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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Mar 1990

Vol. 396 No. 6

Industrial Relations Bill, 1989: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be read a Second Time."

I rise to speak on this Bill because I know the Minister for Labour has done exemplary work in the whole area of industrial relations. Industrial relations in Ireland have made massive strides over the past few years. Representing, as I do, a constituency which has a large number of working class people — I regard worker representation as an important issue. The Bill is also of considerable national importance. I personally know elderly people living in my area who can clearly remember the effects and consequences of the 1913 lock-out. Men like Connolly and Larkin brought Irish trade unionism into the 20th century. The right to worker participation and representation is clearly established in this Bill. It is designed to protect the rights of both sides. The dramatic fall in the number of days lost due to industrial disputes is welcome. This, however, should not lead to a false sense of security or complacency. On the contrary, the improvement in the strike figure gives us a chance to reflect on the positive contribution that industrial peace can make to our society.

With the advent of a new Europe Ireland is in a unique position to capitalise on the Single Market. Industrial relations will play a vital role in determining whether this opportunity is grasped. This Bill comes at an ideal time with industrial peace prevailing. It is the ideal time and atmosphere in which sensible and practical change can be introduced to both legal and procedural frameworks. This Government and this Minister have already shown their commitment to industrial relations. In the budget £1.27 million has been set aside by the Minister for Finance to help fund the amalgamation of various unions.

The Industrial Relations Bill contains many good measures which will be generally welcomed. The following provisions are extremely important. Section 14 of the Bill provides that no strike or industrial action will take place without a secret ballot, that all members will be given a fair opportunity of voting and that the results of the ballot will be made known to the members. It is fair to say that non-secret ballot voting in the past has in certain instances directly affected the outcome of a vote, with peer pressure and other influences being used to sway voters one way or the other. A secret ballot is the only way in which a fair result can be obtained, not only by the unions members but in all outside cases. Section 16 provides that every union will forward a copy of its rules incorporating this secret ballot requirement to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. The penalty for non-registration is that a union will not be entitled to a negotiation licence.

It has been known for a long time that the number of unions in Ireland is excessive compared to countries like West Germany and Japan where the smaller number of unions has been responsible in many ways for the increase in prosperity and the high living standards of workers. The Bill has provision relating to minimum membership. Section 21 increases the minimum membership for the grant of a negotiation licence to a trade union to 1,000 people. This is a welcome provision and I know the Minister for Labour would like to see bigger unions but fewer of them. The recent amalgamation of the ITGWU and the FWUI to form the SIPTU is an excellent case in point.

The main unions in the public service are proposing to amalgamate to form a much larger union. Also the various sections in the education area will amalgamate and between them will have a membership of about 43,000. This will not only give the unions strong negotiating positions but will also provide a more balanced view when they are dealing with different employers and the Government. This move was welcomed not only by workers but also by employers and I am sure it will be of benefit to both sides in the future.

I have already mentioned the provision of £1.27 million in the budget towards the amalgamation costs of trade unions. This trend is set to continue since section 22 enables the Minister to make grants towards the expenses incurred by trade unions in contemplating or attempting to bring together various unions. Even if this does not happen, they will not be out of pocket. This Bill goes a long way to encourage amalgamation where it would seem to be of benefit to both employers and employees.

The Minister has gone to a lot of trouble to tidy up the difficult area of secondary picketing. The Bill seeks to ensure that the practice of secondary picketing is subject to a greater degree of control than heretofore. Perhaps it would have been ideal if secondary picketing had been barred outright, in keeping with developments in other modern economies. Given the provision in the Bill, the problem is addressed to an adequate degree. Picketing procedure is also tidied up in section 11 which amends section 2 (1) of the outdated Trade Disputes Act of 1906 by confining immunity to picketing at the place of business of a worker's own employer.

The new labour relations commission is another positive feature of this Bill. Its interaction with the Labour Court is a vital area and the acceptance of the new commission by employers and employees alike is an extremely important matter. I have no doubt that my constituency colleague, the Minister for Labour, will ensure its success.

I now turn to the developments in the Custom House Dock where understanding and trust between different trade unions and the employers and the help of the Minister for Labour have brought in many young people in various trades. This must augur well for the future.

We also have agreement between the social partners. Many people here and outside this country have remarked on our wonderfully improved industrial relations. I am associated with Dublin Port where we have an extremely good working relationship with the trade unions which has benefited greatly the Port of Dublin and thereby the citizens of this city; it has also benefited the workers. When strikes do occur not only the workers directly involved are affected, their families also lose out. I do not believe any man or woman looks forward to a strike. Trade unions and the officials have a wonderful record.

One wonders about some of the dreadful things reported in the British media concerning Arthur Scargill. If he is guilty as accused that is one thing but it is awful to see him being tried by the media and to see the glee on the faces of some people who take his downfall as a personal victory. It is a sorry state of affairs when any one official is tried by the newspapers as he has been. I suppose, when it goes to court we will find out the reasons behind this scandal and we will maybe get to the truth. We have never had that type of problem with the many great trade union leaders we have had down through the years. Many people will speak of the wish to amalgamate small trade unions so that they will be strong in negotiating with employers and with the Minister for Labour in relation to pay rises and so on.

This Bill contains many provisions which are of national importance. It is vital to our future that we compete on an equal basis with our European partners. Industrial relations is a major component of our economic well-being and this Bill will have a vital rôle in promoting and supporting industrial harmony which will ensure our success in taking our share of the new markets as they emerge.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The provision with regard to having a secret ballot before a strike is very important and is long overdue. At union meetings the issues are debated and one of the drawbacks in providing for a secret ballot is that trade unionists who are not good attenders at meetings will become more apathetic and will await the arrival of a ballot paper in the post. However, on balance it is better that people should have the opportunity to vote in secret for or against a strike which, in essence, is industrial warfare. The advent of the secret ballot will also do away with intimidation. At union meetings people have been nudged to vote in a certain way and many people have a look round to see who is voting for what before they decide whether to vote for or against a strike.

This legislation also refers to secondary picketing which is wrong in principle. I have seen people running around the country like headless chickens picketing industries and dragging people out of work when they could not place a successful picket on their own jobs. Some conscientious people who would not pass a picket have been exploited by such people. The principle of secondary picketing is totally wrong. A dispute should be settled within an industry without involving others.

Because of the advent of balloting and the timescale involved, there will now be no need for employers to go in the night seeking an injunction to stop a picket.

That is an important aspect. Trade unionists have an inalienable right to strike as a last resort. Without the strike weapon workers would be little more than slaves.

I am not too happy about the requirement of 1,000 people, instead of 500 people, to set up a union or association to represent workers. It is not necessarily a good thing to amalgamate all the small unions. If 500 people want to come together and form a union, that is a reasonably sized grouping. I am not against raising the sum of money they would have to put up but it would be unreasonable to raise the numbers required. I can understand why trade unions like this provision as it would limit the proliferation of small unions, but if there is general disenchantment with a large union as has happened in the past, a smaller union comprised of a disenchanted group can work out pretty well. Often one finds that large industries are not properly represented in a huge union and they are totally isolated with regard to representation.

I ask the Minister to have another look at this provision because people must have a facility through which they can voice their discontent with a large strong union. Amalgamation of smaller unions is favoured today; big is not necessarily beautiful, although it could work out that way. I am not against the idea of unions voluntarily coming together and I agree with the Government making money available to bring that about because it would obviously be a costly exercise. However, I should not like it to become a cosy arrangement with workers, by virtue of size, becoming more and more isolated and unions becoming a bureaucracy rather than — as they were when they started — friendly societies to defend people's rights.

Ironically, when there is a 50 per cent takeover in a business the trade union movement and congress rightly complain about large conglomerates but, at the same time, they want a similar cosy arrangement. That is a contradiction and we must be careful not to create that kind of set-up.

All the trades should try to come together because, if we are to survive as an economy, we must cut out these lines of demarcation. People in industry must realise that their competitors all over the world have got rid of the rigid lines which were all right 40 and 50 years ago when the guilds and trades were so tightly controlled. However, the whole world has changed and we must change with it. I agree with the kind of amalgamation to which I referred but I am a bit sceptical about the two big unions coming together to make one big one. The unions must realise that even though there are various activities within the industries they serve, people must be allowed to move freely within disciplines. Congress should always keep that in mind because the world does not owe us anything. We are talking about going into Europe but Europe will not owe us anything either and if we do not match up we will fall behind.

Even though I am critical of certain aspects of the Bill its trust is to do that and that is why I support it. The Labour Relations Commission is a good idea because with all due respects, the Labour Court have been run ragged. All disputes were referred to them with the result that the court lost any decent standing they had in the sense of authority. When they lose authority one should ask whether they could be made stronger and better. However, as a result of setting up the commission the Labour Court may not be called in the first instance.

The commission will consist of six members, two from the employer's side, two from the trade unions and two vacancies for people with expertise in various disciplines. It is important that it is not an adversarial commission with various members looking after their own interests. The two independent members will bring a different approach and attitude to the problems.

The commission have a very important role to play and I hope they will get through their work pretty quickly as there is a lot to be done. The whole machinery of industry relations has been gummed up as a result of the Rights Commissioners, the Labour Court and other joint industrial councils. The commission should not just examine the problem as disputes arise — that is the fire brigade approach — they must take an enlightened view as to how they can bring a whole new approach to labour relations which is long overdue. It is not like the old days when you had a boss who owned the outfit, dominated it and made decisions. Now most companies have a board and a chief executive who is a worker in the company. Members of the board have various responsibilities but the whole attitude of "them" and "us" will have to go. Many of the problems which have arisen over the years in regard to industrial relations and strikes have been caused by bad management, bad personnel and personnel relations within jobs. They saw themselves as a group who would give as little as they could to the workers and did not let them know much about the industry. Fortunately, that attitude is now changing.

If the Industrial Relations Commission can work out codes of practice in relation to employer-employee relationships they can inform the industries at risk what they should be doing and urge them to take action to avoid strikes within industry. The commission have a lot of work to do and I would like to see them, from time to time, coming up with reports. I do not know if they will report to the Minister on an annual or bi-annual basis in regard to the climate of industrial relationships. That is important because not much has been written about industrial relations; this Commission might be able to develop a whole series of principles for good relations within industry.

Industry owe it to their staff to supply as much information as possible. I do not know why people are reluctant to give out information. Indeed, there are times in this House when Ministers are reluctant to give information and I can never understand it. The more open society is the healthier it is. There should be an openness between employers and staff so that staff will never see a notice on a gate "gone into liquidation" without any warning. That is the kind of thing that we must avoid and the commission can help by a good educational programme. Legislation helps but you cannot legislate to avoid industrial turmoil. However, you can educate to legislate against it. I hope this industrial relations commission will look at ways and means of doing that at all times. It is only by a voluntary effort that we can get the whole thing moving in the kind of way that we want. There is no doubt that while we have codes of practice they will be only standards which industry will be using. It is on that basis that the whole system will depend.

A lot will depend too on the chairman and personnel who are selected. They should be people who are genuinely concerned in bringing forward the whole concept of good working industrial relationships. Workers should come together and see the industry as something of which they are a part and not just as a place where they work. If the commission can incorporate that into the whole area of industrial relations they will be doing a great job. It would make life easier for the Labour Court. They would not be dragged into every fight and there would be no wildcat strikes. Common sense would prevail if there were genuine grievances but there will be times when people will go on strike. We all know that when times are bad and unemployment is high employers often use that as a big stick to keep wage rates down but conversely when things are really good, trade unions rush in with outrageous demands. Hopefully, with a good approach we can change that.

A very good example can be seen across the water. I always think that is the last place we should look when dealing with industrial relations. Certainly it is the last place I would want to look. Unfortunately, one of the bad things we inherited is their form of industrial relations and trade unions but we also inherited some good things, for example, our Parliament. The people across the water were born into an horrific industrial scene in which they were downtrodden and the terrible enmity and hatred is still to be seen over there. The same was not the case here, although unfortunately we inherited some of their practices. I hope we will move towards a much more enlightened industrial relations scene.

Much more information is required from management. If things are going badly, workers should be informed well in advance. They may not be able to do much about it but they may be able to do something and may be prepared to make a sacrifice to help the industry before the inevitable happens. If the industry is going well and profits are high, the workers should also be told. Reinvestment in industry is important. Shareholders who put in a few bob must also get a few bob. The employee is entitled to his share because he is as much a partner in the industry as the person who made the investment or the management. He gets his weekly or fortnightly wage and that is his repayment from the industry but it is not enough in good times. If we took the approach of profit sharing or payment to workers on the basis of profits it would be a better approach. People could then accept when times are bad that cutbacks may have to be made or staff laid off because of changing circumstances. If there was more dialogue and more information available that would be the case and people would not walk up to a factory to find it closed overnight. That must be a traumatic experience for people who have given their lifetime to a firm.

There is a lot of good in this Bill and it must be given an opportunity to work. I have no doubt the commission will be successful and will bring the kind of enlightenment that is needed. I would like to see reports from the commission from time to time and these reports circulated to the trade union movement and employers' organisations so that they can see the latest developments within the whole industry. I welcome the Bill and wish it success. We all want to see industrial harmony and that can be brought about only by an enlightened workforce and an enlightened management. The commission might play a rôle in that regard.

I would like to compliment the trade union movement for the very responsible way in which they have made agreements and kept those agreements. That was necessary. Despite all the talk about how good the economy is, it is not good. It is still very shaky. I am not making a political point but everybody knows we are debt-ridden, interest rates are far too high and so on. There are problems in our society and that is why we need trade unions but I am all for individual bargaining within industry. I am nervous of centralisation because it is bad and a malaise sets in. There is no point in waiting for something to fail. We should try to do something before that happens. We all tend to think that if something works once we should try it again and hope it will work again but there comes a day when it does not work and that is when the turmoil sets in. All I am saying is, let us not be like that. Let us take the enlightened view. We are all human beings and there is always a temptation to take the easy way out but I would not like to see that happen. Our approach to industrial relations has been successful but we cannot expect trade unions to deliver all the time. God knows, the last agreement was a good one. However, the remuneration and standard of living of members have dropped. They have accepted that in a patriotic way and we should commend them for doing so but we cannot lean on them all the time. It is not possible to preach two messages, that the economy is going great, that we are doing well and then ask the workers to accept a reduction in their standard of living. The Government cannot get away with such a policy. They must be careful.

I wish the Bill well and I have no doubt that its provisions will prove successful. It will not be the last Bill on industrial relations. In fact, we should be looking at such legislation from time to time. I do not think we require a lot of legislation on industrial relations. What is needed is a little vision, education and patriotism. We want people to work together. We do not want a "them" and "us" attitude. We must foster togetherness. If we have that frame of mind the country will prosper on the industrial relations scene.

Deputy O'Brien referred to the economy and I am pleased to be able to say that it is going very well. However, there is a phenomenon in regard to it. The economy may be progressing but it is not producing the jobs at a rate we would like. I am sure the Minister for Labour is aware of that and is working feverishly to correct it. I should like to congratulate the Minister on the introduction of the Bill which has been long awaited by the social partners. Its roots extend back to the last decade. There are none in the House who could not accept that the Bill is a result of much necessary study and deliberation by the Minister and his Department over a long period. That was necessary in order to ensure that the right balance was obtained in terms of the reform of the labour law proposed in it.

I am aware that the Minister has received many submissions from all sides in regard to the provisions in the Bill and that the debate in private and in public was an essential part of the process, a democratic process, before he brought his final proposals to the House. We have had much time to deliberate on the type of reforms necessary in labour law and, in particular, the trade disputes law since the publication of the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Industrial Relations was published in 1981. That report recommended a new system of industrial relations highly regulated by law and operating within a new institutional framework.

I believe that while we have certainly moved a considerable distance from the concept of voluntarism in industrial relations it is very unwise to do any more than is absolutely essential to regulate by law the relationships between employers and workers and their trade unions.

We know, for example, that the Employment Appeals Tribunal was originally intended as an informal forum for the resolution of disputes on redundancy and dismissal cases but that the impact of the Unfair Dismissals Act in particular has resulted in a highly legalistic framework being established and the proceedings today are, for the most part, dominated by solicitors and barristers representing both sides. In hindsight such developments were inevitable when the Act provided for the application of the rules of evidence as would apply in any court of law.

I merely point to this by way of illustration as to the consequences, perhaps unforeseen, which can result from the application of legal frameworks to the industrial relations process. I think, therefore, that the Minister has been absolutely correct to deliberate long and hard on the degree of change necessary at this point in time.

It is also true to say that times change and circumstances change. What might have been perceived as necessary in 1981 by some parties need not necessarily be true today and I think that the contribution of all sides to achieving a more harmonious industrial relations environment during the eighties deserves great credit. That the number of man-days lost today through industrial action bears no relationship to that of days gone by, is indicative of the progress and endeavours achieved by all sides.

The Bill is more the fruits of the discussion begun in 1984 through the publication by the Department of Labour of their discussion document on industrial relations reform and subsequent action by the Minister to obtain the views of interested parties and the general discussion which developed from his action. The Minister will gladly admit that in a true industrial relations spirit he has attempted to achieve a balance between the various views and ultimately has decided on what he sees as the minimum and essential steps necessary to redress what the discussion document referred to as, "the acknowledged deficiencies in our industrial relations arrangements".

The Bill, I am certain, will generate much constructive discussion within this House on both of its two principal areas of reform, that is, in the area of trades dispute law and in reform of the institutional arrangements for dealing with industrial relations issues. In both areas there is much debate as to the appropriateness of the proposals, on whether they go far enough or too far, and on whether one institution is adequately linked with another and so on. I hope I can contribute constructively to that discussion in regard to both areas.

The Minister, in the Second Schedule, has repealed the entire Trades Dispute Act, 1906, while re-enacting and modifying many of its provisions in regard to immunities. All will be glad to see the improvement in the situation which applied under this Act and particularly in the extension of the immunities to cover all stages of the legal process, thereby minimising the necessity for courts to interpret the boundaries of lawful industrial action.

The principal effect of section 8, through its definition of "trade dispute", is to ensure that disputes between workers will not be regarded as a dispute to which the immunities will apply. I welcome this change, as I am sure all do. I would presume that where a dispute is considered to be between a trade union and an employer, as distinct from workers and employers, that definition would embrace such a dispute.

It would appear to follow from the wording of section 11 where workers are perceived to be acting, "on behalf of a trade union", that such a situation would constitute a trade dispute. In order that no unnecessary misinterpretation occurs, I would be glad if the Minister would clarify this point and consider whether the definition requires any further elaboration. In regard to section 9, I am particularly pleased that the Minister has included references to normal or agreed procedures availed of in the resolution of individual grievances and that the benefits of sections 10, 11 and 12, are not available where such procedures have not been resorted to and exhausted.

I believe that today it is unacceptable that normal grievance and disciplinary procedures are not in place in all places of employment. I know that this provision follows a guideline established by the Employment Appeals Tribunal for many years and I would like to think it is possible to go further at some stage in insisting that such procedures are adopted by employers and workers, much the same as there is now a requirement for safety statements and procedures. I know that the Labour Relations Commission will have a proactive role in developing codes of practice and I certainly hope that a minimum standard procedure will come out of those guidelines which would operate as a fail-safe mechanism in the event of no procedures being voluntarily adopted.

There is an area here, however, within the procedures adopted in the event of a dispute arising on dismissals which I would like to address to the Minister. I know that many have held the view for some time that such procedures should only have ultimate recourse to the Employment Appeals Tribunal and not, as it currently stands, to the Labour Court or now to the Labour Relations Commission, as an alternative road.

Since this Bill specifically refers to procedures adopted in the event of dismissals in section 9 (2), it would seem appropriate to confine those procedures to one avenue which, under the Unfair Dismissals Act, 1977, has a six months time frame. Notwithstanding my references earlier to the legalistic framework of the tribunal, I think that a significant amount of case law has emerged which enables both parties to apply generally accepted principles to the resolution of disputes in this area. It must inevitably occur, however, that when such disputes are referred to the Labour Court — now there is no time frame and there is not necessarily adherence to the Unfair Dismissals Act, or case law established by the tribunal — inconsistencies arise. I would ask the Minister if he would address this issue in the context of the role of the Labour Court resulting from those provisions and consider whether it is now opportune to deal with this matter. I think it would certainly assist in the interpretation of section 9 (2) and the exhaustion of normal procedures required by that section.

Section 11 contains a much welcome provision to restrict picketing to the place where the employer works or carries on business, and makes it unlawful to picket a person's home where the home is not used to carry on business. This is a very necessary provision and one which I welcome. The secondary picketing provision in section 11 (2) imposes a liability on those picketing to a reasonable belief that another employer has acted in a way calculated to frustrate the strike or other industrial action by directly assisting their employer who is a party to the trade dispute. There is quite a distinction, as the House is aware, between "belief" and "belief that is reasonable" and this requirement and distinction are necessary. It will, I hope, cause the extension of picketing to the places of work of other employers to be justified only on objective grounds and thereby reduce the potential for unjustified or malicious secondary picketing.

I know that many employers would like to see this country following the road of others in making secondary picketing unlawful but I do not agree that we have reasonable grounds to do so. There are surely circumstances in which a legitimate industrial action can be frustrated by the combined efforts of two employers and if another employer chooses to enter the action, so to speak, then I believe, and I hope reasonably, that that employer may become a target for picketing within the framework of the provisions of this Bill.

While I fully understand the intentions of the Minister in section 11 (3) to safeguard actions taken by a health services employer to maintain life preserving services during a strike or other industrial action, I am concerned that similar actions by other public authorities or utility organisations supplying essential services are not covered by this provision. There are circumstances in which the supply of electricity, water, gas, transport, etc., can contribute to safeguarding life in a very direct way.

I know the Minister must walk a fine line here so as not to deprive a whole section of the working community of the ability to take lawful industrial action which could not always be frustrated by such a provision. I think, however, there must be a case to consider some framework in which there is a stipulation of minimal services required to ensure the supply of those services thought necessary to safeguard life.

I have to say I am also concerned that there are services which are necessary to maintain the employment or services to those not connected in any way with a particular industrial action and that there are resources in the hands of certain categories of public employees which give to them inordinate power to disrupt the community and economic activity in furtherance of industrial action. Again I recognise the fine line which the Minister walks here and if he considers it is not possible to address this matter in legislation, I hope it is possible to achieve an alternative route which would approach a balance between the legitimate rights of workers and of the community at large. Perhaps this is a matter which could be high on the agenda of the new commission and the list of codes of practice which could be agreed between the parties involved.

Section 14 (2) contains a provision that within two years of the passing of this Bill all trade unions are required to have provisions in their rule books requiring a secret ballot to be held before taking industrial action and gives discretion in subsection 14 (2) (c) to the committee of management of the trade union to decide on whether to support industrial action notwithstanding a majority ballot in favour of industrial action.

I think that this is also a necessary provision which merely ensures a democratic process within the operations of trade unions and ensures that wildcat strikes cannot proliferate and that the majority voice of trade union members is heard clearly by the committee of management of the trade union. I know that this may appear to trade unions as interference in their private affairs but it is an example of the balance which the Minister is striving to achieve a better industrial relations environment. I, therefore, welcome this provision and believe it is a progressive step.

I would like the Minister to clarify for me, however, how this section links up with a definition of place of employment. I have in mind workers within an organisation which has many outposts, offices, stores, shops, etc., which are relatively or semi-independent of each other and where industrial action might be proposed at only one or some of these places. Is it only the workers employed at that place or places who can vote, and how will the inter-relationships be determined in that decision? Perhaps this matter is covered in the interpretations of a combination of various Acts but I would be glad to understand how that area will work.

In similar vein I would be glad if the Minister would clarify the restriction of immunities contained in section 17. I presume that the immunities do apply to action taken by workers where the majority of workers have voted in secret ballot to support industrial action but also where the committee of management of the trade union have decided under section 14 (2) (c) not to support that action. That is how I read it and it would help me if the Minister would confirm my understanding.

I am very glad to see the provisions of section 19 before this House as I know that the whole issue of ex parte injunctions has dogged the industrial relations environment for many years. They cannot now be given where trade unions carry out a secret ballot and give one week's notice to an employer of its intention to take industrial action following a majority vote in favour of that action. The balance struck here by the Minister is very welcome and I know that he has had to strike a balance between conflicting views on this thorny subject. This section as much as any other imposes an obligation for reasonable action on both sides and strongly encourages dialogue before action is taken by either party, which can only be in everyone's interest.

I also congratulate the Minister on the additional measures provided for in relation to the amalgamation of trade unions and I believe the House fully supports any and every action taken to encourage a reduction in the number of trade unions and any proliferation of small unions. The formation of SIPTU is an example to other unions and if I have no other opportunity to do so I would like to offer my congratulations to that new union, or should I say re-union, and to wish them every success in maintaining the significant contributions which both parts have made to industrial relations life and national progress over many years.

In turning to the provisions relating to reform in the industrial relations institutions, beginning at section 24 which establishes a labour relations commission, I believe, in so far as it is possible to envision the operations of these new and reconstituted bodies, that the total effect of all the provisions of this Part of the Bill will be to greatly improve the facilities for workers, trade unions and employers to obtain assistance, direction and guidance in promoting harmonious industrial relations. Ultimately, as in all situations, there has to be a facility for a body to make a final decision, and that role has been given to the Labour Court.

While there may be much debate on the attachment of certain services to the commission rather than to the court, there is an obligation on the part of both bodies to set about ensuring that the intentions of this Bill are fulfilled to their fullest extent and that the full weight of the services now provided for are used extensively for the promotion of better industrial relations arrangements. I am certain that both the commission and the court will more than adequately fulfil their new roles. The existing roles of the court, their conciliation service and the Rights Commissioners have contributed enormously to the service of workers and employers. I know that for the most part the value of their services are relatively unknown except to those involved or interested in these matters. I would, therefore, like to pay tribute to these services and to the equality officers for the tremendous work they have undertaken and for their very significant contribution to the promotion of good industrial relations practices and in the resolution of disputes.

Given the significance of this role, particularly the role of the conciliation and equality officers, I hope that the commission will attach a high level of importance to the selection and training of these officers and to ensure that the quality of service provided will be maintained and enhanced. The qualities of these officers is well known and highly regarded by all those in the industrial relations world. They have ensured that all parties are secure in the knowledge of receiving a professional and knowledgeable service. In like manner, I am pleased that the Minister, under section 34, will rely only on the advice of the commission in the appointment of a Rights Commissioner. This will also help to ensure the application of professional standards and knowledge to all activities within this sphere.

I referred earlier to codes of practice. This is one of the most important new contributions which this Bill provides. In time the proliferation of these codes into accepted norms of practice and guidelines will bring about a confidence in the relationship between employers and workers and help to reduce uncertainty or misunderstandings arising unnecessarily from the absence of a specific code. I know that any organisation which have, for example, a disciplinary and grievance procedure, have a far greater chance of avoiding industrial action or disputes when there are set and exhaustive procedures for addressing the issues in such disputes. It is necessary to ensure that those who do not have such procedures are encouraged and facilitated in the preparation of such agreements. That will be a very important role for the commission.

Finally, I would again like to congratulate the Minister on the introduction of this Bill which is a major development in the industrial relations arena. I am certain it will lead to significant benefits to employers, workers and trade unions and thereby to the economy and to the preservation and generation of employment in this country.

Our spokesman on Labour, Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan, has placed on the record the Labour Party's welcome in broad terms for the concept of this Bill. He also expressed some reservations about it and indicated our intention to put down amendments on Committee Stage.

The Labour Party, in consultation with the trade union movement, have examined the concept of what the Minister is trying to do in the Industrial Relations Bill, 1989. The main purpose of the Bill is to bring about a better framework for collective bargaining and dispute settlement by making a number of important changes in trade union law and in industrial relations law generally. These changes will tighten and clarify the law in relation to picketing, especially secondary picketing; it will build on existing good practice in the area of pre-strike secret ballots by providing that unions must have a rule in their rule books requiring the holding of such ballots; it will regulate the granting of injunctions, particularly ex-parte injunctions, in trade union disputes; and it will facilitate further rationalisation of the trade union movement.

Speakers on all sides have referred to the general welcome for the rationalisation of the trade union movement. This rationalisation had been advocated for a number of years. The trade union movement took on this challenge which recently culminated in the establishment of the new union, SIPTU, of which I am proud to be a member.

The Bill deals also with the establishment of the new Labour Relations Commission which will have general responsibility for the promotion of good industrial relations. The commission will encourage and facilitate a more active approach to dispute prevention and resolution. As a result, the original purpose and status of Labour Court investigation and recommendations will be restored.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on bringing it before the House. The Bill fundamentally preserves the right enshrined in the 1906 Act, that is the right of people to strike without legal action being taken against the trade union movement. Attempts have often been made to deny people in a free society this right. When we look at the toppling of the Berlin Wall and the democratisation of eastern Europe countries, where trade unions were forbidden to operate, we must recognise that people have certain rights, and one of them is the right to work. This right to work is enshrined in our Constitution, but this Government and their predecessors have often ignored it and have made relatively little progress in improving the chances for people to work. However, it is also enshrined in law, even going back to old British law, that people have a right to strike.

This right is operated by trade unions and their members with caution because the people picketing on public roadways, occupying factories or fighting for their rights in any dispute in the industrial area, are always the first to suffer. It is appropriate that law should express this right as a constitutional right and people should not be denied this right under any legislation or law which may be passed by the Oireachtas. We condemn other administrations when they forbid people the right to assemble in groups to discuss politics or industrial relations. These rights have been forbidden to the people in Eastern Europe for 70 years and this has probably led to discontent among those people and to the toppling of the Communist system.

Workers in this country have always a responsibility in the area of employment. This responsibility has been recognised by the present Minister and by previous Ministers. In industrial disputes where life and limb may have been in danger, provision has always been made for skeleton staff to provide hospital, electricity and other important services. There has always been this responsibility from the trade union movement in this area. Pressure was brought to bear on the Minister which, thankfully, he resisted. Any attempt to interfere with that right would have met with widespread discontent among the workforce. I want to put on the record this evening our appreciation of the efforts the present Minister has put into difficult areas which, at times, were beyond the possibility of settlement under normal trade union negotiations. The present Minister has been prepared to make himself available where difficulties arose and has often done so at the request of Members of the Oireachtas and people with trade union backgrounds who knew that he had a certain degree of confidence in the workers and in the people who were in dispute with each other and could use that to bring about a settlement of a difficult situation. The officers in the Minister's Department and in the Labour Court have always been available and willing to assist anybody who had difficulties. We inherited the 1906 Act from the British, from a liberal administration at the time. This Bill preserves that spirit and eliminates the possibility of legal action being taken.

Let us consider what is happening to the trade union movement in Britain under a Tory Government. We see daily the diminution of the influence and the power of the trade union movement in Britain to represent their members to such an extent that when there are employees in Britain working for Irish companies, like the off-shoot of Barlos, the trade union movement in Britain are unable to negotiate terms equivalent to some of the terms agreed between the employers and employees in Clonmel in Barlo Limited. It is extraordinary that this difference of opinion between what was available to employees in Britain and those in Ireland has been the cause of a dispute. This difference of opinion has led to the closure of a major enterprise in the town of Clonmel putting 156 people out of work, causing widespread disruption of the economic development of that company and creating devastation in the families of all the workers concerned. If the commission that the Minister is setting up under this legislation could be helpful in this type of industrial dispute that has gone on since last October and over the Christmas period, certainly we would be making major progress in the area of industrial relations. There we had a trade union who had negotiated certain rights for their workers, had agreed to redundancies, rationalisation, pay freezes, had agreed to the company going public to ensure their viability and who expressed a concern but all that did not stop the company from setting up in mainland Britain. Now they have expanded their enterprise in England and have allowed the Irish company in Clonmel to totter and decay. In spite of all our best efforts, and I include in that the Minister, the officials, the labour force, the trade unions and, at times, the employers, we have now on offer a phased return to work of half the workforce, six of them and two fitters to be employed immediately, 25 in May, 20 more in June and 20 more in October if all goes well, and no guarantee about any of the rest of the jobs except redundancies. They also say that they will eliminate all the other allowances that had been agreed in the past, such as welding differentials, machine minders' allowances, service pay, sick day and Christmas bonuses, and that there will be no further wage increases until 1 April 1991 which, effectively, is a three-year wage freeze. These are the kinds of things that are now being offered by employers; they are following the example of English employers, a sort of bullishness in clipping the wings of trade unions and curtailing their right to represent their members. Because of the influence of the Tory Government in Britain the English trade union movement has been reduced to that extent.

It is appropriate that any legislation we implement here should take into account the problems faced by workers in an economy which is reported by everybody to be improving, to be on the up-turn, to be booming and blooming. There is relatively little of this affluence, however, being reflected back onto workers or their families. This is the difficulty facing trade unions here at the moment. In spite of this economic up-turn it is obvious to anybody reading the terms of the Programme for National Recovery, which the unions agreed they would continue with because they had an argreement for the next ten months, that there was an attitude, even in the trade union movement to allow the Government and employers to set about creating an up-turn in the economy in the belief that this would be reflected in improved conditions for those who made the sacrifices initially and in the creation of jobs for those who did not have jobs, for the unemployed who do not have allowances, for the sick who do not have a health service and for those who were emigrating because they saw no future in this country. That was the Programme for National Recovery and that is why the trade unions agreed with it. That is why they sat down with the Government in a responsible way. I suppose it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that when the programme comes up for renewal they will also be responsible, but the Minister and everybody else must realise how difficult it will be to get another group of trade union representatives to sit down and discuss and promote a further programme that would not reflect the benefits they hoped would flow from the previous programme.

A major document was presented at Dublin Castle last week by the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and Industrial Policy of the European Parliament, a summary of the presentation on the Irish economy. The Government must realise the importance of good industrial relations, the importance of structures to ensure that the good work of the Labour Court is not interfered with. We have 1,090,000 people at work of whom 50,000 are employers, 185,000 self-employed, and 850,000 are employees of whom 200,000 are in the public service and 650,000 in the private sector. There are that many people trying to generate an income for their own benefit as well as for that of the community as a whole, and they need to ensure that they are not discriminated against in any way by an employer, multinational or national. Those employees produce, in the various sectors, an 11 per cent output in agriculture with 15 per cent employed; 37 per cent output in industry with 28 per cent employed; and 52 per cent of the total workforce involved in the service industries representing 57 per cent of the total number of people employed. That is an indication of the importance of legislation in the area of trade unions and the rights of working people.

Unemployment is another dimension of the Programme for National Recovery. A total of 16.8 per cent of our people are unemployed. Tragically, 23 per cent of those unemployed are young people and if we do not give them some hope we will lose them to America, Australia, mainland Europe and the UK. It is important to be progressive in our legislation.

I know the work which has gone into the preparation of this legislation and the time which has been spent discussing it with the employers, employees, the Irish Management Institute and others. The Minister has got the balance about right in an area for which it is difficult to legislate.

Everybody accepts that there should not be a strike unless there is a secret ballot. The Bill goes somewhat further and that worries us. Balloting is democracy in essence but if it is brought down to secondary action it could be extremely cumbersome and cause difficulty where it might not be possible to have a secret ballot. Maybe the Minister wants to ensure that no such action would take place and to defer the action until a ballot could be held. If that is his reasoning, we are prepared to listen.

It is obvious that the commission will only be successful if properly funded by Government and if the proper industrial relations staff are employed from the outside the existing industrial relations machinery. Nobody wants to remove the expertise already in place in the Labour Court structure or in the Rights Commissioner's office. The staff in these offices are doing an excellent job and should not be removed. The Labour Court must be allowed to retain its right under the 1946 and 1969 Acts to intervene in a major dispute if it so decides, even if it has not had a report from the Labour Relations Commission which is envisaged under this legislation. A major dispute involving a threat to national energy, transport or communications services should also be included.

The Minister, as President of the Council of Ministers with responsibility in the area of social legislation emanating from the Community, should be more vociferous in all his meetings with Ministers from other countries, particularly with the British Minister who has apparently stymied the Social Charter. In the referendum on the Single European Act we accepted that there would be a programme of social action, as well as economic and monetary union, equalisation of taxes and the free movement of peoples. I learned recently with dismay in discussions with the Commission and Members of the European Parliament that most of their proposals have been rejected by the Council of Ministers. We are now down to about ten directives in the social area and we are also told that very few of these will be legally binding on any member state. That would mean that smaller nations like ourselves could be disadvantaged. I have some confidence that we could look to the Minister in the whole area of the Social Charter and the programme for action arising from it and that he will not be found wanting in regard to legislation on the rights of workers. If the Social Charter is allowed to diminish into aspirations or declarations, relatively little will happen in the area of legislation to protect anybody. Low-paid workers are identified as a cause of concern.

There is widespread belief within Europe that when the word "citizen" was removed from the charter the poor, the underprivileged and the sick had been forgotten by Europe because this means that any action programme arising from the Social Charter will address the concerns of employees only. The Labour Party made a submission to the Irish Presidency about this. We stated the Irish Presidency could mean either a lot or very little in this area. It could mean a lot if Irish Ministers would take the lead in showing that we are serious about the Social Charter.

We are part of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament. This is the largest group, whereas the Minister's group is a nonentity. Our group have political clout in the Parliament and in the Commission to spur the Council of Ministers into action in this area. The Social Charter as agreed between the European heads of Government is a grave disappointment to us in the Labour Party. If the Industrial Relations Commission is not in operation and if the Social Charter is to be continually diminished we could have industrial unrest not only in Ireland but throughout Europe.

We have already submitted our specific proposals in this area. We hope that during his Presidency the Minister will address the action programme. I understand that the special commission that the Minister is setting up will probably consider the questions of minimum pay, employment, remuneration, the improvement of living standards and working conditions, the free movement of workers from one country to another, the right of workers to association and collective bargaining, their entitlement to information, consultation, participation and equal treatment, vocational training, health and safety at work, the protection of children and adolescents who are dependent on working people. We must not forget the elderly and the disabled who are dependent on those who are working. In introducing its programme, the Commission pointed out some of its achievements in trying to bring about this social dimension but, as I have said, the Council of Ministers have got their hands on it and as a result some of the legislation that would improve the conditions of workers is a long way down the road. We are calling on the Minister not to lose any opportunities in this most important area for this small, influential, neutral country which has a good record of industrial relations and I think also has a good Minister for Labour. I ask the Minister to try to convince and change the minds of more conservative Ministers for Labour on industrial relations, but if the Minister fails it will mean that the new commission will have to work day and night to try to overcome some of the problems that may arise if we do not have equal rights for all people throughout Europe.

If we compare the living standards of different countries in Europe and express average income in dollars, as 85 per cent of the world's trade is done in dollars, in Denmark they have approximately $20,000; Germany $18,500, the United Kingdom $12,000 while in Ireland it is $8,500. We have some way to go to make up this gap. Industry will have problems because we are on the periphery. In fact, when Britain completes the connecting link of the Channel tunnel to the Continent we will be the only country in Europe without immediate access to the marketplace. We will still be a day behind everybody else. Even taking into account the Structural Funds that will flow to us we will not be able to address our industrial problems. If employers have problems, likewise their employees will have problems. The Barlo company is a typical example of what can and will happen other industries who may find it more beneficial to leave Ireland and set up in mainland Europe. The Department of Industry and Commerce and the IDA must address this problem. The Minister for Labour who is responsible for the 850,000 workers will have to ensure that their livelihood and future is protected and that they have the constitutional right to work within Ireland and that they do not have to emigrate to follow their employers. It is a reverse of our industrial policy of tax incentives, corporation tax, and repatriation of profits, if we allow industrialists in this country the benefit of relocating in England. We have responsibility to them as employers and if their future is protected their employees' future will also be protected.

The trade union movement have been a responsible body. They have not their head in the sand and they are prepared to sit down, negotiate terms and stick by them. If this proposal to set up a new type of commission is successful and addresses some of these problems, without disturbing the important role of the Labour Court and its institutions, whose work in the past we appreciate, this agency with proper funding and staffing can make a useful contribution and can be seen to be progressive.

The Minister will know that many major reforms in labour legislation only took place when the Labour Party were in Government as in 1973-77 and in the eighties. We were instrumental in bringing in legislation to protect the rights of employees when employers became insolvent. We brought in legislation retrospectively because some employees would have lost their pension rights to which they had contributed. We have been as progressive as possible in the area of labour law and industrial relations. I wish the Minister luck in his attempt to continue that legislative programme that will bring our workers and their representatives into the nineties. We cannot remain with British law of the 1900s and consider ourselves progressive. The sands of time are moving under all of us and 1992 will be the time of the quick-sands. If we are unable to compete and adjust to 1992 it is obvious we will miss the boat. The only way we can transport goods by container to the European market is by boat, so the Irish Sea is very important. We need to address the problem of still having to cross the sea while everybody else will be able to get to the market the day before us. We want to ensure that the trade unions, workers employers, Government and everybody else concerned are adjusted to what will be difficult times for all of us. If we are not positive in areas of legislation such as this, we will have done a disservice to those who elected us, to those whom we represent and indeed to the Minister in the House who has achieved a fine balance in preparing this legislation.

If the legislation had gone one way or the other there would have been dissatisfaction; indeed the employers may be a little bit dissatisfied. I think that is natural but if the 55,000 employers and the 185,000 self-employed are balanced against the number of people working, that is 850,000, there should be a discrimination in favour of the workers who in difficult times acted responsibly and the least they can expect is to share in some of the wealth created and in the improvement in the economy in better times. I think the Government will take that into account in setting up and staffing the industrial relations committee. I wish it well. We will be tabling some amendments as has been outlined by Deputy T. O'Sullivan. However, we will act responsibly, and I hope the Minister will respond positively to any suggestions that we may make in the very important area of labour relations.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo fé mar a chuir an chuid is mó de na cainteoirí a labhair cheana.

Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go mbeadh cothrom na Féinne ag gach éinne in ionaid oibre agus táim cinnte go ndéan-faidh an Bille seo tréan-iarracht ar dheachrachtaí a chur ar leataobh. Os rud é go gcaitheann formhór na ndaoine an chuid is mó dá saol ag obair, tá sé riachtanach go mbeadh saol saor ó chruatas acu. Sa tslí chéanna tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh saol tairbheach ag na fostóirí atá ag cur postanna ar fáil do na daoine sin.

Before I go on to deal with my observations on the Bill. I assure the Minister he is fortunate to be a Minister in 1990 rather than in 1878. Through the courtesy of an absentminded colleague I have in front of me the public General Acts passed in the 41st and 42nd years of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria which I have been reading while listening to the debate. I wonder if the Labour Relations Commission could perhaps consider whether the Second Stage of Bills should go on for as long as they do, and I am not casting aspersions on the last speaker. The procedure for dealing with Second Stage of Bills here is due for an overhaul and perhaps the commission would consider proposing 15 minutes to 20 minutes per speaker and after that imposing a surcharge. Anyway, reading through the volume before me I found that in relation to child employment the Factory and Workshops Act, 1878, says at section 14, paragraph (5.):

(5.) When a child is employed on the alternate day system—

(a.) The period of employment for such child shall, except on Saturday, either begin at six o'clock in the morning and end at six o'clock in the evening, or begin at seven o'clock in the morning and end at seven o'clock in the evening; and

The Act goes on further to define a child as being a person under the age of 14, except in Ireland where they make an exception in that a child can be under ten, and they include a clause that a nine-year-old can be regarded as a ten-year-old. We could accept that as being a compliment and that Irish boys were tough men when they were children, but it is amazing what has happened to improve things since.

This Act goes on further at section 22 in relation to holidays to say that the occupier of a factory will give:

(1.) The whole of Christmas Day, and the whole either of Good Friday or, if it is so specified by the occupier in the notice affixed in the factory or workshop, of the next public holiday under the Holidays Extension Act, 1875; and in addition.

(2.) Eight half holidays in every year, but a whole holiday may be allowed in lieu of any two such half holidays; and

(3.) At least half of the said half holidays or whole holidays shall be allowed between the fifteenth day of March and the first day of October in every year; and

What really caught my eye in this Act is where it says at section 56:

The regulations of this Act with respect to the employment of young persons and women shall not prevent the employment, in the factories and workshops and parts thereof to which this exception applies, of women during a period of employment beginning at six o'clock in the morning and ending at eight o'clock in the evening, or beginning at seven o'clock in the morning and ending at nine o'clock in the evening, if they are employed in accordance with the following conditions; namely,

(1.) There shall be allowed to every such woman for meals during the period of employment not less than two hours, of which half an hour shall be after five o'clock in the evening; and

That was very kind of them as I suppose some of them could have dropped dead at the workplace. We have come a long way since then and it is good that we are living in 1990.

They would have thanked me had I negotiated a 39 hour week for them then.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): They would have thanked you for anything.

Now I got a 39-hour week for everybody and nobody says thanks; they say it is ten hours too long.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): The Minister is not dealing with machinery without covers and so on, so there are many things the Minister can be thankful for. It is important to have good relations in the workplace, it is important for both the workers and the employers whose money is invested in the enterprise. Good relations make life happy for all concerned, just as bad relations make life a hell for those involved. For that reason I very much welcome the setting up of the Labour Relations Commission whose main work will be to promote good industrial relations by encouraging a more active approach to the prevention of disputes, their resolution and drawing up codes of practice. Prevention is better than cure, no more so than when we talk about industrial relations. It is far better to prevent a strike than to solve one.

In the past, strikes often took place because reasonable discussion could not take place and the strike weapon was all that was left. Sometimes strike action was adopted too quickly by workers but there were faults on all sides. The Labour Relations Commission will play a leading role in setting a better tone in the work-place.

The number of strikes here reached the lowest point in 1989 since statistics began in 1922 and the Minister has played his role in that. That is good and perhaps the fact that the number of unions decreased from 95 in 1970 to 69 today helped in this improvement. I am glad there has been a decrease in the number of unions. This will add to sanity in the workplace.

The figures given of the breakdown in union membership are revealing, showing that 18 unions have fewer than 500 members each. Worse still, as many as 51 unions represent only 15 per cent of the workforce. While we do not want a monster trade union with too much power, for the sake of service to members and to avoid rivalry, we should welcome the amalgamation of smaller unions.

I am glad the Minister has dealt with the 1906 Act. As a member of the INTO in other years I found this Act one of the sticking points where they were concerned. I am glad the teacher unions are also planning amalgamation. It was absurd that a group of people involved with education, although in different sectors, should be categorised even in the Department in separate boxes with no continuity between the sections. For example, at primary level we have a child-centred curriculum but there is no continuation into secondary level. The same holds for the unions there. We had the INTO dealing with primary level and the ASTI and the TUI dealing with secondary level and so on. It is a pity so many years were spent in rivalry, wasting time when the unions dealing with education should be together. I welcome the amalgamation proposal and hope it comes to fruition later this year. The amalgamation will benefit union members, the Department of Education and students at all levels. It would be nice to see the university people coming in as well, as they often dictate what is happening in education.

I welcome the introduction of the secret ballot. This may help to get a calmer decision in the event of a strike. Open voting can compel the weak-willed to fall into line against their better judgment. All one has to do to know that is watch open air meetings on television where people are brow-beaten into accepting the will of the speaker. Everybody has a view and they should stick to it but often it is not so easy in a public session. For that reason I welcome the secret ballot.

The additional power that will be given to the unions if they amalgamate and become very strong will have to be handled carefully. In the present climate of sensible industrial relations I do not see the need to worry too much about that. It would be a pity if the strengthening of the trade unions led to disputes.

We are facing a new Europe with eastern Europe changing and Germany coming together. We will have more competition and our goods will have to compete pricewise and in quality. Anything this Bill can do to help people produce better goods and be more competitive is welcome. We need the best because, is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine agus is ár scáth a chéile a mhaireann lucht gnó na tíre seo.

I should like to spend a little time examining the background to the presentation of the Bill and to enumerate our priorities which would put it in a different perspective. For example, the national consensus has been very unfair to certain categories of employees. Some people, through their daily work, create relatively large wealth but, because of the consensus, they do not share in it.

The Bill contains quite a number of good provisions but the inability to share in wealth creates unhappiness and discontent in some quarters. Workers have lost heart and feel discriminated against because they do not share in the wealth they have created. How often do we meet people who carefully assess their income to make sure that they will not move into a higher tax band? At present people who move from the 30 per cent band to the 48 per cent band get a terrible shock when they receive less than 50 per cent of their income. How often do we meet people who say that they refuse to do overtime because it is not worth anything to them? Those examples give an indication of the desperate problems in the economy, when it is not worth a person's while to go to work. These problems should be given priority.

Are we aware of the lack of competitiveness across the economy which adds about 20 per cent to the cost of the products in our shops? The costs involved in telephones, postage, electricity and transport — and indeed the way we carry out our business generally—are all terribly out of line and attacking them would make the best possible contribution to labour relations.

Another priority should be to trap the innovative instincts of our youth because every day we are losing their wonderful energy and the challenge to the status quo, which are their hallmarks. We are losing these people in huge proportions to those left behind and, as a result, our economy is showing signs of stagnation.

The improvement in productivity and the export boom have largely taken place on the backs of our poorly paid workforce. Indeed, that is my experience. I am sure the Minister is aware that many of our people work for paltry wages and some of them would prefer the dole queue—and indeed opt for it because it gives a better return. It is shameful that this is the case but luckily, many workers prefer a day's work to the dole queue. Sadly, however, many of these people are very badly treated. It is a dreadful situation and has led to the poverty trap. When there is no reward for work it is time to think of solutions and putting this right is the best contribution we can make to labour relations. My experience is that the imbalance in the economy and the number of people unemployed have led to the diminution of wages to a level which is unbelievable. One could say that it is Victorian, as mentioned by Deputy Browne. One can really blame the employer because he will buy and sell at the best price he can get, and this is what is happening.

The consensus of the social partners is not helping the people who are at the bottom of the heap. They are suffering most and have the least ability to put the problems right through their own intervention. There is an increasing number of these people and if this Bill succeeds in creating better labour relations it may lead to the creation of more wealth, some of which, I hope, will be channelled in the direction of the people to whom I referred.

I hope that the Minister will redouble his efforts to get his colleagues to address these terrible problems. Many of us feel that the approach up to now has not been innovative enough. Many of us also feel that sections of the economy need to be turned on their heads, but this is not happening. I hope that the Minister, as one of the younger men in the Cabinet, will stop the flood of energy, innovation and challenge to the status quo which is vanishing from our country every day. I also hope that there will be better conditions for people at work.

The Bill promises a number of improvements in the area of labour relations. I have not had an opportunity of going through it in detail, but if it achieves the promotion of harmonious relations between workers and employers it will have made a contribution. The trade union movement will be looking very carefully at the Bill to see if there is a trend towards what happened in England. The trade union ability to defend their workforce was heavily eroded there and the Government decided that they would take on trade unions just to browbeat them. They wanted to create a situation where the economy would improve as a result of the diminution of the protection of the ordinary worker. I hope that no element of that will be included in this legislation. I welcome the Bill. I believe, at a glance, it will offer a contribution to the way workers combine to protect themselves. It will help to create better relations and a more orderly way of dealing with problems as they arise. For that reason we will be watching the Bill with interest as it goes through the House.

The Bill which we are now debating is likely to be the principal legislation which will guide industrial relations and trade unions into the next century. It comes at a time when the consequences of the new technological revolution are having a major impact on the nature and availability of work, when employment and emigration are high and when the balance of bargaining power is already tilted towards the employer.

The Bill is a response for industrial relations reform. In his introduction to the Bill, the Minister claimed that industrial relations are now good, by which I think he meant that industrial relations are quiet, that there is not much evidence of industrial action and that there are very few strikes. However, quiet industrial relations are not necessarily the same as good industrial relations. Industrial relations can be very bad over a long period in an employment where no strike occurs or indeed where the employees are not even members of a trade union. Some of the worst industrial relations which I have seen existed in employment before the staff joined a trade union, where the staff were dissatisfied, where the employer was unsympathetic, perhaps even hostile to their demands, and where there was no vehicle for the expression of their grievances. Some of the worst industrial relations problems in this country have occurred in situations where workers did not necessarily want to go on strike at all but where the normal day-to-day relations between the workers and their employers were so bad that there was an explosion of sorts.

The same can happen when you attempt to control industrial relations by very rigid agreements. Great emphasis has been laid in the course of this debate on the Programme for National Recovery and the desirability of long agreements. My party welcomed the Programme for National Recovery when it was announced because we felt it was a vehicle through which the trade union movement had won significant concessions from Governments, but we would want to be very cautious about our enthusiasm for long agreements. Long agreements may well have the effect of keeping industrial relations quiet but that may not necessarily mean that industrial relations are good, if the agreement has the effect of suppressing demands of workers and suppressing the expression of those demands through collective bargaining.

I think it is fair to say that some of the worst industrial relations problems in this country arose because agreements were too rigid, in come cases pre-employment agreements where workers felt they did not have a say in the agreement, that the terms of it were too restrictive and that it did not allow them to process their grievances. Agreements which do not allow strikes and which do not allow the processing of agreements by workers can often have the very opposite effect to what was intended. Long agreements can simply suppress industrial relations problems to a point where they eventually explode. In my view, good industrial relations are active industrial relations, a relationship between the employer and the employee which is dynamic, which is constantly changing and cannot be wrapped into some kind of package.

The Bill seems to concentrate too much on the resolution of conflict rather than allowing workers to express their rights and allowing for freedom of collective bargaining. I welcome the provisions in the Bill which are aimed at legislating for codes of practice but even within those sections it seems that again the emphasis is on the dispute and the resolution of disputes. In discussing industrial relations, too often we can become too carried away with and concentrate too much on the whole area of strikes.

We have to recognise that the composition of the workforce is changing, that the typical unionisable workforce is no longer the large IDA-style factory perhaps with a pre-employment agreement which allows for a closed shop membership of trade unions or indeed the large public sector employment. Very often these days in the typical employment, particularly if it is a large employer in the new industries, there may well be a certain degree of hostility to trade union organisations either because the employer is taking a very paternalistic approach to the human resource management within the company or because there is overt hostility to the unionisation of the workforce. The same is the case with contract and part-time workers to whose unionisation there has been considerable resistance.

In small employments very often workers are virtually intimidated into not joining a trade union. Some of the worst instances of exploitation of workers occur in small employments and small offices. For example, solicitors' offices feature quite often in the exploitation of workers. Because those employments are small and reasonably intimate it is very difficult for a worker to break out and join a trade union. There is a very intense relationship in those employments which prevent the worker from joining a trade union, expressing their grievance and having it resolved. Those situations do not show up in the strike statistics in the Department of Labour but yet they are examples of poor industrial relations within particular employments.

One of the provisions which is required in an industrial relations Bill is that which enables workers to join a trade union and to process their grievances. Workers have a constitutional right to join a trade union but we have to look at how that right is being protected. The only legislation I can find which upholds the constitutional right of a worker to join a trade union is the Unfair Dismissals Act. In that case, the onus is on the employee to prove that, for example, there is a dismissal for reason of joining a trade union or for trade union activity. That is something which is virtually impossible to prove. It seems there is a need for a provision in this Bill which would make it illegal for an employer to discourage a worker from joining a trade union and that is something on which my party intend to introduce an amendment on Committee Stage.

There should be a positive right built into the new Industrial Relations Bill which would give legislative backing to the constitutional right that already exists for workers to join a trade union. It is a very difficult area. It is one thing to provide complex structures for the resolution of disputes all of which assume that workers are organised in the first place and that there is a relationship between the worker and the employer which will allow for the resolution of the dispute. The pressures that can be put on a worker to prevent him or her joining a trade union can often be very subtle. I have come across cases where workers with many grievances wanted to join a trade union but were simply terrified about doing so in case their employer found out about it. There have been cases where I, as a trade union official, had to take people into membership of the union and virtually guarantee them confidentiality, that their employer would never hear about it and that nobody else would hear about it, so that they would not be got at in any way. That is something which in the interests of good industrial relations will have to be resolved in the Bill.

There is another matter which has to be addressed, the question of employers recognising trade unions. It is all very well to have legislation which deals with the resolution of the conflict at the stage where a strike takes place. Many strikes take place because the employer will not talk to the trade union in the first place. There is a necessity to deal with that problem. If we want good industrial relations there will have to be an obligation on employer and employee to talk to each other. The Bill, and existing industrial relations law, certainly put the onus on the employee to use all the procedures before engaging in a strike. However, there has to be an onus on the employer to deal with the trade union.

I recognise that the failure of many workers to join a trade union is not entirely due to the attitudes of the employers. Some workers have an unbelievably cavalier attitude to their own contracts of employment. Nobody in their right mind would enter into a contract to buy a house without first having the house looked over, having the terms of the contract examined by a solicitor and without getting insurance to ensure that nothing will happen to the house. The same would happen if a person was buying a car and yet daily many workers enter into contracts of employment, sometimes for substantial salaries, without either checking what is involved in the contract of employment, getting some advice on it or taking steps to ensure that the contract of employment is going to be protected. I have come across many cases where workers found themselves with fixed-term contracts of employment and they did not understand, had not read it or sought advice at the time they entered into the contract of employment to realise that there was a concluding date on the contract.

Some workers consider themselves too good to join a trade union. They think the trade union organisation is beneath them. Any worker who does not seriously contemplate joining a trade union at the point where they are taking up employment is very foolish. There is a need to address the question of trade union education, particularly in our schools. I have come across many cases where young workers had the most bizarre impression of what trade unions were all about. Some people when they join a trade union think the first thing that will happen to them is that they will be asked to carry a picket board. They do not have any understanding about the nature of trade union organisation, the nature of its day-to-day work or the nature of the ongoing negotiations that take place between trade unions and employers. That will have to be built into the whole process of education.

The Bill is not extending any new rights to workers although some of its provisions are welcome such as the provision in relation to ex parte injunctions and the provision in relation to codes of practice for conduct of industrial relations. I am concerned that in Part II the rights of workers may well be limited where they find themselves in a dispute. A number of matters concern me about this. First, there is the definition of worker which specifically excludes contracts for service. In the kind of working environment we find ourselves, where the traditional 40-hour week full-time pensionable job for life is no longer as common as it used to be, and where new forms of employment contract are being entered into with many workers entering into contracts for service, to exclude contracts for service in the definition of worker at this stage as we approach a new century needs to be looked at.

The definition of employer is quite worrying. It seems to me that it would preclude a dispute with a previous employer. For example, let us take the case of a dispute in a factory where as a result of that dispute, the factory closes down. Suppose that dispute was about entitlement to work in that factory and the owner of the factory sold the concern to somebody else but the new owner decided he did not want any of the people who were previously employed, it seems to me that under the definition of employer in the Bill those workers would not have the right to pursue a dispute with that employer.

I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but he seems to be going into a lot of detail that should more appropriately be left to the Committee Stage of the Bill.

I am trying to avoid going into detail.

That is not my impression.

It is difficult to deal with the Bill without referring to what is contained in it. I have spent some time dealing in general terms with the state of industrial relations and I have moved on to deal with the provisions of the Bill. I do not intend to overly detain the House on this but I do not think it is possible to address the Bill without referring to what is in it.

The definition of "industrial action" refers to all industrial action. That is significant because later in the Bill where there are provisions for the balloting of members in connection with strikes or industrial action, it refers to all industrial action. That has implications. For example, does that mean that there must be a ballot for a ban on overtime? A company may not have an official requirement for workers to work overtime but over a period of time the practice of overtime working has continued and if the workers decide to withdraw that practice as part of their action will that mean that a ballot will be required? The definition of a strike confines such action to matters relating to conditions of employment. Would the Dunnes Stores strike qualify under that definition? I am sure the lawyers would spend some time debating whether the strike at Dunnes Stores was about apartheid in South Africa or about the condition of work of the employees. We are about to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the great tax marches and I should like to know if this definition of "strike" would cover workers who took industrial action in support of a general trade union demand for tax reform? It seems to me that the courts would have some difficulty defining and dealing with the detail of what is in this Bill.

I am concerned also about picketing. It seems that picketing is to be confined to their own company. Only a trade union official can accompany somebody who is engaged in picketing. In many disputes where picketing is required, such as in a small firm, there would not be enough workers to sustain a picket and the picket would have to be augmented by, perhaps, workers from another employment or from the same branch of the union. Is that prohibited under this Bill? The all out picket appears to be gone under this Bill. I would like to know if the Minister has consulted the Congress of Trade Unions about this because the abolition of the all out picket would greatly undermine the strength and the authority of congress.

Considerable emphasis has been laid on the requirement for trade unions to have ballots for strike action. It is important for us to realise that balloting cuts two ways. It would be desirable that there should be a provision in the Bill dealing with balloting on agreements. If workers are to be bound by agreements and if there are disputes on those agreements then it is important that there should be a ballot on those agreements. I appreciate that in most cases that is what happens in practice — in the case of strikes secret ballots are conducted. I recall the renegotiation of a public service agreement a couple of years ago which was not put to a ballot of trade union members, yet trade union members would be expected to honour the terms of the renegotiated version of that agreement. This is a matter we will have to return to on Committee Stage.

It is important that the Bill would have a provision which would require the results of ballots to be made known to the trade union members. That is being built into the Bill in relation to strike ballots; there is a requirement that the results of that ballot be made known to members. The results of ballots on agreements or national agreements between employers and employees should be made known to the members of trade unions. Some concern was expressed at the time of the negotiation of the present Programme for National Recovery. One trade union, in their enthusiasm to support the Programme for National Recovery, extended the period for the balloting of their members and did not release the results of that ballot to the members concerned. If the results of ballots are to be made known to trade union members, that should be done right across the board and it should be done consistently. If there is a ballot on an agreement the trade union members have a right to know the result of that ballot. They also have a right to a breakdown of that ballot result on a branch by branch basis. The balloting provision should be extended. I intend to return to this matter on Committee Stage and to talk about in greater detail.

Part III deals with the establishment of new structures for industrial relations. I am a little concerned about that that Part of the Bill may have the effect of undermining the role and authority of the Labour Court. At present the Labour Court have the power to intervene in a dispute but as I read the Bill, that power is now being removed from the Labour Court and the only power to intervene in a dispute will be through the Minister. I think that would have the effect of undermining the independence and authority of the court. It would also have the unwitting effect of, perhaps, politicising the resolution of disputes.

One could well foresee that a Minister for Labour — I would exclude the present Minister from this remark — might be attracted by the prospect of being seen publicly as a fixer of disputes and might intervene in disputes in a way which could be counterproductive. That is primarily a role for the Labour Court. The Labour Court have exercised the role judiciously and with considerable effect in the past. A relationship has built up between trade unions, the employer organisations and the court and there is an understanding on the point at which the Labour Court can usefully intervene in a dispute. It is regrettable that that power seems to be removed from the court.

I am not entirely convinced of the wisdom of removing the conciliation service from the aegis of the Labour Court. The conciliation service of the Labour Court has stood industrial relations very well. I would have nothing but the highest of praise for the conciliation service. Some conciliation officers have used their positions more effectively than others but, by and large, the conciliation service of the Labour Court have done an extremely good job. It was a framework through which trade union officials, personnel managers, FIE and CIF officials could have direct contact with the conciliation service and build up a relationship with particular conciliation officers which facilitated the resolution of disputes. Very often the conciliation service had a better grasp of the reasons for the dispute and had a better understanding of what was involved than the Labour Court when the dispute came before it for a recommendation. I would be concerned that the separation of the conciliation service from the Labour Court would give rise to a situation where the Labour Court might make recommendations which would not be understandable to either party in the dispute. There have been some examples in the past where the Labour Court have made recommendations with which neither the employer nor the employee side were happy. In a limited number of cases this had the effect of exacerbating the dispute rather than resolving it.

There is one aspect of the Industrial Relations Commission about which I am not entirely happy: this is, where they would be providing an industrial relations advisory service. The Minister needs to clarify what exactly that means. Does it mean that the new Industrial Relations Commission will be providing some kind of a service on industrial relations to employers whose employees are not unionised and where those employers, on occasion, may have resisted the unionisation of the employees?

I am a little concerned that the status of the Rights Commissioners, coming under the commission, may be reduced. We have had the experience where some Rights Commissioners have held the status, almost of national institutions. It was that status that enabled them to be treated with considerable respect by both workers and employers and enabled them to facilitate the resolution of disputes. Rights Commissioners who would, under this legislation, essentially be functionaries of the Industrial Relations Commission might not have the same status.

Debate adjourned.