It is regrettable that this Bill is being presented to the House. It is not what is required to deal with the problems which led to its introduction. The weakness in existing legislation has caused serious industrial problems over a long period, with the result that the companies in question were in danger of permanent closure. The companies' subsequent trading was affected due to this extended closure. Management or workers did not wish to see this situation arising. They were landed in a Catch 22 situation due to existing legislation. This Bill will deal with the immediate problems but I think it will create further problems.
Deputy O'Keeffe mentioned that he would like this Bill to be reviewed after six months. I would like to endorse that because this Bill is rushed and, while it is adequate to deal with the problems for which it was introduced, it could create difficulties which will have detrimental effects on industrialists, employers and workers. If there is a problem in an industry, employers and workers suffer. It is very important that adequate legislation should be introduced which will not just deal with a situation which requires remedial action but will bring about a permanent solution. This Bill will not bring about a permanent solution but will create many problems in the years to come.
I ask the Minister to accept the suggestion from our party spokesman that this should be reviewed. This Bill was promised last February and I do not understand why it is being introduced on the day before the Dáil goes into recess. I do not think it should be rushed through in one day. This type of legislation needs careful scrutiny and must be approached responsibly by all sides of the House. Most people here are very concerned that an objective view should be taken. We want to see legislation which will prevent the type of disturbance which we had in Kilkenny and Waterford recently. It is ironic that the two situations in question, due to section 35 of the Social Welfare Act, 1980, should affect workers in Kilkenny because the majority of workers in Clover Meats live in south Kilkenny and commute to their jobs in Waterford. In Castlecomer, over 100 workers employed in the Comer International Mills have been out of work since 15 March. They have at this stage taken up an entrenched position.
This situation should not have arisen to begin with, and secondly it should have been dealt with long before now. This Bill should not be necessary and we should be concentrating on better industrial relations, or our industrial relations should be strengthened and these disputes should not occur. That is where we should set our sights. It is not always possible to have perfect industrial relations but in smaller firms, particularly where management is very close to the workers, you do not have a great incidence of strikes and the differences that arise can be dealt with on a reasonable, man-to-man basis. This is what we should aim at and we should not clutter ourselves with Bill after Bill trying to plug holes. We should aim at bringing in good legislation, and I put it to the Minister that this is not good legislation, and while it is essential that this matter be dealt with immediately so that the people in Castlecomer will be enabled to resume work and this very valuable factory at Castlecomer which we appreciate very much can reopen its doors and resume normal working after six months, legislation generally in relation to social welfare should be renewed and updated.
It was mentioned here earlier in debate that many anomalies exist under the social welfare code. We all recognise this, and one thing referred to continually which every sane and rational person will agree with is that the incentive to work is being removed. Some people are receiving more on social welfare, whether it be unemployment benefit or disability benefit, than they were earning in their employment. There are also people, as already mentioned, who get more remuneration on a three-day week than in a full five-day week working situation. It is not employers who are complaining about this type of situation; it is the workers, because the workers must pay for the benefits being provided for the people who are so unfortunate as to be on disability or unemployment benefit. People who are working are not prepared to accept that those people on benefit should be better off than they are who are doing a full day's work every day, who are happy to be working, who do not resent people getting good benefit but who resent the fact that such people are better off out of work, and they are demanding that the Minister take action which is long overdue to correct this.
In relation to social welfare generally, the trouble is not all on one side. Many workers find themselves disadvantaged in that for one reason or another, they cannot get their benefit when it is due to them. Delays in decision sections in relation to unemployment benefit claims, delays in processing disability benefit claims, the fact that it is very difficult for a person from the provinces to contact the Department of Social Welfare due to the very bad telephone system in the Department, are all matters which need attention which is long overdue. The disability section of the Department of Social Welfare should be regionalised. This was promised and it should be attended to. Many problems exist for people who are on benefit, and we would all like to see these difficulties dealt with by legislation and by ministerial action.
It is necessary that the Bill go through today so that people whom I represent can get their just rights, but at the same time I have reservations about its implications that any rational person who reads it must have also. The Bill makes provision to set up a tribunal to deal with problems which arise. Difficulties as to whether a dispute is a dispute and whether it was caused by the employer will be referred to the tribunal. I can see difficulties here in that large number of disputes will be referred to this tribunal. I am sure the Minister envisages the tribunal dealing with one or two cases a year, but they will be very busy and I do not think that this is what the Minister set out to achieve. The tribunal will consist of five members—two from the employers, two from the unions and a chairman. I do not think that a tribunal should be set up in this fashion or that we should have a black and white situation of two from the employers and two from the unions taking opposite views in any case put to them. This is what automatically is bound to happen if you state specifically that a certain number of people must represent a certain opinion.
I suggest that the Minister set up this tribunal with independent people. He might ask who is independent and who is not, an employer or an employee. I suggest that, generally speaking, many people can be objective and that such people should be put on this tribunal to give an objective, full decision on any claim that might come before them. Under the present proposal to set up the tribunal it will be virtually the decision of the chairman that will be carried because it will be a two each vote situation in 95 per cent of the cases. It is not fair to this one person who is chairman to ask him to make the decision. Secondly, it is not fair to the employees and the firms who are required to go to this tribunal that their cases should rest on the decision of one person, and this is what we are arriving at in this type of tribunal.
I welcome the Bill in that it will deal immediately with the problems which must be dealt with, but it needs very serious consideration. Again, on the question of local issues I trust that the Minister will be able to assure us that his amendment will enable retrospective payment to be made to the Castlecomer Mills people, because otherwise it will not be possible for them to get back to work or for that good industry to start production again.
I am disappointed that the Minister left the introduction of this Bill to this very late stage with the result that we are now rushing it through. It is ironic that when the Bill was requested on Friday last we were told that it was not available——