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Some councillors have said they’re concerned about working conditions for some staff in the Sean McDermott Street swimming pool, after recent adverts for positions showed they’re treated as contractors rather than employees.
The council owns the pool and the jobs are funded as part of the regeneration package for the north-east inner city.
Earlier this month, Swim Ireland advertised for lifeguards – who would be hired as contractors.
The North East Inner City (NEIC) Office within Dublin City Council has also in the past helped to promote and publish adverts for contractor positions at the pool.
Some councillors say the way the posts are set up amounts to bogus self-employment, treating an employee as a self-employed contractor, leaving them with fewer rights.
“We need to ensure that individuals employed have access to all their rights and entitlements,” said independent Councillor Anthony Flynn, at a recent meeting of the council’s Central Area Committee.
“We need to look at what we are funding,” Flynn said – arguing that the council was funding jobs that failed to provide basic entitlements such as holiday pay.
Trisha Mayon, communications manager with Swim Ireland, says that the jobs advertised are in line with employment legislation.
“Swim Ireland engage self-employed contractors due to our requirement to operate the facility across 2.5 days, to provide flexibility to the individuals we engage, because there are no regular shift patterns,” says Mayon.
This allows people to “engage with other organisations simultaneously”, she said. They do this “because of the short-term nature of the funding provided to Swim Ireland”.
Dublin City Council’s Press Office has not yet responded to queries about how the positions fit in with the NEIC Office’s remit to provide employment as part of its push for long-term social and economic regeneration of the area.
Self-Employed, or Not
Some people working in other industries, such as construction or English-language teaching, have noted the issues that being forced to work as self-employed contractors, rather than employees, can create.
PAYE workers can get holiday pay, sick pay and pension contributions.
Many of those rights and entitlements are not available to those who are “self-employed”.
The Revenue Commissioners have a checklist of criteria to take into account, when judging if somebody should be an employee or is self-employed.
A self-employed person generally controls their working hours, is exposed to financial risk, has responsibility for investment and management, has their own insurance, and can provide the same services to multiple people, for example.
By contrast, an employee supplies labour only, receives a fixed wage, has set working hours, is told how, when and where to work, cannot subcontract the work, and has no responsibility for investment or management, for example.
Earlier this year, Swim Ireland advertised for part-time lifeguards to work in the Sean McDermott Street swimming pool as self-employed contractors.
In July 2018, they had also advertised eight posts – including a supervisor, leisure attendants, swimming teachers, and an “aquavator”. Those, too, were for self-employed contractors, the advert said.
Swim Ireland has three full-time staff at the Sean McDermott Street pool, says Mayon, of Swim Ireland. “The remaining workforce are made up of self-employed contractors of which there is a pool of 10.”
As a pilot project, Swim Ireland has ramped up opening hours at the pool from four days a week to seven days a week, says Mayon.
Swim Ireland run the pool for a half-day on Friday as well as all day Saturday and Sunday, she says.
“Rates for these roles are fixed, based on industry rates, which allows potential contractors to decide whether they wish to offer their services at Sean MacDermott Street Pool,” she says.
This allows people flexibility and to choose their own hours, says Mayon.
Swim Ireland also provides “opportunities for local people to gain vocational qualifications, in an industry which has a shortage of lifeguards and swimming teachers, as well as the opportunity for paid work and ways into employment”, says Mayon.
Backlash from Councillors
At the Central Area Committee meeting, Flynn, the independent councillor, asked whether it was appropriate for the council to bring young people in to work in a council-owned building without access to full employment rights.
“I don’t think that we as a council should be funding that,” he said.
“The individuals that go in for those positions should be entitled to their, rights and to their pay and their holiday pay,” he said.
He’s not the only councillor raising concerns.
“The ads beggar belief and call into serious question the governance and management of Swim Ireland,” said Labour Party Councillor Marie Sherlock, who is also the head of equality and policy at the trade union SIPTU, by email.
There are serious questions for those within the council who oversee the service-level agreements with Swim Ireland as well, said Sherlock, who has done research into issues around bogus self-employment.
“It is disgraceful to think that workers on a Dublin City Council-owned premises could be forced into precarious working conditions,” she said.
At the Central Area Committee meeting, Flynn asked to see the contracts that Swim Ireland is offering workers – a call backed by independent Councillor Christy Burke.
Said Ursula Donnellan, an administrative officer with Dublin City Council: “My understanding is that the weekend staffing are Swim Ireland employees. That is a different thing.”
Flynn pushed for more information, saying again that the posts are funded by Dublin City Council. (Swim Ireland confirmed that is the case.)
“If we are funding it we need answers,” he said.
Donnellan agreed to compile a report for councillors on the issue.