In welcoming this piece of legislation for the improvement of industrial relations, I pointed out that its primary effect in practice would be to benefit and advance the interests of ordinary workers in trade unions. Members of the House become so preoccupied with their own problems of procedure and of trade union law, problems of industrial relations and the implementation of the 1946 Industrial Relations Act and recent trade union legislation that they tend at times to forget that primarily trade unions exist for the benefit and advancement of their members and that there are some 500,000 men and women rightly interested in how the movement works, its organisation and in the way statute law affects it. In the case of this legislation we can in honesty say to trade union members that it will make the movement more healthy, effective and positive in servicing and benefiting trade union members. This is one of the great virtues of the legislation.
The formation of a single trade union congress in the 1957-59 period and the amalgamations that have taken place are steps in the right direction. With the prospect of approaching entry to the EEC I should hope to see many trade unions, including some of the larger general unions, taking a very hard look at themselves and their role in the changing phase of Irish industry and consider whether or not the effectiveness of our trade union machinery can be retained on entering the EEC unless the further rationalisation of the movement is now undertaken so as to take into account pressures that will undoubtedly arise in that event. We have moved forward in trade union and industrial relations legislation. We have avoided the stupid excesses of the Industrial Relations Act in Britain which caused turmoil and great bitterness in industrial relations there. It is noteworthy that the legislation introduced here today generally has the support of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
One of the problems facing the trade union movement is that because it is a fairly large movement—not by international standards but in this country —because it has 500,000 members with 386,000 of them in the Republic, inevitably as in any human organisation occasions will arise when members will feel a profound sense of grievance and will allege that the servicing of their claims and problems is not being done as they would wish. Because of this the Irish Congress of Trade Unions set up appeals machinery which is in operation. It is not enough to say to workers: "This is how new trade unions may be formed." It is also important to point out that there is effective internal machinery in the movement itself which takes fully into account the democratic aspirations of members. I want to stress that there is already in existence in section 49 of the constitution of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions very elaborate and detailed provisions to determine the relationship between trade unions in respect of disputes arising over membership or transfer of members from one union to another.
At one time or another almost every union in the country has been involved with congress through the disputes machinery in regard to membership and the internal democratic system for dealing with such disputes has proved generally effective and has functioned fairly in regard to dissatisfaction arising in particular organisations. I think it has proved effective in dealing with the rank and file of the movement who may legitimately from time to time feel dissatisfied with the service they are getting or allege they are not getting. As a trade union official, I have been very much aware of the complaints that can arise in the trade union movement. Therefore, through the medium of the existing constitution of Congress and its disputes machinery, disputes related to membership which in many cases form the basis of break-away organisations, may be settled in a way that has been generally effective.
There is another aspect of the machinery on which I do not propose to speak at length at this stage and it is the innovation which came into operation a few years ago in congress, the setting up of an appeals board by congress. When one wants to contrast trade union democracy—to use a global term—here and in, say, Britain or on the Continent it is important to point out that we have the only trade union movement in the world, even including the AFLCIO or the LO in Sweden itself, which has established an appeal board which was, I emphasise, not established by the executive of congress but by the annual conference, the rank and file of the trade union movement. They elected their own appeals board to receive complaints from groups of members of lack of service within the movement. That appeals board has certainly proved quite effective. There has been a great deal of uninformed and voluble criticism directed against the trade union movement by those who know very little about the movement and who are very little concerned about the health or welfare of the movement. Down through the years many Deputies have advocated legislation as if such legislation could be the panacea for an effective trade union structure. What has happened is that there is now the desirable innovation that the trade union movement through their own democratic organisation have set up their own internal appeals machinery which is available to every trade union member and which, therefore, can deal effectively with many of the complaints that arise. I would urge trade unionists who might be tempted to form break-away organisations, or to set up their own introverted group, to endeavour to resolve these issues within the trade union movement and to retain the essential solidarity of working people in the trade union organisations. The membership of the appeals board consists of experienced trade unionists whose integrity and public influence have been of the highest order. These are people who represent the movement as a whole in any appeals hearing and who do not represent only their own individual organisations.
It is important to point out that the composition of the appeals board of this organisation made specific provision that no member of a trade union concerned with the appeal should sit on the board hearing of that appeal. Where a group of members submit a complaint to the secretary of the appeals board concerning lack of service, such complaints are referred in the first instance to the union concerned who are asked to indicate whether there is substance in the complaint and whether steps are being taken to remedy it. If after reference to the union concerned, the action taken by the union is not satisfactory to the complaining members, the appeal goes before the appeals board for a determination. This is one of the greatest internal safety valves of the trade union movement in preventing what one might call flash breakaways of a fragmentary nature within the organisation. It is also a useful method whereby if any officials of the trade unions become too high and mighty within their own trade union organisation, or where they may indulge in abuses, although these would not be tolerated for a moment by the rank and file of the trade union movement, such developments can be remedied. Therefore, the parallel developments of the appeal board system of congress, of the attempt being made by the ICTU to rationalise and fuse together like-minded trade unions and unions with a common personality of their own, augur well for legislation that is constructive and democratic, for legislation that will not be repressive, that will not dictate to the trade union movement how they should be organised but which in the public interest will prevent a diffusion of effort and that will prevent ineffectiveness; legislation that will be for the common good which, incidentally, is a term that is used rarely those days. It was always regarded as being a socialist term until it was adopted suddenly by Catholic apologists. The common good of the trade union organisation demands the introduction of this legislation and I have no doubt that many workers will welcome such legislation.
One of the final points I would make concerns a group of workers of less than 500 being involved. I notice that subsection (2) of section 3 reads: The High Court, after hearing any evidence adduced by the applicant, the Minister, the Congress and any other trade union, may at its discreation declare that the granting of a negotiating licence to the applicant would not be against the public interest.
The Minister might elaborate on this. This would prevent some of the more ignorant attacks which will undoubtedly be made on this Bill because here there is the essential "out," where, for example, in any group or category there would be less than 500 workers both the existing trade union organisations and congress may well consider it legitimate to grant such a licence although that group or category may not aggregate 500 members. Therefore, they could be accommodated. I would ask the Minister to confirm this so that we might be better equipped in interpreting correctly the provisions of the Bill. These then are my general views on the Bill and I hope that they reflect, too, the views of the Labour Party. I hope also that the Bill will be given a speedy passage through the House and that the remaining legislation concerning the facilitating of amalgamation will be introduced. It is my hope, too, that the long-promised legislation relating to the Educational Company of Ireland judgment which was promised by the Minister, shelved by the Taoiseach, then re-activated but shelved again, will be brought in during the lifetime of this Dáil. These are measures that would merit the support of the trade union movement and of the Labour Party and we look forward to supporting them.