Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill, 1993: Committee and Final Stages.

Wednesday, 15 December 1993

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 138 No. 14

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[1531] Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 3 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Section 3 covers occupational injuries, insurance and other optional contributions. The definition in this section of a “person engaged in share fishing” refers to “the gross earnings of the working of the vessel” in other words, the skipper gets a certain precentage of the gross earnings and the remainder is divided between the crew. Are their social welfare contributions assessed on their gross earnings?

If they are self employed, I understand they may pay extra contributions. The Minister said: “Share fishermen will also be entitled to unemployment benefit for up to 13 weeks in each calendar year.” Any self-employed person who pays contributions is entitled to this benefit.

The Minister also said that representatives of the fishing industry expressed concern about the absence of cover for treatment benefit. Is it correct, therefore, that if one pays £250 one obtains the treatment benefits?

Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare (Ms Burton): Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Provided one makes a minimum payment one is covered for treatment benefits.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Is the figure of £250 correct?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The minimum contribution is £250. This was the subject of the amendment in the Dáil and share fishermen are now covered for treatment benefits.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Are all self-employed people covered?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  No.

[1532]Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Why discriminate? If all self-employed people were asked to contribute more for benefits and treatment for their families, the Minister is rightly saying that there may be benefits available to a spouse and children, following the loss of a husband in a job, such as fishing. However, the self-employed in any other industry are not entitled to treatment benefit. Will the Minister clarify this point?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The situation in relation to the share fishermen was that these people were previously treated as employees and, therefore, had the full range of social welfare benefits, including treatment benefits but because of the ruling of the court, the have moved to being self-employed. My Department is introducing an amendment in this legislation which allows them to retain their traditional treatment benefit.

However, I take the Senator's point that all self-employed people should, perhaps, have this benefit. As the Senator is aware, successive Governments have introduced self-employed people to the social welfare system with corresponding benefits; it is an ongoing process. Because of this legislation, other self-employed people might take the Government to court on the ground that they were not being treated the same as these fishermen. The courts might agree with them.

In section 4, all voluntary contributions——

Acting Chairman (Mr. McDonagh): Information on Jarlath McDonagh  Zoom on Jarlath McDonagh  Senator, we are still on section 3. Is section 3 agreed?

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Section 4 is relevant to my question on contributions. The Minister said that because these people already made contributions as employees they will now get the benefits they had then as they were entitled to them. That section also says all moneys contributed as an employee will be paid back. I am discussing them together.

[1533]Acting Chairman:  Sections are dealt with separately so we will finish discussing section 3.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Then I make the point that the Bill says optional and other contributions made while employed as fishermen will now be recognised. I do not object to that but I object to creating a difference between self-employed people. The Minister is putting great emphasis on bringing everyone within the social welfare structure. I believe in everyone being brought into the combined tax and social welfare structure, there should not be two different structures. I have always argued that every person should have one number.

For that matter, there should be no PRSI. Tax, health insurance and welfare insurance should be integrated. PRSI is a second tax on everyone except a person earning over £21,000. He makes more money because above that salary he does not pay any more.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  He or she.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  People. That is not the position in other countries. I would take more money from a person earning over £21,000 and less from those who do not have the money. The Minister would probably agree with me.

This section provides for people who were previously regarded as employed by a skipper of a boat and have been found in court to be self-employed because they were entitled to a share of the gross earnings of the ship, whatever they may be. We will be giving them a benefit we are not prepared to give to anyone else.

Will the Minister tell everyone that his or her family must be covered? It is an urgent issue. Many self-employed people would be prepared to contribute more if they received extra benefits. They do not have nearly as many benefits as employees. We should not give the impression that self-employed receive all the benefits. There is discrimination.

The area should be clarified. The section should be changed to provide that if the self-employed made an extra contributions [1534] they would receive extra cover, especially treatment benefits for spouse and family. That should apply to all self-employed people.

Mrs. McGennis: Information on Marian McGennis  Zoom on Marian McGennis  I agree with Senator Cregan but the essence of this part of the legislation is that it is optional. If it was a compulsory provision it would be logical to apply it to all self-employed people, not just one section. However, it is optional so the Minister can do not more than say extending it to other self-employed people is a good idea. As it is not compulsory it cannot be regarded as an inequality within the system but I support the Senator's point.

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  Share fishermen are not in the same position as other self-employed people who may have 48 to 50 weeks' work in the year. When I was fishing, I might stay at sea for over a week because the weather was good. Then I might not be able to return to sea for a fortnight.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Where did you go for the two weeks?

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  I had a 32 foot long boat and I might be lucky to get 32 weeks fishing a year. There is a different breed of fisherman now. They leave Dingle for the Porcupine Bank, a 180 mile trip, and may stay there for a fortnight. Last week the rescue helicopter saved fishermen.

Self-employed people on share are not in the same category as share fishermen. This legislation deals specifically with a problem that has existed for years. Everyone should not come under the same provision. There must be special legislation for certain categories of people.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I want to clarify a point. I also apologise for giving the impression I was talking about section 4; it was section 6.

Acting Chairman:  We are still on section 3.

[1535]Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I will come to it later. Senator Fitzgerald made a strong case for share fishermen. Their work is exceptionally hard and they are terribly brave people. The loss of life off our shores is frightening and their work is dangerous. Irish people do not give them sufficient recognition and are not noted for eating fish.

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  I do not disagree with that.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  It is immoral that most of our fish is exported when so many people work so hard to catch it. There is nothing wrong with having an export market but we should eat more fish. It is a healthy food. I sell a lot of fish and I wish I sold more but, unfortunately, not enough people are buying it. It is a sad reflection on us. I know the problems of fishermen. My family and I buy about £500 of fish per week.

We should not create differences between self-employed people and the part time self-employed. Many people on land are in the same predicament as share fishermen. There might be no work for contractors for three weeks because of rain. How would they be covered? We can examine the position for self-employed professionals between 1989 and 1993. Were all architects busy for the whole year? As self-employed people should they not be entitled to the same benefits, if they are paying? Everyone should be treated the same way and the system should be simplified. When is this going to happen? As a nation, would we prefer not to have self-employed people contributing but covering themselves and their families from the point of view of pensions?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I will remind the Senator that in the case of self-employed persons, the contribution is 5 per cent. In the case of employees, the employee contribution is 5.5 per cent while the employer contribution is 12.2 per cent. For what they contribute, the self-employed get a good deal. As I said, it is an area that is going [1536] to develop. As Senator Fitzgerald rightly said, this Bill deals with share fisher people and specifically with a particular category who were employees and who, as employees, enjoyed treatment benefits. The Department of Social Welfare is trying to regularise their welfare protection by effectively recognising them as being self-employed but restoring to them some of the benefits they have traditionally enjoyed. Therefore the Bill is take the point that the entitlements of self-employed people could be extended, but, and I am sure the House would agree with me, we would also have to look at the level of contribution they make.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Why not?

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 4 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  The date in section 4 was amended to 6 April 1994 so that benefits would be paid in 1995. When we reach that date and the share fisherman pays the £250, or whatever the arrears for 1993-94 amount to, will that person quality for unemployment benefit? The Minister said unemployment benefit would not come on stream until 1995.

The other point I wish to raise on this section concerns the Minister's statements about the share fishermen being entitled to 13 weeks unemployment benefit. Why is the benefit being limited? No matter what happens, the share fishermen, and there are many of them, will be unemployed for 20 weeks at different times during the year because of weather conditions and other factors.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  In relation to the 13 week benefit, this is a special scheme. This was the agreement we came to following discussions with fishermen's organisations. If the Senator is suggesting that this scheme should be extended, then [1537] we will consider this and keep it under review.

The entitlements will be effective from January 1995. That is the date from which entitlements under this Bill will commence. Some people may have made contributions under the old scheme and they will carry over. Therefore, there should not be a break in the period, but this may not apply to everybody. We are trying to bring in a new scheme which will regularise the situation from a date in the future. Effectively, that is all we can do under the law.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The Minister has already admitted that for an extra contribution of £250 the share fishermen would get their benefits a year earlier. I have no objections to this because they were employees. Is it correct to say that they would get these benefits a year early if they contributed the minimum amount of £250 now?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  That is correct.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Why then does another section state that contributions already paid should be given back?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  May.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  If they were already employees why should they now have to contribute £250 to get benefit? Did they stop paying benefits three to four years ago because of the court case?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  We were trying to legislate for a complex matter, where there are a series of different personal situtations, but where general representations were made by specific groups of fishermen. We have tried to deal with all the cases brought to our notice. Section 6, concerning the return of contributions, is an option which would apply only in special circumstances. It would not apply to general situations.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The Minister is trying to make everybody happy. She is trying to get the fishermen back to work on a legitimate [1538] basis, and the more people who are legitimate the better for the country in general. However, we must discuss this question of legitimising in the context of the argument I made on Second Stage.

The Minister is saying that if an individual who had no benefit up to now pays £250, they will get benefit for 1994. There was a person who was investigated when he claimed disability benefit. The investigating officer concluded that he was not disabled but able to work. He had been on unemployment assistance since 1987 but he was disabled by an accident in 1989. There was an ongoing argument with the Department from 1991 to 1993. After many consultants' notes and a lot of money had been spent by both sides, the Department finally admitted that the person was ill and could not work. He is now on disability benefit. However, because he did not contribute while he was on unemployment assistance between 1991 and 1993, he is only eligible for graduated disability benefit. Why can this person not get more than a graduated benefit — £72 per week — although he has a wife and three children? I want this point clarified. This is relevant to this section.

The Minister is allowing one person, at a cost of only £250, to be granted benefit immediately, while she only allows another person a graduated allowance because he did not have the required number of contributions between 1991 and 1993. How could he pay when he was disabled and the Department was investigating his case? Could somebody clarify that for me because the replies I received from the Department said exactly what I am saying to the Minister. It is a contradiction of the same argument. If they wish, people may contribute £250 and be eligible for benefits in 1994 while a person with a wife and three children, who has to live on £72 a week, is being discriminated against because the investigating officer said he was able for work between 1991 and 1993 when he was not. As a result he lost his contributions and got no credits, but if he had stayed on dole he would have received credits. We are discriminating against this person.

[1539] We should create laws to suit everybody. I will not accept any excuses. If there is to be tax and social welfare integration — and I want that — it must be done in such a way that people are recognised equally, irrespective of whether they paid £23,000 a year or £3,000. Everybody should receive the same benefits. I ask the Minister to clarify the situation.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Generally a person moves from unemployment assistance to disability benefit. As regards the case the Senator outlined, if I get the full details, I will look closely at them. At this time I cannot give a definitive answer because of lack of information.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I appreciate that and I will give the details to the Minister. I will be delighted if she can clarify the position. However, my point is relevant. The reply from the Department said that the person was on graduated disability benefit. I am not saying graduated disability benefit is wrong because it is relevant to a person who is not earning a large amount of money. He or she might only earn £3,000 a year and if they went on to disability benefit it could amount to more than £3,000 a year, in other words, it would pay them to get sick. I understand the graduation system but it is unfair to use it for a person who is totally disabled, and that is exactly what happened here. The details I will give to the Minister will confirm the position. In the letter, officials said that person is no longer entitled to disability benefit and he must apply for supplementary benefit. That is not fair on that person or his family.

On the one hand the Minister is saying if a person pays £250 he will be in benefit, and on the other, if somebody pays £250,000 he would not be in benefit. I want everybody to be treated equally and that is why I am arguing. I think I am right. It would be most unfair and immoral of me to discuss this specific case later with the Minister and, in the [1540] meantime, pass this section without argument.

We worked with Minister Woods and former Minister, Mr. Barry Desmond, from 1983 and reduced the number of benefits for children: there were 32 and now there are six. It should be one, except where a handicapped child is involved. It would be most unfair if I allowed this section to go through while knowing not everybody is being treated equally.

Questions put and agreed to.

Section 5 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 6 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Could this section be explained because it deals with the return of contributions paid in error. No contributions could be paid in error if a person was an employee. The court ruled that these people were not employees. Are there other areas where this practice prevails, such as partnerships and subcontractors? Are people getting a gross amount from money earned in other areas? Are we questioning partnerships? Could these people bring us to court and say that they should not have been paying PRSI contributions? I am worried about this. I would not blame any self-employed person if they went to court to test the validity of section 3. If I was self-employed I would be worried about whether I am getting the same benefits as everybody else. I would win in court with that argument because I am entitled to the same as anybody else. If contributions are paid back, any person who thinks they will get money from the Department will take it and will not question what he will lose. If contributions are paid back to these people because they are not now employees, are they in benefit in 1994 by giving £250?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  This is a standard section and relates to contributions which have [1541] been paid in error. It is giving the Department the power to refund those contributions. It is a standard section which applies across the board in relation to social welfare contributions.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Does it apply only to share fisherman in this case?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Yes.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  If a share fisherman, who has been a share fisherman for the last 15 years, was sick ten years ago, he would have received social welfare benefits; if all the contributions he paid are being returned to him, do we ask him to return all the money be received?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  No.

Mrs. McGennis: Information on Marian McGennis  Zoom on Marian McGennis  I understand the confusion, or perhaps I am reading it incorrectly, but I think this section is extending existing powers to a new scheme. It is not stating that previous PRSI contributions which were paid before this legal case was taken will be refunded. Perhaps the Minister can confirm this.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Return contributions paid in error.

Mrs. McGennis: Information on Marian McGennis  Zoom on Marian McGennis  This applies to optional contributions, not optional contributors. Contributions made under this new scheme can be refunded if they are paid in error. The Minister can confirm if this is correct. It is not saying contributions which were collected by the Department of Social Welfare, prior to the taking of the court case, now may be refunded. These contributions may be refunded only if they are taken in error.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  As I said, this is a standard regulation.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  The Senator is between a rock and a hard place.

[1542]Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  If the contributions were paid correctly to the Department, then obviously they stand. If, in the future, contributions are paid in error by share fishermen, there is provision in this section for those contributions to be refunded. This is essentially a standard provision in relation to social welfare contributions now being applied to this specific scheme. There will be no breaking out in Dingle and places like that with people applying for previous contributions they may have paid.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The Bill states “any sums paid in error by way of employment, self-employment, voluntary or optional contributions”. How could a self-employed person be a person employed? Why is “employment” there?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  This is to cover the fact that this is a scheme for a diverse set of people who may be operating in a number of separate areas. It is effectively a parliamentary draftsman's legal device to cover all possible situations.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I will accept this if the parliamentary draughtsman is prepared, by way of regulation, to say that a self-employed person is employed by someone else. If a share fishermen gets a gross amount from a catch, he is a self-employed person on contract, rather than a person employed on a contract. Although a person is employed, at the end of the day his contributions could be returned. If that is the case, all employees could have their contributions returned. I ask the Minister to clarify this.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  A fisherman who reaches 66 years of age in a contributing year may continue to pay contributions although he is no longer required to do so. This is a typical example of the type of error which may be encountered. I do not want to give the impression that such errors are widespread, they are not, they arise occasionally in certain situations. This is an amendment to section 28 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993. The word “optional” has been added to the [1543] Act and it states that regulations may provide for the return, subject to any conditions, restrictions and deductions specified in the regulations, of any sums paid in error by way of employment, self-employment, voluntary or optional contributions.

This includes share fishermen and schemes set out in this Bill.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The Minister partly agrees with what I said in relation to the last two sections. If, as the Minister said, this is an amendment to the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993, people should be aware of it. I am worried we are creating certain benefits for some people. I am not saying people should not get them, if I meant that I would oppose this measure. I know what these people are entitled to and they should get more, given the work they do and the hours put in. Like all self-employed people, they work long hours and people do not realise they do not finish at 5 p.m. I am worried we are amending the Act for a particular group. One can only argue this point if, for example, the Department of Social Welfare states that one person is entitled to something, but that another person is not. I want to simplify things and create a situation where everyone has the same entitlements, whether self-employed or otherwise.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 7 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  Section 3 states that £2,500 is the minimum amount required per annum. However, section 7 states that if earnings are below the prescribed amount of £70 per week, the person will get a reduced benefit or will be disqualified. The sum of £70 per week amounts to £3,640 per annum, some £1,100 more than the £2,500 minimum required. I do not understand why the [1544] amount in regard to share fishermen as stated in section 3 is £2,500, when section 7 refers to optional contributors who fail to qualify for disability benefit because their earnings are below the prescribed amount currently set at £70 per week.

In regard to share fishermen, I hope the Minister will not put a weekly amount on their wage other than gross income for the year divided by the relevant weeks.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  This is a complex area because of the introduction of social welfare entitlements for part-time workers. We are trying to cover share fishermen in an appropriate way, bearing in mind there are other regulations in relation to other categories of part-time workers. It ensures share fishermen will be entitled to disability benefit. If their earnings are below a certain level, they will receive a reduced rate benefit like, for example, part-time workers who receive a reduced rate benefit pro rata to the number of hours worked.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 8 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  If a boat is in dock being repaired by the crew, is it correct to say they would not be eligible to claim?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  If they are repairing the boat, they are engaging in routine work.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  It is an unusual situation and that is why special legislation is required. In a factory, for example, if a boiler blows up and the factory is closed, people will be unemployed and claim unemployment assistance. In the case of a boat, they only way share fishermen can earn money is by catching fish. If they cannot catch fish, they should be able to get unemployment assistance. Fishermen must maintain and repair their boats, but they have to live and they do not have any money. We talked in glowing terms about fishermen going out [1545] into the Atlantic in stormy seas, I fail to understand why this provision is included because the only way they can earn money is by catching fish.

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  It is traditional for fishermen to maintain their boats, usually at Easter, because there is a high tide at that time. Fishermen will lay their boats up and carry out general repairs, scrub the bottom of the boat and paint it. According to the Bill, fishermen would not draw unemployment benefit while carrying out such work. However, if a boat was tied up in a boat yard and professional people were employed to work on it, fishermen would be idle and should qualify for unemployment benefit.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  Does section 8 defend fishermen? It states:

It shall be a condition for the receipt of unemployment benefit in respect of any day by a person engaged in share fishing that—

(a) it is not a day on which he is engaged in share fishing and it is a day in respect of which he makes reasonable efforts to obtain such work,

What happens if he does not get work?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  For the benefit of Senators, this condition is not a new one and Senator Fitzgerald is probably aware of this. It was introduced in 1964 when share fishermen first became insured as employees and entitled to unemployment benefit. It has been in operation for 28 years and is also in operation in the UK. It has not caused problems for individual share fishermen or the organisations that represent them. The scheme has always worked well and has been operated fairly by the Department of Social Welfare. There is a general understanding between the Department, the industry and individual fishermen as to what constitutes being engaged in repair work and what qualifies as periods when they may apply for unemployment benefit.

[1546]Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  I may be sticking my neck out in saying this, but share fishermen reading this section would be fully satisfied with it. They know what the rules of maintenance are for net mending and other small jobs. There never was a problem with it and I cannot see one now.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I can well understand what Senator Fitzgerald is saying in theory and it would probably be fine with the vast majority of social welfare offices. However, some people in the Department of Social Welfare might think differently. Some people could be asked whether they had been able to obtain work. Is the section saying that if a ship or boat is being repaired in dry dock then a person is entitled to benefits?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  There are two different situations, as Senator Fitzgerald explained. One is where there is routine maintenance — which is part of the work of the boat accounted for in part of the boat's costs — and the fisherman is working. On the other hand there might be exceptional repairs where the boat is taken away and is, therefore, out of action. That is a period which would qualify for benefit.

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  Having been a public representative since 1974, fishermen have come to me with every kind of problem, but this one never cropped up. There was always an agreement or arrangement with the social welfare officer on what they were doing.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 9 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 14 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The Minister earlier replied to a question on employers' records. The Minister's speech placed [1547] strong emphasis on making sure the employer in particular will take responsibility for all records, making sure they are up to date and that the person is not claiming elsewhere. Whether we like it or not, there is a general impression that there is no incentive to employ workers. More and more companies want to let people go and say they want fewer people working for them, which is regrettable. I would like to see every company asked to take on one or two additional workers but when I say that to people in business — in the service or manufacturing areas, fishing or leisure — they give me a strange look. I would like someone to try to contradict me, because if it is not true I must be living in a different world.

No one will employ anyone if they do not have to, yet the Minister put the emphasis on making employers take full responsibility for their employees. That is fine in theory but many employers, while good from a work or service point of view, are not accountants pushing buttons on a computer to make someone else do the work. We should learn a lesson from other countries in particular America, whose economy turns on the creation of small businesses.

In Cork, we turned around the situation after the closure of Ford's and Senator Magner is well aware of that. There are now more people working at the old Ford site than when the Ford Motor Company was there but they are all small businesses. However, if I was to explain to those people the full responsibility of employing a person, they would pull down the shutters. The smaller the place, the more people are working because each business needs transport.

What can the Department do to make it easier for the employer? That question is not being asked and no incentive is being offered so I will persevere in my efforts here until I get satisfaction. The Government is not providing any incentive to employers to take on more workers but says it wants to give incentives to employees through social employment schemes. The impression is given that these are new schemes but [1548] they have been there since 1985 when they were called community work, etc. A great many people want to go to work in our country and cannot. The Government and Opposition are now admitting that only a certain number of jobs can be created but more can and should be done. We should be providing new initiatives and motivating people — employers or employees.

The Minister's speech gave the impression that more emphasis must be put on the employer to take responsibility while it is not being made easier for him to do so. It can be made easier. The Minister introduced PRSI cards and says they are relevant to new employees. If people in social welfare offices can press buttons to see if a person is entitled to benefits, why should every employee not have a job card? Is the PRSI card an identity card and are we taking people's rights away by introducing it? The Minister disagrees yet in her speech she said that:

The social services card is designed to facilitate improvements in the quality of service provided to our clients including the elimination of unnecessary queuing. Only the Department itself, health boards, FÁS and the differential rent section of the Dublin Corporation have access to the database and only for limited inquiries purposes.

We should ensure that people know they have access to the database. Speaking on radio, the Minister said nobody was entitled to examine the data, yet that is not true because four bodies can do so. I have no objection to that although I reckon a proper job card would not place as much responsibility on employers. Without the job card an employer cannot employ anyone, even for an hour. Are we examining that situation sufficiently? Everything on the card should be relevant to a person's tax, PRSI and health contributions. This will free from worry the person with the initiative to create work. Such a person should not be criticised. He will not provide jobs because he would be faced with frightening [1549] responsiblities. Does anybody here understand what is involved in employing a person? We must provide incentives to employees and employers and bring everybody into the tax and welfare systems. I do not deny the amnesty is bringing many people into the tax system. When people become part of the system they will look for benefits which they have never sought before. This worries me because I do not know how we can continue to pay £11 million a day in social welfare. We are encouraging less and less initiative.

Who is at fault when a builder or company which goes into liquidation has not paid PRSI on behalf of its employees for 20 or 30 years? We — not the employers — are at fault because we did not make provision to cover employees for the benefits to which they were entitled. If employees had job cards we could see if their PRSI contributions have been paid for the last 12 months and if not, we could seek them from the defaulting employers. Banks can look at accounts of customers all over the world. At the touch of a button they can debit people's accounts and acquire information. There should be details of every employee on a database and by pressing a button we should be able to find out where any employee is on a given day. This would remove the responsibility from the employer and the employee would know he is covered. If a person is working on a site while his job card is in the local employment exchange, he should be responsible and should pay.

Contractors and sub-contractors, with employees working in the black economy, are being given contracts by local authorities all over the country. It is not for us to criticise such authorities when they are told by the Government to accept the lowest tender. Some of these contractors are from London and elsewhere. This is what the European Single Market is all about. How can we stop such contractors? Will we have inspectors on site every day?

Every employee should have a job card. If a person is on a database and his job card is not in the local employment [1550] exchange, it should be possible to check every three months if his tax and PRSI contributions are being paid. There should be only one payment for both tax and PRSI and there should be no PRSI income limits. Why should a person earning more than others else pay less PRSI and be entitled to the same benefits? I know a job card system cannot be implemented immediately but the Minister should consider its introduction.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  It is not true that the keeping of records in relation to PRSI and tax is a disincentive to employment. American was mentioned as an example. If American employers do not keep records they are jailed.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I did not say that.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  There are more incentives for employers in Ireland than any other country. If employers promise jobs they are showered with money. The point is how many and what sort of records are kept. The keeping of records, rightly enshrined in this legislation, is a prerequisite——

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  It is not working.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  ——for equity in the system. If records do not exist how does one know the amount one should pay? I see no objections to this. I am hesitant about the idea of everybody carrying a card. This would be a case of “big brother” or, in this case, “big sister”. It is unrealistic that every small business which takes on a worker should have a computer to have access to social welfare data. If this ever happens I will emigrate.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I did not say every employer should have a computer.

Mrs. McGennis: Information on Marian McGennis  Zoom on Marian McGennis  When I spoke on this section I said Senator Cregan might be able to enlighten me but he has not done so. If his proposal is taken on board, there would be an administrative minefield. First, the Department could take hundreds of people working on a building [1551] site individually to court. I stated I know of situations where builders said to people applying for jobs that unless they were unemployed and signing on, they would not be given them. The onus would be on the employee to prove this was a condition of employment. It is totally unworkable. As the Minister said, it takes two to tango. This proposal is impossible to administer.

Senator Cregan's suggestion about job cards is radical but I do not know if it would be acceptable. Civil liberties groups would have problems with it. They exploded at the mere thought of us having ID cards. His forward thinking concept may come but I do not see it being implemented in the life of this Government and I am not sure about future Governments. While we do not have job cards, the requirement in the Bill to maintain records seems the only way to deal with this issue. The responsibilities of an employer far outweigh the responsibilities of a person applying for a job. I accept this section of the Bill introduced by the Minister.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I did not say the employer should not take responsibility. Both employer and employee should do so. I did not suggest the employer should not keep records. My proposal entails job cards, not ID cards. A job card would be kept in a person's workplace. If he was employed there for 30 years, he would not see it for that period.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  They had those in South Africa and called them pass cards.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  When I was looking for work in 1960 I was given a card by the local exchange and I brought it to my place of work and my employer held on to it. This caused no problems and there were more people employed at that time than now. These cards had to be stamped every week and employers made sure this was done. Governments, irrespective of their composition, make mistakes. When I was a messenger boy in North Mill Street, I was given my card when I left at [1552] the age of 16 and gave it to my next employer. I see no reason for this system not being reintroduced. Nobody contradicted my view that there are few incentives to employ people. We are doing the opposite to providing such incentives.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I appreciate Senator Cregan's concern, particularly in relation to small employers. I ask him to be aware of the fact that over the period of the National Development Plan very substantial sums of money will be spent on construction and infrastructure projects. In the region of £2.5 billion will be spent on transport infrastructure and £655 million on environmental services. There will also be substantial construction contracts in urban renewal, tourism, energy and, for example, the Tallaght hospital. We are not talking about small employers but historically large sums of money and schemes. The Department of Social Welfare wants to be satisfied that all that money, which will ultimately be paid out of taxpayers' money in Europe——

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  European money.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  And Irish money.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Sean Fallon  Zoom on Sean Fallon  The Minister, without interruption.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  ——including Irish money, will be spent in a way in which those people who are employed should pay full social welfare contributions, for two reasons: first, that they make their proper contribution and secondly, that they have their full entitlements when they need them.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The Minister of State is right.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Unfortunately, there has been a degree of fraud and abuse in the construction industry, about which Senators spoke which we must stamp out because it has substantial implications for competition and is putting legitimate operators out of business. That is what [1553] this section is about and it will be applied to the construction sector.

In relation to a comment which Senator Cregan made about the reference in my speech to the health boards and so on having information about people for social welfare purposes, that information is used by the health boards to administer supplementary welfare allowances. Secondly, as the Senator is aware, FÁS administers various training allowances and there must be a tie-up between social welfare entitlements and for example, various FÁS and CEDP schemes. That is why they have access to the information.

Unlike in the old days when there were manual record systems, when the information is computerised it is subject to the Data Protection Act. I feel strongly that the use of information should be properly governed by legislation and that those about whom information is held in various departmental records should be entitled to have access to it. That is part of the programme of the Government and I have spoken about this to draw attention to the area because people are entitled to have it. However, as I say, the health boards have access to the information because they administer SWA, FÁS also has access because it administers various allowances which have implications for social welfare.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  What about the differential rents?

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  That has been a long standing arrangement with Dublin Corporation for 15 or more years, because it is the largest local authority in the country. It is only for the calculation of differential rent, not for any other purpose. That arrangement is well known to people who live on local authority housing estates. Both myself and Senator McGennis represent many tenants of Dublin Corporation and we know in detail about the operation of the differential rent scheme. Calculations are based on the householder's social welfare income.

[1554] Question put and agreed to.

Section 15 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

Question proposed:“That the Bill do now pass.”

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  I welcome this Bill and I am delighted that it will be passed today. I thank all the Senators who contributed to the debate and who grilled the Minister of State on the Bill, Which is how business should be done. On a lighter note, remarks were passed about fisherwomen but they do exist.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I said fisherpersons.

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  A lady in Helvick has a trawler and there were two share fisherwomen in Dingle——

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  There should be more.

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  On a lighter note, the only problem with this Bill and the Interpretation Bill, is that the words of the song will have to be changed to: “now you are up on deck you are a fisherperson.”

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  What about mermaids? We grew up with them. I also wish to pay tribute to the blinding science of the Minister of State and thank her for the definitive answers which she gave to many of the questions. I also wish to thank Senator Cregan for his endurance and good humour.

Mr. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald  Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald  He was on his own all day.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Sean Fallon  Zoom on Sean Fallon  I am sure that Senator Cregan would like to comment.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  It is normal for the debate to cross the floor of the House. I congratulate the Minister of State on her [1555] appointment. I have listened to her with interest since she took office and I wish her well because she shows deep sincerity. There are areas in which she can be of enormous help, which has been proven already, particularly in the voluntary sector and with regard to women's issues. I congratulate and wish her well over the next few years, if the Government lasts a few years.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  Ten years.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  I thank her for her information on the Bill and I hope that people in the future will gain from its provisions. I cannot over-emphasise the case of the fishing people who do an enormous amount of work. We do not recognise that by buying their products.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Sean Fallon  Zoom on Sean Fallon  I must say to Senator Cregan that for a man who admitted to having bank accounts all over the world, he has a great knowledge of the social welfare code.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I second Senator Cregan's congratulations to the Minister of State on the Bill. She has taken a tremendous interest in and put much work into this area. We on the Independent benches appreciate what she has done, especially for fisher folk.

Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare (Ms Burton): Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I thank all the Senators for their contributions. I learn an enormous amount from public representatives, such as Senator Cregan, who have a detailed knowledge of the social welfare system acquired through detailed contact with the Department of Social Welfare.

Mr. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan  Zoom on Denis Cregan  The Minister of State will have me crying next.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Many of us learn about the social welfare system through the problems we encounter. In other words, we do not think about the hundreds of thousands of people who go through the [1556] system with ease, as public representatives, we tend to only encounter people who have problems. I believe that this Bill, covering as it does the share fisher folk — we are always indebted to the university Senators for their linguistic skills and the grace of language which they bring to debates ——

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  That is the benefit of a university education.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Fisher folk is an ideal term which I will bring, in due course, to the attention of the Minister for Equality and Law Reform.

In relation to the returned development workers, it is important that their contribution should be publicly valued and that they should have the full range of social welfare entitlements. A number of Senators raised individual cases where people had less than their full entitlements on their return, for which I am grateful. I want to thank all the Senators from the Government parties who made detailed contributions to the Bill today.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 4 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.


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