Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 are related and both may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
SECTION 15 (Resumed).
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 15, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following subsections:
"(5) Notwithstanding subsection (1), an employer may permit an employee to work, in each period of 7 days, more than an average of 48 hours calculated over the applicable reference period, if—
(a) he has first obtained the employee's agreement to perform such work;
(b) no employee is subjected to any detriment by his employer because he is not willing to give his agreement to perform such work;
(c) he keeps up-to-date records of all employees who carry out such work; and
(d) he provides to an inspector appointed under section 8(2), at the request of such inspector, information on cases in which agreement has been given by employees to perform such work.
(6) An inspector appointed under section 8(2) may certify that he has prohibited or restricted the possibility of some or all of the employees of an employer working, in each period of seven days, more than an average of 48 hours calculated over the applicable reference period.
(7) An employer who, without complying with paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (5), permits an employee to work, in each period of 7 days, more than an average of 48 hours calculated over the applicable reference period, shall be guilty of an offence.
(8) Where an inspector appointed under section 8(2) issues a certificate pursuant to subsection (6) of this section, the employer named on the certificate shall be guilty of an offence if, in contravention of such certificate, he permits an employee to work each in period of 7 days, more than an average of 48 hours calculated over the applicable reference period.".
This amendment attempts to achieve the opt out which we discussed at our last meeting. There has been much discussion in the media since then. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify matters.
A press conference was held yesterday by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment and the Ministers of State. The Minister announced that the Government had made changes to the Bill and the manner in which it is to be transposed into law. I understand that we voted here last week on what was announced yesterday. Did the Cabinet make any changes yesterday or was the amendment moved last week in advance of Cabinet approval?
The amendment seeks to provide to employees who wish to do so the opportunity to work for more than 48 hours a week. I regard this as fundamental in a free society. Delaying the evil day changes the principle. While I accept it is an improvement, because it makes it easier for employers if they have a longer run-in period, it does not change the principle, which is what concerns me.
A letter written by the IDA was subsequently withdrawn. Will the Minister of State clarify whether any Minister in her Department spoke with the Chief Executive of the IDA following the submission of that letter to the committee? It seems quite extraordinary that such an able and experienced chief executive would write such a detailed letter to which he signed his name and subsequently say it was sent in error.
The purpose of my amendment is to allow employees who give their full agreement to an employer to be permitted to work more than 48 hours a week. If this is a health and safety issue why are the Defence Forces, junior hospital doctors, the Prison Service, the Garda Síochána and so many other State employees excluded from the provisions of the Bill? If it is genuinely about health and safety no sector of the work force should be excluded. If it is not about that, it is about putting an extra obstacle in the way of the private sector.
We have heard from the construction and security industries on this matter and earlier this afternoon I spoke to the hotels federation about it. They are extremely concerned about the provisions in this Bill which put a further obstacle in the way of industry and cap the earnings of workers. The reality is that if workers cannot work extra hours, particularly low paid PAYE workers, many of them will be pushed back into the poverty trap, as a worker employed by Dairygold said clearly to this committee.
I do not see any point in debating this all day because we had a vote on it last week. While I accept the transition arrangements give employers and industry a run-in period of two years, subject to that being agreed by unionised work forces, I do not believe it changes the principle, which is what I am concerned about.
Will the Minister of State elaborate on the commitment which has been given to establish a monitoring committee? Will that be legislated for or will it be separate from the legislation? Does the Minister intend to move an amendment to give legislative effect to the establishment of this monitoring committee? If so, who will sit on the monitoring committee? Is the Government saying that if, following the implementation of this provision, the monitoring committee feels it has an adverse effect on industry or is damaging inward investment it will be prepared to look at it again?
I do not want to stifle debate or to restrict any member, particularly when they have tabled amendments, but I ask members to bear in mind that I am trying to avoid repetition. I gave quite a lot of leeway in the debate on the Minister of State's amendment last week to which a great deal of the time was allocated. I ask for members' co-operation in trying to avoid repetition as far as possible. I accept, however, it is not always possible to stick to the letter of the law.
I thank you for the amount of time you have allowed for the debate on this aspect of the legislation. It has commanded a great deal of attention at this committee and among the public, workers and industry. I hope the Minister of State will view my proposals in a constructive light.
As Deputy Harney said, what we heard yesterday from the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, was no different from what we voted on last week. The two year phasing in period of the 48-hour working week — 60 hours the first year, 55 hours the second year and thereafter 48 hours — is not satisfactory and does not meet the genuine concerns of workers and also those of the business community. I stand by that position.
The amendment I have tabled to insert a new section before section 16 would allow for an individual opt out or a collective bargaining agreement approved by the Labour Court. It would also allow for very stringent safeguard measures for the workers involved. It is not in any way a liberal amendment which would put workers in any danger of having their rights interfered with.
Article 18 of the EU directive from which this legislation stems allows for the opt out. It is widely accepted that the British availed of this opt out in the interests of business. My party, which was in Government at that time, availed of the opt out in the interests of a worker's right to choose the number of hours he or she worked. I ask the Minister of State to note that the directive, first, allows for the opt out and, second, allows for a review after seven years involving the Commission and the Council of Ministers, which would take us to the year 2003.
Many of those commenting on the Bill are primarily concerned about the phasing in period. I ask the Minister of State to consider taking on board my amendment, and the similar one tabled by Deputy Harney, which would allow for the opt out and for a review after a seven-year period, as is provided for by the Commission, on how each country is implementing the directive. That is a very realistic proposal which would meet the genuine concerns of all sectors, primarily the workers. The two year phasing in period proposed by the Minister of State has, as she is aware, met with opposition from many quarters.
We need time to monitor this legislation. My view has not changed since last week — individuals should have the right to determine their working hours. We are not talking about a huge percentage of the workforce. By the year 2003, the Government, the Commission and the Council of Ministers will be in a much better position to adjudicate on how this measure is being implemented as far as Ireland in concerned.
A surreal ideological battle has developed over this issue which is unfortunate in some ways. It is clear from the comments I heard from the Fine Gael members last week, whom I admire for their honesty, that they have an opposite view to that of the Minister of State because they feel there should be more flexibility. It appears that the Minister of State and Democratic Left, in the light of what the Minister, Proinsias De Rossa, has said, have decided to make this an ideological battle. I would much prefer to see the ideological battle take place in relation to part-time workers, the move towards casualisation and the long-term unemployed. That is where the real ideological battle should take place instead of the unreal one which is developing on this issue.
If the Minister of State kept in touch with workers, primarily, and the business community she would agree that the constructive amendment I have tabled is the best way to deal with it. I am convinced that the concerns of all parties would be accommodated if the Minister of State pursued the approach I am advocating. If she does not, she is intervening in an unfortunate matter in relation to this important issue. The Irish economy and society have their own ways of dealing with issues. My party's position on this is based on our grassroots contact with workers. We need time. I am advocating a position but I acknowledge that in seven years' time we could monitor this, as is allowed for under the directive, to see how matters have developed.
The Government's insistence on persevering with this clearly demonstrates how out of touch it is with Irish life. It is the most ridiculous proposal put before the Parliament in many years. Many employees want to work longer hours and one often hears people talk about workaholics. We are involving ourselves in this to an unnecessary extent and there has been a change of heart by the Government since last week. If the proposal is right, the phasing in period is not necessary. While it has been welcomed in some quarters, the general thrust of what the Minister of State proposes is wrong and should not be tolerated.
At present, banks are throwing money with low interest rates at couples who want to buy houses. It will not be too long before this changes. Interest rates will increase and many of the people who avail of this money will be put to the pin of their collars to repay it. They will be very anxious to work as many hours as they can to try to meet the repayments. We are trying to dictate to people how they should work and the amount of hours they should work. It is totally ridiculous.
The Minister of State is also playing into the hands of those in the black economy who are being given the upper hand. I see no reason why a Government should involve itself to such an extent. I support Deputies Kitt and Harney.
It is strange to listen to the previous contributions. Deputy Harney stated categorically that she stands on principle. What about the rights, health and safety of workers and standards in a European context? This operates across the board for Europe. We are setting up standards that will be recognised in the workplace. Surely, basic principles have to be enshrined in legislation for workers. The legislation is updated from 1930 when 53 hours was the average working week. We are changing that by five hours and considerable flexibility is provided.
Deputy Harney's amendment states that what is required by the employer is that he at first obtains the employee's agreement to perform such work. Each employee is vulnerable in the workplace and that is a dangerous concept. How can an employee refuse to sign an agreement if the employer wishes it?
Part 1 of Deputy Kitt's amendment in section 16 is exactly the same — a written agreement with the employer. This type of employee-employer relationship is open to undue pressure on the employee if the employer wishes him to work an inordinate number of hours. I consider it an important principle and it is an integral part of the social charter. It is important that we operate across the board in terms of worker's health. This Bill is essentially worker oriented. We are talking about 6 per cent of the workforce and the argument is that people must be allowed to work all the hours that God gives them. People are not just robots. They are complex social beings who have families. Work is one aspect of their lives and it is an unhealthy aspect if it totally dominates it.
As politicians, we know that very often that may well be the case. We are not properly organised. I would like to see a trade union movement or a staff association for politicians because it is unhealthy for people to work an inordinate number of hours. There should be some control on the matter. There is a direct link between the number of hours worked and the rate of pay. If an industry operates almost exclusively in the realm of overtime, questions have to asked. It will be found that that industry is poorly organised in terms of trade unionism and in many areas normal industrial relations do not operate.
The principle of reducing the number of hours is a reasonable proposal from the Minister of State with a phasing in period. The norm is 39 hours and we are talking about 48 hours with a considerable amount of flexibility for breaks. There has been a broad welcome for it. The trade union movement and IBEC have welcomed it. IBEC has indicated that it goes a long way towards meeting the concerns it expressed. The prison system, the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces are exempted because they are part of the emergency security system. There has to be a degree of exemption in that respect. I would be reluctant to extend to the prison service because the principle does not operate to the same degree in that area. It is acceptable that there is an exemption for these sensitive areas of State security.
This is a European model, not one from the Far East. We are talking about the rights of workers, a long tradition of development in industrial relations and protecting the workers' rights and at the same time ensuring we have a competitive economy. Introducing this working time directive across Europe will not make it any less competitive. Workers who are treated well with good safety conditions and hourly rates of work perform better.
I welcome the Minister's intention to phase in the hours over a two to three year period. However I do not accept a seven-year period because it could be put on the long finger.
Fianna Fáil has always been conscious of labour laws. We can pride ourselves on being the first party to set up the Department of Labour under the late Deputy Joe Brennan. No one can deny that we have always done what is good for workers. The previous Government was convinced that if the voluntary opt out clause was not included, it could create difficulties for workers and employers. We live in a society where people are free to choose. However, this legislation restricts people's civil rights by telling them what they can and cannot do. We must remember there are 265,000 unskilled long-term unemployed.
I regret that Mr. Kieran McGowan is not here today to put his case before us. It is obvious he was muzzled because he was interfering. His letter was one of the first we received when this Bill was published. He is trying to secure high-technology jobs which could go to other countries.
The Minister comes from the stockbroking and banking belt of Dublin city, but what about the rest of the country?
I do not.
The Minister got approximately 18,000 votes at the last election, but I wonder if she will get them the next time.
This is not a general election campaign.
The only contentious part of this Bill is the exclusion of the voluntary opt out clause for which we will continue to fight. We are fully committed to the health and safety of workers.
A Democratic Left Senator in my constituency, Senator Sherlock, who is the champion of the Munster workers said this Bill could cause hardship. He said an employee of Dairygold Cooperative Society Limited in Mitchelstown could lose as much as £4,000 in any year but that drivers in the same industry could get an exemption. He also said that some workers have the mistaken idea that they will be compensated for loss of earnings. However, there is no such provision in this Bill.
The Deputy is out of order. Some 29 submissions were circulated to Members of this committee, the Minister and myself. Members may in the course of referring to an amendment or a section quote from them, but I will not allow every submission to be read into the record. I always try to be fair to everyone, so if I allowed one submission, I would have to allow all 29.
I accept that, but the Building Materials Federation contacted us since the last meeting.
I am concerned about future jobs and about creating a hostile environment for job creation. The letter from IDA Ireland clearly spelled out what will happen if we do not create the proper environment. It stated that jobs could be lost to Eastern Europe and Singapore. If people do not have the necessary high-technology qualifications, the unskilled market will expand. Some 40 per cent of people live in rural Ireland where there is a lack of opportunities and where agriculture is losing its dominance. There will be no place for people who do not have skills. IDA Ireland's task is to provide jobs but it is throwing in the towel and saying it is too expensive to attract unskilled jobs. The Minister should visit the rural villages of County Cork or any part of Munster, Leinster, Connacht or Ulster to see what is happening.
We are creating a poverty trap by including this section. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment upstaged the Minister of State by saying the 48-hour rule will be phased in, but that is only a cosmetic exercise. We are competing side by side with the Scottish, Welsh and British development authorities and we know how anxious they are to create jobs. I appeal to the Minister and to the Government to include the voluntary opt out clause if they want to create employment.
I do not know of any employer who would allow someone to decide when they wanted to work. If an employee was not prepared to work the hours an employer wanted, he would use that against them because they would no longer be as flexible as other employees. If they were dismissed and took a case under the Unfair Dismissals Act, they would find it difficult to prove the reason for their dismissal.
If we change the Bill further, we may as well tear it up and forget about it. We should ask ourselves why 265,000 people are unemployed. Is it right that a person can work 60, 70 or 80 hours a week while his neighbour has no job? It is not so long ago since we had a five and a half day and six day working week. It took many years to reduce it to 39 hours a week but employers eventually accepted that. If we want to combat the major changes in technology which will reduce employment, we must reduce the working week and employers must come on board. We will have initial difficulties if our neighbours across the water continue to refuse to accept the social charter, but we hope that will change in a few weeks' time. We cannot allow people to work whatever hours the employer feels they should work.
One of the biggest newspapers in the city has a 32-hour four day working week. It has not lost its competitive edge; it has probably bought over every other newspaper. I know employees who work 60 and 70 hours a week. The gate would have to be locked to keep them out because they would not go home. We should not allow a few greedy workers to cause serious problems for the vast majority of employees. We must look at ways to reduce unemployment, such as reducing the working week.
Reference was made to people with mortgages and those who want to maintain a certain standard of living by working overtime. These people will be the first to suffer when the employer realises he does not need them to work those hours. Perhaps they got a mortgage based on false economics.
I accept there will be problems but the Minister is giving employers ample opportunity to make these changes. I do not want to go back to the situation where an employer determines when a person goes home. It is fine for Deputy O'Keeffe to refer to the agricultural sector. I live in rural Ireland and 20 years ago employers paid their employees on a Sunday morning coming out of Mass having worked five or six days in the previous week. We do not want that to happen again. I want people to have a decent quality of life as well as a decent income. We will not achieve this by paying excessive overtime. That happened in many companies and when workers were returned to a basic week they had a very small income. We have to give workers a decent basic income and employers will have to manage change as we all must do.
When this Bill was discussed in the Dáil on Second Stage I expressed reservations. These reservations were based on two factors. The first of these was not just a political consideration. This Bill may not impact so much on those in Dublin constituencies as in rural constituencies. There are three co-operatives in my constituency.
Words such as the "greedy few" have been used during this debate. I would not regard those who expressed concerns to me as the greedy few. Many of them worked hard and became used to overtime on which they took out mortgages, bought cars and took holidays. Their basic salary provided the bread and butter and the overtime provided the jam. I have been told that people should not work more than 53 hours in a week. There is no point in saying to people that they should not have been working these hours in the first place.
Ireland has been very successful in persuading multinational companies to locate here. These companies see Ireland as a benign location. As a member of the EU we are viewed as a more favourable option than the UK because we tend to be better Europeans. Hewlett Packard wrote to me and said "We came to Ireland with the intention of creating 2,000 jobs. We now have 800 jobs and we are concerned about this because, in a start up situation, one needs a greater degree of flexibility. We are now confronted with a 48 hour working time directive". Britain has secured an opt out clause for seven years and we are competing with them for some of this investment. A firm could set up in Tyrone instead of Monaghan. From an industrial stand point will this leave us at a disadvantage?
If we were honest we would accept that the previous Fianna Fáil Government championed the fact that Ireland accepted the social chapter of the Maastricht Treaty. This directive originates in that social chapter. I am a member of a Government party and I will support it but what reassurances have I received from Ministers on this issue? The Minister has indicated that it will be phased in over a few years. One positive assurance relates to the monitoring committee which will be established to tease out any problems and talk to companies who are concerned about the measures.
ICTU is seeking the implementation of this directive. It will probably lead to customary overtime in the co-ops. It will be incumbent on trade unions to look for compensation mechanisms if the income of workers reduces as a result of this legislation. If 6 per cent of workers are affected by this legislation then I hope problems can be solved and that attention will be paid to workers whose incomes are reduced.
The trade union leaders are seeking a meeting with the Leader of Fianna Fáil to ask him to end his opposition to the Bill. I do not know if they have met him——
We had our meeting.
The Deputy might tell us whether the trade unions were told to take a running jump or whether Deputy Ahern agreed with them. The Minister is aware of my concerns which relate to the future of Ireland Incorporated and the effect of this legislation on many of my constituents.
Deputy Kitt use the word "surreal" and there has been something surreal about the debate on this provision. It is important to achieve a sense of perspective. Ireland is the best performing economy in Europe. That performance is not built on excessive working hours. Ninety-four per cent of Irish workers already work fewer than 48 hours per week. Their employers have no difficulty taking on competition.
Our economic success is based on the quality of our products and services, the skills of our workforce and our ability to face change. Ireland's prosperity is not founded on sweatshop working hours and no one would wish it to be. The success of our economy is based on a partnership approach. This Bill has been developed in partnership with over 100 meetings with companies and trade unions, both individually and collectively. The Bill does not give anyone everything they sought. No lobby group ever gets 100 per cent of what they want. However, the Bill offers a fair balance which is acceptable to both sides of industry who will monitor its implementation.
The monitoring will not be statutory but will be carried out in the usual way by setting up a monitoring group, as we are doing under the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Bill. The Bill offers a great deal of flexibility and we should not talk as if flexibility will disappear from the Irish economy. That is at variance with the facts. Companies and workers will continue to be free to work overtime, deal with emergencies, meet deadlines and cope with seasonal factors. Generous averaging periods are built into the legislation. All companies can average the 48-hour rule over a four-month period. Companies in seasonal businesses will be designated by regulation for an automatic six months. Where a company negotiates a collective agreement with the workforce it can average the 48-hour period over 12 months.
What is meant by working 48 hours? It means that somebody is working six eight-hour days, 48 weeks of the year or every week except their statutory holidays. It means somebody working from 9 a.m. on 6 p.m. from Monday to Saturday. We are not seeking a heroic reduction in working hours by setting a 48 hour limit. One would think people were being restricted from working more than 20 hours a week to hear some of the discussion. It has lost a sense of perspective. Our prosperity and our ability to attract firms have not been based on offering unfettered working hours. There already is a restriction of 53 hours a week in the building and manufacturing sectors. It has been in existence for the last 60 years and nobody has told me it caused a problem.
We are giving industry a period to adjust. There are a number of areas of flexibility in the Bill and the directive. In eight of the nine potential areas we are offering maximum flexibility. In this area, the Government has decided it would be incompatible with the partnership approach to allow an individual opt out indefinitely. In response to representations we have received from both sides, we are offering a lead-in period. That period is reasonable and has been agreed by both sides. It will give plenty of time for both sides of industry to adjust in the small number of areas, which involve fewer than 6 per cent of the workforce, where there are problems or potential problems.
There has been some discussion about the role of the UK. I read misinformed comment in one newspaper editorial today which implied that the UK has opted out of the directive altogether. That is untrue. The UK challenged this directive in the courts and lost. The directive applies to the UK and other member states. The UK is the odd country out. We are mainstream Europeans in our approach to the 48-hour rule and the UK, not Ireland, is out of step with mainstream thinking. Ireland is out-performing the UK economy and has a higher level of GDP per head and none of that was built on working excessive hours. Westminster stopped making decisions for Ireland in 1922 and it is about time we made decisions for ourselves, our economy and the partnership approach on which our prosperity has been built.
Deputy Brian Fitzgerald said that people should not have to work excessive hours to earn a decent wage or to put a roof over their heads. He also pointed out how precarious are standards of living which are based on people being asked to work excessive hours. There has been much loose talk in the past week about international competitiveness and attracting industry. I wish to correct what I told the committee last week when I said 9,300 new jobs had been announced since this Bill was published. In fact, 10,000 new jobs were announced as a result of inward investment since it was published. That is not indicative of a country that is strangled by excessive bureaucracy but of a country which, for many positive reasons including our moderate approach to wage agreements and industrial peace based on partnership, is a good place in which to do business. That is based on the quality of a workforce that is not tired and exhausted but offers quality skills when working a normal working week.
There are 180,000 people out of work, according to the labour force survey. If industry, after the lead-in period, needs extra personnel to meet planned or systematic needs for extra working time, they should be sought by recruiting additional workers from the unemployed. Deputy Harney asked if there had been a change. The change was made last week and the Government yesterday reaffirmed the decision of the three Government parties to proceed in this way.
The Government was at pains to reassure business that it is concerned about competitiveness and has built in substantial flexibility in the legislation. The problems the multinationals raised with the Government were not primarily about the 48-hour week but about other issues such as timekeeping. Those problems have been and are being addressed. I am satisfied this legislation will not damage the competitiveness of the economy and I hope Members of all sides of the House will not engage in irresponsible loose talk. Such talk is more damaging to our competitiveness than bringing our labour laws into the late 20th century. Our prosperity has not been built on sweatshop work practices and we should not seek that it should be.
Reference to sweatship work practices is a gross exaggeration of the issue and diminishes this good debate. Nobody in this forum would advocate such practices. Irish people, as a result of the commitment of various political parties including mine, have advanced a great deal in labour legislation.
The Minister of State did not respond to my proposal regarding the seven-year period during which there could be an opt-out and a review at the end of the period. It is a more realistic suggestion. The two-year period is grossly inadequate and too short. If the monitoring group established, for example, that the wages of many workers were seriously diminished and there were complaints from workers about that in the second or third year, in what way does the Minister of State envisage the monitoring group or the Government of the day dealing with that problem? It is probable that the Government will win the vote on this legislation and that it will become law before the next election.
On the issue of inward investment, let us suppose the headquarters of a multinational decided to set up a company in Scotland or Wales rather than Ireland because of this restrictive legislation. If the monitoring group noticed such a consequence, what would it do? As I said last week, some of the multinationals have said they need flexibility when starting a new concern which, in many cases, involves hundreds of jobs. In the years 2001 or 2010, for example, they might need that flexibility for a given period, especially the start up period. It could be in the computer, telemarketing or high tech sector which involve mobile investment.
Is the Minister of State not conscious of industry's requirements in that regard? How would the monitoring committee deal with a problem if it arose? We had a meeting with ICTU yesterday and I put Fianna Fáil's position.
I would be grateful if the Minister of State would respond to those two points — the seven year period I have advocated and the role of the monitoring committee in terms of what it could do with regard to workers' wages and the possibility of the loss of inward investment. How does the Minister of State envisage that a Government would deal with that?
It is timely that we should discuss this matter given the present economic boom and the attractiveness of this country to multinational companies. Hard decisions are made in the board rooms of international companies abroad, principally in the US, about setting up in Ireland. The notion that somebody on the board of an international company would be attracted to Ireland on the basis of a green misty-eyed vision of the shamrock is as outdated as the ass and cart in modern farming. The decisions taken are based on economics and on the basis of the value of the industry as a springboard into the European market.
I am glad to hear the Minister of State explain that we are not adopting a straitjacket approach to work flexibility and working time. One major international computer company runs a system of round the clock working with 12 hour shifts. I hope it will be able to continue on that basis because, if it is not, I understand it will locate elsewhere as its business is based on round the clock production.
My constituency has a strong dairy co-operative and there are peaks and valleys in production. The peak period is from April to September when milk is in full production and the co-operatives are practically working round the clock. Workers are asked to put in extra hours and they do so willingly. They are paid for it. Can the extra time they work in the peak period be offset against the hours worked in the winter period? I have received concerned representations on the matter. I am sure similar conditions apply to meat production. The tourism industry also experiences peak periods during which staff in hotels, for example, are asked to work extra hours. Can that be offset against the less busy periods? The Minister of State would put many minds at ease if she can clarify the issue.
The multinationals are attracted by our well-educated, adaptable and willing workforce which has a strong work ethic. If a multinational setting up in Ireland wishes to operate a system of continuous production with 12 hour shifts it should have the flexibility to do so.
Deputy Boylan has posed two important questions and I will ask the Minister of State to respond to them.
Averaging is provided for. If a person works long hours in the summer they can be offset against working in the winter time. The averaging will involve four months automatically for all firms and six months, by regulation, in firms which have a seasonal business. We will be generous in designating the seasonal businesses so that the business the Deputy mentioned will be included. Where a firm reaches a collective agreement with its workforce it can average work out over 12 months. There should be no problem in those cases. Somebody could work 60 hours for half the year and fewer hours for the other half.
Will the Minister of State answer my questions later?
Sometimes I will call a Minister to reply to a question that has been raised many times.
The other point Deputy Boylan raised was on the 12 hour shift pattern. There will be no problem with that or with continuous production. We have built flexibility into the Bill's operation.
There is much misinformed talk about regulation and deregulation. Under the laws which I am now repealing I am technically obliged to authorise a change in shift pattern in any company — that is how prescriptive the law is. We are replacing it with a far more flexible and common sense mechanism.
This Bill arises from an EU directive and concerns the health and safety of workers. It is argued in a roundabout way that if we put these measures in place they will create employment. If the Government considers this is an employment creation measure it should say so clearly. I do not like the presentation of the argument that a large number of jobs will be created. The Bill is mainly concerned with workers' health and safety.
With regard to section 3, the Defence Forces have been excluded from its provisions. We are making changes that will affect a number of firms and will require them to make management and structural changes to enable them to continue in business. The Defence Forces have been excluded although we will ask other employers to operate a system which the State is not prepared to accept.
Over the last 12 months some members of the Defence Forces have been working up to 80 or 90 hours a week simply because there is not a proper management structure in the Army. It is a little high-handed to ask private companies to do something which the State is not prepared to do. I appeal to the Minister of State to reconsider this matter. When they sign up they realise what their duties are. When emergencies have arisen in the past they have always made themselves available and no matter what hours they are required to work they are never found wanting. We have missed out on an opportunity and they should be included in the Bill. In cases of emergency they have always produced the goods and it is unfortunate that they have been treated in this manner.
It is important to have an opt-out clause. It seems easier to set up industries in Northern Ireland than in the South as money is available in the North for doing so. There is stern competition and I can see problems arising at a time when we are trying to attract inward investment, especially from American industry. Border counties are facing stern competition from LEDGU and this type of legislative restriction would make it even more difficult.
Co-operatives were mentioned but a point was missed in both the question and the answer. That is that milk processing plants in the Border areas are now coping with large volumes from the North whose suppliers are in a position to give a better price for the milk. It is not a seasonal matter involving production peaks and valleys, it is a matter of utilising plants on a 24-hour basis. Plants must be kept at full volume all the time.
The same applies to meat plants. I represent a county with a great deal of broiler and turkey processing plants, which operate 15 or 16 hours day at Christmas, Easter and in the summer. The volume of business is there and products have to be prepared. It is fine to talk about collective agreements and overtime but such things seldom work. I worked in a co-operative before I entered politics and some people may say I was foolish ever to leave it. Based on my own experience of managing a co-operative, however, I know that if there is no opt-out clause for the 48-hour week it will present difficulties. The same applies to the transport business.
We are putting impediments in the way of inward investment for the Border region. Over the last two years County Monaghan has seen a 12 per cent increase in the unemployment register, although it was less in County Cavan. County Monaghan has seen a substantial reduction in employment while other areas of the country have seen an increase, in some cases amounting to thousands of jobs. This is the first time it has happened since I was elected to Dáil Éireann. For those reasons I am opposed to the 48-hour week provision unless there is an opt-out clause.
Having listened to the debate I am still not convinced. I have not heard anybody, including the Minister, provide a good reason why we should not include this voluntary opt-out clause. I have spoken to employers and employees in recent weeks about this legislation. Both sides are concerned and cannot understand the Government's insistence on pushing through with it. The construction industry is extremely concerned. It cannot attract sufficient numbers of skilled workers to carry out necessary construction work. If enacted, this legislation will exacerbate the severe shortage of skills available.
What is the Minister and the Government afraid of in including a voluntary opt-out clause? Our major competitors — the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland development authorities -who are seeking international investment, must be laughing at us as we shoot ourselves in the foot. I cannot understand why the Minister is insisting on pushing this measure through.
Recent correspondence we received from the IDA reflects this. The effect this legislation will have on attempts to entice serious capital and employment investment is uppermost in the minds of IDA executives. Our competitors will use it against us. I would ask the Minister to bear this in mind even at this late stage.
I am concerned that we are re-debating motions we spent two hours or more on last week. It is becoming repetitive. I will put the question after calling Deputy O'Keeffe.
I was taken aback at hearing the phrase "sweat-shop work practices" mentioned. To be fair, I do not think we have ever had such things in Ireland and I know of no one who is interested in introducing such work practices.
It has taken on a new meaning.
It was over the top to make such a reference. I was disappointed to hear it referred to at this Committee because we are a caring society. We are talking about opportunities. Primary production in agriculture has not been mentioned at all. Farming is very important and we must remember that it is not easy work. Specialist people are involved in many agricultural enterprises today, including dairy farming, pigs and poultry. We are aware of the difficulties involved with the present climate because of problems that have arisen through disease.
The bloodstock industry employs about 4,000 people but it is not possible to operate with this type of regulation. If there is no opt-out clause it will affect our bloodstock industry. One must have continuity in the bloodstock industry as well as in dairying and other agricultural sectors. Excellent work is being done by the farm apprenticeship board in training young people from agricultural colleges in farming skills involving crafts, machinery and farm management. There is a major scarcity in this type of expertise. We are trying to modernise agriculture but we will not have a top class industry if there is no concession to a 48-hour opt-out in the Bill.
We can discuss the seasonal aspects of agriculture, including weather which is not being addressed. I understand from the IFA that both France and Britain are including the voluntary opt-out clause. I appeal to the Minister to take into account the primary agricultural industry, which is our major national industry.
Dairy production must also be examined. That is the country's key industry and, as the basis of our beef herd, it is also the basis of the economy. If we do not have a well-structured dairying industry we will not have the type of production we want. We have skilled people on call who are dedicated, sincere and well trained. However, we are not training enough people through the farm apprenticeship scheme and this problem is not being addressed.
Agriculture should receive fair recognition through the submissions of the Irish Farmers' Association and the farm apprenticeship board. The submissions are to the point and deal with enterprises and the difficulties they face. They also address the issue of providing milk on Christmas Day. If agriculture is to be restricted in this way, it will not be viable or productive. Deputy Brian Fitzgerald made a point about the old system of people being paid for farm work on a Sunday after Mass. That practice went out with the flood, so it is just rhetoric to talk about it although it is his privilege to do so here. Farming is a dedicated business which employs skilled people, a scarce resource. It is almost like a vocation. I specifically refer to two areas: the bloodstock industry, which is very important for our economy, and the dairy industry. If these areas are not addressed, it will be a major setback for agriculture.
I find it strange that the Opposition is still not prepared to consider what the Minister of State said. This legislation has a substantial degree of flexibility in the inbuilt averaging mechanism, the three year phasing-in period as well as the monitoring group which will be established. Multinationals are not concerned with the issue of unfettered overtime but with the quality of skills, education and work ethic they find in this country. The Minister of State mentioned that 10,000 new investment jobs were announced in the knowledge that the opt out clause was not included in the legislation. That is a mark of confidence in the Bill and in this country as an investment area. The Opposition has more a fear of change rather than of change itself and what it means.
Let us examine what is proposed as an alternative in the two amendments. The first allows an employee to work more than an average of 48 hours in each period of seven days if his employer has first obtained his agreement to perform such work. The second amendment, tabled by Deputy Tom Kitt, provides that an employee may waive his statutory right to a 48-hour maximum working week by a written agreement with his employer. An individual voluntary opt out clause is proposed, not a collective one.
I have included a collective bargaining agreement in my amendment.
The first part of the Deputy's amendment and Deputy Harney's amendment provide for an individual opt out clause. This means an individual employee can volunteer to opt out as the employer requires him to do so. If people applying for a job are asked if they will be available to opt out as requested on a voluntary basis and they say no, will they get the job? The Opposition's alternative is unacceptable to any employee in terms of good industrial relations. It will have to do better if it is to come up with a meaningful alternative.
It cites the model of Britain which has always rejected the social charter and continues to be the only one out of the 15 members states which continues to reject it. I do not understand why we, Fianna Fáil especially, hang on to the coat tails of Britain or why Deputy Harney does so in the case of that soon to be former British colony, Hong Kong, where she believes people are happy working long hours for low pay. It sounds like de Valera's dancing girls at the crossroads; they are poor but are having a great time so they do not mind being poor. Perhaps this great marriage of the two parties, the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil, will be made in heaven on the basis of the opt out clause.
I have listened to what the various sectors of industry that have trouble with this legislation have had to say and have thought about it long and hard. The phased introduction of the Bill's provisions and the flexibility provided in it go a long way to meet their needs. I had a letter recently from the security industry which indicated that, while it would be happier with a full opt out arrangement on a collective basis, it nevertheless felt that the phasing-in arrangement went a considerable distance towards meeting its needs. That is also the case for the trade union movement which represents other workers. I would like to hear what ICTU said to the leader of Deputy Tom Kitt's party when they met yesterday. We would be enlivened if he were to inform us.
As Deputy Costello has asked this question on two occasions, Deputy Kitt may reply but only if he wishes to do so.
It is clear the election is under way when I hear references by Deputy Costello to dancing at the crossroads. I will not rise to the bait except to say that, unlike him, I do not close my eyes and am not blinkered to what does or does not happen in the world.
Reference was made to Britain and he wondered why Fianna Fáil would follow its example. If we bring Anglophobia into this debate, we will get nowhere. The Minister made an extraordinary statement by saying we must legislate for ourselves and forget what Britain does. That sounds fantastic but the reality for Irish companies is that they must compete against British companies in the British and overseas markets. Because of our domestic market's close proximity to Britain, UK based companies are the biggest competitors of many Irish companies supplying the domestic market.
The United Kingdom has the lowest level of unemployment in the EU, at 7 per cent. Wage costs are lower but take home pay is higher. A worker in Newry on £300 per week takes home £16 more than his counterpart in Dundalk. It is 50 per cent less expensive for an employer in Newry to give a worker an extra pound per week in take home pay than it is in the Republic. We can legislate all we like but this Bill will not create a single extra job. Any Deputy who says restricting the number of hours an employee can work will force employers to hire more people is talking absolute nonsense. It will not happen.
The Minister said we had the best performing economy in Europe. That is correct in terms of fundamentals but we have one of the highest levels of unemployment. Europe is not a good yardstick as it has 20 million people unemployed which is the population of three countries and four if Luxembourg is included. Europe is an employment disaster in comparison with the rest of the world because of regulations like this. The real global economy does not operate this way.
The Minister of State may talk all she likes about investment but the IDA letter was a strong one and I invite her to tell me whether she, any of her officials or the senior Minister in her Department made their views known to Kieran McGowan. I thank the Minister of State for confirming that no new decision was made yesterday because, whenThe Irish Times broke the story last Friday, the Government sought to defuse the public debate which occurred. What we saw yesterday was a PR stunt where Ministers pretended that some new initiative had come from Cabinet when we all had voted on this last week.
The Minister of State rightly said that nobody should have to work long hours to pay a mortgage. Why, then, is £53 per week taken from a single person earning £200? Deputy Costello said that the Government's employees can work in emergencies. If so, health and safety does not matter. However, emergencies do not exist solely in the prison service, the Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and among junior hospital doctors. They exist in virtually every sector. Is Deputy Costello suggesting that the private security industry, especially the blue chip companies represented by the Irish Security Industry Associations, does not have to deal with emergencies? Why are they not being given the same freedom?
The prison service is not included because every prison officer earns, on average, £7,000 per year on overtime. According to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, one hard working officer earned £40,000 last year on overtime alone. What about their health and safety? They are being excluded for political reasons because we have an expensive prison service that is unable to cope with the demands placed on it. The introduction of regulations in that sector would be political dynamite for Deputy Costello.
We need not confine our discussions to the captains of industry. A letter sent to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Gorey from a low-paid worker makes it clear that he and his workmates want the freedom to work more than 48 hours per week. Why deny him that freedom? Why is it suggested that we must not continue to allow people to work these hours? If we live in a free society what are we afraid of? Why should people not be able to work if they wish? I am sure Deputy Costello works more than 48 hours a week; he will have to work even harder if he wants to be re-elected.
I received a letter from 3-Com, a company which employs 800 people in west Dublin and hopes to employ 1,150 by 2000. It maintains that the provisions in the Bill will increase its wage bill by 1.4 to 1.5 per cent per annum and will impact on costs and competitiveness. Other investors have indicated likewise, such as Hewlett Packard.
High tax and regulations such as this measure drive more people into the black economy where cowboys disregard directives. The security industry contains many cowboys and the blue chip companies will be unable to compete and employ more. They will have to change their practices, become less competitive and will lose business. While the regulations, in line with many others, will probably not be policed, the blue chip companies will honour both the spirit and letter of the law.
We have debated this matter for a couple of months, but it is apparent that there is to be no change to the Government's approach. If the monitoring committee discovers that an investment project has been lost to Ireland as a result of our failing to take the opt-out will the Government consider amending the legislation? What power will the monitoring committee have?
If members consider that amendments should be made to the Bill, whether in respect of prison officers, the Defence Forces or whatever, they are free to put them down either on this Stage or on Report Stage.
In her response to Deputy Boylan the Minister of State referred to fixed shift patterns. Perhaps she might also respond to the points raised by 3-Com. While the Minister of State and I agree on the question of Sunday work in the retail sector, we must be careful that we do not interfere with companies who are expanding in the context of Sunday work.
I am intrigued with Deputy Costello's interest in the meeting between the ICTU and Fianna Fáil. As the largest party in the State and enjoying a strong relationship with the trade union movement it was important that the meeting occurred. I welcome the fact that the ICTU wished to meet with my party on the Bill. This was our second meeting and it was attended on our side by Deputy Bertie Ahern, Deputy O'Rourke and me. It was an opportunity to exchange views. We made our position clear. Fianna Fáil is pro worker on the basis of the response of the parliamentary party to our assessment of the situation. The trade union movement accepts this.
We have tabled amendments regarding zero hour contracts, Sunday work and the question of whole and part-time casualisation which would effectively strengthen protection. We also tabled an amendment, which was defeated, seeking the inclusion of junior doctors under the provisions of the Bill.
Deputy Costello suggested that my amendment may not be in the interest of the employee. I propose the option of an individual opt-out or a collective bargaining agreement which would be approved by the Labour Court. I also suggest that an employee who refuses to give his or her consent to the waiver shall not be subjected to any detriment by his or her employer.
The opt-out should be included in the legislation. In seven years' time the Government of the day could review implementation, which would resolve many problems and address concerns.
3-Com does not have a problem regarding the opt-out; it would not cause problems for its shift patterns. The company questioned the interaction of the Sunday premium provisions of the Bill and the shift payments, which can be an alternative way of paying workers who work on a Sunday. These are being discussed with my officials. It would be wrong to give an impression that the company has a problem with the 48 hour rule.
This is about health and safety. There is an important matter of principle here. I launched an initiative yesterday regarding health and safety on building sites. We do not tell building site workers that they can opt-out on a voluntary basis from wearing a hard hat or from erecting scaffolding in safety or untying it to engage in plastering. That fundamental principle is here. We are providing a generous transition period and flexibility. Ultimately this is about health and safety and that should not be optional. We must ensure that workers' health and safety is respected by the organisation of work. Workers are allowed generous working hours of 6 to 8 hours a day all year round by collective agreement so this Bill only addresses excessive working hours, which the Council of Ministers has decided would be detrimental to workers' health and safety. Our duty is to respect the health and safety of workers.
We have spent enough time on this matter.
The Minister did not answer my question.
I asked the Minster to reply, which she did.
Can we have clarification on the IDA?
Agriculture is well provided for in the Bill. I did not contact the IDA in relation to its letter. It can speak for itself and has withdrawn that letter, acknowledging that it was based on a misunderstanding of the Bill.
What about workers in fish plants?
I will communicate with the Deputy on that matter but averaging covers seasonal work.
The Select Committee divided: Tá, 10; Níl, 12.
Brown, John (Wexford).
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Sheehan, P. J.
I move amendment No 20:
In page 15, before section 16, to insert the following new section:
"16.—(1) An employee may waive his statutory right to a 48 hour maximum working week by either
(a) a written agreement with his employer, or
(b) pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement as approved by the Labour Court.
(2) An employee who refuses to give his or her consent to the waiver shall not be subjected to any detriment by his or her employer.
(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section where such a waiver has been agreed, an employer shall not permit an employee to work in each 7 days more than an average of 60 hours calculated over a period of 12 months.
(4) The employer shall take the necessary steps to ensure that health surveillance is made available to the employee in question within the meaning of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations, 1993.
(5) An employee to whom this section applies may, at any stage, withdraw his or her consent by giving to his or her employer one month's notice in writing.".
Brown, John (Wexford).
Ó Cuív, Éamon.