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The New Dispensation continues: Sinn Féin and Labour put forward their first joint Private Members’ motion… February 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

And lo, it came to pass. That the parties of the left (absent the Green Party who were away on business building government North and South) came together to produce a joint Private Members’ motion.

The motion will call on the Government to introduce legislation to force employers to treat workers recruited through employment agencies on the same basis as permanent staff.

It’s good sensible stuff which attempts to erase a loophole in currently existing legislation. It is churlish to argue that it comes perhaps half a decade too late. But… it comes half a decade too late.

Sinn Féin employment spokesman Arthur Morgan said yesterday that agency workers were often employed on inferior pay and conditions. Such developments were unfair, and could also undermine existing arrangements for permanent staff.

The Sinn Féin/Labour motion says that without legislation which ensures that agency workers are subject to the same terms as directly-employed workers “employers will always be tempted to cut corners on terms and conditions and casualisation, and exploitation will take hold”.

The motion calls on the Government “to immediately introduce legislation to protect the equal rights of agency workers, compared to their permanent counterparts, whereby employment agency workers would be subject to a collective agreement specifying terms and conditions of employment”.

This is a profoundly serious area. The ability of companies to deal inequitably with staff dependent on such matters is a real problem. SIPTU (and indeed Des Derwin has publicised this here) have been doing good work in this area recently. But it remains an employment minefield with unscrupulous employers willing to utilise the legislation – or lack of same – to their advantage. I’d suggest that as we move into an economic slowdown it is essential that the framework of legislation affecting workers rights should be as comprehensive as possible. The alternative is an overly flexible labour market which leaves marginalised workers unprotected, and what happens on the fringes today can easily become mainstreamed tomorrow.

For some details on Martin Ferris’s contribution to the debate on the motion read here

Oddly enough this has a personal bearing. For the past five years I was working on fixed term contracts in one employment. However, due to a useful aspect of the legislation (from, as recently as 2003) relating to fixed-term contracts because I had worked over four years they were forced to put me on a contract of indefinite duration.

The relevant legislation and link to PDF document on these matters is below.

10. Can an Employer Employ an Employee on a Series of Fixed-Term Contracts Indefinitely?
Employees on fixed-term contracts which commenced prior to the passing of the Act( 14 July 2003)
Once such an employee completes or has completed 3 years continuous employment with his or her employer or associated employer (any or all of the 3 years service may have occurred prior to the passing of the Act) the employer may renew the contract for a fixed term on one occasion only and that renewal may be for a period of no longer than 1 year.
Employees on a fixed-term employment contract which commences after the passing of the Act:
Where such an employee is employed by his or her employer or associated employer on two or more continuous fixed-term contracts, the aggregate duration of those contracts may not exceed 4 years.
Where a term of an employment contract purports to limit the term of the employment contract of either category of employee mentioned above, in contravention of the above rules, that term shall be void and of no effect and the contract concerned shall be deemed to be one of indefinite duration п a permanent contract.
However, the above-mentioned rules do not apply where there are objective grounds justifying the renewal of a contract of employment for a fixed term only.
The First Schedule to the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act, 1973 relating to continuous employment determines whether employment on fixed-term contracts is continuous or not.

Now as it happens the contract is only for five or six hours a week, but even still. The psychological relief of knowing that the work is there next year is enormous. And that was in the context of a reasonably open and transparent work environment. By contrast the sort of environment that many agency workers have to work in is often much less transparent and their facility to access clear information on rights is more limited. And yet at least SF/Labour (hey, now there’s a new piece of Irish political shorthand) are pushing towards a recognition that stability and longevity are crucial to both the sense and reality of security in employment. Which is where the following is important.

It says such legislation should specify a maximum period beyond which the worker must become a direct employee.

Mr Morgan said the issue of agency workers was very important at this time as it would be a very significant feature in the new national pay talks which are to get under way in the weeks ahead.

These aren’t cosmetic issues. Improvements in labour law are central to a left progressive agenda both in terms of ameliorating the distress and – often fear – of people in employment and also demonstrating the efficacy of our philosophies to actually improve the lives of those who often feel divorced from what we’re trying to achieve.

But there is, of course, a political aspect to this issue. To see Labour and Sinn Féin cooperating in this way is important. It is small stuff on one level, but it does point to a continuation of the developments last Summer which ensured the election of the first Sinn Féin Senator and the election of another Labour Senator. These aren’t minor achievements. The Left is in such a parlous state in the polity that any progress forward – on agreed and transparent terms – is a good thing in itself. That both parties continue to, and will continue for the foreseeable future, have profound differences of approach, philosophy and so forth is far from surprising (Cian on Irish Election makes some similar points as well). At least here, in this small portion of the battlefield, they have combined forces to prompt change. And that is as much a function of opposition as the more high profile work. Note too that the Government is also moving forward – perhaps goaded by this sort of activity into some action.

The Irish Times understands that legislation to be published by the Government this month will stipulate that workers recruited through agencies cannot have inferior terms and conditions to those set out in registered employment agreements where they apply. Such agreements are registered with the Labour Court.

Incidentally, perhaps someone closer to the action than I might be in a position to say whether it is an SF/Labour or Labour/SF motion. Terminological exactitude is all in these matters.


1. Wednesday - February 27, 2008

SF/Labour, of course 😉


2. WorldbyStorm - February 27, 2008

I thought so! 🙂


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