That a sum of £5,104,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1974, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Labour, including certain services administered by that Office and for payment of certain Grants-in-Aid.
The Estimate shows a net increase of £615,000 over last year. I should point out, however, that the employment exchages were transferred to the Department of Social Welfare with effect from 1st April, 1973, and the cost of administering the service will be borne on that Department's Vote. The main increases are in Salaries, Wages and Allowances, £229,000 and in subventions to AnCo, £240,000, IMI, £25,000 and CERT £20,000.
In introducing my first Estimate to the House as Minister for Labour, I intend to address myself to three main areas:
1. A general review of the work of my Department and its various agencies during the past year.
2. Indicate to the House my views as to the role of the Department of Labour in the general field of social industrial policy in Ireland.
3. In the light of that general approach and the realities of life in our country at the present time, to indicate the main areas of action to which my Department will be devoting their attention and energies during the coming year.
As this is the first debate on Labour affairs to take place since Ireland became a member of the European Communities, it is appropriate that, before commencing the customary review of the Department's services, I should make reference to the EEC. As far as I am concerned the most significant fact is that the European Communities, with their opportunities and their problems, are now part of the economic and social environment in which the Department must work. I stress the social dimension of this European Community, which it is the function of my Department to give substance to, in all our contacts with the Community bodies with whom we collaborate. If at home my Ministry is concerned with the human factor in social and economic planning, that home concern to be successful must in the context of our EEC membership be directed to making of the Community a truly human comity of nations, as the Paris Heads of State Declaration laid down. Indeed, in my own contacts with Community leaders, I propose to take the Paris Summit Declaration of the Heads of State as my point of reference, with a view to raising it to a point of equal influence on Community action as was the original Treaty of Rome.
I have had the opportunity of assessing in a preliminary way the implications of membership as far as the work of the Department of Labour is concerned and, consequently, the policies now being developed and operated take account of our membership of the Communities. However, I should like to consider first the home situation. It is, unfortunately, true that no review of the Irish work situation can start at any point other than that of unemployment. This began to increase in the final quarter of 1970, continued into early 1972 and it was only in the latter half of last year that more hopeful signs began to appear with an increase in employment in transportable goods industries. This reflected itself in a decline in the numbers of unemployed compared with 1971; but the primary catalyst for all policy in my Department and in those other agencies responsible for job creation is the fact that we have at this time 68,000 people unemployed in this country.
Despite the rising unemployment between 1971 and mid-1972 we have seen a continuous drop in emigration over the same period. I believe that we have no grounds for complacency here since the figures for job creation in no way indicate why this should be so. We must recognise that during the past few years when there has been an apparently spectacular improvement in the emigration situation, it has been coupled with a low level of economic activity and a high rate of unemployment in Britain. The continuing counter-effect of the condition of the British economy for good or ill on our prospects must, even in an EEC context, continue to be a prime consideration affecting the economic advancement of this entire country. To absorb into employment those available for work is a formidable national task and the national objective of achieving full employment is one which the Government is placing at the highest priority level.
The most notable characteristic of the Irish economy in the past 18 months has been the very high level of redundancies which we have experienced. While it may be argued that this is a necessary transitional stage to a higher level of technology and efficiency in Irish industry, no administration may ignore the very great human and social implications involved for working people. We must ensure that we have the earliest possible information on likely redundancies, and warding off the worst effects, by helping industry modernise in a less socially disruptive way. As a last resort, we must ensure that the transition into new employment is achieved at the lowest possible cost to the individual worker, his family and his local community.
We must expect, however, that the continuing characteristics of the Irish economic scene will be a steady outflow of workers from agriculture, the necessity for workers to change from one occupation to another or one industry to another as our economic processes are modernised and the continuing need to adapt our industrial society to meet the social aspirations and demands of Irish working people. The statistics of employment spell a story made familiar elsewhere, of a country in course of transition from a settled rural economy to a new industrial civilisation. It is the major task of my ministry to ensure that the new industrial society we are making will respect human dignity, cherishing all who work equally.
Against this background with which Deputies will be familiar, I should now like to deal with the activities of the more important sections and agencies of my Department during the past year.
It is often overlooked that the training of our work force is a key factor in the attainment of higher living standards. We have been accustomed in the past to overlook this element in economic planning. There is an intimate link between rising technological emphasis in our industry, in itself an inescapable component of an industrial base which is expanding and generating higher living standards, and the level of training in the work place. Sociologists have long noted that the unemployed and the unskilled are synonymous, which in itself is synonymous with underdevelopment and non-fulfilment.
The provision nationally of adequate training facilities is critical for our continued advancement, We will not secure a place in working Europe unless our people are trained to the higher skills required. Without this training input, requiring augmentation of resources allocated, the scale of industrial development will remain static. How often is it forgotten in the official mind that investment in the human element in industry is as vital, and immeasurably more so in my mind, as investment in capital and material infrastructure?
One of the essential areas of concern of my Department is that of training for industry. It is of particular importance to our young people. We have a duty to provide our young people with every possible opportunity for development of their talents. Since its inception in 1967 AnCO has provided diverse manufacturing industries in this country, many of advanced technology with workers whose latent skills they had developed. These were mostly young people who eagerly grasped at the training opportunities provided by enlightened management. AnCO works closely with employers, workers, educational interests and Government agencies, and its council represents these interests. Decisions are taken by AnCO on the advice of representative industrial training committees, which affect businessmen and members of trade unions. These decisions are the outcome of a process in which nominees of employers and workers are very closely involved.
Of all AnCO's objectives perhaps the primary one has been to make both managers and trade unions aware of the importance of, and the benefits to be derived from, effective training schemes. By encouraging and assisting companies to identify training needs and to prepare and implement programmes to meet those needs, AnCO hopes to make training a necessary and integral part of every company's operations.
The main programme which AnCO have devised to achieve their overall aim are company based training, apprenticeship training and direct training. With respect to apprenticeship training, AnCO recently published a document entitledApprenticeship—A new Approach. This contains far-reaching proposals for a modernisation of the apprenticeship system. It should be emphasised that these are proposals, not decisions. The document has been widely circulated to all the interests concerned—trade unions, employers, vocational education interests and Government Departments— and AnCO will be having full consultations with all these interests before coming to final decisions.
The aim of the proposals is to ensure that Irish craftsmen are trained to the highest international standards, that the skilled work force necessary for industrial expansion will be available in future, and that individual apprentices and craftsmen will be given a reasonable opportunity of developing their abilities fully. It might be said that AnCO has performed a public service in preparing these proposals for discussion and that it is hoped that the proposals will be given careful consideration by everybody concerned. I should like to emphasise here that these proposals have been very carefuly thought out and discussed with all the interests concerned. I feel these proposals are very worthwhile and should be carefully studied by all Deputies. They are reasonable proposals and I would welcome any reasonable counter-points or other recommendations regarding them that Members may care to make.
Levy-grant schemes are in operation for textiles, clothing and footwear, food, drink and tobacco, construction and engineering and the printing and paper industries. In addition, AnCO has begun on a project for the chemical and allied products sector. AnCO have informed me that they operate these levy-grant schemes in a reasonably flexible way. They recognise that every company has its own problems and priorities. They are prepared to help companies at all times to advise on, and in most cases solve, their training problems. This system is essentially designed with a view to underlining the importance of training to management.
It is a new system and it will take time to produce results. While it has not been welcomed in some sectors of the business community, it should be pointed out that considerable progress is being made and I am satisfied that the system should be retained for some time to come. Certain modifications to the system might be considered in the future, so that companies making a genuine and worthwhile effort in training, will be relieved of the responsibility of paying levy, and that those companies which it is felt are not giving wholehearted co-operation in preparing and implementing training programmes for their staff will find it more difficult to recover the levy which they pay in the form of grants.
Initially all firms were included in the scope of the levy-grant schemes. However, some time ago AnCO decided to introduce cut-off points and exemptions to the levy order, thus exempting from levy smaller firms in each industry. Small firms may, however, opt in to training schemes and participation through group arrangements. I would, indeed, welcome such moves.
In the first year of levy-grant schemes for three of the designated sectors— textiles, clothing and footwear, food, drink and tobacco—94 per cent of the levy has been paid and 83 per cent has been paid back to the companies. In the engineering industry first year scheme, 82 per cent of the levy has been collected while 64 per cent of the levy in the first year scheme for the construction industry has also been collected. Any levy funds remaining after payment of grants will be used for the benefit of training for these industries.
As I have indicated, the initial results of the schemes are encouraging. More top managers are becoming aware of the importance of training— a point which was made very clear to me at the recent Irish Management Institute conference in Killarney. At the latest count, Irish industry employed 255 full-time training managers, 365 part-time training staff, and 1,312 instructors/demonstrators who can be regarded and are by my Department to be doing very valuable work. An increasing number of businessmen acknowledge that the levy/grant system focussed attention on an essential but hitherto neglected area of business.
It is significant to mention here that AnCO are co-operating with the Irish Management Institute in a study of how managerial training needs might best be met in the future. AnCO assist management and supervisory training by paying up to 50 per cent of the cost of attendance by managers and supervisors at courses.
It is clear that the system of apprenticeship will have to be updated if we are to have enough well-trained skilled workers in the years ahead. As an experiment, AnCO have provided first year training to 500 apprentices in a systematic way, off-the-job, in their training centres. This experiment is regarded as being highly successful and both employers and trade unions have been impressed with the standard of skill of the young people so trained. It may be that off-the-job training with shorter apprenticeship periods might well provide the basis of a system for the future.
A disturbing aspect has been a drop in apprentice intake in the past couple of years. If this decline continues, it could have serious results in four or five years' time when the output of fully qualified skilled workers will be correspondingly reduced. I have had discussions with AnCO on this disturbing feature, who are at present conducting an intensive campaign to get intake raised and the results so far, I am glad to say, have been most encouraging. I would appeal to employers to co-operate with them. I am hopeful that this campaign will succeed. If it does not, additional measures may have to be undertaken to ensure that shortages of skilled workers do not hinder our future progress.
AnCO have training centres in Waterford, Shannon, Galway, Dublin, Cork, Gweedore and Dundalk. The centres have a total of about 1,400 training places with a through-put of 2,400 trainees a year. A further training centre in the north west region is also planned to be opened later this year. In addition, experimental mobile training units with about 100 training places are operating in Tralee, Athlone and Ballina. The experience gained from these centres will enable future demands to be assisted and provide indications on unlikely developments. It is worth noting that in three years AnCO have trained or retrained over 2,000 adults and apprentices in their training centres.
It is hoped that by 1975 there will be nine or ten permanent training centres with a capacity of about 2,000 training places each of which would serve a region and have a mobile training unit or units. These mobile units would provide in addition another 500 training places. It is also envisaged that the range of courses would be expanded and the duration of some courses could be reduced. It is hoped that retraining of older workers and particularly provision of courses for women will figure more prominently than hitherto. On this basis AnCO by 1975 would be able to handle 8,000 to 10,000 trainees a year.
AnCO are working in close co-operation with the IDA in regard to the location of training centres and the courses provided in them. A network of well-run training centres providing relevant courses is a vitally important addition to the measures under way to attract new industry to Ireland which, in itself, is a vital aim of this Government. There is another exciting and unique aspect of AnCO's operations on which I am seeking development. It is in the crucial area of cross-Border economic co-operation. Discussions about the possibilities for co-operation between the training authorities in the north and AnCO have been proceeding. Some of the AnCO training centres are close to the Border and so are some of the training centres in the north.
In the light of the proposed Council of Ireland, it is both sensible and vital for mutual economic progress to continue to examine the extent to which training centres both north and south can co-operate in providing training to persons living in the border areas, so as to avoid duplication and overlapping of facilities. It is also envisaged that research into training matters would also be arranged on a co-operative basis as would the development of common curricula for training courses. Similarly, it would also be possible to arrange for a common staff development programme.
As industry becomes more widespread in Ireland, and employment emphasis changes away from agriculture, we are trying to accomplish in a few short decades what has taken over 100 years in most of the industrial countries. The three key areas of the AnCO effort have been the levy/grant system, apprenticeship and direct training. It is of the greatest importance that their efforts in all three areas should succeed. As I remarked earlier, the levy/grant system has its opponents. Firms with good training arrangements sometimes regard it as an intrusion, but I must ask the House to accept the fact that we have a long way to go before the level of training of Irish industry as a whole can be regarded as adequate. My attitude is that the levy/grant system should be retained until the greater majority of industrial firms have adopted satisfactory standards of training. When this day comes I shall gladly look for other means to keep our industrial training at a satisfactory level.
The financial provision for AnCO in 1973-74 has been fixed at £3 million an increase of £240,000 over 1972-73. This provision has been settled on the firm expectation that substantial additional moneys will be forthcoming in the current financial year for training purposes from the European Social Fund. I am not in a position at present to accurately state what Ireland's share of that fund will be, but I am more than hopeful that our training requirements will not be hampered by lack of adequate finance. It need hardly be emphasised that the financial aid forthcoming from the European Social Fund will enable AnCO to undertake a considerable expansion of their direct training activities.
One further point I might mention. At present AnCO pay to unemployed and redundant workers undergoing training a weekly allowance which is marginally better than the appropriate rate of unemployment benefit. AnCO are proposing to increase these allowances with a view to changing to a system of income related allowances.
I should like to see a change in traditional attitudes towards the unemployed. As a society, we inherit more than we care to acknowledge of the social attitudes of the Victorian era. I foresee hopefully in the near future that an unemployed person will naturally undergo further training to improve his or her chances of re-entry to gainful employment, whilst out of work. Our training service must cater for that future requirement.
The increasing awareness by management of the importance of training is due in no small measure to the efforts of the Irish Management Institute. During the year the institute continued to co-operate with AnCO in providing courses for training managers and training executives.
The institute provides special training courses to equip managers with the knowledge and skills required to compete in international markets. Special attention is given to managers in small firms. A very high standard of management expertise is required so that the other skills we are developing will have the best opportunity of being used. That is what justifies Exchequer support towards the IMI management development programme.
To expand its services to meet the demand for management training the institute has found it necessary to build new premises. I welcome this expansion of the institute's activities and Exchequer support for the project has been promised. The total subvention will be £400,000 over the three-year period 1972-73 to 1974-75. £150,000 is being paid in 1973-74.
The need to induce a revival of business and to promote the expansion of tourism highlights the need for more and better hotel training. Higher staff standards, to which training can contribute, are important for the recovery of the tourist industry. Hence the increase in the grant to CERT Ltd. I visualise that training for the hotel and catering business should in time come under the umbrella of AnCO—this would be in accord with the Industrial Training Act, 1967.
The span of training facilities offered by CERT should, however, be expanded to include industrial catering needs. The primacy of training staff for the tourist industry must, I feel, continue to be upheld but there need be no conflict between broadening the areas of training covered by CERT and providing for the special needs of the tourist industry which evidence indicates will be one of our major revenue earners in the foreseeable future.
The development and expansion of the National Manpower Service continued during the last year. Additional placement staff were recruited and trained and a number of new offices were opened. There are now six regional directors and 28 placement officers operating in 13 centres. These are Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Dundalk, Drogheda, Sligo, Athlone, Wexford, Ballybofey, Ennis and Monaghan. It is intended to open offices in a number of additional centres in 1973. Recruitment of additional staff is in progress and I hope to increase numbers substantially over the next few years.
It is the aim of the manpower service to build a reputation for skilled, rapid service. The service deals with people—the most valuable asset of any country. By placing job seekers in the jobs best suited to them and by securing, quickly, the best available workers for employers the manpower service provides valuable help to job seekers, employers and the economy generally.
Notwithstanding employment difficulties the service has, since June, 1971, placed over 13,000 people in jobs. About 1,400 were in the administrative and clerical categories, with a small number at executive and senior management levels.
Where no suitable candidates can be found from within the country, the service tries to fill vacancies from Irish emigrants living abroad. Copies of the service's vacancy lists are circulated regularly to over 150 Irish organisations in Britain and to our embassies abroad. Workers returning to Ireland with the approval of the manpower service, are entitled to benefit under the resettlement assistance scheme.
Another feature is a schedule containing details of professional and highly-skilled workers seeking jobs in Ireland which is circulated twice a year to major Irish firms. The schedule has a special section for graduates undertaking post-graduate courses in business administration in the US. The schedule which at present covers over 160 persons is revised and updated regularly. Some employers as well as the National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick, and a number of regional technical colleges have found this service of great value.
I propose developing this service into a national professional and executive register. In co-operation with the appointments officers in the universities, final-year graduates would be encouraged to register with the manpower service. A pilot co-operative programme in this area has been started with the equivalent British Government service and it is hoped in this way to make information on this type of vacancy more widely available to Irish people in Britain.
Arrangements are being made to provide "self-service" facilities in the Dublin office of the manpower service on an experimental basis. Particulars of vacancies will, with the agreement of employers, be displayed in the public office and job-seekers will seek suitable vacancies for themselves. The success of the "self-service" depends on the co-operation of employers. Experience will show whether "self-service" placement will become a permanent feature of the manpower service here.
The importance of this initiative is that it opens up a new source of job information for those who want to change jobs rather than those who are without jobs and thus raises the visibility of the National Manpower Service in the eyes of the public. A vocational guidance service for adults is being prepared. The vast majority of adult job seekers using the service know the types of jobs they want and need only information on vacancies. So far the percentage requiring skilled guidance has been small. I hope to have a clearer indication in the next year or so of the extent to which a specialist guidance service should be provided. In the meantime a start will be made on a pilot basis in one or two centres.
The manpower forecasting unit has been integrated with the information activities of the National Manpower Service. The emphasis on the work of the unit has changed to making estimates of the quality and quantity of labour available for employment in particular areas. This information is prepared mainly for use by the Industrial Development Authority and to help industrial promoters to select areas for factories.
Over the past eighteen months labour availability surveys of this kind have been carried out in 15 areas and a further ten are planned for the next 12 months. Three special surveys were carried out on behalf of AnCO for the setting up of mobile training centres in Athlone, Ballina and Tralee. Work on a new classification of occupations based on the ILO classification and suitable for use in the EEC is nearing completion. It should be ready for use in the National Manpower Service offices during 1973 and is already used experimentally in a number of the offices.
Responsibility for the employment exchanges was resumed by the Department of Social Welfare from 1st April last. This followed a decision of the previous Government that job placement should be separated from benefit-paying and that the benefit-paying function should then revert to the Department of Social Welfare, a decision with which I agree. In any area not served by a manpower office the employment exchanges will continue to carry out placement work under an arrangement between the two services.
To meet the demand for information on careers over 200 leaflets covering more than 300 careers have been published and distributed. These leaflets are continuously updated and revised. Irish language versions are also published.
More careers exhibitions are being organised by schools, colleges, and development organisations. Personnel of the Department attend these exhibitions to publicise the careers service and distribute the leaflets as widely as possible.
Whilst recent years have seen a distinct improvement in the range of careers open to young people, a great deal remains to be done by way of providing more information and guidance about job opportunities for young people.
Young people cannot be expected to make wise decisions about their future career or occupation if we do not ensure that reliable information and guidance is at their disposal. More must be done to ensure that we cater for all the needs of youth in the matter of job guidance and information on suitable openings.
I have in mind closer liaison with a fast growing section in the teaching profession. I refer to teachers specialising in a full-time capacity in careers information. There is an yet too meagre a recognition on the part of many schools on the need for career advice and information.
I propose to initiate discussions with the relevant authorities leading to early decisions which will help our school leavers in their choice of a working career. Before I leave this subject, I should like to pay a well earned compliment to theEvening Herald for their enterprise and sense of commitment to our young people as it demonstrated in their career desk feature.
There is little point in young people taking a job with little prospect of advancement or in chosing an occupation with no future. Young people must be able to see clearly how they can progress to higher levels of job satisfaction. Training and further education is of vital importance in giving the quality of choice to young people seeking work. Only the skilled and educated young person will truly relish freedom of choice in occupation. It must be our objective to give this freedom to every young person by providing the facilities.
The resettlement assistance scheme helps persons who have to move to new areas to take up employment arranged through the National Manpower Service. The scheme was confined to the unemployed or to workers about to become redundant who were insured under the Social Welfare Acts. In October, 1971, the scheme was extended to all workers including emigrants returning to Ireland. The number assisted in 1971 was 168. In 1972, 995 people were assisted and of these 355 were resettled in new areas including 56 who returned from Britain and Northern Ireland. The people who returned had skills which were in short supply or were unavailable here. The extended scheme is undoubtedly an attraction to employers and job-seekers and the co-operation of employers with the manpower service has increased as a result. I am satisfied that the scheme is contributing to a greater degree of mobility in our work force.
Deputies will recall that in October, 1969, a committee of persons interested in and familiar with the welfare of emigrants was appointed to advise on the problems of persons going abroad and of Irish people overseas wishing to work at home. This committee also advises on the distribution of grants to voluntary emigrant bureaux here which provide advisory services for intending emigrants. I should like to compliment the committee for the excellent manner in which they have discharged their duties. Most of their recommendations have been or will be implemented. I should also like to pay tribute to the voluntary organisations, the advisory committee and my Department in improving the advisory services for emigrants generally.
The task of the voluntary emigrant bureaux in providing information and advice about jobs and accommodation in Britain has changed very much in the past few years with the fall in emigration. Many bureaux have experienced a significant decline in the number of inquiries received. On our joining the EEC in January the National Manpower Service became responsible for administering any services available to workers leaving or entering the country. The advisory committee have been examining this development. A question which now arises is whether the State should continue to provide help for the voluntary agencies. I believe that the State must continue to shoulder this responsibility but it is now I believe opportune to re-appraise the direction of State aid.
I have been reviewing the entire question of services for emigrants and State support for the voluntary organisations. My present disposition is to await some experience of EEC conditions before taking final decisions in consultation with voluntary organisations.
The Employment Agency Act, 1971 came into operation in November, 1972. The Act provides for the licensing of private employment agencies, approval of their fees and furnishing by such agencies of returns of their activities. Special regulations have been made regarding advertisements for employment abroad, which are aimed at the elimination of misleading advertisements. These regulations have been discussed with representatives of the newspapers and they have welcomed them. This legislation should enable action to be taken on abuses by employment agencies, particularly in regard to employment abroad. I am satisfied that the great majority of agencies are reputable but there is need for power to intervene where abuses occur.
The redundancy payments scheme continues to operate to alleviate the hardships caused to redundant workers and their dependants and to facilitate the national manpower policy. The lump sums payable provide compensation for workers dismissed because of redundancy, while the weekly payments help to maintain incomes close to pre-redundancy earnings in the period following disemployment.
The scheme was introduced in January, 1968, and covered workers becoming redundant after four years service. It was amended under the Redundancy Payments Act, 1971, to include workers who become redundant after two years' service. The Act also provided for substantial improvements in benefits without any corresponding increase in contributions.
The number of notified redundancies under the scheme for 1971 was 8,556, 6,632 men and 1,924 women, and for 1972 was 10,159, 6,941 men and 3,218 women.
During the first quarter of 1973, the figure was 2,082, 1,549 men and 533 women, compared with a figure of 2,643, 1,964 men and 679 women, for the first quarter of 1972. In the latter half of last year, the credit balance in the redundancy fund fell because of the higher level of redundancy and also because of the improvement in benefits and it stood at approximately £222,000 on the 31st December, 1972. The increase in the rates of contributions towards the end of last year strengthened the fund somewhat but drawings on the fund have created the need for temporary Exchequer advances to enable the payments due from the fund to be made pending a recovery of the financial viability of the fund.
The Redundancy Appeals Tribunal heard 893 appeals in 1972 as compared with 725 in 1971.
The industrial inspectorate has the task of ensuring that employers meet their obligations under the various worker-protection Acts administered by the Department, particularly the Factories Act, 1955 and the Mines and Quarries Act, 1965. An additional activity of the inspectorate is to provide a safety-advisory and accident-prevention service to industry.
The importance of the advisory functions of the inspectorate can hardly be overstressed. Only if safety considerations are kept constantly in mind can the toll of accidents be reduced. Any employer with a problem in the field of worker-safety is welcome to seek the advice of the inspectorate at any time. I appeal to managements to do so. The report of the industrial inspectorate for 1972, to be published shortly, will show that last year there were 2,908 accidents, of which 24 were fatal, in work places to which the Acts apply. Of the 24 fatal accidents, 11 were in factories and ten on building sites and works of engineering construction, two in mines and one in a quarry. The records show that a frequent cause of fatal accidents is persons falling or being struck by falling objects.
Industrial growth and the increasing complexity of industrial processes continue to place a strain on the resources of the inspectorate. Its strength has recently been increased and arrangements have been made to augment it still further.
A programme of surveys of environmental health hazards in Irish industry covering such factors as noise, dust, fumes and radiation, has been prepared and the field work commenced in 1971. The pilot survey of hazards arising from ionising radiations and toxic chemicals has been completed. The field work on noise levels has also been completed and the data collected is now being processed for the assessment of any health hazards to the workers. Survey work of this nature will be an on-going aspect of the work of the industrial inspectorate in the future.
I have been examining the report of the Robens Committee in Britain as well as the results of the investigatory work already referred to. I am giving consideration to complete overhaul and updating of all legislation governing conditions of work, safety and health regulations in the place of work.
The fundamental legislation governing factory legislation is based largely on the British Act of 1937. I think there is need for modern legislation, which would be a charter for the safety, health and welfare of our working people, more attuned to the social objectives of a reforming administration.
The National Industrial Safety Organisation—NISO—is a voluntary body which is housed and staffed by my Department. It also receives a grant-in-aid, which this year amounts to £15,000 from the Vote. The grant is paid on the basis of £4 for every £1 raised by the organisation. I would appeal to industrial firms to join NISO and take part in the continuous campaign for the promotion of safety consciousness and safety education in industry.
The Dangerous Substances Act, 1972, which was passed some months ago brings up to date existing legislation protecting both workers and the general public against dangers inherent in the use of explosives and petroleum and also makes provision for dealing with other dangerous substances. It is largely an enabling measure which must be supplemented by codes of regulations. Work on the regulations is now proceeding and the Act will be brought into operation when the necessary regulations have been formulated. The Act is also of relevance in the context of our entry to the EEC in that I will, in due course, avail myself of powers in it to implement EEC directives regarding the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances.
I intend to continue the policy of playing an active role in the International Labour Organisation and participating as far as practicable in its programmes.
Last year for the first time since becoming a member of the organisation in 1923, Ireland has obtained a seat on the governing body which is the committee of management of the ILO. This gives us a better opportunity of contributing to the work of the organisation and of utilising its facilities to develop the services of the Department.
The OECD examination of manpower policy in this country is proceeding. The examining team consisting of high-ranking personnel from other OECD countries has made two visits to Ireland and has had discussions with bodies engaged in manpower and related activities and with employer and worker organisations.
The next stage will be a report by the examining team, which will be followed by a discussion later in the year in the manpower and social affairs committee of the OECD. The OECD will publish a report and the conclusions of the Manpower and Social Affairs Committee. The exercise should be of benefit in assessing our performance in the manpower field and in the working out of policies for the future.
If one is to use the statistics of man-days lost as a yardstick of progress in industrial relations the years 1971 and 1972 showed a marked improvement over previous years. In 1970 there was a loss of 1,000,714 days; this compares with 273,770 days in 1971 and approximately 200,000 in 1972. This improving situation gives grounds for satisfaction but not for complacency. Further substantial improvements can be achieved with a little more give and little less take on the part of what are nowadays cosily termed "the social partners". The general acceptance by workers of the National Wage Agreements of 1970 and 1972 was undoubtedly responsible in large measure for the considerable improvement in the "days lost" situation.
In 1971, the Labour Court and its Conciliation Service dealt with 664 disputes as compared with 569 in 1970 and the Report for 1972 is expected to show a further increase. In 1971 Conciliation Conferences were held in 628 cases and these conferences produced settlements in 68 per cent of the cases. The Court itself issued 162 recommendations on disputes, of which employers accepted 158 or 98 per cent, while the workers accepted 127 or 78 per cent.
During the year I was glad to note a tendency for employers and trade unions to negotiate collective agreements which included provisions for solving disputes without resort to industrial action. As the Labour Court is the most experienced and authoritative body in the country in industrial relations it would, I think, be appropriate if our procedures for solving disputes were to progress to a point where resort to the Court for a verdict would not be seen as part of the on-going business of negotiation. In other words, for the Court to be successful there must be a genuine commitment by all concerned to negotiate seriously from the outset without holding back. I realise, of course, that this is a counsel of perfection; yet in these trying times one can no longer afford to ignore the claims of perfection.
On 1st January, 1973, a third division was established in the Labour Court. This involved the appointment of an additional employers' member, an additional workers' member and also an additional Deputy Chairman to the Court. The National Agreements have added considerably to the volume of work coming before the Court; secondly, the processing of claims for equal pay is expected to generate extra work for the Court; finally, section 9 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969, provides for the inclusion of Labour court members on arbitration boards in the Public Service.
I believe we have good reason to be pleased with the success of the Rights Commissioner Service. The service was inaugurated in March, 1970, and since then it has gone from strength to strength. Generally, the commissioners are asked to investigate and recommend on disputes involving one or two workers in regard to what are commonly referred to as "rights". In 1972, the commissioners dealt with 382 cases. This represents an increase of over 100 per cent on the number in 1971. A very gratifying aspect is the number of cases in which the parties concerned have agreed in advance to be bound by the commissioner's recommendation. I welcome all developments which bring finality to industrial disputes without recourse to industrial action.
Rights Commissioners' recommendations may be appealed to the Labour Court and, in such event, the finding of the court is binding on the parties to the dispute. Since this service was established, 617 cases were referred to the commissioners for investigation and in only 20 of these were the commissioners' recommendations appealed to the Labour Court.
One of the big problems facing this and other Departments concerned with contemporary social problem is the lack of adequate research into major problems. In recent years, this difficulty has begun to be tackled but not nearly to the extent which would be desirable. It is encouraging to note, however, the decision to establish a Chair of Industrial Relations at University College, Dublin. This Chair is in fact being endowed by Esso and it is to be hoped not just that this new department will expand and make some very worthwhile contributions to our understanding of the problems involved in industrial relations but that other firms will follow the example of Esso and begin what could well develop into a very useful tradition of worthwhile endowments for research into areas of national importance. I hope that practitioners in industrial relations, from both union and employer bodies, will assist this venture by providing personnel as required.
I remain convinced that legislation in itself will not ensure good industrial relations. Where I feel, however, that a particular measure would improve the dispute-settling or other machinery provided by the State, or would improve the structure of employers' and workers' organisations, I shall bring appropriate proposals before the House for consideration.
The present Department of Labour was established in 1966 through an amalgamation of various elements of the Departments of Industry and Commerce and Social Welfare in an attempt to bring about a more co-ordinated approach by the Government to the problems of people in their working lives. As can be seen from the earlier part of my speech, the Department has consolidated its position as a new Ministry but has in a number of areas also branched out into new and vigorous activity. The most notable areas are AnCO, the National Manpower Service and the establishment of the very important innovation in the industrial relations field of the Rights Commissioners.
These are indicators that there is a very real and active role which can be played by the Department in our industrial life.
Whilst it will continue to be my endeavour to pursue the constructive work of the Ministry, I would hope now to commence a new period of positive action, in line with the reform commitment and social objectives of this Administration, on behalf of working Ireland.
The Department is essentially in a reactive position. It deals with the residual aspects of Irish industry whether these be in the shape of unemployment, poor industrial relations or bad safety records. External circumstances prevented it becoming in the past a shaper and anticipator of events, or a generator of positive change.
My efforts will be directed to redressing that situation. I want to make it clear, therefore, to the House and to all sides in Irish industry that I do not regard it as being the role of my Department to wait for others to bring about necessary reforms and changes. Neither do I see it as our role to defend sectional interests where these are not in the overall interests of working people. That is not to say that I believe that massive legislative programmes can change the face of Irish industry; as a former practitioner in the field of industrial relations, I know only too well that the process is a much more subtle one than that. What I do intend, however, is that the Department should move increasingly into the area of policy formation and create an awareness in the public mind about those major problems which confront us, such as the employment of disabled people, the situation of the lower paid worker, the opportunities for young people in industry, the nature of the new jobs which are being created. Where this can make a positive contribution, such as in the areas of safety at work, trade union rationalisation, aspects of worker participation in management,et cetera, these will be supported by necessary legislation, developed insofar as possible in consultation with the interested parties.
I am particularly concerned about the question of job creation. Clearly a priority here is the quantity of new jobs and, given the nature of our unemployment problems, it could not be otherwise. However, we must begin to look increasingly at the nature of the jobs which we are creating and the steps which can be taken to improve the jobs already in existence. While in the past we have shown a great concern about the safety aspects of individual jobs, the ways in which they are carried out and the environment in which they must be carried on, we have given little concern at Government level to the actual nature of the job itself which may have as big an effect on the mental health of the person as a bad environment does on his physical health. Very valuable work has been done by individual industries in this country and the Irish Productivity Centre is to be commended on research work which it has sponsored in this area.
In addition, this question of the nature and design of jobs has a grave bearing on the problem of the lower paid worker. Regard must be given to the nature of those jobs which are lower paid and effective means to facilitate the transition of workers from them to work of a higher and more rewarding status.
All this demands a more co-ordinated approach to the questions of employment creation, training, geographical relocation of workers, the incentives necessary to bring this about and information about job availability.
I have said that the Department should not become the defender or supporter of traditional social structures in industry. In my view it should facilitate change in this area and perhaps the most urgent priority here is in the area of worker participation and industrial democracy. In a number of recent speeches, I have made it clear that I do not regard the election of workers to the boards of companies, be they State or privately owned, to be the be-all and end-all of this question. Such a concept of industrial democracy would be no more tenable than to suggest that political democracy should consist of electing a national parliament without any intermediate institutions. Initially my major concerns are to ensure that we start taking some positive action in this area and that we should not accept as dogma what has been done in other circumstances.
We, in Ireland, because of our relatively underdeveloped industrial sector, have an opportunity denied to most other European countries of experimenting and developing methods and structures relevant to our needs. In this area, the initiative of the Employer/Labour Conference in setting up a sub-committee on the question of industrial democracy is a progressive step which my Department welcomes and encourages. However, since I believe that this drive towards more humane and democratic relationships in industry is one which lies at the heart of many industrial relations problems, I will ensure that the Department, within the powers and facilities available to it, plays a major role in advancing thinking and research in this area of critical socioeconomic importance.
My experience suggests to me, to a much greater extent than might be readily apparent, that we suffer from grave problems of discrimination in industry and in particular in the labour market. The recent report on the Status of Women should have brought home to us the degree of sex discrimination which exists. This has now been highlighted and will, I pledge, be dealt with. There is also totally unjustifiable discrimination against people on grounds of age, of mental or physical incapacity, because of prison records, because of an insufficient level of educational attainment and because of lack of information on job opportunities. In most of these areas, I am convinced that while legislation has a role to play, and I will be saying more about this later, it must be backed up by a strong placement service and for that reason I will be devoting particular attention to the development of the National Manpower Service. Many of the vacancies which the National Manpower Service has been unable to fill are in the industrial sector, despite the fact that about 70,000 people are unemployed.
Apart from structural difficulties— the unemployed workers not having the right skills for the jobs on offer— there seems to be a prejudice among some people against industrial employment. This may be due in part to the absence of an industrial tradition in certain areas; it may also be based on wrong impressions or wrong information. Parents and teachers sometimes appear to encourage young people to seek employment which, for some reason, they regard as having a certain status even though the wages and conditions offered may compare unfavourably with jobs in industry. What is required here is a change of attitude mainly among people who are concerned with career guidance. The National Manpower Service, in co-operation with the Department of Education, hope to produce a booklet entitledWorking in Industry which should help to disabuse some sections of the public of wrong impressions which they may have about industrial employment.
Apart from Britain, we are the only member of the EEC who tolerate a situation where the vast majority of jobs and job vacancies are handled through private agencies. I am reasonably satisfied with the way in which these agencies operate since this is adequately treated in the Employment Agency Act, 1971, which came into operation last November. But I am gravely concerned about the fact that, while the vast majority of jobs are filled in this way, information about vacancies may not be disseminated as widely as one would wish in a democratic and progressive society, and, secondly, that standards of selection may be used which are discriminatory. I would emphasise the word "may" here as I am absolutely convinced of the valuable job being done by private agencies at present and because no research has been done in this field in this country I regard it as a matter of urgent priority, therefore, to build up the capacity and competence of the National Manpower Service so that it can increase its penetration and influence in the labour market.
Policy making in the manpower and industrial fields in Ireland is bedevilled by a lack of information. When one considers the sophisticated requirements of manpower and regional planning, it is extraordinary—and indeed to be deplored—that previous Governments have not put much greater resources into the development of our information and research services in this area. Most of the information on the labour market which the National Manpower Service use is derived as a bi-product from other activities; for example, unemployment benefit, Census of Populationet cetera. The service has no ready or measurably accurate means of monitoring trends on a regular basis or for interpreting the limited information available for the purpose of initiating action in a particular area. At present, there is no complete occupational breakdown of the Live Register although moves are afoot to remedy this situation. While there are still not enough jobs for all those people seeking work, there is scope for reducing the number who are unemployed if a more accurate picture of the composition of the Live Register could be got. For instance, how many unemployed workers would be interested in retraining or some form of rehabilitation or reactivation? It would be useful to know how many are partly disabled or handicapped, and what proportion of older workers are suitable for, or capable of, retraining. In other words, a stricter qualitative and quantitative analysis of the Live Register would give a more accurate picture of the true unemployment situation and a clearer indication of what services and types of industry are needed to achieve full employment.
Comprehensive and up-to-date information on general trends in employment, for example, demands for new skills, obsolescent industries,et cetera, would be useful to enable remedial measures to be put in hands in good time if further structural imbalances between labour supply and demand are to be prevented. In other words, proper labour market information is necessary to ensure that as far as possible timely corrective and preventative measures can be adopted. This, let me stress, is no reflection on the Central Statistics Office and the various Departmental information services who have soldiered on with inadequate staff and facilities over the years but quite clearly, if we are going to get at the root of many of our problems, particularly in the employment field, we must devote increasing attention to this. It is not that we need information to convince us of the gravity of many of the problems facing us, but in many cases we do not even have the information on which to arrive at the correct solutions.
When our man power policy was being formulated in 1965, it was hoped that manpower forecasting would be an important element of the policy, that is, forecasting the changes which were likely to occur in the supply of a demand for labour so that remedial measures could be put in hands in good time to remedy imbalances.
However, when the possibilities of forecasting were subsequently studied, it became clear that there were serious shortcomings in the statistical information available and necessary as a base for forecasting and, furthermore, that techniques have not yet been developed anywhere which are capable of producing reliable forecasts and manpower projections suitable for policy formulation.
Some of the inadequacies of our manpower statistics include a lack of knowledge of movements into, within and out of the labour market, information on mobility and substitution, information on the extent of underemployment, the occupational structure of emigration,et cetera. As the National Manpower Service expands, our information on local labour markets will improve. In addition, the OECD examiners have made certain recommendations aimed at improving our manpower statistics and these will be considered when the final report becomes available on or about the end of this year.
In outlining my view of the role of the Department, I have been emphasising two main concerns. The first of these is that as the Department charged with the responsibility of maintaining the primacy of the Social Dimension in Economic and Social Planning, we should not be concerned solely with ameliorative measures. Their positive role as generators of solutions and as contributors to policy formation in the areas adjacent to it, such as employment creation, must be an active one. Secondly, the Department have a role in the advancement of social change in industry so that we may bring about a transformation to a more democratic and humane industrial society.
What Nye Bevan once said of the British House of Commons I feel applies to my Department and its work, "Parliament must not become a public mourner for private economic crimes". I should now like to go on to the key areas of action which will be concerning me in pursuit of this policy in the year ahead.
I believe it is essential that the House in its debate on my Department should concern itself not just with an analysis of what has happened over the past year but should especially address itself to key factors in the year ahead. In the issues with which I am now going to deal, it will be clear that some of them arise (such as future National Wage Agreements) irrespective of any initiative by the Government, whereas others result from the obvious political commitment of our administration to advance the concept of social policy as a major criterion of all activity within the State.
I do not believe that anybody inside or outside this House would deny that one of the most critical events facing us in the coming year is the ability of the Employer/Labour Conference to arrive at a third National Agreement. No one would suggest that this will be other than a daunting task.
The Government, through the Fourteen Point Programme of the National Coalition, are strongly committed to voluntary wage and salary bargaining. This is based on the belief that voluntary agreements contribute to a reduction in the rate of inflation and a reduction in industrial strife and that they have been clearly demonstrated to benefit the lower-paid and women workers more than would have been the case in a "free for all". In addition, and despite what critics have had to say, they have, in a period of high inflation, resulted in real increases in the standard of living of workers.
Except in its role as an employer, the State has not intervened in the proper work of the Employer/Labour Conference nor does it intend to do so. Where its role does lie is in the provision of services which will facilitate the work of the Conference and, through the Labour Court, in ensuring the equitable application of any agreement. In addition, it will through its action on price control and wealth redistribution be making a major contribution to the creation of a climate in which trade unions can feel confident in signing long-term agreements.
I am heartened by the experience gained by the Employer/Labour Conference negotiators in their previous agreements. That they are garnering and learning from that experience is evident in the work of the sub-committee which has been considering the harmonisation of terminal dates for agreements for different workers and various proposals which have been made regarding the nature of the escalator clauses seem to me to strike at the very heart of the problem facing both sides.
Efforts should be made in the next round to make positive advances in other important sectors related to working conditions and particularly in the area of pensions, job security and consultative machinery within industry. I am confident that they will continue to emphasise the position of the lower paid worker and, in the light of legislation which will be introduced shortly, the position of women in industry.
The 14 point programme of the National Coalition contains an overall and firm commitment to advance worker participation in industry and a specific commitment to provide for the election of workers to the boards of State industries. Legislation to effect the latter will be introduced as soon as possible having regard to the complexities of the question.
In addition to the straight-forward provision for the election of worker directors the legislation will also provide for their training and for the necessary facilities and time for them to carry out their role effectively.
This is an enormously complex area touching as it does on the structure and geographic spread of each company, the degree of trade union organisation of the workers in each company, the nature of our company law, the legislation on which each State company is based and so on.
Much detailed consultation will, therefore, have to take place with the trade unions, the managements of the companies concerned, the responsible boards and Departments of State. It is my intention, therefore, to set up a section within my Department concerned solely with the question of worker participation since it is an area to which increasing concern will be given and which will develop into one of great importance in our industrial life.
The Report of the Commission on the Status of Women has given added impetus to the commitment in the National Coalition Programme for the advancement of women's rights. In so far as my own Department is concerned, some weeks ago I committed myself to the introduction of legislation on the question of equal pay. For a number of practical and economic reasons it will be necessary to bring about the transition to equal pay in a lot of areas on a phased basis but it is my intention that this should be done in as short a period as possible.
However, the status of women in our society and in particular in the industrial sector of our society is a much more complicated one than that simply of equal pay. Nortoriously women are confined to the most menial tasks in our enterprises and it is going to require a considerable change of attitude by society, particularly on the part of parents and male workers, to bring about a change in this situation. I believe it is one in which legislation has a large part to play as I do not subscribe to the view that women should be expected to wait for major shifts in attitudes within our society before they receive just treatment. It is my intention, therefore, to introduce legislation on discrimination on grounds of sex in the selection of workers for industry and of their advancement. This will also cover the field of married women in employment.
The appointment last year of a Commissioner for Equal Pay was an important indication of my Department's forward thinking on this issue for the changed circumstances of the new Government's commitments and the Report of the Commission. It is my intention to considerably strengthen the role of the equal pay function within my Department and to recruit a number of specialist staff and advisers on the issue. In particular I can see that the evaluation of jobs will become a critical area particularly if there are attempts made to circumvent equal pay legislation by changing the nature of women's jobs.
I would emphasise, however, that this is not a function which can be carried out solely by the State. The trade unions and employer organisations have a special responsibility to ensure that the spirit of the aspiration of our people for equalisation of rewards and opportunities as between men and women in society is realised. Women themselves can help to advance their position in industry by increasing their degree of trade union organisation and by playing a more active role in trade union affairs.
To this end it is my intention to discuss with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions the allocation of additional funds to the training of women trade union officials and representatives so that they may be able to play a more active part in their organisations and in industry generally.
The question of the training of women workers currently in the labour force and those who are about to enter it is an important area in the recommendations made by the commission. I am asking AnCO for an immediate study to be carried out into the area of apprenticeships for women and the training facilities available for them. This is an area to which it may be necessary to make special financial provisions and if this is the case the Dáil may expect that I will be seeking further funds from it later in the year under this heading.
I have had discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Welfare on the special needs for disabled and handicapped workers who constitute a disproportionate share of our unemployed people. It is my intention that co-operation between the National Manpower Service and the National Rehabilitation Board will be further developed so that the widest range of opportunities available can be opened up to them. However, I am convinced that, despite the considerable contribution which is being made by some firms to the employment of workers in this category, many are avoiding their obligations.
I am, therefore, giving urgent consideration to the need for legislation— a handicapped persons' Bill—which would establish a quota system for the employment of disabled and handicapped workers. Such a proposal was first mooted by the late Deputy Seán Dunne, whose Private Member's Bill on this subject was rejected by the present Opposition party in 1967. Legislation on this question would not only, therefore, help to meet a pressing social need but would be a fitting tribute to the work of the late Seán Dunne. I would like also to pay tribute to the work of Deputy Dr. John O'Connell in this area.
The draft EEC Social Action Policy prepared by the Commission will be discussed at a Council of Ministers Meeting on Monday, 21st May. The full consultative process involving the employers and trade unions, the Economic and Social Committee and the European Parliament will not be completed until later in the year, and no doubt considerable changes will be made in the document during that period particularly in the formulation of concrete action issues.
For the moment the most important aspect of the document is its commitment to the position of social policy in the development of the Community, and as a necessary counter weight to economic and monetary policies, the much recalled "human face" aspect of Community Policy.
I do not intend to deal here with the specific response which we will make to the various proposals in the present document. A major area of concern will, however, be from our point of view to ensure that rigid models for behaviour in particular areas are not laid down, particularly where these would ignore the special economic and social conditions of Ireland. We would hope, therefore, that while agreeing on general objectives and guidelines the role of the commission would be to facilitate developments in those general directions. Of particular concern here is the field of worker participation which in the context of social policy is obviously a key area. I have said on a number of occasions recently, both at home and in Brussels, that we in Ireland require the right to develop our own worker participation systems appropriate to our own needs and that furthermore we would expect to be facilitated and aided in this process by the Community rather than hindered by it.
At a general level, therefore, I believe that the most useful contribution of the social policy is to bring about a degree of harmonisation and in particular to create structures and institutions within which views and experiences can be exchanged. For this reason we strongly welcome the proposal to set up a vocational training centre. This would clearly be of great benefit particularly in the restitut training field where we can expect a continuing and perhaps increased demand in the years immediately ahead. The co-ordination of work force information systems proposed in the draft programme may not on the surface appear to be a particularly important area but in practice, as I have stated earlier in my speech, it is of considerable significance in the co-ordination of policies across national boundaries and in dealing with Community institutions which can dispense resources, such as the Social Fund, crucial to our development.
The Department of Labour have been designated as the central agency in this country for the submission of claims to the EEC Social Fund. It must be emphasised, however, that the Department does not have the sole right of initiative nor does it have the function of allocating priorities to particular claims. This is done by the Social Fund Committee itself and at its meeting last week the representatives of my Department laid particular stress on the need to give high priority to programmes related to unemployment.
Apart from acting as a co-ordination point for claims, I am concerned that my Department should be active in ensuring that every industry and economic grouping in the country is aware of the ways in which the Social Fund can assist in the funding of development programmes. In addition I am building up a group of export advisers who can help in the formulation of claims and in the presentation of them.
We can obtain considerable benefits from a correct use of the fund and it can be of enormous advantage in enlarging the field of social policy and action in this country.
In an earlier part of this speech I have recorded the achievements which have been made in the advancement of the workers' protection on shop floor through legislation such as the Factories Act, the Dangerous Substances Act, the Mines and Quarries Act, the activities of the factories Inspectorate, the National Industrial Safety Organisation and so on. During the next year I intend widening the concept of working conditions and environment to take account of other factors which are becoming evident in this area. Considerable publicity has been given in this country to the proposal in the draft Social Action Programme of the EEC in relation to the examination of industrial practices such as conveyor belt production systems. This is only one aspect of industrial life which is of growing concern to many people in this country and I would like to see a further examination of the effect which many modern production and management techniques have on workers.
As a starting point following discussions with the Minister for Health and Social Welfare and in conjunction with other relevant groups, I propose commencing an initial survey of mental health and stress in industry and to begin to widen the concept of good working conditions in this area. The questions of absenteeism and alcoholism, for instance, have been the subject of some discussion and investigation in this country in recent years but there appears to have been a failure to regard these as symptoms and a failure to establish the fundamental causes. While work in this area will commence in the coming year the House will, I am sure, appreciate that it will be some time before we can get to the stage of preparing a code of practice, let alone legislation, in the area.
Also on this front it has been suggested to me that the provisions in the Factories Act regarding safety committees and their powers requires strengthening and elaboration. I have asked for a report on this matter. Should it be necessary to do so I would introduce legislation later in the year on this question.
It is a matter of some concern to me that grave difficulties are experienced by many employers and trade unions in ascertaining the precise requirements of the Factories and Office Premises Acts in relation to facilities and working conditions. I am, therefore, setting about the task of reviewing and codifying ministerial orders in this and other areas of legislation under my jurisdiction with a view to improving public access to this information.
The fourteen point programme of the new Government will have a major impact on the work of the Department. That programme includes measures to combat inflation, an effort to halt redundancies, reduce unemployment together with an overall commitment to voluntary wage agreements. The introduction of worker participation, and the election of workers on to State boards, is a challenge which as Minister I am happy to meet. A commitment has also been given to end all forms of existing discrimination against women.
The removal of discrimination against women will involve examination and formulation of complex legislation covering such matters as equal pay, access to employment, opportunities for advancement and continued employment after marriage, maternity leave, return to employment after absence due to family responsibilities,et cetera. Reducing redundancies and unemployment will involve increased work under the industrial training legislation and the National Manpower Service. Membership of the EEC will, of course, exert further pressure on work in this area.
While I am concerned overall with helping to shape community social policy for the benefit of those who work, the major item of work for my Department in relation to the EEC is concerned with the European Social Fund. So far, we have lodged seven claims for a sum amounting to £3½ million and further applications for aid are in preparation. Three of these applications are for a total sum amounting to £1 million which will be sent to Brussels early in May. Formulation of these applications has involved a high degree of preparatory work. Such work can be expected to increase as our applications go through examination by the Commission.
Furthermore, it is clear that there will be increasing pressures by public opinion, particularly trade unions, and justifiably, to obtain maximum benefit from the fund. This will involve the Minister in work of a pioneering character both in Ireland and in Brussels, to develop and expand the type of activities in Ireland which would qualify for fund support and to convince Brussels that support for these activities from the fund is justified. Regulations governing the Social Fund require that checks will be carried out by the national authority on how the monies granted are disposed of and they provide for on-the-spot checks by officials by the co-operation of the national authorities.
My Department will be involved in this work as responsibility for it devolves on the Department of Labour. As I have remarked, the focus of attention of my Ministry is the action by the EEC to develop a social policy. A draft social policy document prepared by the Commission for Social Affairs shows clearly that my Department will be deeply involved in the elaboration of the policy through 1973 and its implementation from 1974 onwards. An examination of the draft document on EEC regional policy means that we will be involved also here because the use of the Social Fund must have a close connection with formulation of regional policy.
I began this Estimate in the context of our membership of the European Community. I should like to conclude responsive, I hope, to the new times and new tasks which our membership of the European fraternity of states imposes. As a people we have in history displayed perhaps too touching a faith in help from abroad as an answer to all our problems. TheAisling inspiration gave us fine poetry, but it was bad politics even in the 17th century. The Aisling mentality in the context of the European Community, the belief that benefits from the European Social Fund or regional policy grants are the panacea for all our economic ills, must not distract us from the recognition that only the Irish people working at home possess the seals that will earn us a society in which all our citizens can be socially and economically secure, free, at peace and self-reliant and, sharing in responsibility on equal terms. In that work I hope my Department will play a full part.