Irish Mail on Sunday February 28, 2010
A high proportion of Irish employers are flaunting employment laws by failing to give their workers pay slips and statements of the terms of conditions under which they are employed. Yet legislation to give extra powers to the National Employment Rights Authority and to establish it on a statutory basis has been languishing in the DÃ¡il for two years.
Survey results published this week by the Central Statistics Office show that only nine out of ten workers get pay slips, and the proportion is significantly lower in some sectors and among low pay workers.
Some 35% of workers in the agricultural, forestry and fishing sector have to accept their pay on face value with no written indication of what tax, PRSI or other deductions have been made. That applies equally to some 16% of workers in the construction industry and to a similar percentage in the hotel and restaurant sector.
By law, dating back to 1991, all employees are entitled to a payslip outlining gross pay, net pay and details of all deductions. The need for such information is obvious if only to check that the calculations have been properly made and to provide some assurance that tax, PRSI and other deductions are being made and paid over to the State, health insurance or pension fund.
Workers are also entitled, by law, to a written statement of terms and conditions. Itâ€™s supposed to be provided within two months of a worker taking up employment or moving to a new job with the same employer. But according to the CSO figures, one-in-three employers fail to comply with the law.
The CSO survey zoned in on workers who had taken up new jobs during the previous two years. Presumably that was because there was a greater chance that other workers might have difficulty remembering whether or not they got a statement of terms and conditions. Of those surveyed only 65% confirmed that their bosses have complied with the law, while 31% said that they hadnâ€™t. The other 4% did not know.
Thatâ€™s a worryingly low level of compliance with the law and the situation is even worse in the construction industry where over half of those surveyed, 51%, said that they hadnâ€™t been given a statement of terms and conditions. The figure was a slightly lower 48% in the hotels and restaurant sector.
It was to ensure a greater level of compliance that the National Employment Rights Authority was established early in 2007 as a separate entity within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Initially it was simply a change of name although it is intended to establish it as a statutory body. But it has been given extra functions over the past couple of years including answering the current heavy volume of queries about delays in processing the State element of redundancy payments. It also took on an enforcement role in relation to employment permits.
No doubt its resources are under pressure but it did undertake almost 9,000 inspections last year â€“ not much down on the previous year.Â But only 69% of those surveyed were found to be in full compliance with the law. That confirms that the results of the CSO survey, which was carried out in 2008, have not been overtaken by events.
The upgrading of the National Employment Rights Authority to a statutory body and the provision of extra powers to enable it to more easily carry out its functions were promised as part of the â€œTowards 2016â€ social partnership agreement. An early draft of the legislation, The Employment Law Compliance Bill 2008, did get a second reading in the DÃ¡il but numerous amendments are expected. The expectation that it would be enacted helped to gain trade union support for the Lisbon Treaty in the face of worries over some European Court judgements.
But it seems to have been long-fingered and may never make it to the statute book. Fine Gael is opposed to many of its provisions so if it dies with the DÃ¡il it may be some time before it is resurrected. Until it is passed the work of the Authority is hampered by the lack of adequate powers to enforce employment law and the regulation of immigrant work permits.
There is also currently inadequate protection for workers who report non-compliant employers. One of the provisions of the proposed legislation is designed to protect whistleblowers.
But instead of getting additional power and extra staff the National Employment Rights Authority is facing cut-backs. The McCarthy â€œBord Snipâ€ report recommended that it be merged with the Health & Safety Authority. McCarthy estimated that some 33 jobs could be trimmed from the combined operation providing cost savings of at least â‚¬5 million a year.
That may come in the near future as part of a restructuring of Government departments and services. But the Authorityâ€™s budget has already been cut this year. The savings related totally to pay costs. Staff numbers are down from 128 in 2008 to 113 this year and, of course, pay rates are down.
Getting employers to comply with the law is clearly not a Government priority yet in the current economic climate workers need more, rather than less, protection.