Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Bill, 1976: Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

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.

Deputy Fitzgerald has summed up in a masterly way on the Final Stage. He pointed out the support of this side of the House for the measure and our disappointment that its implications are not more widespread. He pointed to some lofty ideals to be aimed at if we are to have true universal industrial democracy. That is why we have been pressing for information as to why certain things have not been done. We in Fianna Fáil blazed the trail in this sphere. I would recall when Fianna Fáil appointed a very worthy Member of the Oireachtas, the late Senator Jimmy Dunne, to the board of CIE. He was an ideal choice, an outstanding individual of the highest integrity. At that time people were not so enlightened in regard to industrial democracy and the late Senator was subjected to criticism from certain quarters.

I am glad to see we have advanced from that stage to the point where this House can agree on the general principles of this Bill. We have to ensure, however, that in the future legislation of this type will do more in the field of industrial democracy and there is an onus on the Government to strive towards much better relations between management and workers in the public sector than we have had so far. Deputy Fitzgerald pointed to the Shannon-bridge incident and to CIE strikes. CIE strikes are serious because they hit workers who have not cars—of course many of them may get lifts from those who have—but the Shannonbridge dispute brought home to us a very serious situation. I agree with Deputy Fitzgerald that there are two sides to every dispute but ESB disputes deprived many institutions of electric power. Therefore we must strive with all our ability for much better industrial relations in the ESB.

The hospitals must never again be subjected to a disruption of supplies. In these establishments and in old people's homes lives are actually dependent on continuity of electricity supply. There are some hospitals which have auxiliary plants but there are many which do not have such plants. There are old people's homes which do not have auxiliary supplies. I am not allocating blame. I am simply appealing to those who may be involved in disputes to implement this legislation so that we will have a humane society in which the sick, the aged and the poor will not be deprived of some essential service just because the disputants cannot resolve some trivial difficulty.

I share Deputy Fitzgerald's concern over the omissions in the Bill. Perhaps many of the principles involved have been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. I look forward like my colleagues, Deputy Fitzgerald and Deputy Dowling, to the return of a Government from this side of the House which will bring in a charter incorporating proper human relations, in which all will be involved and as a result of which it can be truly said that what is the concern of one is the concern of all.

I do not think this Bill will do a great deal. We will probably boast about it from election platforms and proclaim we have got worker participation. How much participation? Will it be just a case of putting people on boards because that looks good? If that is the result then it would be better not to attempt this just yet. We are not satisfied with this Bill and as soon as we return to power in the next year or two we will examine the whole field of worker participation as the late Seán Lemass did when he brought in his Conditions of Employment Act in 1935. That is still regarded as a milestone in social legislation. However, despite the omissions, I hope this Bill will work. I appeal to all concerned not to go on boards unless they are imbued with the highest ideals. They should go with a sense of dedication and strive to improve human relations. They must realise in bodies like the ESB, which has a tremendous impact, that they have a tremendous responsibility. They must ensure that no old person and no hospital patient will suffer because the board cannot resolve some trivial difficulty. I look forward to the time when we will be able to look at this legislation after it has been in operation and improve it in the way it should be improved. That ought not to be difficult because we will have the benefit of hindsight, something the Minister has not got.

I support the views put forward so ably by Deputy Fitzgerald and Deputy Moore. Deputy Fitzgerald has dealt in a very comprehensive way with this Bill. My views differ from his somewhat. Worker participation has been referred to in other documents as worker democracy. This is worker participation in State enterprises. It is limited and so it represents a desertion of workers outside of State enterprises, workers who are promised industrial democracy.

A comprehensive Bill should have been introduced. Workers were promised participation or industrial democracy, or whatever term one likes to use. Recently I was reading some of the policy statements made by people now in Government and this Bill is clearly a desertion of a great majority of our workers. The entire field of employment should be covered by some type of participation. If participation is necessary in State enterprises then it is necessary to an even greater degree in other employment. There are brakes within the public service and there are systems which give the workers some say on some occasions in decision-making. Decision-making is all important from the point of view of worker participation. This is patchwork legislation. It should be comprehensive. One section, a very large section, is being completely ignored while another section in privileged employment is given certain advantages. I look forward to the day when we can examine in depth the question of share capital for workers from reinvested profits and kindred matters.

Some of the groups involved have been mentioned by Deputy Moore and Deputy Fitzgerald. Deputy Moore mentioned CIE. Fianna Fáil appointed to the board of CIE members of the trade union organisation. As has been mentioned, the late Jimmy Dunne, an excellent trade union official of wide vision, forward thinking and a man who was progressive in outlook, was appointed to that board. However, he had to leave the board because of pressure from people within the trade union. I hope that will not happen in the future. When people are appointed to boards under this or any other legislation, I hope they will be able to participate for the benefit of those whom they represent.

This Bill refers to some services, particularly CIE and the ESB. I hope it will enable the boards to function more effectively than in the past. Recently we had the tragic situation when there was a disruption of the power services. Last night in the Dublin Corporation I had a motion discussed in relation to part of the area I represent, St. Michael's Estate, Inchicore. The fact that the situation at Shannonbridge could put lives at risk in Inchicore must be taken into consideration. In that instance people were deprived of water and sewerage services.

The Minister must examine the situation regarding essential services. The personnel appointed to boards which cater for such services should take a keen and active interest to ensure that there is better industrial understanding between the board and the workers. We should never again have a situation where people's lives are put at risk because of power failures, as happened in the recent past. The people in St. Michael's Estate, Inchicore, were deprived of a very basic service, a fresh water supply. Last night at the Dublin Corporation meeting I had a motion accepted which instructed the city manager to install a stand-by generator to ensure that there will not be a disruption in essential services in the future.

I hope the workers themselves will regard essential services as something quite different and apart from other services. We should ensure that comprehensive discussions take place so that there will not be a breakdown which might put people's lives at risk. I hope the Bill will succeed in alleviating some of the stress that has existed in the past but I do not think it is comprehensive enough. It does not measure up to the promises made. The Minister has deserted the people who had hoped for some kind of comprehensive legislation that would allow worker participation outside State enterprises. I hope the Minister will give an indication of when he will introduce more comprehensive legislation to deal with other sectors of industry.

I accept that this measure is a step forward and I hope the Bill is successful. If it will remedy some of the problems of misunderstanding that existed in the past between management and workers it will justify itself but I am afraid it has not gone far enough. For that reason I hope the Minister will assure the thousands of workers to whom he promised legislation regarding worker democracy that they are not a forgotten people. I hope he can tell them they will be remembered in forthcoming legislation, late as it may be and I hope we have comprehensive legislation to cover the entire area of industrial democracy or worker participation in the broadest sense.

It is my belief that on looking back at this Bill it will prove to be one of the more significant pieces of legislation passed by the 20th Dáil. This Bill will be a sign of the wider changes we shall see in the organisation of industry in the future. The enactment of this legislation represents a significant advance in the board movement encompassed under the term "worker democracy". It will provide that 50,000 workers in seven State companies will take part in direct elections to the boards of those companies but it will not prevent the development of a two-tier consultative council operating below board level in any of these companies.

Deputy Dowling asked why we did not wait until a Bill could be prepared which would cover the entire Irish industry. That would need wide changes in our company law. As Deputies opposite are aware, the question of company law is under discussion in the EEC. The quest for a more uniform company legal structure is on the way but it would be very optimistic to think that those discussions would be completed within the next decade. The choice we had was to proceed on a front, narrower than that covering the entire industry but a front on which some advances could be made. I do not exaggerate what has been done now but I think it is a significant step when 50,000 workers will be participating for the first time in a worker participation operation.

Some other EEC countries have some experience in this area but this is our first step. Not all EEC countries have experience of worker participation in practice; Britain does not have any such experience so far. The pre-legislative debate has just commenced in Britain with the publication of the Bullock report.

The two-tier system is not ruled out. If that development takes root in these companies the legislation will not inhabit its further development. The passage of this legislation should contribute to improving industrial relations in the companies concerned. That was not the primary motivation of this legislation but it will be a beneficial side-effect, that industrial communications may be improved once the provisions of the legislation begin to take effect.

I should like to thank Opposition Deputies for the constructive debate we have had during the course of this Bill. Deputy Fitzgerald made many worthwhile contributions. Deputy Dowling has also spoken as well as other Members of the House. It is right that we should at all times be dissatisfied that legislation does not apply more widely, that it could not be further improved. There is a great deal more ahead of us in this area. At the same time we must record some satisfaction that we have taken these first significant steps. I should like to thank Deputies for the work they put into their contributions on Committee Stage.

I should like to break with tradition by paying tribute to the officers of the worker participation section of the Department of Labour. Mr. Aherne, who heads the section, and Miss Redmond were with us this morning. Civil servants who play a large part in the preparation and consultation that goes into any legislation are seldom in this House. Without the commitment and dedication of these two officers it would not have been possible to have brought this legislation to this stage. Deputies may make the point that this legislation has been a long time in preparation but it involved extensive consultations. The worker participation section was set up only three years ago.

Deputy Fitzgerald raised other points on Committee Stage. Any points not covered by amendments will be considered between now and the time the Bill goes to the Seanad. I will consider these points further to see if the suggestions can be incorporated.

I should like to endorse the Minister's remarks in the tribute to his Department's officials.

I am not sure whether it should be taken as a precedent. It is a worthy thing but I should not like a precedent to come in under my chairmanship.

Question put and agreed to.