Wednesday, 26 November 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Perry: Sunday trading on a large scale by giants in the trade has serious implications for the survival of the grocery industry. The scale of the Tesco-Quinnsworth organisation with a turnover of £13 billion, which is over three times the size of the entire grocery market and 20 times the size of its nearest competitor, is something about which everyone in the grocery trade is concerned.
Sunday trading by multiples has major implications for a number of people, not only employees but those who service the trade. Suppliers will be obliged to deliver on Sundays, especially in the fresh fruit product area of the grocery trade, which demands daily delivery.
Sunday trading will bring cleaners into the framework who will be obliged to work. The whole fabrication of the Irish grocery trade involves a large number of people. Sunday trading by the giants will affect much of the trade throughout the country. In recent years business people have invested heavily in the fabrication of trade in small towns and villages. Given that this provides a major infrastructure, it would be a pity if that investment was threatened by the arrival of the giants in the bigger centres.
Sunday trading has further implications. In shopping centres where there is an anchor tenant the smaller units are forced to open even though they have no wish to do so. Given the development of the grocery trade, legislation is needed to ensure the survival of the trade as we approach the new millennium. In the past many business people invested heavily whether in farming or tourism. While welcoming competition it is important to ensure that Tesco honours its obligations to the trade by safeguarding jobs not only at the retail but at the manufacturing end.
Sunday opening will add to the viability and profitability of a multinational. It will have severe implications also given that many have off-licences within their operation where there are restricted hours of operation. There is a necessity for a retailer in a small town to open on a Sunday since he is providing a service. There is no comparison between a privately owned company and a multinational, such as the Tesco-Quinnsworth Group. We must be careful to protect the privately owned company and ensure its growth. Legislation is needed in respect of several areas, below cost selling and Sunday trading. This whole issue needs to be closely examined.
Mr. G. Reynolds: I wish to make two points on the Bill which the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, introduced in Opposition. I appreciate the reasons behind the Bill. Not alone do workers need protection, small family run businesses all over the country need protection from Sunday trading. In England hypermarkets have been brought in and are putting small companies out  of business. They are selling petrol at cost price and taking customers from a 40 mile radius which is proving detrimental for the small towns and villages in England.
Great Britain allows Sunday trading only on a certain number of Sundays in the year. This is something we have to contemplate as legislators. I ask the Minister when considering the protection of workers, who should have the choice whether to work on Sunday, to protect the family run businesses who have been the backbone of small communities since the foundation of the State.
Last night I raised the question of revaluations in small businesses. The Minister for Finance told me that £380 million was received in rates last year from small business. This is a sizeable portion of Exchequer funding which is provided by that sector. When introducing legislation will the Minister consider allowing Sunday trading on only a certain number of Sundays in the year given that small businesses cannot compete?
Mr. Ardagh: Under an order made under the Shops (Hours of Trading) Act, 1938, there is no restriction on Sunday trading. Gradually over the years businesses have opened on Sunday, beginning with late opening on Thursdays and Fridays before Christmas and about ten years ago Sunday opening before Christmas. This phenomenon has developed and has become the norm. The consumer expects to be able to shop on a Sunday and the market is driven by what the consumer wants. That is the reality.
The Labour Party is hoping to checkmate the Minister by reintroducing his Bill and back him into a corner but he has done his homework. He understands that Governments cannot legislate for everything in a constitutional democracy. The purpose of good Government is also to direct and protect the people. The electorate sets its own standards.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, has set out the path he is taking. He has already met representatives of IBEC and ICTU to review the position on Sunday trading. He firmly believes, as I do, that the partnership approach and consensus is the correct one. There are many reasons Sunday trading has developed in our society.
In many families the husband and wife are employed outside the home. Previously, the working wife was restricted to foregoing her lunch hour to shop piecemeal for her family. With Sunday trading the pressure is taken off the wife and mother. She can do her shopping with the help of the entire family on Sundays. Sunday is the only day families have to shop together, buy clothes for the children, do the week's grocery shopping and time to weigh the pros and cons of  major household purchases. We have all done this. Valuable quality time is spent with children teaching them the value of money and the art of shopping.
Consumers now take Sunday trading for granted. They like the flexibility of being able to spend their free time at weekends shopping in a leisurely fashion. People like to browse through the new shopping malls and enjoy the ambience. They appreciate and admire the physical evidence of the Celtic tiger. They have time to enjoy and appreciate the city centre and bring much needed revenue to traders. They keep the city centre alive at weekends.
Mr. Ardagh: A worker is entitled to time off. Some people like to work on Sundays and avail of increased remuneration and to take their time off during the week. The Government cannot and should not interfere with the right of people to choose when they will work and the number of hours they will work. The workforce has responded to the demands of the market and, in general, chooses to work on Sundays.
There is a danger that legislative restrictions on workers could extend to the private sector. Many small business entrepreneurs, particularly when starting up, work all the hours God sends to make a success of their business. The Government cannot and should not impede the entrepreneur.
Other businesses such as banks and building societies have responded to consumer demands and extended their hours of opening. It is not all that long ago when banks barely opened for a couple of hours in the morning and closed early. They offered little service to the public but as the public demanded more and better service the banks responded and now open all day and, given the least encouragement, would be willing to open their doors on Sundays. They already carry on business on Sundays as every department store and shopping mall has bank card outlets.
Many shops have gradually extended their opening hours during the week. Most supermarkets now open until 7 p.m. every night with late night opening on Thursdays and Fridays. The staff choose to work these hours. Some would argue that these extended hours interfere with their leisure activities and that Sunday trading infringes on their lifestyle. This is not so. People have a right to choose whether to work from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday or to vary their hours of work and the days they work to suit their own circumstances. We do not want employers, employees and owners of businesses to be dictated to by the State and told for how long and  for how many hours per day or week they can work. We live in a democracy.
People have chosen to trade on Sundays. The consumer is delighted with the flexibility and the availability of services on Sundays. It is the market that dictates. The choice rests with the people. If employees agree to work on Sundays they must be compensated.
Mr. Ardagh: As the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, outlined the matter will be discussed with the unions involved. He firmly believes the unions are aware that consumer demands must be accommodated and workers must be properly remunerated.
Employees in other sectors work on Sundays. Hospital employees, airline staff, gardaí and other groups provide a service to the public on Sundays. Their unions have negotiated terms and conditions acceptable to them. The Minister of State expects that he will be able to do the same with MANDATE and ICTU. The unions must also respond to consumer demands. The idea of flexible working hours is not novel. Workers can avail of job-sharing and flexi-time arrangements. Many civil servants start work and leave their desks early but that is a matter for another day.
Mr. C. Lenihan: I was slightly disappointed that Deputy Broughan made the remark while my colleague, Deputy Ardagh, was speaking that we should copy what the British have done. That  kind of attitude got us nowhere in the past. If we had adopted the Thatcherite or far left model espoused in Britain the economy would not now be described as the Celtic tiger. Its success has been based on low inflation, competitiveness, fiscal rectitude and prudent management of the national finances by my party and others.
Deputy Broughan, who is a masterful tactician, has achieved a unique double in recent weeks. He not alone backed the right candidate in the Labour Party leadership stakes but has managed to reintroduce a Bill with little effort in which he did not have to insert a single comma. As we are all aware, it was introduced by my party colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, some months ago when in Opposition.
Mr. C. Lenihan: In opening the debate, Deputy Broughan, in a unique contribution, used rather lurid language. He claimed that the Government has betrayed the retail worker. That is an exaggerated claim and out of context.
Competition is the lifeblood of trade in industry. Our economic success has been based as much on competition in the retail sector as on prudent management of the national finances. Competition in the retail sector has helped to bring about the low inflation environment we now enjoy. It is this more than anything else that is driving the Celtic tiger. UK multiples have invested in retail outlets here. This has contributed to our success——
Mr. C. Lenihan: ——and been to everyone's benefit, worker and employee alike. There is no question of the Dáil rolling back this achievement as this is a small open economy in a global trading environment. It is against this backdrop that we must look at banning or circumscribing Sunday trading.
Mr. C. Lenihan: As I remember the debate in the United Kingdom on this issue, there were zealots ranged on the business, religious and political fronts. These debates should take second place to the basic, fundamental economic sense of the circumstances in which we now find ourselves in the modern world. People's lifestyles have changed. There is now no room for religious, economic or political zealotry on an issue such as Sunday trading. The reality is that the public has voted; when you enter a shopping mall or corner shop on any Sunday you see the public voting with their feet, going into the shops and spending money.
Mr. C. Lenihan: We must recognise reality as it obtains within society. People want Sunday shopping and the choice it affords them. Some people work difficult hours during the week and others over the weekend. I and my wife are in the lucky position of both being in the workforce and find Sunday shopping of benefit. We are hardworking, endeavouring to make a living during the week, so it is good to be able to shop on Sunday.
In no sense am I saying that Sunday shopping should be at the expense of the worker. If Deputy Broughan had a little patience and gave me a decent hearing he would realise I am much closer to his position than he might imagine. We must be extremely careful that Sunday shopping does not become a tool in the hands of greedy entrepreneurs, retailers, capitalists, call them what you like, with which to exploit the workforce. As Deputy Broughan rightly said, a great many of my constituents find themselves in that position. Many of them raised this issue with me both before and in the course of the last general election, particularly those working in the Dunnes Stores retailing chain, who felt they were being abused by their management trying to enforce certain conditions on them. I agree with Deputy Broughan that we cannot allow Sunday shopping to become something to which workers are subjected. Workers must not be forced to step on a treadmill on which they do not want to embark.
Mr. C. Lenihan: I am not on the fence, I am simply outlining the facts as I find them. Workers' protection is very important in these circumstances, in which respect Deputy Broughan's Bill is indeed laudable.
Mr. C. Lenihan: I find precious little within it with which to disagree because it is only correct and proper that we protect workers and their employment conditions. Conceptually it is only right that we should protect workers in the context of the realities obtaining within our modern day economy because one cannot fly in the face of economic reality. Unfortunately, certain parties endeavoured to do so for years. I am glad to say that formerly the Labour Party was one of those but is now catching up. Its new Leader, Deputy Quinn, probably will make a great contribution in this respect in bringing his party face to face with the realities of a modern economy, which are that one cannot rule out competition and any attempt to do so would be just as wrong as exploiting the worker.
However, therein lies the dilemma facing the Minister of State who, rightly or wrongly, when in Opposition introduced virtually the same Bill as the one now before us. What Deputy Broughan proposes is quite unique in this respect in that he is offering to replicate the same mistake. It seems somewhat strange that he should be doing so, since we have had the courage to acknowledge we made a mistake.
Mr. C. Lenihan: That is a sin of which Deputy Broughan might well be accused in future years, over-enthusiasm in Opposition. The point I am making is that we are now a party in Government, as was the Labour Party. I do not foresee it being very long before Labour is back in power, perhaps with ourselves or with another party, when it will have to confront the reality of a modern economy and do precisely the same as the Minister of State is now doing.
While in Government had the Minister of State introduced the Bill he did in Opposition it would fly in the face of the delicate, careful process of social partnership established here which has brought this country, economy and the workforce about which Deputy Broughan speaks a long way, guaranteeing social and economic progress which would have been quite unimaginable some 20 or 30 years ago. Yet Deputy Broughan is now saying we should upset that process. The Minister of State is initiating a dialogue with the social partners on this very vital issue.
Mr. C. Lenihan: That social partnership has been one of the cornerstones of our economic success, begun in 1987 when former Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, began that dialogue. The negotiation of a unique social partnership between trade unions and employers was not an idea that emanated from the Labour Party——
Mr. C. Lenihan: ——but rather from Fianna Fáil. If it emanated from the labour movement, it is remarkable that its political running dogs in the Labour Party did not choose to do so before since they had ample opportunity when in Government with former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret Fitzgerald. Fianna Fáil delivered on that as a minority Government, not under pressure from any Coalition colleague of any kind. The process of social partnership was a unique creation of Fianna Fáil in Government.
Having said that, the Minister of State has sensibly decided to consult all the social partners in this regard. I accused Deputy Broughan of over-enthusiasm in Opposition. He is even running ahead of the trade unions some of whose workers who could be most directly affected by this Bill are not as anxious as Deputy Broughan to see them implemented.
Mr. C. Lenihan: We have an obligation to the workforce which we are meeting through the process of social partnership. When Deputy Broughan is afforded the opportunity early in December to examine the budget presented by the Minister for Finance he will see yet again how we intend to look after our workforce——
Mr. C. Lenihan: ——by guaranteeing the stable economic environment which has allowed unique circumstances to develop in this country in which our rate of inflation and interest rates are among the lowest in Europe. That is the principal achievement of the process of social partnership. It has also guaranteed workers' rights and copperfastened some of them over the years. That process will be continued. The Minister of State has undertaken to consult everybody to the maximum extent, without prejudice, including employers and employees on this issue.
Mr. C. Lenihan: Yes and, as I and the Minister have acknowledged, like Deputy Broughan this evening the Minister of State was then guilty of over-enthusiasm. That is not a major political offence or one that would call for the kind of exaggerated language used by Deputy Broughan in presenting this Bill. There has not been any major betrayal of workers in the retailing sector resulting from the Minister of State's sensible change of mind.
Mr. C. Lenihan: There is an element of zealotry in this overall issue. As Churchill said about Ulster —“the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone”— anybody who has shopped in the North will know how dull an experience is Sunday closure there. We are not for Sunday closure, rather for Sunday opening and, ultimately, will guarantee the rights of the workforce.
Mr. Fleming: I want to place on record that I fully support the approach being adopted by the Minister of State in endeavouring to seek a solution to this issue through partnership, dialogue and consensus. It is my firm belief that any agreement voluntarily entered into between the parties will be far superior to any forced on them by law and should be our approach to this issue. Our industrial relations over many decades have been underpinned by a strong voluntary tradition, brought about through social consensus rather than based heavily on legislation. Over the past decade we have had the Programme for National Recovery, the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and now Partnership 2000, all of which have wrought outstanding changes in our economy and benefits to all employees, achieved through consultation, dialogue and partnership rather than through any enforcement of legislation.
Neither is it any coincidence that, over the past ten years, there has been a remarkably low number of man days lost due to strikes, again due mainly to social partnership rather than to any legislative provisions, and should be the basis on which we continue.
The Bill is well intentioned but why does it deal only with shops? I fault any Bill that is so narrow in its focus. We should not deal with these matters on a piecemeal basis. We all use hotels, pubs and restaurants on Sundays. We buy newspapers, put petrol in our cars, use the telephone, watch television, go to the cinema or to sporting events and engage in many other activities on Sundays, and people have to work to provide these services for us. It is a misnomer, therefore, to try to restrict people's activities on Sundays.
 I note in particular that the Bill does not apply to an employee who is normally expected to work for less than eight hours per week. I am concerned that section might be abused and result in large numbers of weekend workers being employed, which would be unsatisfactory.
A wider debate on Sunday activities is necessary. There is no restriction in the Bill on family members working seven days per week to make their living. The Bill runs the risk of bringing about over-regulation. Some constitutional difficulties also arise with which I have a major problem. We should not rush into passing an amendment to overcome those difficulties; we have had enough of those in the past. We must seek a balance between the rights of employers and employees. The views of consumers must be taken into account in this legislation. We do not want to make a farce of Sunday trading by restricting opening hours as we did with pubs.
Many small shops need to extend their opening hours late into the night and on Sundays to maintain their market share. Small shops in rural areas now have to remain open throughout the weekend to maintain their businesses because business has a tendency to drift into the larger towns. That is the only way many convenience shops in small villages will remain open.
Mr. McGuinness: I compliment the Minister on introducing this Bill while in Opposition and expressing the view now that further consultation is needed with everybody concerned. I was reared in a family that owned a small shop and I understand the difficulties of trading on Sunday. I also understand the difficulties faced by employees and the need to regularise their entitlements and compensation for Sunday work. I recommend to the Minister that further extensive consultations should take place.
The corner shop, with which I am all too familiar, provided a service in the past and the owners of such shops deserve to be consulted on this issue as there are wide implications for that group. In addition to providing goods for sale, family shops in the past provided a seven day service from 7 a.m. until 12 midnight. The shop owners received little or no compensation for their hard work despite the fact that they provided a type of social service and confessional, and they were always open on Sundays. As a result of competition, many shop owners had to employ family members and, thereafter, people outside the family to ensure there was sufficient staff to keep the shops open seven days per week. More often than not, Sunday was the best day of trading.
These shops, which played a vital role in the development of communities, are now a dying breed. Because of the implications of Sunday  trading, this group of operators in the market must be consulted and their views taken into consideration. The employees who work in these shops must be consulted and their rights upheld.
The corner shop has now been replaced in the centre of the marketplace by the large multiples around which has grown a number of smaller speciality shops which are now piggybacking on the volume of support enjoyed by the multiples in every location. This is another group that must be consulted because these shops also open for long hours. They run the risk of tight margins and trade seven days per week, but they too must survive. They should be consulted just like the family grocers or corner shop owners because they have staff implications also.
I acknowledge that employees of the multiples have rights relative to Sunday trading which must be recognised and upheld, but so too must the difference between an employee of a multiple and an employee of a traditional corner shop. There is a world of difference between the two operations.
It is the general public who demand Sunday trading. The general public wants a seven day per week service. If shoppers did not support Sunday trading, the multiples would not open. Because a seven day per week service is now part of our modern lifestyle, employees are required to work but their rights must be upheld.
Consultation must be inclusive. RGDATA, the trade unions, representatives of the multiples and the general public have to be consulted in an all-inclusive process. That is the only way we will find a solution. With consultation, however, we will discover that the problems are complex and not easily solved.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am pleased to support Deputy Broughan's Bill in the name of the Labour Party. I would like to take the opportunity to remind the House that when the then Deputy Tom Kitt introduced this Bill on 25 March 1997, authored by the MANDATE trade union, he placed it firmly in historical context. He stated:
From the days of Seán Lemass to the present day Fianna Fáil has continually provided for workers' protective legislation where it is required. This Bill, which has the support of MANDATE, is in line with my party's historical solidarity with workers since the foundation of the State.
Having thus wrapped himself in the tricolour and hoisted the red flag, Deputy Kitt went on to explain to the House that “Sunday working in the retail sector is synonymous with casualisation in the workplace”. Warming to his theme, Deputy  Kitt, the shop worker's friend, concluded as follows:
The continuance of the present trend is detrimental to the creation of well paid, secure jobs, both full-time and part-time, in the retail sector. The increasing casualisation of the trade in the absence of legislation will consign a further generation of workers, usually young females, to the uncertainty of temporary and casual employment for the foreseeable future.
The shop workers need not have worried, however, because Deputy Kitt anticipated that when his Bill “becomes law, protection will be provided for those employed in retail outlets which trade on Sundays so that Sunday working will be optional as opposed to obligatory for those employees”. He went on to state: “The Bill will go some way towards bringing the level of protection here for Sunday working into line with the level among our European partners and provide some regulation of employment on what, traditionally, has been workers' one day off each week”. There was even better news to come. The then Government of which I was a member announced it would accept the Bill introduced by Deputy Kitt and it was agreed to proceed to the next Stage.
Mr. Rabbitte: However, the then Deputy Kitt was critical and commented at length on my role in persuading my then Government colleagues to accept the Bill. He accused me “of galloping into town Clint Eastwood style and riding roughshod over the Minister of State, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald”. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, should know that there are two 1939 Acts, one that deals with hours of work and the other with opening hours. The Minister with responsibility for commerce deals with one and the Minister with responsibility for labour affairs deals with the other. I took the view then and do so now that, irrespective of any social partnership considerations, a voluntary opt out of Sunday working was a reasonable demand from the workers concerned. Because of the good working relationship I had with the former Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald, I was able to get her agreement to allow the Bill introduced by Deputy Kitt to go to Committee Stage.
On 25 March 1997 we had a new clean cut hero of the working class, invoking the support of MANDATE trade union and the pedigree of Seán Lemass, in his fight for voluntary working on Sunday. In addition, not least because of my efforts, Deputy Kitt had Government assent and, to crown his achievement, he got a different mandate from the electorate when he became Minister of State responsible for this area. Imagine the celebrations in Cavendish Row when their very own Steve Silvermint was ensconced in Government  with a Bill in his briefcase authored by MANDATE and introduced in the House. For long suffering retail workers it seemed the end to compulsory Sunday working, but those gallant MANDATE members did not know they were dealing with Fianna Fáil and its double dealing Minister of State, Deputy Kitt.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Minister of State is creating a first in Dáil Éireann, he will oppose his own Bill. If there were premature celebrations in MANDATE headquarters on the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt's accession to office, imagine the mood in Kildare Street. Excellent officials who had worked with the assiduous Minister of State, Deputy Fitzgerald, in enacting the Organisation of Working Time Bill, 1997, were now required to come up with a fig leaf to conceal why the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, did not believe a word of what he told the House and MANDATE on 25 March 1997. Knowing the dedication and creativity, as I do, of the officials in Kildare Street I greatly look forward to the damage limitation exercise that I expect them to mount in defence of the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, but the task is beyond them. Nothing can be done for the Minister of State — he is too far gone. One cannot advocate a Bill in March, oppose the same Bill in November and maintain any credibility.
Mr. Rabbitte: I dealt with Deputy Conor Lenihan yesterday and I do not like to engage in baby seal clubbing twice in a row. The best the officials have managed in the Minister of State's script is that “on reflection [not even on mature reflection] the Organisation of Working Time Bill enacted by Eithne Fitzgerald is a much better Bill than Deputy Kitt thought it was. It is a delicate balance of differing concessions to both social partners”. In other words, the Minister of State did not and does not know what he is talking about. His Bill was introduced to coincide with and, as a response to, a limitation identified by the MANDATE trade union in the otherwise excellent Organisation of Working Time Bill then being enacted. At the time, the Government accepted the point identified by MANDATE as expressed in the Bill introduced by Deputy Kitt. Now that Bill is to commit suicide before the eyes of its author. That must be a bitter experience for MANDATE trade unionists and if this represents, as Deputy Kitt argued on 25 March, Fianna Fáil's “historical solidarity with workers” shop workers must wonder if they can do without that kind of solidarity. In this excruciatingly embarrassing experience for the Minister of State, I wish to quote his new found colleague,  the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, who said on 25 March 1997, “Legislation produced by my party is so well drafted and thought out that the Government must accept it”. I submit the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, lacks what the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, suggested.
Mr. Stagg: The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, is an honourable man. The Bill published by the then Deputy Kitt in November 1996 was a genuine attempt to improve the quality of life of the many workers who feel strongly about this issue. However, he has been set up. The Taoiseach and the deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy O'Rourke, who accompanied Deputy Kitt when he launched the Bill, have left him high and dry. Despite the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt's pleading with his Whip to accept this Bill, as the previous Government did, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Enterprise have left him at the mercy of the Tánaiste, whose views about even the most minimal of labour market regulations are well known. We now know who is the boss in that Department.
Mr. Stagg: Since this Government came into office it has done more to debase politics than any collection of political commentators could do. Its members went before the people in June on an election manifesto which the public was at least entitled to expect they would attempt to implement. Since then we have had nothing but U-turns. I will list them in case the public is unaware of what has happened since June. Mandatory reporting has been abandoned; zero tolerance has been forgotten; the steam which epitomised the Minister for Justice, Deputy O'Donoghue, in Opposition has turned into hot air; the public spending controls promised by the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, thankfully have been abandoned; the strategy on the 10 per cent corporation tax has been abandoned; the campaign against Sellafield has been abandoned; the extension of higher education grants to PLC students has been forgotten; and the Government has been compelled to act on public service pensions as a result of a Labour Party Private Members' Bill.
The much vaunted relaunching of Fianna Fáil in the run up to the last election was only a smokescreen. It was an attempt to persuade the public that it had changed, a perception the public in part accepted but one without any basis in reality. That deception is best manifested in the proposals of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to change the rules of the electoral game to suit Fianna Fáil once the electorate had voted. Not only is he prepared to reverse measures aimed at eliminating the brown paper bag culture in Irish politics but he has returned to that old Fianna Fáil chestnut of attempting to change the electoral system to suit that party, even though such  change has been rejected twice in the past by the people. However, even by those low standards what we are witnessing this evening is scandalous.
This Bill is not perfect despite the then Deputy Kitt's absolute conviction that it was. We concede it requires amendment and more careful consideration. That is why the previous Government referred it to a committee, but the Government's decision not to restore the Bill to the Order Paper and to vote down the Labour Party's efforts to have it re-entered makes liars out of those who supported the Bill before the election.
The Bill represents only one part of a commitment to Sunday workers made by Deputy Kitt, prior to the election. As Deputy Broughan stated yesterday, a referendum to overcome the obstacles to a full ban on Sunday trading by large multiples identified by the previous Attorney General was also promised by Deputy Kitt, but he has been told he cannot even expect to fulfil the lesser of the two commitments given to workers. That is Fianna Fáil duplicity of the highest order.
The Members opposite have a chance tonight to redeem themselves in the eyes of the electorate and the workers involved in this issue. I do not envy them the decision they have to make. Those people to whom they made promises are in the Public Gallery. They know what was said to them by members of Fianna Fáil and they will expect them to fulfil those promises. One would have thought that is not an unreasonable expectation. I commend the Bill to the House.
Ms Shortall: In recent years the country has experienced a period of unprecedented economic growth which has led to an increase in consumer activity. The spending power of the public has been greatly enhanced and many shops have responded to the commercial upswing with seven day trading. However, if a large number of shops decide to open on Sundays, it is doubtful there will be an advantage to any shop owners. Ultimately, there is only so much money to go round and even if there is widespread Sunday opening, it is irrelevant whether there are six or seven days in which to spend it.
We are increasingly under pressure to shop just because shops are open. It is convenient to be able to catch up on shopping on a Sunday. However, the danger is that Sunday will become the same as any other day. Consumers can choose to avoid shopping. However, shop workers have no choice but to put up with commercialism seven days a week. It is not in our interest as consumers to have seven days shopping. There are strong arguments for having a break in commercial activity. Do we really want to be bombarded seven days a week with non stop messages of how and where to spend? We need a break from the non stop materialism which in many ways defines our working week. We need to distinguish between weekdays and Sundays.
Traditionally, Sunday is a day of rest which people spend with their families. I understand it is almost impossible to differentiate in law between  corner shops and large multiples and in the long-term, there are strong social arguments for imposing a total ban on Sunday trading. A full working Sunday at the expense of family life is not acceptable. Women, who constitute the majority of shop workers, and men are undoubtedly missing out on essential family time. People have a basic right to time with their children and partners. They also have a basic right to time to themselves. If there is no break in the working week, one week merges with the next and this imposes considerable personal strain on workers.
Most people work a five day week, Monday to Friday, and this coincides with the time children are in school. There is, therefore, a structure to the week and the weekend. However, Sunday workers have no such luxury. Sunday is the only day on which children can catch up with parents, couples can spend time together and family activities can be organised. Undoubtedly, when Sunday is lost to work, a family day is lost. There is no other chance to catch up on that family time. Critically, the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill gives workers a choice in this matter and puts considerable requirements on employers. It allows workers to decide how their Sunday should be spent and confers basic rights on workers, protecting those who work on Sunday and those who opt not to work on Sundays. I take great pleasure in supporting the Bill.
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: I am delighted to contribute to the debate on the Bill introduced by my party colleague, Deputy Broughan. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, whose Bill was accepted by the previous Government, is of the view that it is still relevant. However, he obviously lost the argument in his party and the Government. What role did the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney — the Minister of State's superior — play in this decision?
Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin: All the Bill seeks to do is to give employees an opt out from Sunday working. It goes one step further than the Organisation  of Working Time Act, introduced by my party colleague, former Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald. This ensured that workers whose contract necessitated work on Sunday received a premium payment for it.
It is correct to go one step further on this issue. While the Constitution alludes to the importance of the family and its basic responsibility for children, the House has only in recent years begun to debate the difficulties facing families in modern Ireland. I welcome that development. The Bill provides an opportunity to cement one aspect of families' rights, which is, if they so choose, to be able to spend one day together.
Deputy Broughan was correct when he said last night that many families need the money brought in by working on Sundays and they have little choice but to pursue that option. However, on balance, this is bad for society as a whole. The truth is that the only way we can vindicate a worker's right to spend time with his or her family on a Sunday is to make illegal any measure which would compulsorily force workers to work on Sundays.
During the debate on the previous Bill in the last Dáil, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, alluded to his party's track record on vindicating workers' rights. We could debate that at length. Fianna Fáil's record in this area does not stand up well. However, I am sure some Members on the Government benches support the measures in the Bill. The Labour Party is now giving them an opportunity to vote for a Bill which many of them support and which they voted for in good faith last March. They are aware the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, has been shafted on this occasion and if they are seriously interested in assisting workers in this area, they must vote for the Bill tonight. As Deputy Broughan said, workers are coming under increasing pressure to give up their Sundays. This is confirmed by the continued industrial relations difficulties on this issue. Given the trend in the retail sector, that pressure will worsen.
The Bill seeks to give workers an opportunity to reassert their rights. Many workers, particularly the young who have no family responsibilities, may not choose to exercise this right and that is their prerogative. However, the Bill does not seek to make Sunday working illegal. It deals with choice. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, should be commended for recognising that point in the original framing of his Bill.
This Bill allows for the appropriate exclusion of family enterprises and short-term employees. It is not a draconian measure. I do not understand why the Government will not accept the Bill and refer it to a committee. I do not doubt it contains flaws but that is the case with all Bills introduced in the House. The only conclusion I can draw from the Government's decision is that it is opposed to the principle of the Bill. However, I suspect that opinion is not shared by many Government backbenchers and I call on them to  exercise their muscles tonight and vote for Deputy Broughan's Bill.
Dr. Upton: I compliment my colleague, Deputy Broughan, for introducing the Bill. I also extend warm compliments to the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, for his excellent work in drafting the Bill while in Opposition. I extend to him my deepest appreciation for his work. He set the framework for this fine legislation which would greatly enhance the lives and welfare of many people who are forced against their will to work on Sundays.
Dr. Upton: That the Minister of State is about to destroy his masterpiece must upset the representatives of MANDATE to whom he spoke with such sympathy and understanding when he and a number of Labour Party Deputies met them in Wynn's Hotel just before the last Government fell. I am bewildered by Fianna Fáil's attitude to this matter. However, it is in close accord with the attitude the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, took when he was in Opposition and the way he has been transformed since he went into Government. This is of much the same standard which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has set for us. I set the O'Donoghue scale at the order of eight or nine equivalent to the old earthquake scale. I give it a rating of nine O'Donoghue units, the ultimate standard having been set by the Minister.
It must erode the confidence of people in the political system to see such an about turn over in a short space of time. One accepts that time moves on, circumstances change, etc., but there was no change of any substance between the time we met MANDATE representatives and they put their concerns to us and now. It is an appalling piece of political opportunism as the Minister of State walks away from commitments. How can people take him and Fianna Fáil seriously when they behave in this manner? How could people have respect for what politicians say in Opposition when they behave in this manner within such a short time of entering Government?
It is another fine example of how people's behaviour in Opposition visits them when they enter Government. It is important that the attitudes politicians adopt in Opposition are responsible and reasonable and can be sustained and vindicated in Government. We have seen an exhibition of the most appalling type of opportunism and tomfoolery from the Minister of State. Most ordinary, fair minded and decent people would find the Bill worthwhile as it seeks to deal with  the stress Sunday working places on people who are forced into it against their will.
As Deputy Moynihan-Cronin said, there is no obligation on people to work on Sunday and the Bill provides the opportunity for them to make the decision not to work that day and to have no deleterious implications attached to it. That is a reasonable and basic provision. The Bill will have important implications which were referred to by Deputy O'Shea last night when he spoke about the effects extended openings of multinational supermarkets on Sundays have for small traders. There is no doubt the grocery industry is consolidating into huge multinationals and I am not sure that is desirable. If this trend continues — and there is considerable evidence of its expansion — the number of small traders will be reduced significantly.
Our basic concern must be for those who work in this industry and no one can dispute that, for many of them, the conditions and pay levels leave great scope for improvement. The Bill will make life easier for them by restoring the concept of people being entitled to a day off and the idea that Sunday is a day of rest. People would prefer the opportunity to enjoy themselves rather than being forced to work against their will with very little notice or opportunity to dissent. It is a great pity the Minister of State and the Government were seen to behave in the manner in which they did and it raises the most disturbing questions in regard to credibility in the political system. That is also an unfortunate aspect of recent events.
Mr. O'Flynn: I have been in the House for only a short while and have enjoyed Deputy Rabbitte's contributions. He is funny and articulate and I have no doubt that if he ever decides to leave politics there will be a job for him as a novel writer or screenwriter in a Hollywood studio.
Mr. O'Flynn: I read the Bill and the contributions. Some aspects are laudable and it is fully deserving of all party consensus but we should await the conclusion of current discussions with the social partners, such as IBEC and ICTU, and advocated by a Labour Party Minister in the last Administration.
Mr. O'Flynn: Some small employers cannot reach agreement with their staff and believe their businesses will not survive unless they open on Sundays. The employer and employee must be protected. It is a complex situation which requires a massive injection of negotiation and goodwill on both sides.
Mr. O'Flynn: Those who work on Sundays must be paid at the proper rate and those who work on bank holidays must also be appropriately recompensed. Certain people are anxious to avail of Sunday work for financial or personal reasons and must be accommodated while there are also those who have no interest in working on Sundays, wish to keep their weekends free and feel they need a break from their workplace. This is particularly true in the case of those raising young families.
Mr. O'Flynn: The wishes of those with differing aspirations have equal merit and must be respected. The idea of working on a Sunday would not have been entertained until recently and it is a sign of the times that we are debating Sunday retail opening in a totally open and non confrontational manner.
Mr. O'Flynn: In bygone days it would have inspired an outburst from even the most conservative bishops. They may not have threatened those who espoused the practice with excommunication but I am sure they would have thought of it. The idea would have been opposed tooth and nail by many of our parents and grandparents who believed the Sabbath was a day of rest but times have changed.
New shopping trends have emerged in the 1990s. The modern family needs and demands  flexible retail shopping hours. Everyone avails of Sunday shopping and we have come to regard it as standard practice. We cannot tell business people and companies that they cannot trade on Sundays. Market forces have determined and shaped the current practice of Sunday trading in large and small retail outlets and many businesses say that the additional shopping day is essential to their profitability while some say it is essential to their viability. Other business people hold the view that there is only a certain amount of money in circulation and shoppers just spread available money over seven days instead of six. There are similar differences in the perceptions of the staff.
We cannot turn back the clock as Sunday trading is with us and here to stay. The only way we can move forward is by agreement and consensus, we must continue to talk to the representatives of the employers and address the concerns of the trade unions representing the staff as any other approach would be neither desirable nor realistic.
Mr. O'Flynn: It would be wrong of the Minister to impose a solution in legislation on which there was not consensus or consultation. This would be bad for our social partnership, something we built on in the last Government and which has been built on over a number of years. It might suit Deputy Broughan who represents one of the social partners, but it would not suit all of the social partners. This code of practice can be the base for any legislation which is deemed to be necessary in the future.
Last night Deputy Broughan said that the Bill being introduced at the time by the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, when he was in Opposition would have been passed into law by the Dáil if a general election had not been called by the Government. This is not the case because in responding to the Second Stage of the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1996, the Deputy's party colleague and then Minister of State, Eithne Fitzgerald, stated that the details of the Bill needed to be explored in a more mature, balanced and considered manner——
Mr. O'Flynn: ——and would need to be discussed with the social partners and other interests. That is precisely what the Minister is doing. I said that I could support aspects of the Bill at the appropriate time. Everybody here is of like mind.
Mr. O'Flynn: The Bill as it stands is not workable. I am trying to give my views on this, and I hope that out of this tunnel will come the right  answer for all legislation that passes through this House. As this Bill is constituted, it would impose restrictions on the rights of employers and employees to freely contract with each other. For example, if an employer finds that none of his employees wishes to work on a Sunday it is normal for that employer to advertise for substitutes to take their place. This Bill would make it illegal to do so, with the exception of someone who never works more than eight hours in any one week. This would not be in the potential employee's interest nor would it be in the interest of the business itself which might fail, resulting in the loss of the jobs even of those employees in six-day jobs. The Bill, if passed, could create a legal quagmire, particularly for small shopkeepers.
I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, on his personal style in managing his brief. His successful use of dialogue and straight talking has brought about the introduction of a code of practice in the drinks industry in relation to alcopops just this week.
Mr. O'Flynn: The Minister wants to achieve similar success in relation to Sunday trading. That is the route we should go. If necessary, legislation can be brought in once consultation has taken place.
Mr. Quinn: The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, has been a member of Fianna Fáil for most of his adult life and, like his father before him, represents the great tradition that is Fianna Fáil throughout the country. However, he has added a new element to that tradition on which he might like to reflect. History shows that Mr. de Valera, who led that party for so long and was its dominant figure, ultimately ended up voting for the things he opposed at the outset. The Minister of State has introduced a new dimension by ending up opposing things he originally voted for. It adds to the extraordinary intellectual and political versatility and linguistic and political agility that we have come to expect from Fianna Fáil. However, he has done it with some style, and because of that he must be forgiven in part. He is being directed, no doubt, by a Cabinet decision not to accept a measure which he could very easily accept and admit to Committee Stage to deal with the issues Deputy Noel O'Flynn brought to our attention. There is no Bill that cannot be  improved on Committee Stage, no matter what side of the House it originates.
The present Government is walking down a very precarious road if it thinks that negotiation by agreement through the social partners is going to produce satisfactory results. If too much is put on the social partnership, by way of things for which agreement must be found, it will ultimately break the back of social partnership. It is obvious that this country has had its economic prospects and fortunes transformed by social partnership. Fianna Fáil made an honourable contribution to the re-establishment of social partnership in the mid-1980s. They did not have a monopoly on it, but they made an honourable contribution. We are now in our fourth agreement, two of which I, along with others, helped to negotiate.
There are issues arising in the social partnership that are incapable of being resolved by agreement because of the intransigence of the employers. One of those issues is the right of trade unions to be recognised to negotiate in certain workplaces, whether foreign owned or indigenously owned. There cannot be a partnership at national level if one side of the partnership at local level is shooting the other partner or putative partner in the foot. The Minister of State had a golden opportunity to build confidence by accepting this Bill at Second Stage and putting it into Committee Stage. We on this side of the House are realistic; we know that committee would not commence its work for some time into the new year, by which time some progress might have been made in the social partnership negotiations.
What we are looking for is not some shop by shop agreement that can be unilaterally torn up or abandoned by one or other side. We are looking for legislative rights for workers. If Deputy O'Flynn wishes to adopt the kind of approach that was prevalent 50 years ago, equal pay was subject to the agreement of employers; there is not a single right a worker has today that was conceded voluntarily in the course of negotiations and that could not be taken away once the next economic storm came. We want rights written into law, rights that reflect the proper balance between employer and employee. For most people in our society the only thing they have to sell is their labour. The only thing they have to bargain with is their ability to work. The history of our society is about the slow but relentless march of people to get rights to underpin their negotiating power. This is one small balanced step. We want to give workers the right not to be compelled to work on Sunday but to make it an obligation to give due and proper notice and to take into account the necessity for firms to provide a service on Sunday. There is no dispute about facilitating people's access to retail services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is the modern reality and many workers derive a benefit from it. However, this is not the issue. Rather it is the right not to be compelled to work on Sunday when one might have other obligations.
 The Minister is incapable of accepting that this right should be enshrined in law. He said we should see if employers agree to it but we know they will not. We also know what is happening in regard to the workforce in other areas of the economy. Employers, particularly small employers, are taking social partnership for granted.
We will not consolidate the extraordinary success of our society if we do not give real rights to the people who need them. The people we are talking about are not third level graduates with fancy degrees and a high capacity to earn a good salary in the marketplace. We are talking about people who in many cases are forced to earn additional income because the primary income in the home is not sufficient. We are talking in the main about young people and women who take up work outside the home to augment the family income. They are more vulnerable and intimidated and have less ability to sell their labour than others and characteristically they are part-time workers who for reasons of operational history have not been able to get the full force of the trade union labour movement behind them. School teachers and civil servants enjoy a monopoly in terms of their jobs and can exercise this through a trade union. However, as these workers cannot rely on the normal process of labour market negotiation and bargaining between the social partners for their rights they must depend on legislation. The Minister can give them these rights tonight by accepting this Bill. He wanted to do it in Opposition and his former constituency colleague agreed to accept his Bill in principle. What happened in the meantime?
Mr. Quinn: That process has been ongoing since the Minister introduced his Bill. Nothing has changed in terms of the principle or validity of the argument, other than that the Minister has moved from Opposition to Government. The promises he made in Wynn's Hotel to workers,  and which he cashed in on 6 June, are being torn up and thrown back in their faces.
I ask the Minister to accept the Bill in principle, after which we can work out the detail. We can also be informed by the dialogue of the social partners. However, if they do not agree we should tell them we will provide this right for workers in law. That is the test the Minister must pass.
Mr. Broughan: This is not a good night for the image of politics or the Minister, Deputy Kitt, who has effectively committed political hara-kiri on the work he undertook in Opposition. We strive to improve the image of politicians and to make their words their bond. Yet we are now faced with an appalling situation where a person who gave a pledge in regard to this matter last March is reneging on it.
In its newsletter MANDATE gave prominent coverage to the Minister's Bill on Sunday working. It stated: “Fianna Fáil's Tom Kitt, the party spokesperson on Labour Affairs, has published a Private Members' Bill.” It went on to elucidate the key principle of the Bill, voluntary working on Sunday. It is appalling that the Minister has totally reneged on his word.
There has been an unbelievable sequence of events since the Bill was published last November. The Minister told us in March that having consulted widely among the social partners, ICTU, IBEC, RGDATA etc., he decided the principle of voluntarism was the way forward in regard to Sunday working. During the debate on his Bill he castigated the rainbow Government and the then Minister, Eithne Fitzgerald, yet six months later he has reneged on every statement he made that night. This is an embarrassing climb-down by the Minister.
The way the Taoiseach pointed at us this morning when we raised this matter gave the impression that he had overruled the Minister and that he and his colleagues had decided not to allow him to come forward with the Bill. In view of this perhaps the Minister should consider his position. Is this a resignation matter? Not only was there reference to the Bill in the manifesto but the Minister introduced a carefully prepared Bill——
The Bill significantly advances the rights of some of the most vulnerable workers in society, mainly young people and women on short-term contracts. Those are the people the Minister has failed. Under sections 4 and 8 of his Bill he proposed to give them a basic protection, a voluntary opt-out from compulsory Sunday working.
The Minister's speech contained much waffle which I presume was written by the bureaucrats in his Department. According to it he suddenly saw the light in Government following some obscure consultations with the social partners. He effectively hid behind the former Minister, Eithne Fitzgerald, and spent most of his time rightly commending her for the advances she made in the Organisation of Working Time Act. She also accepted the Deputy's Bill and sent it to committee. Having returned to Government, the Minister outrageously abandoned the position he held in Opposition.
The Minister was reduced to giving background information, referring to the social partners and continued goodwill and using claptrap which I presume was written by officials in his Department. Does the Minister have another agenda?
I was impressed by the number of colleagues who spoke about the necessity of keeping Sunday a holy day, a family day, a traditional day of rest, a day when people have a chance to draw breath. We on this side of the House welcome the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1996. We are proud to reintroduce it and are appalled the Minister has reneged on his commitments. The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 74.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Browne, John (Wexford) .
de Valera, Síle.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
|Last Updated: 21/05/2011 02:21:03||Page of 117|