Price Controls.

Ceisteanna (38)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

112 Ms Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to reports that some pubs and entertainment venues charged up to €12 for single drinks at New Year's Eve 2003 events; the steps she intends to take to stop such exploitation of consumers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3780/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (23 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

The best way of ensuring that markets for any goods or services are delivering value for money to consumers is through increased competition and greater consumer vigilance. That is the objective towards which all our policy interventions in the field of competition and consumer policy are directed. Certainly, I have no plans to return to the days of official price control.

Regulatory action has been taken under SI 263 of 1999 to require the price of certain alcoholic and soft drinks to be displayed just outside or immediately inside each entrance to a licensed premises. This order is enforced by the Director of Consumer Affairs.

Based on the Tánaiste's answer, if there is competition in any area, it is in the drinks industry. There is an over-abundance of premises where people can buy and consume alcohol, so competition is not the answer and clearly has not worked in this case. In a recent question I asked about the additional charges that can be made for on-line bookings and the answer I received was that the Tánaiste did not envisage legislation for this area because she feared it would impose a greater charge on the individual customer. Surely then the Tánaiste must consider imposing some price restrictions on the drinks industry to do what she suggested in that answer, to protect the individual customer. Such exploitation of customers cannot continue.

I do not envisage a situation where there will be someone from the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs to police the Act outside every pub on New Year's Eve or other times of celebration.

Why not?

It is not sensible. I know of no country where price control works. On the contrary, those that have the most free markets are those where prices are most competitive. Not every pub in Ireland charged €12 for a drink, so people had a choice to go into a place that charged €12 or a place that did not. There is only so much one can do for a consumer. If a facility has decided it can rip people off because it is a busy night, I suggest that consumers do not go there and go somewhere that is cheaper.

Price control does not work; it has even disappeared in the countries of the former Soviet bloc. They have embraced the free market with greater enthusiasm even than me. I was recently in Slovakia and the manner in which the Government there has approached reform of tax, competition policy, consumer policy and health care reform is remarkable. These countries are doing that because they know what works.

If price control does not work, the free market is definitely not working for the consumer in Ireland. It is beyond reason that people should have to shop around on New Year's Eve to find a pub charging reasonable prices instead of €12 for a short or €10 for a pint. People do not go on a pub crawl on New Year's Eve because they want to stay in one venue to celebrate with their friends. They should not be ripped off for that pleasure.

Do admission charges to pubs on occasions of celebration have an effect on the licence? Are pubs allowed to charge a cover fee when they are public houses or do they need permission from the courts? Are they in breach of liquor licensing laws by charging a cover fee?

I am not an expert on licensing law but, given that we do not have price controls, if publicans wish to charge a fee of this kind, I presume they are free to do so, although I am not certain of the licensing implications. Licensing relates to a person's suitability to have a licence, police it and enforce the criminal law and opening times. It does not refer to pricing.

It is wrong to say people do not have choices. The majority of pubs do not charge these cover fees, but some people seem to be insensitive and will pay almost anything to go to places they believe to be popular. The variations in this city between a pub in one area and in another nearby are incredible. My message to consumers is that the law cannot protect them in these situations and it is not practical that it should. We cannot have people inspecting every price on every occasion to see if the controls are enforced. We must ensure that, through competition and people shopping around, the free market operates in this area, as it does in airline tickets, hotel rooms and other areas of life.

The Tánaiste is out of touch because airline ticket outlets are certainly not as numerous as pubs. Progressive Democrats members like café-style bars and even spoke some years ago about the deregulation of pub licences, although we have not heard much about that lately. In rural areas, however, there would be great difficulty shopping around. On New Year's Eve people want a drink and are not concerned about the price of it. They will not travel from Ahascragh to Caltragh to find out the price of drink in different pubs. They are only concerned about the drink running out.

The Deputy has proved my point.

I am sure Progressive Democrats supporters travel from pub to pub to find out the price of drink.

They travel by helicopter.

I stayed at home on New Year's Eve.

We should get real about what people do. What mechanism does the Tánaiste propose to establish within the new quango, the consumer panel, to allow people to complain about prices and products with which they are unhappy?

The country is full of pubs and I am certain that pubs in Kilkenny and Carlow did not charge €12 for a drink.

I know every one of them.

The Deputy was probably in all of them at some stage.

They are not café-style bars.

Café-style bars change the drinking culture as well as providing drink for a reasonable price.

That is happening in Dublin 4.

It is happening not only in Dublin but all over Europe and elsewhere.

The Minister needs to travel beyond Newlands Cross.

It is happening all over the world. The Deputy has been in those establishments.

I have not been in them in a while.

National Minimum Wage.

Ceisteanna (39, 40)

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

113 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if there are particular industries or areas in which compliance with the minimum wage regulations has been below the national average; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3812/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

126 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the percentage level of compliance reported by the Labour inspectorate of minimum wage regulations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3810/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 113 and 126 together.

Since the introduction of the national minimum wage in April 2000, inspectors have undertaken inspections under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, with reported compliance and sanctions levels as follows. In 2000 and 2001, respectively, 3,419 and 1,192 inspections-visits were undertaken by the inspectorate. The respective outturns for 2002 and 2003 are 1,731 and 950 inspections-visits.

In 2001 there was one conviction under the National Minimum Wage Act that concerned a failure to keep relevant records. In 2002 there were three convictions. Two of these were in respect of a failure to pay the correct wage rate — arrears were paid in both cases — and the third concerned obstruction. No sanctions were applied in 2000 and 2003. In the context of the volume of inspections-visits undertaken, the number of cases where recourse to sanctions was necessary is negligible in percentage terms.

The Deputies should be aware that rights commissioners of the Labour Relations Commission, a body independent of my Department, also investigate complaints of breaches of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. In this regard, there are 19 employment regulation orders drawn up through the joint labour committee system that regulate statutory minimum rates of pay and conditions of employment for the significant body of workers employed in the various sectors where these apply. The rates of pay for workers in these sectors are at least the equivalent of the applicable national minimum rates and in some cases can be greater. A recent ESRI report indicates that minimum wage workers are relatively heavily concentrated in the hotel, restaurant and bar sector and, to a lesser extent, the retail sector.

However, there has been no discernible trend to date, indicating that any sector is particularly problematic in regard to compliance with the provisions of the national minimum wage.

Year

No. of Inspections

Sanction Applied

% Level Compliance Reported

2000

3,419

None

100%

2001

1,192

1 Conviction for failure to keep records

*100%

2002

1,731

3 Convictions: 1 — obstructing Inspector 2 — failure to pay NMW (arrears paid in both cases)

*100%

2003

950

None

100%

*To nearest whole number

It will not be a surprise to anyone who watched the recent RTE television programme, which is highly commendable, that the hotel, bar and restaurant sectors are mentioned in this regard. In that programme a young man worked for low wages in various establishments and reported to the public on his experiences. It was shocking to note that his wage slip for a week's work following various deductions was approximately €200. It is difficult for anyone in this city to live on that wage. The person in question ran out of money two days before his next pay day. That is a remarkable example of some of the difficulties faced by people on low wages.

If I heard the Minister of State correctly, there were approximately 900 inspections in 2002 and only one conviction, and the figures were similar for other recent years mentioned. A research document carried out by the department of economics in Maynooth found that by and large the introduction of the minimum wage has been smooth and has not presented great difficulties to companies. Does the Minister of State agree with that position or does he believe that the Small Firms Association and economic commentators are correct in stating that approximately 26% of employers have serious difficulties in paying the minimum wage? Does he believe that small businesses have a problem in paying the minimum wage or does he consider it is a fair and just rate and that the low level of convictions show that we do not have problems in this area?

It is a fair and just rate and by and large employers are happy to go along with the minimum level of pay. However, we acknowledge the point made by the Small Firms Association that compliance with the minimum wage level adds a burden which did not exist in the past. I am satisfied that €7 per hour is not an unreasonable level of minimum pay — if anything, it may be too low. That is not to say there is a great level of difficulty with compliance. By and large there are no problems with compliance. I have urged people, and do so again now, where there are examples of employers not complying with minimum wage levels, to bring such instances to the attention of our Department or the inspectorate and they will be investigated. We indicated that where there is non-compliance and an abuse of the system by employers, convictions should take place. Certainly, that has not been necessary as indicated by figures.

If I am reading the regulations correctly, I note it is an offence for an employee to provide incorrect details of his or her working hours. It is of particular concern that the detail and reporting of the working conditions of migrant workers could be easily amended to suit the legislation, when they might not be earning the €7 per hour minimum wage, apropos of what happened in the case of the tragedy on the Lancashire coast recently where migrant workers were working for incredibly low rates. Have any of the convictions related to a case where an employee knowingly provided incorrect details of his or her working hours? How can the Minister of State provide assurances that the Labour inspectorate can check the proper hours record in the case particularly of migratory workers who are fearful of their status and their work permits are held by their employers who are in a strong position? What assurances can he give that we are getting a full and frank picture of the working conditions of migrant workers?

I do not have information to hand on the reporting by employees of a fewer number of hours than they worked. I have a concern regarding the wage levels paid to some foreign workers who do piece-work. There has been some evidence in the past 12 months of foreign workers in some sectors not being paid the minimum wage because they work long hours on a piece-work basis. I refer in particular to workers in the mushroom picking industry. I take this opportunity to point out to employers in that industry that where we have evidence of workers being exploited due to working long hours on a piece-work basis and the type of work in which they are engaged not being conducive to their earning the levels of pay that should be paid — there is evidence that some foreign workers are not being adequately paid — we will pursue those employers vigorously and take them to court if necessary.

Clearly, the Minister of State has evidence in regard to the industry to which he referred, otherwise he would not have mentioned it. Has an investigation of that industry led to any of the convictions to which he referred?

I do not have specific information to hand on any particular industry. We have stepped up inspections in some industrial sectors where there have been reports of foreign workers doing piece-work who are not being paid the minimum wage.

Job Losses.

Ceisteanna (41)

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

114 Mr. Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the recent spate of job losses in Kerry; the steps she intends to put in place to revise this trend; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3633/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

I regret very much recent job losses in County Kerry, including the Sports Socks Company's plants in Cahirciveen and Tralee, and Rosenbluth in Killarney, and I am conscious of the adverse effects on the workers, their families and the local community. Finding alternative employment for the workers affected is a priority for FÁS and the State development agencies. FÁS is making available its full range of support services, including skills analysis, training and job placement for the workers affected.

In addition to targeting potential new greenfield investment from overseas industrialists, IDA Ireland is working with the existing base of companies in the county with a view to supporting them in expanding and diversifying activities. IDA Ireland has also completed site development works on its business park in Killarney and is actively promoting the area for new investment, including a new building facility in the park.

Enterprise Ireland is supporting a major expansion at FEXCO, currently under way in Killorglin and Cahirciveen, which will provide additional employment for 250 people. The agency is working closely with the development of existing enterprises in the county and is promoting the establishment of new enterprises.

In addition, Enterprise Ireland is providing aid for the expansion of the Killarney Technology Innovation Centre and to the Institute of Technology, Tralee, for the establishment of a campus business incubation centre.

Shannon Development has invested some €8 million in the development of Kerry Technology Park, Tralee, in partnership with the Institute of Technology, Tralee, Kerry County Council and the private sector. This technology park should provide a valuable base for enterprise development in the area. Kerry County Enterprise Board is also providing valuable support for the establishment and expansion of micro-enterprises in the county.

The major decentralisation programme announced in the budget includes 165 jobs to be relocated to Killarney and a further 50 jobs for Listowel. This move demonstrates the Government's commitment to balanced regional development and will provide a further boost to enterprise development in Kerry. The designation of both Tralee and Killarney as hub towns under the Government's national spatial strategy adds to the attractiveness of the county for overseas and indigenous investment.

The Minister accepts that over 220 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing industry over the past two weeks. This is the equivalent of 20,000 jobs in Dublin. I can imagine the response if job losses prevailed to that extent in Dublin. Will the Minister visit Kerry as soon as possible and meet the social partners, leaders of industry and the county manager to discuss ways in which to reverse the trend?

No problem.

Besides, there are further job losses on the horizon. The owners of one particular plant in Listowel were over from America last week and the outlook for the plant is very gloomy. Addressing this problem will require more than the actions the Minister outlined in her reply. She will have to come down to Kerry herself and be more proactive in her approach to reversing this trend. The social partners are ready to meet her, as are the other captains of industry.

I appreciate Deputy Deenihan's invitation to Kerry. It is always a great pleasure to visit the county and I will be visiting it shortly on an extensive visit. Notwithstanding the disappointing news about the companies we mentioned, there are companies expanding in the Kerry area. The live register is up 147 year on year but there are also a substantial number of immigrant workers in many of the companies in Kerry.

I am conscious of the need for more investment in Kerry. Last year, the IDA brought five different companies on site visits to the county and I believe the new facilities in both Tralee — the Shannon Development technology park — and Killarney — the IDA's new business and technology park — will be very valuable pieces of infrastructure to market to both overseas investors and, I hope, indigenous investors.

I, too, invite the Minister to Kerry — I believe this is my fifth time to do so. I know she has been in Kerry since I first issued the invitation to her to meet the social partners and such people with regard to employment issues. It is very serious that the IDA has attracted only one person to visit Killarney. In light of the Minister's statement that Enterprise Ireland has expended funds recently, will she provide me with information — she may not have it on hand — on how they were spent? I do not believe it was to create jobs. There is no broadband in the industrial estate in question. When will this be made available? Of the 165 jobs promised as a result of decentralisation, how many will be available to those who lost their jobs recently?

Is the Minister happy that the IDA did not create one single job in Kerry last year? It brought only two itineraries to the constituency of Kerry North, for example. Surely this is not a credible performance.

If any visit of mine to Kerry or anywhere else can generate employment, I will be willing to make such visits to any county. The IDA had five site visits to Kerry North in 2003. The support of Enterprise Ireland was for the expansion of FEXCO. In addition, FÁS has about 1,500 people in either apprenticeships or training programmes in Kerry, which represents a considerable resource. Many of these have lost their jobs as a result of the aforementioned redundancies. I assure the Deputies from Kerry that this issue is a priority, and I hope this will be a better year for investment because of the performance of the global economy. I hope Kerry will have new investment during the year.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.