Deputy Seán Barrett is in possession. I do not observe him. I call, therefore, on Deputy Michael Moynihan.
Industrial Relations Bill, 1989: Second Stage (Resumed).
Much has been said on this Industrial Relations Bill already and I do not propose to delay the House too long. The ranging discussion on this Bill demonstrates the tremendous interest on all sides of the House in this new industrial relations legislation. When one realises that we go back 84 years to find the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, it is not surprising that it should invoke discussion.
We must all accept that over the years there were calls from the public for new legislation dealing with strikes and picketing. Criticisms arose mainly because of lightning or sudden strikes. While much emphasis is placed on this proposed legislation in relation to a strike ballot, I advise the House that strike ballots have been a feature of industrial relations and trade union regulations since the 1906 Act. While it was true that many sudden and lightning strikes happened for which no mandate had been secured from the members involved, statistics will show that such strikes scarcely ever arose because of wage or working conditions. More often, indeed very frequently, factors relating to discipline, sudden dismissals, sudden changes in work rules and decisions taken very suddenly and generally without prior discussion, were the cause.
While I welcome the aspirations of this new legislation which aims to curb that type of sudden and what has often been described as irresponsible strikes which bring confusion and hardship to the ordinary citizens who are not involved, there are two sides to the equation. A strike to be valid must be the result of a majority decision by secret ballot conducted within the rules of the union. At the same time something else is required, the employers must demonstrate a greater sense of responsibility and of greater sensitivity to the impact on workers of sudden dismissals and sudden changes of working conditions without prior discussion. We cannot hope to achieve in this legislation the total elimination of these unsavoury disputes purely through the secret ballot unless the employer demonstrates a degree of responsibility in certain instances to avoid situations that can spark off damaging and in many instances unnecessary disputes causing hardship to the community and elsewhere.
The proposal to seriously restrict secondary picketing will raise many questions. The provision in the legislation that in the main secondary picketing is illegal may give an employer the idea of transferring under another name to another premises and, under the other name, carrying on his business which he is debarred from doing by the picket. That will give rise to very serious doubts in the minds of workers and could destroy some of the confidence that would be built up under proper legislation in regard to picketing.
I am glad the Minister has taken steps to discourage the formation of new unions. We have the unenviable reputation of a proliferation of trade unions due to easy approval by the Department to groups, small groups, and very frequently fragmented groups, who sought to set up a new organisation, often in direct conflict with their former colleagues. Many of the disputes and much of the conflict and uneasiness in working class areas and on the factory floor arose from a fragmented internal trade union representation.
I warmly welcome the reunification of the ITGWU and the FWUI. This is a source of great strength and confidence for the future of the trade union movement and their capacity to give the highest level of service. I hope that the new aspirations regarding the level of service to trade unions will be related to research into education because that is what is required to meet competition from the EC and elsewhere. A responsible, integrated and united trade union movement is one of the greatest advantages that workers can have in ensuring that their future wages, conditions and other aspects of their working lives are kept abreast of the general trends throughout Europe.
I welcome the setting up of the commission, the aim of which will be to ensure that conflict and unrest in the industrial area are kept to a minimum. It is difficult to envisage the damage done by disputes to industrial relations in existing industrial and commercial structures and it also affects our image in relation to foreign investment coming to this country. The unification of the trade union movement and the proposals here — with some exceptions on which I will comment later — will add to that image. In regard to industrial relations and outside investment, the trade union movement is kept too far away from the early negotiations involved in the setting up of foreign capital here. It would be much more advisable to have a total involvement right from the start of the trade union movement which will at any rate, immediately after a decision has been made by a foreign investment company, become involved. They should be totally involved from the start which would guard against future misgivings or uncertainties in relation to the conditions set out for employment within the industry.
I am concerned about section 11 (3) which states:
For the avoidance of doubt any action taken by an employer in the health services to maintain life preserving services during a strike or other industrial action shall not constitute action calculated to frustrate the strike or other industrial action for the purposes of subsection (2).
I am not worried about problems which may arise for the trade union concerned, my worry is that the section will damage the position of the persons about whom the Minister is concerned. I speak with some experience in this field and I can categorically say that over the years when it was felt necessary and justified to take industrial action relating to a section of the health services, the point of paramount importance to those going on strike was the safety and security of their charges. Fortunately, such people have rarely resorted to strike action but when they did, without pay or reward, their sense of responsibility to their profession or service generally dictated that no hardship was caused.
The Minister may be able to point to one instance but my concern is that when a group of health workers, through their trade unions, regrettably feel they have to take strike action and sit down to discuss the situation arising from their duty to care for those towards whom they have a responsibility, they could point to section 11 (3) which clearly outlines that the employer can take any action he thinks necessary. I am worried that the workers concerned could say that the responsibility was taken from them by legislation and passed to the employer and that, therefore, they do not have continued responsibility in the matter.
The second worry is that an employer protected by that statutory legislative authority and power could well say in negotiations that he was less worried about the impact of a dispute because he had legislative power on his side and that he could staff any institution, hospital or service. Staffing a health serice is not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job during a period of dispute, it is a complex and responsible matter. It means staffing an institution for 24 hours every day, seven days every week and 52 weeks every year. One would have to be part of the internal structures to realise the difficulties involved for people being brought in suddenly instead of relying on the traditional responsibility and humanity of the people who are disposed to take strike action in such circumstances.
Before this legislation is passed I hope that the new commission — in which I have tremendous confidence — will be used in the event of a threatened strike to find a basis for continued co-operative services between the staff and their employer.
It has been accepted for many years that workers in the health service should not take strike action. It was hinted from many quarters that they should not be allowed do so. I would like to point out that up to 1946 it was generally accepted among hospital staff that there was a hidden prohibition against strikes, that if you went on strike for a day your pension prospects would be lost. There was every truth in that. From the time of the passing of the 1906 Act to the forties that was a major deterrent against strikes in the health services. The possibility of getting a pension was destroyed. Amending legislation had to be introduced in the fifties to remedy that position. If health service workers had not got the right to strike, their condition would be deplorable, and I have evidence of that. Up to the forties, therefore, there was little or no intimation of strike action because of the responsibility role and the position with regard to pensions. In 1946 special regulations had to be introduced to provide for better conditions for health service workers because of — and these were the words that were used at the time —"the deplorably low rate of wages".
Managers and employers during those years did not, under the disciplined conditions of employment, keep wages in line with those enjoyed by workers in a trade union organisation. Therefore, it was incumbent on these workers to adopt a degree of militancy in order to secure justice. I say that in order to demonstrate that in some instances where the employer sees that the worker is constrained in relation to taking industrial action he will be less forceful in ensuring that his wages, conditions of employment and so on are kept up to standard. I have fears that this section will react unfavourably on the services to which the Minister is endeavouring to give greater protection. The section should be either withdrawn or massively amended. We should ensure that there is a continuation of health services during a strike. Heretofore this has been very well honoured by the responsible and disciplined nature of the staff who were obliged to take strike action. The new commission should be given the responsibility of ensuring, during a period of strike in an important service such as the health services, that the necessary machinery is in operation so that there can be co-operation between the people in dispute and the employer rather than endeavouring to legislate. One of the most difficult things to do is to legislate for industrial relations. Often ill-timed legislation can make a situation worse rather than improving it.
This Industrial Relations Bill is to be warmly welcomed. First, I congratulate the Minister and the social partners involved in bringing the Bill to this stage. I congratulate the Minister, in particular, for the way he engaged in consultation and did not lose sight of his commitment nor intention to reform existing legislation. The commitment was given in 1987, with that now recognised successful formula for recovery, theProgramme for National Recovery. It was essential in 1987 that Government and social partners worked together in a responsible and constructive manner and it was this forum that brought about much needed change. This Bill is a product of that.
Given the economic changes in this country in recent years and the challenges facing this island in the years ahead, existing legislation — the Trade Dispute Act, 1906, the Trade Union Act, 1941, and the Industrial Relations Acts, 1946 and 1969 — was somewhat confusing and needed updating and improvement. On the other hand, the country has experienced a magnificent recovery over the past three years. The process of recovery has been difficult and indeed carried its own problems. Recognition has to be given to industrial production during this period which has sustained its best performance ever. New levels of prosperity reached 10 per cent growth or more in volume, there was a renewed flow of investment and good export performance, with the lowest recorded level of days lost through strike action. This was achieved with industrial peace. Noone disagrees with the general feeling that we are in a period of relative industrial calm, with an optimistic picture for the future. I suppose that begs the question, why change: why not leave things as they are? However, in a period of industrial relations calm, with an improved economy and good indicators for the future, economic forces will bring a certain sense of realism. With the partnership of Government and the social partners already in place with theProgramme for National Recovery, is it not the right time to develop industrial relations and introduce appropriate legislation?
This Bill provides for the setting up of a labour relations commission, for the procedures of the commission, for the funding, staffing and, in particular, the industrial relations officers and advisory service which is in line with the Commission of Inquiry on Industrial Relations published in 1981. They recommended that a new system of industrial relations should operate within a framework. The labour relations commission will have responsibility for a wide range of functions. Their main aims will be to promote good industrial relations, to prevent disputes and encourage resolutions, including the provision of a conciliation and advisory service and to draw up codes of practice. This new dimension will prove a valuable service and will definitely help develop industrial co-operation between employer, employee and trade unions.
On Second Stage I do not wish to go into detail on the Bill as we will have that opportunity on Committee Stage. However, section 22 encourages trade unions to enter talks to amalgamate. Whether successful or not, grants will be available. This will assist in negotiations taking place between unions contemplating joining together. In the recent past we have seen amalgamation and rationalisation. This section will encourage further amalgamations or mergers to take place. I would particularly highlight the section. Section 14 refers to the provision of a secret ballot before strike action or industrial action takes place. This is a democratic right and is a very important part of the Bill before us. It will remove any interference of peer or colleague pressure from an individual and will allow people to make their own decisions in a proper democratic manner.
Section 11 contains a welcome provision to restrict picketing to the place where the employer works or carries on business. It puts in place an orderly control on picketing. In regard to the secondary picketing provision in section 11 (2), we could probably go a little further. It is recognised in many other countries that secondary picketing is unlawful.
However, as I have said, we can look forward to a further debate on this section on Committee Stage. In section 11 (3) the Minister makes provision, in the case of actions taken by an employer in the health services — the previous speaker referred to same — to maintain life-preserving services during a strike or industrial action and I appreciate the Minister's concerns. I believe there are other essential services where this could be developed further, for instance, water supply, sanitary services, gas, electricity and other such services which are still related to the delivery of health services, especially when we see the development of health services in primary and community care in the community. Perhaps the Minister will be able to clarify this later on.
I do not want to go on too long. As I said, I hope to participate on Committee Stage but I do not want today to pass without participating in the Bill because I believe it is very important legislation. This legislation puts the structures in place and updates the 1906 Act. I believe that this Bill will greatly assist the development of industrial peace, as we have seen over the past three years. The consensus and partnership of Government and the social partners, the compromises made, the commitment to reform and putting in place a framework for industrial relations are of national importance and will help the continued success of our economy.
I commend the Bill to the House.
First, I wish to thank all the Deputies for contributing to this Second Stage debate. I also wish to thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, who have been in the Chair for long periods of the debate. We have had some four weeks of debate with some full days and some fairly long evenings. The Whips Office tell me that as Second Stages go, we have had probably more speakers on the Bill than on the Finance Bill, which says something about the importance of the Bill. That is no more than I expected when we launched this Bill in the first few days of December last. The Bill has been published four months and we have had discussions, letters from trade unionists and employers in their individual capacity and representing their organisations, which shows the interest there is in industrial relations.
Industrial relations are not the most written about subject, except by the practitioners, but it affects people's lives in a great way. We talk most about industrial relations when there are difficulties, strikes, disruptions and inconveniences, but in recent times we have not had them to the same extent as we have had in some periods. That is the way it has been since the foundation of the State. There have always been peaks and valleys in industrial relations but the day-to-day business goes on and people who are involved are always equally busy whether they are union members, union activists, union officials, employers, personnel managers or the various structures of the State that are there to try to handle it. In a debate on industrial relations we want to commend all those people, the social partners, the employers, the trade unions and the institutions of the State that work in this area, people in the Labour Court, in the conciliation service, in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Rights Commissioners and the trade union officials, the members of FIE, members of the Irish Personnel Management Institute who work at trying to resolve the problems and make life easier for everybody involved.
I want to thank, in particular — because this legislation has had a long-playing run — my colleagues in the Department of Labour who have spent about 23 years working on this Bill. Needless to say in some cases almost the same officials have had to deal with it for that long through all of the Ministers for Labour there have been since the Department was founded. I think every Minister for Labour has had discussions about discussions and I suppose I am doing the same at the end of Second Stage today. Hopefully with the co-operation of the House, and judging from what people on all sides have said, I think there is a willingness in this House to see finally a Bill on the Statute Book following on the Stages ahead of us.
In thanking all speakers, and I hope to go through their contributions in some detail, I want to thank in particular the Deputies who did a great deal of work and research, not least, the Opposition spokespersons. I want to pay a particular tribute to my colleague spokesman for the biggest Opposition party, Deputy Jim Mitchell. I thank him for his contribution and his support in general and the views that he outlined on theProgramme for national Recovery. Needless to say the points that he raised and asked us to look at in detail have been noted and we have already started on that process since he spoke two weeks ago. I wish to thank Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan of the Labour Party, who outlined his views at some length. I also wish to thank Deputy Pat Rabbitte, Deputy Pearse Wyse, Deputy Roger Garland, who represented their respective parties, and all other Deputies who contributed.
There has been support from across the parties but the differences are on the detail of the Bill. An area of difference mentioned by the speakers this morning was the whole question of picketing. A number of Deputies have asked me to follow what happened elsewhere and ban secondary picketing altogether. Other Deputies asked me to look and see where we can minimise what we are doing. Interestingly, nobody asked that we stay where we are and I anticipated that some people would have asked that we leave things as they are, but nobody in the course of the debate actually asked that the position stay as it is. That satisfies me in so far as I believe that the legislation already there is extremely confusing. Court cases and court action had surpassed events and what was in our legislation, and it was only a matter of time before the courts would have probably amended our laws for us if we were not to move ahead in the life of this Dáil.
Almost all speakers agreed with the proposals to increase the membership of trade unions and to stop the splintering and multiplicity of unions. One or maybe two speakers disagreed and said "small can be beautiful and that we should not do this at all and it may be the wrong way to go". I cannot agree with that point of view. If union members pay their fees they more and more demand a service which is not just about wages and conditions but about extra benefits for themselves in areas of insurance, pensions, occupational health, advice on what is happening on the European and world scene. They want to be kept up to date on what is happening in the Social Affairs Council. They also want to know what the ETUC are doing, and what the UNICE are doing on a European front. Quite frankly a union comprising 200 or 300 members who are paying £1 a week membership, who are trying to run a premises and employ full-time staff or part-time staff cannot do it and cannot service the union in that regard. I agree with the theory that small is beautiful but it will not provide a service for the unions. Despite all our efforts to assist unions and the proposals and recommendations made urging rationalisation and amalgamation, we still have 69 trade unions, 20 of which represent fewer than 500 workers. A handful of trade unions represent about 85 per cent of workers with the remainder representing the other 15 per cent. I am sure if we were to allow trade union members to speak in this House for a few hours that they would make it clear that what they want to see is this House assisting in bringing down the number of trade unions in the State. However, this is a slow process. I would not pay too much heed to the fact that during my term of office the number of trade unions has been reduced from a figure of 91 or 92 to 69. During that time there has been much rationalisation but it remains an extremely slow process.
I would like to make it clear that the Bill has resulted from an exhaustive consultation process with both the Federation of Irish Employers and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The Bill mirrors and reflects the proposals put to both sides and also contains inputs by the parties which I felt were worthy of acceptance. The Bill is not the ideal from the point of view of either the Federation of Irish Employers or the Irish Congress of Trade Unions but when I began this process three years ago I was quite clear that I would not be able to achieve complete consensus and agreement. On the advice of my advisers I spent some months reading the files in my Department. Having been a member of a trade union since 1969 and being well aware of what happens I knew that my task was not an easy one. I do not enjoy reading files well into the evening but I must say that I got some pleasure out of reading the files from 1965 onwards, which clearly showed just how difficult it was to obtain consensus. I soon came to the conclusion that perhaps there should be a Minister with responsibility to come up with proposals on industrial relations as there had been ongoing discussions at the Cabinet table for over 24 years. The fact is no one could obtain complete agreement. It had proved impossible to get consensus or to bring a Bill into this House which had the total support of the employers and trade unions. It was just not possible to do that. It never will be possible to do so, nor has it been possible to do so anywhere else in the democratic world.
In relation to legislation, and I have introduced four or five Bills in the House, it is normal practice to introduce a Bill first and then discuss amendments. However, this Bill is unusual in that the social partners did not discuss the contents of the Bill but rather the principle has been thrashed out. It has also been thrashed out by the courts over the past 25 years. In fact, and all parties in this House must accept responsibility for this, the courts have ended up thrashing out the legislation enacted by this House. It was most unsatisfactory that the legal profession and the courts had to do the job that we should have been doing. That is an important point. We are now able to discuss this matter in a calmer climate because there is industrial peace at present. It is the parties involved who have ensured this and nobody else. As Deputy Hillery mentioned, the law is extremely important in that it sets down the framework in which collective bargaining takes place and I am happy that the proposed legislation provides a balanced and effective framework.
I would now like to comment on some of the issues raised. As regards the establishment of the Labour Relations Commission, Deputies raised the general issue of its relationship with the Labour Court. Deputy Rabbitte said that he felt the proposal could lead to some confusion and that the Labour Court might be downgraded. I do not believe Deputy Rabbitte believes that but just in case he does I want to make it absolutely clear that there is no question of downgrading the Labour Court. In fact the opposite is the objective. It is my aim to enhance the role of the Labour Court and to turn it once more into a court of last resort as envisaged by Seán Lemass in 1946. I see the two bodies as entirely separate but complementary to one another in achieving a new approach to industrial relations. The increased competition which we face in the Single European Market requires that both management and workers devote all their energies to an approach based on co-operation with the objective of maintaining existing jobs and creating new job opportunities.
As regards liaison between the commission and the court, section 26 (2) requires the commission in passing on a dispute to include in its report information on the issues in dispute, attempts made to resolve the dispute and any other information. Such a report could be supplemented by a direct presentation verbally to the court, if necessary. Therefore the advantages of both the court and the commission will remain following the putting in place of the Labour Relations Commission.
I have listened carefully to the points made by Deputies about a possible right of initiative by the court itself, similar to the one contained in section 18 of the 1969 Industrial Relations Act. This is a point which I am prepared to examine further and will give consideration to an appropriate amendment on Committee Stage. Deputy Mitchell and others made the point that there is benefit to be gained by using that process. Deputy O'Sullivan also spoke at length on this matter. As I said, I will be prepared to consider such an amendment as it is our objective to improve the Bill if possible.
The question of how the functions to be performed by the commission will be carried out was also raised. What is involved here is that the functions of conciliation and advice will be carried out by specified and designated staff of the agency and the remaining work will be carried out by other staff. The board of the agency is to be a part time one and I see the role of the board members as a supervisory one. They will not be involved in the day to day work of the commission. In response to Deputy Rabbitte who asked how six people will do all the work, the role of the board members will be a supervisory one with the staff of the commission being separate.
Deputy Rabbitte also raised the question of access by those workers at present covered by conciliation and arbitration machinery to the Labour Court. I do not have a hard and fast stand on this issue but it is an issue which is not under my direct control. The same goes for access by staff covered by conciliation and arbitration to rights commissioners. If there is to be access by such workers to rights commissioners and the Labour Court this is a matter for the parties to the schemes of conciliation and arbitration and if the parties agree on a new approach I will facilitate them. This can be done in an entirely flexible manner by varying the definition of "worker".
Deputies also raised the establishment and operation of the advisory service of the Labour Relations Commission. Our approach to dispute settlement and resolution has been of a fire brigade nature. Interventions up to now have tended to patch up the difficulties knowing well that trouble will erupt again at a future date. This has been the way for generations. We only deal with the difficulties and the companies when there is a dispute. I do not think I will be expected to give any examples and if I did I am sure I would be accused of singling out a company.
However, I am sure all Members are aware of the type of companies that in recent decades have been continually on the agenda because of disputes. There are some files that are never off the desk of the Minister for Labour, irrespective of the party the Minister belongs to. Those files go back and forward and we have the same merry-go-round year after year. If one looked at the files of 20 years ago one would find that the same companies were involved then. At that time there was a different Minister involved, different Labour Court officials, different conciliation services, different union members and officials and different personnel officers. On that basis there must be something wrong with those companies. We will have to look at that problem not only in the context of fire brigade action.
I have heard and accept the analogy of putting a patch on a tube knowing that it will not last. That analogy has been used in this debate by many Members. There are firms which come to the conciliation service in the Labour Court on a regular basis and it is often clear that the problems are of a permanent and lasting nature which need to be addressed in a more fundamental manner than merely patching up the present immediate difficulty. That is what the Labour Relations Commission, and their advisory service, are all about.
I see the advisory service as a small group of experienced professional people who will use an approach which will target firms which have continual and recurring problems of an industrial relations nature. I am referring to those that give the country a bad name and cause all the difficulties for the employees and the establishments concerned. I see the usefulness of the services in their independence and in their impartiality. I see these advisers arranging industrial relations audits by complementary bodies, such as the Irish Productivity Centre, and I would expect the advisers to use such resources where necessary.
They will be in a position to give advice to whatever organisation or establishment that seek their help or are in difficulty.
As regard the resources to be given to the Labour Relations Commission I accept that the body will have to have adequate resources. It is not the practice to write the budget of an organisation of that kind into the legislation, to mention the number of staff that must be employed or the grade and structure of that staff. In the course of the debate some Members asked how many clerical officers would be involved. I should like to assure the House that I accept that the Labour Relations Commission will have to be properly staffed and have adequate resources. The House will accept that those issues were debated with the Department of Finance before the legislation was passed to the Cabinet, as is appropriate in the preparation of any legislation, and when proposals for this legislation were being put forward, officials of my Department visited the Labour Relations Agency in Northern Ireland and the ACAS in Britain. We studied their operations in great detail. The Labour Relations Agency were found to be a more relevant model from our point of view.
I am glad of the welcome which Deputies gave to my proposals on codes of practice and I believe they have an extremely important role to play. Deputy O'Sullivan raised the issue of the Minister reserving power to make codes of practice but I believe it is better if the codes come from the Labour Relations Commission, following consultation with the interests involved. I say that for two reasons. First, we will have strong professionals on the commission. That body will consist of two ministerial appointees, who have to be properly qualified, two representatives from the Federation of Irish Employers and two from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Those organisations see the commission as a very important body and I have no doubt that as time passes they will prove their worth.
The Labour Court, which has stood the test for 44 years, has always consisted of people who were very able and of a high professional status. The House will be aware that the Minister does not select the members of the court. The names of the members of the court are put forward by the social partners and the Minister rubber stamps their recommendation. That system has operated since the inception of the Labour Court and it has worked well. I do not think the Minister should be telling such professional people how to do their job. It would be better if they were left on their own.
Many Deputies prefaced their remarks by saying that they did not want their comments to be taken às being against me. I did not take the remarks personally but I agree that it is wrong to give any Minister too much power in his own right. Everything should be done in consultation with the social partners rather than giving the Minister power to bypass them. Industrial relations is a delicate matter and depends on the climate in industrial disputes. The codes of practice will be a matter for the Labour Relations Commission and in my view that is the best way to deal with it.
Deputy Mitchell raised the issue of the use of pendulum arbitration in Canada as well as cooling-off periods and Deputy Carey called for an industrial relations model on the lines of that of West Germany. Such suggestions are worthy of examination. All outside models are worthy of consideration but my view is that we cannot transplant industrial relations systems either in whole or in part from other countries. To do so would be a recipe for disaster. We must attempt to create systems and procedures which suit the needs and objectives of our own economy and that is what we are doing in theProgramme for National Recovery and in the Bill. We must take into consideration custom and practice.
Deputy Moynihan gave me the benefit of his considerable experience this morning and I appreciate his suggestions. I have also had the benefit of the views of previous Ministers and Opposition spokesmen. Their views will be given careful consideration. We must follow on from our own experience and the judgments of experienced people. In the Irish context we have plenty to go on in regard to industrial relations. There is not much unploughed ground in the Irish industrial relations field. Nothing has happened in any other country that has not happened 100 times over in industrial relations terms here. That may be the reason we have so much written material and publications of one kind or another on industrial relations.
We received advice from all sides, practitioners, former Ministers, those involved in management, people with experience of boards of companies, personnel managers and the academic point of view from Deputy Hillery. There is no doubt that we have had a lot of advice from those who have knowledge of industrial disputes. In fact, we were given the views of those who have been on the picket line, and they were equally important. Members have had sufficient experience of industrial relations to be able to help me put together a Bill that will stand the test of time.
As regards the powers I have taken in section 38 to refer disputes to the commission or the court, I would like to emphasise that this is no more than a formulation of existing arrangements. Section 24 of the 1946 Act has been used for this purpose although it was not drafted with this end in mind. Section 24 was used because a section such as the new section 38 did not exist. I have left section 24 on the Statute Book because I believe it could be useful for the purpose for which it was originally intended, which was to enable a report to be prepared on the employment conditions of any particular class of employees. Section 24 has been used for a different purpose but it is a useful provision. I am clarifying the matter by inserting section 38 which supplants the old section 24.
I would now like to turn to some points that have been made about trade disputes and trade union law. Again I would emphasise that my proposals here amount to a balanced package after exhaustive consultations with both sides. My proposals are aimed at protecting the rights and interests involved. I would like to put on the record what has happened from May 1987 — onwards when, in a seven month period, we were discussing theProgramme for National Recovery. There was much discussion as to what would be contained in an industrial relations Bill. I have studied the record in detail. Then, in the Programme for National Recovery in November 1987, one of the last items written in at the insistence of both sides of the social partners was a clause stating that we should have discussions and debate on industrial relations. Those discussions started immediately after Christmas 1987 and continued throughout 1988 with the most senior officials in the Congress of Trade Unions and their affiliated unions. Points of clarification were dealt with as they arose. There were discussions with trade union officials outside of Congress who wanted to have points clarified, and with trade union officials who were following the debate but wanted to be involved in the detail. I was at all the conferences, whether IMI or any other. I met with individual trade unions, individual delegations etc. I note that Deputy Rabbitte is now in the House.
I apologise for my absence, I was at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
I have answered a fair number of the points raised by the Deputy.
The Deputy cannot be in two places at the one time.
Not even The Workers' Party can do that. Sorry, yes they can.
I do not want to go back over those points.
Now that Deputy Rabbitte is here would the Minister deal with the question of unfair dismissals by trade unions?
I would be delighted.
Perhaps I could say that wassub judice and get away from it. Deputy Rabbitte made an excellent speech, though lengthy, it was extremely useful. It covered many of the points we are taking extremely seriously and are looking at in great detail. However, the point I would take issue with, though I think the Deputy raised it for some other reason, is his saying that in some way this Bill could have passed the trade union movement without their noticing it. All I will say to that is that if there was ever a Bill that was discussed as much with the people concerned as this Bill has been I would like to read the files on it. There were seemingly endless negotiations and discussions by all interests involved. I might argue some of the other points on Committee Stage but the only one I would argue with in principle is that the Bill could have passed without notice of the entire Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the 69 affiliated trade unions, their general secretaries and their executives. In addition to the various conferences I addressed during the formation of this Bill, there were two “Today Tonight” programmes on the subject and many discussions. I cannot accept that anything in the Bill could have passed anyone unnoticed. If it did, it also got past me but I find that hard to accept.
Not much gets past the Minister.
I felt I had to make that point because we have had so much discussion on it. The question of a positive right to strike was raised by Deputy O'Sullivan, I carefully studied this aspect when I took office in March 1987 and I concluded that the best hope for success was to pursue the immunities line. I am not saying — as I think Deputy Rabbitte and other Deputies said — that perhaps one could argue the other line but to get anywhere we have to take the immunities line. I have to say that the trade union side were less than enthusiastic about a positive right to strike and I think this resulted in some degree from a fear of the unknown. The fact that this Bill is now before the House is I think an indication of my decision in 1987 and an indication that what I have put into this Bill are practical and pragmatic proposals.
While dealing with the issue of a positive right to strike, in all fairness I should pay tribute to the work done by Deputies Kavanagh and Quinn as Ministers for Labour and as my predecessors. They did an extremely large amount of ground work in the early eighties which was of considerable help to me in framing the present proposals, otherwise I would have had to go through much of that work.
Deputy Gilmore raised the issue of union rationalisation. Unions need to be well funded and able to cater for the needs of members. This presupposes a reasonable membership base. Again, I struck a balance here as we must be careful not to unduly affect workers' rights. This is a question of setting reasonable minimum standards.
Deputy Wyse felt that the proposals of the Commission on Industrial Relations should be implemented. Looking at the matter objectively, there could be considerable difficulty in implementing the type of detailed mandatory disputes procedures recommended by the commission. It must also be borne in mind that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions were not party to the commission's recommendations. Merely to include all that was contained in those recommendations would have opened up again the entire debate on the commission's recommendations. There was some discussion about including far more detail but if all that detail were written into the legislation it could prove to be unhelpful in the long term.
Deputy Rabbitte raised a number of questions on the provisions relating to picketing. In particular, the Deputy gave the impression that the 1906 Act was being completely repealed. Of course, that is far from the truth. The fact is that the 1906 Act is being re-enacted with amendments to give it a presumption of constitutionality, a presumption it does not have as an enactment of the British Parliament. That we have got the balance right is probably borne out by the fact that I have been criticised on the employers' side for not being more radical in my amendments to the 1906 Act but that goes back to the balance we spoke about earlier.
On the picketing provisions, I have again struck a balance between the rights and interests of both sides. This is clearly emphasised by my proposals on secondary picketing. On the one hand, I could have banned secondary picketing, as has been done in the United Kingdom, but I believe this would totally tilt the balance in favour of employers. Throughout the debate, and again this morning I have been asked to consider banning secondary picketing but I disagree with that point of view. It is not one on which I am open to change. On the other hand, I could have left the unsatisfactory position where the rules covering secondary picketing are laid down in conflicting decisions by the courts, as I mentioned at the outset. What I did was to take the middle ground and set down what I believed to be a reasonable and constructive approach to secondary picketing, that is, that it should be allowed where a secondary employer directly assists a first employer to frustrate or break a strike.
Deputy Mitchell suggested that the Bill does nothing to deal with picketing at multi-business locations such as shopping centres, ports etc. That is not the case. The present very broad wording "at or near" is being changed and I am attempting to ensure that in future picketing will be at the employer's place of business. However, because of the position in relation to private property rights and the need to avoid trespass on private property, there may be circumstances where it will not be possible to picket directly at the employer's premises. Where disputes arise affecting one employer in a shopping centre, an industrial complex or industrial area, it should be possible to secure agreement that the picket be placed on the individual's private business rather than at the entry to the complex which is what causes the difficulty. It is necessary, however, to provide a saver for situations where this turns out to be neither practical nor possible.
But the saver has the effect of vetoing the provision.
We do not believe so. If the provision is too tight we can run into the difficulty of taking the whole complex out. It has been the good practice of trade unions not to try to take out industrial sites. I cannot think of a recent example where an individual dispute has closed down a complex.
Deputy Mitchell also referred to the question of inter-union disputes which will no longer be covered by the definition of trade disputes nor enjoy the immunities provided by the legislation. This development has been welcomed by most Deputies.
With regard to secret ballots, workers have a democratic right to be consulted before being asked to take industrial action. This provision is one of the most important in the Bill and practically all Deputies who spoke on the Bill agree with that. Many speakers have detailed the case for secret balloting as have people on the picket line, personnel officers, trade union officials and so on. Balloting might cause inconvenience and some difficulty but so do disputes. We are talking here about the democratic right of people to decide.
Deputy Kavanagh raised the issue of the involvement of non-union members in secret ballots. Section 14 only applies to trade union members. The Deputy also raised the possibility of the supervision of secret ballots by officials of the Department or the Labour Relations Commission. This would be totally out of step with the philosophy of the Bill. It would not be appropriate for the commission to supervise secret ballots. I would suggest that in implementing the ballot provisions consideration might be given by the unions to some form of independent supervision. I thank Deputy Kavanagh for his constructive suggestions but the supervision of balloting is something that should be left to the unions. If we wrote into the regulations how balloting was to be conducted we would effectively undermine the right of trade unions to carry out ballots. The Deputy also refereed to the Employer Labour Conference, and of course that can remain.
With regard to the all-out picket of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, this procedure made a major contribution to industrial relations and the provisions of the Bill are designed to take account of the all-out picketing policy of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This policy has been effective and deserves support. Deputy Rabbitte outlined the advantages of what happened arising from the maintenance strike in January-February 1969 and the improvements since then. I agree with the Deputy. As the Deputy said, this is an issue on which we are anxious not to tilt the balance. We have had long discussions about the legal and practical issues here but as this is an area which I am anxious to get right I will consider any points or suggestions the Deputy wishes to make. Naturally enough all the knowledge is not on our side. We spent considerable time on this issue however and we have tried to get a balance.
More general issues were raised by other Deputies. I listened carefully to Deputy Mitchell's views on a further programme for national recovery and I accept that that would be a good thing for the economy but we must not have a further programme for national recovery just for the sake of it. We cannot have a programme at any price. The various interests must, as they did on the last occasion, sacrifice the ideal for the possible in the national interest. Future industrial relations must reject the purely adversarial approach. This we have tried to do in legislation brought forward in relation to manpower, FÁS, safety at work and so on. We must reject the narrow concept of collective bargaining. One of the by-products of theProgramme for National Recovery was a widening of the concept of collective bargaining. Such bargaining now includes social and economic policy issues in general, employment, taxation, social welfare legisalation, education and so on. That is the modern concept of collective bargaining. The change at national level must be mirrored in individual firms.
Several Deputies raised the issue of worker participation and I agree that worker participation should not be regarded just as an ideological issue but as an issue of practical common sense. Employers and workers must together face the competition of the single market. There are detailed arrangements in place in the public sector and further proposals are expected in 1990 from the European Commission. I have already initiated discussions with FIE and ICTU with regard to progress in the private sector. The move towards progress is not a matter for legislation but it is something in which I should be involved. Employers and employees realise more and more that they are in the same boat. Management realise that they must inform employees about profits, production targets, marketing, major changes anticipated and so on, and workers for their part must take an interest in more than the annual wage round. If the workers and the employers in individual firms do not consider the real issues, competition in the single market may put them all out of business.
Deputy Barnes spoke about the Labour Relations Commission and said that we must also have the right climate for success. The Deputy spoke about part-time workers and their exploitation and acknowledged that they would be dealt with under another Bill which we will work towards introducing later on in the year.
Deputy Toddy O'Sullivan said that he would bring forward amendments. I have covered most of what the Deputy said. I covered most of Deputy Rabbitte's suggestions and I thank him for his suggestions and proposals which we will examine. I thank Professor Hillery for his contribution making the point that the law is not an answer to industrial relations, and for his suggestion that we have to try to minimise conflict. Deputies Durkan and Fergus O'Brien spoke about the necessity to require votes with regard to all disputes and I agree with them. Deputies dealt at length with the workings of the Labour Relations Commission and I have already dealt with those points. Deputies also spoke about the need for the information for employees and about the conflicts that arose through lack of information. We need to have discussions on that with both FIE and ICTU to try to come to arrangements on this.
Deputy Pearse Wyse spoke about personnel officers and the training they require for management generally. A lot of the points he made arise from the management advisory report commissioned by me in 1987. Deputy Stafford supported the Bill and Deputy Jacob spoke at length on the clarification of injunctions. Deputies Browne and Cotter referred to their various experience in regard to the different issues. I thank them for the points they made, particularly those in relation to voting. Deputy Ferris made some suggestions, which we are examining and also proposed some amendments. Deputy Gilmore spoke about the all-out picket and the structures in the Bill in regard to the Labour Court. I dealt in some length with the points Deputy Rabbitte raised in regard to the Labour Court and how the structures will not be affected.
Is there a copy of the Minister's script available?
No, but if the Deputy wants any specific notes I will let him have them.
I dealt with the issue of the advisory service and small unions. Deputy O'Shea referred to the voting position. Deputy Garland gave us an insight into the difficulties involved. I think he said that this was a compromise on a balance of terror. I want to assure him that I was not seeking to achieve a balance of terror in this Bill.
A terrified balance.
He also gave us a very good insight into a workers' revolution, which is a little bit ahead of what I can deliver on. I thank the Deputy for the other suggestions he made.
Deputies McGrath and Carey spoke about the West German scene and access to court. I am prepared to look at amendments on the access to court provision. A number of Deputies raised good arguments on this point and I will look at appropriate amendments. Deputy Higgins spoke about the United States trade union movement. As I have outlined already, we have to work on our own basis. Deputy Kavanagh referred to the ballot procedures and the intimidation aspects. Deputy Seán Barrett spoke about profit-sharing for employers.
I thank Deputy Moynihan who has been in the House all morning for his overall support for the Bill and the advice he gave. The Deputy spoke at some length about the provisions in section 11 (3) of the Bill which deal with health services. This issue was also referred to by other Deputies. There are existing obligations on health service workers in regard to their duties. This section only re-emphasises the position for the avoidance of doubt. The wording of the section is quite specific and refers to the preservation of life. The Deputy put across one side of the argument very well but there have been instances where life could have been put in danger. I have discussed this issue at great length with the people involved in the health services. Such cases, where life has been put in danger, have to be looked at.
The Minister should listen carefully to what Deputy Moynihan has to say on the subject because he knows what he is talking about.
I thanked the Deputy for his advice earlier on. I know Deputy Rabbitte made a similar point on this issue. I will look carefully at what the Deputies have said. However, I remain to be convinced by the Deputies because of the horrific examples to the contrary that I know about. I am not going to be emotive and spell out those instances but I will consider the matter carefully. I could very easily prove what Deputy Moynihan has said to be wrong by giving example to the contrary but I accept, as he said, that the procedures are normally followed. It is difficult when legislating to ignore serious breaches. We are not just arguing a point; we are debating instances where people could die. Between now and Committee Stage I will consider the points made by the Deputies. I have met some of the people involved who have outlined fairly gruesome and unbelievable details about what happened. I will not ignore what the Deputies have said.
If the Minister imposes a statutory obligation, the trade unionists may very well say, "Go ahead and provide for it, we do not want to know".
That is my worry.
Deputy Moynihan made that point. We are not on Committee Stage but I should like to ask the Deputies how we can deal with that on one side and with the trade unionists who ignored what was an unwritten, but a very clear, obligation. What happens when people walk out the door and leave patients with no emergency care whatsoever? Patients are the most vulnerable people in our society. I do not think leaving this provision out totally would resolve the problem because some people will ignore the obligation which is there and this may have very serious consequences. Without being over-emotive I do not think I could leave this section out of the Bill. The instances I referred to happened only recently and these people may do the same again with the result that people may die. I would feel an ultimate responsibility for those people.
The point I am making is that the aspiration is good but the legislation may leave the people we are worried about in a worse position than they have been.
Obviously we are in for a very interesting and difficult Committee Stage debate.
As regards the essential services, including the health services, which were referred to throughout the debate, as I have said before, I hope codes of practice will be drawn up by the commission to cover minimum levels of pay in strikes. We have to try to achieve this voluntary approach.
This Bill aims to provide a better framework for industrial relations in the nineties. Our approach must be one of consensus, of providing greater information to employees and involving employees more in the working of their enterprises. All of this pre-supposes a new approach by managers and workers to industrial relations problems. I hope this Bill will stimulate and aid that change.
I should like to thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate and, in particular, the spokespersons for the different parties for the work they put into their Second Stage speeches and for the suggestions they put forward. I can assure them that I am thoroughly examining every point they made. This is an important Bill and I want to get it right. The 1906 and the 1946 Acts are the only pieces of legislation in this area and I am anxious to get things right in this Bill. I will, therefore, be prepared to consider with an open mind whatever amendments Deputies put forward on Committee Stage. Subject to the legal and parliamentary advice I get, I will be as accommodating as I possibly can; I will listen carefully and analyse the discussions.
I want to thank all the speakers who, over the three or four weeks of this debate, have contributed on Second Stage. I look forward, with the co-operation of the Whips and my Opposition colleagues, to getting on with Committee Stage at an early date.