Thursday, 15 December 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Broughan: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important matter. I also raised this issue yesterday with the Taoiseach. Earlier this week, Senator Tuffy and I met a large delegation of hauliers and drivers from Roadstone plc. These hauliers and drivers have contracts to deliver concrete blocks from the company’s facility in Belgard to construction sites in the Dublin region, including the massive new urban region being constructed in my constituency. More than 25 years ago, Roadstone took a decision to abandon direct employment of drivers and to turn them into self-employed contractors and hauliers. Senior drivers from that era were part of the recent delegation to the Oireachtas that met Labour Party representatives. It now appears, on spurious cost-cutting grounds, the company has bought a fleet of trucks and has brought in a new migrant workforce to drive them. The local workforce now finds that as the days and months go by, its services are requested less and less as the new workers work a six day week. Many of these men have young families, large mortgages and repayments on their vehicles. They are now being placed in a desperate situation. Their valuable experience and local knowledge of the Irish distribution system is effectively being cast aside and they are very fearful for their families’ futures. As several of them repeatedly stressed to Senator Tuffy and me, they welcomed the new workers when they arrived and assisted them with directions and so on around Dublin. However, anyone placed in a situation where his livelihood and family is threatened, might feel opposed to the introduction of foreign workers on those grounds.
Mr. Jim Farrell of Roadstone PLC contacted me a few minutes ago and informed me that the new workers are paid Irish wage rates and that they have good conditions and are unionised. Mr. Farrell effectively threatened me not to come into the House and raise this issue. I find that a very sinister development. As Members know, it is our absolute right, given by the electorate, to come into the House and give our opinions about any subject we feel needs to be aired. It is my duty, as it was the duty of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle throughout his long great career, to stand up for the rights of workers who were in difficulties. The fears and concerns of the local workforce I met last Tuesday were palpable. They really believe they are being phased out. The recent Irish Ferries struggle has highlighted the widespread phenomenon of the displacement of Irish workers across the economy, often replaced by lower paid workers from abroad. Besides the maritime and construction areas, we have had similar reports from the hospitality industry, the retail distribution industry and across food processing, fishing and farming.
The Taoiseach, the president of SIPTU and the general secretary of ICTU have all said that if we are to have a new social partnership, we must come up with some approaches to regulating the treatment of our migrant workers to ensure that they get decent wages and conditions and to ensure that there is no simple replacement of experienced, decent, hard working Irish workers by a new workforce, allegedly at lower rates of pay. This must be a key concern in any forthcoming talks in social partnership. I would expect the Minister of State, who is from a similar background to many of us, to take a strong stand to ensure that Irish workers are not treated badly and do not end up fearful for their jobs.
Mr. Killeen: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and for taking very seriously the points he made regarding the approaches made to him. Ireland is now part of a closely integrated European labour market. On the occasion of the most recent enlargement of the EU in May 2004, the Government decided that, because of the very buoyant economy and the continuing need for labour force participants from overseas, the Irish labour market should be fully opened to nationals from the new member states. A corollary of this was that the number of new work permits issued for non-EU nationals has been reduced very significantly since EU enlargement. Irish employers are now free to hire personnel from any of the 25 member states and Irish workers are free to seek employment elsewhere in the European Union on the same basis.
This economy remains very buoyant and there are plenty of opportunities here for Irish and other EU workers. We continue to enjoy what is, effectively, full employment. The existence of a large labour market is one factor helping to attract high-quality investment from abroad, which is essential for the continuing modernisation of the economy and the related opportunities for young people coming into the labour market. We already have a comprehensive body of employment rights legislation which has among its objectives the protection of employees against arbitrary behaviour by employers. Usually, one would expect the composition of a workforce to reflect the broad population of the local catchment area, provided appropriate personnel are available for the specific vacancies arising. However, as far as Ireland is concerned there is now an EU labour market and nationals of other member states have the same right and freedom to come and work in Ireland as do Irish nationals. Accordingly, employers can choose to hire such workers without regard to nationality. It is important that this be appreciated.
I view with great concern the potential social implications of the displacement of workers on established conditions in favour of those willing to do the same jobs on much poorer conditions. The Taoiseach is on record as stating that we want to see greater productivity and enhanced competitiveness based on new products and services, up-skilling of staff, new work practices and technological innovation. We do not want to see people building competitive advantage based on poor wages, casualisation of labour, low health and safety standards or other poor compliance practices. EU workers coming to work in Ireland under a contract of employment are covered by EU Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services. These workers have the same protection under Irish employment rights legislation as their Irish counterparts.
However, a recent development, not just confined to Ireland, has occurred whereby workers from Eastern Europe are being recruited on the basis of a contract for service, that is, on a self-employed basis. In such circumstances, Irish legislation protecting employees would not apply, as entitlements under such legislation are based on the premise of an employment relationship between an employee and an employer on a contract of service basis. It may be the case that some hauliers from overseas are on a contract for service, that is, on a self-employed basis, as are some Irish hauliers. Any company in Ireland is free to hire whomever it chooses, be it as an employee on a contract of service or on a sub-contract basis, that is, contract for service. This also applies to Irish personnel. Unless the law is being flouted or unless there are abuses of employment rights, there is no basis for the State to interfere in the affairs of private sector companies or to seek to dictate who they might employ from inside the EU, or the amount of business they might give to sub-contractors.
In the light of what I have said, it is important for all workers coming to Ireland to clarify the status of their employment relationship in Ireland for employment rights, social welfare and taxation purposes. I appreciate that the issues arising here are sensitive in light of recent developments in the economy and consequently are likely to come up for consideration in any forthcoming social partnership talks.
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