PMB Low Pay Commission 16 April 2015

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this motion.

In supporting the counter motion, there are five points I would like to make, to welcome the establishment of the low pay commission and also to welcome the increased focus that is to be placed on zero and low hours contracts, to congratulate those whose actions to date have placed a focus on zero hours contracts, to highlight this government’s commitment to protect workers’ rights in terms of restoring the cut to the national minimum wage and enacting legislation to protect temporary workers.

The establishment of the Low Pay Commission earlier this year as an independent body to make recommendations to Government is an important step in ensuring that the focus of this Government remains firmly on people and families working in low pay conditions and examining the repercussions that changes to the minimum wage will have both on those families and the wider national economy.

The issue of low and zero-hour contracts is currently in the news but it is only through the creation of this independent body that we can ensure that a focus will remain in the medium and long-term on this issue which determines the economic viability of so many families.

Of course, the establishment of the Low Pay Commission on an interim basis is important, but so too is other legislation being pursued by this Government, including legislation dealing with a replacement of the Registered Employment Agreements and the reform of the Industrial Relations Act.

The study of the prevalence of zero hour contracts which the University of Limerick is to embark upon is very welcome, because not only will it examine the prevalence of these contracts, it will also look at the impact of these contracts on employees and their families. It will cover a range of public and private sectors, with a focus on the retail, hospitality, health and education sectors.

Until we fully understand the prevalence of these contracts and the implications for employees, we cannot fully determine the proper legislative course to pursue and that is why increased knowledge and proper evidence must be our first goal.

Of course, it must be acknowledge that today’s debate is prompted by the dispute currently ongoing in Dunnes Stores. I note that the matter was referred to the Labour Court but Dunnes Stores did not attend the Court hearing, which is regrettable, as the expertise available in the Labour Court has helped resolve many thorny industrial relations issues in recent years.

People on zero-hour contracts are not in a good position when it comes to making a stand against an employer and I sincerely hope that the might of a retail giant such as Dunnes Stores is not pitted against any individual employees taking part in the current dispute.

Of course, this dispute raises a much wider issue, which is our awareness of the conditions under which various employees are working and the knock-on effect that our everyday choices have in terms of our fellow citizens. The retail sector in Ireland has at its very base the decisions made by ordinary householders every day and every week as to how they spend their hard-earned money. Supporting commercial giants who employ people on zero-hour contracts may not be in the long-term interest of Irish families whose children have to grow up and find employment in an ever-changing landscape.

The commitment of this Government in terms of low-wage workers is something which I think deserves greater focus. We have placed a rightful focus on job creation and the Action Plan for Jobs and I believe that the wider public is aware of that, but we also need to communicate our commitment to low-wage workers. The restoration of the cut to the national minimum wage was one very important step in this regard and made a significant difference to the lives of many low-paid workers. Legislation enacted in 2012 to protect temporary workers was another significant step. I know that next month we will be considering the Workplace Relations Bill, which should create a more streamlined workplace relations service and strengthen the hand of the Workplace Relations Commission in terms of Compliance Notices and Fixed Charge Notices.

In conclusion, I very much welcome the focus that has been placed on zero-hour contracts in recent weeks and months. Put simply, it is almost impossible to conduct a proper family life while working on such a contract.
We have heard of families that cannot apply for a car loan because there is no security of income, workers whose hours have been dramatically and drastically cut without explanation, people working part-time who are not qualifying for Jobseeker’s Allowance on a casual basis because they have to be available to work for their contracted employer on six days even though that may not result in any work or any pay.

Life just becomes unmanageable in such a situation and that why we need to first get the evidence in terms of prevalence and impact of these contracts and then take action. I believe that this Government has the will to take such action, but needs to take action based on proper evidence and I look forward to the publication of the work of the University of Limerick on the prevalence and impact of zero hour contracts.