[Ireland] Crackdown on false self-employment will hurt economy

Legislation to fight the issue of false self-employment has harsh penalties which will hurt the economy, The Irish Times, reports.

These claims reportedly come from business lobby group the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec). The group told the Oireachtas committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection that customers would “flee” from those who were genuinely self-employed.

Under these false, or bogus, self-employment arrangements employers force workers to deny they are employees and declare themselves as self-employed. Ibec’s head of employment law services, Rhona Murphy, said there was a lack of evidence to suggest the practice was widespread.

She believes changing employment definitions would have a “significant distorting impact on the Irish economy.” Ms Murphy suggested increased inspections and better enforcement of current regulations could combat the problem.

Ms Murphy was concerned that specialist workers, in areas such as construction and IT, often prefer to be self-employed. She said the changes proposed could classify a window cleaner as a direct employee of a customer.

Regina Doherty - Minister for Employment Affairs - put a memo before the Cabinet with plans to address false and bogus self-employment. An investigative team was suggested to tackle the problem in large companies.

Additional legislation would be introduced to prevent workers with a genuine wish to determine whether they are self-employed from being victimised.

Members of the Opposition - among them Labour Senator Ged Nash and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith - have also brought forward the issue in Private Members Bills

Mr Nash said he knew of cases where workers complaining about incorrect classification had been blacklisted, “I know there is a form of blacklisting going on in the construction sector, and I have also learned there is blacklisting going on in parts of the pharmaceutical sector and IT sector.”

Ms Smith wanted openness and research into the scale of the problem, “We’re not making this stuff up, we don’t have these Bills before the House because we’ve nothing else to do.”

Willie O’Dea TD - Fianna Fáil spokesman on social protection - spoke of the “counter-narrative” that those addressing the problem wanted to “do down” genuinely self-employed workers.

“I have complaints on hand at the moment from people in the construction industry, from people being forced to act as self-employed, even when they are patently not self-employed,” Mr O’Dea said.

Jean Winters - the Construction Industry Federation’s (CIF) director of industrial relations - warned against the idea that bogus self-employment was widespread, “Recent reports on the misclassification of workers do not bear out the unions’ concerns,” she said.

Ms Winters believed legislation based “purely on anecdotal evidence” could end up “stifling the industry’s ability to grow and create employment”.