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That new law on working hours… April 30, 2019

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Collective Bargaining, Employment Rights, Labour relations, Trade Unions, Workers Rights.

Last week, we got two opposing views on whether the changes in the law on working hours are an improvement for workers. (The changes came into force in March.)

On Tuesday, Mandate’s communications officer, David Gibney, had an article on the Irish Broad Left for ‘yes’, and on Friday, two academics at the Kenny Business School in the University of Limerick, Juliet Mac Mahon and Tony Dundon, had an article in the Irish Times for ‘no’. (The article by MacMahon and Dundon does not refer to Gibney’s and the fact that their article was published a few days after his seems to be a coincidence rather than an explicit response to Gibney’s article.)

Not quite the Department for Employment Affairs August 21, 2017

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Employment Rights.
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In few days, on 2 September, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will officially become the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (PDF here).

The day before that, on 1 September, the ‘labour affairs and labour law’ brief will transfer to the Department of Social Protection (which will become the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (PDF here)).

Well, that’s what the title of the Order signed by the Taoiseach says, but not quite what it does.

The Order has an appendix that lists the pieces of legislation for which responsibility will transfer from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Department of Social Protection:

  • Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973 to 2005
  • Protection of Employment Acts 1977 to 2014
  • Payment of Wages Act 1991
  • Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 to 2014
  • Organisation of Working Time Act 1997
  • National Minimum Wage Act 2000
  • Protection of Employees (Part-time Work) Act 2001
  • Protection of Employees (Fixed-term Work) Act 2003
  • Protection of Employment (Exceptional Collective Redundancies and Related Matters) Act 2007
  • Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012

This is not all of the law that governs employment and the workplace.

If you want to talk about the ethos and values underpinning Ireland’s approach to workers’ employment rights, then the Industrial Relations Acts 1946 to 2015 and the Trade Union Acts 1871 to 1990 are important. It is those acts that operationalise the minimalist respect for collective bargaining and trade union rights we have in Irish law (though the Supreme Court has a lot to answer for, too), so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that somebody drafting the transfer of functions thought it best that they should remain the responsibility of the soon-to-be Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

And despite the seemingly impressive list of employment legislation that is transferring to the new Department Employment Affairs and Social Protection, there’s a catch in the small print. The enforcement of a workers’ rights under those acts is governed by complicated ‘call out’ clauses in those acts that invoke another piece of legislation, the Workplace Relations Act 2015. Quelle suprise: responsibility for its operation remains with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

The state agencies to protect workers’ rights set up under Workplace Relations Act are the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, and in fairness, that act does ensure that they are independent of the department and minister of the day when exercising their quasi-judicial functions when a legal complaint is made by a worker. But the new set up will mean that the department charged with supporting business will retain control of the decisions on the annual budget and the staffing of the body responsible for protecting workers’ rights. And the inspection function that the WRC inherited from the National Employment Rights Agency is not governed by the same quasi-judicial standards on independence.

Finally, along with the backroom say in the operation of the enforcement of workers’ rights, the department will retain its lead role in a few other laws setting out important workers’ rights:

  • Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 2005 and 2014
  • Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015
  • Unfair Dismissals Act 1977
  • Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Acts 1977 to 2001
  • Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Act 2006

So, the department that is dropping the reference to employment in its title will keep a grip on the key powers and state agencies governing worker’s rights, while the department getting ‘Employment Affairs’ in its title will take on responsibility for, um, what exactly?

Taft on corporations August 12, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Capitalism.
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Michael Taft’s post on Tuesday on Broadsheet.ie is very interesting and worth a read. In the comments, he says that he hopes to do a series on this topic.

The question he asks is: who owns the company? The reality is that the stereotype of lots of little people and a few rich people putting their money in shares is no longer valid. That makes tracing who has control of the corporations that control so much of the world’s economy difficult to do.

As I say, well worth a read.


A list that was mentioned in the Dáil November 18, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Employment Rights, Uncategorized, Workers Rights.
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Looking through the Committee stage debate in the Dáil on the Workplace Relations Bill earlier this month, I came across the following contribution to the debate by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to identify which category of people intimately associated with a company is missing from the list in the second sentence.

If there is a breach of duty on the part of a director which causes damage to the company, he can be sued or held liable for damages. Claims can be brought by shareholders, by a financial institution or on a director-versus-director basis.

Those remarks were part of a response to an amendment proposed by Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín. He had support on the point from Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary:

Often, company law does not respect the fact that people work in companies.

Tóibín followed that with a broader observation:

Often, we get to a position like this and the Minister will go as far as to say that he understands there is a problem but this is simply not the place to sort it out. We had similar debates when discussing the Companies Bill, and we were told then that it was not the right place to sort it out. Most likely, I will bring in legislation to amend the Companies Bill to deal with this issue if we are not successful here. Perhaps the Minister might indicate his openness – I understand he cannot make a promise based on something he has not seen – to tackle this issue of the corporate veil.

Two things strike me as interesting about the Minister’s response to this issue. First, after over three years in his second stint as Minister in the relevant department (and two and a half years in essentially the same department in the 1990s and I don’t know how long as spokesperson when in opposition), he said:

I am not an expert in the field.

The second striking feature of his explanation is that he came back to the following point on why he would not accept Tóibín’s amendment:

The legal advice is very strongly against it.

And stopped at that. He did not summarise that legal advice or explain what the legal problem is. Parliament, when making laws, should have all the legal information it needs to understand barriers it faces in making those laws. Unfortunately, neither Tóibín not Calleary pushed him on what the legal problem is, although Tóibín did indicate that he is looking to introduce a bill to deal with the problem.

Is health insurance a scam? August 14, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Health, Medical Issues.
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Is health insurance a scam?

I discovered today VHI has been including home-birth cover in my plan for some years. Gay male, late 40s, and I will so need that! More fundamentally, I’ve been paying for healh insurance for over 15 years, but as I have been approaching 50 in the last few years, the cost has been rocketing. Is it a case of reasonable rates when you’re young(er) and healthy (healthier), but push them up when you get to the age you’ll begin to need insurance, not matter how long you’ve been paying without drawing down?

This year, the price has to the point where I looked at it and wondered “why pay this?”

This morning, as I was discussing the options on the phone with the rep, I kept coming back to “If I’m so ill that I need insurance, my concern is to get the treatment, not to be in a first class hotel-standard room.”

Coltan, Congo and a missed opportunity July 3, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Choice, Ethics, FairPhone.
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You might have seen the article in the Irish Times about a conference at NUI Galway, on the subject of women and leadership in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Apart from a one-paragraph nod towards Mary Robinson’s contribution, the Irish Times reported only about a plenary speech by Thomas Turner, who is a specialist for Amnesty International on the DRC.

Turner has written a number of books on the Congo and the war there. His message for the participants at the NUI conference dealt with campaigns on boycotting electronic equipment like mobile phones and games consoles because of the claims that the coltan, a mineral used in capacitors in small devices, contribute to rape and mass killings. His abstract for the conference is pretty clear on why that simplistic picture is a problem:

The latest such oversimplification, imposed by outsiders, concerns conflict minerals, mass killing and sexual violence. The Congo war is the bloodiest since World War Two, and the country is the “rape capital of the world”. However, there is a magic bullet that can put an end to the atrocities and that is banning “conflict minerals”. In recent weeks, it has been reported that most of the mines in eastern DRC are no longer controlled by warlords or militias, yet the level of rape and sexual violence remains high.

The Irish Times reports:

Mr Turner also cited the Kony 2012 campaign as another example where the public had been confused, with young people believing that if they bought a plastic bracelet they could eradicate use of child soldiers.

And this line that simple steps by western consumers and concerned citizens will not solve the underlying problems is reported in a review of Turnder’s book Congo:

avoiding the purchase of coltan-laden cell phones or mineral-containing gaming consoles is somewhat incoherent and unlikely to resolve the substantive issues

This has been a missed opportunity. I cannot tell if it was Turner or the Irish Times who missed it.

It is valid to point out the inadequacy of boycotts or of clocking up online views of the Kony video (99 million views since 2012).

But offering only criticisms of simplistic solutions is to do a disservice to those who engage with the messy complexities and work within them to try to bring real change. For example, Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise, instead of boycotting coltan from the DRC has sought to secure sources of the mineral that reflect the concerns of the simplistic activists Turner criticises. And those who follow Fairphone’s work know that they are neither naive nor simplistic. They know full well that in a complex product like a mobile phone there are limits to what an organisation can do. But they also see the work they have done as only a first step.

By not exploring viable solutions and concentrating only on criticising those who are simplistic, Turner or the Irish Times, or both, missed an important opportunity.

Kelly, SME debt and some bigger fish March 13, 2014

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Business, Capitalism, Irish Politics.

Rates! cried Ibec

Rent! cried Isme

Wages! cried the Sfa

Regularly and unopposed since 2008 until Morgan Kelly this week pointed to SME debt. Mark Fielding

The Association called on Minister Noonan to address the fears of vulnerable Irish SMEs and to give assurances that the Irish Government will not allow the ECB to use the Irish economy as an example of strict deleveraging

Perish the thought.

It is just not sufficient for Minister Noonan to ask Prof Kelly to chat to the Central Bank and compare figures. The Minister must be much more forthright and confirm that the SME sector will not be targeted by our bailed-out banks whether under orders from the ECB or not.

Time for the Finance Minister to stand up to the ECB and the market. He will be changing his name to ‘Stop the water tax Fielding’ next.

Last year Fiona Muldoon, formerly of the Central Bank, warned that at least twenty-five billion euro or half the total loans to small and medium firms are “non-performing”. That is just shy of another Anglo and more should the worst of Kelly’s claims come true.

SME arrears throw up complex issues and there is a high-level of property related borrowing.  In effect, in Ireland, literally and figuratively, all roads lead to property.

Given 70% of people in private sector employment are employed by SMEs there is a further direct knock-on for these employees (& past employees) into the whole area of household debt and mortgage arrears in particular.

We have had five years of kicking the can down the road domestically and EU level and it probably a reflection of just how many are up to their neck in bubble property that the obvious SME issue has run under the radar for so long. The austerity agenda was a convenient parallel for all concerned. No one wants to peek at the horror below. It runs right across eurozone, multiples of the kind figures we have quickly gotten used to.

That 70% figure of Muldoon’s relates to another point of Kelly’s where he noted that Ireland is “peculiar” in having lots of multinational and very few large Irish companies. It’s almost as the country has been run in the interest of a very small few.

Last month on Primetime we had the usual adversarial debate on wages increases and tax cuts but I wondered how many at home would notice that it was much venerated entrepreneur vehemently opposed to private sector workers taking home more pay. Similarly,  as lobbying is back in fashion, it is worth drawing attention to this story from 2012. Ireland First, an all star cast

Michael Berkery, John Bruton, Leslie Buckley, Pat Cox, Dermot Desmond, Frank Flannery, Ray MacSharry, Denis O’Brien, Sean O’Driscoll, Michael O’Flynn, Mike Soden, Michael Somers, Dick Spring, Peter Sutherland, Brendan Tuohy

One item of particular concern was upward only rent reviews, something almost unanimously acknowledged to have cost thousands of jobs up and down the country.

[A] discussion document to be submitted to Taoiseach Enda Kenny by Ireland First by a high-powered group of the country’s most successful businesspeople who came together last autumn to try to think of ways to restore Ireland’s economic fortunes.

Outside of Nama’s remit, but still in the area of property, the same source said the new Government needed to move to end the uncertainty surrounding the future of upward-only rent reviews for commercial premises. Under the Programme for Government, the Coalition has given its commitment to end upward-only rent reviews for existing leases.

Commenting on this, the source said: “The rent review issue has to be addressed now. The uncertainty surrounding this is having a serious and direct impact on our potential to attract foreign direct investment. Nobody wants to put their money into commercial property in a country where the goalposts can be moved overnight.”

Michael Noonan had removed this ‘uncertainty’ on budget day the year before citing advice from the Attorney General. “Susceptible to constitutional challenge on a number of fronts” but ongoing pressure saw government suffer defeat in the Seanad just last month and Fergal Quinn’s Bill on the issue now heads for the Dáil.

So who was it doing the leg work against the great many hardpressed, downtrodded, real world, lifeblood, private sector SME?

It is understood that the co-chairs of Ireland First — One 51 chief executive Philip Lynch and Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins — will lead the various delegations once meetings can be agreed with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Government.

“Most Banks Do Exactly What You Expect………We do Exactly What You Want” June 24, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Business, Capitalism, Crime, Economy.

A 1998 Ad for Anglo Irish Bank ……..

Scientific research ‘only for social and economic gain’? May 16, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Business, Economy.

…uh-oh. Depressing to read this in Slate the day before yesterday from Phil Plait about how the Canadian National Research Council has now stated that:

they will only perform research that has “social or economic gain”.


John MacDougal, President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”. Gary Goodyear, the Canadian Minister of State for Science and Technology, also stated “There is [sic] only two reasons why we do science and technology. First is to create knowledge … second is to use that knowledge for social and economic benefit. Unfortunately, all too often the knowledge gained is opportunity lost.”

As Plait notes, this is entirely wrong. As he puts it:

This is monumentally backwards thinking. That is not the reason we do science. Economic benefits are results of doing research, but should not be the reason we do it. Basic scientific research is a vast endeavor, and some of it will pay off economically, and some won’t. In almost every case, you cannot know in advance which will do which.

But as noted in comments under the article this is a line of thinking that can be found much closer to home… George Monbiot noted on his blog, again coincidentally the day before yesterday, that:

Two weeks ago I castigated the new [United Kingdom] chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, for misinforming the public about risk, making unscientific and emotionally manipulative claims and indulging in scaremongering and wild exaggeration in defence of the government’s position(3). Since then I have seen his first speech in his new role, and realised that the problem runs deeper than I thought.

How much deeper?

Speaking at the Centre for Science and Policy at Cambridge University, Walport maintained that scientific advisors had five main functions, and the first of these was “ensuring that scientific knowledge translates to economic growth”. No statement could more clearly reveal what Benda called the “assimilation” of the intellectual. As if to drive the point home, the press release summarising his speech revealed that the centre is sponsored, among others, by BAE Systems, BP and Lloyd’s.

Worker directors July 24, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Ireland, Labour relations, Workers Rights.

One of the disdvantages of using Enlgish as our ‘lingua franca’ in Ireland is that we are not exposed often enough to ideas from outside the English-speaking world. A report published last week by TASC, Good for Business? Worker Participation on Boards (PDF here), is a case in point.

The existence of worker direstors in companies in Ireland — and the rest English-speaking world to which we so often look for policy examples — and the legislation on this issue are so poor that it can easily be forgotten that not only is it normal practice in many other European countries, but actually a legal requirement in some of our fellow EU member states. The poor situation in Ireland means that it is a difficult task to undertake a study of the role and effect of worker directors in Irish companies. The sample of companies is tiny and utterly unrepresentative: in the commercial sector, worker directors exist in only a handful of state-owned companies. (Worker directors also exist in a wider range of non-commerical public bodies, although that terminology is not always used to refer to them. Examples include the vocational education committees, the National Disability Authority, and the Legal Aid Board.)

It is worth setting out some of the legal requirements in those other EU countires. In Germany, depending on the size of the firm, either one-third or half the seats on the board must be worker representatives — worker directors or their nominees; in Sweden, a company with 25 employees must have worker directors; in Austrian PLCs regardless of the size of the firm, workers have a right to a third of the seats on the board. Across the EU 27 and Norway, 12 countries provide for worker directors of some form in private forms. The little-known directives on EU-level companies also provide for worker directors.

The TASC report presents a literature review and data drawn from a focus group with nine worker directors from six companies and thirteen interviews with other people: non-worker directors, company executives, and “independent experts”. We are not told what the basis of this last group’s expertise — or, importantly, the the view that they are independent — is.

In Ireland, we are a long way from the kind of values that are reflected in the 12 other EU countries. Two details from the TASC report show how much of a hill we have to climb.

The first detail is that the five recommendations in the report do not include anything would lead to an extension of the model to be extended outside the public sector. I would have thought that this is the kind of idea that a progressive think tank should be introducing into the debate in Ireland. And the report contains a reference that shows why ding that at this time would be opportune. In discussing the legal roles of comapny directors, TASC uses not the current legislation but propoals from a draft companies bill that is expected to be introduced next year. That bill will be a massive overhaul of the Companies Acts — the draft proposals come in at over 1000 pages. (The scale of what is comming doen the line for the TDs and Senators can be seen in the time the preparation of the bill has taken. The Company Law Reform Group has been working on this for over a decade.) TASC should be calling for that process to be used to strengthen industrial democracy in Ireland.

The second detail is that a majority of the the interviewees in the study — that is, the non-worker directors, the company executives and the “independent experts” — believe that worker directors should not sit on remuneration committees. That mind-set, which sees executives as being in a different market from others — so different that it often looks like they are on a different planet — is one of the key factors that has contributed to the obscene income inequalities we see in Ireland and the rest of the English-speaking world.

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