extended in 2013 to allow it to fund applied research in line with the Government’s policy of research prioritisation, which was adopted in 2012. This broad remit enables Science Foundation Ireland to support an important range of work from early stage investigations, novel discoveries through to pre-commercial activities. The adoption of research priority areas has not affected the level of funding by Science Foundation Ireland as over 80% of funding is currently committed to oriented basic research projects.

My Department and its agencies are important funders of research, with spending on research and development of €394 million in 2016. I am conscious of the time allowed to answer the question and I will speak later about the three specific areas, which are oriented, applied and frontier research. Frontier research is beyond the frontiers of what is called "current understanding". The criteria for funding frontier research is typically excellence alone, with no requirement for alignment with particular themes or priorities. The Irish Research Council, IRC, makes competitive awards on the basis of excellence only. Its budget for 2017 is €34.15 million, including €2.5 million for new frontier research laureate awards.

The original remit of Science Foundation Ireland in 2003 was to promote, develop and assist oriented and basic research. That remit was changed in 2012 to include applied research and research in frontier science, as mentioned by the Deputy. I agree we need to look further on further funding for frontier research.

We can work together on that. I was aware of the changes in the SFI Acts in 2012 and 2013, when the policy was changed. At the time, Deputy Calleary would have spoken for my party and raised concerns. I know the academic community at the time were also concerned about the shift in emphasis. There was also the issue that for the first time, research priorities were being directed by the Ministers, as opposed to allowing academics to decide. Undoubtedly, commercial activity is needed along with frontier research but the view in the academic community and those involved with high-end research, certainly at an academic level, would be that the shift was a bridge too far. It is the equivalent of Isaac Newton in the orchard, when he watched the apple fall, being told to go back to study cider fermentation instead of discovering gravity. Groundbreaking discoveries happen when somebody with a great mind is looking into matters without a focus on the goal or outcome.

Deputy Calleary put these questions when the Bill was passed and 900 scientists wrote to The Irish Times in 2013, expressing their alarm and dismay at the Government's approach in 2013. Unfortunately, in 2017 we are seeing a similar pattern. I joined the March for Science with a number of academics and researchers - people at the top end of their fields - only a few weeks ago and the same concerns were again being voiced. The Government needs to change direction in the matter and I ask the Minister of State to take that on board.

It is a very good question and I make the point that Action 3.8 of Innovation 2020, Ireland's strategy for research and development, science and technology provides for a new programme to fund frontier research. As I stated, in April 2017, I launched the Irish Research Council's frontier research laureate programme with initial funding of €2.5 million and I can assure the Deputy that the Department is currently leading on a refresh of research prioritisation. A number of studies have been completed to form the evidence in a base for that exercise, which will include looking into frontier research. I absolutely agree with the Deputy that frontier research is an absolute necessity when it comes to funding, especially as science and technology advances over the next number of years. The Deputy met many scientists at the European Space Agency who specifically deal with frontier research rather than oriented and applied research. After the review is done by my Department, we will contact the Deputy and if he would like to make any submission to the review, he should feel free to do so. I could meet the Deputy personally to speak about this.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.