Government plays cynical game with Dunnes workers livelihoods

This week in the Oireachtas workers on insecure hour contracts became collateral damage in a cynical game of power play politics by the government. A disgraceful ploy to block the David Cullinane TD sponsored Banded Hours Contract Bill was concocted by raising a spurious money message mechanism which government conveniently uses to halt the progress of opposition bills that have a genuine chance of succeeding in the Dail.

It seems almost irrelevant to the government that in halting the progress of this important piece of legislation many workers on precarious and insecure contracts who are struggling day and daily to plan their lives and to pay their bills will be the losers by this insidious government political chicanery.

Over the past 18 months Sinn Fein worked closely with Mandate on developing the Banded Hours Contract Bill to allow workers achieve some security in their income and their hours.

The Bill was passed by the Dail at Second Stage on 17th July 2016, with a deferral for 12 months pending legislative scrutiny in the Jobs Committee. This committee heard from over 40 witnesses – including Mandate, ICTU, IBEC and academics – and it produced a 52 page report with 21 recommendations on strengthening and improving the legislation.

David Cullinane TD, the original mover of the Bill, told the committee that he was happy to see all those recommendations incorporated into the Bill. Subsequently, on the 20th September 2017 the Business Committee agreed to allow the Bill to return to committee for amendments. Given the intense scrutiny applied to this Bill over a protracted period and its broad cross-party support, pending the amendments, on the Jobs Committee chaired by Mary Burke FF TD, it is truly incredible that all this time, effort and excellent work can be destroyed at the stroke of a pen by government mandarins intent on denying opposition parties from having good protective legislation enacted.

In April 2015 Dunnes Stores workers took industrial action to achieve income security in their employment. They want and need Banded Hour contracts which would allow them the ability to better plan their lives. This Bill took on much greater urgency for workers when the Labour Court agreed to suspend a case between Mandate and Dunnes Stores for a period of six months pending the passing of the Bill as its incorporation into law would settle the issues raised by the case.

This six month hiatus ends in February 2018 and the government hatchet job imposed now on this important Bill means that the likelihood of getting any decent legislation to protect workers enacted before that date is looking increasingly unlikely. Given the time-sensitive nature of the suspended Labour Court case it almost defies belief that the government would put its own narrow political self-interest above that of low paid workers in precarious type employment. Shame on them for doing so.

David Cullinane TD sought leave to refer the bill to committee for implementation, which was granted by the Dail on 3rd October 2017, but the “money message” barrier was dropped on the Bill afterwards. The ridiculous reason given for delaying this Bill was that it would increase the workload of the Workplace Relations Committee thus requiring additional resources. Government Bills with a money message can be turned around in less than three weeks but opposition Bills do not receive any attention whatsoever. In fact, every single opposition Bill passed at second stage by the Dail this year is still awaiting developments on the money message issue.

If this Bill was about bailing out a failing bank or to help the government refuse to accept billions from their friends in multi-national companies who aren’t paying their fair share of this country’s tax burden then the legislation would be delivered wrapped in a gold bow in the morning. The fact that this Bill was trying to assist workers on low hour contracts to achieve a fairer deal from their employer would appear largely irrelevant to the government and their faceless and nameless bureaucrats who assist them in regularly screwing workers in favour of profitable businesses.

Workers on low hour contracts cannot get a mortgage. They cannot adequately plan their lives as they live in limbo with uncertain hours. They cannot guarantee they will be able to pay their bills from week to week and must make stark choices on what they can purchase with the little money they have at their disposal. These workers needed urgent action and the genuine concern is that the government recent promise by Minister Regina Doherty to deliver soon on banded hour contracts will be a much more watered down and frankly useless piece of legislation that will further enslave these downtrodden and forgotten workers who deserve much better from their government.

Mandate has serious reservations that the governments intended Banded Hours Legislation will either now be delayed with the absence of the Sinn Fein Bill or that it will be an ineffective and dangerous piece of legislation that doesn’t protect workers whatsoever. We have concerns that the government will not implement strong and robust legislation because the Heads of Bill produced so far indicate a real lack of understanding about the predicament many of these workers face. Minister Regina Doherty’s recent public utterances also indicate no intention whatsoever of banning zero hour contracts and “if and when” contracts. That is a national disgrace and we will not stand idly by and allow that to happen unchallenged.

The Sinn Fein Bill is a strong, well balanced and highly scrutinised piece of legislation that deserves to be adopted and made into law. Unfortunately, good and sound legislation is not a major priority for this government based on their actions. Sinn Fein, and in particular David Cullinane TD and Conor McCabe Parliamentary Advisor, are to be commended for their dedicated and hard work over the past 18 months towards developing legislation that would actually do something to protect vulnerable workers.

Mandate will continue to campaign vigorously and lobby intensively over the coming weeks and months to challenge any attempt by government to implement weak and bad legislation. Any watered down alternative to the Sinn Fein Bill will be challenged robustly by our members and we will support them with everything at our disposal. We are committed to the principles of Decent Work and refuse to accept anything less. Mandate’s Decent Work campaign roadshow will be coming to a venue near you over the coming months so make it your business to get along to hear about what’s really happening in Irish society today and join collectively with many other like-minded workers in fighting back and delivering a better Ireland.