Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Labour Legislation.

28.

asked the Minister for Labour when it is intended to introduce the amendments to labour legislation, particularly aimed at improving the position of women, which he promised in his address to the seminar of the Women's Political Association in Dublin in November 1988; if he will outline the main provisions of the proposed amendments; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Proposals for amendments to the employment equality legislation, drawn up following consultation with a wide range of interests, have been circulated to all Government Departments for their views. On completion of this consultation process, I intend putting the proposals before the Government.

In the speech which the Minister made on this issue and referred to in the question he indicated that he intended to shift the burden of proof from the employee to the employer. In relation to unfair dismissals, has he got agreement and what progress has he made regarding that specific issue?

It is an entire package of proposals. All the comments I made in that speech are the ones I am still pursuing and I am hoping to get them into the legislation.

How soon does the Minister expect progress to be made? Does he expect to have legislation before the House before the Dáil rises for the summer recess?

It is a possibility. We have a number of Bills on the labour front and if we could get the first one before the House I would be much happier. In all I have about six Bills and I will take them one by one. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill is the first to be followed by the Industrial Relations Bill. If we are realistic we would be talking in terms of the autumn.

The Minister and many of us are concerned that reform of the labour legislation is essential in view of the opening up of the market for 1992. We do not want a situation where labour in Ireland is more exploitable than labour in other EC countries.

I agree and it is for that reason that we included both of these Acts — the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974, and the Employment Equality Act, 1977 — in our discussion document in the autumn of 1987. We have consulted with all the agencies, the Congress of Trade Unions, the Federated Union of Employers, Labour Court equality officers and a number of interested parties, including the Women's Political Conference where I raised my proposals. I hope we have now got a good feel for the views of the various organisations concerned. The views are now with the Government Departments.

Mr. J. Mitchell rose.

I had hoped to deal with another question.

Would the Minister not agree that there has been a lot of pious talk about this question for the last ten to 15 years? We are all agreed it is a good thing that there should be equal pay and equal opportunities, but in fact very little real progress has been made in the position of women. Would he not welcome the opportunity created by Deputy de Rossa's question to take a more active step, rather than just talking about this, to do something about it?

The question is related to one speech I made, one particular paragraph of that speech.

Talk is cheap.

I could be very nasty about this whole area of equality and say what has not been done for the past 13 or 14 years.

That is exactly the point.

I found that no review had been undertaken since 1974. This is a very important issue but before 1992 we should have in place proper equality legislation. I would not agree that women have not achieved very much. Under both the 1974 and 1977 Acts a great amount has been achieved.

There has been some achievement.

I agree it is not enough, but the difficulties we have here are widespread in Europe and we must keep updating our laws.

I appreciate being allowed to ask one last supplementary. Would the Minister not agree that the real value of the equality legislation which he undertook and on which a great many groups made submissions, shows the glaring gaps that still exist and need to be strengthened urgently? Does he not share the concern of all the other Members of the House that the gap between men's and women's earnings is as large, if not wider, than it was ten or 12 years ago? That is proof that the equality legislation as it now stands is inadequate. I am concerned and would ask the Minister not to be talking in terms of 1992 but rather in terms of 1989.

The year 1992 is a separate issue, we are talking about having everything in place long before then. I would hope to have the Bill before the House this year.