Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Leave of Absence from Employment for Oireachtas Members.

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

16 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Labour if he will consider introducing legislation which would require all employers to grant unpaid leave of absence to employees elected to either of the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I outlined the general position in this matter in my reply to the Deputy on 20 February of this year. The general position in this matter and my position in relation to it have not changed since then.

In the history of the State, members of the Oireachtas have been drawn from a great variety of employments. There is no evidence that a general problem exists. In the majority of cases employers and employees negotiate suitable arrangements.

In line with the reply the Minister has given, would he agree that employers who refuse to grant leave of absence in this manner to persons who have been elected to the Dáil or Seanad could be described only as bad employers and that always legislation is required to bring such employers into line? Would he consider it would be important, therefore, not only to deal with issues which have already arisen in this regard but also to avoid circumstances arising in the future when persons who present themselves for election, and are elected, are deprived of their chances to return to their jobs? Would he agree that such a procedure renders it very unattractive for people who work for a wage to put themselves forward for election?

I cannot say this issue has never arisen because it has, but there is a wide range of arrangements at present in operation. All Dálaí have been comprised of a large range of people from various walks of life, from the public sector generally and the private sector. In the Civil Service there are procedures whereby one must resign or there are arrangements for secondment within the private sector and so on which are normally negotiable.

The difficulty arises in the non-public service sector. Normally legislation would not seem to be necessary. I accept that if it was to become a problem, or if a problem was irresolvable and people were not allowed to participate in active politics because of these difficulties we would have to look at it. As I said to Deputy De Rossa the last time, if we were to look at the legislation which is there we would be looking at Acts like the Unfair Dismissals Act and it would not be most appropriate to try to amend it. We would be accepting a certain fate for an individual going up for election, and that would be the wrong course. I have heard suggestions on this and in all my years in the House I recall it being a problem once only. For one problem I am not too sure that we should review the legislation. I am prepared to listen to any suggestions the Deputy has.

One of my colleagues, Deputy O'Sullivan, was affected in the past, not by an employer refusing to give leave of absence but because the law itself precluded him from standing. He was a post office employee at the time and was precluded from standing for election therefore. The Dáil moved to remove that anomaly and, happily, Deputy O'Sulilvan is with us now. Will the Minister consider asking his colleague the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, whom, I understand, is due to introduce new electoral legislation to consider including a provision which would prevent discrimination against people seeking to be democratically elected to the Dáil or to the Seanad?

Certainly I will refer the issue. Like Deputy O'Sullivan who is very much with us, it applied to me once because I was a public servant and had to make a special arrangement. These special arrangements were always forthcoming and a number of times over the years legislation has had to be amended. It never precluded people from seeking election to the House.

Deputy De Rossa would like to have it retrospective to the last election.

I am not trying to further my case because it is late in the day for that, but this goes back to the foundation of the State. As the only victim of the 1923 Electoral Act, legislation which had been on the British Statute Book and transferred to ours, I feel people in the public sector are discriminated against. There is a need for amending legislation and the amendment to that Act.

There have been recent difficulties in what is known as the private sector. In the public sector one can normally talk to those concerned and suggest to the House a change in the legislation. One cannot always do that in other sectors.

I have no wish to refer specifically to the case which affects my party colleagues, but in view of the fact that it has occurred, surely some provision should be made to prevent it happening to anybody else in future. Even if it happens to one Deputy it is a restriction on his or her democratic right to represent the people in this House. The Minister should take on board the fact that if only one case occurs the matter needs to be dealt with quickly.

I do not wish to be difficult or talk about any cases that arose, but in the private sector many contracts prohibit people taking on outside duties in either the commercial or non-commercial sectors. I do not think we can legislate for that. We all know from our own political parties of people who wish to stand for election being told that under their contracts they have to resign from their job before the election, never mind on their election. A number of semi-State bodies have corrected these provisions in contracts but I am not too sure that we can legislate to the private sector.

Without wishing to go into details——

There has to be finality to this question.

I take the point the Minister is making with regard to specific exclusions in contracts. When an employee signs a contract of that nature with his employer that is clearly understood but where there is no such exclusion, and where the reverse is the case and employees generally are encouraged to become active in political life and a sacking occurs surely that is claer discrimination. In that case at least the law——

I really have to dissuade Members from debating the matter now.