There is an existing legislative framework in place to protect employment rights in the English language education sector. This includes the Protection of Employment (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 and the Workplace Relations Act 2015. There is also a comprehensive industrial relations machinery in place for dealing with workplace relations issues including collective bargaining issues at firm level and at sectoral level. If individuals consider that their employment rights have been infringed under these Acts then it is open to them to take a case before the Workplace Relations Commission.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection is currently progressing a new piece of legislation through the Oireachtas which will further strengthen the regulatory framework in this area. The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 includes requirements that employers provide employees with certain terms of employment within a certain period after commencing employment; to impose sanctions for certain offences; to further provide for a minimum payment due to employees in certain circumstances; to prohibit contracts specifying zero as the contract hours in certain circumstances and to provide for the introduction of banded contract hours; to further provide for prohibition of penalisation and for those purposes to amend the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997; to amend the Workplace Relations Act 2015.
In addition, the Deputy may be aware that legislation is also being progressed by my Department which will strengthen the regulation of the English language sector. The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 is currently before the Seanad. This new Bill will establish the International Education Mark (IEM). The IEM is a core component of the Government's policy for the English language sector and will provide a full quality framework for the provision of education to international learners in the future. Only those providers who meet the robust quality assurance procedures of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) will be allowed to carry the Mark.
The Bill also contains provisions to provide QQI with additional statutory powers to examine a provider’s financial sustainability and to evaluate a provider’s corporate fitness. These provisions will enable QQI to examine the bona fides of a provider in addition to assessing that the provider has the capacity and capability to implement the quality assurance processes and provide programmes of education and training consistent with the requirements of the Act. All providers, including English language providers, will have to satisfy QQI in relation to issues such as the legal personality, ownership and corporate governance arrangements in addition to examining that adequate financial resources are in place to ensure the viability of these businesses.
At Committee Stage reading of the Bill which was initiated on 5th December 2018 Minister Mitchell O’Connor announced her intention to appoint an experienced mediator to meet with bodies representing employers and employees in the English language education sector to explore the potential for a Registered Employment Agreement to be developed for workers in the English language sector. The necessary arrangements for the appointment of this mediator are being progressed by my Department.