National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, to the House. This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 118, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For the convenience of Senators I have arranged for the printing and circulation to them of those amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have also circulated a proposed grouping. A Senator may contribute once on each grouping. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

If I may I will provide some context to this Bill. As some Senators will be aware, a number of technical amendments were required to be made after the passage of the Workplace Relations Act. It was complex legislation and some issues came to our attention that required to be dealt with. It is proposed that they be accommodated in this Bill.

As colleagues will know, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has been implementing a programme of reform of the State's employment rights and industrial relations procedures and institutions since 2012. His aim is to establish a world-class workplace relations service and employment rights framework by streamlining the existing mechanisms and establishing a simpler structure while building upon the recognised strengths of current systems. The effect of the complex Workplace Relations Act, when commenced, will be to replace the five workplace relations bodies with a simplified two-tier structure and establish new structures for the resolution and adjudication of complaints and disputes across the corpus of employment rights and equality legislation.

As a result of the introduction of these new structures, it has been necessary to make consequential amendments to 24 primary Acts, 34 specified Parts or sections and numerous statutory instruments. As part of this Bill's complex drafting process, it was determined that a number of technical and drafting amendments would be necessary to ensure the smooth running of the new structures. This became clear when certain technical and legal elements were worked through. Consequently, it is essential that these amendments be effected before the commencement of the legislation and the establishment of the new structures on 1 October. I accept that this is an imperfect way of doing business, but we were left with no alternative and we want to ensure that the new workplace relations operations work in the way they are intended to.

I will outline in broad strokes the amendments that were required to be made to the Workplace Relations Act and employment rights and equality enactments. Of a technical and drafting nature, they were required to ensure that the transitional arrangements on new adjudication and redress structures arising from the establishment of the new simplified two-tier adjudication structures were legally robust. As a result, it was necessary to amend sections 76, 80, 81, 83 and 84. These amendments to the Act will result in a requirement to make consequential amendments to the Redundancy Payments Act 1967, the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977, the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984, the Employment Equality Act 1998, the Equal Status Act 2000 and the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994.

Also required were amendments of a technical and drafting nature to sections 1, 2, 28, 40, 41, 53 and 74 and Schedules 3 and 4 of the Workplace Relations Act, and amendments to introduce a number of additional provisions to the Act to provide for a range of technical and transitional issues consequential on the transfer of functions from the director of the Equality Tribunal to the director of the workplace relations commission, WRC. These amendments provide, for example, for the transfer of property rights and liabilities that were vested in the director of the Equality Tribunal to the director of the WRC upon the commencement of sections 83 and 84 of the Workplace Relations Act. An amendment to the Freedom of Information Act 2014 has also been necessary to ensure that the exemption from the freedom of information legislation that currently applies to the Equality Tribunal, in so far as it relates to the tribunal's mediation functions, will be extended to the WRC upon commencement of the Workplace Relations Act. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has agreed to the extension of the exemption to ensure that it covers records of the WRC's mediation service in so far as it applies to the service's functions in the resolution of complaints and disputes on a voluntary basis under employment and equality enactments.

This Bill was initiated in the Seanad on 11 May and is completing its passage through the Houses. I introduced these amendments to the Workplace Relations Act on Report Stage of this Bill in the Dáil on 9 July. All of the proposed Government amendments to the Act and the related amendments to other employment and equality enactments were passed by the Dáil on 9 July. We are here to discuss and, with the support of colleagues, approve these amendments. They are included in a new Part 3, entitled "Workplace Relations". Would the House like me to speak on all of the amendments? There are a considerable number.

Just the first group. As no one else is offering, the Minister of State should speak on the amendments.

Amendment No. 1 was required to amend the Long Title of the Bill to reflect the amendments to the Workplace Relations Act and certain other enactments. Amendment No. 7 is of a technical and drafting nature.

For the purposes of the proposed new Part 3 of the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015, "Act of 2015" shall mean the Workplace Relations Act 2015 and "Minister" shall mean the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

The second group of amendments are technical amendments arising from the insertion of a new Part 3 in the Bill to facilitate the amendments to the Workplace Relations Act 2015 and other enactments. Section 9 provides for the repeal of a number of sections of the 2000 Act. Section 10 of the published Bill provided for the Short Title, collective citation and construction provisions of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 provide for these provisions to be moved to new sections 1 and 2, respectively, while amendments Nos. 5 and 6 provide for the deletion of provisions previously contained in sections 9 and 10 of the published Bill.

On the third group, the specified date in the Bill as drafted is 15 July of the year to which the examination relates. It is proposed to amend this to make the specified date the third Tuesday of July of the year to which the examination relates. As the Bill is only being brought back to the House today, 14 July, clear difficulties are presented in terms of having the Bill on the Statute Book by 15 July. Accordingly, I have decided to move the reporting period back by four working days. This amendment also has the advantage of removing a specific date for the Bill and providing for a day which will fit with the general Government schedule. I wish to stress that this change in the reporting period is in no way associated with the work of the Low Pay Commission, which is making very good progress. This minor change is purely for logistical reasons.

Amendment No. 8 proposes to amend section 21 of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 and section 74(b) of the Workplace Relations Act 2015. Section 74(b) mistakenly inserts a new subsection (4) into section 21 of the 1946 Act. As the latter already has a subsection (4), it is proposed to repeal section 74(b) and to insert a new subsection (5) into section 21 of the 1946 Act. The language of the proposed new subsection (5) is also more consistent with the language of the 1946 Act than that used in section 74(b) of the 2015 Act. The proposed amendment links its commencement with the commencement of section 74 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

Amendment No. 9 inserts a new section 39A into the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 to provide for an appeal to the Labour Court on the decision of an adjudication officer under section 39 of the 1967 Act. The new section 39A provides that section 44 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 will apply, with a number of necessary modifications to such appeals to the Labour Court. This brings the redress scheme provided for in the 1967 Act into line with the pattern of redress arrangements provided for in Part 4 of the 2015 Act. Section 76 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 makes a number of amendments to the Redundancy Payments Act 1967. The commencement of the proposed section 13 is linked to the commencement of section 76 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

Amendment No. 10 amends the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 to bring the redress provisions in the enactment more into line with the general scheme of Part 4 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

Amendment No. 11 relates to the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984 into which it proposes to insert a new section 9A to provide for an appeal to the Labour Court from a decision of an adjudication officer in respect of a complaint under that Act.

By providing that section 44 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, with certain necessary modifications, will apply in the first instance to decisions of an adjudication officer under the 1984 Act, the redress scheme, under that Act, is brought into line with the two-stage redress scheme established by the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

Section 15(2) provides that the section will be commenced in conjunction with section 81 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, which also amends the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency Act) 1984. Consequently, it is also proposed to amend section 81 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 in tandem with the amendments proposed to the Act of 1984 in this section 16.

Amendment No. 12 in Group 8 relates to the Terms of Employment Information Act 1994. This amendment is of a technical or drafting nature and provides for the following: first, section 18(d) of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012 amended the terms of the Employment Information Act 1994 by inserting a new section 6A into the Act. That new section provided that an inspector could give a direction to an employer who had contravened sections 3, 4, 5 or 6 of the 1994 Act to comply with the relevant sections. Section 6A provided that an inspector, for the purposes of that section, meant an inspector appointed by the Minister under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. The amendment proposed by section 16 updates the meaning of "inspector" for the purposes of section 6A of the 1994 Act to mean an inspector for the purposes of the Workplace Relations Act 2015. Second, section 16B proposes a technical drafting amendment to section 7(1)(a) of the Act of 1994.

Amendment No. 13 in Group 9 relates to the Employment Equality Act 1998 and will make provision for the following: section 83 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 provides for an appeal to the Labour Court from a decision of the director of the Equality Tribunal in respect of a case referred to him or her under that Act. The proposed amendment substitutes new wording for section 83, which applies to section 44 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, with the necessary modifications to such appeals. The effect of the proposed amendment is to bring the wording of the provisions relating to appeals under the Employment Equality Act 1998 into line with that of the appeal provisions in section 44 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

The amendment also proposes a number of technical or drafting amendments to section 101 of the Employment Equality Act 1998. Section 101 provides that a claimant cannot recover under both the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Unfair Dismissals Act in respect of the same dismissal. The effect of the proposed amendments is that a claimant will be disbarred from seeking redress under the 1998 Act once an adjudication officer has made a decision to which section 8(1) of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 applies.

Subsection (2) of the proposed section 17 will come into operation simultaneously with section 83 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, which makes a number of amendments to the Employment Equality Act 1998. Consequently, it is also proposed to amend section 83 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 in tandem with the amendments proposed to the 1998 Act in this section 17.

Amendment No. 14 in Group 10 relates to the Equal Status Act of 2000. Section 31 of the Equal Status Act 2000 provides for a mechanism whereby a successful complainant under that Act can seek to have an unimplemented decision enforced against a respondent. The proposed amendment substitutes new wording for section 31, which applies to section 43 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015, with the necessary modifications for the purposes of enforcing a decision of an adjudication officer under section 25 of the Equal Status Act 2000, thus enabling a complainant or the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, with the complainant's consent, to seek enforcement of an award made by an adjudication officer under the 2000 Act through the District Court. This brings this aspect of the 2000 Act into line with the corresponding provisions of the Workplace Relations Act 2015. Subsection (2) of the proposed section 18 provides that the section will come into operation on the same day as section 84 of the Workplace Relations Act.

Amendment No. 15 in Group 11 to the Freedom of Information Act is required to ensure that the exemption from the freedom of information, FOI, legislation, which currently applies to the Equality Tribunal in so far as it relates to its mediation functions, will be extended to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, upon commencement of the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

Amendment No. 16 in Group 12 makes a number of technical and drafting amendments to the Workplace Relations Act 2015 which are required to ensure that the transitional arrangements and new adjudication and redress structures arising from the establishment of the new simplified two-tier adjudication structures are legally robust.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 20, inclusive, are in Group 13 and are technical in nature. They make provision for the transfer of property, records, legal rights and obligations from the Director of the Equality Tribunal to the Workplace Relations Commission on the commencement of section 83, amending the Employment Equality Act 1998, and section 84, amending the Equality Status Act 2000, of the Workplace Relations Act.

Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are in Group 14. Reference is made to certain provisions of the Companies Act 1990 and the disqualification provisions under company law in respect of membership of the commission contained in the Schedule to the Bill. These amendments update the Schedule to include relevant provisions under the recent Companies Act 2014.

Question put and declared carried.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."
Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): Does the Minister of State wish to comment?

I thank colleagues in the House for their co-operation and for a lively debate since we introduced the Bill into this House. While we have had some differences on the emphasis placed on different provisions of the Bill, I thank colleagues for supporting the general principle that is enshrined in the Low Pay Commission Bill, which provides for a new institutional framework to tackle the scourge of low pay, an issue that I think we are all concerned about.

I look forward to seeing how the Low Pay Commission evolves over the next period. It is an important institutional change in our bid to tackle low pay at a structural level. Low pay, and all that goes with it, needs to be addressed in a sustained, strategic and structured fashion and not in a piecemeal way, as has been the case before now.

I look forward, very shortly, to receiving the first report from the Low Pay Commission and a recommendation of a new rate for the national minimum wage. I also look forward to the input of Senators over the next period in regard to that debate. Again, I thank colleagues for supporting the principles enshrined in this particular Bill. I look forward to the Low Pay Commission making a sustained input into tackling low pay in this country on an ongoing basis.

I thank the Minister of State for his constructive engagement as we pass the Bill through the House. I do not wish to be negative but I must place the following on the record. I welcome the passage of the Bill and the setting up of the Low Pay Commission. However, I still do not think the commission has the powers and teeth that it deserves and needs to deal comprehensively with low pay in its totality. I am sure that the Minister of State has seen the TASC report that has been published today which again shows there is deepening inequality in Irish society, including income inequality. I do not think inequality will be addressed at all by the Low Pay Commission. I still believe the commission will focus far too much on the minimum wage, as important as it is, and not on the totality of issues which affect all low-paid workers. I am afraid that we will be back, at some stage, with an amendment Bill, whether it is Sinn Féin in government at some stage or some other Government, that will strengthen the Low Pay Commission to make it one that deals with low pay in its totality, and not just with the narrow issue of the minimum wage.

I compliment the Minister on the work he has put into this Bill. It is a significant day for the House. Unlike Senator Cullinane, I have every confidence that the Low Pay Commission will address all issues pertaining to low pay. I am sure we will have many lively debates and discussions in this House as the reports are presented to us. I look forward to those debates in the coming months.

I compliment the Minister of State on this significant Bill and wish him continued success in the general overhaul of industrial relations and all issues pertaining to pay and employment.

I congratulate the Minister on the passage of the Bill. Today was not a very exciting event; the debate did not really take off to any degree. He will seldom have it to himself to that extent.

The objective of a low pay commission is worthy of support but we should always remind ourselves, and I am sure we will, that some jobs do not exist at certain rates. In making sure that we have a Low Pay Commission that will investigate and look to see what we can do, let us remember that it is more important to have a job sometimes even if it is not paying as much as we would want otherwise.

I congratulate the Minister and say well done.

Question put and agreed to.