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Government Denial of Agency Worker Exploitation Inexplicable

20 February, 2008

Speaking during tonight's Sinn Féin and Labour Party joint motion calling for the introduction of equal rights legislation for agency workers Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the government has known for years about the exploitation of agency workers yet it has made no legislative efforts to protect them.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The primary focus of this debate is on the need for domestic legislation to end the abuse of agency workers. It is about getting a seemly oblivious government to understand the urgency attached to this matter. It is about getting them to appreciate the real impact on ordinary workers - workers whose standards of living are being gravely undermined by the lack of legislation which we are calling for.

"The assertions made by Government Ministers last night that they are committed to decent standards of employment ring very hollow when at the same time they are attempting to downplay this serious issue.

"I was astounded to hear the Minister for State with responsibility for Labour Affairs raise doubts about what he described as "strong assertions from trade unions that agency workers are being used increasingly to undermine basic labour standards". The Minister of State is clearly not doing his job if he is unaware of the plethora of specific cases that have been highlighted by a range of unions.

"Last night Minister Martin said "It is too broad a generalisation to equate agency workers with migrant workers". It is grossly misleadingly to suggest that this is what we in opposition or the trade unions having been saying. We have been very clear in saying this is an issue for all workers with more and more Irish workers finding themselves faced with little prospect but to accept employment as an agency worker.

"The contributions of the senior and junior minister to last night's debate confirmed what Sinn Féin has long argued - that protecting and defending workers rights is not a priority for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

"Again - and against all international evidence - the issue of competitiveness was cited by Minister Martin as a stumbling block to legislation that is needed by workers if current standards of living are to be protected. It is proven that we can have both competitiveness and have strong protections of workers rights.

"This Government has known for years about the problems that have developed around agency workers. Yet it has done nothing to legislate to protect them or to address the situation of agency workers being used to casualise work places and depress wages.

"The Government has not as it claimed last night adopted a constructive approach to the proposed EU directive on Agency Workers. Yet it is important to emphasis that this state doesn't have to wait until this Directive is agreed before it can legislate for the equal treatment principle. Equal treatment already applies in Ireland in respect of Fixed-Term Workers and Part-Time Workers. It is not, or it at least should not be, a huge step to develop legal provisions that would provide that agency workers be guaranteed equal treatment." CRÍOCH

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