Dáil Contribution on Employment Permits Bill 2022

Dáil Contribution on Employment Permits Bill 2022

Full Transcript:
I smiled wryly at Deputy Ó Ríordáin’s characterisation of the quips and one-liners because at the start we saw secondary school students in the Gallery and by God they came into a technical and dry discussion. They could have done with a few more quips and one-liners and fair play to them for sticking it out as long as they could.

I both agree and disagree with Deputy Ó Ríordáin on the value of the pre-legislative scrutiny process. I do not serve on the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment so I have not had the benefit of hearing it discussed to the same level of detail that Members who are on the committee would have. Some good work happens in that Committee Stage pre-legislative scrutiny but this Bill is not entirely blind to the work the committee did at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. What we are seeing on Second Stage has improved as a result of that committee work. There is also Committee Stage to come and it is a Bill that has a road to travel.

I also disagree with Deputy Ó Ríordáin’s characterisation of this Government always being on the side of the employer. I scribbled a few notes from memory as he was speaking and under this Government we have introduced sick leave for the first time. We have also introduced domestic violence leave, increased parental leave and a right to request remote working. I know that it will probably be tomorrow at this stage by the time we see Second Stage of the work life balance and miscellaneous provisions Bill. I am not sure I can agree with that characterisation, therefore. A range of rights have been introduced by this Government that favour workers and employees and that is something I am proud of. I acknowledge the thankless work of the officials in the Department on this Bill, which is a substantial piece of work, and I acknowledge the huge amount of work that must have gone into it.

One of the recurring phrases I see in describing this Bill talks about agility and flexibility and that is 100% required in an economy where we are struggling to get people who have the appropriate range of skills. I will give some specific examples later but I sometimes worry that phrases like “agility” and “flexibility” can lead to a bonfire of regulations. We need to make sure we can be responsive in supplying the labour market. We know the challenges we have across a range of sectors such as housing. Those challenges include retrofitting, the roll-out of solar panels, the green economy and all those things that I, as a Green Party representative, would be interested in pushing forward. It is so difficult to recruit the required skill sets into those areas at the moment but we cannot allow that to happen by undermining workers’ rights. It cannot be the case that we allow people just to come into this jurisdiction and undermine, for example, the rights to collective bargaining that have been so long fought for by unions and so on. We need to strike that balance, which this Bill does, but we need to be careful about it. We need that flexibility and to move away from a preponderance of provisions in primary legislation so that we can do things through regulation or secondary legislation and be more responsive but we have to make sure the rights of workers are protected in that.

I said I would reference a specific example and the following is a good example of where we need the type of flexibility where we have skill shortages within our economy. I have had a local company in contact with me and it wants to bring in 20 bus drivers. The case of heavy goods vehicle, HGV, drivers has been resolved and we can bring them in. I have 20 qualified bus drivers who are looking to come in, who are fluent in English and who are used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, which is important when you are trying to recruit a driver in the economy. However, we still have issues around that kind of responsiveness and this is where this Bill comes in. We want to be able to identify those sectors where we want to bring people in but we have to make sure we do that in the right way.

We could look at the likes of the fisheries industry and we know there have been problems there and that workers have been recruited under practices that we might not be comfortable with. We have to acknowledge that increased vulnerability of migrant workers who come here for seasonal employment. We need to make sure those people are afforded the type of protections that I would expect to be in place in my economy. We have to also acknowledge that the labour shortages we are seeing are a function of a well-performing economy. In particular, I note with interest the increased participation of women within our workforce. That was unexpected and it is largely to do with the possibility to request remote and flexible working practices. That is positive as long as we have those in-built protections but it is positive that we have an economy that is performing that well.

I take the opportunity to welcome platform working. I know Deputy O’Reilly and Senator Sherlock have engaged with SIPTU on this. This is a difficult to reach sector of the workforce, not just in this jurisdiction but all across the EU. We are struggling to adapt our legislation to account for something that is not quite employment and that certainly is not quite self-employment either. Often they are migrant workers from a different jurisdiction who might be here on a student visa and who are doing some work. They are difficult to reach but they need to be protected.

These employment permits can be issued to those whose skills are required in the State, where those skills are in critical short supply and that shortage is likely to hinder growth and economic opportunity. It is that point on growth and economic opportunity that I want to dwell on for a moment because maybe those are not the only factors that we want to consider. Maybe there is room for things like reaching our climate targets. I referenced those specific skills but is there scope for that? It also chimes with the idea that maybe we should be looking at an Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, waiver for intellectual property on technology to fight climate change such as climate carbon and storage. I know that is not quite to the point but I am saying that growth and economic development might be slightly too confined as criteria within which we would consider these work permits.