Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill to the House. It is being brought forward in response to the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to address the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. The key objective of the Bill is to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours. I know many Members of this House share my interest in workers’ rights and will have strong views on the Bill. I look forward to hearing those views and debating the issues of concern to colleagues.

It is fair to say good progress has been made in recent years in our economic recovery in terms of creating new job opportunities, the majority of which are full-time positions. However, we must remember those 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 very difficult for people to plan their lives outside of work. The Bill we are debating will significantly improve the employment protections for these people.

Ireland has a robust suite of employment rights which provide broad protections to all employees. We have modern dispute resolution structures in the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, which is easy to access for the employee and employers. We have the second highest national minimum wage in the European Union, and the Bill is intended to build on that strong foundation.

I took over responsibility for the Bill in September last when certain employment affairs functions 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 in this Bill’s journey. In that respect, I acknowledge the work of the Ministers, Deputies Pat Breen and Mary Mitchell O’Connor, and also Senator Gerald Nash who, as Minister of State with responsibility for business and employment in the previous Government commissioned the University of Limerick to conduct a study of the prevalence of zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts in the economy.

The Bill is some three years in the making. I think it is important for Deputies to understand the work that has gone into the Bill including, in particular, the extensive consultations that have helped to shape and focus it. This work includes the University of Limerick study and the public consultation that followed it. It also includes detailed discussions with the ICTU and IBEC over a period of many months. I thank the stakeholders who contributed to the development of this Bill at different stages of the process. These consultations have helped us to ensure the proposals contained in the Bill are balanced and fair to both employees and employers.

We must remember that this Bill will apply to all employers across all sectors of the economy. It is important, therefore, that we strike a fair balance between the respective rights and obligations of employees and employers. Our approach in the Bill is to try to ensure that where we are introducing new rights for employees or strengthening existing provisions in the law, the measures are proportionate and balanced by reasonable defences for employers, recognising the challenges faced by employers in running their business or providing their service. The vast majority of employers are good employers who treat their employees well and who meet their responsibilities under employment law. These employers have nothing to fear in the Bill. On the contrary, the Bill is aimed at tackling exploitative employment arrangements and those unscrupulous employers who do not respect even the most basic rights of employees.

The Bill addresses the following five key issues which have been identified as being areas where current employment law should be strengthened to the benefit of employees without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers. One is ensuring that employees are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements, in particular their core terms, at an early stage of their employment. A new offence is being created where employers fail to comply with the new information requirements. A second issue is strengthening the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid, vulnerable employees who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with that work. A third issue is prohibiting zero-hour contracts except in limited, specific circumstances. A fourth issue is ensuring that employees on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than provided for in their contracts are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that better reflects the reality of the hours they have worked on a consistent basis over an extended period. A fifth issue is strengthening the anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke or try to invoke a right under these proposals. The Bill seeks to achieve its aims through appropriate amendments to the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

I want to make a couple of important points about the Bill in response to some of the comments and media coverage that have emerged since the Bill was published. The first point is to clarify that the definition of employee will not change as a result of the Bill. The Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, the two Acts the Bill proposes to amend, share the same definition of employees, that is, all workers on contracts of service. Therefore, the Bill is intended to exclude genuinely self-employed people. Currently, if an individual believes he or she is being denied employment rights appropriate to an employee, he or she may pursue a case to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. This will continue to be the case if the Bill is enacted.

The second point concerns the use of if-and-when contracts. The suggestion is that the Bill does nothing for people from being exploited by employers abusing if-and-when contracts. That is not the case. On the contrary, each of the key measures I have outlined above, both individually and in the round, will also help protect people from being exploited by if-and-when arrangements.

I now propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill. The Bill consists of four Parts and 17 sections. For the convenience of Deputies, an explanatory memorandum has been published and it provides a summary of the provisions. Part 1 contains the Short Title, commencement provisions, interpretation and repeals. Part 2 amends the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and introduces a requirement that an employer must provide employees with a written statement containing five core terms of employment within five days of the commencement of employment. This Part of the Bill also provides for offences and anti-penalisation measures.

Section 5 removes the exclusion of employees who normally work less than eight hours per week so 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 contracts of employment with low hours.

Section 6 amends section 3 of the 1994 Act to require that an employer must provide employees with a written statement containing the following five core terms of employment within five days of the commencement of employment. They are the full names of the employer and the employee, the address of the employer, the duration of the contract where it is 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 in a normal working day and a normal working week. This provision is a key element of the Bill and has been designed to ensure employees will be much better informed of their core terms of employment at a much earlier stage. Currently, employers are required to provide terms of employment within two months of commencement of employment. Furthermore, the amended section includes a new requirement that the written statement must include the number of hours which the employer reasonably expects the employee to work in a normal working day and in a normal working week. This is a significant change which has been designed to ensure employees will have much greater clarity and predictability about their daily and weekly hours of work. The remainder of the required terms of employment will continue to be provided within the current two-month period.

Section 7 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 of not less than one month with the written statement containing the aforementioned five core terms of employment required prior to their departure.

Section 8 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 9 introduces an offence for an employer who fails to provide the written statement of core terms of employment required within one month of commencement of employment. This section also makes it an offence for an employer who deliberately provides false or misleading information to an employee as part of the statement of core terms of employment. This section also provides for appropriate defences for employers. Creating an offence provision is to act as a deterrent against employers who fail to respect the most basic rights of employees. Where the WRC inspectorate pursues a prosecution under this section, it is proposed that the director general of the WRC will not be permitted to progress a complaint with the same facts by referring it to an adjudication officer. This is to avoid the same matter being pursued through two separate arms of the WRC at the same time and is consistent with the approach taken under section 34 of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. 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, which is currently €5,000, or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or both. However, the Bill also provides in section 17 that a WRC inspector may issue a fixed-payment notice in lieu of prosecution for less egregious offences under this section of the Bill.

Section 10 introduces an anti-penalisation provision into the 1994 Act. Penalisation is broadly defined in the section and includes threats of penalisation. It is important that employees believe they can exercise their rights under the Act without any repercussions. This is a new measure. Currently, there is no penalisation provision under the Act. If an employee believes he or she has been penalised for asking for a written statement of terms of employment or invoking any right under the Act, they may pursue a case to the adjudication division of the WRC.

Section 11 provides that an employee cannot seek redress unless the employee has been in continuous service of the employer for more than one month and provided that the employer has not been prosecuted for an offence under the 1994 Act with regard to the same matter. This is to avoid frivolous and vexatious complaints.

Part 3 amends the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. Section 12 amends the 1997 Act to provide for the insertion of a number of relevant definitions, namely, "adjudication officer", "collective bargaining" and "employment regulation order".

Section 13 amends section 5 of the 1997 Act so as to relieve an employer from complying with the new "banded hours" provisions in exceptional circumstances, for example, emergency or unusual and unforeseeable situations beyond the employer's control.

Section 14 replaces the existing section 18 in 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 the following limited circumstances: in cases of genuine casual work, 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, hourly rate, or three times the minimum hourly rate in an employment regulation order. Employment regulation orders currently apply in the security and contract cleaning sectors. Employees who are "on call" will continue to be excluded from this minimum payment. The focus here is on low-paid employees. I want to ensure that where low-paid employees are called in to work but sent home again without work, they get a reasonable compensation payment. 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 minimum wage, which is €28.65, every time that occurs. This is to discourage the unscrupulous practice of calling employees into work and then sending them home without work or more meaningful compensation.

Section 15 inserts a new section 18A into the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. The new section deals with banded hours. It introduces a new right for employees who habitually work more hours each week than is provided for in their contract 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 an extended period. It also acts as a protection for employees from employers who flex up and down hours in an unfair way as a means of exercising control over employees. A reference period of 18 months is provided for the purpose of the section. While there was a range of views among stakeholders as to how long this reference period should be, a period of 18 months is sufficiently long to allow for the normal peaks and troughs of businesses, including those subject to seasonal fluctuations.

The section provides reasonable defences for employers to refuse an employee's request where the facts do not support the employee's claim; significant adverse changes have impacted on the business, for example, the loss of a contract or a very large client; emergency circumstances, for example, where the business has had to close due to flooding or other event; and where the hours worked by the employee were due to a genuinely temporary situation, for example, cover for another employee on maternity leave.

Where the claim is disputed or refused, the employee can refer it to the WRC for adjudication. Where the adjudication officer finds in the employee's favour, the redress will be that they are placed in the appropriate band of hours. There is no provision for any other compensation because I believe this will avoid any vexatious or frivolous claims with regard to this new provision. An appeal against an adjudication officer's decision will be to the Labour Court, as applies in other employment rights cases. Enforcement of a WRC or Labour Court decision will be by way of a District Court order.

The section will not apply to an employer who has entered into a banded-hour arrangement through an agreement by collective bargaining with its employees. I recognise that in some sectors, the retail sector in particular, banded-hour arrangements have been agreed between the employer and employees and have been working well. I am sure Deputies will agree that we should not interfere with these arrangements.

Section 16 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 the Act. It updates the current penalisation provision to extend the range of circumstances where an employee can claim adverse treatment. If an adjudication officer finds that an employee has been penalised under the Act, they may award up to two years of gross salary.

Part 4 amends the Workplace Relations Act 2015. Section 17 allows an inspector of the WRC to issue a fixed-payment notice where the inspector has reasonable grounds for believing 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 providing false or misleading information as part of the statement. The WRC already issues such fixed-payment notices in respect of certain other employment law offences. These notices are an effective way of securing compliance with the relevant provisions and are an efficient alternative to prosecution.

I take the opportunity to advise the House that I propose to bring forward on Committee Stage an amendment to the Minimum Wage Act 2000. I have recently received recommendations from the Low Pay Commission with regard to the sub-minima rates of the national minimum wage and I am pleased to say that the Government yesterday agreed my proposal to accept these recommendations. The recommendations are to abolish the existing training rates which are rarely used and to simplify the existing age and experience-based sub-minima rates.

That will make it administratively easier for employers to use the sub-minima rates. It will also limit the application of sub-minima rates for employees, which is a positive outcome for all parties. I trust that this amendment, as recommended by the Low Pay Commission, will be supported by all sides of the House, as it seeks to improve the position of low-paid workers, as well as reducing the administrative burden for employers.

I am also taking the opportunity in the Bill to introduce an amendment to section 8 of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 to allow for stronger enforcement of the legislation by the Workplace Relations Commission. At present, 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 similar powers of witness compellability under other employment rights legislation and it is my intention to remedy this situation by putting unfair dismissals legislation on the same fooling as other employment rights legislation.

The Bill is the culmination of three years of work. I think all reasonable commentators and stakeholders will recognise that it as a genuine attempt to improve the law in this area. I hope they also appreciate the difficulties inherent in trying to strike what is at times a delicate balance between the respective rights and obligations of employees and employers. Most importantly, I believe the balance struck in the Bill is fair for all concerned. I look forward to hearing the Deputies' views and working with them to progress this important legislation through the Houses as quickly as possible. I am proud to commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill. One of the fundamental cornerstones of the profit theory is the higher the risk, the greater the reward. In other words, a person who risks his or her money in a highly volatile investment usually expects a greater reward as a result of taking a greater risk. This principle seems to have been turned on its head in employment practice throughout the western world. Today it is generally those who are paid least who face the greatest employment risk, while those who are paid most face the least risk.

Unemployment in Ireland has fallen in the past ten years. However, in many cases the new employment which replaced the employment that was lost is precarious. That means that it is insecure, uncertain and often low paid, in which the risk is shifted from employers to workers. This takes the form of bogus self-employment, to which I will return later if I get a chance, zero-hour contracts, if-and-when contracts in the so-called gig economy, as well as changes in the working hours of those in more common forms of employment. While the quantity of employment has undoubtedly risen in recent years, the quality of employment has fallen drastically in tandem in the same period.

The precise number of employees on precarious contracts in Ireland is unknown, but I suspect it is a moveable feast. However, some information can be gleaned from statistics compiled by the CSO. Ireland has the second highest level of underemployment in the European Union after Spain. Some 7.5% of employees in Ireland report seeking additional hours; the EU average is only about half of that rate. In the past ten years the number classified as underemployed in Ireland has increased by over 50%. This compares with growth of just over 30% across the European Union during the same period.

This is not a problem at the fringes of the job market. Individuals on precarious contracts work in all sectors and all occupations. Casual labour has traditionally been a feature of the construction and hospitality sectors, but it is now rapidly growing in other sectors, including the healthcare and early child-care sectors. The advent of social media has placed pressure on the traditional media, which is reflected in the fact that an increasing number of contracts of individuals employed in the media can be described as precarious. A recent study estimated that up to 40% of third level lectures are now being given by lecturers on atypical contracts. The same increasingly applies in the IT sector. Therefore, the practice is widespread. Needless to say, this has negative consequences. It certainly has negative consequences for employees. I argue it also has negative long-term consequences for employers. For employees, the position is obvious. They cannot afford to get sick, or to have a car crash or a family emergency. If they have any of these things, they will not be working or earning. They are often in a permanent state of limbo, at the whim of their employers. Their lives could be said to be permanently on hold. They cannot plan their lives and certainly not their finances. In many cases, they cannot access credit because they cannot prove how many hours a week they are working because there is nothing to indicate it, a point to which I will return, but that is not all. Generally, they are lower paid and have lower job satisfaction. They enjoy less on-the-job training and are considerably less likely to be promoted. All of the research shows that they form the category at the highest risk of poverty in the population.

I have also seen a huge amount of anecdotal evidence of the consequences for their mental and physical well-being. Many studies have shown that the negative effects of job insecurity on physical and mental health can be as great as or greater than the effects of unemployment, thereby giving the lie to the old canard that it is better to have any job than no job. All of this is underpinned by a system of distorted incentives, created no doubt in good faith. It is something at which we will need to look as we go through the year in dealing with social welfare issue.

This segmentation of work has given rise to growing income inequality across the world, as the gains from economic growth are increasingly being divided between those in full-time secure jobs and those who are not. High levels of income inequality will in the long term threaten growth and social stability. The sense of injustice that has arisen from increasing income inequality and the sense of insecurity which has arisen from the increase in precarious work practices have fuelled populist movements across the world.

In reading the documentation surrounding the committee's report on its discussions on the previous Bill I noticed that IBEC had sought to construct a completely alternative narrative. I understand it is seeking to argue that nowadays people want to work like this because they can look after their families or they need more leisure time. It has suggested they are very lucky that employers have now reached the stage where they are able to facilitate them and that we are all one big happy family, but that is not the reality. It is the reverse of the truth. The reality is that for the overwhelming majority of those on precarious contracts, their conditions are not chosen but imposed.

I said there were significant costs for employers and there are. The cost of administering all of this tends to make a business less competitive. There is obviously lower employee commitment and staff co-operation. Teamwork is also lower. Much of the research has shown that while there may be some short-term savings for employers, they are more than offset by long-term losses in productivity.

During the debate on the committee's report the then Minister of State, Deputy Carey, claimed that the Government Bill was infinitely better than the one debated by the special committee, even as amended by it. I have read the Bill before the House as carefully as I can and the validity of that statement is not immediately obvious to me.

I want to raise a number of issues with the Minister, the first of which is the 18-month reference period. In her opening contribution she stated that one of the things that underpinned the legislation and had helped to shape it was the study carried out by the University of Limerick. To the best of my recollection, the study recommended a reference period of nine months. I think the committee then agreed on a compromise period of 12 months. Today a period of 18 months has been presented to us. I do not see any logic to it.

The normal budgetary cycle in which people prepare their accounts, tax returns, etc. and plan their budgets is 12 months. The Minister mentioned the need to account for seasonal adjustments. One 12-month period contains all the seasons. One does not have to go past a 12-month period to measure seasonal adjustment. On the other hand, I suggest to the Minister that 13 months might be an appropriate period. Somebody has to be working for at least 12 months to be covered under the terms of the Unfair Dismissals Act. To ensure those people are protected, a period of 13 months would be much more logical.

I have a real problem with the bands as proposed by the Government. Only four bands are proposed and they are very wide. I welcome the introduction of the one-hour to ten-hour band. That being said, we must bear in mind that precarious contracts give unscrupulous employers immense power to control and manipulate their workforce. The larger the bands, the greater the capacity for manipulation. For example, take a situation where somebody is in the 11- to 24-hour band. If that person is proving troublesome or is acting in such a way that the employer would prefer if he or she is not around, if that person is at the top end of the scale, the employer can move him or her gradually towards the bottom end of the scale which would result in a tremendous penalisation. More than half a person's income can disappear.

The Minister will say there are anti-penalisation measures in the Bill to deal with that. We will argue this on Committee Stage and put forward the appropriate amendments. I do not think the anti-penalisation measures do what they say on the tin. They are quite weak. They would need to be strengthened and the bands would need to be narrowed. Another reason to argue for a narrower set of bands is that if a person, who works 20 hours per week in the 11- to 24-hour band, is seeking credit and goes to the credit union for a loan, all he or she will be able to produce is evidence that he or she is working in a band of between 11 and 24 hours per week. In other words, all the person giving the loan will be sure of is that the person seeking it is working for at least 11 hours per week. Increasing the number of bands would not completely eliminate that problem but it would certainly mitigate it. Take the example I have given. If the band was up to 16 hours, then 17 to 24, that person would be able to show that he or she was working for at least 17 hours per week. That has to be seriously considered.

I received some documentation today from the Mandate trade union which contains some of the terms under which people are already working by way of collective agreements. Despite what we have heard from IBEC and others, those arrangements are working very well. It is very instructive to read them and to look at the bands. The bands are generally for approximately five hours, not 11 or 12 hours. We will have to look at that very closely.

There are a number of other matters which are more Committee Stage matters but I would like to refer to them now. I have a difficulty with the exclusion of casual work. The term "casual work" is not defined in the Bill and if somebody doing "casual work" is not covered by the terms of the Bill then the protection and rights afforded by the Bill do not extend to him or her. If something as wide as casual work is excluded without any definition, it will enable certain employers to say that they are classifying some work as casual work and, therefore, the people doing it are outside the terms of the Bill. In fact, they could even go to the extent, as sometimes happens with bogus self-employment, of getting people to sign a declaration that work is casual work. I do not think the anti-penalisation measures sufficiently deal with that issue.

I welcome the extension of the information provisions, but I am not convinced that a criminal offence is required. Generally speaking, employment law has functioned reasonably well without the necessity of importing criminal law into it. The solution would be to make the civil enforcement process more transparent and much more efficient, which would involve employing extra personnel at the Workplace Relations Commission and various other bodies dealing with this area. A law which states somebody can go to jail for 12 months if he or she does not provide information in time seems a little disproportionate. I have no overwhelming objection to it, but I think that the matter could be more easily resolved through changing some of those structures and procedures to which employees have to have resort.

The Bill claims to practically eliminate zero-hour contracts and if-and-when contracts. The only way to really eliminate zero-hour contracts and if-and-when contracts is to guarantee a minimum amount of hours of work. It need not be very many - a couple, three or four. That is not provided for in the Bill and we have to look at that.

There is a glaring gap in the Bill in that it does not seek to do anything about the phenomenon of bogus self-employment. I recently had a meeting in Limerick with tradesmen who work in the building sector. They are building houses for the State. Their employer called them in about two weeks and said that they were self-employed from Monday on, that they were independent contractors, responsible for their own tax and PRSI, and that they did not have any rights relating to unfair dismissal, notice or minimum terms, things which had been built up painstakingly over many years. It is amazing that this can happen in this day and age. To take a simple example, there is a distinction in a tax law between how an employee and a self-employed person are treated. As Deputy Willie Penrose will probably be aware, there is a whole raft of case law, fine distinctions and detailed judgments on what an employee is and what self-employment is, yet we are in a situation in this country where an employer can get out of bed on Monday morning and decide, at the stroke of a pen, that a person is self-employed. That is not acceptable. I note the recent joint report by the Department of Finance and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I dismiss it as spin. We all know the figures and have plenty of anecdotal evidence of the growth of this phenomenon. It is a scam which is costing the State a lot of money. The Departments' joint report estimated that it was costing €60 million a year. It is a multiple of that figure, about which there is no doubt.

I have a question for the Minister. If somebody is entering into a precarious contract with part-time hours or whatever else, the sort of person the Bill has been designed to deal with, and the employer says there is a job but the person must sign a piece of paper stating he or she will be self-employed, does that render the legislation null and void where it relates to that person?

It is against the law.

Employers are getting away with virtually eliminating all the other rights which, as I have said, have been built up painstakingly over decades. A simple expedient like that could mean that the Bill is worthless. I know that Deputy Mick Barry has a Bill to deal with this phenomenon. I have not had the opportunity to read it yet, but we will have to think seriously about amending this Bill along those lines because, with all due respect to Deputy Mick Barry - I am sure his is an excellent Bill - but in my experience, Private Members' Bills, however heavily supported or well-intentioned they are, have a habit of disappearing into the Bermuda triangle.

I am not naive. I know that legislation could not be devised tomorrow that would have the powers of a time machine to take people into the past where employment was more secure and people could work all their lives and finish up with a defined benefit pension. Everything has a context and the context now is different, but this new context has opened up an opportunity to exploit employees in a very unfair and unjust way. We have an obligation to legislate as well as we possibly can to prevent that from happening. The evidence of exploitation is all around us. I have seen it myself. I am sure every Member of this House has had people visit his or her clinic giving examples of it. The people who are being exploited are our neighbours, friends and our constituents and, in some case, members of our families. We have an obligation to them and a moral obligation to the workforce as a whole to ensure that changes in the economic climate cannot be allowed to create a situation whereby they can be used as cheap disposable labour.

Fianna Fáil will support the Bill on Second Stage, but we will be requiring it to be substantially amended on Committee Stage.

I am sharing time with Deputy David Cullinane.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

On more than one occasion, the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has told us that zero-hour contracts are not prevalent in Ireland. What then does the Minister call a situation where part-time workers have no security of hours from one week to the next and where they are expected to work at the drop of a hat if-and-when their employer provides them with hours? This is the same premise as a zero-hour contract. There are people working part-time with regular hours, and that is fine, but there are also people working part time on an if-and-when basis. They may as well be on a zero-hour contract because they have no security of hours and, therefore, no security of income. They have no idea, week to week, if they will be in a position to pay their rent or any of their many bills. Precarious work, low hours and if-and-when contracts make life impossible for many workers in the State. They prevent people from being able to plan beyond one week or seeking financial assistance through a loan, let alone dream of applying for a mortgage. They prevent people being able to retain the working family payment, formerly the family income supplement, FIS.

The Minister has said the aim of the Bill is to strengthen rights for workers on insecure contracts and those working variable hours but it will not do that and for three reasons. The Bill does not ban zero-hour contracts in their entirety and, therefore, it does not ban them at all; it gives employers 18 months, plus two months, to make a decision as to whether to place an employee on weekly bands, which means an employee is left waiting almost two years for a basic contract to reflect actual hours worked over a consistent time period; and the bands are far too wide and unworkable. They are untested. Rather than looking to bands that work, such as those in place in Penneys and Tesco, the Minister has created her own and they are ludicrous, to say the least. On the first weekly band, which is one hour to ten hours, one hour is not a band. The very minimum should be three hours. Under the Bill people in a weekly band of 11 to 24 hours may only be given 11 hours of work in any given week. There is a huge difference between 11 hours per week and 24 hours per week. It represents a massive difference in income for a household. The same can be said for someone in the 25 to 34 hours bracket. Mandate has recommended a gap of five hours, at most, between hours per band. The weekly bands put forward in the Bill introduced by my colleague, Deputy David Cullinane, start at 11.5 hours as opposed to the one hour proposed in this Bill.

Mandate, which represents many of the workers the Minister says she wants to protect, has said the Bill will not protect workers from exploitative contracts and abuse of power. This is not simply a case of employers reducing hours for some workers week to week, some employers are blatantly abusing their power in that regard. We have heard the real life experiences and the consequences of this for workers. I am sure the Minister, too, has heard many real life stories from workers in precarious employment across the State. One Dunnes Stores worker who bravely told of her own experience recalled seeing staff who were sick refusing to go home because they feared would be penalised the following week with reduced hours. She went on to say the insecurity of hours leads to burnout and stress as well as mental torture for people who know they are the main breadwinner in their family, many of whom are being given only 24 hours work in a particular week. Another worker on an if-and-when contract told how when a full-time employee left the store she worked in, the employer hired another part-time worker, also with no guaranteed hours, instead of giving her extra hours. These workers have been abandoned by the Government.

During a committee meeting last year on the heads of the Bill, I raised concerns as to the possible unconstitutionality of a particular section of the Bill. This section sought to make it an offence for an employer to ignore the Labour Court's ruling when, of course, the Labour Court does not have the power in making a ruling on a point of law. I welcome that the Minister has listened to the concerns I raised, despite dismissing them at the time. The Bill now ensures that any complaints made by employees will be examined by an adjudication officer in the Workplace Relations Commission. The Minister now needs to listen to Sinn Féin and others in regard to the three issues I specifically mentioned. It is beyond comprehension that the Government would commit in the programme for Government to tackling the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work that prevents workers from being able to save or have any job security and then, in response, introduce a Bill that fails to prohibit zero-hour contracts and introduces an 18-month look back period and weekly bands which are far too wide. Based on these three issues, the Bill fails to comprehend the very issues that the Minister has already recognised and acknowledged.

Sinn Féin will not oppose the Bill on this Stage as we accept the over-arching principle of it. It is unfortunate that the Government is refusing to allow Sinn Féin’s Banded Hours Contract Bill to progress through the legislative process in order that it can progress this Bill. Sinn Féin will submit numerous amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage, and we will consider amendments from other Deputies, to ensure it will do what it needs to do. There are workers relying on us to do the right thing and ensure legislation is put in place to deal with all the complex issues in this area.

I look forward to engaging further on the Bill on Committee Stage. I have listened to many organisations which have different opinions from the Minister who mentioned that the drafting of the Bill had been a three-year process.

The Minister has named numerous organisations that she has consulted, but she has not genuinely listened to them. If she had, she would have taken on board all of their views and concerns and ensured they were addressed in the Bill.

It is welcome that we are at least having a discussion on the Bill that will go some way towards addressing the issues arising from low-hour contracts and low-paid jobs. As An Teachta John Brady said, I sat where he is sitting almost a year ago and proposed a Bill that would have gone much further and dealt in a more substantial way with low-hour contracts. That legislation sought to implement the recommendations made in the University of Limerick report, made on the back of a study which had been commissioned by the former Minister of State with responsibility for job creation. I was taken aback by what I would describe as the viciousness of the responses of the two Ministers who responded on the day. They gave me an insight not only into the thinking of Fine Gael and the Government but also of senior officials in the Department who would have had to sign off on the speeches made. It was quite incredible to hear some of the responses and some of the officials' reasoning as to why the Bill could not proceed.

As it turned out, we had a very good hearing at the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I attended two sessions, at which we listened to a range of groups. Notwithstanding the very negative comments made by the employers' organisations, to which I will get in a few minutes, the vast majority of delegates supported the broad thrust of what we were trying to achieve and made recommendations which resulted in a substantial report. A number of amendments were proposed. Had they been taken on board, our Bill would have been much stronger and more robust. It would have done exactly what was necessary for low-paid workers. Despite the viciousness of, and opposition from, the Government at the time, lo and behold it brought forward its own Bill. Of course, it does not go far enough. The bands and exemptions are too broad. The look-back period of 18 months which was and is being considered was seen as too long, but at least the Government recognised that something needed to be done. This is a considerable step forward from where it was when we first introduced our Bill.

In the past few days we have seen the highest rent levels ever recorded in the State. We are discussing the issue of banded hours which employers' groups have labelled as dangerous and unnecessary. This is the type of Alice in Wonderland world in which we live today, in which decent work and secure hours are seen as evil, while housing and rent crises are championed as the efficient joys of a functioning free market.

I have listened to criticism expressed by the employers' groups of even the Minister's weak Bill which I do not believe will make much of a difference. It gives us an insight into how the employers' groups think and regard employees, most especially those in low-paid jobs. It is a matter of forgetting about their rights and entitlements. The thinking is that it does not matter and that is not really a worry if workers are being treated unfairly or shabbily as long as the employers can make a profit and maximise their returns. This thinking does not reflect my experience of the vast majority of employers who are decent and want to do the right thing and look after their employees. The best employers and most efficient companies are the ones that look after their workers, treat them with respect and afford them their proper entitlements, rather than treating them in the way that companies such as Dunnes Stores and some of the big multiples in the retail sector have treated their employees in recent times. The position of the employers' groups which certainly engaged with the sectoral committee and with which I engaged is out of kilter with that of the vast majority of employers. Certainly, they are not representative of the vast majority who believe in dignity at work and fairer hours. They believe that if a person works for 30 hours per week for a year, two, five or ten years and is still stuck on a five, ten or 15-hour contract, it is not fair and should be changed.

My colleague talked about the level of engagement of the Minister's Department and office. I acknowledge that this issue was dealt with by previous Ministers. The Minister has engaged with the ICTU and I assume she has also engaged with employers' groups for which I commend her. I met Ms Patricia King and her officials from ICTU last week. An Teachta John Brady and I will meet ICTU representatives again tomorrow. I had a telephone conversation with Mr. John Douglas, the general president of Mandate, the union that represents the workers in question. What the representatives want is a Bill that will work and do exactly what it says on the tin. It does not matter whether the amendments are supported by Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil; once the Bill does what it needs to do, we will support it. Even if it does not go as far as we want it to go, we, in Sinn Féin, will support it if it is better and makes it easier for those on low-hour and if-and-when contracts. We will examine amendments being suggested by the ICTU. We also have our own views on issues, on which we will engage with the Government.

The problem with low-hour contracts - I do not really have to remind the Minister because I am sure the unions with which she engaged will have told her - is the level of control given to an employer. If an employee steps out of line and does not do what he or she is told, the 30 or 40 hours he or she has been getting, possibly for years, may be taken from him or her. This might be because he or she has asserted his or her rights or because he or she might not have done exactly what the local manager, in a shop or otherwise, wanted him or her to do. The contracts give far too much power to employers, resulting in an imbalance in the workplace.

I held a briefing in the audiovisual room on this issue. A Dunnes Stores worker told us that he had complained about a fire exit being blocked by stacked pallets and his manager cut his hours from 40 hours per week to ten for six months. It was punishment because he had not done what he was told to do, even though he felt what he had been told to do was not the right thing to do. He said his wages were down by three quarters, or more than €300 per week. One needs a set number of hours to obtain family income supplement. The family income supplement payment of the individual in question was also cut, which had a massive impact on his ability to provide for his family. There are hundreds of cases like this that we could rehearse for the Minister. Real people in real-life circumstances experience these circumstances on a daily basis.

The one point I made when I addressed the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation was that, notwithstanding whatever faults the Government saw in our Bill, if we could collectively agree in this House that where an employee was working a set number of hours per week for a set period - we will debate the appropriate look-back period on Committee Stage - it should be reflected in the contract. In the 21st century, that is an entitlement every single worker should have. For the Minister's officials, the Minister or me - our jobs are precarious in many ways - there is always some certainty. For many of the workers in question, there is not the certainty they deserve and need. What we need to do is support workers as best we can and put in place legislation that will achieve what needs to be achieved. We need to ensure unscrupulous employers who comprise the minority do not win and are not able to exploit workers. Since they sometimes get away with exploiting workers, they might see the practice as giving themselves a competitive advantage over smaller shops or multiples that do the right thing. Therefore, we must create a level playing field and do in this House what we need to do, that is, set a legislative floor to put in place the minimum entitlements and supports workers need. If we do our job, we will minimise the ability of unscrupulous employers to exploit low-paid workers in their workplaces.

If that is the outcome of this process and the Minister is in the business of working with us and accepting amendments, we can get to a point where we will have a Bill that will be fit for purpose and do exactly what it should do. My party is committed to doing that, notwithstanding the fierce criticism we received from previous Ministers in the Department. We are big enough to put that to one side as we are here to do the right thing by those whom we represent. We will work constructively with the Minister. An Teachta John Brady will work with other Members of the House at the Select Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection where the Bill will progress. If we can get to a place where we will have a Bill that will improve the lot of those on low-hour and if-and-when contracts, that will be a good day. What we cannot say is that we banned zero-hour contracts because that is not what the Bill will do. It addresses an issue in relation to if-and-when contracts; it will not ban zero-hour contracts. We must collectively be honest with the people in what it is we are and are not doing. We will work constructively with everybody in the House to get to a place where we will have a Bill that will improve the lot of those stuck on low-hour contracts who make up the majority of low paid workers in the State.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I welcome the opportunity to contribute on Second Stage of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. Like the Minister, I acknowledge the commitment, drive and focus of my colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, who, when he was Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, ensured a study of the prevalence of zero-hour contracts among Irish employers and their impact on employees was conducted in a most comprehensive and laudatory fashion by the University of Limerick which produced an excellent report. I, therefore, welcome the introduction of the Bill, in so far as it goes, and most of its contents, but there are some missed opportunities to strengthen the law further in this area.

Like the ICTU and others have said and as outlined by many speakers, we, in the Labour Party, also subscribe to the view that the Bill is less than perfect. In our view, it requires refinement and amendments, some of which my colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, outlined yesterday in the doorstep interview he gave. Nevertheless, it would be churlish not to say there is a significant intention behind the Bill, which is welcome. The Bill is aimed at improving conditions for workers in precarious employment, but, as it stands, it is significantly and deeply flawed.

Some aspects of the Bill are important for workers who in their working lives are faced with insecure and precarious work. Even a cursory view of the Bill clearly highlights that the prohibition on zero-hour contracts excludes casual workers. Surely all workers, casual and otherwise, should be included and treated the same. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has noted, in particular, that the provision to pay a worker required to report for work for a minimum of three hours, whether he or she is required to work, is in line with the recommendation made in the University of Limerick report. Congress has indicated that the minimum payment for working such hours should be at the applicable hourly rate, rather than the prevailing national minimum wage or ERO rate as set out in the Bill. Likewise, the provisions relating to banded hours must clearly be revisited and reviewed. Furthermore, the Bill needs to be strengthened to ensure workers will not be penalised for invoking their rights under legislation. The hole in the bucket from my perspective of the Bill is the abject failure to deal with the concept of if-and-when contracts. It does nothing in that regard. Notwithstanding what the Minister said, as a barrister, I read the Bill inside out and cannot find anything to do with if-and-when contracts.

I am aware of the commitment in the programme for Government to tackle the problems arising from the increase in the casualisation of work. There was clear evidence of employers increasingly having resort to atypical work - short-term and short working hour contracts - especially in the hospitality, retail and health care sectors. It started in the period before the recession and continued during it. It prompted the then Minister of State, now Senator Gerald Nash, to commission the University of Limerick report. My colleague, Deputy Brendan Ryan, who has an interest and expertise in this area, was instrumental in having the report debated at our parliamentary party meetings.

I am also aware that many of the employer organisations indicated that such contracts also potentially suited some employers and employees. From an employer's perspective, I note that they advocated that such contracts were clearly useful in providing flexibility by ensuring employees would be available when needed to meet the needs of a particular business which clearly could reduce the payroll costs of an employer. For some employees who required flexibility for the purposes of education or meeting other commitments they said zero-hour contracts might have been beneficial. Leaving aside these weak arguments, there is no doubt that zero or low-hour contracts had a significant negative impact for many individuals, including low and unpredictable working hours, clearly unsustainable levels of income, difficulties in managing their work-life balance and problems with child-care arrangements and lack of notice of shifts.

What was noticeable from the findings of the University of Limerick review was that zero-hour contracts were not resorted to extensively in Ireland. A lot of speakers get mixed up between zero-hour contracts and if-and-when contracts. There is a difference. One difference is that zero-hour contracts attract some of the benefits of the corpus of employment legislation, whereas if-and-when contracts attract nothing. There is a significant difference when one goes into the Labour Court, as I did previously. That is an important point to make. There is evidence of employers resorting to if-and-when contracts, which, like zero-hour contracts, involve non-guaranteed hours of work. The fundamental difference between zero-hour and if-and-when contracts is that individuals on zero-hour contracts with an employer are contractually required to make themselves available for work, whereas those individuals on if-and-when contracts are not contractually required to make themselves available. If-and-when hours take different forms in employment contracts. In some all hours offered to an individual are on an if-and-when basis. In others there is a hybrid arrangement, whereby an employee has some guaranteed hours and additional hours are offered on an if-and-when basis. That is why I said this was a very critical issue.

The University of Limerick found that the key factors which were driving the use of if-and-when contracts included: increasing levels of work during non-standard hours; a requirement for flexibility in demand-led services; the absence of an accessible and affordable child care system; current employment legislation and the particular resourcing models for education and health services. Trade unions and others have pointed to the significant negative implications for individuals working if-and-when hours. They include: unpredictable working hours in terms of the number and scheduling of hours; unstable income and difficulties in accessing financial credit, as outlined by Deputy Willie O'Dea; a lack of employee input into the scheduling of working hours; employment contracts which do not reflect the reality of the number of hours worked; insufficient notice when called to work; being sent home during a shift; and a belief among individuals that they will be penalised by their employer for not accepting work. The Minister is trying to deal with that issue. Other implications include difficulties in accessing a range of social welfare benefits which is another headache and, in some cases, poorer terms and conditions.

Elsewhere in Europe working hours are regulated by legislation and collective agreements. We have some collective agreements and want to ensure they will continue to work with trade union input. There are no zero-hour contracts in a number of countries. Where zero-hour-type practices are regulated, some countries have placed limitations on their use such as time limits. We must acknowledge that many of the recent and current employment and labour regulations have been introduced in response to EU directives. The reason we must be very careful is, from a legal perspective, a critical element for an individual is the analysis of the type of contract on which he or she is engaged and what the classification will be. That is crucial because contracts of the if-and-when variety are not likely to attract the protections offered in the corpus of employment legislation which are exceedingly important in vindicating and advancing workers' rights. Thus, in summary, establishing the employment status of an individual is key. In Ireland the courts have adopted from UK law and advanced the centrality of the concept of mutuality of obligation. That was evident in the case of Barry and Others v. The Minister for Agriculture and Food in 2008. The case clearly established that mutuality of obligation was the first essential test of the existence of a contract of employment, as referred to by Deputy Willie O'Dea. That is absolutely crucial.

The Bill, as it stands, is flawed. I say that because it fails to offer any protection or relief to a growing cohort in the workforce which is effectively debarred not just from the remit of the Bill but also from the entirety of employment protection law. I refer to those workers who are being required in growing numbers to sign dodgy if-and-when contracts.

As Deputy David Cullinane said, the vast bulk of employers are honourable decent people who want to do the best by their employees. Of course, employment is a two-way relationship and there is mutual recognition of one another's rights, obligations and responsibilities. Such relationships establish a good workforce and everyone wins. They produce a win-win. The problem is the dodgy employer is always on the look-out or on the make and this is the type of thing we want to stamp out. My late uncle used to say a builder never got rich on the materials that went into the building but rather on the back of the people working on the building. He had strong socialist beliefs and he made that point from the time I was on his knee talking to him.

As matters stand, the concepts of casual employment and continuous employment are mutually exclusive. The difference is an important one. A casual employee will never accumulate the necessary minimum period of continuous employment that ensures statutory protection under our employment law framework, including the provisions in this Bill. That is the point - they will not gain anything.

I have studied this carefully from the perspective of trying to determine the legal rights. This gap creates a loophole that can be can be exploited by employers. If employers can impose terms and conditions that, in effect, casualise the workforce, then workers fall outside the protection of employment law. They are put at risk of job insecurity, limited integration in the business, low motivation, low job satisfaction and entrapment in a succession of short-term low-quality jobs with little or no social protection. We must end this exploitative practice but this Bill fails to do so.

The Bill is being debated in the context of the decline of standard employment relationships and increasing atypical work. Some changes are inevitable. We accept some changes. Some may be positive or welcome. However, we have to be careful of where non-standard terms and conditions can be imposed on vulnerable and low paid workers and those with little protection. That is where we have to focus. Conditions of flexibility can become conditions of insecurity and can become permanent. That is the significant issue.

Women are over-represented in non-standard employment sectors that are poorly-paid, insecure or outside or at the edge of our employment protection laws. Employment policy has to strike the right balance between the need for flexibility and adaptability by enterprise and the rights of workers to job security - in other words, the right to a basic level of predictability in the terms and conditions of work.

Section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, referred to by the Minister, deals with workers who have a contract requiring them to make themselves available for work. The section sets out a floor of minimum pay entitlements for someone whose actual hours in a given week do not match up to his or her hours on call.

Compensation and various other measures are provided for, including the 25% of 15 hours provision and the usual arrangements. However, the Act does not deal with a contract with few or no guaranteed hours of work or with no requirement, on paper at least, for employees to make themselves available on-call outside of any guaranteed contractual hours. Many workers are now encountering terms and conditions under which the company is under no obligation to provide work to the worker at any time and the worker is under no obligation to accept any work offered by the company at any time. The Minister may suggest that is rare, but I have in my hand a copy of a contract. The contract is from a significant multinational catering firm. The firm used to do contracts with State bodies and organisations and may well still do so. The firm imposes on workers certain conditions. Under the conditions for hours of work, the hours of work of the worker will be determined by mutual agreement. The company will give the worker seven days' notice of hours of work which are available to him. The worker has the right to refuse or accept these hours. The refusal of hours on the worker's behalf will have no negative consequences on hours offered to him in future. The firm gives no guarantee that hours will be offered to him on a weekly basis. The reality is that the company expects its workers to be available whenever it calls on them. The contract is written in terms that exclude any obligation on either party. When there is no mutuality of obligation, as proved in the case of the Minister for Agriculture and Food v. Barry, the floor is gone, the show is over and they are gone out the door - the worker has no employment protections.

It is clear that if-and-when contracts are not caught by the 1997 legislation nor will they be caught by the Minister's Bill. The Minister disagreed with that point, but doctors differ and the patient suffers. There is only one set of patients, that is, the workers caught with precarious and unstable hours. In fact, these workers may be outside the entire system of employment protection law. That is my view. The reason is that under the arrangements there is no obligation on the employer to provide work and no obligation on the worker to do any work offered. The law requires mutuality of obligation for a contract to be in place. If there are no enduring mutual obligations, there is no enduring contract. This issue has not been to the higher courts yet, but the law may well be decided if people working under such arrangements are told that they are in effect casual day workers.

We do not insist that genuine casual work must be deemed to be permanent and pensionable. No one is insisting on this. We all know about students and how people have availed of such work over the years - we have all done it. In fact, the trade unions have recognised and accepted the concept of genuine casual work in collective agreements negotiated with the hospitality sector. We do not live in cocoons or ivory towers. However, if someone is, on paper, simply working from shift to shift, but the circumstances give rise to a reasonable expectation that the employee will be re-engaged to do that work and if it turns out that the employee is, in fact, subsequently employed to do that work, we need to look at the set of facts, rather than what has been written on the paper.

I urge the Minister to look at the Australian rules on this issue. Under Australian law, service as a casual employee must be included in any calculation of continuous employment if the employee was employed as a casual employee on a regular and systematic basis and during the period of service the employee had a reasonable expectation of ongoing employment by the employer on a regular and systematic basis. Under the rules in Australia, account must be taken of whether the employee was offered work regularly, whether the employee generally accepted work when it was offered and whether, although the amount of work offered might vary, there was a pattern or system to the work that the employee was offered each week. Unless the Minister accepts amendments to the Bill to introduce provisions such as the Australian rules, we will be stuck with what are perverse arrangements that will subsequently lead to the downgrading of the status of employment.

I hope we can all agree that imposing such terms and conditions on the vulnerable, the low-paid and those with little social protection is unacceptable. If we are agreed on that, we should now take agreed and effective action to stop it. Like my colleagues, I am happy to play a role in that regard. The Labour Party intends to bring forward proposals to amend the Bill to include casual employment carried out on a regular and systematic basis and where the worker has a reasonable expectation of an ongoing, regular and consistent pattern of employment by the same employer.

The Labour Party notes the proposal to provide for the rights of employees to be placed in a band that reflects actual working hours. The Bill provides for four bands ranging from periods between one and 35 hours, one and ten hours, 11 and 24 hours and 25 and 34 hours and beyond. Most employee representatives, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Labour Party, are of the view that the bands proposed in the Bill is simply too broad. They need to be narrowed substantially. There should be six or seven bands in which workers could be placed under the legislation.

The reference period for the look-back or review of 18 months is far too long and should be reduced. I agree with Deputy Willie O'Dea that it should be reduced. We should allow a 12-month period for the unfair dismissal applications. Then we can get in after 13 months. I imagine we could all agree on that. We should try to get the period back to 13 months. That is one suggestion of which we are strongly supportive. Under the Bill, an employee could be placed on a lower number of hours after 18 months. While a further review is under way, the 13-month look-back period would help to deal with the scenario. In that way, the Minister would not be allowing that to slip through.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has noted concerns in respect of the banded hours proposal and the banding provisions. The commission has suggested a contract arrangement that seeks to accurately reflect the hours worked may provide workers with some robust protection from significant reductions in income.

We can all work together in several areas to try to find solutions. No one is suggesting he or she alone has divine right to insight or that he or she has the only proposals to deal with the situation. This is a major opportunity for us to deal with issues. I agree that it is time to call a halt to bogus self-employment and people being classified in that way. I was disappointed with the study referenced by the Minister also. I indicated my surprise to her in respect of it. This is something on which the Labour Party has been focused for several years.

As Deputy Mick Barry stated, people are turning up for work on a Monday morning only to be told they are self-employed, which means that they no longer have rights and must pay their own tax, insurance and so on. This is a disguised form of employment because they are still effectively employees. We must tackle this issue, if not in the Bill, in other legislation, because otherwise it will be left to fester for a long time. The Labour Party has drafted a Bill to address this issue.

I acknowledge that the Minister has made a start with the Bill. In fairness to her, she has been willing to take on some of the old chestnuts some of her colleagues were not eager to address. I am sure the cohort of the working population affected by if-and-when contracts and similar contracts will be grateful that a good start has been made. We can improve the Bill by working together in a collegiate manner to strengthen certain of its elements, while respecting the rights, responsibilities and obligations of employees and employers. There are risk-takers and people who assist in that regard, but progress will not be made without good employees who are treated properly in the workplace. It will benefit all concerned to advance legislation that reflects our desires and objectives in that regard.

In theory, I should wholeheartedly welcome and support the Bill because it claims to improve the lot of vulnerable, low paid workers who are grossly exploited by unscrupulous employers. Tens of thousands of workers are not informed of their terms and conditions, their hours are not notified to them in advance and they work under low-hour and zero-hour contracts. I do not know how they manage to survive.

It is interesting that, having spent years denying there was a problem, the Government has decided that it wants to address the increase in casualisation and the exploitation of workers. To that extent, the Bill is welcome. However, casualisation and exploitation are taking place by various means across many employments. There is a fundamental imbalance in power between employers and workers. This is a statement of the obvious which the Minister clearly does not accept because she seeks to treat both sides as if they were equals, despite the grossly unequal relationship between employers and workers. For example, it is impossible for workers who are not organised in trade unions to stick their heads above the parapet and demand the protection provided for them in some areas of legislation. It is difficult for them to secure even minor improvements in their lives in the sea of exploitation that occurs in the workplace.

Many of the employers with whom the Minister has spoken will be very pleased with the Bill. They will settle for these measures because the Bill will not significantly change their ways and means of doing business.

At least two sections of the Bill are a response to other Bills. The section on banded hours is a response to Deputy David Cullinane's Bill on the same issue, which was much better, more robust and would have provided much more security than the legislation before us. The section on bogus self-employment contracts is a response to a Bill introduced by Deputy Mick Barry on behalf of Solidarity-People Before Profit. The Minister's response has been to introduce less robust and less satisfactory measures, which is not good practice. The Government, if it were serious about reducing the exploitation of vulnerable workers, should revisit and take the best elements from the Bills introduced by Deputies David Cullinane and Mick Barry.

The Minister has stated she listened to employers and employees when developing this legislation. Since the so-called recovery commenced, profits have returned to pre-recession levels, loads of money is again being made and rents, living standards and the cost of living now exceed pre-crash levels. On the other hand, wages for most workers are not keeping pace with profits and the cost of living. This trend has been compounded by an explosion in the level of precarious work which is having a profound impact on the lives of tens of thousands of workers. Employers have clearly stuck with the mantra that one should never waste a good crisis. Large numbers of young workers have been left disillusioned as a result and many are leaving the country. Those who remain will be the first generation since the foundation of the State who cannot expect to do better than their parents. It is a real tragedy that we are overseeing such a society.

A recent report produced by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, found that more than 158,000 workers had their working hours varied from week to week, often without notice. The number of part-time and so-called self-employed workers increased by 34% or more than one third in the eight years between 2008 and 2016. Serious questions must be asked about bogus self-employment. Behind all of these statistics are real and difficult lives of young workers who are unable to secure a loan to pay a mortgage, who do not know from week to week if they will be able to pay their rent or bills and who cannot make plans for holidays. Their quality of life is suffering and if they try to vindicate the rights they are supposed to enjoy under the law, they find it extremely difficult to do so without the protection of a trade union.

While the Minister claims that many of the good measures included in the Bill flow from the study carried out by the University of Limerick, the study has a hell of a lot more to offer than what the Bill contains. The Minister suggested, for example, that in cases where the cancellation of work hours was not notified to an employee, the employee should receive three hours' wages paid at the rate of the national minimum wage or the relevant employment registration order. What is the position for the many workers who normally earn much more than the national minimum wage or the rate of an employment registration order, often in the care and hospitality sectors?

The Bill prohibits zero-hour contracts but in most, as opposed to all, circumstances. Many of the recommendations made in the University of Limerick report were significantly better than the measures included in the Bill. In my opinion, they have not been included because the employer organisations opposed them. I doubt that they met much resistance from the trade unions the Minister consulted. If no attempt is made to fully eliminate zero-hour contracts, abuses will continue.

It was interesting to listen to the discussion at the hearings on the Sinn Féin Bill on zero-hour contracts. We heard certain employers kick up a stink and deny the existence of such contracts. They argued that if the Oireachtas was to try to legislate against zero-hour contracts, it would ruin the hospitality, private health care and retail industries. The sky will not fall in if we control these sectors. However, we will not be able to do so with this limited legislation.

The Minister has stated and probably believes the vast majority of employers are decent. Today I received an email from a worker in Tesco where there was a strike exactly one year ago. Tesco is the largest private sector employer in the State, employing almost 15,000 workers. At this time last year, workers in the company went on strike to protect the terms and conditions of more than 1,000 staff on pre-1996 contracts. According to the woman who wrote the email, staff had an horrendous year after they went back to work on 24 February. She referred to bullying, harassment, discrimination and downright rude and unprofessional behaviour by management towards workers, which she said was too much to bear at times. In 2016 the trade union lodged a claim for a 2% pay increase which was granted by the Labour Court, but the company refused to pay it to workers on the pre-1996 contracts. In 2017 the trade union lodged a claim for a 3% increase which was granted to all workers, apart from those on pre-1996 contracts. The woman who wrote to me claims this group of Tesco workers are owed 6% in pay and that when they approached the employer about it through their union, they were told categorically that they were not getting it. There has been consistent bullying, the consequence of which has been that the number of workers on pre-1996 contracts in the company has fallen from 1,050 to 180. The employer engaged in systematic bullying, abuse and tyrannical behaviour to get its way. How does the Minister propose to control such behaviour if not through the introduction of robust and decent legislation?

It is the sort of behaviour in which employers will increasingly engage. We see it in the construction industry which has a plethora of contractors and agencies which are bringing construction workers on to sites and which are contracted by the State. Big companies such as BAM are using mushrooming agencies such as Manpower, CLS and 3D Personnel which hire and fire at will. They do not even take PRSI deductions from the pay of employees which makes it more difficult to provide protection and is a loss to the State. This is happening wholesale. There are, therefore, many abuses with which the Bill will not deal. I know that the Minister is not sorting out all of the exploitation of the working class in one fell swoop, but the Bill is not robust enough.

How does the Minister intend to implement all of the measures included in the Bill if it is passed? There are not enough labour inspectors in the country to deal with the numbers of complaints and problems in the building industry alone, never mind other industries in which there is this level of exploitation. How does the Minister propose to engage more inspectors through the Workplace Relations Commission and will its personnel go into workplaces to say they are breaking the law and issue the fines and sentences applicable in the Bill introduced by her? We need to know in order to support the Bill, but, without doubt, we will seek to amend it in a very major way. I urge the Department to consider the Bill Solidarity-People Before Profit brought forward on bogus self-employment and Sinn Féin's Bill on banded hour contracts. They are much more robust and would be much more useful to the tens of thousands of exploited workers who are trying to exist in these terrible conditions.

The most interesting and astute comment in this debate so far came from Deputy Willie O'Dea.

He said the rise in the level of precarious work would threaten growth and social stability. It is interesting in the sense that he is a capitalist politician who is predicting that capitalist policies will undermine capitalism and it is astute in the sense that he is correct. Low-hour contracts are a big issue for many workers in the State. Unfortunately, the Bill does not address the matter in a thorough and sufficiently serious fashion. This may be St. Valentine's Day, but the workers of Ireland in precarious employment will not feel too much love from the Government benches.

To a large extent, we will take our cue from the Mandate trade union that organises in the retail sector, in which not only do we have a heavy concentration of low-hour contracts but which has also been the site of worker struggles on the issue. In particular, I think of the strike action at Dunnes Stores in April 2015 which was precisely about the issue of low-hour contracts. It has been flagged as a major worker rights matter for some time. The International Labour Organization told us as long ago as 2014 that Ireland was only exceeded by Portugal in the massive growth of what it termed as people in time-related underemployment between 2005 and 2013. In the case of this state, the level of this form of underemployment grew from 2.1% of the workforce in 2005 to 10.5% in 2013, an incredible fivefold increase. The Irish Congress of Trade Union's report published last December, Insecure and Uncertain: Precarious work in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, records a decrease in the numbers from 170,000 from their peak in 2013 to 129,000 in 2016, but that is still over three times pre-crisis levels.

The question is whether we put our faith in the recovery continuing and hope for a slow decline or do we force the pace in improving the position of part-time workers through a combination of trade union organisation on the shop floor and legislative change. Workers have waited too long for this issue to be addressed. Had the Minister attended any of the press conferences given by Mandate in Buswells Hotel in recent years on the topic, she would have heard first-hand about the life-disrupting consequences of being on insecure, low paid, low-hour contracts. I have some examples. Even if a person was to consistently work twice the hours contained in a contract guaranteeing a minimum of ten hours, a bank would work out loan approval levels based on the hours contained in the contract. There are also consequences for child care arrangements and other out-of-work commitments if hours of work are prone to fluctuate wildly. The manipulation of working hours in the weeks and months running into holiday periods by employers in order to reduce holiday pay liability places power in the hands of employers and managers to effectively punish workers who engage in union activity or try to stand up for their rights in any way. This has been cited by Mandate in the case of Dunnes Stores. How does the Bill deal with this issue? The bands are simply too big. To take an extreme case study, somebody contracted to work for nine hours but who consistently works for 23 hours in the proposed 18-month period will only be entitled to have the contract adjusted upwards to ten hours. Likewise, the very requirement to work a full 18 months before being entitled to apply is far too long. Such is the nature of the work, many would be in and out of a place of employment in that timeframe. We can, for example, take the student working in a part-time job throughout an academic year. The 18-month period is an invitation to employers to take on people on fixed-term contracts for just under 18 months if they want to preserve maximum flexibility.

The Bill is not equal to the task. Our intention is to let it progress to Committee Stage, on which we will introduce a raft of necessary amendments to turn it into something that will be of real and tangible benefit to workers. We will seek far narrower bands such as five-hour bands along the lines demanded by Mandate. We will seek to drastically reduce the waiting time of 18 months before a worker can seek an appropriate amendment to a contract. We will close down the built-in loopholes that are practically an open invitation for employers to exploit and seek an explicit ban on the use of exclusivity clauses. We will fight for any look-back period to be made retrospective and, last but not least, seek to close off any attempt by employers to deliberately reduce working hours in the run-in to holiday periods to reduce holiday pay obligations.

The expansion of precarious working conditions is a cancer which is eating away at employment conditions for all in this and many other countries throughout the world. It acts to undermine the rights and conditions - the stability of life - achieved by a previous generation of workers and increases the rate of exploitation by the 1%, which is causing the massive expansion in corporate profits seen here and throughout the world. The Government and some elements of the establishment would like to deny that reality. Last week there were attempts in the media to deny the expansion in the level of precarious work that had taken place in the economy in the past ten years, but the facts are indisputable. Between 2008 and 2016, there was a 25% increase in the number of workers in temporary employment, a 43% increase in the number of workers in involuntary temporary employment, a 35% increase in the level of involuntary part-time employment and a 35% increase in the level of part-time self-employment with no employees, or what, in many cases, is called bogus self-employment.

The unfortunate reality is that for many young people who are trying to find a job, the idea of a secure, full-time job which pays a living wage or higher allowing people to have a reasonable standard of living, with stability in their life, is becoming a pipedream. Instead, what is facing people is the prospect of entering a jobs market which requires massive flexibility, with bad working conditions and low pay. In some industries the idea in extremis involves internships or the widespread working for free. It has taken hold and is presented as a way to get one's foot in the door.

The ICTU report found that across the country, there are currently 163,000 workers facing conditions of zero-hour contracts or so-called if-and-when contracts; this is what is dressed up as the gig economy. They cannot tell from week to week what hours they will work, if they definitely will have work and what contracts and conditions they will face. The industries most commonly associated with this are sales, tourism and the services industries. It is also evident in areas that previously were better regulated and paid areas of the economy such as public administration, health and education. These are areas in which the Government is a key driver of the casualisation of labour.

A total of 61% of all workers in full-time or part-time temporary contracts are between 15 and 34 years of age. The same way landlords tell us young people do not really want to own a home and would rather share a two-bedroom apartment with eight other professionals, IBEC and big business would like to say that these millennials, of which I am one, do not want permanent jobs but flexibility. Richie Boucher, who previously received an income of close to €1 million a year from Bank of Ireland, was the latest person to tell us that millennials "don't have the same desire for long-term security". It is easy for him to say. Of course people want long-term security, decent working conditions and stability in their lives. The reality is that 70,000 workers on temporary contracts are temporary against their will. Of course they want better working conditions and wages.

The effects have been outlined and are widespread. It means that people cannot have work-life balance and cannot plan from week to week. It means they cannot get mortgages. The effect on mental health is absolutely devastating. TASC published a report in 2017 where one of the respondents in the study had stated:

I had terrible mental health issues, like awful, really, really bad! And it was all work related. Like, very, very bad anxiety; I talk in my sleep when I’m anxious. It’s the mental health that does it worst, and you’re just going to crack a lot of the time, and depression really hits. And you wouldn’t expect work to have that effect on you, but it really did. I think mental health is the biggest thing, and the stress of not knowing.

This is the result not of work itself, which is fulfilling and gives people meaning in their lives, but the levels of flexibility and exploitation to which young workers are subjected in precarious employment.

The answer is to do what happened in America with the 15 Now movement and what happened in Britain with the organisation of McDonald's workers. We need in Ireland to rebuild a movement of young workers - the so-called precariat - to turn the tide and challenge the exploitation. This means organising the unorganised in trade unions and the left in the Dáil pushing to outlaw precarity.

I will share time with Deputy Clare Daly. We will take ten minutes each.

The last time I spoke on this issue I referred to an interview on the radio with Arne L. Kalleberg who is professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. He recently wrote Precarious Lives: Job Insecurity and Well-Being in Rich Democracies. He reported on precarious work and if-and-when contracts in five countries, namely, the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Spain and Japan. He made the important point that this is all part of the neoliberal agenda and diktat that has gone across the world in the past 20 years. We had social partnership in Ireland from 1987 until the Towards 2016 partnership deal. This was supported by our unions, the bosses, the previous Government and the Labour Party. In the late 1990s, these new contracts started coming into the workplace and this was allowed to happen. The only people who really stood up against them were the Dunnes Stores workers when, in April 2015, 6,000 people went out in strike, demanding decent pay and working hours.

We have heard lots of testimony from workers about their experience in their workplace environments. I read a testimony from two workers in Dunnes Stores where one had a low number of hours and wanted more while the other had a high number of hours but wanted fewer. Both went to their manager and asked to swap but he said they could not. When asked why, he replied, "Because I said so." We heard of the testimony of the young man whose hours were cut from 40 to ten. If a person's hours are cut from 25 to 15, that is a loss of €100 per week. How can anyone plan to pay rent, electricity and gas bills, to travel to work, to put food on the table and to live a life with that sort of precarious employment? It has to go because this is the brutal reality facing thousands of workers on precarious contracts every day of the week. It also illustrates an attitude by certain employers towards those who work for them, service their customers and earn them their profits, which is that they are not valued or respected. They are denied dignity and are working in an environment in which the allocation of hours is used to maintain a compliant workforce. This is the so-called gig economy but there is nothing hip about it. It is not a lifestyle choice but a brutal campaign to enforce a race to the bottom, devalue labour, casualise work, drive down wages, prevent unionisation and destroy the gains won by workers over decades of struggle.

It is estimated that 130,000 workers are affected by low hours and insecurity of their hours and wages. The question of legislation in this area is extremely important but, disgracefully, Deputy Cullinane's perfectly good Bill, drawn up in consultation with the Mandate union, has been sent to purgatory. Instead we are discussing a much weaker Bill, which contains loopholes that will allow employers to get around the provisions, which they will. The Minister stated earlier that good employers have nothing to fear from the Bill. I put it on the record of the Dáil that bad employers will not be afraid of the Bill. Zero-hour contracts and if-and-when contracts must be comprehensively outlawed. The Bill needs to be amended to include a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week.

A general exception from minimum hours for so-called casual work will be exploited by employers to move staff to casual status. This is a glaring loophole in the proposed legislation. The look-back period of 18 months is much too long. The Minister referred to the University of Limerick report but, at the launch of Mandate's secure work campaign, it was emphatically stated that the look-back period should be no more than six months. The look-back is a reference to the hours actually worked in a certain period to establish the basis for minimum hours. There are two problems. First, under the Government's Bill, workers would be obliged to wait 18 months to get guaranteed hours. Second, this is an extended period for employers to get their ducks in a row and reduce the hours. Any look-back period in a Bill should apply from when the Bill is initiated. It should not apply 18 months after the Bill is enacted.

It is also the view of the union that the proposed bans in the Bill are too wide. Section 15 of the Bill sets out the bands proposed in a table. Band A is one hour to ten hours but we know the minimum is three hours. Band B is 11 hours to 24 hours, band C is 25 hours to 34 hours and band D is 35 hours and over. The unions favour a bandwidth of no more than five hours, that is, a band of 15 to 20 hours and so on. There needs to be an anti-victimisation clause to ensure that workers hours are not reduced for union activity or the making of a complaint. Employers are already legally required to keep working time records so there would be no additional regulatory burden on employers if they have to base this on the hours. The information is already there.

The issue of bogus self-employment has been mentioned and I am reading the report on it. There is a very good book called Ramshorn Republic by Martin McMahon, whom I believe the Minister has met. He explains his experience in the late 1990s of being a courier and describes going to the unions to try to establish that these self-employment contracts were wrong. A deal was made between the unions and these companies in 2000. He made the point to me that the cost to employers of paying back-money to workers would now be phenomenal if we were to ban bogus self-employment. He was saying there has to be a realistic approach to this issue. These forms of employment should be banned and outlawed and there should be a cut-off point of perhaps two years from when the legislation is introduced. This is an important area that must be addressed. We cannot continue to have workers being told they are self-employed and that they have to pay their own PRSI etc.

I urge all Deputies to support the amendments to be tabled on behalf of the unions when the Bill goes to Committee Stage. We need effective legislation in this area now.

I will be relatively brief because I am losing the will to live listening to some of the contributions we have had to endure here tonight. I do not say that lightly. However, nobody should be patting themselves on the back because of this legislation. This is one of the worst examples of the misnamed “new politics”. What we have is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In 2016 we had a perfectly good Bill passed through the House moved by Deputy Cullinane in response to the heroic Dunnes Stores strike which took place as far back as April 2015. Then, every political party in this House promised those workers their full support. Now, we have a watered-down and flawed version of a Bill which already had progressed. There is nothing to be proud of in this. It is absolutely appalling.

Some of the contributions tonight were galling. It must be sickening for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to have to listen to the former Minister of State, Deputy Penrose, a former Government colleague, who sat in power for five years when they had the chance to deal with this issue, rave about a weaker Bill tonight saying, "We have a great Bill to do that." When the Labour Party was in power, it did nothing but commission a study - a good study at that. Where are the changes the Labour Party brought in? This kind of nonsense has to stop.

I am reminded of the comments, even worse in some ways, at the time of the Dunne Stores strike by Deputy Micheál Martin. He told us then: "I endeavour to get the full Oireachtas behind the [Dunnes Stores] workers, in the name of common decency, and in the name of basic rights that these workers are entitled to." When Sinn Féin moved the legislation to do just that, however, it was a Fianna Fáil amendment which cynically delayed this Bill's progress for 12 months. After that delay, it was eventually moved to the next Stage where it was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by an Oireachtas committee. A report on this was published last June. Over 13 hours the committee heard from 45 witnesses who put forward 23 recommendations with cross-party support. That Bill is now shelved and we get a much weaker version.

I find that shocking. It is so far out of kilter with the needs of the people who are suffering as a result of low-hours and if-and-when contracts, the very reason the Dunnes workers took on the fight on behalf of all casual workers. We need to put this debate in its context. Casual working contracts have grown at an alarming rate since 2008. This has had a devastating impact on the financial welfare of many people, particularly young people, women workers and foreign nationals. The years of austerity were years of opportunity for some and years of severe hardship for others, many of whom have not yet recovered from it. The austerity years gave an opportunity to engage in a race to the bottom, undermining workers' pay and conditions, standing on the head of rights and benefits hard fought for over decades. This has resulted in the number of those in insecure employment rise from 17% of the workforce to 22%. As other Deputies said, over half of those employed in casual work are not there by choice but are actually underemployed. This is a term our society did not use ten years ago. Now we have the second highest rate of underemployment among our EU counterparts.

While this has an effect on the workers involved, we need to look at the flipside, namely, the significant State subsidy going to supplement the wage bill of some of the most highly profitable retail companies in this country. That is what is being facilitated. The hours are there to give people secure jobs. Instead, they give them rubbish at the lower end and get the State to pick up the tab through family income supplement, FIS, or other benefits. Up to 10% of Tesco staff receive FIS payments. Statistics from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection show 58,000 workers were subsidised by the State last year because their wages were insufficient to meet their financial needs. Up to 127,000 children live in homes reliant on FIS payments. That is an absolute disgrace.

Over 32% of women in employment are on part-time or casual contracts. This is one of the key reasons we perform negatively in terms of the gender pay gap. It is precisely because women are disproportionately numbered on a casual contract basis. Other Deputies have explained well what that means. It means the women in question do not have a decent life, have no security, they cannot plan and are constantly in terror of even being able to meet the basics. It has an even bigger debilitating effect where the person is the main breadwinner in a family.

The lack of clarity could be addressed with legislation which places an outright ban on zero-hour contracts and ensures the introduction of banded hour contracts to reflect the regular working hours which people do. This is not impossible. Companies such as SuperValu and Marks & Spencer have negotiated with staff and their trade unions to put in place a system of banded hour contracts. The idea this is going to break retail operators and cannot be done is absolute nonsense. It can be done and has already been done by some employers in the State. The sad fact is that the ones who are not doing it are probably the ones pocketing the extra profits as a result.

It is a shame on all of us that two and half years after the Dunnes strike, we still have no legislation enacted. That is utterly shameful. What we have today is a Bill which is hardly fit for purpose. It is an IBEC-approved Bill which does not go far enough to protect workers and will have to be subjected to a significant number of amendments. Obviously, it will pass Second Stage with no opposition. However, it will have to be butchered to be radically improved on Committee Stage. This Bill falls short of the recommendations contained in the University of Limerick study. What is the point in the Government paying for a study, lauding that study, producing its findings and then enacting legislation which will not take account of it? That is a shameful waste of money. The Bill will have to be substantially amended to meet the levels contained in the University of Limerick report.

The bands in the Bill are too wide, are open to manipulation and give far too much control to those spiteful managers who use rosters to sanction and be punitive towards staff. Unfortunately, this has been a widely reported experience of Dunnes workers, particularly in the aftermath of the 2015 strike. Up to 85% of Dunnes workers surveyed by their union said the allocation of hours was used as a control mechanism by management. We must be honest. While these workers have waited on us to deliver legislation, many of them have been subjected to harassment, have had their hours cut, difficult hours allocated which their employer knew they could not work, shift patterns altered and roles changed. Unfortunately, some were forced to leave and others were unfairly dismissed as punishment for taking action in the strike. We know of one person in the store in the Northside Shopping Centre who was sacked the day after the strike. The insecure nature of their rights as workers does give a disproportionate level of control to a management which might be vindictive, and which in the case of Dunnes Stores, was steering a path of conflict to suit its own agenda and punish union members, an action we would all oppose.

The bands should be, as originally proposed in the Sinn Féin Bill, of five hours duration. The Government's ones are far too wide. The idea of 11 to 24 hours gives a manager capacity to reduce a worker's hours by 54%. Somebody on €10 an hour could have his or her weekly wage slashed from €240 to €110, a substantial difference. Obviously, the 18 month look-back period is far too long for workers in precarious industries who are looking for job security. To suggest they have to wait 18 months is completely unacceptable. It gives managers the ability to manipulate hours at the tail-end of the contract to reflect fewer hours and keep them below a certain threshold.

The recommendation by UL was for a six-month lookback period, which would work in conjunction with an amendment that would allow employees who have been longer than 12 months in employment to apply for contracts that reflect their working hours. After 12 months, all workers should be able to apply for a contract every six months.

It is ridiculous that we are going over this again. The House had this discussion months ago. We also had it two years ago, but here we are again. It is not good enough. The House must examine its rate of dealing with legislation properly, promptly and in appropriate detail. The Bill is weak. That was flagged to us. It needs to be amended to make it fit for purpose and meet the needs of workers. We have been through this. We have done citizens a disservice by not getting on with the job and running with the Bill that was already past certain Stages as opposed to going back two steps just to take one step forward.

I call Deputy Michael Collins, whom I understand is sharing time.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this motion. The Bill is important legislation that is intended to protect workers who are currently on zero-hour contracts. More often than not, these contracts are enforced by our larger employers. People are expected to work eight hours across a number of days each week. I do not want to paint all employers with the one brush. Many small business owners are struggling at this time. I speak to them on a daily basis. They are paying insurance, PRSI and rates. A large number are on the edge between continuing trading and going under. One employer whom I met last week in my constituency clinic at one time employed 40 staff. He is now down to ten staff because of the overheads. Rules and regulations that come into play when trying to employ someone affect most small employers, who comprise the majority of employers in my constituency of Cork South-West.

Statement after statement from the Government showing unemployment rates declining are not reflective of the real Ireland. Of the 80,000 in Turas Nua, 60,000 will be back on welfare when their contracts are up. Many of those who have been chased into employment are paid the minimum wage, which is a major burden on many young families. I met a couple two weeks ago, each of whom was on the minimum wage earning approximately €370 per week, paying for child care and paying for cars to get to and from work. This couple is now contemplating which one of them will leave work to stay at home to rear the family because they are not paid enough to afford to keep two cars on the road or to pay for child care. They are struggling. The Government is reducing the incentive for people to get up and get out to work each day. It did little to nothing in the last budget to encourage people to seek work as opposed to signing on to the dole.

This Bill seeks to protect the employee. However, it is the larger firms that enforce these precarious working contracts. We need to protect employees from this type of work. They see no certainty in what wages they will take home at the end of the week. We have a responsibility as legislators to protect our citizens, including business people who have started up SMEs and employ people on a small scale as well as those who are employed under precarious contracts and are being exploited as workers. For that reason, I support the Bill, but I would not support any more regulations or bureaucracy being forced upon our already struggling SME owners.

I am delighted to contribute on this Bill. I wish everyone a happy Valentine's Day, although it is getting into the night.

The Minister might be in a hurry home to her partner and kids. I wish them all well. In fairness to the Minister, she seems to be grappling with some of the issues since getting her new post. There are many to be grappled with. I also hope that the staff - I am sorry, as I did not see the female staff because the Acting Chairman was blocking my view - and anyone else who wants to celebrate this night can enjoy it. I will not take too long with my speech.

It is not just the ladies, Deputy.

I know, but normally flowers are for the ladies. It works both ways. It is a two-way street, like this Bill. Like employers and employees, it is a two-way street, and the grass grows in the middle.

I am glad that we are on to the Bill, Deputy.

We are getting there. The issue of protection for workers who are in precarious work situations is of deep concern to us all. We are all aware from the amount of contact that we have received on this matter that the levels of uncertainty that zero-hour contracts create for workers and families is enormous and it is long overdue to be addressed. I wish the Minister well in that regard. Tús maith, leath na hoibre. That is why I am happy to note that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that employees are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements and, in particular, their core terms at an early stage of their employment. That information should even be available to them before they commence employment. The Bill will also create a new offence of the non-provision of core terms within a specified period and will prohibit zero-hour contracts in most circumstances.

Like Deputy Michael Collins and many others have stated, it is not the ordinary small business person we are discussing. Small shopkeepers, building contractors and manufacturers look after their staff because they must provide a quality service. For example, a farmer knows that, if he or she does not produce quality milk or products, he or she will be penalised, and rightly so. Having clean and green food from field to fork is important. Employers need quality staff as well. The majority have them. This is a busy time for feirmeoirí go léir, given that it is calving season. They need reliable and dedicated staff. We all do. I should have declared at the start - the Acting Chairman might have said that I was too slow starting - that I am an employer and might have some vested interest. I have had excellent staff. I have been in business since 1982, with my good wife managing it and mise as láthair go leor den am. I have been missing in áit eile. Only for our diligent and dedicated employees, we would not still be in business and our customers would not be able to avail of our services. I thank the customers for their support as well. It is all encompassing.

It is a pity that greed has grown. It came with the Celtic tiger when that beast arrived on our shores, reigned for a number of years and ruined the situation for everyone. People believed that they would never see another poor day, but some pulled the ladder up after them and to hell with everyone else. "Croppies Lie Down". That is how it came back again. That greed is sad. We were talking about it earlier when discussing what our bankers had been getting away with, but this is different. We want a recovering economy. We are supposed to be in a recovering economy, but Fine Gael overkilled that line in the election. It was "recovery, recovery, recovery," but the tiger was gone and we could not find the recovery. Since then, Fine Gael has returned in much smaller numbers than in the previous incarnation. I hope that it has learned a salutary lesson from that.

I am not big on all of these new offences because enforcement is an issue. We have too many offences, laws and regulations. All we want is common decency, a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and proper treatment for employees by their employers. That is not too much to ask for. The Bill seeks to strengthen the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid employees who may be called in to work for a period but not be provided with that work. An enhanced minimum payment is being introduced.

A 2015 report from UL found that there was no commonly used national or international definition of "low hours working". The report went on to note that CSO data showed that 2% of employees regularly worked one to eight hours per week, 6% worked nine to 18 hours per week and 24% worked 19 to 35 hours per week. Very low hours - one to eight hours - are prevalent in the wholesale, retail, accommodation and food sectors. These are important sectors, so it is not acceptable. The Bill should have been built around the study from UL, which is my good colleague's erstwhile university. Indeed, we were down there in the days when it was dangerous.

That is right.

One morning when we were walking over a bridge, we were lucky to get to the other side alive, but we did, thank God, and we are here to tell the tale. It is an excellent institution.

Why do we constantly commission reports? I dealt with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, today regarding cardiac services in the south east in University Hospital Waterford. That was another report. We have scaffolding outside Leinster House. I was talking to the builders today. They are great lads and are doing a great job. I asked them whether the scaffolding was to keep up the building, but they told me that, no, it was only to keep up the steel framework.

McAlpine would not have it when he was building in London. I said it would keep up Shannon Bridge or the whole of Dublin Castle. It is only to put up the scaffolding. They told me the ground conditions here are an issue. If we are not careful, we will fall through the cracks someday. The scaffolding they have out there would keep Dublin Castle up. They are doing a good job on health and safety and everything else.

Why do we have all these reports? We have reports everywhere; they are coming out of our ears. Common sense is all we want. We do not need half of the reports because we know what is going on. There was a study from University of Limerick and the Bill could have been constructed around that. I heard the contributions of Deputies O'Dea, Penrose, Daly, Collins and others on the Bill. I watched them on a monitor. It is about common sense. It should be based on respect and support for workers instead of trying to milk them and blackguard them. The figures from the report and the CSO figures are stark. We need to act. We do not need to give another six months to debating this Bill. We need to debate it on Committee Stage and amend it to make it more meaningful. We need to direct the penalties in a more punitive way where they are deserved and in a less punitive way to ordinary small business people who are complying with everything. They have NERA and a plethora of Government agencies that have to be complied with and rightly so. It is overbearing on small companies because the amount of paperwork that has to be dealt with is enormous. The Bill is weak. I can see the lobbying of ISME in it. Sorry, not ISME, the bigger one.

IBEC. It is big business. I see them around here all the time. I know them from a former incarnation. Some of them are in the Construction Industry Federation. They are not interested in the little people. We have to recover na daoine beaga. It is na teaghlaigh go léir agus na feirmeoirí go léir who will recover it. They are on the ground every day, all day, 365 days a year. They are not interested in a quick buck. They are the cogs and chains keeping the system going and they must be supported.

Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. Young people are also not supported. It is awful to see young employees being sucked into these companies. They were in here with great aplomb. They have been brought into our towns. I am mostly talking about Tesco, which is in many towns in Tipperary. They are welcomed when they announce all the jobs but there is no talk of the jobs they displaced. There is no talk of the sweet deals that are done for planning fees and planning conditions and everything else for them. There is no talk of sucking the vibrancy out of the towns which they have done in my town of Clonmel and Tipperary and further afield. They do not even bank their money in our banks. They do not even bank it here. It hurts me to see it.

People have a right to buy online and use delivery services. Some people are sick or working so maybe they have to. One sees the Tesco vans up and down every road now. We have gone back to the days of 70 years ago - I was talking to Deputy Healy-Rae about this earlier - when a man would go around selling stuff out of the back of a van. A lot of them grew into great entrepreneurs. Now it is done more clinically and costly and with no respect for the workers delivering it. That was a different situation. It is the same kind of a principle but it is really mean-spirited. The zero-hour contracts, as I have alluded to, are just not acceptable.

The colleges have caught the contagion. Many people in college have told me that they spend five days a week in college but might only have 12 hours of tuition with lecturers. That is ridiculous, especially if it is spread over the five days. They cannot get a job or anything else because they are in college for two hours one day, one hour the next day and three hours the next day, which is ridiculous. It is a contagion which suits some of the higher up people in the universities and institutes who are doing that. It is not good. Families have to support their sons and daughters in universities and colleges and they like to have them get a bit of part-time work because it is good for them. It is a good grounding for them. They cannot do that if they have two hours in college every day. Why can they not have the lectures over two or three days a week and let them carry on with other activities. It must be streamlined. I do not know why the Minister is shaking her head.

I agree with the Deputy.

I thank the Minister. Normally the Minister nods when she agrees with me but she was doing something else so I thought she was saying she did not agree with me. That is grand. We will accept that. As I said, a quarter of all employees working nine to 18 hours per week are in wholesale or retail with another 17% working in health. A significant proportion of those who work 19 to 35 hours per week are in education and health. They are also in our nursing homes, which we badly need. I meet them all the time. There are a lot of staff in nursing homes who work very hard and they do not have many hours. I know nursing homes are normally small entities or a family business and it is difficult but they are a very important area. We will all end up there. We do not want to say anything in here that might bite us when we end up there. "Be nice to your kids, they pick your nursing home" - that is what stickers on the back of cars say.

We need to have respect for workers. It is a two-way street. If an employer respects workers, they will respect the job and be dedicated to it. It is not acceptable as I said. The penalties included in the Bill are too weak. As I said, we need real penalties that have teeth. We need to send a message to big employers, of which there are many. They are greedy and driven by greed. It is a race to the bottom. They abuse staff and do not respect them. We should send the message that it will not be tolerated. It is a land where we respect and value our workers and families. People will not be able to get a loan. We know that. How will they get a county council loan or any kind of credit union loan? The penalties included in the Bill still leave huge voids for people to get loans to be able to carry on in a small business or to repair their house or get on the market. It is a two-way street.

Employers must be respectful and vice versa. If that is the case, one will have a flourishing and happy company with good dialogue. Some companies might not even be unionised but there is respect. It is a two-way street and the workers go the extra mile when the pressure is on. That is especially true in the service industry when they have to respond to different situations whether it is after storms or different climatic conditions or perform seasonal work. When people are on zero-hours contracts and are threatened and cajoled and told they will lose some hours if they do not comply, it creates hostile and poor relations in a company. A company like that will not flourish.

There has to be a good environment with robust debate like we have here most times. I salute employers like SuperValu and even Marks and Spencer. I was in SuperValu in Carrick-on-Suir last week and was pleasantly told by one of the smiling staff that there were 90 staff and they are all very happy people. I could see that when I walked around and experienced the ambience of the shop. It is the same in SuperValu in Clonmel, Cahir and Tipperary Town and all the ones I go into. I salute them for that.

I heard a very wonderful interview on radio one morning with former Senator Feargal Quinn and his son. I think it was "Miriam Meets" He was a powerful man and so were his forefathers. I think he is the fourth or fifth generation. The way they treated their staff and customers is what we need. We do not need mollycoddling and dancing around with each other and hugs and kisses. We need honest, decent and respectful work and honest, decent wages within the limitations of what the company is doing. One will always find that workers will be understanding in those situations. They put their shoulders to the wheel. They have understanding if we meet lean times or difficult times. There will be a better outcome.

We need to let the axe fall where it should fall and it needs to fall on a lot of them. Many of the companies that built our motorways - not many but a lot of them - now have issues with the quality of work. They get these Government tenders. We saw it today with the ferry for Tory Island in Donegal going in at ridiculously low prices. I salute the people we met today and anyone in the business. Hundreds of them came here. They could not all be from the island or they would have three times the population they do. If there were that many, Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher would have a bridge built out to the island to go out canvassing. They have that little ferry and they know the lowest price is not the best. With eTenders we are getting companies coming in here and showing scant regard for Irish employees and tradespersons who are scarce commodities at the moment. I ask the Minister to support the trades because we need to get people back into trades as well.

As I said, women seem to be very poor.

Some 32% of women are in temporary employment, many of who are on zero-hour contracts. That is not fair because in many instances they are homemakers as well and some are single parents but they are locked in a bind. Some 10% of Tesco staff are in receipt of family income supplement. Companies such as that make massive profits and while they give jobs and pay local rates, they have special deals and they should be well able to support their workers. I went to a supermarket with members of the IFA some years ago and we filled two trolleys with vegetables and other produce for €9 or €10. It is a race to the bottom and they are putting huge pressure on suppliers, the people who grow the potatoes, the cabbage and everything else. These people give employment and are the backbone of our economy but the supermarkets are putting them under enormous pressure to supply for below-cost selling. There is a lot of murky business going on, such as hello money, and with very few exceptions this is not going in small companies. Big is not always beautiful and we had a big beast here a few years ago in the form of a tiger, which wrecked us all then left us all in a heap of brus.

Far too many people in this country are suffering because of insecure and precarious employment. Our young people, in particular, find themselves locked out of secure employment, decent conditions and fair pay. Having a set working week and a set wage is, for many people, now only something their parents' generation enjoyed. Too many people find themselves waiting for emails or texts from their managers or co-workers telling them the roster is done, or checking with trepidation to see where and when they are going to be called in to work in the week ahead. Plans for child care or social events go out the window along with the family's budget.

Increasing globalisation and the sense that some employers are getting away with treating their staff very poorly raise huge questions about the future of employment and there appears to many people to be a race to the bottom. The driving down of standards in jobs through low pay, zero-hour contracts, bogus self-employment and the growth of the gig economy all pose major challenges for our society and for young workers in particular.

It is not unreasonable for all workers to know in advance what their expected working week will look like. It is not unreasonable for all workers to know how much money they will be paid from week to week and it is not unreasonable for children to expect to know when their parents will be home from work. A dilution or an erosion of these expectations harms society in general. It harms families and it undermines the ability of people to plan their lives with any kind of certainty. While the Government is to be commended on bringing this Bill forward, the Social Democrats see this as the first piece of a larger suite of measures required to ensure all workers are treated with dignity and respect, and that all work is valued. The Social Democrats have proposed that there be a new deal for young workers, which guarantees fair terms and conditions in order that everyone is assured that their hard work will be properly rewarded. That is not too much for anybody to expect. They have a right to expect that work-life balance is possible and there should be a legitimate expectation that a decent job will allow a person to live a decent life, which is far from the case at the moment.

Fair pay and conditions are vital if we are to achieve high productivity and quality employment, which is evident in so many other countries where there is real social democracy at the heart of their politics. We can only hope the Government will see the value of this approach and choose to treat all workers with the respect they and their work deserve.

Precarious work is not a recent phenomenon and the issues this Bill purports to address have been consistently raised by workers in certain sectors and by the unions that represent them for more than ten years. Despite expert evidence in the form of an extensive and thoroughly researched report on low-hour contracts from the University of Limerick, which was commissioned by a Department, it seems the Minister has chosen to temper the recommendations of the report to satisfy employers. Elements of the Bill as it stands simply fly in the face of evidence-based decision making and I will table amendments to rectify these shortcomings in due course.

The fact that key recommendations of the report were completely ignored to keep employers happy speaks volumes when we look at the reality of the working conditions of those employed on these contracts. Qualitative research, carried out as part of the University of Limerick study, highlighted a number of serious issues for those who are employed on low-hour contracts. The two central issues highlighted are the ideas that people who take up low-hour contracts do so because there is nothing else available for them, as well as the unpredictability of hours and the related issues that stem from that. The idea that individuals are taking on employment described by one organisation as a business school model of running a business, that is, just-in-time for workers, says it all.

According to an ICTU report on low-hour employment practices, the exact number of employees on zero-hour contracts and subject to zero-hour practices in Ireland is unknown but we do know that 8% of workers - more than 150,000 people - work hours that vary considerably on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis. These workers disproportionately work in the retail, hospitality and social care sectors, all sectors where women dominate the workforce. Access to benefits, mortgages and loans and the protection of anti-discrimination law are inhibited by insecure contracted hours. Such arrangements have been shown to have long-term negative impacts on earnings potential and physical and mental health. The Bill should seek to address these issues but, sadly, has been found wanting in a number of respects. While the precise number of employers offering zero-hour contracts here is not available, some estimates can be gleaned by statistics compiled by the CSO. According to congress, employees on zero-hour contracts are likely to be a significant component of the group categorised as underemployed.

Ireland has the highest level of underemployment in the EU bar Spain and the increase in the numbers of underemployed has been substantial. Since the third quarter of 2008, the first year for which Ireland has data, the number of underemployed has increased by 50.5%, compared with growth of 31.9% across the EU during this period. These figures represent a complete indictment of the Government's ability to create quality and sustainable employment.

The second issue highlighted by the report is the broad issue of the unpredictability of hours and the issues that flow from that. In the University of Limerick, UL, report, congress and the National Women's Council of Ireland referred to the impact on individuals who are on low-hour work, which range from not knowing a schedule to waiting for a phone call and guessing hours. Congress argued that even where employees have regular hours, the fact they are on an if-and-when contract leads to anxiety because they do not know which is the week they will not get the hours. How can employees expect to be able to plan their lives around this type of unpredictability? It is simply not reasonable to expect workers to arrange for child care, transport, their personal lives or anything else which we take for granted, on the whim of the person doing the roster for the week.

The second issue is the power imbalance these contracts create for employees. In the qualitative research for the UL report, the National Youth Council of Ireland noted that there was not a relationship of equals between organisations and people on low hours. The National Women's Council argued that people on non-guaranteed hours can become trapped in a cycle of poverty, which strengthens employers' control over them.

Mandate has collected evidence from its members that details how these contracts can be weaponised to punish workers in a very disturbing manner. One worker in a very well-known Irish supermarket complained about a fire exit being blocked. His hours were cut from 40 hours per week to ten for six months as a punitive response. Incredibly, this practice is not illegal as his contract stipulated a minimum of ten hours per week. This represented a 75% cut in this individual's wage. Again, how can a person plan life around this type of uncertainty? This type of hour allocation and wage fluctuation also has implications for welfare claims such as family income supplement and the casual claims for those on jobseeker's payments.

We must now ask whether this Bill addresses the issues identified by the UL report and the unions. The key objectives of the UL study were established by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. They were to fill the gap that existed in terms of the hard data and information about the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in the Irish economy and the manner of their use, to assess the impact of zero-hour contracts on employees and, crucially, to enable the Minister to make any evidence-based policy recommendations to Government considered necessary on foot of the study. If we are to judge the Bill on the third objective, we would have to say the Government has not succeeded. It has rejected and ignored several of the crucial recommendations of the report that would have provided enhanced protection for workers.

As a starting point, it is worth examining who the Bill will actually protect in its current form. According to Dr. Sinéad Pembroke of TASC, the Organisation of Working Time Act provided that employers give 25% of the hours they require someone to be on call for. The UL report revealed that in order to get around the legislation, employers use "if-and-when" contracts. If the employees are available and when the employers have hours, the employers call them for work. The difference between zero-hour and if-and-when contracts is that for the latter, there is no obligation on the employer to offer work and, equally, there is no obligation on the part of the employee to accept meaning that an employee does not have the protection of employment law. Consequently, this Bill does not tackle if-and-when contracts, which as the UL report on the prevalence of zero-hour contracts found, are much more prevalent than zero-hour contracts. Furthermore, zero-hour contracts already have some statutory protection for employees whereas if-and-when contracts do not. The conclusion from reading the various reports from TASC, UL, ICTU and others has been that in a wide range of circumstances, employees on if-and-when contracts rarely feel that their hours are truly optional and fear being "zeroed out" if they do not accept hours which are offered to them. The absence of protections for if-and-when workers is a very serious flaw and seriously undermines the effectiveness of the legislation. I will table amendments to address this issue in due course as I am sure will many other Members because it must be changed.

Nobody should have to work without knowing their rights and this information should be available from the day a person commences their employment. This is a core recommendation of the UL study and is echoed in an ICTU report from last year. Unfortunately, these proposals have been watered down in the Bill, which instead grants this right only from the fifth day of employment and only grants recourse where the employer fails to provide this statement for more than a month so it renders it pretty well meaningless because there are so many restrictions on it. There is simply no reason why this information cannot be made available immediately to employees. People should not spend an entire working week in the dark about their actual hours, pay and terms and conditions and requiring employers to provide this from day one is not an onerous burden when these conditions will typically be very similar for the majority of employees in similar roles. Indeed, in most cases, these conditions can be provided to employees before they begin working at the stage of making a job offer. That is a fair and reasonable expectation for employees to have.

Changing hours at extremely short notice without compensation represents a serious intrusion into the family and social lives of precarious workers. Workers schedule their lives around their work and the practice of cancelling hours at short notice can often put huge financial pressure on employees to work antisocial hours whenever they are offered because they do not know how large or small their next weekly pay cheque will be. While accounting for the fact that sometimes there will be unforeseen circumstances which require an employer to request additional help at short notice, it should be paying its employees for the inconvenience caused. Workers may have to arrange child care at short notice, cancel social occasions and family time in order to perform work thus damaging personal relationships and quality of life. The UL study recommends that the premium for being called in at short notice should be an additional 50%. This provision is not in the Government draft legislation before us and is a key omission which fails to address one of the most serious issues in precarious contracts.

The UL report recommended the introduction of legislation that would require employers to pay any worker it asks to come in for at least three hours at their regular wage whether that work is made available or not. Workers should not be made to come in for extremely short periods of time which take a large period out of their days and require them to pay for transport without sufficient compensation. A weaker version of this provision is in the Bill, which only compensates workers at the national minimum wage or employment regulation order rate rather than their actual wages. This does not provide the certainty that some workers need. We believe anyone who hires a worker has an obligation to provide them with actual work.

The Bill's provisions for banded hours contracts have an 18-month "look-back" period for calculating the average hours and very wide bands. Therefore, it does not protect workers who have not been in employment for a minimum of 18 months. The UL study recommended that this look-back period should be six months while the Oireachtas committee which examined the report recommended 12 months. A very sizeable proportion of employees in the sectors noted for precarious work have not been employed for 18 months and this length of a look-back period increases the incentives to turn over staff when they are approaching this date as there is greater scope to have relatively experienced staff while still avoiding providing those staff with secure hours and wages. The UL report also recommended that these bands should be reviewed on an ongoing basis to prevent employers keeping an employee on an artificially low number of hours. This is absent from the draft legislation. Unions say this long look-back period will lead to exploitation and have drawn attention to the "spread" of the bands as currently set out in the Bill. The Oireachtas committee, TASC, the UL report and unions recommend that the bands be no greater than five hours which would provide a degree of working certainty.

Finally, unions have noted that the Bill as currently constituted does not provide for sufficient protection or recourse for workers who find themselves at the mercy of employers who seek to penalise workers for exercising their rights. The Bill's current provisions against penalisation are difficult to enforce by individual workers given that individual cases of reduction of hours can often be justified by reasons other than penalisation.

The burden of proof should fall to the employer to show that the changes to the work practices were a punitive response to raising concerns.

The issue of bogus self-employment is not addressed in the Bill; it is a glaring omission. The likelihood is that even the meek measures in the Bill when implemented will lead to an increase in the amount of bogus self-employment. Increasing numbers of workers are being forced into this phoney position, which must be addressed. I and other Members of the House will table amendments to the Bill in order to strengthen that area.

I return to the theme of the locked-out generation. In many ways, the most pressing issues we face as a society, such as the housing crisis, the future of pension and welfare provision and so on, impact most on those who will come after us. The type of working world that we design for them is no different. In many ways, it is the issue that will impact most on their lives. If we deny young people the ability to earn a fair wage in a fair way, what kind of society are we creating? It is a society that many people feel excludes them. It is a society that will not be inclusive and will not work satisfactorily for all. We cannot afford to create that kind of society. Action must be taken. The Bill fails to address the key issues involved and must be substantially amended.

I am sharing time with Deputy Fitzpatrick.

I welcome the Bill, which is part of the programme for Government, and I compliment the Minister on bringing it to the House. It is important to set out exactly what the Bill intends to do. It seeks to improve the security and predictability of people in employment. Many people do not know what they are going to earn or how many hours they will work from week to week or even from day to day.

In certain cases, it proposes to ban zero-hour contracts. We need to watch out for this because some exploitation can go on with employers. However, in some places employers need to have flexibility in work hours. In the main, the Bill gets that balance right. We often talk about big companies and how they might take advantage of their employees because of big numbers or whatever, and that they can dictate terms and conditions outside good practice or what is morally right. The Bill is very important from that point of view.

I take the opportunity to raise another matter in the area of employment. I have had much correspondence from school secretaries and caretakers who are not all treated equally. A small number of school secretaries have been employed under the 1978-79 scheme. They are paid on the equivalent of grade 3 or grade 4 civil servants depending on the school size. More than 3,000 school secretaries are employed by boards of management funded by the Department of Education and Skills. However, the rates of pay vary from school to school depending on the board of management and on affordability.

In addition, school secretaries are not paid for the 52 weeks and they have to sign on the dole for the summer, which is very degrading for them. The role of the school secretary needs to be valued; they are often the engine that keeps the school going. They deal with all the day-to-day problems that arise and keep the school running smoothly. They are also the problem solvers, but they seem to be treated differently. It is vital that their pay and conditions are corrected and that there is parity between schools so that they get equal pay for equal work and get the same terms and conditions nationally. This anomaly needs to be addressed. While the Bill deals with employment, we need to talk about the broader problems and anomalies involved.

For school secretaries and caretakers, there is a substantial difference between the rate paid in one school and the rate paid in another school for the same work carried out. The school secretaries have been very patient. There is an onus on us, as legislators, to ensure these issues are addressed and that we get parity for everybody. An arbitration case in 2015 found that there should be increases in pay and a minimum hourly rate for school secretaries. I welcome that the Department has given extra funding to schools, but there is still a significant disparity in the rates of pay between schools. We need to take these anomalies out of the system. There are many more anomalies with young educators working in crèches where they get paid for the hours worked and do not necessarily get paid the same rates as schoolteachers. They have been through four years of college and have a level 8 qualification, but yet are treated differently.

We have a very significant amount of work to do and it is vital that we bring in the Bill as quickly as possible. It is part of the programme for Government. I wanted to put on record my remarks on school secretaries but I welcome the Bill and offer my support to the Minister on it.

The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 proposes to introduce measures to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees who work under insecure contracts and also those who work variable hours. The Bill addresses areas that have been identified where current employment rights legislation should be strengthened to the benefit of employees, particularly low-paid more vulnerable workers, without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers and businesses.

Like many others, employers in my home town, Dundalk, have concerns that vulnerable low-paid workers are being exploited by unscrupulous employers in various ways, such as workers being called into work and then sent home without being given the hours of work or any compensation; insecure working arrangements; employees not knowing what hours they will be working from one week to the next; workers not being properly informed of their terms and conditions of employment by their employer; workers not knowing who their employer is or what is the legal entity that employs them; and workers on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours than provided for in their contract. These cause difficulties for workers when they try to get a mortgage or access to other financial credit.

It may also be used as a means of exercising undue control over employees where the threat of being put back on lower hours hangs over the employee. The Bill will address these issues. The Bill will prohibit zero-hour contracts in most circumstances except in situations of genuine employments and where they are essential to allow employers to provide cover in emergencies or to cover short-term absences.

All employees, including those on if-and-when contracts, will benefit from the balanced measures proposed in the Bill. It will also provide for a new minimum payment for low-paid workers who may be called into work but are sent home again without the promised work or any meaningful compensation. The focus is on low-paid employees and this new minimum payment is being linked to the national minimum wage to ensure the measure is focused on those most in need of stronger protection in this area. It is expected that 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 who show up get the work.

The Bill also 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, which is a new offence. It will also be an offence for an employer to deliberately misrepresent the information required in the statement of five core terms.

The Bill will provide strong anti-penalisation measures for employees who invoke their rights under the legislation. This is a key element of the Bill, particularly for workers in less secure employment who may be afraid to exercise their rights. The legislation will also introduce new rights for employees whose contract of employment does not reflect the reality of the hours they habitually work. This creates difficulties for employers 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 have worked over the 18 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 is the result of extensive consultation, including a public consultation following the University of Limerick study on zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts. The University of Limerick study was published in 2015 and was commissioned in 2014 by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The key objective of the study established by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation included the following:

To fill the gap that currently exists in terms of the hard data and information that is available concerning the prevalence of zero hours contracts in the Irish economy and the manner of their use.

To assess the impact of zero hours contracts on employees.

To enable the Minister to make any evidence-based policy recommendations to Government considered necessary on foot of the study.

The research found that zero-hour contracts within the meaning of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 are not extensive in Ireland. There is evidence, however, of if-and-when contracts. The fundamental difference between the two is that individuals with zero-hour contracts are contractually required to make themselves available for work with an employer while individuals with an if-and-when contract are not contractually required to make themselves available for work with an employer. It is also reported in the study that employer organisations argued that if-and-when contracts and low hours suit employees. It is claimed that such arrangements especially suit students, older workers and women with caring responsibilities. Some employer organisations argued that they have difficulty finding employees who want to work more hours. A number of employer organisations also argue that providing any work to people reduces the cost to the State of paying unemployment benefits.

The University of Limerick recommended amending the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 to 2012 to require employers to provide a written statement on the terms and conditions of the employment or by the first day of the employee commencing employment. The requirement should also apply to people working non-guaranteed hours on the data of first hire. It also recommended amending the Act to require employers to provide a statement of working hours which are a true reflection of the hours required of an employee. This requirement should also apply to people with non-guaranteed hours. It also recommended repealing section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and introducing either new legislation or a new section into the Act to include the following provisions:

(i) For employees with no guaranteed hours of work, the mean number of hours worked in the previous 6 months (from the date of first hire or from the date of enacting legislation) will be taken to be the minimum number of hours stipulated in the contract of employment.

(ii) For employees with a combination of minimum guaranteed hours and If and When hours, the mean number of hours worked in the previous 6 months (from the date of first hire or from the date of enacting legislation) will be taken to be the minimum number of hours stipulated in the contract of employment.

(iii) A mechanism will be put in place whereby, after the minimum number of hours is established, employers and employees can periodically review the pattern of working hours so that the contract accurately reflects the reality of working hours.

(iv) Where after 6 months an employee is provided with guaranteed minimum hours of work as per subsection (i) and (ii), but is contractually required to be available for additional hours, the employee should be compensated where they are not required by an employer in a week. The employee should be compensated for 25% of the additional hours for which they have to be available or for 15 hours, whichever is less.

These are only some of the recommendations from the University of Limerick study. We must improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees who work under insecure contracts and also those who work variable hours. I agree with the Minister that it is difficult for people to plan their lives outside of work and this Bill will significantly improve employment protection for these people. I wish the Minister the best going forward with the Bill. I think she has done a fantastic job with it. She will be getting my full support.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. There are many fine points in it and we want it to go to Committee Stage when we will examine potential amendments. I want to deal with a number of issues, in three sectors. Many people's contributions addressed agency work, zero-hour contracts and people who are working from day to day or hour to hour. Many of those are in the care sector, including nurses, care assistants in hospitals, nursing homes or in care facilities for people who have intellectual disabilities. I know many of them. When one is talking to them on a daily basis and asks them how things are going, they might say they have a shift on that night, tomorrow and on Saturday night but are not sure about the rest of the week. That shows up the difficulties with zero-hour contracts. The Minister and Department have looked at it and how best to eliminate agency workers. There is no doubt that the issue of agency workers on the care side arose over the last eight or ten years during the economic recession. They experience huge difficulty. It is very difficult for those people who are on zero-hour contracts to, as many speakers have said, plan their lives, get mortgages and to get integrated into society. The other difficulty is where people have had difficulties with mortgage arrears. I know several families who are working on a day-to-day basis.

It is very difficult to go to the banks and will be more difficult as new information has come from the banks and vulture funds over the last 48 hours about the loan books which are being sold off. The Minister needs to look at that carefully because a train crash is coming down the tracks where that issue, the vulture funds and house repossessions are concerned. Parking that to one side, the difficulty I have relates to the people on zero-hour contracts trying to engage with the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, with their creditors or who are trying to find a solution. This Bill goes some way towards helping them. It is not how we need society to develop. There was huge apprehension and opposition from some parts with regard to this Bill but it fundamentally gives people from all age groups a platform so that they can plan their lives. I spoke to senior officials in the HSE today about home care packages and home helps, the difficulty it is experiencing in providing services and the financial challenges that exist with the HSE not providing funding for them.

The other issue I want to address relating to minimum hour contracts is pension rights and what is accessible by way of pension rights and details. Many employees paid from the public purse, either through the Minister's Department or through section 39 organisations, do not have the benefits of being a State employee. There is an ongoing issue relating to community employment, CE, supervisors. Those people who are working have been paid for by the State over the years. The CE schemes were put in place in the early 1990s. Community groups formed community organisations which were allowed to employ these people and which employed supervisors. The State made no provision about how to ensure that pensions are in place.

This is an issue that comes within the remit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Finance and it needs to be resolved in favour of the community employment supervisors, many of whom have been left high and dry with no pension.

It was mentioned that school secretaries and ancillary school staff, by and large, work what is termed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection as the school year term, or 38 weeks a year. There are many people in that sector. There are also many people privately employed in a range of areas who have very little entitlements outside of those to which they are entitled under PRSI. I am sure the Minister is familiar with this issue. We need to strengthen the law to ensure that these people are protected going forward.

Living exclusively on a State pension is manageable for a couple living in one house but this becomes a challenge when a person is widowed. When the partner of an elderly person dies he or she has to meet the cost of burial and so on and this is causing huge poverty. However, that is outside the scope of this Bill.

I would like to raise another issue which is also slightly outside the scope of this Bill, namely, the entitlement of self-employed people to invalidity pension. I acknowledge that entitlements for self-employed persons was addressed in the social welfare Bill, and I welcome that because that provision was badly needed. It means that self-employed people whose businesses cease operating are now entitled to any State benefit.

However, there is an issue with regard to invalidity pension. Where a husband and wife are working a farm and the husband has an accident, becomes ill or has a serious diagnosis, under the terms of this Bill for the husband to be eligible for invalidity pension the business has to cease trading. This is causing huge difficulties. The term "cease trading" needs to be reviewed. This is a get-out clause that is being used by the Department. It was also used in regard to payment protection plans that were sold by the banks ten or 15 years ago. Where a person was self-employed and his or her business ceased operating and that person opened a new business such as a restaurant, he or she could not get payment protection in respect of a van that was used for the first business. A self-employed person who owns a small shop in the countryside or elsewhere who becomes ill and has to undergo surgery and further treatment over 12 or 15 weeks also does not qualify for invalidity pension. Self-employed people who get a serious diagnosis will do their best to fight it in the hope that they will be able to return to their business at some stage but if they are a sole operator they might have to cease trading to qualify for the invalidity pension. This measure needs to be revisited. This "cease trading" clause, which is contained in the social welfare legislation, is taking the good out of what was intended.

I thank Deputy Moynihan for sharing time with me. While I was in the Chair a number of the points I had intended to make were repeated many times on this side of the House and so I was deliberating on whether I ought to repeat them again. For the purpose of reinforcing the argument coming from this side of the House, I will repeat some of them.

My colleague, Deputy Moynihan, mentioned the CE scheme. I had a case in respect of which my engagement with the Minister's predecessor was going forwards and backwards for so long I raised it with the Ombudsman, who I think is investigating the matter. I am struck by how far we have moved away, almost unconsciously, from common decency when it comes to employment. That is a reflection not on the Minister but society. Public servants take their terms of pay and conditions for granted. I choose public servants only because they enjoy permanent employment.

When it comes to people in the private sector who enjoy permanent employment we do not question the things that they expect as a matter of right. I was self-employed and I know that the Minister was too. People in so-called good jobs came to expect these rights which were fought for over generations by trade unionists and organisations that worked on behalf of labour, including pensions, sick leave, maternity leave, compassionate leave, leave of absence and holiday pay. These are things which as a young man, and now as an older man, I took for granted. In this Bill, there has been a slide away from those expectations, which again is not a reflection on the Minister personally or politically. Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts has written about this. Obviously, it would be more pronounced in the United States. In one of her books she references the erosion of the middle class, which is a little more subtle here.

One of the Impact representatives I met spoke of a time that resonated with me. On one income he raised a family. He lived in a modest three or four bedroom, semi-detached house in Dublin in my constituency. The family went on holidays and one or two of the children went to college. He did all of that on one salary. He was what we would call a white collar worker, or somewhere between a white collar and a blue collar worker. Elizabeth Warren makes the point in one of her books that since the 1960s and the 1970s the cost of living has risen substantially for people. Working couples nowadays are bringing in two incomes but they have twice the expenses. They have a mortgage and child care costs, which is equivalent to another mortgage. I make this point because the Minister is tasked with the responsibility for maintaining these standards and maintaining the protections that generations of people, including trade unions, fought for. There are a lot of union representatives in my family on the teaching side. Trade unions fought for what people up to this generation have come to appreciate and understand are basic rights that will continue into the future.

All the other points my colleagues made, on the insecurity of the banded hours, living with the associated tension, waiting for the call, and not being able to make plans and follow through on them if one is a single parent, build on that basic argument. Therefore, I will not repeat all the themes mentioned.

It was mentioned that there are 150,000 affected workers. I acknowledge the unemployment rate is down to 4% or 5%, which is fantastic, but we must also consider employment. People have mentioned underemployment. Are there 250,000 households in which there is nobody employed? I do not know whether pensioners are included in that figure. It is up to the Government to maintain the standards that employees came to expect over a generation. This Bill does not meet those standards. It holds out no hope that householders can ever get to the point where, on one salary, they might be able to raise a family, never mind own house. Therefore, people are entitled to a little more. It is in this regard that I make my plea. We have come to a certain point but need to start moving further in regard to the quality of employment and life to which people are entitled. Someday we may return to the point where a household can be funded by just one working person, if that is what the household wishes to do. We have gone a million miles away from that.

This Bill is welcome. Any efforts to bring about greater security for workers must be commended. The Bill attempts to focus on employees being better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements and, in particular, the core terms at the early stage of their employment; prohibit zero-hour contracts in most circumstances; and strengthen the provisions on the payment of low-paid employees who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with that work. I am aware that many employee groups have welcomed aspects of the Bill, including the entitlement of workers to a minimum payment if called in but not given work. I am well aware of this practice in the fishing industry in Killybegs. We were called in many times at 9 a.m., sent home again at 10 a.m., called back at 2 p.m. and given work then until 6 p.m. Workers all across the country have to contend with this.

The unions have done considerable work on this Bill but the workers in question are non-unionised. The workers right across rural Ireland affected by this Bill are non-unionised, and they have been left behind, as I will explain later.

The Bill is by no means perfect. While I support it, I agree with some commentators that it does not go far enough in dealing with if-and-when and zero-hour contracts. In the context of Donegal, it certainly does not go far enough for seasonal workers who have been largely left behind under existing legislation and in any reports looking into atypical work patterns. The most recent report, which was commissioned by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, did not include seasonal workers within its remit and failed to adequately define if-and-when contracts to include seasonal work, while failing all the while to assess the implications of legislation on them. I would like to take the opportunity today to discuss the matter of seasonal work, the need for greater trade union recognition in the workplace and for the proper and effective enforcement of existing and new legislation to ensure employers respect the rights of workers across the board.

Seasonal work is a common form of employment for many people in Donegal and includes work in the tourism, farming and fisheries sectors. There are very few coherent statistical data available on seasonal work so we have little information on the trends of employment in these sectors. This is because most of the employments are non-unionised, particularly in rural areas. Unfortunately, workers are disadvantaged when decision-makers are ill informed. That political decisions are being made without sufficient knowledge of the issues affecting seasonal workers warrants a separate report into this category of work. In the case of Donegal, particularly Killybegs, fish factory workers are often wrongly classified according to the current definition of seasonal work. This may have been the case 20 years ago when, in each year, there were three fishing seasons. Owing to substantial changes in the sector, however, the fishing season currently lasts only six to eight weeks of the year. Fish factory workers often engage in employment between the shorter seasons and, as a result, may be incorrectly labelled as self-employed. This severely reduces their income security and social welfare entitlements.

Seasonal workers do not have written contracts, yet the onus is on the worker to prove a contract exists. I hope that this legislation will help place the onus back on the employer by obliging it to set out the five basic terms of employment to a staff member within the first week of employment. Regarding the core terms of employment, however, I believe all workers should be provided with the core conditions of employment, including the employer details, length of working day and contract duration. These should be provided in writing before the employee commences, as opposed to after the employment has begun.

I want to discuss issues concerning access to social welfare. Obtaining it is becoming increasingly difficult as a result of looser employment arrangements. This must be talked about in conjunction with the legislation because the workers are not fully employed and therefore depend on social welfare to make up their income. As employment is harder to categorise, it makes access to social protection difficult. Many fish factory workers are mislabelled as self-employed initially by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, yet after an appeal the label is removed for some of them.

I deal with a number of people who are part-time farmers but who also engage in factory work in a particular season. Again, they are incorrectly classified as self-employed. However, the issue remains for seasonal workers that hours, as opposed to days, are used to measure eligibility for the jobseeker's allowance. Substantial cuts to social protection payments and income support created greater income insecurity for people in precarious employment as their nature of employment makes them heavily reliant on income supports, such as the jobseeker's allowance and the farm assist payment, and subsidiary employment and income disregards. Much of my work involves assisting workers to appeal the decision by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in regard to these entitlements.

As mentioned, fish factory workers are traditionally associated with a particular employer. It may be factory A or factory B but never both, with the expectation that the employee remains loyal to that particular employer, season after season. Deputy Shortall referred to two-sided contracts. They are not. The contract benefits the employer, not the worker. It is not two-sided as workers do not have the choice. They cannot say to the employer they are doing something else on a given today. It does not happen in practice. It might be envisaged when writing legislation for the Dáil, and it might look great on paper, but it does not happen in practice. Employers have the power and workers do not. One cannot say workers have the right to say they are going to do something else. If they say it, they will not have a job afterwards. That is the bottom line. It is not a case of equal rights.

Employees are expected to be available for work when the employer requires them or they risk a reduction in hours or even a termination of employment. Consequently, a worker might not be asked back to work the following season and will be dissociated from a particular factory. For some, there is no option but to start work in another factory, if they can. Another serious consequence of mislabelling certain workers as self-employed, according to the definition that they are not contractually required to work, is that they may not be entitled to any compensation for hours not worked.

I have concerns relating to the barriers still facing workers and their right to be represented by their trade union of choice. Some employers still do not recognise trade unions. Until recently, they included Ryanair. The Bill does not acknowledge or address the urgent need for greater trade union recognition and the associated protections, including visits to the workplace by trade union representatives. Unfortunately, the Minister's people will not visit workplaces. If they do, they successfully prosecute but then never follow up. Therefore, what is the point? If there is no following up, the employer will continue the way he did and will not give workers the compensation to which they were entitled. There is no follow-up from the Department at all.

At the same time, it needs to be recognised that most seasonal workers are not unionised or organised and, therefore, suffer the consequences. A mechanism should be established that would allow non-organised workers to be represented and consulted during the drafting of legislation.

Furthermore, there is the ongoing issue of the need for proper enforcement of existing employment legislation. Time and again we have employers ignoring the instructions of the Workplace Relations Commission or trade unions representing staff. The same is true of instructions from the Department's own agency, the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA. I hope that sufficient resources are provided to ensure the proper enforcement of current and new legislation. We can have all the fancy legislation we want, and we are great at introducing legislation in this country. If one looked at our legislation, one would think this is a fantastic country but when one looks at what happens on the ground, none of it is being implemented and that is the problem we have. If we only implemented a fraction of the existing legislation this could be a decent place to work and live.

I welcome any clarification carried out on current legislation that may result in positive changes empowering both the employer to adhere to the law and accept responsibility for any legal implications and the employees to defend their rights and entitlements as workers. I believe it is in the interest of the Government to protect workers in atypical contracts, including seasonal workers, because strengthening their rights will bring about better working conditions and better wages, which in turn would reduce the cost to the State in terms of Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payments. I hope that employers do not forget that it is also better for businesses if workers are protected as businesses will gain greater access to workers if the employer can guarantee better working conditions rather than the treatment of workers that is currently evident.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this very important Bill. I note, as did the Minister in her opening remarks, the significant contribution made by others to the production and progress of the Bill to this Stage.

The legislation before us is essential in terms of providing workers, especially those in low-paid and precarious employment positions, with additional protections. As such, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this matter in the House. In recent years, job creation has been to the fore of the agenda for many Members of this House. It is perhaps fair to say that it was probably the sole objective and in that regard, certain matters were not necessarily skipped over or left to the wayside but it was a priority and it was necessary to have presented the opportunity to study the prevalence of zero-hour contracts in particular, as well as precarious work employment and practices. That is why bringing this Bill forward has been so important to so many people, especially workers such as those who are employed in Dublin Airport where a significant number of individuals are on bandless contracts. I am pleased that once this Bill is enacted, it will have an effect on those individuals who are such a significant contributor to the State with more than 3.5% of GDP.

Job creation has been essential in terms of getting our economy on the road to recovery and ensuring the State builds the resources necessary to provide communities across this country with the investment in social infrastructure they deserve. However, it is now essential that we act to provide workers with certainty and security in their employment. This Bill puts forward a number of worthwhile protections and advances in terms of employment rights, particularly for people in more vulnerable working positions. I refer to the fact that this Bill will prohibit the use of zero-hour contracts in the vast majority of instances. With the exception of cases of genuine casual labour, and where they are required to provide cover for emergency situations, zero-hours contracts will become a thing of the past as a result of this legislation. That will be an important milestone in improving employment conditions for so many people working on tenuous and unfair terms and conditions.

Essentially, the intention in this regard is to remove the phrase "zero-hour practice" from the title of section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. That will effectively mean that, apart from the aforementioned exceptions, an employer will be prevented from engaging an employee on a contract which would fall within the meaning of section 18(1)(a) or 18(1)(c) of the 1997 Act. Getting rid of those unfair contracts in most circumstances will undoubtedly benefit individuals and families across the country, and will prevent companies from abusing their position of power. That will be built upon through the provisions of the Bill, which will mandate that employees receive a new minimum payment in cases where they are called in to work but sent home again without having worked. The fact that a minority of employers deem it acceptable to call people in to work to just send them home again without work is outrageous. Many such scenarios have been brought to my attention in recent years but especially in recent months whereby six or eight people are called into work but there is only enough work to sustain three or four people and the balance are sent home. That is incredibly unfair.

To go back to the example I gave of Dublin Airport, some individuals might be called into work before the public transport system is up and running so they have to get a taxi to work and then get a bus or train home. It is very difficult for an individual on relatively low pay and banded-hours contracts to be able to afford to do that on an ongoing basis. Accordingly, the provisions set out in the Bill as I have read them are most welcome. Requiring a new minimum payment for those who are called into work but then sent home without being required to work will certainly be a positive step in stamping out that practice by the select few companies who engage in it. The focus of the provision is on protecting and supporting employees who are low paid. Linking that to the minimum wage is also important to prevent employers from finding a work-around. I am pleased that the Minister has included such a provision in this Bill.

Stating that this floor payment or new minimum payment is linked to the national minimum wage means that workers who find themselves called into work, and who are then sent home without receiving any hours, will have to receive a payment of three times the minimum wage, or three times the minimum rate set down in an employment regulation order, ERO. Ensuring people who find themselves in such a situation receive that level of compensation is important, especially for those on very low pay grades. Making it a requirement that this compensation is paid is an acknowledgement of the disruption such a call into work can have to an individual's social and family life, as well as to one's finances, given the requirement on some to travel to work outside the hours when public transport is provided.

Strengthening the rights of employees with regard to their basic terms of employment is also of paramount importance and I am pleased that the Bill also aims to do that. Should the Bill pass into law, it will be a requirement that employers provide their employees with five core terms of employment within five days of the employee starting work. These core terms are: the full names of both employer and employee; the address of the employer; the expected duration of the contract in instances where the contract is temporary or fixed-term; the rate or method of calculating pay and; what the employer reasonably expects the normal length of the employee's working day and week will be.

It is a positive step that this legislation will make it an offence for employers if they fail to fulfil this obligation within one month of an individual commencing employment, and subsequently it will be possible for the employer to be prosecuted. Furthermore, the employer will also be open to sanction in cases where he or she deliberately misrepresents the information required in the statement of the five core terms of employment which each employee must receive. While it is all well and good to talk about how placing new requirements upon businesses can benefit employers, I am pleased that we are coupling this with sanctions through the creation of these offences. In fact, the inclusion of the offences shows that the Minister and the Government are committed to putting the well-being of employees at the centre of policy.

As it stands, employers must provide employees with 15 terms of employment within two months of an individual commencing work. The new requirement for the five terms of employment to be provided within five days will not detract from this as employers will still be required to furnish the employee with the remaining terms within a two-month period.

With regard to banded hours, I am pleased that the Government is taking action to address the reality in which many workers find themselves. Often, determining the hours an employee works by simple examination of their contract can be tantamount to examining working conditions through rose-tinted glasses. The reality is that the hours a person habitually works can be significantly different to, and in excess of, those listed in their contract.

While an employee can habitually work many hours in excess of those listed in the contract, and be paid for that work, he cannot access credit or gain access to a mortgage due to the fact the contract does not reflect the reality of the employment or the work done. Under the banded hours provisions, employees will be able to be placed in bands of hours that are more reflective of the hours they actually work on the basis of time worked over an 18-month reference period.

Why is the reference period 18 months? It seems 18 months is a significantly long period, sufficient to provide a genuine overview of the conditions of a person's employment, taking into account the normal ebbs and flows of business activities. Therefore, it provides a strong reflection of the reality of working hours within a company.

Let us suppose we were merely to look at the hours a person worked during a quiet period. That would not allow for the longer hours the person may work during the festive periods to be taken into account. Likewise, let us suppose we were merely to look at a given timeframe. Should it be examined during the festive period, when the employee is working longer hours, it would not take notice of the fact the business may be significantly quieter at other times of the year when working hours are shorter. In this regard, it is important to ensure employers receive the protection they require and deserve while also being cognisant that measures will not put jobs at risk in instances where the provisions may be deemed unfair to employers, particularly in the cases of smaller businesses.

I note that the proposals in this area include a mechanism for a review of the arrangement after a period of 18 months. This applies where the employee has been sought and placed in a band of hours through utilising the rights as provided for under this legislation. I am pleased the Workplace Relations Commission will be able to place an employee in an appropriate band of hours when that employee has sought redress through the Workplace Relations Commission. Of course this is a last resort, but the measure should be included and I am pleased to see it written into the Bill.

The measures outlined with regard to an employee's request include the rationale by which an employer can refuse an employee's request. The rationale is reflective of instances where an employer is genuinely adversely impacted. The defences for employers include cases where the employee's claim is not supported by the facts; cases where significant adverse changes have impacted the business and may have a detrimental effect on future operations, for instance, where an important contract is lost or where emergency situations have occurred and adversely impacted the business, like flooding - unfortunately we have seen a good deal of flooding in recent years; and where the employment situation was genuinely temporary, for instance, where it was maternity cover for another employee or a specific term or contract hours for the festive season or the summer season etc.

The changes in this regard will be significant to many employees, particularly since employees will finally be able to use effective working hours to access credit or the mortgage they have been saving for. That is an important point to dwell upon. Given the escalation of house prices and rental prices in recent years, especially in the past two years, individuals may find themselves on lucrative but uncertain contracts. Where the contracts are not reflective of the income that they receive, it can be problematic in saving deposits and getting credit from financial institutions. That is so important. Even motor or home improvement loans are difficult to come by when a person does not have a contract that stands up to the credit analysis of the various financial institutions. It is worth mentioning that point in the context of the current housing market. The changes in this regard will be significant in providing individuals who have been saving for months or years with the ability to access the credit they so richly deserve. Moreover, it will provide them with greater security in employment and more freedom in planning their home and social lives.

Providing this safety in respect of employment will, I hope, allow many people to leave the stress of their working environment in work and no longer bring it home. Of course, such stress can have a severe effect on family life, especially given the stresses and strains of bringing up children. Concern over employment status or the work schedule and how a person might organise child care early in the morning or late in the evening, depending on the industry, is relevant as well. Having an enjoyable and relaxing home and social life is vital for physical and mental health, something the Oireachtas has spent some time focusing on in recent months and years on an all-party basis. Anything we can do to support employees in that regard is most certainly positive.

I commend the fact that anti-penalisation provisions are included in the legislation. When we pass legislation to benefit any member of society, we must never be afraid for any reason if they access their rights. On that basis, I am glad that where employees invoke their rights under the provision of the Bill, once it is passed into law, they will be protected from any recourse on the part of the employer. This is of particular importance to any individual who may be in less-secure employment. Should an instance arise where an employer threatens to reduce an employee's working hours due to the fact that the employee sought to exercise his rights under this legislation, the employee can pursue penalisation through the Workplace Relations Commission against the employer. The inclusion of this protection will undoubtedly provide peace of mind to more vulnerable workers and ensure they have access to their rights and can exercise them without fear of potential consequences.

I note that in developing the Bill the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, and her Department have engaged in extensive consultation with bodies such as ICTU and IBEC. They have worked to ensure the Bill is balanced and fair to employees and employers. I see nothing in this proposed legislation that could be deemed to be anything but positive. I thank the Minister and her Department. I thank the former Minister with responsibility for this area, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, and the former Minister of State, Senator Ged Nash, for the significant contribution they have made. I thank the relevant people in the University of Limerick who carried out the back-work to put this Bill forward.

I look forward to participating in the various Stages of the Bill as it comes through the floor of the House and through Committee Stage. Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to address the House on this matter.

Cuireann sé áthas orm an deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I am pleased to speak on this subject. In the first place it is fair to say that, especially in small businesses, there is normally a good and flexible working relationship between the employer and the employee. Most things are worked by trust and agreement. It is not always the case but that has been my experience in most small businesses that I know of. It is fair to say that bigger organisations, perhaps because of distance or because they do not have to deal with people on the same one-to-one basis, are in a far stronger position to bring in practices that suit their business but perhaps do not suit employees.

One of the concerns I have about society in general is that the gap between low and high wages and top salaries is ever-widening. It would appear that wages are not generally half as adequate in providing people with the wherewithal to buy or own a house. This was not the case in the past. Therefore, I believe there are issues far beyond this Bill that we need to look at in terms of employment.

I read a comment on the whole question of ownership. Most of us get to own a thing because we get a wage or salary. It was said that the objective of Government should be to ensure that private ownership is protected. However, a rider was put on that aim to the effect that ownership should be as diverse as possible. In other words, the idea was that the great share of ownership would not be controlled by a small number of people. We are facing a world in which more and more of our businesses are big multinational businesses. I am not referring to the manufacturing sector, which actually tends to produce good employers. I am referring to the retail sector, for example, and even the hospitality sector.

There are more and more conglomerates as opposed to family firms in the hospitality sector and ownership is becoming more concentrated as opposed to diverse. This is also having an effect on the day to day lives of people. As I stated, we appear to be being pressed into a position in which a small number of people will own large numbers of houses and an increasing number of people will become tenants. We must examine the shape of our society. The Bill is an effort to redress the balance in favour of those at the bottom of the pile. Let us be honest, it is not aimed at people with high salaries but at those who are paid the minimum wage or slightly more, many of whom are in low income families and struggling to live from week to week.

In my experience, one of the things that differentiates those who have good incomes from those on small incomes is the ability of the former to ride out a small crisis and take the hit if something goes wrong. This could be a car accident resulting in damage to their property or home or another unexpected expense. Those living on smaller incomes do not have a financial cushion or the borrowing power to create a cushion when one is needed. Uncertainty can, therefore, cause significant problems for such persons.

The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, represents a rural constituency and will be familiar with the grief caused every year when an agricultural payment fails to materialise. When someone contacts the Department seeking a payment that was expected in October and on foot of which he or she has promised the bank manager to repay a loan, the Department will often state it has carried out an inspection and the applicant will have to hang on for a few months before the payment is made. The equivalent of that scenario for employees is not knowing from week to week how much income will come into the house, not because of their availability for work or otherwise but because of the availability of work for them. I am glad, therefore, that the Government has moved on this issue by introducing this Bill. As we say in Irish, is fearr go deireanach ná go brách or it is better late than never.

It would be churlish of me not to recognise that big wheels move slowly. While the development of legislation appears simple in that one can often achieve 90% of the task reasonably quickly, the final 10% can be tedious as is it must be discussed with the various interests - na páirtithe leasmhara - that one is trying to balance. The trade unions and IBEC have been consulted on the Bill. I was surprised to receive a document from Chambers Ireland in which it takes a highly critical position on the proposed measures. I would have expected Chambers Ireland to acknowledge that the Bill protects good employers and seeks to impose a burden only on those employers who do not act to the highest standards. Having read the various provisions, I do not regard the information that must be provided to an employee in the first five days of employment as excessively onerous. As a manager of a co-operative, I was the employer on a day-to-day basis because I had to fulfil the various obligations imposed on the co-operative. While I am always conscious of the need to keep paperwork to a minimum, the type of information being sought is not onerous. On the contrary, it is fundamental that employers provide this information in the stipulated period, with the rest of the contract to follow thereafter. This means employers will give some information regarding how a person will be paid, for how long he or she will be employed and the number of hours he or she can reasonably expect to work. One would expect that even without such a requirement, a good and fair employer would provide this information to employees in any case. The provision is simple and basic and I cannot understand the reason anyone would object to it. It is also appropriate to remove the exclusion that currently applies to employees who work fewer than eight hours per week. The provision of this information does not impose a significant burden on the employer.

On zero-hour contracts, it is appropriate to address the issue of employees being on call for a certain period during which they do not know when they will be called. The method by which this has been done is proportionate and reasonable. If there are flaws in these provisions, they can be teased out on Committee Stage but none is immediately apparent to me.

The proposal regarding cases where an employee is called into work to find there is no work available is also appropriate. Nowadays, some people travel considerable distances to work and employees in the catering industry who work evenings in hotels and so forth often have to arrange babysitters. It is reasonable, therefore, to require that a payment be made to those who are called into work only to find none is available. This payment should cover the time travelling to and from work and the inconvenience caused.

It is always a matter of concern that people fear being penalised for exercising rights granted to them by this House. This is a common enough fear and I am glad it is being addressed in the Bill. Many people are afraid that an employer will take it out on them if they act to protect their interests. Every agreement and all human relations, for example, between landlords and tenants and workers and employers, can work in one way or another. An employer can wind up with the employee from hell and vice versa. In most cases, particularly where larger companies are involved, the employer is in the driving seat and position of power and this must be recognised in legislation.

The most important thing about legislation is that it protects vulnerable people and ensures they cannot be exploited by unscrupulous and powerful people. We should recognise that the vast majority of people do not need this legislation because relations in most workplaces are such that the employer would act in good faith even if there were no contract and create a good personal relationship with his or her employees. This is the day-to-day experience of most employees. As with almost everything else in life, one often introduces laws to deal with a minority who are exploiting others and, in doing so, one imposes a slight additional burden on those who would always comply with the law and treated their employees fairly.

When I was an employer I used to have a little slogan which contained an element of truth. I used to say that for good employees, no rules are needed because they would do the job in any case and do it well and willingly, with cop-on and effectiveness, whereas for bad employees, no rules were good because they would find a way to circumvent them. In this case, the same applies to the good employer or anything that is good in life. I accept that legislation of this nature is probably utterly unnecessary for good employers and will impose a burden on them.

With regard to unscrupulous employers, I hope I am proven wrong and these laws will have an effect. I hope those employers do not dream up some other way of getting around the law to exploit ordinary workers. I can never understand the reasons for doing that as it creates an unwilling workforce and bad relationships. There is nothing worse than somebody who does not respect an employer. It seems to be the case that some employers go that way and therefore need to be stopped from exploiting employees.

I am glad the Bill has come before the House and I am sure that in principle it has universal support. I hope it gets a reasonably speedy passage through the House and goes steadily through Committee Stage and so on. If amendments are required, I hope they are made and this becomes law. I hope it does what is intended, which is to provide better working conditions for our citizens, more certainty and a guarantee of knowing what they can expect in employment and income. As I said at the beginning, life is difficult now. There may be many more people working but many are working on low wages in society. We need to ensure they are not exploited in an unfair way.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation, the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. It addresses key issues which have been identified as areas where current employment rights legislation should be strengthened to the benefit of employees, particularly low-paid, more vulnerable workers, without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers and businesses. The key objective of the Bill is to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours.

What are the key issues of concern to people? Vulnerable, low-paid workers can be exploited by unscrupulous employers in various ways. For example, employees might not be properly informed of their terms of employment by their employer; employees might not know who is their employer, and specifically the legal entity that employs them; employees may be called into work and then sent home without being given the hours of work or any compensation; and employees on low-hour contracts may consistently work more hours than provided for in their contract, which causes difficulties for workers when they try to get a mortgage or access other financial credit. It may also be used as a means of exercising undue control over employees where the threat of being put back on the lower contract hours hangs over him or her. Employees may feel afraid to exercise their rights for fear of being penalised by their employer. Insecure working arrangements mean employees may not know what hours they will work from one week to the next.

How does the Bill address these matters and achieve its objectives? It will ensure employees are informed of the core terms of employment at an early stage. The Bill also 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, which is a new offence. It would also be an offence for an employer to deliberately misrepresent the information required in the statement of five core terms. Currently, 15 terms of employment are required to be given by employers to employees within two months. A University of Limerick study recommended that all 15 items be given on the first day. Following consultation, it was accepted that this would be excessive. Instead, it is proposed that employers must inform employees in writing within five days of commencement of employment of the following five core terms of employment: the full name of the employer and employee; the address of the employer; the expected duration of the contract, whether the contract is temporary or fixed term; the rate or method of calculating pay; and what the employer reasonably expects the normal length of the employee’s working day and week will be. Other required terms of employment should be provided within the current two-month period. Strengthening the sanction for non-compliance will help to promote better work practices and provide greater clarity around the essential elements of the employment relationship for both the employer and the employee.

The Bill will address the issues described earlier by strengthening the existing provisions around zero-hour contracts. It will prohibit zero-hour contracts in most circumstances and improve compensation for low-paid workers called into work but sent home again without the promised work. The Bill will prohibit zero-hours contracts, except in cases of genuine casual work, emergency cover or short-term relief work for that employer. It is intended to delete the phrase "zero hours practice" from the title of section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. The Bill will 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(c), where the stated contracted hours are zero, unless it is genuinely casual work, emergency cover or short-term relief work for the employer. This proposal is to avoid the contagion of an increase in zero-hours practices in this jurisdiction.

The legislation will lead to improved compensation for low-paid workers called into work but sent home again without the promised work. The Bill will introduce a floor payment for low-paid workers who are called into work and then sent home in these circumstances. The University of Limerick study called for a minimum of three continuous working hours where an employee is required to report for work and if there is no work, the employee should be paid for the three hours. The study's recommendation did not differentiate between low-paid workers and high-paid workers, meaning it would result in disproportionate benefits for high-paid employees over low-paid employees and significant costs for employers. Furthermore, the recommendation did not take account of arrangements where it suits both parties to agree a contract of employment for less than three continuous working hours. The recommendation would set aside the possibility of individuals agreeing mutually convenient contracts for less than three continuous hours. Following consultation, it has been accepted that changes in this area should focus on improved compensation for low-paid workers and to this end, the Bill will introduce a new minimum floor payment of three times the national minimum wage or three times the minimum rate set down in an employment regulation order to compensate workers if they are called into work but do not receive the expected hours of work.

The Bill will provide 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 an extended period. The Bill also provides for the creation of a new right for an employee whose contract of employment does not reflect the reality of the hours worked on a consistent basis over a reference period of 18 months to be placed in a band of hours that better reflects the actual hours worked over that reference period.

This will provide greater certainty and a truer reflection of their hours of work and level of earnings, thereby addressing, in particular, difficulties employees may have accessing financial credit, including mortgages.

The reference period of 18 months is considered sufficiently long to allow for the normal peaks and troughs of businesses, including those subject to seasonal changes. The proposals also provide a mechanism for a review of the arrangement after a period of 18 months, that is, after the employee has sought and been placed in a band of hours in exercise of his or her right under this proposal. An employee will be able to seek redress through the Workplace Relations Commission but redress will be limited to being placed in an appropriate band of hours. The proposal includes reasonable defences for employers to refuse an employee’s request where the facts do not support the employee’s claim; significant adverse changes have impacted on the business; in emergency circumstances such as the business having to close due to flooding; and where the hours worked by the employee were due to a genuinely temporary situation such as cover for another employee on maternity leave. The provision will not apply to an employer who has entered into a banded hour arrangement through an agreement by collective bargaining with their employees.

The Bill will strengthen anti-penalisation provisions for employees who try to invoke a right under these proposals. The Bill provides strong anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke their rights under this legislation. This is a key element of the Bill particularly for workers in less secure employment who may be afraid to exercise their rights. It is intended to provide against an employer penalising or threatening to penalise an employee for exercising any right under the proposed legislation. It is important that all employees feel safe to exercise their employment rights without fear of being penalised for doing so. The penalisation provisions in this Bill are broadly drafted to provide strong protections for employees. The penalisation provisions are core to the Bill and the new banded hours provisions in particular. Under the Bill’s banded hours provisions, if an employer reduces an employee’s working hours or threatens to do so for the sole reason that the employee sought to exercise his or her rights, the employee can pursue a penalisation case through the Workplace Relations Commission.

Section 10 of the Bill inserts a new section 6C in the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 which prohibits the penalisation of an employee for exercising their rights under the Act. Penalisation is broadly defined in the section and includes threats of penalisation. It is important that employees believe they can exercise their rights under the Act without any repercussions. This is all the more important in the case of vulnerable workers. Section 16 of the Bill amends section 26(1) of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 to strengthen the existing protections against penalisation for employees who wish to exercise their rights under the Act.

I support the Bill and look forward to its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak to this important legislation which levels the ground somewhat in particular sectors in the employment market and labour force. It goes without saying that a good working relationship between employers and employees is essential to a well-run business. Be that business large or small, the two sides depend upon each other. The employer depends on the reliability of the employee and vice versa. There is nothing more soul destroying to the employee than to find at the end of the week that his or her wages are not what was expected. There is not much sense going into the supermarket afterwards and saying, "My wages are down this week, so can we have credit?" It does not work that way for a whole number of reasons.

Often employees in that income bracket are working on a very tight margin and they find that they are in a serious situation if anything goes wrong at all. This could be a flu, cold or other illness in the household or whatever the case may be. It can be particularly serious if they are living in rental accommodation. If they are in rental accommodation and their income fluctuates, they might be partly dependent on social welfare support. That can be in the form of HAP or, more likely in this type of situation, rent support. They could be dependent on the family income supplement or any other segment that might make up their weekly wage. Without it, they would not be able to go to work at all because they would not be able to pay the rent. This is not at all uncommon.

In the past few days I dealt with the case of a person with a wife and family who is homeless although he has a job. The reason he was homeless was that, as is often usual, the finance company or the landlord required him to leave the house and he could not afford to pay an increased rent. That is a fact of life. All he could do is declare himself homeless. He was on the local authority housing lists but, like lots of other people on the local authority housing lists, his chances of being housed in the short term are slim to nil. This is despite the efforts of Government to try to bridge the gap and bring on to the market a sufficient supply of housing to ensure that a person in those particular circumstances could survive.

It is also worth remembering that this does not just apply to one person in the household. It can apply to the breadwinner initially but it affects the whole family. It affects the children who may have to go to a different school etc. They may find themselves in a very difficult and challenging situation and may not be able to resolve the problem themselves. Prior to the introduction of this legislation, they would have to rely on the goodwill of others to see them over their particular situation. What I am saying is not unusual. It is quite common nowadays and is the result not of labour factors but the cost of renting or buying a home. It applies more particularly to renting, however, because, as we know, in some cases it is more expensive to rent a home than purchase one. It should not be that way but that is the way it is. If we consider it from the point of view of people in that particular income bracket, imagine the person who is called into work on a zero hours contract who suddenly finds that he or she is not wanted on a particular day. It is humiliating and soul destroying for those who are treated in this fashion.

I do not accept the notion that the Bill is an attack on employers. It has the effect of levelling the ground between employers as well. If one employer resorts to zero hour contracts and another looks after his or her employees better, the second employer may find him or herself at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. Regardless of the product they sell, the service they provide or the goods they manufacture, although normally this does not affect manufacturing, a distinct advantage can be given to one employer over another adjoining employer. This applies in the service sector in particular and it needs to be pointed out to a far greater extent than that referred to already. Employers recognise it but we should also recognise that there is only one conclusion if one employer has an advantage along those lines, which is that the person who is disadvantaged will become even more disadvantaged. That applies to both the employer and the employee in the competing business.

I mentioned at the outset the importance of a good employer-employee relationship. The employer and the employee are the first to benefit from it. Customers or those to whom the service or the goods are provided are then the people to benefit from a good working relationship between and employer and employee in the workplace.

We all remember in the days gone by when one could get what was termed an "after a bank holiday" car. It was well-known in the motor manufacturing business. It was a clear indication that there was something wrong in the workplace and people were disenchanted in it. They either had not worked the hours they should have, they had been unsatisfactory, or they had done something they should not have done over the weekend and were not in a position to give it their full attention when they went back into the workplace. In those circumstances, we need to look at the wider impact of the introduction of this legislation which will deal directly with those kinds of situations. In that sense, the customer will be the beneficiary.

We also need to ensure a good understanding of the position of the worker vis-à-vis the employer. They need to understand each other's position. The employer needs to know how, for example, the employee is situated financially. Can he or she be relied upon in all circumstances? Have they an adequate wage? Have they adequate provision in their own particular lives and in their household? Have they adequate provision in the quality of life they have? Are they under threat from week to week and day to day as to whether they are going to be able to make ends meet and as a result have extra stress and an unseen harassment? At the same time, the same applies to the owner of the business as well. He or she needs to be able to rely on the banks and his or her customers. How do they rely best on their customers? They rely best on their customers when they have a good working relationship and a good understanding of each other's position in the workplace. In turn, this leads to good labour relations and, obviously, a better and higher quality of service.

We have a situation where people on zero-hour contracts and who found themselves having to return home after being called into work when there was no work available, will receive a floor payment. The payment is a good idea. However, it is important that, notwithstanding the floor payment at the end of the week or fortnight, the employee can rely on a certain level of payment in any event, other than being fired. If they cannot do that, then they cannot run their household. There are ongoing demands made in every household. If they cannot meet those demands as they arise, then their confidence will go and they will be working under stress and pressure.

As I said earlier, all people in that employment bracket work on a tight margin. That tight margin can have an effect on their output, their demeanour, their relationship with the customer and, as a result, the standing of the firm for which they work. They need to be able to predict what they are likely to have at the end of the week or the end of the month. The demands which arise at the end of the month for electricity, the telephone and other household charges are predictable. They come on time all the time: most times they come too soon. The fact is when they do come, the employee - the householder - needs to be able to say in advance he or she can handle that. There is nothing as rewarding for a householder than being able to say he or she can plan for this month, he or she knows what will come up and the income that can be relied on to discharge liabilities at the end of the month. If the householder cannot do that, then he or she is at a disadvantage and will not be a good employee because the person has too many worries, stresses and competing demands. All of this tends to make life less reasonable and happy.

The quality of life of the person who is employed is important. It is important the person is reasonably happy in his or her workplace. Several factors can affect that such as if their employment is not permanent or there is a danger their salary will fluctuate from week to week. There may be a case where a competitor may not be as kosher as they should be in how they deal with their employees. That competitor may be working at an advantage and, as a result, may put another employer out of business. We need to realise that this is not all one-way traffic. This is a combination of proposals to address issues which have become a problem or will become problematic.

In general, when we look at what this country has come through over the past ten years, many people suffered a great deal. There were issues over which they had no control. Many people lost their jobs and had to emigrate. Thankfully, many of them have come back again. For many people, their working conditions changed dramatically. To be fair, many of their employers similarly had to undergo serious curtailments of their standard of living, quality of life and the degree to which they could have a reasonable degree of job satisfaction.

Most people enjoy giving a good return for their wages. There is a certain amount of responsibility among the Irish workforce which has always indicated that one is obliged to give a reasonable account of oneself in the workplace because it is one's job. If one looks after it well, it will be there tomorrow, next week and, please God, next year. Similarly, it is incumbent on the employer to be able to say to his or her employee that he or she is employed on certain conditions, that there may be fluctuations from time to time over which the employer has little or no control but that both parties have confidence in each other. To show that confidence, we are now proposing to improve the legislation and, in turn, working conditions. As a result of that, both parties will be able to look each other in the eye, say they are doing their best, playing the game according to the rules and both will benefit.

The number of families on low wages currently is not as bad as it was. It is still there, however. It is not so much that wages are low but costs, such as housing, are extremely high. Due to that, the unpredictability of what lies ahead for employees is an issue to which we have to pay due regard. It is being done in the course of this legislation but we have to pay particular regard for that now. As the competing demands of the costs of housing and rent continue to rise, it creates an ongoing serious concern for the people who live in those houses, first because they have to pay when they can afford to pay. Second, it is not entirely certain as to whether there will be a house there for them next week or next month, depending on what happens. Incidentally, related to this is the dependency on social welfare for the payment of rent. Due to the changes in the rules several years ago, social welfare now has to pay for the rent for the house in one shape or form.

Any interruption in the continuity of payments creates a serious problem for the employee, particularly where that employee has a family. We all deal with people in our clinics on a weekly basis who come to us full of serious intent, know what their incomes are and, even if they have medical cards, are still concerned about whether they will be able to make ends meet if there is an issue like an illness or hospitalisation on the horizon.

I wish to emphasise a point. Landlords get a bad name. Some of them deserve it. Others are decent landlords who give a good service and treat their tenants like family. I pay tribute to that group of people because they have done the country a considerable service in recent years when it was difficult for them and their tenants to survive. They survived, and they treated their tenants well. The other group is the minority. I have spoken about it many times, as has every other Deputy. Suffice it to say, those landlords do not treat their tenants well. It may or may not be analogous to this Bill but, in the context of the issue under discussion, it would not be right to ignore the sacrifices made by the good, decent and caring landlords and by the people living in rented accommodation that has been under threat in recent years and who have experienced difficulties in terms of the continuity of their employment and the return on same.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be glad to know that I will finish soon.

The Deputy will be moving the Adjournment in three minutes' time.

I welcome this legislation. It does a good job of addressing the issues that have presented. They have been debated many times in the House, and rightly so. The Bill addresses a social imbalance that became obvious in recent times. To do that, it was necessary and desirable - excuse me, but the flu must have caught up with me at last. Expiry might come sooner than I thought.

As a result of this Bill, I expect to see in the workplace a recognition by both sides of the other's predicament. The employer should also recognise that this is good, constructive and progressive legislation that has been needed for some considerable time and that - excuse me again-----

It is old age, Deputy.

It could well be old age, but I was not expecting it to come on in such a quick onslaught.

It is the fags.

Deputy Durkan should take his time.

I hope that the legislation works well. I have hopes for the onward thrust of business and employment and the good relations between the employer and the employee that have become a hallmark. Employers and employees made considerable sacrifices during the bad times of recent years. We hope this legislation will address some of the aftermath of those times and that the country at large will benefit.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15 February 2018.