I am particularly determined to tackle the issue of false self-employment. I believe the deliberate mis-classification of a worker as a self-employed contractor, in a situation where they are actually working as an employee, is wrong for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it denies the worker full protection under the Social Welfare Acts, which means he or she is deprived of entitlements such as short-term illness and disability benefits. Secondly, it deprives the worker of protection under labour law which means the a worker is left without any redress if they are unfairly dismissed, made redundant, or are not paid minimum wage rates, for example. Thirdly, this form of non-compliance by employers deprives all taxpayers in the form of reduced returns to the Social Insurance Fund.
I believe that enforcement of PRSI compliance is paramount and I have instructed my Department's inspectors to increase the level of employer inspections nationwide. This work is ongoing. Additionally, I have established a new Unit of inspectors, specifically trained and dedicated to the detection and tackling of false self-employment in particular.
I have also assigned my officials the task of modernising the Code of Practice on employment status. This is a vital tool for employers and employees so they can be clear when a worker is genuinely self-employed or alternatively when they should be recorded as an employee under full PRSI. A new manual – the Guidance on Employment Status – is currently being finalised. The new Guidance will be put on a statutory footing, to ensure it becomes central to the decision-making process in employment status cases.
A good deal of progress has been made by my officials in developing a number of legislative proposals that strengthen the protections for workers in situations of false self-employment. These include providing anti-penalisation provisions for workers who will be able to take a claim to the WRC if they are victimised by an employer for raising a query regarding their status. I also wish to increase penalties for employers who deliberately mis-classify employees as being self-employed.
Work is ongoing to finalise the Guidance document and the legislative proposals and I hope to progress these this year.
The Trade Union movement has a key part to play in any work to tackle these issues and I value its input, as I value the input of employer representative bodies.
I have consulted with both sides regarding this matter of false self-employment as part of my own and my officials' engagement in the Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF). I chaired the inaugural meeting of the LEEF subgroup on Employment Legislation and Regulation and I and my Department bring these issues to the LEEF plenary meetings. There have been four Employment Subgroup meetings since it was established in July 2018, and four LEEF Plenaries at which this topic was discussed with ICTU.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.