I will be cheeky and respond to Senator Higgins on the previous amendment because now I actually know what I am talking about. The 25% of the hours or the 15 hours provision she mentioned is already contained in section 18 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. It is in the compensation section. It has acted as a deterrent against zero-hour contracts in the past. We are simply putting a provision in the existing compensation section to ensure that a worker who is called in gets a minimum of three hours.
The 15 hours and that provision are not going to change. If a worker who is subject to that provision is called in and does not get the work, he or she will get the three hours' compensation. That it what it is intended to provide.
I thank Senator Ruane and totally get what she is trying to do, as I did when Deputy Clare Daly proposed the amendment in the Dáil. I could not accept the amendment then. I was on my own on the day it was passed on Committee Stage. I brought the amendment back on Report Stage because by then I had had time to get advice from the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court on what it would mean in practice. Under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act of 2001, an employer cannot treat a part-time worker any differently from a full-time worker. There is also a statutory code of practice stating that an employer should give consideration to requests by workers to transfer from a full-time to a part-time position or from a part-time to a full-time position. That code of practice was not designed by politicians but by the former Labour Relations Commission, following extensive consultations with the social partners, unions and employers' organisations.
The code is admissible in evidence in any legal proceedings that anybody might want to take who feels their rights may have been infringed under those provisions. The code sets out best practice and the detailed arrangements that apply to requests by employees to transfer from part-time to full-time work or to increase their working time should the opportunity arise, as well as those arrangements that apply to requests to transfer from full-time to part-time work, which is equally important to people at certain stages in life. Mostly it is women because we have babies and want to be at home with them, which can mean going from a five-day week to a three or four-day week. That cannot legally be refused because of this legislation. By exactly the same token, if someone is working a three-day week and an opportunity comes up to work a five-day week, he or she has to be treated equally under the law with someone who was newly applying for the same full-time job.
There are really strong anti-penalisation provisions in the 2001 Act. We all know who we are talking about so I would also be mindful that if the amendment is passed here as it was in the Dáil, it will not just affect the small group of workers we are talking about. It is going to affect every single employer and employee in the country. Under the provisions of the 2001 Act, part-time workers who feel they are being maligned by practices or actions of employers have the opportunity to take a case without victimisation to the Workplace Relations Commission.
Here is my problem, before I get to all the unintended consequences and the advice from the WRC. When Deputy Clare Daly brought this issue to me, although I totally get what she and Senator Ruane are trying to achieve, I had to say that if this was as big an issue and was as prevalent as was being portrayed to us, there would have to have been cases taken, even a test case or somebody genuinely trying to earn a full-time living and being prevented from doing so. In the history of this Act since 2001, there has never, ever been even a complaint made to the WRC about this instance. Because of all the unintended consequences of the amendment, not least that before the legislation is enacted I will have no choice but to put it out to public consultation to all the social partners, unions and employers' organisations, which will only delay the passage of the Bill - I am not trying to be smart - I sincerely ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment. I ask her instead to bring me some employees so I can actually work with them and take a test case to the WRC, with them or on their behalf, so I can challenge the current employer the Senator is talking about. I will take a test case with them to the WRC and support them all the way.
Even though this amendment is more nuanced than the one that was presented in the Dáil, it is still unworkable as far as the WRC is concerned. Looking at the language of the amendment, apart from the matter of who is going to denote what the appropriate qualifications are, how are the hours to be offered? Do we stick a notice up on the notice board or in the loo? How do I offer the ten employees who are only part time the five hours' extra work that I have next week? If I am to stick a notice on the board - the amendment does not say so because we are not prescribing how they are to make an offer - and ten people apply, on what basis do I then decide that the third person gets it or my favourite, Mary, gets it? What happens when the nine others do not get it and want to take a case of discrimination?
There is so much in what the Senators are trying to achieve that is not in the amendment. It is genuinely unworkable and I would not be able to continue with the legislation before going out for consultation. In order to do exactly what the Senator wants to achieve today, I am asking her to withdraw the amendment and send me the people. We can do it privately and anonymously. I will take the test case to the WRC to get the people who are working for this organisation to be treated with respect and, when there are more hours on offer, for those who are currently part-time workers to get them.
Finally, we always refer to women. The latest CSO labour force survey figures show that 76% of current part-time workers say they are working part time because they want to, not because anybody is making them. Senator Higgins talked about under-employment but the figures are not as bad as the Senator might think. The number of those whom we might classify as under-employed is dropping. Some 25% of those who are working part time are doing so because they do not have a choice. The proposed amendment will only address a particular issue in a particular industry and in respect of one employer. There are other ways for us to crack that nut. I will do everything I can to make sure that if there is a prevalence of what the Senators are talking about, it is addressed. I will support those workers if the amendment is withdrawn.