Workers were told by the Government to remain indoors during the major storms. Picture: Arthur Kinahan
The proposed Extreme Weather Bill proposed in the wake of Storms Ophelia and Emma will not be introduced by Government, defeating Sinn Féin hopes to give workers the right to stay away from work during severe weather events.
Drafted by Sinn Féin's Louth TDs Gerry Adams and Imelda Munster - with party spokesperson for workers rights David Cullinane - the bill aimed to provide for the safety of employees during certain severe weather warnings, such as the Status Red warnings that were put in place country wide last October and again at the end of February.
It wanted to see designated Status Red Weather Warning days treated as public holidays, meaning both private and public sector employees can stay at home and be paid as if it were a working day.The Bill would have made it illegal for companies to punish employees who missed work during such weather events.
Three people lost their lives across the country last October, as Storm Ophelia battered the country during a Status Red warning. Local man Fintan Goss died when a tree fell on his car as he returned home from work. The Ravensdale native left work early that day, due to the severe weather conditions.
The bill was discussed in Dáil Éireann on Thursday. Speaking yesterday, a government spokesperson said, "There are a large number of concerns with this bill."
Minister for State Pat Breen said, "Only in very extreme circumstance would a red alert give rise to any form of business closures. The provisions of the bill are not workable either from a legal or practical perspective.
"The bill assumes that there will always be advanced notification of status red weather warnings, which is not always the case."
Government ministers felt that they were not in a position to tell business owners what to do in the event of such circumstances.
“Businesses have different ways of working today and we feel it is for the businesses to decide what is in the best interests of the safety of their employees,” Minister Eoghan Murphy said.
According to reports, Business Minister Heather Humphreys told colleagues at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that the Bill is being proposed in “good faith” but must be opposed because the government are not permitted to tell the private sector what to do in such weather events.
Reacting to the rejection of the Bill, Gerry Adams aired his displeasure, accusing the parties in power of 'putting lives at risk.'
"Storm Emma and Ophelia exposed the weakness in existing legislation and the confusion that exists over the responsibilities of employers and the rights of workers in the private sector," he said.
"The Sinn Féin Bill is about addressing these issues. The need for this was most obvious in advance of Storm Emma when the Government urged people not to travel unless absolutely necessary and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar specifically asked everyone to stay at home for a 24 hour period during the red status alert.
"The decision by the Government and Fianna Fáil to oppose this Bill will continue to put at risk the lives of citizens faced with the choice of working during extreme weather alerts as demanded by their employer and losing wages," he continued.
"Storm Ophelia was responsible for three deaths; Fintan Goss, Clare O’Neill and Michael Pyke. The government and Fianna Fáil should support our Bill and strengthen the legislative mechanisms available to protect citizens and avoid preventable future deaths.”