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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 May 1966

Vol. 222 No. 15

Committee on Finance - Industrial Training Bill, 1965: Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

This Bill rests on five main propositions. They are, first: that one of the most important investments that a nation can make is in developing the skills and know-how of its people; second: that, while the community as a whole has a stake in the development of such skills and know-how, the primary responsibility for training workers rests on the people who employ them; third: that the training costs of industry should be shared equitably amongst the employers in the industry; fourth: that, in an era of economic and technological change, training cannot be treated as a "once-for-all" measure—it must be a continuing process; and fifth: that every man and woman is entitled to a reasonable opportunity of improving his or her standard of skill so as to achieve a better position in life.

If these propositions were being met over the broad spectrum of our industrial and commercial life there would be no need for this Bill. But they are not. The investment of time, effort and money in training falls far short of what is required if the economy is to develop at a sufficient pace. Too few employers recognise that investment in training is every bit as important as investment in buildings, plant and equipment. The burden of training, which should be spread fairly over all employers in an industry, is often borne by the progressive few. In many cases training is regarded as a static exercise. The prevailing attitude is—"Let's get it over and done with". This just will not do. Training schemes must be dynamic— always reacting and responding to the changes taking place in the world about them. There is a damaging rigidity about our training schemes— damaging to the individual as well as to the economy. There are too many jobs to which a man cannot aspire if he was not wise enough, or lucky enough to enter one of them immediately after leaving school.

I have, of course, been painting the general picture. I admit freely that some of our more progressive firms have excellent training schemes— schemes which can compare favourably with the best in operation anywhere in the world. But these are only the highlights in a rather gloomy overall situation. The general inadequacy of our present training arrangements is clear from the various Reports of the Committee on Industrial Organisation. There has, of course, been some improvement since these Reports were published. A number of Adaptation Councils and the associated Trade Union Advisory Bodies have been successful in stimulating greater interest in, and action on, training. But much more remains to be done, and time is running out. The continued expansion of our economy depends, to a great extent, on the expansion of industrial exports and the maintenance, at least, of the home market for our industries in freer trading conditions. This means that our industries must become more efficient, but they cannot do so unless they pay more attention to, and invest more money in, the training of their workers. There are numerous cases on record of firms which have achieved quite startling increases in productivity solely as a result of the introduction of well-planned and carefully introduced, but relatively inexpensive, training schemes. We need to create a situation in which the majority of firms in this country will closely examine the adequacy of their present training arrangements and it is our belief that this Bill, when enacted, will bring about such a situation.

The provisions of the Bill were explained in some detail in the memorandum which was circulated with it. I think, therefore, that it is only necessary for me to emphasise the main features and explain the thinking behind them.

The Bill applies to all activities of industry and commerce, including trades and occupations, but it does not apply to professional occupations nor does it apply to activities of primary production in agriculture, horticulture and fishing. The exclusion of the professions is self-explanatory. So far as agriculture and fishing are concerned, the responsibility for developing training schemes in these fields rests with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. The Bill does, however, cover training in industries processing agricultural products and the training of agricultural workers for other occupations.

Apprentices in State employment come within the scope of the Apprenticeship Act, 1959, and they are covered by the provisions of this Bill, which do not, however, apply to other persons in State employment. We have made a distinction, therefore, between the position of apprentices employed by the State and other persons in State employment. The reason for this is that there will be legally enforceable rules regarding the recruitment and training of apprentices and we feel that the State, as an employer of apprentices, should be subject to such rules just as other employers will be. As regards other workers, however, there will be only recommendations as to nature and manner of their training and it can easily be arranged that these recommendations are taken into account by Government Departments involved in the training of workers. It would be an unnecessary complication if all the provisions of the Bill were to apply to the State. Workers employed in statutory organisations and semi-State bodies will, of course, be covered by the provisions of the Bill.

The Bill provides for the establishment of a new training authority to be known as An Chomhairle Traenála. An Chomhairle will consist of a Chairman and six ordinary members. If the Chairman is appointed in a whole-time capacity he will act as Chief Officer. If the Chairman is part-time, a full time Chief Officer will be appointed as well. Two of the ordinary members will represent skilled and general workers and will be nominated by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. A further two members will represent employers and will be selected from amongst persons nominated by employers' organisations. One member will be appointed, following consultation with the Minister for Education, to represent educational interests. The sixth ordinary member will be appointed by the Minister and the intention is that he should represent the general public interest. It will be seen, therefore, that An Chomhairle will be representative of all the interests which have a stake in, and will be affected by, measures to improve and modernise our systems of training.

The functions of An Chomhairle are set out very fully in section 9 of the Bill and are summarised in paragraph 7 of the explanatory memorandum. It will be the duty of An Chomhairle to provide, and to promote the provision of, training for persons in any activity of industry or commerce. Let me say at once that An Chomhairle will be expected to give priority to training needs in the industrial sphere and that I believe that it will have its hands full with this task for some years to come. Consequently, it is most unlikely that An Chomhairle will be in a position, for a considerable time, to do much in the field of training for commercial activities.

A further point I should make is that An Chomhairle will not, at any stage, be duplicating training schemes already in existence. In fact, subsection 2 of section 9 of the Bill places on An Chomhairle an obligation to take account of existing courses before it provides new ones of its own. In particular, An Chomhairle will not be taking over, or duplicating or setting up in opposition to courses already provided under our educational system. We are all aware of the excellent work being done by vocational education committees in the field of industrial and commercial training. It will be the aim of An Chomhairle in consultation with the Department of Education, to ensure that the fullest possible use is made of both existing and new facilities provided under the educational system in the interests of harmony, economy and the optimum use of training resources which are likely to be in short supply.

In the same way, An Chomhairle will not take over existing schemes which are being run successfully by other organisations. Its aim will be to help such organisations to do a better job. For instance, the Council for Education Recruitment and Training in the Hotel Industry has been doing first-class work in its field. This Council is representative of workers, employers and An Bord Fáilte, and is financed on a tri-partite basis.

There is clearly scope for co-operation between An Chomhairle and the Council but it obviously would not make sense for An Chomhairle, which will have many urgent tasks to perform, either to duplicate or take over work which is being done successfully by the Council in a specialised field. These comments apply with equal force to other organisations which provide training courses. I have in mind, in particular, the excellent work being performed by the Irish Management Institute. An Chomhairle will not concern itself directly within management training, but again there may be many opportunities for co-operation and co-ordination between An Chomhairle and the Institute.

In brief, the aim of An Chomhairle should be to provide, or secure the provision of, training where it is neglected, to co-operate with other bodies and organisations to secure improvements in training schemes already in existence, and to endeavour to ensure that existing training facilities, both within and outside our educational system, are utilised to the fullest possible extent.

Subject to what I just said it is the intention that An Chomhairle should have power to concern itself with all types of industrial and commercial training including:

the training of apprentices; the retraining of adults to skilled level by accelerated vocational training methods; the training and retraining of operatives; the training of unemployed and redundant workers who have the aptitude to acquire new skills; refresher training for workers whose skills need to be improved or brought up-to-date; the training of agricultural workers for other occupations; advance training of workers for new industrial projects; the training, where necessary, of instructors, supervisors and technicians.

In the normal course of events, An Chomhairle will proceed by bringing an industry, or where this is desirable, an occupation which is common to a number of industries, under the scope of the Act by means of an industrial training order under section 21. It will be noted that An Chomhairle must consult with employers' and workers' organisations, and make other enquiries, before it takes this step. It will then set up an industrial training committee for the industry. This Committee must be representative of workers and employers and of the educational and other interests concerned and its task will be to advise and assist An Chomhairle in dealing with the training problems of the industry. There is power to declare an existing organisation to be a training committee for the purposes of the Bill. This has been included so as to avoid, where possible, the proliferation of representative committees.

The intention is that An Chomhairle should, in consultation with the appropriate industrial training committee, tackle the various training problems of the industry as a whole. It would deal with the initial training of all workers in the industry including apprentices and operatives. It would deal with retraining of workers and with refresher training. It would decide whether accelerated vocational training methods should be introduced to overcome shortages of skill. It would tackle, where necessary, the problem of training instructors and supervisors. It would pay special attention to the training needs of agricultural workers entering an industrial environment, and to the retraining for new jobs of workers who become, or who are expected to become, redundant. I believe that it is only by co-ordinating the various parts of the training programme of an industry into a coherent whole that worthwhile results can be achieved. It is the only way in which we can provide the flexible, adaptable system of training which is so necessary to ensure that our industries will have the services of skilled men and women in all categories of work.

I have a special word to say about apprenticeship. The Bill provides for the repeal of the Apprenticeship Act, 1959 and for the transfer to An Chomhairle Traenála of the functions assigned to An Cheard-Chomhairle and the apprenticeship committees established under the Act of 1959. In effect, the new authority will have powers, similar to those contained in the 1959 Act, to make legally enforceable rules governing all aspects of the recruitment and training of apprentices. The orders, rules etc. made under the 1959 Act will remain in force until amended or revoked by the new authority and the apprenticeship committees established under that Act will operate, for the time being, as industrial training committees under section 22 of the Bill.

We have adopted this approach because we are convinced that the training of apprentices must form an integral part of the general training programme of an industry. We believe that it would be a bad mistake to deal with the training of apprentices as if it were a thing apart. An Cheard Chomhairle has, over the past six years, done some excellent work in modernising our system of apprenticeship and in securing increases in apprentice intake where this was necessary. I want to pay a special tribute to the members of An Cheard Chomhairle and to the members of the various apprenticeship committees for their efforts.

I want to stress that much of the success that has been achieved has been due to the spirit of goodwill and co-operation displayed by the workers' and employers' representatives both in An Cheard Chomhairle itself and in the apprenticeship committees. I realise, therefore, that it may come as a disappointment to some of the members of An Chomhairle to find their services being dispensed with after all their hard work. I know, too, that members of the apprenticeship committees may feel resentful that their powers are being taken from them and vested in An Chomhairle Traenála. I am sure that they will all appreciate that this is no reflection on them or on their work. It is an inevitable consequence of the decision to tackle the training problems of an industry as a whole and to concern ourselves with the training of all workers and not just the training of apprentices.

I have mentioned that apprenticeship committees under the 1959 Act will operate, for the time being, as industrial training committees under section 22 of this Bill. I can see no reason why, on the understanding that the committees are discharging their functions in a responsible manner, they should not continue to function as heretofore despite the transfer of powers to An Chomhairle Traenála.

There is another point about apprenticeship and accelerated vocational training which I should like to put in perspective. There is no question of abolishing the apprenticeship system as the main means of producing skilled workers. Neither is there any question of flooding the skilled trades with adult trainees. The apprenticeship system must be expanded and, despite the work which has been done over the past few years, must be further improved and modernised. It will remain the principal way of producing skilled workers, but it will no longer be the only way of doing so. I do not think that anyone can doubt that, despite improvement, the apprenticeship system is, and is likely to remain, rather inflexible in certain respects. It is, for example, inadequate for dealing with unexpected or unforeseen shortages of skill. Such shortages can arise for a variety of reasons, for example, restrictions on intake in the past, the expansion of existing industries, or the establishment of new ones. Since it takes some years for an apprentice to become a skilled worker, the system cannot cope with shortages which emerge suddenly. But shortages of this sort can be damaging to the economy in a number of ways. They impose a definite restriction on economic expansion and give rise to the inflationary pressures often associated with full employment.

Accordingly, the new authority will have power to provide training courses, probably in special centres, using accelerated vocational methods for training adults. In this way it will be possible to overcome shortages of skill and, at the same time, to give men who have the necessary ability and aptitude, an opportunity to receive successful training for occupations which have been closed to them because they did not enter apprenticeship immediately after leaving school.

I want to emphasise again that the object of these courses will be to supplement, not to replace, the apprenticeship system. The nature of the courses and the number of adults to receive training in them will be determined by An Chomhairle, which will be a representative body, after full consultation with industrial training committees, which will also be fully representative of all concerned. Furthermore, An Chomhairle and the committees will be responsible also for apprentice training and will, therefore, be in a position to strike a fair balance from time to time, between the number of skilled men to be produced by apprenticeship and the number to be produced by accelerated vocational training methods.

As I see it, An Chomhairle will seek general agreement on the way this problem should be handled. I am satisfied that the trade union movement as a whole will deal with the question in a responsible way bearing in mind the national interest and the good of individual workers. There should not, therefore, be undue difficulty, in the majority of cases, in reaching agreement on the intake of apprentices and on the numbers of adults to be trained by accelerated vocational training methods. But we have to face the fact that there may be obstruction on the part of some unions, or on the part of some members of some unions even though this may be contrary to union policy. We have provided, therefore, in sections 38 and 42, that it shall be an offence, punishable by a maximum fine of £1,000, for any person to prevent or obstruct an arrangement made by An Chomhairle relating to the intake of apprentices or to the employment of a person who has successfully undergone training in a course provided or approved by An Chomhairle.

In view of what I have said earlier, I believe that these provisions will be brought into use very seldom and I hope they will not have to be used at all. But we must insist that the development of our economy should not be retarded by artificially created shortages of skill and, if we are to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds setting up accelerated vocational training centres, we must make sure that the workers trained in them are allowed to work at the jobs for which they have been trained.

One final word on this point. I trust nobody will try to argue that you cannot produce a skilled man by accelerated vocational training methods. It is being done in the North; it is being done in Britain; it is being done in practically every European country. The man so trained may need further experience on the job—but this is true also of many apprentices who have served their time.

Deputies will have observed that it is only in relation to apprentices that An Chomhairle can make legally enforceable rules. So far as the training of other workers is concerned An Chomhairle will proceed by way of recommendations under section 9. A powerful weapon in the hands of An Chomhairle to see that these recommendations are implemented throughout industry will be the system of levies and grants under sections 19 and 17. I mentioned earlier that there was a need to stimulate greater interest in training amongst employers generally and to spread the cost of training more equitably amongst all employers in an industry. At present, the position is that many employers who invest heavily in the training of their workers are subsidising those who are doing little or no training. Measures are needed to redress this situation.

The Bill accordingly provides that An Chomhairle may raise training levies from the employers in an industry which it has brought within the scope of the Act by means of an industrial training order. These levies will be designed to equalise the training costs of employers in the industry. It will be brought home to those who are not pulling their weight in the amount and quality of the training which they give that they will have to pay for the luxury. The money received from levies raised from each industry will be kept in separate accounts and will be paid back to industry by means of grants under section 17. The basis of the grants will be that employers who meet their training responsibilities in full will be refunded the full amount of the levy; those who do more than their share of training will get a grant which will exceed the amount of the levy paid; those who do less than their fair share of training will get a grant of an amount lower than the very paid; those who do no training at all will not receive a grant and will suffer in full the loss of the levy paid.

Before making a levy order, An Chomhairle will consult with the appropriate industrial training committee. There will also be consultations about the basis on which the compensatory grants should be paid. It is clear that the grants must relate to the amount and quality of training given, and that, in this regard, account will have to be taken of the extent to which recommendations under section 9 are being implemented by an employer. The making and amendment of a levy order will be subject to the consent of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. It will be possible to exempt certain employers from a levy order where this is considered desirable. Where a levy order is made, an appeal tribunal must be established by the Minister to determine appeals by any employers who wish to appeal against an assessment to the levy.

Apart from making grants to offset levies An Chomhairle may, under section 17, make grants or loans to persons providing approved courses or other training facilities. An Chomhairle may arrange with other persons to provide training courses on its behalf and may make grants towards the expenses arising. It may also make grants to employers who undertake the training or retraining of unemployed or redundant workers at its request.

It is intended that, in time, all grants for industrial training should be channelled through the one agency. For this purpose, section 18 provides that, on a date or dates to be determined, An Chomhairle will take over the functions of An Foras Tionscal and the Shannon Free Airport Development Company Limited in relation to the making of grants for the training of workers in new industrial undertakings.

The Bill has been drafted so as to concentrate executive powers in the hands of a representative but compact authority, and, at the same time, so as to ensure that there will be full consultation, in normal circumstances, with the interests directly concerned with, or likely to be affected by, the decisions of the authority. We consider, that this is the best way of making certain that, subject to necessary consultation with the interests involved, the necessary action in the field of training is initiated and implemented with speed and with determination. However, as pointed out in the explanatory memorandum, An Chomhairle will be able to exercise all its functions, except those relating to apprenticeship and levies, without first making an industrial training order and establishing an industrial training committee.

It is clearly desirable that An Chomhairle should be in a position to move quickly when circumstances seem to warrant this course. It may be necessary for An Chomhairle to mitigate the effects of redundancy in an industry by training and retraining arrangements before it has had the opportunity of following the normal procedure. Again, one of the first things An Chomhairle will probably have to do is to institute experimental training and retraining arrangements in advance of bringing industries formally within the scope of the legislation.

There is provision for the financing of An Chomhairle by means of non-repayable grants. It is clear that the effective discharge of its functions will involve An Chomhairle in considerable expenditure but it is not possible at present to give any estimate of what this is likely to be. We do know that the capital cost in Northern Ireland of building and equipping an industrial training centre capable of handling at the same time 300-600 trainees, depending on the occupations involved, is of the order of £500,000. We know, too, that they are spending close to £800,000 a year in the North on industrial training. So, despite the beneficial effects which we hope for from the levy-grant system, it is clear that if we make a major effort in this field, we are also going to incur heavy expenditure. This we are prepared to do because we recognise the key role which training has to pay in the future development of our economy.

I think I have done what I set out to do, namely, to explain the main provisions of the Bill and the thinking behind them. This Bill is only one of a series of manpower measures we are taking. An Chomhairle will require manpower forecasts to enable it to made decisions about training and retraining. It will need the help of the Employment Service in selecting unemployed and redundant workers for training and in placing them after training. It will have to relate its allowances for persons undergoing training to the schemes for redundancy payments and resettlement allowances. An Chomhairle will, therefore, be subject to the general policy control of the Manpower Agency and will operate in the light of objectives determined by the Agency.

I do not think that anyone will quarrel with the principles underlying this Bill, or with the objectives which it sets out to attain. There may be differences of opinion as to the best way of achieving these objectives. I have already asked the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the various employers' organisations for their views on the Bill. I am prepared to consider carefully any constructive criticism, any suggestion for improvement, any useful advice from Members of this House or from any other quarter. But I think Deputies will agree with me when I say that legislation is required, and required urgently on this most important subject; and I am confident that, given goodwill and co-operation from all concerned, the Bill now before the House does provide a suitable framework within which the job of providing adequately for our training needs can be effectively tackled.

It is quite clear that in Ireland, where I suppose our greatest asset is our young people, such a measure as this is necessary, but the regret that we would have on this side of the House is that such a measure was not produced a long time ago. I would agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that while the general approach to this measure from all sides will be one of goodwill, and an appreciation of its necessity, there will at the same time be considerable differences of opinion about what is the best way to go about the job. This is a Second Reading Stage but I think a lot of work will be done on this Bill on Committee Stage. There are certain aspects of the Bill, of the explanatory memorandum and of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech, which however call for comment at this stage.

In a general way, I should like to say that we find ourselves about to enter a free trade area arrangement with Britain—the first reduction of tariffs will occur in July of this year— in an exactly opposite position to those who started on the Common Market adventure, because when the Common Market adventure began, there was a social fund and a retraining fund by which moneys could be circulated in industries to retrain workers who were dispossessed of their jobs and also to look after the social aspect. There is nothing social about what is proposed here and the position is that we have to pay for it ourselves. We would be in the position of being one of the most interrupted countries in the European Economic Community in as much as our industrial structure is very much likely to be affected to a greater extent by the free trade area provisions than Britain because of the obvious disability we have as to size.

If we were in the EEC, we would find that contributions from the British Exchequer would be channelled in here towards the retraining of our workers and the replacement of our industry. In this case, sad though it be, we have to pay for it ourselves, one way or another. I do not produce this as a criticism of the Government but as a matter of fact. It does limit our opportunity in this regard and it does look morally inequitable but the position being as it is, there is nothing that the Parliamentary Secretary, the Government or the Opposition can do except set about the job. How to set about it is going to be the main point of difference here.

The Parliamentary Secretary indicated a certain toughness in approach, and I suppose you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs, but it does appear that there will be a considerable number of amendments on Committee Stage when this Bill is being considered in relation to whether or not this toughness is the right line. The first principle given by the Parliamentary Secretary—he puts it second but I regard it as first—is:

that, while the community as a whole has a stake in the development of such skills and know-how, the primary responsibility for training workers rests on the people who employ them.

The third principle is:

that the training costs of an industry should be shared equitably amongst the employers in the industry.

If our economy were bursting at the seams with prosperity, that line of country might be followed. But here we have a series of industries created by Government policy to supply our own people and who were not, up to a short time ago, encouraged to go into the export market. The negotiation by the converted Government, and rightly so, as I said, of our entry into the Free Trade Area indicates that the Government have a responsibility in this matter. It was indicated to such industries over decades rather than years that it was unlikely there would ever be an interruption of the complete protection afforded them by our system of tariffs and quotas. These industries will now find themselves exposed to the cold wind of competition from abroad. This has happened almost at the turn of a key and will have effect commencing from 1st July next.

In that situation, I wonder whether the extremely tough line implied in this Bill, and fortified by a levy which really amounts to a system of fines, is in fact the right approach. We agree that in the Common Market, particularly in France, when they sought to re-align their industry to meet the challenge of new competition, their system was rather like our system, one of the carrot and the stick. The carrot was dangled before the industrialist who was not in danger but with changes in the structure, the position was that if he did not take the carrot with its good and bad parts, he would find himself out on a limb. It all added up to the fact that the carrot was really a stick.

We have come out more clearly with a system of levies and grants which seems to mean that nobody in industry will be able to keep out of the retraining effort. That is probably a good thing. But there can be a considerable injustice in the case of certain people who might not be in a position to avail of the advantages of retrained or newly-trained young workers. The best we can do for these people at present is an adaptation grant of 25 per cent, whereas new industries will get 50 or 60 per cent. This means these people have to find 75 per cent themselves. How they will do so is something I cannot answer at this stage.

The placement of workers in the areas of industrial development—rather strangely announced this morning by the Minister for Local Government— indicates there is a need for this retraining. There is going to be disruption and we have to do the job one way or another.

I find an anomaly in the Parliamentary Secretary's circulated speech which I should like to have explained. It is probably that I, like other Deputies, have only had a few minutes to read it. I quote from page 12 of the speech:

We have provided, therefore, in sections 38 and 42, that it shall be an offence punishable by a maximum fine of £1,000, for any person to prevent or obstruct an arrangement made by An Chomhairle relating to the intake of apprentices or to the employment of a person who has successfully undergone training in a course provided or approved by An Chomhairle.

In paragraph 19 at the bottom of the page, the Parliamentary Secretary goes on:

One final word on this point. I trust nobody will try to argue that you cannot produce a skilled man by accelerated vocational training methods. It is being done in the North, it is being done in Britain, it is being done in practically every European country. The man so trained may need further experience on the job—but this is true also of many apprentices who have served their time.

Then paragraph 20 says:

Deputies will have observed that it is only in relation to apprentices that An Chomhairle can make legally enforceable rules.

I want to put this question to the Parliamentary Secretary, which I am sure he will be able to dispose of immediately so that we can carry on without being confused. If a man were trained to do fitter's work by accelerated vocational training methods, were taken on by an employer in a machinery works, if the union objected to this man because he had been trained by this method and had not been an apprentice and if the union sought to obstruct the employment of this man by picketing, would the fines of £1,000 and £100 per day for a continuing offence be enforceable against that union or would the sentence at the start of paragraph 20 have effect, where the Parliamentary Secretary indicates that it is only in relation to apprentices that An Chomhairle could make legally enforceable rules?

The Comhairle would have power to sue the union.

Then the position in regard to this matter is clearly defined. This sentence at the top of paragraph 20 has no relation to this fine of £1,000 and £100 a day?

Then my suggestion of toughness is further fortified by this indication of the Parliamentary Secretary. This means the end of the craft trades, not this year but in the next decade. We have to consider now whether or not this is a good thing. I know there are certain crafts which certainly could be taught to a man by accelerated vocational training methods. Whether or not that is a good thing is something on which I have to make up my mind between now and the next Dáil session. There are certain craft unions who restrict the number of apprentices coming forward most vigorously. There are certain craft unions who restrict the number of apprentices to members of a family who previously had been in these unions. Take, for example, painters. I do not take them for any particular purpose. The painters' union will tell you that because of the arrival of all sorts of mechanically-produced signs, fluorescent lighting signs and all sorts of signs made from various materials, there is less work for painters.

Debate adjourned.