I welcome the Bill and the alternative Bills put forward by Deputy Tóibín of Sinn Féin and Deputy Willie O’Dea of Fianna Fáil. It is strange that an alternative Bill was not put forward by People Before Profit. It is easy to criticise what has been put forward. I look forward to the amendments which will be tabled by Deputy Boyd Barrett’s colleagues. To educate him a little further, from what I understand there are 27 members in the EU and not 15, which the Deputy mentioned.
I welcome the Bill which is the first substantial one since the 1946 Act. One must remember that in 1946, pubs did not open on a Sunday. One of the sectors covered in this Bill is the catering and hospitality trade. At that time, most employment was in the agriculture sector. Currently, approximately 200,000 people are employed in the agriculture sector but at the time of the 1946 Act, farming was a very labour intensive industry. The circumstances now are totally different from those when the 1946 Act was brought forward.
I welcome the contributions made by all Members.
I look forward to the amendments that will be tabled on Committee Stage. The Minister has also indicated that he will be bringing forward a number of amendments on Committee Stage. I welcome the speed with which the Minister reacted to the High Court decision back in July by bringing this Bill forward rapidly so that we can now deal with it.
In his speech, the Minister referred to flexibility on a number of occasions. I know that Deputy Boyd Barrett has a problem with the word “flexibility” but we are in different circumstances now. Flexibility in the workforce is a key to the future. New industries are rapidly coming forward and consequently we need a much more flexible workforce. As a result, we need legislation that can also be flexible, taking into consideration the various circumstances in which workers find themselves.
Competitiveness is another key aspect in this context. I am pleased that we have become much more competitive in the last couple of years, particularly in certain sectors. In future, low-paid workers will end up in sectors such as tourism, which in the past was part of the JLCs in the hospitality sector. I know about this sector from my own family background, which was in catering. My brother is involved in the pub trade. It must be recognised that we are now operating seven days a week, rather than five days a week as heretofore. As a consequence, workers are willing to engage in working flexible hours. They also understand the necessity not to be bound by previous JLCs.
The proposed Bill looks after both employers and employers. Employers will get one shot at being allowed to reduce or remove JLCs through this legislation and they cannot come back for five years. I have a slight problem with that, so I will talk to the Minister about tabling an amendment to remove the five-year period. It should be up the Labour Court to decide whether an employer can avail of circumstances to change this matter. The Mandate union should make a submission to the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education as quickly as possible. I urge it to do so.
Much of the workforce is currently involved in casual labour. One third of those in receipt of unemployment benefit have some work, but we should encourage more unemployed people to re-enter the workforce through casual work. We must adapt social payments so that those who want to work two or three hours a week, or can only get casual jobs, will not be punished as a result.