May I advise Members that the Minister has 30 minutes and other speakers 20 minutes. The Minister or Minister of State replying to this debate shall be called not later than 10.50 p.m.
Private Members' Business. - Estimates for Public Services, 1987. Vote 38: Labour (Revised Estimate).
That a sum not exceeding £167,339,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st December, 1987, 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 and grants-in-aid.
My Department have a critical role to play not only in keeping open the lines of communication between employers, trade unions and Government at national level but also in devising ways that will lead to greater co-operation in the workplace, to the benefit of all concerned. A consensus is never delivered neatly packaged for everyone to admire, it has to be built up and maintained. That takes a lot of effort.
This Government's plan for growth and economic recovery aims to create an environment for economic growth and investment. We believe that this will require commitment from all sectors of the community. We have set about involving representatives of the social partners and the various sectoral groups in discussions on the action which has to be taken.
It is useful at this initial stage, in the joint approach to national recovery, to have an opportunity to review the current activities of my Department and to invite Deputies to consider its working practice in the broadest perspective. Since I came into office, I am more than ever convinced of the need for realism in our approach to industrial relations. I am also intent on steering through a practical and straightforward series of legislative measures. In deciding how to shape these measures, I believe that it is necessary to acknowledge the limitations of legislation on its own.
I have made it clear since I came into office that I wish to see a greater reliance on sensible employment practices at local level. My task as Minister for Labour is to encourage the representatives of both sides of industry to look to the adequacy of the industrial relations arrangements at local level, the scope for greater employee involvement, the efficiency of work methods and the overall adaptability of both work organisation and the workforce to technological change and change in the external business environment.
I have had a preliminary exchange of views with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and separately with the Federated Union of Employers which provided an opportunity to cover the contentious subject of industrial relations reform. I hope over the next few months to see what agreement I can get from the social partners in this area before proceeding with necessary legislation. I do not believe that legislation can of itself produce a formula for good industrial relations. Any practitioner knows full well that legal intervention can prove to be a very clumsy instrument in a trade dispute. Industrial relations is fundamentally about human relations at the workplace.
The number of days lost through industrial action in 1986 is estimated at 315,500. As a record of strike activity this is not as high as in recent years, but it leaves no room for complacency. Preliminary estimates put the number of strikes last year at 100. You would have to go back to 1967 to find a year when there was a lower number of strikes.
The number of unofficial strikes in 1986 fell to an estimated 38. This reflects a continuing decline in this form of industrial action. It is clear that a continuation of these trends will improve the way our performance is viewed by those who are likely to be taking critical investment decisions in this country in the near future.
The general reaction to the settlement of the ESB dispute showed that most people want us to tackle the serious problems we face. There is a real danger that pointless confrontation involving strike action, particularly in the provision of public services, will cause real hardship for the disadvantaged in our community. Industrial disruption at this stage could also threaten the recovery in tourism and put at risk the substantial rise in overall industrial output which is expected. We need to rely more on basic industrial relations skills and to see more effort on the part of management and workers devoted to working out problems through negotiation.
A considerable debate has got off the ground within the European Community and in other bodies such as OECD on the subject of labour market flexibility. Central to the debate is the question of how responsive the regulations, institutions and practices in the labour market are to changing conditions. The range of topics covered is substantial and varied, including working time, training, payment systems, dismissal procedures and systems of communication between employers and workers.
With such an open field for debate, it is not surprising to find that the issue of labour market flexibility means different things to different people: one person's business flexibility can look like a threat to someone else's job security. The current concern about how firms adapt internally and externally to the business environment is no flash in the pan. The debate is likely to become even more alive with the progressive removal of trade barriers in the European market.
The debate in this country has tended to focus on one single aspect: the extent to which worker protection legislation and particularly the Unfair Dismissals Act constitutes a disincentive to employers to hire workers. From time to time economic commentators have put up the argument that this legislation prevents employment creation and others may fear that it could have this effect.
A survey commissioned by my Department and carried out by the ESRI suggested that the scale of these alleged effects is not significant. What is not generally known — and certainly not highlighted by those who call for the dismantling of protective legislation — is that the regulation of working time, and of conditions of employment, collective dismissal, etc. in this country is generally less onerous than in other EC member states. This was recently acknowledged in a comparative study by the European Management Forum. While the last 12 years has seen fairly extensive — by our standards — legal intervention in employment we have also seen considerable reliance on securing improvements in conditions through collective agreement. Many of the basic entitlements in our conditions of employment legislation have been improved upon by collective bargaining. As a result, the possibility of making adjustments to the organisation of work and production is much less likely to run up against administrative barriers in Ireland than in other continental countries.
The removal of the ban on night work for women is a practical example of how we have replaced a blanket prohibition with a permissive provision. We did so to improve equality of opportunity between men and women; to free industrialists from restrictions on how they make use of their manpower and machinery: and because it is necessary to check from time to time whether protections introduced on social grounds are still relevant to current conditions.
Government Departments have a responsibility to explain the law and to inform people of legislative changes. People who are running businesses want a clear statement of what the law requires them to do in any given situation. My Department receive 45,000 queries on average each year from employers and employees concerning entitlements in such areas as redundancy, holidays, unfair dismissals, maternity leave and minimum notice. In all of these contacts, I know that officials of my Department make every effort to explain the legal position and to give practical advice.
I propose to publish a single comprehensive guide to the provisions of legislation in these areas. It should help to make the subject easier to understand and should be helpful to many workers and employers particularly in small businesses.
I have indicated that my approach will be to select a number of practical and sensible measures which will safeguard the welfare of workers without raising obstacles to flexibility or the expansion of jobs. This approach has already met with an initial welcome from both sides of industry on the grounds that I had put forward a practical working agenda.
I have informed the Dáil of my immediate legislative priorities — first, the Safety and Health (Offshore Installations) Bill has been reintroduced and is now being taken through its Committee Stage. Second, I intend to press forward in this session with the new legislation required to streamline the operation of the manpower services. Third, I have already referred to the question of industrial relations reform and I intend to reactivate proposals for legislation on worker participation at sub-board levels in State enterprises. Fourth, there are the proposals to effect the major reform of the legislation on safety and health at work which I hope will be ready for introduction towards the end of the year. The first three of these are proposals which should, with the co-operation of this House, be advanced to enactment in the current year.
The Second Stage of the Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) Bill, 1986, was passed in the Dáil on 12 May. It will provide a new framework for the safety and protection of workers on offshore installations engaged in exploration for or exploitation of minerals in the territorial waters of the State and in designated areas outside those waters.
Regulations to be made under the Bill will deal with specific aspects of workers safety. When enacted, the legislation will be administered and enforced by the industrial inspectorate of my Department. The Bill met with broad support across the House. There may be differences on points of detail which will be looked into on Committee Stage but I am satisfied that the broad thrust of the Bill is correct.
In the course of the debate on the Offshore Bill, Deputies expressed their eagerness to see progress in bringing forward the more wide-ranging reform package put forward by the Commission on Safety, Health and Welfare at Work. Four years have passed since the Commission completed their report. I am anxious to harness the broad consensus in favour of a comprehensive overhaul of our safety and health system. I have asked my Department to give priority to the completion of their work on the drafting of a framework Bill which will extend legislative protection to all employers, employees and the self-employed.
I am aware that the contribution of the Interim Board for Occupational Safety and Health has been particularly helpful in progressing the complex task of shaping legislation to reflect the findings of the Barrington Commission. They are also looking at the transitional arrangements which will be necessary to make the change over to the new system. I am under no illusions about the kind of follow-up action required and in particular the need to radically reorganise available resources in order to sustain training education and information at all levels. The availability of resources is a crucial consideration.
I do not believe that there is any point in enacting model legislation or establishing new bodies if they are then left without the resources or the capacity to discharge their intended functions. The Barrington Commission recognised that the changes they proposed would require to be implemented on a phased basis. I look forward to receiving the interim board's advice regarding the priority areas to be tackled.
As regards the reactivation of legislative proposals on worker participation at sub-board levels in State enterprises, I see this as an area where legislation should avoid trying to regulate in detail how decisions are made but should provide a framework within which joint labour-management consensus can be achieved on the type of arrangements best suited to specific circumstances.
I have not neglected the need to make progress in other areas of protective legislation. I believe that Members of this House are entitled to know the outcome of reviews undertaken by my Department. Progress has been made with the review of legislative provisions in three important areas: individual dismissals — involving the review of the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977; employment equality — looking at the means of streamlining and extending the provisions of the Equality Acts 1974 and 1977; payment of wages — looking at the provisions on cashless pay and workers' entitlements in the context of the Payment of Wages Act, 1979.
Accordingly, I have asked my Department to prepare a discussion document on the issues arising in these areas. The discussion document will explore a variety of options for amendment of these Acts, and it is my intention to seek the views of all interested parties on the proposals. It is my intention that the discussion document as I promised in the House recently will be published by September. I hope to deal in further detail with Manpower policy developments including new legislation. I would like to comment briefly on three other immediate legislative concerns.
The Government recognise that unemployment reflects our economy's failure to adjust to the circumstances and opportunities of today. The measures we are taking in the fight against unemployment draw on three underlying objectives.
First, is the fact that unemployment represents, in terms of both its social and economic cost, a burden which we cannot continue to bear. Determined and concerted action is required, using every means at our disposal, in order to tackle the problem. What we are trying to do after all is to get everybody in this country working again. A successful programme of national recovery will ultimately depend on a spirit of enterprise, on the understanding and support of the community as a whole, on the responsiveness of the administrative machinery, and especially on the efforts of employers and trade unions at local level.
Second, is the Government's intention to secure a more effective return on the resources of the manpower agencies. The decision to launch the Jobsearch programme for 150,000 unemployed persons has involved a major reorientation of the activity of the manpower agencies this year. It shows this Government's readiness to take immediate action to co-ordinate the roles of different agencies in order to provide practical help to those looking for work.
Third, it is imperative that we take immediate action to tackle the problem of long-term unemployment before it can become part of the everyday world of individuals and whole communities. We have to develop measures which will provide individuals with a means of escape from the downward spiral in which the unemployed can get caught.
The Jobsearch programme combines for the first time resources and the field activities of the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Labour and its associated manpower agencies. These services have been brought together in a combined operation in order to provide help and encouragement to those who are unemployed and in particular the long-term unemployed. The programme has three main elements: every person in the target group of 150,000, about 60 per cent of the total registered unemployed, is being offered one-to-one counselling interviews; approximately 40,000 opportunities are being made available this year on Manpower schemes and programmes, including the normal job vacancies referred to the National Manpower Service by employers; an additional 12,000 persons will be given places this year on the special Jobsearch training courses which AnCO has put in place from the beginning of this month.
The task of interviewing all those who are being contacted under the Jobsearch programme falls to the National Manpower Service. This involves a very challenging extension to the role it has taken on over the years of identifying, classifying and placing unemployed persons on a range of special employment and training schemes.
A primary purpose of the counselling interview is to make contact with the unemployed people particularly the long term unemployed who have lost the motivation for work. Every effort must be made to ensure that they know about the services which are available to them and how to go about using them. It is to help them to assess their own needs and to make decisions about the opportunities available to them. The programme is a very practical example of how flexible and cost-effective measures can be developed to combat long term unemployment.
Research into unemployment undertaken at European level has confirmed the evidence of Irish case studies which have highlighted the variety of factors which are concealed in standard indicators of age and duration of time on the live register. Any public representative with experience in dealing with constituents' problems at local level will appreciate as readily as a placement officer that the interests and capabilities of the unemployed are as widely divergent as those of the majority who are fortunate to have jobs. That is why the response to the problem of long-term unemployment must consist of a very practical and flexible range of measures.
The Jobsearch programme has been attacked quite irresponsibly in this House by some who allege that it represents a return to the workhouse. They should wake up to reality. The last Government either failed to get very similar ideas off the drawing board or consigned them to the graveyard of task forces.
A system which identifies the needs of long-term unemployment people through interviews and provides programmes to meet them has nothing to do with bullying or compulsion. The response from among the staff involved and those availing of schemes already shows that the exercise is worthwhile and certainly not divisive or unfair.
I am more than ever convinced that we are going in the right direction. We are, after all, building on the successful record of schemes like the social employment scheme, the employment incentive scheme and programmes like enterprise and teamwork.
When we came to look at how these schemes could be combined as part of a programme of direct action to assist the long-term unemployed, we recognised that there was a gap in the existing array of programmes. What was missing was an initiative to fill the gap between the initial assessment stage and the actual placement of an unemployed person on an appropriate course or programme. What was needed was more extensive counselling for persons who were not sure about what to do next. Many may even have lost the confidence to take an active interest in looking for work. That is how the Jobsearch training courses came into being.
The special Jobsearch training courses will cater for 12,000 participants. They consist of four weeks intensive training in the skills of job seeking. The courses cover such areas as: the work situation and the changing world of work, local job opportunities, assessment of personal skills and strengths, motivation, self expression, communication skills, self confidence, job seeking methods, job applications, CVs, letter writing, telephone inquiries, newspaper scanning and keeping a job. Trainees are provided with telephone, typing and photocopying facilities as well as sources of information on the general job scene.
The Government's readiness to take direct action called for a very rapid response from the Department of Labour and the manpower agencies involving a significant re-allocation of resources. I have been impressed by the energy and commitment shown in the way they sprang into action.
The response of all the staff involved confirms my own view that there is a very strong desire within the public service generally to ensure that resources are used effectively and that the long term unemployed, in particular, are given every encouragement to make full use of the range of training and temporary employment opportunities now available.
This Government have shown that, even in the short term, they are prepared to seek an effective return on resources by identifying clear cut objectives and definite targets. We had no intention of deferring direct action of this kind until the outcome of the kind of institutional changes proposed by the last Government in their White Paper. That was like putting the cart before the horse.
The funds originally provided for the social employment scheme would have limited average participation in the scheme to about 7,900 persons this year. The Government decided to increase participation in the scheme by 1,500 persons this year. I have always been a strong advocate of this scheme.
The support it received in the budget and the part it has to play in the nation-wide Jobsearch programme show that it is regarded as an effective means of assisting unemployed workers to regain a foothold in the labour market. The 1987 allocation has been boosted by £3 million to £43.5 million as a result of the budget increase.
There has been a great demand for the scheme since its introduction in 1985 and this has necessitated the introduction of regional participation quotas again this year. This will make for a better distribution of projects. It will also mean that priority attention is given to local levels of unemployment and to the need to locate projects in the areas of greatest need.
Since the budget new recruits are paid a standard wage of £60 in the case of single participants or £85 per week if they have an adult dependant. Participants can take part in additional paid employment outside the two and half days per week during which they are engaged on the scheme. There are currently more than 2,000 projects in operation around the country.
I am aware of the concern among some voluntary bodies at delays which have been experienced in the processing of claims for payment of grant instalments. I am satisfied that significant inroads are being made into the arrears problem and extra staff have been allocated within the Department to expedite the processing of the outstanding claims.
The enterprise scheme has been helping unemployed people become self-employed by giving them a weekly payment in lieu of unemployment payments. Greater emphasis is now being placed on applicant suitability and on project viability.
Only worthwhile projects will be accepted and under the new guidelines the National Manpower Service must operate a degree of selectivity when approving projects.
There has inevitably been a slowdown in the rate of recruitment under this scheme but I am very optimistic that the projects now approved will offer better prospects and permanent employment not only for the promoters but for others in the future.
Of the 800 applicants which have been approved this year 36 per cent were long term unemployed. The scheme has provided an opening for many unemployed persons who have not attained a high level of formal education. This is demonstrated by the fact that more than 50 per cent of participants have educational achievements below leaving certificate level. Over 19 per cent of participants are under 25 years of age and 13 per cent are women. The majority of projects are involved in the provision of services.
The funds allocated for the scheme this year will mean that we can help about 80 people a week become enterpreneurs provided they come up with worthwhile projects. This could mean about 2,000 new small businesses between now and the end of the year with the help of the scheme.
The employment incentive scheme encourages employers to take on extra workers by giving them generous wage grants. Last year employers notified about 10,000 recruitments under the scheme to the National Manpower Service.
Teamwork provides grants to community and voluntary bodies for the temporary employment of young unemployed people at a realistic wage on projects of value to the community. The scheme is aimed primarily at those unemployed for six months or more.
An allocation of £5.4 million has been provided for this scheme in 1987. This will mean that over 1,800 young people will secure temporary employment this year.
As a specific response to the problem of youth unemployment, Teamwork provides a very cost-effective return on the annual Exchequer allocation. When savings in unemployment payments, returns to the State by way of PRSI and PAYE and European Social Fund assistance are taken into account, the net cost of the scheme to the Exchequer is about 30 per cent of the gross cost. This is a small price to pay for a scheme which offers young people a wide variety of experience on community based projects.
The public debate on the Single European Act has heightened awareness of the significance of the European Social Fund. Unfortunately, the budget of the Social Fund was not increased adequately to meet the demands of Spain and Portugal when those countries joined the Community in 1986, and the continuing high levels of unemployment in the Community have resulted in increased demand for assistance from other member states. Because of the increased competition for limited funds, the European Commission has been applying stricter criteria for the approval of applications for ESF assistance. Priority is being given to training programmes which lead directly to employment and to programmes for persons who are more than 12 months unemployed. The introduction of these stricter rules and criteria may mean that certain Irish programmes which have been assisted by the ESF in the past may not qualify in the future.
The European Commission has outlined its proposals for making a success of the Single Act — the so called "Delors Package"— and discussion on the package within the Council is still at a very preliminary stage. Many aspects of the package require clarification and I expect that the ultimate negotiations in the Council will be prolonged and difficult.
I hesitate to intervene but I advise the Minister that he has five minutes left.
The Chair will appreciate that I was told only a few hours ago about the shorter time. I assumed that it was normal practice to have an hour for an Estimate speech, so I am leaving out a lot of things I would have liked to put in.
The Chair is conforming to the Order of Business for today.
I am not blaming the Chair for my being told only such a short time ago about the arrangements.
There are a number of very positive elements in the Commission's proposals, for example, measures to assist the less developed regions to catch up with the rest of the community, a proposal to double the resources of the Structural Funds by 1992 and to promote economic growth. It is the Government's objective — and one which I know is shared by all parties in this House — to translate these proposals into positive action through the forthcoming negotiations in the Council.
Government policy on training is one of the most important means of mobilising the forces for change which are vital to national recovery. In view of the rapidly changing nature of technology across most industrial sectors, Government policy needs to be geared towards more selectivity in intervention through training. This is in line with the Government's policy for supporting enterprise in trade and industry generally. We need an emphasis on training that will have maximum impact on the economy and we need to keep equipment up to date specifically in relation to new technology. The development of selectivity in grant allocation will need to be built on the close working relations established between bodies like AnCO and the IDA. Resources will need to be directed towards firms employing, or needing to employ, people with business management, marketing and technical skills particularly those producing high value-added and technology advanced goods and services.
AnCO's allocation for this year has been held at broadly the same expenditure as in the 1986 estimates although efficiency savings have been made through a reduction in overheads costs. AnCO's activity levels for 1987 are stated in man years and have been targetted to achieve a total of 14,195 man years.
AnCO is playing a key role in the Jobsearch programme and will have allocated places to 14,200 people referred to them for places on specific employable skills, skills foundation and building on experience and community youth training programmes. AnCO's concentration on training unemployed people will assist them in securing identified job opportunities in both the manufacturing and service sectors at all occupational levels.
In addition to activity on these mainline courses, AnCO will also provide Jobsearch courses for an additional 12,000 people this year.
In 1987 it is anticipated that over 7,300 persons will be trained by CERT.
Management training, education and development is, at present, carried out across industry, educational institutions, training agencies and the Irish Management Institute. Funding from the Exchequer to these bodies has developed on anad hoc basis rather than as part of an integrated policy on state finance for management education and training. It is probably fair to say that it should be possible to get a better return on the existing Exchequer resources.
Against this background we advanced the idea before we entered Government of establishing a national committee to co-ordinate the present management training effort. I intend to establish this committee in the near future. The major purpose of the committee will be to examine what is at present being done in the field of management education and training; what needs to be done and how to bridge the gap between needs and resources. This will include spelling out the contribution which can be made by various bodies. The membership of the committee will be drawn from the users of management education and training programmes and the providers of such programmes. The committee will report to me.
In the last year the Youth Employment Agency continued to develop their job creation role, particularly through community and co-operative support. Both the Social Guarantee and COMTEC completed their first year of implementation.
The promotion and development of the community enterprise programme will be continued in the current year. It is undoubtedly our most significant labour market intervention in the interests of promoting local employment initiatives. Last year £2 million was approved for investment in 250 projects.
Development plans for 1987 include an expansion of the specialist employment subsidy schemes such as STEP, Marketplace, the European Orientation Programme and the Financial Graduates Programme. These provide employment opportunities for certain categories of specially trained young people and encourage companies to improve their expertise in key business areas.
The Youth Employment Agency are charged with responsibility for co-ordinating the delivery of the social guarantee. The guarantee involves a significant level of targeting of programmes at young people who leave school without qualification. This has called for unprecedented levels of co-operation within the school system and between the schools and the Manpower agencies. Over 3,000 young persons were placed under the guarantee in 1986. School returns indicate a demand for over 4,000 places this year.
The House will recall that the National Employment and Training Authority Bill was introduced in the Dáil in November 1986 and was designed to give effect to certain major proposals contained in the White Paper on Manpower Policy.
I am sorry, Minister, I must now call another speaker.
I congratulate the Minister on his reading speed. In the event that political fortune does not smile on him there must be other career opportunities open to him with that kind of performance.
We have just heard the Minister deliver his first Estimate speech and my reaction is a certain disappointment at the lack of imagination in his presentation. There was no evidence there of any fresh thinking being brought to bear, of any broom sweeping clean. The overwhelming impression one gets is of a Minister who sees his role as essentially reactive. The Minister is confident and hard-working but he sees no great opportunities in policy innovation. I suspect the Department are already singing his praises and that they see him as well and truly House-trained.
It is rather striking that much of the legislation that was held had been contemplated and in some instances published before the change of administration. That was so in the area of Manpower policy where the NETA Bill had already been before the Dáil on Second Stage. It is true, too, in the area of health and safety where work giving effect to the Barrington Commission report was well advanced and where a number of draft Bills had been prepared. It is true in industrial relations reform where the Minister sees himself building on the work initiated by Deputy Quinn who launched the process of consultation with the social partners. One has mixed emotions about that. On the one hand one must feel a certain sense of satisfaction that it represents to some extent a vote of confidence in the outgoing administration. It is an endorsement of their work. On the other hand, there has to be a sense of real disappointment among the public that the change of administration and of Minister brought with it no fresh thinking.
Traditionally, debates on the Estimate for the Department of Labour have focused predominantly on the question of employment and unemployment and I do not suppose this will be any great exception. Nowhere is that paucity of fresh thinking more evident than in the area of unemployment. In the run-up to the election high levels of unemployment were central to the Fianna Fáil campaign and in those circumstances one might have expected to see a vigorous assault in the early days even if subsequently they were to run out of steam. We have not seen even that initial vigour. The principal opportunity available to any Government in any year, the budget, was squandered on this occasion. The budget did nothing for job creation. Income tax increased for many workers with the decision to chop mortgage interest tax relief thus reducing workers' take-home pay and increasing the cost of job creation. In the next couple of weeks in the House we will be debating the withholding tax on professional fees, a proposal which if implemented in its present form will result in the loss of hundreds of jobs particularly in engineering, architecture and other professions. Last week we debated health and the Government's failure to address fundamental questions of administrative reform or even to ask themselves whether we really need eight health boards. That means they are forced back on the EC option of shedding frontline workers, those who deliver the health services.
I make these passing references only because all of those matters serve to make the task of the Minister for Labour and his Department more difficult. I said that the debate in the Department of Labour has traditionally featured prominently the question of employment. That is in some ways unfair because the role of the Minister for Labour is relatively limited since he finds himself, in the main, operating on the supply side. Question about the nature of work and the distribution of work which are now so central to the debate are very much within his domain. I would have expected him to have something of greater substance to say on the subject than we heard in his Estimate speech.
For example, what proposals have the Government to advance job-sharing? Do they adhere to the view, widespread in Europe, that a reduction in working hours would contribute to the solution of our problems? The previous Government identified an anomaly when in many sectors of the economy the working of organised, systematic overtime was the norm at a time of spiralling unemployment. The legislative response was perhaps not the happiest and I would be the first to concede that, but one would have wished to see greater interest in this area than was found in the Minister's speech. If one looks at the Estimate of the Department of Labour one finds that by far the largest share of that Estimate is earmarked for manpower training. That area has grown considerably in recent years and has properly been receiving enhanced resources. It received some attention from Fianna Fáil when they were in Opposition because the only area for which we ever received proposals for expenditure cuts was this one when the then spokesman on Finance, Deputy O'Kennedy, time after time — I suspect to the embarrassment of his party colleagues — proposed that our expenditure on training should be reduced because he saw it as wasteful. He reached his pinnacle when he suggested that one way in which we could usefully cut down would be to exclude women from participation in vocational courses.
Recent years have seen that increase in allocations to Manpower training but as the various agencies involved have grown and as the resources available to them have increased there has been a view that there has been a certain blurring of the roles of Manpower, AnCO, CERT, the YEA and so on. Consequent on that is a widely held view that there is a need to bring much greater clarity of purpose and much greater co-ordination to the work of the various bodies. For much of the time I spent in the Department of Labour my preoccupation was to try to achieve that co-ordination between the Department of Labour and the various satellite agencies and, equally important, co-ordination between the Department of Labour family and the education family. I am disappointed that this area seems to have been afforded a lesser priority in the work of the present Government.
For example, the high level liaison committee between Education and Labour are no more and that is a retrograde step. Within the administration nobody was appointed with specific responsibility to oversee the co-ordination of education and training. While symbolic, that perhaps was a sign of the way the wind was blowing and that is regrettable. If we are to get value for the taxpayer' money it is absolutely essential that the world of education and the world of labour work hand-in-hand. At the moment the education world is reeling from the effects of cuts across that whole area but impinging with particular severity on the VEC sector. Throughout that area, but particularly in the VEC sector, expertise is available that would be of invaluable assistance to many of the activities that are now conducted by AnCO in the main but also by CERT and by Manpower. I am sure that is so when it comes to running "start your own business" courses and organising many of the vocational courses in traditional crafts, in the secretarial area or whatever.
In my time in the Department of Labour I was very anxious to ensure a situation in which the educational world would enjoy a first option when any of the Manpower agencies found it necessary to resort to outside expertise. It is fair to say that it was accepted without any great enthusiasm. I suppose that is human nature because its effect would have been somewhat to reduce the freedom of action of the various Manpower agencies. It seems to me that, at a time of even greater economic stringency, it makes even greater sense. I urge the Minister to take that proposal on board enthusiastically, to insist to the agencies under his control that no resort should be had to outside expertise, whether they be management consultants, external trainers or whoever, until there has been a thorough trawl throughout the educational world, to ascertain that the expertise sought is not already available within the State sector. Many VECs at present struggling to come to terms with cuts, wondering how they will survive within their budgets, wondering what cuts to implement, what services should be discontinued, have open to them the opportunity to gain extra resources by providing a back-up service in these areas. All that is required is that the Minister's will be seen and that it be implemented as a result.
The Minister has indicated more than once in this House — again in the course of his Estimate speech — his intention of reintroducing the NETA Bill. I welcome that proposal. Notwithstanding the fact that that Bill was introduced in the lifetime of the last Government it would be wrong to suggest that simply amalgamating, mashing together, all of the agencies represents a panacea for all our difficulties. It seems to me that one large agency can be just as directionist as any multiplicity of bodies. What is of crucial importance here — and there was some recognition of this in the Minister's remarks — is the capacity of the Department of Labour to exercise a central policy-making role. I see that the Minister nods in agreement with me. I do not know whether the Department he heads has that capacity. In the past certainly its lack of capacity meant that agencies took unto themselves policy-making functions and, to a certain extent, went off and did their own thing.
In an effort to respond to that difficulty there has been an attempt to poach people from agencies, to second people on a temporary basis from the planning or policy units of some of the semi-State agencies in association with the Department. That is not an adequate response. It is not fair to the people involved. It puts them in an invidious position. If the will of the Department and of the agency from which they have been seconded are running in opposite directions they are placed in a most anomalous position. That is not the answer. If the Minister is serious about saying that the Department must regain the initiative then he must ensure a boosting of the planning unit within the Department. In the present day and age that means he will have to bite the bullet and accept that that means suppressing posts elsewhere. That is what the Minister will have to face up to if the Department of Labour are to move back centre stage. It really is quite ridiculous to suggest — without an organisation chart before me I cannot say whether this is accurate — that half an assistant principal, or whoever, is to direct an agency as diverse as AnCO, for example, or perhaps it is a full assistant principal at this stage. That is the order of magnitude of the resources available to the Minister. This was brought home very clearly in the life of the last Government when there was some discussion on the whole question of curriculum reform. It was really quite striking to see the divergence of resources available to the Department of Education, the Department charged with such reform and those available to AnCO who were the people making submissions on that subject. If the Minister wants to get back into the saddle he must accept that it means taking unto himself the resources to make his views clear and that other things may have to suffer as a result.
I intervene to advise the Deputy that, of the time allotted to him, five minutes remains.
I am falling into the same trap as the Minister but perhaps I am not adjusting as well as did the Minister. With regard to NETA, I welcome the Minister's decision on CERT which has been one of the real success stories, given their high placement rates. It would have been very unfortunate indeed if a desire to be consistent had resulted in CERT losing their autonomy. I congratulate the Minister on having taken that decision.
The Estimates require that, with less resources, the agencies under the Minister's control will do more. That is true, for example, with regard to AnCO. It is quite proper that the Minister should be seen to be striving for greater productivity. But it is very important that that greater productivity not be at the expense of quality. It would be very unfortunate if, in order to meet the targets set for them, any of the agencies were to do it by running shorter courses, simply sandwiching people in and out in order that they could say at the end of the year that they got so many people through.
I have to say that I see some evidence of that willingness to sacrifice quality for quantity in a number of decisions taken by this Government. That is to be seen in the decisions on the social employment scheme, in the decision to cut the allowance paid to new participants to £60 per week. It is to be seen also in the Teamwork scheme where a decision was taken to cut the rate from £70 to £60. I find those decisions mean and pennypinching. Both of those schemes, the social employment scheme and Teamwork scheme have been considerable successes. I take a certain parental interest in the success of the Teamwork scheme. I would have thought that what we should have been about was improving the quality of experience of the participants rather than engaging in this sort of exercise. One of the disappointments with regard to the social employment scheme has been that it is not national and there have been difficulties encountered in a number of parts of the country in securing trade union agreement. That has been the case in Dublin city. The Minister for Labour who, for the next few weeks at least doubles as Lord Mayor, is in a unique position to overcome those difficulties. I urge him to use his good offices in that respect.
The Minister spoke at some length of the Jobsearch programme. He referred to people suggesting that we were returning to the workhouse. I do not know to whom he was attributing those remarks. Certainly it was not to me because we have indicated that: yes, there are things of merit in this proposal; yes, this is worthwhile, so far as it addresses the long term unemployed, a group who are losing motivation. If it has the side effect of identifying people who are irregularly on the register then we have no quarrel with that. I have major problems with the way the scheme is operating in practice. Already there have been cases reported to me, for example, of people who have been laid off because of a seasonal downturn, people who were employed in secretarial positions told by their employers that they will be taken on again in the busy time of the year, the autumn. They are let go for the intervening few months and have been told to report to learn how to be secretaries, how to use typewriters when they had been earning their living for God knows how many years doing just that, their secretarial skills being well up to the standard of those instructing them. That is happening in the Baldoyle AnCO Training Centre.
There are question marks about the way in which the Jobsearch programme is operating in relation to married women. I know the scheme is still at teething stage but there is some evidence to the effect that married women are being unfairly discriminated against. That is a source of some concern. If the scheme is to work the Minister must expect the support of his colleagues. I am not at all convinced that he is getting that support. I had intended to speak about the difference in morale between the various agencies and to point out that there are some difficulties in that area within the Manpower service. I do not think their role in relation to the Jobsearch programme is helping them. For example, in the north Dublin area, the area with which I am most familiar, there is the peculiar position in which official there are coming under pressure from some of the Minister's colleagues — including the Minister for Social Welfare who holds responsibilities in this area — to exempt people from being called forward for a scheme he is meant to be implementing. If that sort of nonsense goes on the Minister cannot seriously expect support.
I am obliged to call other speakers.
As this is the first occasion on which I am speaking as Opposition spokesman I thank the Minister for the co-operation I have received in the few short months since I assumed this role.
I should also like to express my thanks to the Minister for Labour who has afforded me opportunities for research and so on in his Department. It is worthwhile looking at the role the Department of Labour play in this day and age. I have a slightly different emphasis on it to Deputy Birmingham. It is playing a pivotal role and has been doing so for a number of years. However, the Department was not designed with that in mind but has emerged like that over the years. It was set up with a much smaller role in mind. With the growth in unemployment and the change in emphasis towards central pay bargaining, the increase in training and work experience programmes and the introduction and implementation of equality legislation the role of the Department has changed considerably. These changes involve changes in attitude in the Department and must also involve changes in the attitude of Ministers. That has not happened. Either we do not believe we have the problems which exist in unemployment and so on or we have not got around to looking at them in such a radical way as to turn what we are doing on its head.
What review is there of the Department's activities on a regular basis? I know there is a certain amount of review in that one tinkers around with the schemes which were introduced in the previous year. One looks at them to see if they are operating, how many people availed of them and how much money was spent on them. The problem is that if a scheme is not working there is not the will to chop it. If a scheme on which millions of pounds have been spent over a number of years is seen not to be as effective as it was thought to be there is an unwillingness to implement a different scheme or divert the funds, as the PDs would say, into some form of tax relief which would encourage real job creation rather than framing schemesad nauseam. For this a degree of leadership is required which has not been present in the last number of years in the Department. I am still waiting to see it in this Minister.
I welcome the move to amalgamate the various agencies which was proposed in the Bill introduced by the previous Government. This is a step in the right direction but it must go a lot further. Real reduction in administrative costs must be achieved. The amount of money which is poured into administration particularly in AnCO is an absolute scandal when there is no doubt that there is a doubling up of schemes between the various agencies. The Minister is quoted in newspaper report as saying he does not envisage a reduction in the number of staff involved in these agencies which are to be amalgamated. Perhaps I have not read the report correctly but that is how it appears to me. If we are to make any improvement in the allocation of our resources so that they contribute to job creation, then we must start by rationalising what we are doing and see that we do it to the best of our ability.
The employment incentive scheme seems to have been downgraded. There were problems with that scheme. Employers felt they were getting a hand-out. They employed a person to work in their firm and got a hand-out to pay for that person. The scheme did not produce long term jobs and should have been cut long before now. I would link the work experience programme with that and say it comes within that category and should be looked at in that way. Before anyone jumps up and asks if I agree with certain schemes being made available for people who are in need of work experience, let me say that I do. They are necessary but only in so far as they work. As far as I can see, this scheme is not producing the result we want, that is, long-term jobs. It gives young people the idea that they cannot aspire to anything more than a three months or six months work programme. The danger is that we may create a structure of long term dependency. There is a notion that the Department of Labour, AnCO or the Youth Employment Agency will provide some kind of scheme for young people. That is demoralising for young people and leads nowhere.
We must take a radical look at whether we continue to spend the millions of pounds we are spending on these kind of schemes and whether that is the right way to create long term employment. I do not believe this is necessarily so. There is room for a different view and for diverting some of the funds into different areas which would create long term employment. There is also the danger of creating a parallel labour force which would consist of workers who are uninsured and operate on a half-weekly basis. What we are saying to people who are employed for two or three days a week is go away, earn what you can and we will turn a blind eye on you. We are incorporating the black economy into the structure of society. The black economy has reached the kind of proportion which threatens the tax structure of the State and the structure of Government.
AnCO was set up in the sixties primarily to train apprentices but, like the Department, their role has changed. It has changed in a kind of lurching way. AnCO have found themselves the recipient of millions of pounds through the EC Social Fund and have looked for ways in which to spend the money. That has almost clouded the issue of how we should spend these funds, who we should be training and for what. A certain amount of research has gone into this but the inertia remains. Because the schemes have been in existence for a number of years they are being maintained and a real hard look at them is not being taken. Because 55 per cent of the cost of these schemes, that is the operational as opposed to the administrative cost, has been borne by the European Social Fund for 25 year olds, AnCO have directed their attention to a great extent to the under 25 year olds. There is now to be seen and acknowledged a demographic shift. There is no doubt that in a number of years the trend will be that those in the age group 25 to 40 years will make up the great majority of the unemployed.
The planning to take account of this is vital. AnCO are being almost pressured into aiming at the younger age group and do not foresee the real problems. There is another aspect to this. Even those who are now unemployed and in the 25 to 40 age group may be, and often are, in the group who have been less well educated. About 90 per cent of people who finish school at present go as far as leaving cert and that means they have a much higher education than many people who left school 15 or 20 years ago. They are the people who have been displaced by various industries which have closed down, by automation and so on. They are the people who will not be able to become employed once more or who will find it very difficult to become employed.
What have AnCO done about this shift? Should we approach the EC ourselves? The Minister, in his speech, said that because the rules are tightening up in regard to the Social Fund we may find that a number of schemes will cease to exist as they will no longer be run under the auspices of the Social Fund. Perhaps we should lead the way. We should be saying that these are our problems. They may not be the problems in Europe but they are the problems we face. We do not have structural unemployment; we have quite a different problem. We have people who are displaced from their jobs and young people, who are in the majority unemployed. We should lead the way in Europe and say that the Social Fund should be designated to cater for those people.
With the growth in unemployment towards the end of the seventies the shift in policy in AnCO away from training for industrial purposes and more towards back-to-work training schemes was quite different from what it started out to be. Priority must be given to training those who are weak. I am concerned that the weak are being ignored to a large extent by AnCO and that even if the economy picks up they will not get jobs. They are the one third of the unemployed who will not get attention in that way. In relation to the Jobsearch programme, 150,000 people are supposed to be interviewed before the end of the year. I doubt that very much because the figures given up to 8 May indicate that we are well short of that target.
One of the problems I have been encountering is that of illiterate workers who received notification from the National Manpower Service to turn up for interview. If they do not turn up they have a problem as their assistance may be cut off. I imagine that a great number of those on long term unemployment assistance are in the less well educated bracket and that quite a number of them are illiterate. One type of worker could have left school in his early teens, could have worked for 15 or 20 years on the building sites and would not have needed his reading and writing skills very much. When he loses his job on the buildings he is then left unemployed for a number of years. Perhaps some of the Jobsearch schemes should be aimed at catering for those kinds of workers in particular. Courses will be run in relation to the Jobsearch scheme and I ask the Minister to provide some kind of course for illiterate workers who make up quite a substantial minority of the unemployed.
One third of the unemployed are long term unemployed and a good number of the other two thirds move on and off the live register all the time. The one third are the ones who need intensive attention but they are not getting it at present. They are becoming institutionalised in their unemployment. They are the people who should be targeted from now on. The two thirds of the unemployed who move on and off the live register will get jobs eventually but perhaps not in the long term. Even it they attend training schemes or experience programmes they tend to find jobs but there is still the one third who do not find jobs and for whom the AnCO schemes are not tailored. They are the people to whom we should be paying attention. We should know exactly what kind of people are long term unemployed and do not move on and off the live register. They are the people for whom AnCO should be catering.
The Government should use AnCO as an instrument to fight unemployment but they are not doing so. There is a bias towards AnCO producing figures for job placements. Naturally they will try to attract people who will be placed easily but that is copping out of their responsibility. The Government have a responsibility to those who are long term unemployed. They should do everything they can to make it more attractive for employers to take them on.
I would like to raise a question about the enterprise allowance scheme. In the document, "Principal Features of the Budget", the allocation to the enterprise allowance scheme was shown to be reduced by £1.5 million or about 16 per cent. The Department of Labour's annual report for 1986 indicated that the amount for enterprise allowance scheme was £11.2 million but in the Estimates the figure appears to have been only about £9 million. I would like to know from where the figure of £11.2 million came. If it is the real figure is there a very real decrease in the amount provided for this scheme? In the document accompanying the budget there is allowance for a reduction of £1.5 million but it now appears that the reduction will be £2.5 million or 26 per cent. This is disgraceful because the enterprise allowance scheme encourages people to be enterprising and not to look for jobs from other people. We have no jobs and people are not offering jobs to other people. We must encourage enterprise and encourage people to take as much control as they can. In that light I ask the Minister to review this matter.
I welcome the idea of updating the equality legislation. I believe it is already prepared and I would encourage the Minister to introduce it as soon as possible. The same applies to the safety, health and welfare at work legislation, particularly because many women in employment are not covered by legislation dealing with safety at work.
My last comment will be on trade union reform legislation. The Minister mentioned the ESB strike and said people were happy at the outcome. I was not. It was a strike which was totally unnecessary and pointed out the need for trade union reform. I would ask the Minister and the Government to consider this: what curtailment, if any, of the rights of workers in the public utilities — monopolies — and which the Government have a final responsibility to maintain do he and the Government consider is necessary? It is not good enough to rely on our present trade union legislation which is old and out of date and does not take into account the kind of society we have today. This is well worth looking at. I believe there would be a lot of support around the country for some curtailment, not no strike clauses but some curtailment, to be taken into account.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Like previous speakers I thank the Minister for the courtesy he has extended to me by keeping me informed of the happenings within his Department in recent weeks. There are a few points to which I would like to refer before I deal specifically with the Estimate. Deputy Colley mentioned the curtailment of the activities of the unions in the public utilities and State sectors. As a former State employee for 30 years I want to ask the Deputy if she, as a lawyer, thinks that those employed in the State sector should have conditions which are not as favourable as those in the private sector. Like every other employee, State employees have a constitutional right and that point must be borne in mind when this legislation is being prepared.
I welcome the change of heart by Deputy Birmingham when he advocated that State agencies should be used rather than private consultants when carrying out research work. That is a significant change in the attitude of the Fine Gael Party, but I do not go along with his remarks in welcoming CERT. I will reserve comment until we find out what the Minister has in mind as regards the streamlining of CERT and the other agencies.
We have to bear in mind what Jobsearch really is and its roots. Originally this came from the United States and is based on the assumption that jobs really exist and that if a person gets off his rump and goes out to look and learn, he will find a job. That is far removed from reality. There are approximately 250,000 people unemployed, and the Minister said he hoped that 40,000 of those who go through the Jobsearch process will secure employment. What will happen to the other 210,000 people? We can criticise AnCO, the Youth Employment Agency and all other State agencies charged with the responsibility of providing jobs, but that will not solve the problem. We have to be honest with ourselves. I realise I represent a minority in this House but unless there is a fundamental change in society, we will not see these unemployment figures reduced significantly.
Industry has received as many incentives as possible. The State has been very generous to industry but they did not deliver the jobs. In 1977 when money was lavished on the private sector they failed to provide jobs and since then I have not seen anything which will lead me to believe that there will be an improvement in the situation if job creation is left in private hands.
The State employee is fair game for everybody. It is now undignified to work for the State. I would like people in this House to bear in mind the effect this is having on State employees. We are demoralising them and they cannot give their best performance because of these continued attacks which should stop forthwith.
There are certain points in the Minister's speech about which I am very concerned, such as worker participation where he is offering positions at sub-board level. This is a retreat from the position we took when we gave people representation at full board level. I am concerned about what is in mind for the proposed venture between Imperial Chemical Industries and NET. Up to now there were four worker directors on the board of NET, but that is being reduced simply because our new partners are not prepared to accept worker directors. I do not believe we should take this kind of dictatorial attitude from any potential partner. Will this organisation be with us when we run out of natural gas? At present we are bending over backwards to accommodate them. These comments may be far removed from the Labour Estimate but I am concerned about the position of the NET worker directors who are threatened with the loss of their places on the board of that organisation.
Reference was made to the Social Fund. Would the Minister give some consideration to diverting some of those funds to the health area thereby preserving some of the jobs which are at present threatened? Is it possible to divert some of this money not to create jobs but to preserve jobs, which is equally important.
Deputy Colley referred to the black economy. The black economy does not only concern those at the bottom of the pile. This is a national malaise and goes right across the board. There are consultants in every field who are availing of it. Deputy Colley said we were encouraging the black economy by giving people three days on and three days off. It is worth bearing in mind that those who employ these people are not in that bracket. It is usually people who can afford to go through the proper channels who are the real culprits.
There are a few items in the Estimate about which I am concerned, such as grants for trade union Education and Advisory Services. There has been a 1 per cent increase this year for this subhead, but there was a massive 38 per cent increase for the Irish Management Institute. Perhaps the Minister would explain why it is all right to be miserly with the trade unions but lavish with the Irish Management Institute. There is a 2 per cent increase to the College of Industrial Relations. I do not believe we can maintain these services unless a bigger increase is granted.
The major problem confronting the Department is unemployment, and from what I have seen in the Estimate, I am not encouraged. In 1987 there are 249,000 on the live register. This is a raw statistic which does not take into account the stress and strain placed on families. Employing people on short-term schemes gives them a purpose in life and relieves some of the psychological strain they were placed under due to unemployment. That was quite an achievement as it gave them dignity——
They must go on to something else.
The private sector are getting all the support and are expected to provide the jobs but they are not doing so. I do not see anything in the Estimate which will lead to the elimination of the problem. Subhead G shows an increase of 32 per cent of the budget for research into the Manpower service. Will the Minister give some details on this item because unemployment statistics have been examined in minute detail? There is a monthly Government publication on the live register, a NESC report on unemployment and a White Paper on Manpower Policy. The Government Information Service produces a document which gives a comprehensive breakdown of employment statistics in terms of numbers of the population in and out of work. There has also been a number of publications from the Youth Employment Agency and a useful publication on the long-term unemployed. In addition, there are a whole host of publications from the EC and the OECD. I should like to ask the Minister, therefore, where the budgetary increase of 32 per cent is for the Manpower service when, the same time, there is a drop of 26 per cent in the budget for the enterprise allowance scheme. This has been a very successful scheme up to now and it is regrettable that the Minister has curtailed it.
Similarly, the Estimate indicates a drop of 19 per cent for An Comhairle Oiliúna and an increase of 38 per cent in grants for training under the Irish Management Institute. Subhead P also shows a serious drop of 35 per cent for the employment incentive schemes. The enterprise allowance and the employment incentive scheme have been the real success of this Department. They were introduced by my colleague Deputy Quinn, and the Labour Party have every reason to be justifiably proud of them. It is with regret that I see there is a cutback in these areas. I hope it does not have any political undertones. In view of the magnitude of the problems facing us at present, the stark absence of viable industries and the ongoing need for training of workers, I should like the Minister to explain the cutbacks to which I referred and to tell the House how he can justify such a reduction in this area.
During the period of the Coalition Government a number of initiatives were taken by the Department of Labour and the then Minister, Deputy Quinn, did an extremely good job despite scepticism expressed that it was a half-hearted venture. Derogatory comments were made across the floor of the House when the schemes were introduced. This time last year we provided 10,000 jobs under the social employment scheme and it is regrettable it will not be continued. There is ample evidence that viable work was done in this area. In view of the success of some of these schemes and the big demand for them, I wish to express condemnation that the social employment scheme in particular has been whittled down by the Department while, at the same time, no advances have been made in the creation of long-term employment.
The promised jobs in the food and technology industries are not likely to materialise especially as no additional funding has been provided in these areas. The reason we do not have any jobs in the food area is because we squandered the one opportunity we had in this regard. Erin Foods are part of the folklore of this country. The main plank of every political party was that jobs should be provided from agri-based industries. Erin Foods went into partnership with Heinz. Heinz prospered but Erin Foods perished. We are likely to face the same situation in NET. The technology in Erin Foods was very advanced but we squandered it to get the marketing expertise of Heinz which, however, did not materialise. We were innocents abroad and we paid the price. Any chance we had of securing jobs in the agri-based industries has vanished.
Apart from attempting to whittle down the success of the social employment scheme, the Minister has behaved in a miserly way in reducing the take-home pay of participants in this scheme from £70 to £60, which is regrettable. There were protests in the past in relation to taking a shilling off the old age pensioners and this is in the same category as it affects the most disadvantaged in the community. Criticism was levelled at the previous Government for the reduction in the Christmas bonus and perhaps to a degree it was justified although good reasons were given at the time. When the Labour Party introduced this scheme they did not suggest that £70 was an adequate weekly wage but for the present administration, with all their pre-election proclamations on poverty, to take away £10 from an already deprived group, is nothing short of criminal. It reduces an already meagre income.
There are a number of other issues on which I should like the Minister to comment, namely, training, health and safety at work, equity issues and progressive legislation on labour law. I should also like the Minister to outline a proposal by his Department for his projections in relation to the workforce, problems in relation to the world of work and the training and education of workers to adapt to new technology industries. The advent of new technology has reduced the workforce, with serious implications for society. I should also like to refer to those who, in the past, did non-skilled jobs. New technology has made it difficult for such people to be retained in employment. They could very well be permanently unemployed unless some action is taken. It is high time we acknowledged that the world of work cannot be separated from the fabric of society. There must be a budgetary and legislative recognition that when there is a problem in the workforce there is a problem for society as a whole. How does the Minister propose to meet the needs of the new technological era? The Department of Education should ensure that school children and those currently unemployed are adequately trained and helped to find suitable employment in future.
I should like the Minister to indicate his plans for cohesion between all the training bodies. I will also be interested to hear the Minister's plan for the introduction of regulations from the health and safety of workers to protect them from some of the most serious consequences of contamination from modern chemicals, exposure to radiation, VDUs and on on. Ireland lags behind Europe in the implementation of the more progressive legislation and I should like the Minister to state his intentions in this regard. I should like to congratulate the Minister on the introduction of the Bill in relation to health and safety on offshore installations last week and I look forward to its enactment. With regard to women in the workforce, I note the budget for the Employment Equality Agency is up by 10 per cent on last year. I welcome this but there has not been enough development in the area of equality in the workforce. Twelve years after the first equality directive, Irishwomen still earn only 68 per cent of the average industrial wage. That is scandalous. Despite the initiatives taken by a Labour Minister last year with the provision of a crèche in the Department of Labour the development of child care facilities has not been adequate.
Women are still denied access to work outside the home because there are not sufficient facilities or reasonably priced child care operations. It must be said that in this rapidly developing technological age if a woman opts out of the mainstream workforce to rear her children in the home she faces additional problems in trying to get back into the workforce. Therefore, these difficulties must be given special priority in the Department of Labour and I would welcome any initiatives by the Minister in the equality area. I would add that while employment is a major problem for all in society lack of skills and low wages are particular problems for women in Ireland and it is now long past the time when they should be seriously tackled.
Finally, I ask the Minister to comment on his proposals for labour legislation particularly in the area of trade disputes. When in Opposition Deputy Ahern made some worrying statements about the need for new legislation in regard to the right of workers to strike and he made some damaging proposals in regard to secret ballots and strike action. I am now even more worried having listened to Deputy Colley who has taken it a step or two further. I would like the Minister to refer to these issues and assure the House that he will not be undertaking any new legislation without full consultation with the ICTU and that there will be no diminution of workers' rights in this regard.
Although advocating better industrial relations, the Minister has cut the budget for trade union amalgamations and has increased the grant for trade union education by only 1 per cent less than inflation to which I have already referred, which in effect represents a cut in real terms. I condemn both of these cutbacks. I might point out to the Minister that good industrial relations depend largely on a highly conscious management and work force. Perhaps he would tell the House if the grant to the IMI provides training for management towards good industrial relations because as the Minister will be aware in terms of their handling of industrial disputes Irish management sadly lag behind the other OECD countries. I would be grateful if the Minister would provide more detail on the issues raised by me and if he will outline his plans for job creation in the future.
I intend to be as brief as possible as my colleague, Deputy Brennan, also wants to contribute. The Minister dealt with the allocation to his Department, Department of Labour involvement in labour relations, marketing flexibility, the law, equality legislation and worker participation. A previous speaker referred to leadership and I think that the Minister in the short space of time he has been in office has provided leadership and given people a little bit of hope. Problems do exist in the Department of Labour and the Minister is prepared to sort these out and streamline the Department so that it will be of more benefit to the public than it has been up to now. I commend the Minister for his handling of the ESB dispute which shows that he is prepared to consult with people in order to seek agreement with them rather than to seek confrontation. As a former trade union official, I believe that the trade unions have a very important role to play and I would prefer the Minister to consult and seek agreement with the unions rather than seeking confrontation with them during his period in office. Like Deputy O'Sullivan, I agree that the trade unions have a very important role to play and it is important that they are not bullied. The biggest challenge facing the Minister at present is the one of unemployment. Politicians who were elected to this House for the first time in recent years were elected on the basis that they would do something about unemployment. Unfortunately, during the past few weeks the problem has got worse and no one seems to have either the imagination or the ability to do anything about it. At present, there are 250,000 people unemployed many of whom are young people who have never had the opporunity of a job. My own constituency has the highest unemployment rate in the country and contains young people in their mid-twenties, some married with a family, who have never had a job. This puts an enormous strain on the family they are trying to rear and is certainly not good for themselves. The loss of dignity, the frustration which is felt and the lowering of living standards which results from unemployment must be a source of concern to us all.
The Minister referred to the Jobsearch programme. People have tended to be very critical of this programme but I feel it should be given a chance. I know of many people who have been on unemployment assistance for quite some time and who have been contacted in regard to particular Jobsearch programmes. They were pleased to know that at long last someone has recognised that they had problems and that they even existed. Those on long term unemployment assistance felt that they had been forgotten and that no one cared any more about them.
At least, the Department are now prepared to try to find out if these people have a particular skill which would enable them to get a job. It is important that they have been given this recognition and that there are people who are prepared to give them another chance. Each person on the unemployment register lives in the hope that there will be another chance and that there is a possibility of getting a job. It is for that reason that it is important that we as politicians and the public give this programme a chance. We can all be critical of the programme but it deserves a chance and those on unemployment assistance deserve the opportunity of finding a job.
When in Opposition I was very critical of the previous Government in regard to the Teamwork schemes. The Teamwork scheme was a very good one but unfortunately the scheme which was to benefit those under 25 seemed to benefit only those in certain areas. If there was a Minister or a Minister of State in a constituency that constituency availed of a Teamwork scheme far more than other constituencies where the need for a Teamwork scheme was greater. I hope that will not happen when the Teamwork schemes gets under way again. Teamwork schemes should be allocated on a fair basis to those counties who have many people under the age of 25 unemployed. Those young people should have the opportunity to avail of a year's work carrying out community projects within their own areas. During the term of the previous Government there were only two Teamwork schemes in my own county even though numerous applications had been submitted. The schemes were not allocated on a fair basis and I ask the Minister to ensure that when the Teamwork schemes are once more being allocated they will be allocated on the basis of unemployment trends.
The social employment scheme is another very important scheme. Without being biased, Wexford was the county which was chosen in which to run a pilot scheme. This scheme proved to be very successful. At one stage there were 400 people participating in the scheme but unfortunately this number has now decreased to between 120 and 130. The Minister stated that there were a number of projects in the south-eastern region yet to be released. There may be too much bureaucracy and red tape. Rather than having to come to a central board in Dublin which seems to be the norm, decisions should be taken at local level to decide the schemes that would go ahead, to be implemented as quickly as possible. In county councils and urban councils much valuable community work was done but the only problem was a lack of supervision. Because of their financial position and lack of manpower some of these councils were not able to provide adequate supervision. The Minister should examine the question of more stringent supervision on the social employment schemes. Perhaps an extra allowance would be paid to appoint a supervisor over the groups working on the schemes.
It is very important that there be an amalgamation of the schemes. At the moment there are so many different schemes that people are confused. People go to Manpower and AnCO; there is Teamwork and there are social employment schemes. I welcome the Minister's efforts to tackle this problem. It is important not to have duplication of resources. The person who wants to get a job or be employed on a scheme should be able to avail of the information in one area with regard to all the jobs available.
I support the Minister's decision in relation to CERT. They are doing a magnificent job. It is important that they be left to do that job and not be amalgamated or tied up in a manner not in their best interests. In the Great Southern Hotel in Rosslare there are CERT schemes in operation which are proving worthwhile and successful. They are ensuring that many young people are finding jobs in hotels and other areas of catering, food processing, etc.
What they want is a contribution from the industry. What is being offered at the moment is an insult.
The black economy was mentioned. This is one critical area seriously affecting legitimate firms and it must be tackled. I do not go along with the view that the people who are working in the black economy are always wrong. Deputy O'Sullivan made a point about the employers. This is an area that some Minister some day shortly will start looking at seriously. There should be a serious view taken of those who employ people in the black economy knowing they are in receipt of unemployment assistance. Heavy fines should be imposed on them. The fine for a first offence should be increased for subsequent offences. Many of those who are employing people who are in receipt of social assistance are well capable of employing them on a full time basis paying the full rate. That system is not in the best interests of the country and certainly not in the interests of those who are trying to run a business on a fair and legitimate basis. These people are going to the wall because they are not able to compete. In the past couple of weeks I was talking to a plumber who has had to go out of business because when he gives quotations to prospective customers they get a quotation from somebody in the black economy which is accepted because it is cheaper. This is causing serious problems.
The other area on which I should like briefly to comment is work experience. This is a good scheme in its own right. However, employers are abusing it. Many employers take on young people for six months' work experience and a week before the time is up they say in many cases the person is not suitable, has not got the skills for the particular job and that person is let go. The employer goes back to Manpower and takes on other young people and the same thing happens to them. The Manpower offices have a critical role to play in detecting this. Many good companies employ people on work experience and keep them on when their six months is up, but many abuse the system to a fine art. At the end of the day the young people are the sufferers. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Manpower office people will be on the look-out for this type of abuse, will stamp it out and encourage companies to employ the young people on a permanent basis when work experience has been gained.
I commend the Minister on his work in the Department in the very short time he has been there. He has shown he is prepared to give leadership and to consult with the different sections in the wide range of the Department of Labour of which he is in charge. If he continues on that road, the Department of Labour will become more streamlined and more relevant to the problems facing the unemployed.
First, I should like to thank Deputy Browne for sharing some of his time with me. I am going to speak very briefly and, in particular, about the social employment schemes. This is my first opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his appointment. He was a good Opposition spokesperson on Labour and is doing an excellent job since becoming Minister.
I welcomed the social employment schemes when introduced by the then Minister for Labour, Deputy Quinn. I remember going to their launching at Summerhill College in Sligo. We in Sligo and the unions agreed that people should be on the social employment schemes and had no difficulty in finding people to work on these schemes. When one represents a rural area where people and, in particular, small farmers are drawing unemployment assistance, one finds these people crying out for a job. The social employment schemes brought these people back to work, not five days a week but three days or three mornings a week. Their children saw them going out to work and this was the only employment available to them in a rural area. That is why I support these schemes.
I note the schemes did not reach the projected level which was for 10,000 jobs, but 7,900 people are employed nation-wide last year. I would have preferred if the full number had been employed and would be delighted if the Minister added another 10,000 jobs for this year. Unfortunately, he decided to increase the number by only 1,500. That is not enough. We had people in long-term unemployment who, for the first time in years, were doing some work. One could see the way the countryside had changed as a result of the social employment scheme. People were once again cutting hedges. As Deputy Browne said county councils did not have adequate money to maintain roads but this maintenance was carried out under the social employment scheme. The countryside looked much better. Motorists did not run the risk of tearing the mirrors off their cars while they were driving along roads because hedges had been cut and roads repaired.
I appeal to the Minister to try to increase the numbers employed in the social employment scheme from 1,500 this year to at least 5,000. I know that the social employment scheme does not give full time employment but it would give a much needed boost in an area of high unemployment sectors I represent. One man who came to me recently had spent a year in the social employment scheme. He had now gone back on to unemployment assistance of £93 a week. He was taking home in the region of £84 a week when he was employed on the social employment scheme. He felt that even though he is now getting £9 a week extra he would prefer to have to get up in the mornings and go to work because the weeks are very long when one is at home doing nothing. He felt much better when he was going to work. I welcome the introduction of any scheme whether it is temporary or full time because people want to work. I hope that the Jobsearch programme will encourage people to go to work. Jobs have been created as a result of the Jobsearch programme and I hope they will continue to be created. Unemployed people need encouragement to go out and do courses.
AnCO are doing an excellent job through their courses. They run courses as an introduction to industry. I fully support them. I was in Sligo last Monday at the presentation of awards to the best AnCO apprentices. It was wonderful to see the work AnCO are doing in their training centres around the country. I know that these courses cost a lot of money and that much of this money comes from the social fund, but we should appeal to Ministers to try to get as much money as possible from these funds so that more employment can be created.
Schools throughout the country and, in particular, in rural Ireland were not as well kept in the past as they are now. Unlike some bigger schools, many schools were unable to pay for a caretaker to look after the school. The National Manpower Service employed people for one year to maintain schools, cutting the grass painting or doing other necessary work. As a result of the social employment scheme schools in rural Ireland look much better now.
The Minister is doing a good job and I hope he continues to do so. Thirteen per cent or 15 per cent — I am not too sure which amount is correct — of the money in the social employment scheme comes from Europe. The Minister should look for more money. There is little difference between the money people would get on unemployment assistance and what the Minister will get in the grant from Europe. It is much better to have people going out and doing something rather than staying at home and doing nothing.
An tAire, chun críoch a chur leis an díospóireacht. The Minister, to conclude.
Could we use the injury time because some of us did not get a chance to finish earlier?
I am afraid there is no second chance in the House.
This is like Mrs. Thatcher taking a second chance.
In the debate before you came in, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, we felt that if the spokesmen in the various parties had been allowed to divide the time we would perhaps have used it better because we were in a race against time earlier.
I thank the spokesmen for the parties, Deputy Birmingham, Deputy Colley, Deputy O'Sullivan and my colleagues Deputy Browne and Deputy Brennan for going to the trouble of staying back rather late to contribute to what we all consider an important Estimate. We are not enamoured of being on at the time we were on tonight. I did not get an opportunity to finish my prepared script earlier on. If I could read the last page of it it might help with regard to some of the questions that were raised, particularly by Deputy Birmingham and Deputy Coley. They were fair questions.
As Minister for Labour, I have responsibility for the formulation and implementation of manpower policy. The central direction in policy formulation must come from Government through to the Minister for Labour. I intend to ensure that the Department of Labour will be better equipped to advise me in relation to policy, that is, to see where manpower policy fits, now and in the future, in the framework of economic and social policy, including education and social welfare and to develop the best options in relation to objectives and strategies. This will enable me to determine the general objectives to be served by the new Authority and will involve laying down broad guidelines as to how the Authority will carry out their responsibilities. I intend furthermore, to bring about a qualitative change in the relationship which has obtained between the Department and the manpower authorities.
For a long time the relationships between Government Departments and State-sponsored bodies seem to have been based on the view that efficiency required the minimum interference with the operations of these enterprises. I am certainly not in favour of nit-picking controls. But neither do I condone the situation which has existed in the past where no real attention was given to criteria for the effectiveness of policies or to standard performance. For the future, I expect the Department of Labour, as far as concerns manpower policy, to focus more on what the economy and our society need, not just on what the interests brought together in the new Authority would readily identify as being within their capacity to supply. I will expect fundamental questioning of existing programmes, irrespective of the attraction of ESF resources or their low net Exchequer costs. This work has already started and, with the right volume and quality of resources, I have no doubt that the Department will face up to the challenge and the opportunity presented by this new role.
I look forward to discussing the details of that policy. I hope that with the assistance of the spokesmen of the parties — which I have been promised and which I know from experience during the last two and a half months that I will get — we can get a manpower authority Bill through this House prior to the summer recess so that the important work, as Deputy Birmingham pointed out, of getting the organisation up and running and being efficient and effective and playing their proper role can be undertaken. Many points were raised by a number of people including me over the last three or four years. It was I who forced the previous administration, by non-stop reference to the issue of the agencies, highlighting the duplication and overlapping, the contradictions, the lack of policy and direction, to implement the manpower policy, the first policy in 21 years. It was not Deputy Quinn's fault, the blame lies with a lot of other people also.
We had a debate where the House did not divide——
I got little thanks for that.
I thanked the Deputy at the time and I thank him again now. The support for the legislation has enabled us to implement a manpower policy. I need the assistance of Deputies to get on with it. If the agencies come together many anomalies will be highlighted and a number of points made by Deputy Colley in her contribution will come to light and we can work on them.
I accept Deputy Birmingham's point that nobody has changed the world in the last ten weeks. However, the Deputy having been in the Department of Labour, in the Department of Education and in the Department of Foreign Affairs will know that while under our system Ministers change, the civil servants remain and that their valuable work remains from one administration to another. That is the situation under our Constitution. When you become a Minister you do not take your predecessor's files and burn them, especially when you see that a lot of the work was started by yourself many years ago. I felt obliged to continue the work in endeavouring to bring some of the items of legislation to a final conclusion. I know Deputies will agree with that.
In relation to the Manpower Authority, legislation will be circulated shortly. The work of the Barrington Commission relates to a complex area and Deputy Birmingham suggested that perhaps this could go to a committee of the House. This is very technical, legalistic and very important. Deputy Colley referred to a number of aspects including the role of women and how they are covered by the Act. It will be the end of the year, if not next year, when that legislation is ready.
On industrial relations, I am taking up the position of the previous Minister. Deputy O'Sullivan will accept that the previous Minister did his utmost to produce a discussion document but it cannot be successful with the social partners unless it is amended. By tradition, the Minister for Labour is the referee in these things and it is clear to me that neither the FUE nor the ICTU will accept that document without amendment. With the assistance of the Department I have been in preliminary discussions with all parties to try to progress. I take the point made by all three spokespersons that it is necessary to have some success. I do not hold the view that we must amend the 1906 Act because it is 81 years old, but we need progress in the area. I know we will have the support of all parties in the House in achieving progress but it has to be with the agreement of the social partners.
I referred already to Jobsearch and to the management advisory body. There is a lot of support for progress in that area and for trying to get one meaningful organisation involved in management rather than a conglomeration of organisations such as there are at present.
In relation to equality legislation, substantial work has been done in the Department on that. In reply to a question recently I said that rather than bringing in legislation, because there had been a number of European law cases which would change things, the Department would review what was there and all that had happened recently and would bring forward a proper package. That will be available into 1988.
We all know the story of the Offshore Bill which has been in circulation for 20 years. Hopefully I will be the Minister who will finally conclude that legislation. I announced tonight that the findings of reviews undertaken on legislation relating to dismissals, employment equality and payment of wages would be issued within the Department and that we would have a broadly based reasoned discussion prior to bringing in legislation.
The general understanding in this House on Labour policy in the last few years is that while the Department of Labour are within reason involved in job creation as are every other Government Department, jobs will be created by the performance of Government mainly in the economic areas. The drive for job creation should come from the Department of the Marine, the Department of Industry and Commerce, the Department of Agriculture and Food and so on. The Department of Labour has a role but they cannot create great numbers of jobs. The agencies were set up initially to provide training schemes so that industry would get experienced people. There was a great demand for trained people for the growing industries. The role of the agencies under the Department of Labour is now different and I accept Deputy Colley's point that the Department has changed from what was envisaged at the outset.
Deputy Birmingham referred to co-operation with the Department of Education. It is my intention to bring the co-operation that existed at Minister of State level — and I know the Deputy did a lot of work in that area — to ministerial level and to continue that work perhaps on a higher plane than before. A point was made that the Department do not have the personnel to deal with all the problems. The Department face a continual battle for resources. I know the Deputy will be aware of the difficulties. I will continue the battle hopefully with as much or more success than the Deputy and his colleagues had.
In relation to the SES, I told Deputy Spring recently when he accused me of not supporting the SES that I spoke not only in this House but on several occasions around the country in support of the SES. I always thought it a good idea. I supported the environmental works scheme from the time I came into this House in 1977. It is always difficult for people to get sustainable and gainful long term employment. There is always a necessity, particularly in these difficult economic times, to have environmental works or social employment type schemes. In discussions with our partners in Brussels we highlight continually the benefit of the many resources we can get and we try to get whatever resources are necessary. However, Deputies will appreciate that anything being negotiated now is for next year and thereafter. The overall view on the Social Fund is that while discussions are taking place now any financial benefits arising there-from will not come for at least 18 months.
The quotas are now introduced for every region and that should help to ensure a better national spread for the projects. As I have said several times at the city council, I regret that the position about Dublin ever came about. The matter is being pursued through contracts with the unions and the monitoring committee. We must acknowledge that there are difficulties. They are to be regretted.
Is the Minister optimistic?
I have been involved in these discussions for two years. I cannot say that I know the latest position on the monitoring committee but it would be hard to achieve change because people have taken certain stances. At city council level we have endeavoured to get a change of attitude on the basis that the same unions who allow the schemes to work in other local authority areas are blocking them within the corporation. I could never understand the rationale of that and I have said so in Opposition, as leader of the majority group on the council, as Lord Mayor of the city and chairman of the council and I say it again now as Minister. However, we continue to pursue it in the hope of a successful conclusion.
I can inform Deputy Colley that all schemes are being reviewed now within the Department with the assistance of the ESRI and that a new management and review system is being developed covering all the operations of the Departments in an effort to keep the matter up to date. That is in line with what I said here today.
A number of points were made about criticisms of some of the schemes. If Deputies at any time come across points such as how the schemes are unfairly used or if they see contradictions or ambiguities I would be very glad to hear from them because I do not consider myself to be the sole knowledge holder of all that happens in each region. In Opposition I was able to give useful information which I picked up from my colleagues throughout the country. I would be very glad to get opinions, views, reviews or suggestions about improvements from any Deputy.
Would the Minister divert money from the ESF to preserve jobs?
The health area already benefits from the Social Fund to the maximum extent allowed by the rules of the fund and £18.55 million was given through the ESF for disabled people in 1986. Prolonged debates go on in this regard and great work is done by the officials who operate in this area and who achieve phenomenal success for this country. The work of the ESF is co-ordinated through the Department for which I have the honour to be Minister. Those officials do an outstanding job within the guidelines in getting money for a number of areas and a debt of gratitude is due to them for the exercise of their expertise since we joined the EC.
With regard to worker participation, the reason I emphasised in my speech the sub-board aspect of new legislation is that that is the main new feature of the legislation. In the legislation which was previously before the House and which I hope to bring back to the House again, a number of worker directors were to be appointed to boards at full level, but the new feature is the fairly lengthy list of people who we have in a number of agencies at sub-board level.
This is a device to give workers full participation in the running of a company with representation at sub-board level. At least that is the feeling among some of the worker directors in some of the companies.
The legislation can be brought back for full debate. A great deal is to be gained by having a sub-board level. As the Deputy knows, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among worker directors with the role they have at present, as some of them have told both of us in the not too distant past.
Does the Minister not think this is a retrograde step?
The legislation which the previous Minister issued and which I am reviewing and will bring back in some form, amended perhaps, extends the number of worker directors at full board level but it focuses for the first time on the sub-board level which is supported, though not in all cases, by the worker directors and the ICTU. However, there is a reluctance in some organisations even to have an input at sub-board level. If there be directors at full board and at sub-board level and if there is not agreement and goodwill the chances of any kind of success or real progress in avoiding the difficulties we would all like to avoid are small. There is no point in bringing in worker directors at either full or sub-board level if that will not help to alleviate the difficulties. The matter requires a delicate balance in handling. It requires agreements between management and unions. That is the whole ethos of the legislation.
May I make a point?
I would prefer if the Minister were allowed to make his speech without interruption and then, when he has concluded and if time permits I will allow pertinent questions.
Regarding the other point raised by Deputy O'Sullivan I intend, along with the Minister for Industry and Commerce, to meet the NET workers. Deputy Reynolds and I expect that the Government will give them assurances about consultation, maintenance and forms of worker participation in any future venture. The discussion will be ongoing so I will keep the Deputy informed about what happens.
The matter of Teamwork was raised by Deputy Browne. The Department have some funds for this area. Therefore, if Deputies wisht to put forward projects I will be glad to look at the applications.
Generally on the social employment scheme, the decrease from £70 to £60 does not apply to any of the present participants. It applies to new participants. The increase in the provisional budget from 7,900 to 9,400 participants, an increase of 1,500 was achieved by getting extra funds through reducing the amount by £10. The majority of people who avail of the SES are single and that is the attraction from the start. The maximum they can get in unemployment assistance is £36 but if they are living at home many of them would get £13, £14, or £16, so this scheme is considerably attractive to them. As emphasised in this debate and by the representations which I get within the Department, there is a huge demand for this scheme and if the amount was £40 or £50 the demand would still be huge. My only regret is that it is not possible within the resources we have to take on far more people but the reduction has no effect at all on interest in the scheme so far as new applicants are concerned. As Deputy Brennan pointed out, interest in the scheme has not wanted; it is still strongly supported.
I was asked how the figures operate in relation to the regions. For example, the east region has a quota of 2,619, the south east 1,024, the south west 1,299, the mid-west 788, the west 930, the north west 891, the north east 671 and the midlands 678, giving a total of 8,900. Those quotas are continuously reviewed, the monitoring committee ensuring that the quota is taken up in each area. At an early stage some counties received a higher quota than they would have done had there been a take-up on a national basis. That caused some difficulties. The monitoring committee have endeavoured to spread the quotas as fairly as possible ensuring that the relevant resources are used to best advantage. I can assure Deputy Browne that it is done on the basis of a fair rationale, with no desire to jeopardise the whole thing. While I might be sorely tempted to do that, bearing in mind the unemployment level obtaining in my constituency, I can assure Deputies that it is based on an equitable distribution of the resources available within the Department.
On the industrial relations scene a number of Deputies said we must endeavour to push forward, resolving some of the difficulties obtaining. I do not want to answer any particular point in detail because that tends immediately to become the focus of discussion. I am endeavouring in so far as I can to get the Federated Union of Employers and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to sit, hopefully around the one table, or alternatively, separate tables, in an effort to make progress on the ongoing discussions on industrial relations. I can assure Deputies O'Sullivan and Colley that that is my wish. Progress in this area is a matter of priority. These discussions go back throughout the terms of office of probably all my predecessors, to that of our President, the then Minister for Labour in 1966, in an effort to make progress in this area. There have been continuous discussions, reviews and very little legislation. To focus on any one area perhaps is not the most useful exercise. I would rather ascertain the extent of agreement that can be reached and effect legislative changes where such would be useful and beneficial. I am on record as having specified areas where such could be useful.
I have said on a number of occasions since assuming office that our concept of having 10,000 cases annually referred to third parties for arbitration is not something that is healthy or augurs well for industrial relations. It would be much better if management and unions — at ground floor or shop floor level — were able to resolve their grievances. I do not know whether the answer lies in legislation. We must work towards ensuring that people talk and consult with each other in a civilised way in an effort to resolve their differences. The point I made about the ESB dispute earlier was not that I was satisfied that it had occurred and had been resolved but rather that it had been brought to a conclusion quicker than might have been the case. I am equally hopeful that the prospective dispute in Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta will be averted by people having spent considerable hours this very day working toward a resolution in an orderly fashion, sensibly trying to resolve their difficulties rather than by way of conflict and harassment. It should be remembered that ultimately people must sit down and resolve their problems, that reasoned debate or consultation constitutes a much better way than confrontation. Any work in which we engage, any amendments or changes we propose in the industrial relations field, should concentrate on persuading people to sensibly consider options rather than taking industrial action which affects the public at large and not only the parties in conflict. That is the role I should like to play in that regard, to ensure the de-escalation of industrial disputes so that we improve the overall view of this country from that of one in which there are wildcat strikes and too many man days lost, with too much industrial dispute and conflict. It should be remembered that we badly need investment. I would ask Deputies to assist me in trying to achieve that aim, whether that be by way of amending legislation or whatever and leading to better industrial relations generally. We need strikes like we need a hole in the head, whether they be official or unofficial. We all wish to have fewer man days lost through strikes and fewer unofficial strikes. We want our economy viewed as one that can attract industrialists, one in which workers and management can co-operate in overcoming their difficulties.
I thank Deputies and the spokespersons in particular for their contributions and co-operation. I can assure them that I will keep them informed of our legislative programme. I would ask their co-operation in having that legislation passed in the weeks leading up to the summer recess so that the important work of having such legislative provisions implemented can be effected during the recess.
Deputy O'Sullivan was anxious to elicit information: likewise Deputy Birmingham. As we have a little time left I am glad to facilitate them.
I welcome the Minister's announcement that he is having discussions with the Minister for Industry and Commerce regarding the role of the worker-directors in NET. That is welcome news. I hope those discussions will lead to a satisfactory resolution of the problem. I regret very much that Deputy Brennan is not present. I should like to compliment him on having made the most sincere contribution I have heard in this House in many a long day. I would lend my voice to his plea to the Minister to take a second look at the social employment scheme. I felt that Deputy Brennan articulated his opinion from the heart in a most sincere and honest way. In fact in so doing he restored my faith in the parliamentary process.
There are just one or two questions I want to put to the Minister. One has to do with grants for the emigrant advisory services which I notice have been increased by 61 per cent. I hope that is not an ominous sign that the Minister foresees an increase in the number of people emigrating, when I would be most concerned. I should like to know on what that increase has been based. I referred to the grants for trade union education at plus 1 per cent and the College of Industrial Relations at plus 2 per cent. Perhaps the Minister would elaborate on those increases.
We must conclude the debate at 11 p.m. in accordance with the Order of Business. Could we hear Deputy Birmingham now?
Might I warn the Minister of the danger of being played along. He has already indicated that this area of industrial relations reform has been talked about since 1966. There is a danger that one or other, or indeed both of the social partners, might take the view that if those discussions go on long enough, they will see him off stage. That is not to suggest that his term of office will be short. On the question of the review of the social fund, would the Minister consider making contact with each of his colleagues, perhaps by going on a tour of the capitals during the summer recess, to put Ireland's case to them?
As regards Deputy O'Sullivan's point, the Department have used the money to the best advantage. The Deputy asked about trade union amalgamations and the money given to them by the Department. A substantial sum of money was paid recently when the Workers' Union of Ireland amalgamated with NATE. The question of IPC has been under discussions and we have had informal discussions with those involved. I will continue to do so.
As regards the points made by Deputy Birmingham, I take his first point and would be extremely worried about it. I will take his advice and try not to walk into the fatal trap. It is always useful to have co-operation but particularly so because of our precarious Dáil position. As regards the points made about the social fund, we will use whatever opportunities we have, both formally and informally, to put forward our special case to our colleagues in Europe. This is continually done at Departmental level. Yesterday officials from my Department were in Brussels lobbying on this issue. We will take every opportunity to put forward this country's case during the summer.