The first comment that should be made on this Bill is the fact that it is so long overdue, even though for some years the people and the workers have been getting lectures from and been advised by the Taoiseach and Ministers about the situation which will face the country in 1970 or thereabouts in respect of Ireland's application for membership of the EEC. This will have very serious effects. The Government have had plenty of time, but they have done very little to deal with manpower problems. Their efforts up to the present time, as the Government responsible to the community which elected them, to secure increased employment and increased employment opportunities have resulted, as has been mentioned on many occasions before, in a smaller number of workers in employment than there were some years ago. There is no doubt whatsoever that there was no factor of any kind that delayed the introduction by this Government of a reasonable redundancy compensation Bill.
The Minister referred to the fact that certain discussions had taken place with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which represents the over-whelming body of organised workers in this country, and has authority to speak on behalf of the workers generally. This was only a short hiatus, if you like, and it resulted from efforts to secure what could be termed an acceptable redundancy compensation Bill so far as the workers were concerned. We cannot place the entire blame on the shoulders of the Minister for Labour. However, Deputy Hillery was a member of the Government before he became Minister for Labour and during his occupancy of his earlier appointment, the Government were strangely slow to do anything concrete in connection with a problem which they now say will result from efforts to increase productivity, to modernise methods and to bring about changes in industry.
Now they bring in this Bill, having their eyes set on membership of the EEC, and its provisions not only fall far short of the situation in member countries of the EEC but of the needs of our people who may become disemployed at home. It is correct to say that we have in the Bill provision for lump sum payments and for weekly compensation but these will be funded by contributions from employers and workers, unlike the situation in Great Britain and Northern Ireland where there is no direct charge on the workers, where the employers pay the contributions. One of the main criticisms against the Bill will be the proposal to impose a charge on workers who may well think they are in secure employment. Having read the Minister's introductory statement, one can readily entertain doubts as to whether, in the circumstances forecast by him, there will be any secure employment in this country.
The Minister referred to resistance by workers to redundancy. I do not think there is anything wrong in workers endeavouring to resist redundancy operations in firms, having regard to the fact that in many of those firms the efficiency of the managements has long been in question. This has been shown in a number of reports issued by the Committee on Industrial Organisation. The worst feature of the problem is that workers, who have been employed in firms for many years, working conscientiously, giving of their best, in many cases working in difficult circumstances, should be asked to accept redundancy when there appears to be no available suitable alternative employment for them, despite statements made by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Labour and other Government spokesmen. The trouble is that no initial provision has been made and an essential initial provision for workers who may be affected by redundancy is that there should be alternative employment in reasonable conditions and at rates of wages comparable with those enjoyed by them in their old jobs.
Perhaps this is too much to ask of the Government. For too many years they have continued to accept a continuous fall in the total number of people at work. It has been illustrated that they had neither the will nor the ability to deal with that problem. I shall not talk about the numbers of people forced to emigrate each year, though I might well do so to the Minister for Labour, who represents a western constituency, or indeed to any member of the Government who has connections with rural areas.
Each year there is a decline in the number of people working in agriculture; yet there have not been sufficient jobs created to absorb those people. On top of that, even in such industrial employment as exists, the Government are prepared to accept to some extent that there will be a reduction in numbers. Even workers who have been employed for a number of years in industry may lose their employment.
In the Bill it is provided that a worker must have had four years' continuous employment to qualify for compensation. There is to be no immediate effort in respect of casual employment or of people starting in employment. The Bill deals only with people who have had four or more years' service in industrial concerns. On the question of weekly compensation, the Bill exposes the Government's approach because it deals in terms of weekly compensation of half a week's pay between the ages of 18 and 41 years and a week's pay for those who are more than 41 years of age. In view of the fact that for many years now it has been the policy of employers generally not to recruit people over 40, the reference to payment for those over 41 is a reference to workers who may well have spent ten, 15 or 20 years working in an industry.
If their particular firm is affected and they become redundant, instead of being able to go from one employment to another at proper rates of wages and with reasonable conditions, we have introduced for them a Redundancy Payments Bill. This reflects the thinking of the Government. It appears to be putting the cart before the horse. Instead of providing employment, this Bill is to deal with people affected by unemployment. Under that heading alone, it is reasonable to describe the efforts of the Government in this regard as being somewhat late.
There is no doubt whatever, in view of the speeches they were so fond of making in various parts of the country, that the Government were satisfied a problem would arise. Therefore, they had the responsibility to deal with it by providing employment—this they have signally failed to do—and of providing a scheme of redundancy payments at a much earlier stage. Workers have already lost employment or become redundant. They had no redundancy compensation available to them except what could be negotiated by the organisations of which they are members. In some cases the compensation obtained was reasonable, but in others the problem was more difficult.
One of the matters that do not appear to have received too much attention in the Bill is the urgency of making compensation available. I understand that, even if this Bill were passed today or next week, it is unlikely that anyone could benefit from it until the beginning of next year. What will be the position of people declared redundant in the meantime? A few weeks ago we had the threatened closedown of Messrs. Dunlops of Cork. We had Galway Textile Printers and workers were declared redundant at Flemings Fireclays. There is threatened redundancy in the textile industry and in many other industries. We have a situation in the coal-mining industry where, because of the failure of the Government to provide reasonable protection for the workers——