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Social Dialogue

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 26 April 2022

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Ceisteanna (13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22)

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

13. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [12671/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Cian O'Callaghan

Ceist:

14. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination of his Department. [14171/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

15. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [14280/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

16. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [14283/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

17. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [14284/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

18. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [15025/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ivana Bacik

Ceist:

19. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [16208/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mick Barry

Ceist:

20. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [16698/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Ceist:

21. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination of his Department. [19340/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Lahart

Ceist:

22. Deputy John Lahart asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the social dialogue co-ordination unit of his Department. [20340/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (9 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 22 together.

The Government recognises the importance of regular and open engagement with all sectors of society as we tackle the many economic, social and environmental challenges facing the country. In particular, the Government has been working to strengthen social dialogue in a range of areas, including the national economic dialogue which will next take place in June, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, whose shared island report I launched recently, the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council, the national dialogue on climate action which held a stakeholder forum in March, and through many consultative groups set up in different sectors and direct engagement with Ministers and Departments on specific issues of concern.

In recent months, I have had a number of engagements with social partners in a variety of different formats, including through the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, which brings together representatives of employers and trade unions with Government to exchange views on economic and employment issues as they affect the labour market and which are of mutual concern.

Under the auspices of LEEF, there has been significant progress on many issues, such as the introduction of statutory sick pay and the ongoing high-level review of collective bargaining. In addition, LEEF played an important role during Covid-19, including dialogue on income and business supports and agreement of the national work safely protocol.

The most recent plenary meeting of LEEF, which I chaired, took place on 13 April. Given the serious economic challenges facing Ireland in the period ahead, it was agreed at that meeting that the members of LEEF would enter a process of dialogue to explore the potential for developing an approach to managing and responding to these challenges and pressures in a strategic and sustainable way. This exploratory process will take place over the coming weeks.

Other engagements I have had with social partners include a series of meetings last year with representatives from the environmental pillar, the community and voluntary pillar and the farming and agriculture pillar to discuss how social dialogue can be strengthened, as well as issues of concern to those sectors. I hope to meet again with these pillars in the period ahead as we seek to navigate and tackle major challenges facing the country, especially as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.

In August last year, ActionAid Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Men's Development Network all called on the Government to ratify the International Labour Organization, ILO, convention on violence and harassment. As the Tánaiste and his Minister of State have recognised, ILO Convention 190 is the first ever international instrument on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work. This protection is, of course, especially relevant for women but for men too.

I have repeatedly raised this matter with the Tánaiste and Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment since the ILO adopted the convention in June 2019 but there has been no tangible progress. For two years now, I have been told that his officials are engaging with relevant Departments to establish whether further legislation is required for ratification, yet no detail of these engagements or their outcomes has ever been offered up.

In 2019, the then Minister for Business, Enterprise and Employment stated her intent to undertake a consultation with unions, employer representative bodies and others to progress ratification. In January 2020, the Tánaiste made the same commitment. Just this month, the Minister of State at his Department admitted that not only has this consultation not yet taken place but it will be months before it is established.

The Government has committed to protecting women and men workers from harassment and violence. On that basis, I urge the Government to engage with the Tánaiste to ensure ratification of ILO Convention 190.

There has been recent dialogue with the Irish Refugee Council in the context of meeting the housing challenges of Ukrainian refugees. It is also important that we continue to meet the challenges we face in respect of the existing housing crisis and homelessness emergency. As a part of doing that, it is important that we look at solutions to find additional housing not already in demand or in the pipeline. Undoubtedly, part of the solution, as the Irish Refugee Council has proposed, is to ensure that some of the 162,000 holiday homes are put to use. Some of those are rented throughout the year and will not be available initially but others are heavily underused. These are furnished, serviced and in walk-in condition. Many are located on the edges of towns and in communities with existing infrastructure. We need some leadership from the Government on this issue. We need a call to get some of these holiday homes into use and to tap into the goodwill that exists in this regard. Details must be provided for people. There should, for example, be lease agreements for 12-month periods. Owners should also be provided with some compensation in respect of wear and tear so they can source alternatives for holidays. When will a decision be made on this issue? Why has it not been done to date? Will the Taoiseach clarify which Department is taking the lead on this issue?

I have raised on several occasions the issue of a low-paid, front-line group of people who worked all during Covid-19. Without them, many of our shops, hospitals, public transport services and many public and private corporate entities could not have functioned. I refer to private security workers. Rank-and-file security officers recently set up a new campaign, Security Officers United, and some of its members will be outside the Dáil at 1 o'clock tomorrow campaigning for decent pay. The employment regulation order, ERO, for that sector means these workers get paid less than €12 an hour. It is shocking. Some of their employers have blocked an attempt to give a miserable pay increase that would bring the rate to just over €12 an hour. These workers are campaigning to have a minimum pay rate of at least €15 an hour. There are 16,000 private security workers. They are miserably paid and essentially treated with no respect. They have no pension entitlements. Often, they have no guarantee of hours. Their employers are often charging the companies who have contracted for these services many times the rate of pay being paid to the workers. That is really scandalous. The workers get paid €12 an hour, but the company hiring them out gets paid €20. It would be great if the Government would send a representative-----

I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

-----outside to Kildare Street at 1 p.m. tomorrow to meet some of these private security workers and have a social dialogue with them.

The teacher unions had their conferences over Easter. One clear message from right across all the conferences was the need for substantial pay increases to compensate for the rising cost of living. The Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, conference went so far as to pass a motion that said unless a meaningful pay offer was made by the end of the school or academic year which provides for increases that keep pace with the level of inflation, the TUI should initiate a ballot for a campaign of strike action. The union is absolutely right. If teachers do not get a pay increase that is higher than the rate of inflation, they will, in reality, experience a pay cut. This goes not just for teachers and all public sector workers, but for all workers across the board. Will the Government make a meaningful pay offer to public sector workers? Will it increase the minimum wage to €15 an hour to accommodate workers in the private sector? Will it support other private sector workers who take action to ensure they do not experience a real reduction in their wages?

I previously raised with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste the urgent need for an increase in the national minimum wage to address the cost-of-living crisis confronting households. With inflation rising, it is clear Ireland needs a pay rise and that people need to see the pay in their pockets go further. The 30 cent increase in the minimum wage that came into effect in January has simply not been enough to address the rising costs facing our lowest paid workers. Ireland is a high-cost and low-pay economy, and this is putting great pressure on working people.

In our submission to the Low Pay Commission this year, the Labour Party argued for an immediate increase of €1 in the minimum wage and for a clear, multi-annual pathway to deliver a living wage within three years. Has the social dialogue unit examined, or can it examine urgently, the need for an emergency increase in the minimum wage? Have any such proposals been tabled with the Labour Employer Economic Forum, to which the Taoiseach referred, to consider bringing a request to the Low Pay Commission to bring forward any such increase? Could the Taoiseach also indicate if it is intended to bring forward legislation to provide for a living wage? In response to a question I put to the Tánaiste just before the Easter break, he raised this prospect. Will the Taoiseach confirm what the Government's plans are? It is clear we must see an effective increase in the pay people receive to meet this enormous increase in the cost of living.

Regarding Deputy McDonald's point, I will revert to the Tánaiste in relation to that. We all of course want workplaces that are free of violence and harassment. A whole raft of legislation is already in place on our Statute Book dealing with harassment and violence in the workplace and to protect employees. Sometimes the various declarations passed by international organisations have wide-ranging implications which must be examined in considerable detail before they end up on the Statute Book here through legislative ratification. This is often not understood, and sometimes people feel it is just a matter of getting on with it and endorsing such proposals without having any examination of the implications of international resolutions passed in various forums. That said, I will ask the Tánaiste to revert to the Deputy regarding this issue.

On the Irish Refugee Council and its recommendations, one of the issues now is that thousands of houses have been pledged. Many holiday homes have been pledged. The issue now is to process those as quickly as we possibly can. Some are empty houses and some are shared houses. The Irish Red Cross was the initial recipient of the pledges of accommodation. We have provided resources to local authorities and Army personnel to make calls and so on. The fundamental emphasis right from the beginning has been on procuring hotels and a whole variety of other accommodation. It is extraordinary that 16,000 people have been accommodated in seven or eight weeks and more than 25,000 people have come into the country. Some have been accommodated privately through families. Other NGOs have pledged houses through their informal networks.

I met representatives of one organisation yesterday - Angie Gough and others - which organised 200 houses to be made available. They had some interesting perspectives on this matter and regarding what supports we can give to hosts, because there can be many uncertainties in that regard. I refer to what has happened in the education and health systems and in the provision of personal public service numbers, PPSNs. Of those Ukrainians who have come into the country, 99% now have a PPSN. There is also an extensive one-to-one employment service engaging with Ukrainians regarding access to the workplace, for example.

I have met many displaced persons - which is what Ukrainians prefer to be called - who have fled the war. Their gratitude to the Irish and for what is being done is heartfelt. That was the overriding response I got from them yesterday. Obviously, there are concerns about education. They are worried. We have to work with them to reassure them that we will be able to do all of that. There were meetings in the schools in that area yesterday with the parents to try to facilitate the entry of their children to primary school and so on. Those children have also been through a great deal of trauma. A whole range of wrap-around services are required. There will be significant challenges because this is the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War. The United Nations has published extraordinarily shocking figures on the numbers of people displaced internally and those who have fled Ukraine. As we speak, close to 5 million people have moved to other countries in Europe. Those displaced internally could number approximately 8 million. These are frightening figures of terror, trauma, death and destruction.

We simply have to do everything we can to respond. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is leading that response in terms of the pledges and so on. Equally, public servants are working flat out and I want to pay tribute to them. They have been flat out for the past number of weeks procuring facilities and so forth. Individual pledges and the safeguards that have to go with them are far more time-consuming too. There is a balance that has to be struck between the two and they are working on that.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised Security Officers United, private security workers and issues of pay. I will talk to the Tánaiste about it but there are various labour relations mechanisms by which these issues can be improved upon.

Deputies Paul Murphy and Bacik raised the teachers' unions. In the social dialogue we are having with the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, we agreed we would explore the broad range of issues around inflation and the cost of living and that we would enter into exploratory talks with a view to having an inclusive strategic response to these issues that would be in the best interest of society as a whole. Obviously pay is an issue in that respect. In 2021, the average increase in pay was about 4.7% and in 2020 the average increase in pay was 5.2%. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has invited the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the public service unions to talks in respect of the existing agreement. That will commence.

On Deputy Bacik's point about the minimum wage, there is a process and procedure for that. We are best placed to stick with that but we will hear what people have to say in respect of presentations on it. There are established independent mechanisms to advise Government on general increases in the minimum wage.

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