9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee A - economy - last met; when it is scheduled to meet again; and if he will report on its work. (Question 50384/17 asked on 05 Dec 2017)
The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 11 together.
Cabinet committee A held its first meeting on 12 September. The Cabinet committee’s focus will be on economic issues, including the implementation of the Action Plan for Jobs 2017 and preparation of a new, more focused action plan for next year; labour market policies, including the implementation of pathways to work and responding to emerging skills pressures; competitiveness and productivity challenges for business; rural affairs and the implementation of the Action Plan for Rural Development; and the development of a roadmap for pensions reform. I expect to see further progress in all these areas in the coming months, building on the measures announced in budget 2018 and brought or being brought through the Houses in legislation, including the Finance Act, Social Welfare Bill and Appropriations Bill.
Responsibility for rural affairs policy rests with the Minister for Community and Rural Development. However, as this is a priority issue for the Government, my Department will support implementation of the action plan through the Cabinet committee and associated senior officials group. The most recent meeting took place on 23 November and the next meeting has not yet been scheduled.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: As there are nine minutes left and five Deputies have tabled questions in this group, each speaker must confine his or her contribution to one minute.
Deputy Joan Burton: The country is taking a reputational hit in two areas of the economy. The first area, precarious jobs, makes a mockery of the republic of opportunity and highlights the Government’s failure for months to publish the report on bogus self-employment. The second area, corporation tax, is causing serious reputational damage to the country. The Revenue Commissioners admit that certain large corporations, which are global in scale, do not pay any corporation tax. In addition, four banks, including Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks, announced last week that they are sharing tax loss assets of €5.5 billion between them. Will the Taoiseach accept that Ireland needs a new narrative on corporation tax? We need a minimum effective corporation tax rate. We must also address the use of losses and loopholes by institutions such as banks.
Deputy Brendan Howlin: On Monday, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, published a ground-breaking report on precarious work entitled, Insecure and Uncertain: Precarious work in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The report found that 160,000 people or 8% of the workforce are experiencing significant variations in their hours of work from week to week. This has serious ramifications for workers’ lifestyles and work and life planning. Progress on the Bill to address zero-hour and if-and-when contracts has been painfully slow. When will we see action on these issues?
Two weeks ago, I asked when the report commissioned by the then Minister, Deputy Burton, would be published. I was told it would be published imminently. When will we see it?
Deputy Gerry Adams: I also want to raise the issue of precarious work. That is essentially work that is insecure and unpredictable, including low-paid work, work with limited or no benefits and work in unsafe and unhealthy workplaces. I understand that in this institution some staff are also on short-term low-hours contracts. Here, in the Parliament of the State, that is the sort of example that we are setting. Sinn Féin has a banded hours Bill that will address many of the issues involved. It has been subject to intense pre-legislative scrutiny at committee. It is ready for amendments but it has been held up by the Department of the Taoiseach. Will the Taoiseach accept that this issue needs to be resolved and clear the way for Sinn Féin’s Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016 to proceed to committee for amendments?
Deputy Micheál Martin: It is a year since we were told the new capital investment plan was nearly ready and would run up to 2021. Since then, the plan has been repeatedly delayed and the Taoiseach has announced it will claim to be a plan for the period up to 2027. For the first time in the history of such plans, the Government is proposing to announce and then sell, via a multi-million euro marketing campaign, a plan in which projects will not be planned, agreed or funded for many years. There is an element of cynical political manoeuvring going on in relation to this plan. It is the intention of Ministers to tour the country announcing projects that could be ten or 15 years out. I myself am aware of where people have been approached to hurry up and submit a plan in time. I was even asked would I agree to the plan for a major piece of infrastructure so that it could get considered. In other words, people want local announcements. It would be a worry that people are trying to get pet projects in and that the level of quality being attached to the process is diminishing as we get closer to the announcement date.
I am with the other Members of the House on the insecure employment and precarious jobs issue. We are awaiting legislation on that. We were promised it.
Income tax returns are not in “alignment”, to use the word of the moment, with employment. That has been a feature for a while. Is there any deep analysis coming from the Department of Finance in that regard?
I could go on, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I was denied on the first two questions. My two were lumped into one.
The broadband issue has not gone away. I would say on the national spatial plan-----
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There will be no time for answers.
Deputy Micheál Martin: We need to reflect on the spatial plan because it is putting limits on development in towns across the country.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There will be no time for answers. I have to be fair. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The Taoiseach complained about constraints in terms of capacity to deliver housing but the ICTU report confirms something that most of us know anecdotally. Significant numbers of people who formally worked in construction will not work in construction because of rampant bogus self-employment and the poor conditions and pay of employment for construction workers. If the Taoiseach wants to deal with capacity problems in terms of housing construction, he should deal with bogus self-employment, precarious work and poor conditions of employment in construction.
On the corporate tax issue, I attended yesterday an event organised by Oxfam, Trócaire, Christian Aid and other development NGOs, all of which stated categorically that we fitted - in fact we are top of the league table - the criteria of a conduit for tax havens and aggressive tax avoidance by big multinationals and had spearheaded what is now a rapid race to the bottom in terms of corporations not paying their fair share of tax across Europe.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Taoiseach has two and a half minutes.
The Taoiseach: Deputies will be pleased to hear that this morning the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, received approval from Cabinet to publish the employment (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. The Bill will be published in the next few days. It delivers on the programme for Government commitment to tackle some of the problems caused by casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. The key objective of this important legislation is to improve security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those with variable hours and to outlaw zero-hour contracts in most cases. Cabinet approval for that Bill was granted this morning and we expect the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, will publish it in the next few days.
Some of the commentary and analysis regarding changes to work patterns is not fully borne out by the facts. In the last number of quarters, the number of employees in part-time employment has fallen whereas the number of employees in full-time employment is increasing. That is not surprising. Initially, when a country comes out of a recession, when it comes out of a severe unemployment crisis, new part-time jobs are created and over time those part-time jobs become full time, and that is why the number of part-time jobs is now falling and the number of full-time jobs is now increasing again. We need to bear in mind that part-time work is not necessarily always a bad thing. Some people want to work part time and have their own reasons for doing so.
In terms of temporary employment, the most recent statistics show that the percentage of employees in temporary employment stood at 7.2% in 2008. That rose to 8.7% in 2011 and has fallen back to 7.1% in 2016. While the number of temporary employees overall may have increased because there are more people working, the percentage of the workforce in temporary employment is lower than it was eight years ago. That is an important fact for people to be aware of.
Similarly, the number of employees who are self-employed is increasing. As employment increases, as the population grows, more people establish their own businesses or professions. The percentage of the total workforce in self-employment was 10.3% in 2008. That rose to 11.3% in 2011 and fell back to 10.4% in 2016. The percentage of the workforce in self-employment is only 0.1% higher than it was eight years ago. These are facts that people need to be aware of.
Of course, the numbers are increasing because there are more people in the country and there are more people at work, but the percentage of the workforce who are self-employed, in part-time employment or in temporary employment is not increasing. Being in part-time employment or being self-employed is not a bad thing. In my view, it can be good for many people.
There are different ways to deal with the changes in the world of work. Thirty or 40 years ago, people might have hoped to get a job with a company, to be made permanent, to stay working with that company for their entire lives and to have a pension paid for by that company. Work has changed fundamentally in the past 30 or 40 years. I believe most people now in their 20s or 30s will work for a number of different employers. They may be self-employed for a period of time - often by choice, sometimes perhaps not. They will probably work in more than one or two countries. What we need to do is approach that in a modern way. One can try the reaction, which is to try and ban new forms of employment which is not the right way to go, or restrict immigration or restrict people from travelling to take up jobs elsewhere, or one can embrace the fact that economies evolve and societies change and adapt labour laws accordingly, not to ban these new forms of employment but to provide better social protection ensuring that everyone is covered by the social insurance system. That is why we have extended so many benefits to the self-employed that were not there previously. It is also why we want to bring in auto-enrolment for pensions to ensure that everyone pays in to a pension fund and can carry that pension fund with him or her as he or she moves from job to job, in and out of employment and self-employment and from country to country.