At the outset of the debate on this Bill I referred to the fact that there were many omissions from it. I am disappointed with the small number of State companies involved and with the single-tier system. I hope the Bill will make some positive contribution towards improving industrial relations within the State companies. We all know that within the seven companies mentioned in the Bill our people have had awful experiences of industrial unrest. We are all aware that shortly before Christmas, when the weather was very bad, there was industrial unrest in CIE and in the ESB. There are two sides to all disputes and difficulties and any steps that will contribute to improving industrial relations in those companies should be taken by the Minister.
I have reservations as to how much assistance this Bill will be. I support the placing of workers on boards but can anybody say how the appointment of three or four workers to the board of the ESB would in any way have prevented the Shannonbridge incident that disrupted industry and created so much inconvenience for many people, particularly the elderly, in the bitterly cold weather? In my view it would not have made any difference. I am disappointed that the Minister, when the opportunity was presented to him, did not give us a type of worker participation that would stand as a lasting memory to him. We are all aware that the Minister's period in office is drawing to a close and the Minister is aware that the National Coalition will not be returned. It is a pity that he did not avail of this opportunity to carve an indelible mark for himself in the progress of industrial democracy.
I have tried to analyse why the number of companies was so limited. Many other companies should have been brought under that. It should be remembered that this is more than a four year old commitment and it will be some time before the terms of this can be put into operation. After it is passed by the Seanad and signed by the President the systems have to be worked out before industrial democracy is put into operation. How long will we have to wait for that? The end product after a four year wait is disappointing. I have also drawn attention to the fact that the boards are very remote. Those of us who worked for a company over the years are aware that boards are always regarded as being remote. With regard to the boards of State companies they are mainly concerned with forward planning, new policies and financial results. While I agree with the involvement of workers on these boards I do not think the proposals in the Bill go far enough because the decisions of management are not normally made by the board or, if they are, they are transmitted at a lower level of management. This was an ideal opportunity for the Minister to introduce a two-tier system to give involvement at board level and at management levels that matter.
I can recall a man in my area who was advancing in years expressing a desire to a friend of his to get married, in spite of his age. The weather was bad at the time and this man's friend asked him where he intended living. That man of advancing years said he was going to build a house but because the weather was bad he intended putting up the roof first. Something similar has been done in this Bill; the roof has been erected but there are no foundations or walls. Things would work better if the foundations and walls were erected. I was also critical of the exclusion of a certain section of workers in these companies. The numbers are not important, whether they represent 5 per cent or 10 per cent of the work force.
All workers in State companies should have the opportunity to offer themselves as candidates. That opportunity is not there unless they join a trade union or are already in a trade union. I do not see how any person can be denied the right to stay outside trade unions and I submit that that voluntary decision should be maintained. Indeed one could go so far as to say that these people are being denied certain constitutional rights.
Obviously this Bill will be taken as a sort of blueprint for the future and although there may be only 5 per cent of State company employees not now members of the unions, as we go along we may find that percentage growing because more State companies may become involved. If such people are to enjoy their freedom as citizens to make individual decisions they should not be excluded in this fashion. Workers' involvement in management of State companies must be attained with as little outside interference as possible. For too long there has been mistrust and lack of confidence between workers and management. Our record has been bad in this respect at severe cost to the economy. Nobody likes to be involved in strike situations because there is very little gained from them and everything to lose.
Therefore, the more we can confine the operation of industrial democracy within individual companies the better for all concerned. There must be trade union encouragement and assistance in this situation. For a long time both management and trade unions were reluctant and even afraid of what worker participation might do for workers. Consequently, this legislation will be a big step but we should stop the dragging of feet that existed up to now in regard to worker participation and industrial democracy. We must look forward to the extension of this sort of democracy to many other sectors. It will take a long time but the efforts will be worth while. We are still missing out on a number of State companies and we have not even looked at the private sector. We hope that the enterprises covered by this Bill will be models for the future. I believe that the Minister was determined that this legislation would be worth while but that he was stymied by his Cabinet colleagues. Small though this first step is, we support it. We had a worth while Committee debate which improved the measure. I am sure the Seanad will have much to say on it and that it will be returned to us with further improvements.