Unions reject flawed code on bogus contracts 

  • 27 Oct 2021

The NUJ said strong, punitive legal measures and not a “toothless” code are needed to protect workers

Delegates at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions biennial delegate conference in Belfast have backed an NUJ motion calling for punitive measures against employers who force workers to accept bogus self-employment contracts.

Conference unanimously adopted an NUJ motion criticising as inadequate the Irish government’s new code of practice published by Social Protection minister Heather Humphries in July.

In moving the motion Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, highlighted the progress made by the NUJ in RTÉ but criticised the slow process in securing retrospective rights for those who have secured proper contracts as a result of a recent review of contracts.

He said “it beggars belief” that the current Irish government’s approach to the issue of bogus self-employment is to rely on a toothless code of practice with no meaningful sanctions for employers who enforce false contracts.

“In the unequal relationship between employer and worker too many people have been forced to accept self-employment status despite the undeniable reality of the working arrangement.

“The new code of practice published in July ignores the scale of the crisis and proposes a tired old solution to a long festering problem which has been wilfully ignored by successive governments- despite the revenue implications for the State across a wide range of sectors, including construction, academia and the media. There has been a conspiracy of silence broken only by our movement.

“What we got from Minister Humphries was not robust legislation but a feeble and inadequate response dressed up in fancy words accompanied by breezy photographs of happy workers.

The NUJ and  Siptu are currently seeking to vindicate the rights of workers in RTÉ, where a review of bogus, self-employed contracts has not resolved the issue of retrospective rights of workers wrongly misclassified as self-employed workers over many years.

In RTÉ, a 2018 review by Eversheds Sutherland found  “inconsistencies” in its hiring practices for certain roles – the study of some 433 contractors found that 106 people were found to have “attributes akin to employment” and a further 51 contractors had “attributes akin to both employment and self-employment”. RTÉ later offered permanent contracts to 82 people

The Department of Social Protection suggested in an internal memo – also in July – that the employment records of more than 500 current and former RTÉ contractors “may need to be investigated” to see if PRSI contributions should have been paid.

Séamus Dooley said:

“You can dress the practice up any way you wish but whatever words you use the reality is forcing workers to accept self-employed contracts is an unacceptable practice which has no place in either the private or public sector. 

“What is needed is strong, punitive legal measures which protects the employment status of workers and guarantees retrospective rights when an employee secures a positive outcome from a statutory investigation. Workers who have been forced to accept bogus contracts should not have to go through legal hoops to secure their entitlements.

“We support the ICTU position that workers should be classified as direct employees, in the first instance and should not have to incur legal costs to vindicate their rights.”

The motion was seconded by Rachel Ryan, Siptu. 

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