Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Labour Bill on Agency Workers Welcome

12 March, 2008

Speaking during a Seanad debate this evening on the protection of Agency Workers Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty welcomed the Bill stating legislation for the principle of equal treatment for agency workers must be enshrined in law as a matter of urgency.

"I welcome this Bill being proposed by the Labour party, which follows the recent Sinn Féin and Labour party Dáil joint private members motion on agency workers.

"The exploitation of agency workers has blighted this island. We have had promises from Fianna Fáil and the PDs, and now the Greens, that legislation would be forthcoming - it was even alluded to in 'Towards 2016'. Yet here we are, in the Seanad, debating legislation on agency workers put forward not by government but by an opposition party.

"Excuses and delaying tactics from the government have been nonsensical. They have claimed that the evidence of agency workers being exploited is based on hearsay. SIPTU and other unions have countless cases of the abuse of agency workers and I'm sure if government asked its social partners to give them the details, they would.

"The government has also stalled the proposed EU Directive on agency workers voicing concerns over a lack of competitiveness if it legislates in this area. And here we come to the nub of the problem.

"We cannot sustain the economy with a race to the bottom on wages and conditions. We cannot compete with the economies of China and India, even with agency workers, and anybody who thinks we can needs to do a refresher course in basic economics.

"The future of the economy in this state is in high end quality industries like research and development. It is in a qualified, educated workforce that wants to build the economy. We need to develop workers' rights on the basis of equality and that means equality for agency workers also.

"To this end, I welcome indeed this legislation and I hope that, with some amending, it receives the support of every elected member in the Dáil who claims to represent, and work on behalf of, the people of Ireland.

"I however have some concerns regarding the detail of the Bill.

"Sections 5 and 6 refer to incidents in which an agency worker can be treated in a less favourable manner when that manner can be justified on objective grounds. I believe such provisions could potentially open up a can of worms in terms of what is an objective ground for less favourable treatment.

"I also have some concerns regarding the weeks of continuous work after which an agency worker should be treated as a comparable worker. Workers and trade union representatives, particularly in and for the construction sector, have stated that the six-week timeframe has the potential to allow employers to continue to exploit agency workers due to the short-lived nature of many construction jobs.

"The EU Directive is also recommending six weeks, but I believe debate is needed around this issue - we don't, after all, have to accept everything that comes out of Europe if it is not in Ireland's interest.

"Again I welcome the Bill and support it as a first step in tackling the employment legislation deficit with regard to Agency Workers rights." CRÍOCH

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