Labour Secures Rights for Freelance Workers

31 May 2017

Speech by Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin on Report & Final Stages of Competition Amendment Bill.

  • First Opposition Bill to pass into law from 32nd Dáil and 25th Seanad.
  • Provides collective bargaining rights for freelance workers.
  • Defines in law for first time bogus self employment.
  • Will ensure workers in the gig economy can organise for better rights.

Ceann Comhairle,

On behalf of the Labour Party, it is my great pleasure to speak this evening on the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016.

When signed by President Higgins, this will become the first piece of opposition legislation to become law since the election last year.

It hasn’t attracted much attention as it has progressed through the Houses, but this is a genuinely important Bill.

This Bill will immediately exempt voice-over actors, session musicians and freelance journalists from competition law.

In other words, they will be allowed to organise within trade unions.

And they will be allowed to bargain collectively – to negotiate with their employers for agreed rates of pay and terms and conditions.

Clearly, this is an important step forward for those working in the arts and in the media.

But it has much more wide-reaching long-term implications.

The Bill allows for other categories to be added by the Minister.

And perhaps most importantly, it defines in law the notion of bogus self-employment for the first time.

As my colleague Senator Ged Nash has said, this is a game-changer for workers in the gig economy.

It will provide them with a clear roadmap to achieve collective bargaining rights.

And in doing so, it will vindicate their democratic right to organise and to negotiate their pay and conditions.

The Labour Party has taken on the future of work as our flagship policy project over the coming months.

For some time now, we have seen a creeping casualisation of employment.

We have seen construction labourers forced to work as self-employed contractors.

And airline pilots required to do the same.

We have seen the growth of new companies like deliveroo who regard all of their workers as contractors.

And we have seen many predictions that this trend will grow and grow.

This Bill makes clear that Ireland won’t accept that.

If somebody has no choice in the days and times of day that they work;

If that person has to do exactly what they are told while at work;

Then they are not self-employed.

They are an employee, and deserve to be treated as such.

The statute book has never contained a definition of what can be regarded as bogus self-employment.

That changes with the passage of this Bill.

As ever when we reach the final stages of a piece of legislation, there are many people who deserve thanks for helping us to reach this point.

A version of this Bill was first published by Michael D. Higgins in 2006.

It was taken up again by former Deputy Emmet Stagg in 2012, before being introduced by Senator Ivana Bacik in early 2016.

It has progressed through these houses because of the tireless commitment of Senators Ivana Bacik and Ged Nash, and indeed that of Deputy Alan Kelly who has championed it in the Dáil.

11 years after it was first proposed, it will finally now become law.

I want to thank all of the past and present members of the Labour Party who have made sure that is the case.

I also want to thank Minister Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, who has been gracious and co-operative throughout the passage of this legislation.

And, as ever, these ideas don’t come from nowhere.

There are a number of unions who have kept the pressure up to make sure this didn’t slip off the agenda.

The Musicians Union of Ireland and Equity, both organised by SIPTU, along with the National Union of Journalists deserve enormous credit.

Because of their work, we are passing legislation that enhances the rights of those they represent.

Now the baton will pass back to them to organise these workers, and to deliver for them the terms and conditions that they deserve.

Twelve months ago today, this House agreed a private members motion tabled by the Labour Party.

That motion called for Government to make a set of changes to vindicate the rights of workers.

Sadly, like so many good ideas over the last year, a Dáil mandate has meant nothing, and that motion has been left to wither.

But the ideas contained in it remain as relevant as ever.

One of them, as it happens, was the need to legislate for the rights of freelance workers – I’m glad we’ve at least managed to tick that bit off the list now.

But there’s plenty more to be done.

A living wage for all in work.

Redress for the victims of workplace bullying.

An end to uncertain hours contracts.

Collective bargaining for all in work.

All of these are achievable.

And all of them should be done.

The Labour Party will champion them at every possible turn.

I hope the unanimity that has appeared around this Bill is an indication that others will join us in making these ambitions a reality.

For the last year, I have been highly critical of how this Dáil operates.

It is, as my colleague Jan O’Sullivan defined it, a do-nothing Dáil.

As a parliament, we are failing to make the decisions we were sent here to make.

And our people deserve better.

At least tonight we are showing that with relentless determination, some things can get done.

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