Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Trade Union Merger.

10.

asked the Minister for Labour, in light of the proposed merger between the ITGWU and the FWUI, if he has satisfied himself that legislative provisions are adequate to facilitate and encourage such mergers between unions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

18.

asked the Minister for Labour, in light of the proposed merger of the two largest unions in the State, if he will outline the proposals, if any, which he has to encourage further rationalisation within the trade union movement in the national economic interest.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 18 together.

In keeping with the voluntary nature of our industrial relations system, responsibility for trade union rationalisation rests largely with the trade union movement itself. The role of the Government is one of encouraging and facilitating the process. The Trade Union Act, 1975, was specifically introduced to facilitate and encourage the amalgamation of trade unions by simplifying the procedures and by making grants available towards the costs involved.

While the response to the Act in the first few years of its operation was less than was anticipated, I am encouraged that a number of amalgamations have taken place in recent years and that many more are in progress or under active discussion at present. Since 1970 the number of unions has declined from 95 to 74.

Under the terms of the Act, grants may only be paid at present where trade unions successfully complete an amalgamation or transfer of engagements. I accept that this can be a considerable obstacle to inducing unions to consider amalgamation options. The Bill on industrial relations reform which is at present being drafted will provide that financial assistance may be available for expenses incurred in attempting an amalgamation or transfer of engagements even if the proposed amalgamation or transfer does not eventually go ahead. I would hope that this measure will encourage further amalgamations among unions.

I welcome the proposals that the Minister says will be contained in the forthcoming legislation which I will support. Would the Minister accept that the proliferation of trade unions here can present a problem to foreign investors contemplating this country as a place for investment? Would he not consider that there is need for a more active part to be played by his Department in encouraging amalgamation as some interesting mergers are now taking place? Finally, would he not accept that some of the most difficult industrial relations disputes tend to be those where there are a number of trade unions involved in the same workplace and that such disputes could be greatly reduced by an amalgamation process?

I agree with everything the Deputy says, with the exception of the suggestion that my Department are not taking an active role in this matter. Indeed, there have been more amalgamations of trade unions within my few years in office than in the period of office of all former Ministers for Labour. However, I am still not happy; I should like to see many more. As I said earlier, there are approximately 20 unions engaged in negotiations of one form or another. I agree with what the Deputy says that, looking here from abroad, foreigners are not impressed. Indeed our records show that worker- versus-worker and inter-union disputes have been the cause of many industrial disputes over the years. Where possible I am totally committed to the amalgamation of unions, as indeed is the trade union movement itself.

We are all committed to the amalgamation of trade unions in order to bring greater efficiency within the unions themselves. Can the Minister tell me how many Irish trade unions are affiliated to British trade unions?

That is a separate question.

I could not give the Deputy the figure off the top of my head but it would not be a large number. However, there has been concern expressed in recent years that that figure may grow. Its prevention probably pre-empted some of the more recent amalgamations. However, there are not an awful lot and it does not present a great difficulty.

Can the Minister assure the House that there will not be any obstacles to the merger coming into effect on 1 January next? I anticipate that problems could arise in the office of the Registrar of Friendly Societies which is not over-staffed. Has the Minister been in contact with his colleague, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, to ensure that there will not be any delays at that level? I anticipate that that office could encounter some problems vis-á-vis a voluntary organisation, dealing with a non-contentious issue, which could constitute an obstacle to the merger coming into effect on 1 January next?

In answer to the Deputy I can say there is daily contact.

Have extra staff been provided in that office?

Yes, from my Department.

To what extent does present legislation provide for matters such as pension rights of existing trade union officials involved in amalgamations? Would he envisage some legislative provision to cover that aspect which I think is one of the difficulties hindering the implementation of a merger?

It is one of the difficult areas. The present legislation does cover trade union officials over the age of 55 in the event of amalgamations, in that they could be assisted either by way of pension or early retirement. It does act as a disincentive for small trade unions particularly. It should be borne in mind that there are a huge number of trade unions, particularly small ones which could not afford to provide attractive pension rights for their full-time officials. Therefore, there is no incentive for them to become involved because, since they would have no money starting off, they could not resolve the difficulty. That is one of the greatest difficulties the present legislation presents. It is interpreted to mean that only when an amalgamation is signed, sealed and delivered by the office of the Registrar of Friendly Societies can they receive any moneys.

That is over age 55 as well?

Yes, I think the difficulty arises within that age group. The proposal in the legislation I hope to introduce — and in respect of which I hope the co-operation of the House—will mean that they will not have to be successful in amalgamating. That would consititute a major advance.

I welcome that.