Agency Worker Exploitation will not be tolerated
Sinn Féin TD and Dail leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described this week's debate as an "historic motion and an historic debate as it is the first such motion jointly tabled by the Labour and Sinn Féin parties in the Oireachtas."
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"This debate is a statement of intent that exploitation will not be tolerated. It is an act of solidarity with those workers who are being abused and with the trade union movement which represents them.
"The Government has refused to acknowledge the gravity of the issue we are raising. They have refused to accept the extent of the problems despite mounting evidence and specific testimonies gathered by the trade union movement.
"The Minister of State tried to sow confusion by stating that migrant workers have the same protection in legislation as Irish nationals. That is not the issue. It is agency workers, whatever their nationality, who are denied the full protection of labour law.
"Minister Martin claimed his Department has no evidence that the exploitation of agency workers is precipitating a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions. I can only ask what planet they are living on because this is happening all over Ireland and all over Europe.
"The Minister asks where is the evidence of exploitation. In 2002, a report from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions found that temporary agency workers earned only 68% of the wages of directly employed workers, had less entitlements and less control over the work they do than their directly employed counterparts.
"This is not about the country of origin of workers - it is about the rights of agency workers versus directly employed workers.
"We are demanding legislation on agency workers and the content of that legislation is critical. The Government says it will bring forward legislation to address the concerns raised during the course of this debate. But if the Government thinks it can get away with bringing in legislation which deals with this issue in a half-hearted way it is deeply mistaken.
"Sinn Féin is demanding legislation to ensure equal treatment for agency workers and directly employed workers in the industry or sector in which they are employed. This legislation must specify a maximum period for which agency workers would be employed and also specify a maximum period beyond which the worker must become a direct employee. It must provide for equal pay and entitlements with directly employed workers who are performing the same or similar work or work of equal value.
"The Taoiseach and his Ministers are masters of mutter when it comes to confusing the issues. It is well known that they have been blocking progress on agency workers at EU level. Yet they pretend that they are part of a search for consensus. They clearly have no wish to confront exploitative employers, especially in the construction sector. But their foot-dragging penalises agency workers and their families. It allows the scourge of exploitation to spread in our economy. It also penalises good employers who provide decent wages and conditions. Make no mistake about it, workers and trade unions and progressive elected representatives are not prepared to drop this issue and we will pursue this government until it is forced to relent and vindicate the rights of these workers.
"I urge all Deputies to support this motion." CRÍOCH