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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Jun 1988

Vol. 381 No. 8

Private Notice Questions. - Longford Ambulance Plant Industrial Dispute.

asked the Minister for Labour if, in view of the unsuccessful outcome of the negotiations over the weekend in the Hanlon ambulance dispute in Longford, and the threat of imminent closure of the factory, he will use the powers available to him under the Industrial Relations Act, 1946, to request the Labour Court to intervene in the public interest and report to him as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if, in view of the latest breakdown in discussions and the threat of imminent closure of the Hanlon factory in Longford, the steps he proposes to take to ensure that the industry is retained within this country.

I am replying to these questions on behalf of the Minister for Labour who is abroad on official business.

Only last Thursday, 2 June, the Minister for Labour gave the House a fully detailed account of the extent of the involvement of the conciliation service and the Labour Court in disputes in this company.

In February 1987 the first conciliation conference on the dispute in progress at that time took place. The conference failed to resolve the dispute and the issue went to the Labour Court which issued a recommendation in March 1987. Management rejected the recommendation. It was not until September 1987 that a further conciliation conference could be arranged. Management proposals put forward at that conference were rejected. Three further conciliation conferences were held in October 1987 and again without agreement.

The Labour Court intervened in the dispute on 22 October 1987 under section 18 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969. That section of the Act allows the court to go into a dispute on is own initiative if it considers that there are exceptional circumstances which warrant it doing so. Labour Court hearings took place on 28 and 29 October 1987 and a detailed recommendation on all aspects of the dispute was issued by the court on 30 October 1987. While the recommendation led to the ending of the strike early in November 1987 problems arose over the return-to-work formula and the proposed redundancies.

The Labour Court became involved again and held a further hearing into the dispute on 15 February 1988, when it issued a recommendation on the redundancy payment element of the dispute.

The Labour Court became involved again on 30 March 1988 and issued a recommendation the same day. Notwithstanding the Labour Court recommendation, difficulties persisted over selection for redundancy and the level of redundancy compensation. The strike restarted on 11 April 1988 and concilliation conferences on 15 April and 12 May failed to resolve the dispute. On Wednesday last, 1 June, the Labour Court held a further hearing in Longford but no progress was made.

I have again outlined for the benefit of the House the extent to which the conciliation service and particularly the Labour Court have been involved in this dispute. Further intensive efforts over the holiday weekend to reach a solution have not succeeded in bringing about a return to work.

As the Minister for Labour indicated to the House the Labour Court is on standby if it is felt that its further involvement can help in this dispute. The parties are aware of the availability of the court, at short notice, should they consider the court can be of any further help. It is clear from what I have said that the court has been unstinting in its time and expertise in trying to bring about an amicable settlement in this dispute.

In the light of the continued availability of the Labour Court I see no useful purpose being served by asking the court to become involved again in this dispute.

The Minister has outlined in a very clear and concise way the history of this dispute. Last week the Minister for Labour painted a very depressing picture when in fact there was still a possibility that something could be done. Over the weekend discussions were held. The attitude of the Minister for Labour was very depressing at that time. Could the Minister say, on behalf of the Minister for Labour, whether he has considered the implications of the dialogue that took place over the weekend, indicating whether the gap has narrowed in any way? Furthermore, could he say if there is anything further the Minister for Labour can do in this regard in order to bring the sides together and save the factory for the town of Longford?

The Minister is fully aware of the situation and, as I have outlined, has been keeping in very close touch with developments there. On the other hand, there must be a willingness on the part of people to find a solution, if there is to be one found to this problem, which has not proved to be the case to date. There must be a willingness on the part of the parties involved to use the expertise and services of the Labour Court if there is to be a solution found to this problem.

I am most dissatisfied with the Minister's answer notwithstanding the efforts of the Labour Court and everybody else over the past weekend. Could the Minister simply address himself to this question. First, if this factory were to close down it would be a tragedy. Would the Minister agree that what we cannot afford to allow happen is the loss of 200 jobs not only to Longford but to the country? Is the Minister for the Marine saying that both the Ministers for Labour and Industry and Commerce have failed in their efforts and are giving up attempting to solve this dispute? Furthermore, would the Minister say what is happening at present in these Departments with regard to this dispute? Have any instructions been issued by the Department of Industry and Commerce to the IDA who were involved in the initial stages——

This question is addressed to the Minister for Labour.

It relates directly to my question and I should like an answer.

Would the Minister say whether the IDA or anybody else has been instructed to examine alternative sites in the country in the event of the factory in Longford being closed?

The Deputy is expanding the subject matter of the question.

Strenuous efforts have been made by the Labour Court conciliation services, the Labour Court itself, by the parties involved in the dispute and numerous other people who have endeavoured to mediate in order to find a solution to the problem but in spite of those efforts no solution has been found to date. What I have said on behalf of the Minister for Labour is that the Labour Court is on standby and is available if the parties feel it is worth-while intervening. It is ready, willing and available to intervene in such circumstances. There is nothing further I can add to that at present.

The Minister in his reply suggested there was an unwillingness to resolve the dispute. Could the Minister say if that unwillingness is on both sides or on one side only in view of the fact that the Labour Court, in a previous submission, said that the management was unreasonable? Since part of my question was not answered, may I ask the Minister if he intends taking any measures to prevent the relocation of the plant in the United Kingdom?

The question which has been addressed to me is in relation to the efforts which have been made, and which can be made still, because the Labour Court is available and on standby in order to be of help. It is not for me to get into this very involved and complicated issue at this stage. There has been much dialogue in relation to this dispute. In circumstances in which a package put to the workers recently, and in respect of which the Labour Court went guarantor, was rejected by 155 votes to 6, it is very difficult to see how agreement can be reached.

I am not asking the Minister whether he wants to comment at this stage. I am simply seeking an answer to a question: would he not agree that the Department of Industry and Commerce should instruct the IDA to examine this position? Furthermore, would he say whether they are monitoring the position so that in the event of the factory in Longford closing, jobs will not be lost not only to Longford but to the country?

We are having repetition at this stage.

It is part of the question.

Sorry, I have called Deputy Birmingham.

This is the second successive Question Time in which we have discussed the Hanlon affair. On the last occasion the Minister for Labour indicated it was the most bitter dispute with which he has had to deal and he foresaw no prospects of an intervention by him; he saw the position as hopeless. Since then there have been attempts at mediation on the part of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, the bishop and the administrator. In those circumstances, would the Minister for Labour reconsider his position and see a role for himself to intervene to try and succeed where others have failed, though apparently have come close in the last couple of days?

The prospect of finding a solution to this problem, as indeed in all complicated disputes of this nature, is through the recognised procedures of conciliation in the Labour Court where there are skilled personnel available and on standby to find a solution, if possible, and if it is possible to get the parties together to reach an agreement in this dispute which has evaded resolution to date I must reiterate that the Labour Court is on standby to intervene, if necessary.

I have given a lot of lattitude. A brief question from Deputy Birmingham.

I have a brief supplementary arising directly from the Minsiter's reply. The Labour Court has tried valiantly to reach a solution, as he outlined in his reply. Over the past few days there has been recourse to other channels, to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, the bishop and the administrator. In those circumstances does the Minister not foresee an opportunity for an approach now outside the Labour Court structures by the Minister for Labour?

As I have said already, strenuous efforts have been made to find a solution to this problem. The Labour Court is available and is on standby. If there is to be any solution found to this problem I believe that machinery offers the best possible opportunity.

Has Deputy Mac Giolla a final question?

Portion of my question has not been answered by the Minister. The first part of my question related to what measures he intends taking to prevent the relocation of the plant in the United Kingdom. I understand there may be certain measures available to him, and to other Ministers in the Cabinet in association with him, to prevent the relocation of the plant outside the country. Is it correct that large grants, to the extent of £300,000 in the case of one company and £700,000 in the case of another — in the same name — have been given?

We cannot debate this matter just now.

Would the Minister not have recourse to the measures available to him in order to prevent the relocation of the factory outside the country?

That must be the end of questions for today.

I take it, then, that the Minister does not intend to do anything to prevent the relocation of the plant and neither does the Taoiseach?

I am sorry, I have given the Deputy every facility to ventilate his grievance today. I must call the Order of Business.