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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 2 Jun 1942

Vol. 87 No. 7

Electricity Supply Board (Superannuation) Bill, 1942—Fifth Stage.

I move that the Bill do now pass.

I have only had this Bill for a few moments, and I cannot say that I have completely understood the few amendments that were put in yesterday. As far as I can see, however, the superannuation scheme, in the main, remains very much as it was when this measure was introduced, and on that all I wish to say is that it was the original intention when the legislation was brought in, in 1927, that the board should have power to make a superannuation scheme for the employees and members of the Electricity Supply Board, and that is an intention which we shall see implemented sooner or later.

I characterise the provisions made here as being very meagre and inadequate for a type of board such as this is, and I think that some of the things that have been suggested are particularly ungenerous and approach very near to the point where they could be described as mean. As far as the impact of disputes with employees of the board is concerned, that is a matter which, if dealt with at all, should be dealt with by general legislation affecting disputes, and there should be no relationship—there is no necessity for such relationship—between superannuation schemes and any dispute that might arise. That is a matter which, I should also say, as far as I can manage it, we hope to have changed to a better position sooner or later.

Before this Bill passes, I should like to say that I think the Minister has adopted a particularly niggardly attitude in connection with the pensions scheme to be provided under this Bill. The supply of electricity is a national undertaking in this State, the Electricity Supply Board is virtually a State organisation, and there is a general desire that a pensions scheme ought to be of such a character that it would not be onerous on the potential recipients of pensions. In the case of this Bill, the Minister, while requiring contributions from the manual workers, is also requiring an increased contribution in respect of the years during which the pension scheme was not operative, and is thus imposing a heavy burden on the manual workers in the Electricity Supply Board. I think the Minister will find that the conditions under which pensions will be granted to these people are too onerous and the pensions themselves too small to make the pensions scheme attractive to them. It really means, therefore, that so far as large numbers of the manual workers are concerned, very few of them, I believe, will elect to come under the provisions of the scheme because of the substantial weekly contributions that they will have to pay, particularly in view of the fact that their ordinary wages are not sufficient to enable them to meet their ordinary financial burdens.

Having regard to the fact that the Electricity Supply Board undertaking has been an outstanding technical and financial success, and that the board has operated in such circumstances as to entitle the whole State to acclaim it as a very prosperous national undertaking, I think the Minister might have introduced a scheme of non-contributory pensions to provide much better benefits for the staff than will be available under this Bill. The odious portion of the Bill, of course, is that in which, in order to obtain a pension, a worker is obliged to renounce his natural rights under the Constitution, one of these natural rights, under the Constitution, being the right to organise to withhold his labour, if it is necessary to do that in order to remedy injustices. Under this Bill, a worker may be suffering under acute injustice, and even though he has a natural right to withhold his labour in order that that injustice may be remedied, if he does so, this Bill provides that in such circumstances he cannot obtain a pension, even though he has previously contributed towards a pension.

Having regard to the success of the Shannon scheme, I think the Minister might have introduced a much more generous pensions scheme than that which has been submitted to the House, and I think he was very unwise to impose, as a condition of the receipt of a pension, conditions which, he must know, are odious to the workers, and conditions which, so far as preserving the continuity of the generation and distribution of current by electricity are concerned, will be found to be quite valueless if ever a crisis in respect of wages and conditions of employment should arise. I think the Minister might very well have endeavoured to devise some type of conciliation machinery free from the atmosphere of threat and free from the atmosphere of duress. I think conciliation machinery of that kind would prove much more durable than the types of conditions which are imposed in this Bill in regard to the receipt of pensions by workers as a means of preserving concord and amity in the industry generally.

I want to say, in connection with the remarks made by the two Deputies who have spoken, that the points to which they have referred were debated at some length on the Committee and Report Stages of the Bill. The Deputies might have expressed those opinions then with a better opportunity of having them discussed. I merely want to repeat, for their information, what I said then. It is very easy to be generous with other people's money. It is a simple matter for Deputies, in a position of no responsibility, to urge that we should give unlimited pensions without contributions to workers when they know that the responsibility of finding the funds for the purpose will not be theirs. I think that, in devising a pension scheme for the workers of the Electricity Supply Board we must have due regard to the consequences of providing the funds for that purpose. While it is true that the amount required to pay pensions to the Electricity Supply Board staff is small in relation to the total revenue of the Electricity Supply Board, nevertheless it can be secured only from the charges for electricity throughout the country. Somebody will have to provide the funds, and I think it is not unreasonable to require that the pensions for such workers should be provided from a fund made up by contributions partly subscribed by the workers themselves. There is nothing ungenerous in giving 1/- for 6d., and that is what the scheme contemplated by this Bill proposes: that for every 6d. paid into the fund on behalf of a worker 1/- will be given back to him. That is a far better provision for the old age of those workers than the great majority of our citizens enjoy. The suggestion that the obligation to make a contribution to the fund is a burden on those workers is just nonsense. If the workers consider that it is a burden, then they have not to join the fund. But the provision in the Bill is, that for every 6d. a worker pays into the fund, he gets 1/- back.

That depends upon the amount of his wages.

The manual workers employed by the Electricity Supply Board are receiving the standard recognised trade union rate of wages paid to workers of the same grade in other employment who are without pensions.

That is not so.

I am saying that it is so.

I say definitely it is not.

Whenever the Deputy disagreed with me in the past he was proved to be wrong, and he is wrong in this particular instance.

They are getting 5/- less than gas workers who are doing a similar class of work. If they had those 5/- it would be easy for them to contribute a couple of shillings.

The position is, as I have stated, that other workers of the same grades employed by commercial concerns have no hope of getting a pension on retirement. They have not got the same security of employment either. In fact, they have a lesser prospect of continuous employment, so that from every aspect, the position of the Electricity Supply Board employees, of the same grades, is better than that of other workers employed by commercial firms. It is open to the Electricity Supply Board workers, if they so choose, to remain outside the pension scheme. If they do come into it, they know that the effect of their doing so will be to secure for them economic security in their old age for the payment of a comparatively small weekly contribution now.

Deputy Norton, of course, has misrepresented the purpose of the Bill in relation to disputes. There is nothing in this Bill which prevents an Electricity Supply Board worker going on strike. This Bill is not removing from him his right to go on strike, but if he exercises that right, then we do provide that certain consequences will follow from that course of conduct. To say that it is depriving the worker of a natural right is nonsense. Everybody, of course, has the right to justice, and I want to say most emphatically that the machinery established by this Bill to secure justice for the employees of the Electricity Supply Board in any matter in dispute between them and their employers will be far more effective than the right to strike to which Deputy Norton attaches so much importance.

Has not the Minister prejudged the issue by penalising them if they decide to exercise their right to strike for an increase?

We are making provision for the establishment of an independent tribunal to determine fairly any question in dispute that may arise between the board and its workers, and that will be far more effective machinery for getting justice——

That is what the Minister thinks.

—— in such a dispute than the precarious weapon to which the Deputies opposite attach so much importance. Deputy Norton spoke about the establishment of conciliation machinery. We are doing much more in this Bill. We are putting behind the conciliation machinery which normally operates in the country, as between the Electricity Supply Board and its employees, an independent tribunal which will secure for the employees of the board an independent judgment on any matter that may arise in dispute between themselves and the board. In that way we are protecting them against the possibility of their position being used to their disadvantage by their employers. I think that the employees of the Electricity Supply Board will gain substantially through the enactment of this Bill, and the consequent introduction of a pension scheme. The only hope that I would like to express, now that the Bill is about to pass, is that eventually we may be able to get a scheme equally good to operate in respect of a larger number of employees than those in the service of the Electricity Supply Board.

Question put and agreed to.