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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Jul 1966

Vol. 223 No. 13

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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I do not intend to delay the House very long as I already made part of my contribution on the previous occasion. Through a process of question and answer in the last few moments of the debate, the Parliamentary Secretary made it clear there was a considerable stricture on small trade unions in this Bill. If a person is trained under the proposed accelerated training system to be a painter or carpenter and if a union should challenge the right of that person to be so described or employed, the penalties in this Bill are sufficient to deter any union or person from making such objection. This would indicate that an employer prepared to employ such a person could hope to have the benefit of that man's work without interference. I have not heard anybody in any public pronouncement since the introduction of the Bill objecting to this course. There has been no objection either from the Labour Party or the trade unions. For that reason I feel that, on balance, everybody agrees with this provision. This is probably a good thing. Surely the agency proposed will not retrain people in craft trades which are dying or in which there is not an opportunity for future employment? This would be a stupid thing to do. While at first sight it might appear there is a danger here to the craft unions, on mature reflection, it would seem there is no such danger.

This is, of course, a terrific change. We are all aware that in certain parts of the country the number of apprentices allowed to each accredited painter and carpenter is severely limited. It is related, of course, to the amount of work there is for painters and carpenters. We know that with the arrival of all kinds of manufactured signs and manufactured surfaces, such as Perspex and Formica, the work of painters in the building and maintenance trades has been severely restricted. It is up to the agency proposed to see to it that they do not train too many craftsmen for these trades and thus create unemployment, whereas the real objective is to fill the void that will be left in industry where there is severe displacement because of free trade. I think the opportunities are a thousandfold. New crafts are beginning every day. There are crafts in which the amount of work is expanding and there are crafts in which, as I said, the amount of work is decreasing. With wisdom, everything should work very well.

There has been other legislation but this is the first concrete step to be taken by the Parliamentary Secretary charged with responsibility for this important facet of our industrial future. There are many who would disagree with various provisions in the Bill. Many would say the cost of retraining should be borne by the Exchequer and that we should pay for it in our taxes, both direct and indirect. There are others who say that this should be borne individually by the industries involved. The choice made by the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government is that the industries involved should bear the cost by way of levy. I do not want to raise any hare of disagreement at this stage, but it could well be that the levies could impose a severe restriction on the expansion of certain industries. I do not know— and I suppose at this stage the Parliamentary Secretary can only conjecture —what these levies will amount to. The principle is that the industry which will receive the newly-trained employees should bear the cost of the training. That cost could be very considerable.

If we look at the problem urgently —and we have a serious responsibility to do so—we must realise that of far greater importance is the time factor. Speaking last night on the Import (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1966, I suggested one of our great problems was that with the advent of free trade, we could not keep pace by providing new jobs at the same rate as jobs lost because of changes in industry and commerce and jobs lost in agriculture. I pointed out that between 1965 and 1964 there were 7,000 fewer jobs in the country. Apart from whether everything in the Bill is correct or not, there is absolute urgency to get on with the job. We should all be extremely flexible in our approach to the Bill. While the Parliamentary Secretary is keen to get it through and get the work under way, it is possible he will be back here—perhaps as Minister, and indeed we wish him that personally—in order to change things. I do not think he will hit the bullseye with the first shot. The urgency is to get the work under way. If last year we had 7,000 fewer jobs in industry and 14,000 fewer jobs in agriculture, it is evident the crisis is not around the corner, but with us now.

The first evidence of change appeared on 1st July, 1966, in the shape of a reduction of tariffs. I believe that from the discussions that took place on the Free Trade Agreement serious consideration has been given to the question of employment here by industrialists abroad. The first tariff reduction of ten per cent is the first concrete evidence which will indicate to these people that we are serious in this and it will encourage them to send goods in here in competition with home-manufactured goods. This we will have to live with but there is the danger that people who have a vast production abroad might be prepared to take a lesser price here so that they would be well established here when further tariff reductions are made.

For these reasons there is great urgency in looking forward to seeing where there might be serious displacement and for doing the best we can to provide other placement in industry. When Deputy Dillon suggested last night that morally it is quite wrong to give a man a silver handshake at the age of 50 years and tell him that his job is redundant, he was right. The approach in this Bill will be difficult to carry out. It is not 100 per cent satisfactory but it is the only approach, the only way by which we can look ourselves in the face, that we should do our best to see that those, whom by our political actions we have displaced, should have the opportunity to have themselves trained to go into other and perhaps better jobs. For this reason this House must welcome the measure.

This is a Bill which will receive serious consideration in the Seanad and I would like to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary desires to have all Stages today. If he does not, the Bill can receive serious consideration here on Committee Stage. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has given me that indication because my view was that while this was a Bill he should get because of the urgency of the problem, the House should also get an opportunity of giving it mature consideration.

I thought it was well known that, by agreement, only the Second Stage of this Bill was to be taken today because the Parliamentary Secretary is anxious to have the views of the various organisations, the employers and the trade unions, during the Recess. We appreciate that that will give an opportunity to those organisations of saying what they think about the Bill. It is true to say that this Bill is a start and whether we like it or not or whether we will be satisfied with it is something that is hard to foretell. The big trouble about the whole question is that, as Deputy Donegan has said, this is something that is about to be brought on us by the deliberate action of this House.

On 6th January, 1966, we approved of a Free Trade Agreement with Britain. At that time I said, and I repeat it now, that it does appear that that Agreement is about to bring about a considerable amount of industrial unemployment in this country. Whether industrialists can be encouraged to come in here, knowing that there is a pool of labour available, to attempt to exploit that pool for the purpose of competing in Britain and elsewhere is anybody's guess. At the present time a number of industries that have been in operation here for many years appear to be easing off. Over the last number of weeks in this city, there have been tremendous sales in the shops. I hope that this does not mean that they are getting rid of the last of their Irish goods but I am told that is what is happening and that they hope to import here cheaper British goods as a result of the reduction of the tariffs. That could cause a very serious upset here and, if it is so, the problems of the Parliamentary Secretary will be far greater than they are at the present time.

Mention is made in the White Paper that apprenticeship training is the major type of training in the Bill but that arrangements have to be made to deal with other types of training, including adult re-training. This is something which is likely to lead the Parliamentary Secretary into trouble with the craft unions. There is no short cut to a professional job and there is no short cut to becoming a craftsman. This is a complete reversal of the decision taken a few years ago whereby apprentices had to have a certain standard of education before they could go into training and then they had to train for their craft for a certain number of years.

If it is now suggested that there is going to be a short cut in this matter of training, I do not know whether it is good or bad, but in my opinion, there will be strong objections from the craft unions who have been training their apprentices for five or seven years. There will be strong objections from them if they find advertisements being issued stating that people can be trained as craftsmen in a couple of months. It may be that this would result in shoddy work. The White Paper also mentions operative training and re-training. This can cover a lot of things. Would the Parliamentary Secretary explain to me what these people are to be retrained for? At the present moment we have far more people looking for jobs than there are jobs for them and how is it going to benefit us to retrain people for jobs that are not there? Do we propose to start some kind of State industry on a large scale to absorb these people? If not, where are they to be put?

Refresher training for workers whose skill needs to be improved is also mentioned. That is an excellent idea. The next one is "training for agricultural workers in other occupations". In all these schemes, there has been an attempt made to keep agriculture out and the Taoiseach said in reply to a question by me the other day that it was proposed, if necessary, to include agricultural workers at a later date and that arrangements were being made to train agricultural workers. The Parliamentary Secretary's biggest problem will be to retain agricultural workers on the land. Not so long ago we had 10,000 agricultural workers leaving the land in one year and last year that figure was up to 14,000. So long as we have that problem, so long will the Parliamentary Secretary, with this Bill under his belt, be asked to deal with it.

I do not know whether he is going to decide that the best thing to do for agricultural workers is to start industries in rural Ireland akin to agriculture in which they can be employed. The first snag he is going to meet is that the agricultural worker now leaving the land is not the young fellow who is easily trained. Unfortunately when a farmer dismisses a worker because he has not work enough for his entire working staff, all the evidence is that it is the older man who is forced to go. This is going to be a big problem, and possibly some legislation will have to be introduced for the purpose of regulating it. If agriculture were included in the Bill, it would have been a relatively easy thing to ensure that if an agricultural worker were being let go, at least he would be compensated in some way, and it might be cheaper for the employer to keep the older man than to sack him. As it stands, the older man will continue to be pushed out, and we are going to find in the Bill somewhere a section that states that workers over a certain age cannot, need not or will not be retrained. If we reach that stage, it will be a very serious matter, because we are going to pile on to the Department of Social Welfare a whole lot of people who should be continued in productive employment.

Advance training of workers for new industrial projects is all right, provided there are new industrial projects. I should like to know what they are and where they come from. The training of supervisors, technicians, etc., is all to the good. I wonder how far the Government have gone to investigate what is happening in other countries, and how much evidence of experience of this work is contained in the Bill. It is rather a pity when Bills like this are being introduced that an attempt is not made to have some kind of explanatory leaflet showing where the ideas contained in the Bill have been picked up. Starting from scratch one is inclined to try out new ideas, and if they are entirely original ones, there is grave danger they may fall down. If years of experience of such ideas in other countries prove them to be capable of operation, then it is an entirely different matter.

The time is limited and there is a very big amount of work to be concluded today, so I do not propose to hold up the House any longer on this Bill. I wish the Parliamentary Secretary well with it, and I hope it will achieve all we are hoping it will achieve. There is this problem, however, that there are so many questions unanswered, so many suggestions which appear so far to be just pious resolutions, that we may find in 12 months' time we will be very little nearer solution of our problems. The Government must face up to the fact that this is not a problem for four or five or ten years' time. This is a problem which must be dealt with now, while we have an unemployed force of 56,000 to 60,000 people who are there all the time, without the additional people we fear will be left unemployed as a result of the Free Trade Area Agreement, and without the additional people coming on the register as a result of leaving agriculture. That problem is there now and the attempt to tackle it should be made immediately and not in a couple of years' time.

While I do not share Deputy Tully's fears in regard to the effect of the Free Trade Area Agreement, I am with him on one point, that is, on the question of age limit. At the moment there are plenty of firms all over the country, and even local authorities, who will not employ a man over 40 years of age. That is a very early retiring age. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will be considering this matter and the fact that we cannot afford to dump manpower at 40 years of age. Even without the Free Trade Area Agreement with Britain, the rate of automation which is coming into industry will lessen the labour force in existing industries, and, therefore, we must try to attract new industries so that these people can be employed.

In Dublin city at the moment, there are talks going on between the master stevedores and the trade unions on the decasualisation of labour at Dublin docks. If this ever came about, it would reduce the total number of dockers. It may give the dockers who would remain a higher standard of living, and so on, but there would be many others left without jobs. I should like to know what would be the plans for retraining these men. They are skilled in their own way, but they are not skilled as other industrial workers are. Here we have a great problem as to how to retrain these men and in what spheres. Then there are the agricultural workers leaving the land. This problem is not confined to our country; it is all over Europe. Even the most progressive countries have many thousands of people leaving the land each year, but the urban community can absorb them and put them into jobs.

If we are to make a success of this Bill, we must start at the very bottom, that is, in the vocational schools. There is a tremendous need in the cities and in the country for more vocational schools, and I do hope the whole lot will be tied up, so that from the time boys and girls go to the vocational school, their training there will fit them for a useful occupation. If because of a change in the particular trade they have entered, they become redundant, we must also have extension courses which will ensure that they will not be thrown on the scrapheap.

The Parliamentary Secretary is to be congratulated on the Bill. It shows we are looking ahead and that we are anticipating what might happen. Whether we have Free Trade or not, redundancy will occur because of automation. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if there is any age limit in mind at which a worker will be retrained or will not be retrained, and if he is not to be retrained, what happens to him then.

I was hoping that when Deputy Tully was speaking on this he might be able to give the House the general reaction of the trade union movement to a sort of crash programme of making a new craftsman in emergency circumstances as far as employment is concerned. He did not do that. He said that is something that will come and he anticipates an unfavourable reaction to such a crash programme. In circumstances where the loss of a man's employment would be imminent and where there are fellow trade unionists, it would be an extraordinary reaction if they objected to a shorter training period which would provide against such an unfortunate emergency.

It is well known that in regard to many of the craftsmen's jobs which require, perhaps, five or seven years' training, the skill could be acquired, with an intensive programme, perhaps, in a period of two years. I remember well, looking back some years, when an apprentice spent the first year running down town for messages, the second year, perhaps, sweeping the shop, and the third year handing out tools, before he started to learn his job. That kind of thing has changed. Some of it is there still, and there is no intensive training in any of the crafts, as far as I know. They are spending quite a lot of the time doing work which is not educational work as far as learning their craft is concerned. I believe that in case of necessity the period could be considerably shortened. Many of the older employees who learned their job the hard way might be inclined to resent it. That is natural. I would be amazed, however, if we got the unfavourable reaction Deputy Tully seems to anticipate. I am not quite certain whether he does or not.

Deputy Tully raised another point which is of interest to me. I can see a great use being made of such an institute as has been referred to for the purposes of refresher courses for persons already employed in industry in order to bring them up to date. Naturally, existing industries would pay for these courses and would know exactly the type of training they required.

I was wondering if the intention in the Bill is broader than appears. For instance, would all unemployed persons anxious to improve themselves technically, in a general way, be included for the purpose of training? Will needs be anticipated or will An Chomhairle wait until an industry is about to be set up or an existing industry is short of staff? Will An Chomhairle wait until that point is reached to decide that they will take people in and train them in a particular craft or job? Certainly, there is an enormous job involved in training all those who are unemployed and who are anxious to become employed. Training is a help in bringing people to the point where they can rapidly acquire skills. That would be a lead to quick absorption in industry. But I do not think that is the general idea of the legislation. The Bill appears to me to confine itself to making provision for sufficient technicians and skilled persons in existing industries or industries about to be set up and does not cover general training of those who are unemployed and anxious to find employment.

I should like to feel that there was some measure of anticipation, that An Chomhairle would take in a number of persons and give them a general training which would shorten the crash programme that is in mind for particular industries.

This Bill is the first instalment of the manpower policy which the Government have been mulling over for some years back. We welcome the Bill and would hope that the suggestions we have to make will improve the measure before it passes through both Houses of the Oireachtas. The real problem we have to contend with here is the creation of the industrial and economic climate in which a manpower policy can operate. I think it is true to say that a manpower policy, as such, which is designed to accelerate economic growth, create full employment, provide job security, increase living standards, stabilise prices and develop equilibrium in our balance of payments, can properly be operated only in a buoyant economy in which there is full or near-full employment.

The difficulty we find ourselves in is that we are proposing a scheme of industrial training in an economy which is very obviously underdeveloped, with a very high incidence of unemployment and emigration, in which an average of 50,000 men and women are allowed to stand idly by while the resources of the country are left unexploited, under-utilised, dormant.

If this measure does anything to attract more industries to the country and to create full employment, it will have the full support of the Labour Party. There is no doubt that in this age of advances in science and technology, the old skills to which we were accustomed in trades and industry are fast dying out and new skills and aptitudes are urgently required. Therefore, an accelerated training programme of this kind is vitally necessary if we are to have the highly intelligent and adaptable labour force which is required in this age of atomic energy and scientific and industrial advance.

We are nearing the day when the undereducated and untrained worker will be useless and cannot hope for any worthwhile position in life and will be condemned to a blind alley job of little consequence. Therefore, we are very anxious to see a programme of this kind implemented. We are concerned about the vast amount of work involved for the Parliamentary Secretary. Our vocational educational system is not as yet geared to provide the kind of accelerated training envisaged in the Bill. I assert that the average vocational school is merely training boys and girls in old and, very largely, outdated crafts. There are very few schools of technology and science in the country. Apart from that provided at Rathmines, Bolton Street and perhaps in the School of Commerce in Cork, there is not available in the towns and cities the kind of vocational training which young boys, in particular, require.

A vast amount of money and of technical skill will be required to equip our vocational schools for the kind of modern training in techniques, technology and science envisaged by the Bill. The only trades that I know of being taught in vocational schools, outside Dublin city and, perhaps, Cork city, are carpentry, metal work, garage mechanics, and so on. These are limited skills. I envisage quite a big scheme of readaptation in vocational schools if we are to provide the ways and means for giving the training envisaged by the Bill. I appreciate that the desirable thing is that some of the training should be in the vocational schools and also in the industries concerned. I expect that employers would facilitate young apprentices in respect of time off for such training when required.

Looking at the present situation, the big question which the Labour Party pose in respect of a Bill of this kind, purporting to embark on the industrial training of perhaps thousands of boys, is: where are the jobs to come from? Where do the Government propose to find the work to put all these people into training in the different fields of engineering, industry and technology? At present we have a standing army of unemployed of about 50,000 and emigration running at 40,000 and 50,000 and which is spiralling upwards again and may reach 40,000 this year. We have this constant, chronic underdevelopment to which I have referred and unless we have a re-orientation of economic development, it may transpire that this Bill will not be worth the paper on which it is printed.

This Bill is perhaps the first instalment of the manpower policy programme which we have all been considering for some time past. In that connection we are now to have established a distinct Ministry of Labour and again I avail of the opportunity of welcoming this new proposal. It is something the Labour Party have been advocating for many years and it is an indication that the policy we are pursuing in this regard is the right one. It is pertinent to point out that it took many years to convince this Government of the desirability of having all the things inherent in a manpower policy, such as industrial training, contained in one Department and that Department should be a Ministry of Labour. We are grateful to the Taoiseach and the Government for their repentance in that regard. The reflections the Taoiseach made on the idea of a Ministry of Labour in the past, that it was worthless and unnecessary and not suited to our requirements——

I do not think he ever said that.

——have all been set aside and he has seen the significance of the stand we took, that if this job is to be done properly, there must be one Minister and one Department and the duplication of control which was evident in the old system under which control was divided between two Departments, one, Industry and Commerce and the other Social Welfare, was not a happy situation.

This Training Bill will have much to do with the Department of Social Welfare. Apart from the training of apprentices, we expect the Bill will be utilised most of all to deal with the immediate problems of adult unemployment and redundancy which are now evident and will become more significant as we move towards freer trade with Britain and possibly the Common Market. The CIO reports forecasting unemployment, underemployment and redundancy in the more vulnerable industries which they have investigated, paint rather a gloomy picture. This is the problem the Parliamentary Secretary will be tackling. In the 26 industries which the Committee on Industrial Organisation investigated, comprised of some 77,350 workers, the confirmed view of the Committee was that in freer trade circumstances, some 11,000 workers will lose their jobs. If the re-adaptation measures which the Committee recommended to the industries concerned were not availed of and quickly utilised, a further 23,000, they said, would lose their jobs.

There is evidence at present of factories closing down and workers becoming redundant and there is nothing in this measure to take care of that situation. We expect that this Bill will be so improved as to take care of redundant workers. First, we say there should be adequate forecasting in respect of employment. There should be a positive career guidance system and where there is the likelihood of industry getting into difficulties, economic or financial, the Parliamentary Secretary should ensure that the workers and the trade unions are forewarned about coming redundancy. That forewarning should not be merely a week's notice but should probably be a year's notice.

Firms, especially large ones, know in advance the trend of trade and know that it is intended to make changes which will cause redundancy and unemployment and it is an indictment of our Christian society that even in the clear knowledge that hundreds of workers are to be dismissed, there is no prior consultation with or notice given to the operatives. We have had to contend with that situation on many occasions, with large numbers of workers ignominiously dismissed with a week's or a fortnight's notice, thrown out on the unemployment scrapheap with no hope of other employment. That type of bad relationship should be done away with. The Minister should strive to include in this measure or some other suitable instrument of Parliament a stipulation that so far as possible industry will be obliged to give adequate notice to workers and their trade unions so as to afford the unions and the workers an opportunity to take whatever steps may be necessary to ensure adequate compensation by redundancy payments and afford the workers an opportunity of getting alternative employment.

These, Sir, are some of the sentiments we want to express on this Industrial Training Bill. We would have preferred a different instalment of the manpower policy than this training measure. We would have much preferred if the Parliamentary Secretary had brought into this House his redundancy payment scheme which would have the immediate effect of dealing with the problems of redundancy in all our constituencies, of which we know at the present time.

Debate adjourned.