The Mandate trade union, which represents bar and retail workers, has told the Oireachtas Committee on Justice that the proposed Sale of Alcohol Bill must ensure the safety and well-being of bar staff as one if its key priorities.
The union told members that the bill should provide for the revocation of a licence where breaches of employment law occur and that workers' representatives should have a say in the issuing or renewal of licences.
Mandate says that up to 50,000 workers were employed in the bar trade before the pandemic but that there has been a significant exodus from the sector leading to labour shortages.
"As a result of this labour shortage in the licensed trade, bar workers are working even longer hours than ever before with many working until the very early hours of the morning with clean-up duties," said Mandate General Secretary Gerry Light.
"This is why we will be proposing that premium pay for those working after 11.30pm be mandatory and that there needs to be stronger penalties for employers who don't pay for 'cleaning up time' and who breach the working time legislation," Mr Light said.
"In addition, bars should be required to provide transport home for all staff working unsocial hours or at the very least pay them for transport home," he added.
Mandate is also calling for the bill to ensure that assaulting, threatening, abusing, obstructing or hindering workers is made a statutory offence.
In October 2022 the Government published details of the draft Sale of Alcohol Bill.
The legislation is designed to reform Ireland's antiquated licensing system which is currently based on a patchwork of 100 laws, some of which are over 200 years old.
Publishing the general scheme of the bill, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said it would lead to one modern piece of legislation to regulate the sale of alcohol.
The justice committee heard that proposed reforms to licencing laws will lead to more violence - including against children.
Marie Lawless of the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network warned that the changes will not achieve the Government's intention "to reduce alcohol-related harm, especially among young people".
"Deregulation and extending hours will increase harm", she told the Joint Committee on Justice during its consideration of The Sale of Alcohol Bill.
Dr Helen McAvoy, Director of Policy at the Institute of Public Health, said that the bill could have "significant unintended consequences".
By increasing the availability and consumption of alcohol it will also increase the damage alcohol causes, she predicted.
If enacted, the bill would allow pubs to stay open until 12.30am every day - including Sunday - with nightclubs serving until 5am and closing at 6am.
Late bars would continue to operate until 2.30am.
But they would need a new permit to do so, which would require having CCTV installed and accredited security staff on-site.
Campaigners told the committee that they were united in their opposition to the extended serving times.
A one-hour increase in opening times led to alcohol-related injuries rising by more than a third, Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, revealed, citing research conducted in Amsterdam.
While in Norway, violent crime rose by 16% for every additional hour alcohol was served, with domestic violence, including towards children, also worsening, she said.
Alcohol costs Ireland "at least €3.7bn annually", Ms Dr Gilheany noted.
When she unveiled the reforms, Minister McEntee said that they will help to stimulate the sector, which has seen a raft of closures.
However, unless there are improvements to public transport and workers' pay, Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said that "the much-hoped boost for the night-time economy will not materialise."