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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Feb 1994

Vol. 438 No. 8

Supplementary Estimates, 1994. - Industrial Training (Apprenticeship Levy) Bill, 1993: Report Stage.

Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 7 and amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are alternatives. It is proposed, therefore, that amendments Nos. 1, 5, 6 and 7 be taken together by agreement.

On a point of order, if these amendments are taken together will we have an opportunity to vote on them separately?

Acting Chairman


I fell foul of a ruling in this regard previously.

Acting Chairman

They may be voted on separately.

I did not realise that these amendments were being taken together and I share the Deputy's viewpoint. It appears that all amendments put forward on Committee Stage may be brought to Report Stage. Is that correct?

Acting Chairman

Yes, amendments arising from Committee are in order on Report Stage.

When amendments are brought before Report Stage, having been debated, sometimes at length, in Committee, can they be fully debated again?

Acting Chairman

Report Stage is more restricted in that Members are confined to one contribution, apart from the mover of the amendment, who is entitled to reply to it.

I move amendment No. 1:


This amendment arose as a result of a long and fruitful debate on Second Stage and Committee Stage. The Bill as laid before the House was a short technical Bill. I forecast that the word "apprenticeship", its meaning and impact on young people as well as its potenital, which is not yet realised, would provide for a very wide debate. There were two courses open to me, one of which was to stick rigidly to the technical nature of the Bill, which perhaps would have been the correct procedure. In that case I could have simply stated that this is a technical Bill dealing with the imposition of a levy; it is merely a financial measure. However, I wanted to hear Deputies' views on this matter and to contribute to the debate and so the concept of the Bill was widened.

That gave rise to a later amendment which I know will not meet the demands of Deputies Bruton and Quill, but it is a step along that road. I saw no way of achieving what I wanted other than by introducing this amendment. As this is a technical Bill, I was advised by the draftspeople to insert in the title the following:


The amendment to the long title of the Bill is necessary because of the new section 4 which will be inserted by way of a later amendment. That new section will enable the Minister to make regulations relating to the manner of recruitment of apprentices. As it will change the entire scope of the Bill the parliamentary draftsman's office has advised me that it is necessary to amend the long title of the Bill to take this change into account. The amendment to the long title and the new section 4 will substantially change the nature of the Bill from being a technical Bill to one dealing with the much wider issue of apprenticeships. Amendment No. 1 allows for the insertion of a new section 4 in the Bill.

On a point of information, I know Deputies are confined to one contribution on Report Stage, but in view of the fact that a number of amendments are being taken together, are Deputies confined to one contribution or are they allowed to contribute on each of them?

Acting Chairman

They are entitled to make one contribution only.

Can I confirm that I will get a second chance to contribute on my amendment?

That is a point which puzzles me.

Acting Chairman

Only the Minister may reply.

In other words, we have only one shot at it. The procedure for dealing with amendments on Report Stage frustrates me. I think all Opposition parties would agree that this amendment deals with the core issue in the Bill, the equity of access to apprenticeships. It is frustrating for Opposition Deputies to find themselves in the situation on Report Stage where they can make one contribution only, even though they may not be happy with the Minister's reply. I think the Minister would agree that this is not a good way to do business. On this core issue we should have the opportunity to cross examine the Minister on what she intends to put in place by way of regulation.

I acknowledge that the Minister has explained the expansion of what is a technical Bill into a wider Bill which deals with the key issue of apprenticeships. If any of the Minister's predecessors thought they could introduce a Bill dealing with levies in regard to apprenticeships without dealing with equity of access they would have fooled themselves and would have made a cod of reform.

The Minister said she did not expect the Opposition to be satisfied with her amendments. I am not satisfied. This amendment, which deals with the core issue in the Bill, has been introduced at five minutes to midnight, so to speak, and the enabling provision regarding the making of regulations does not give us a real glimpse of what the Minister has in mind. We have to take on faith what she may do in this area.

I welcome the provision in amendment No. 7 which proposes that the regulations under the section will have to gain the positive approval of the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is as it should be. I should like an assurance from the Minister that the Bill will not proceed until such regulations are in place. It would be unsatisfactory if we gave the green light to the financial side of the Bill without an assurance from the Minister that the issue of equity would be dealt with. The levy is ill-conceived in the sense that it will give employers, who will only pay a very tiny portion of the cost of these apprenticeships—the State will pay approximately 90 per cent of the cost—the right to act as gatekeepers in determining access to the apprenticeship schemes as it is currently set out. I am not happy with this aspect of the Bill.

I said on Committee Stage that what we have been told about the apprenticeship scheme is totally unsatisfactory. Under the provision as it now stands FÁS will not sponsor any apprenticeships under the new system. Under the old system people who were not well connected and did not have friends or relatives in a trade were able to apply to FÁS and have some chance of getting an apprenticeship. This possibility has been scrapped under the new system where all people wishing to take up an apprenticeship must be sponsored by an employer. Anyone experiencing difficulties in finding an employer will be able to register with FÁS their interest in an apprenticeship and FÁS will bring this register to the attention of employers on request. The reality is that FÁS will have a register with thousands of names on it and no employer will make a request to see the details.

If we want to ensure fair access to apprenticeship we have to go back to the proposals put forward by a former Minister in 1989 in the discussion document "Apprenticeship — A New Approach". In dealing with the recruitment process the then Minister said that two options were proposed for consideration. Under option one there would be initial screening by FÁS, using aptitude tests to identify persons capable of undertaking an apprenticeship, and employers would recruit only from this pool. Under the second option companies would interview applicants who met the minimum educational requirements and who were over 16 years of age and only those chosen by companies as suitable for their needs would be aptitude tested. Although the document went on to say that option one was preferred as it was equitable, the Government favoured option two which was cheaper but inequitable. I could not spell that out better than it was spelled out by the Government when it considered this issue in 1989.

We need a system under which FÁS will short list and interview those applicants which it believes are suitable and have the required qualifications and employers will be required to recruit from that list. Persons not on the list should not be considered for apprenticeship. Such a system would be equitable in all the circumstances, particularly since the taxpayer will be footing 90 per cent of the cost of the scheme.

I accept that employers must be given some freedom of choice in terms of whom they take on as apprentices. After all, apprentices will be their employees. This could be accommodated by FÁS presenting a short list of possible apprentices and employers having absolute discretion to choose from among those who are regarded as suitable. If we do not take this route we will further discredit FÁS in the eyes of many people. At present FÁS comes in for a lot of undeserved criticism because of the sort of things it is forced to do by the Government. This is yet another case where FÁS will be forced to keep a register, people will put their names on it and FÁS officials will know that they are wasting both their time and the time of the applicants in keeping such a register.

I hoped to have heard from the Minister today that she has an idea as to how this will be dealt with. At a minimum I thought the Minister would have indicated that option one, as set out in 1989, was the proper way to proceed. I admit that the issue of apprenticeship has been affected by the difficulties of negotiation between the social partners and that progress has been difficult for the Government to secure. However, to have entered into and completed negotiations, as would appear to have happened, on the issue of levies and reform and not to have come up with a solution to this problem does not speak well for the Minister's predecessors. In terms of dealing with this Bill it is wholly unsatisfactory. The Minister is aware that before she can produce regulations she will have to go back, cap in hand, to the various social partners and try to obtain an agreement.

We are also aware that reform of the outmoded apprenticeship scheme was first mooted about 1975. I do not want another 20 years to pass before a Minister comes into this House and proclaims he or she has the regulations that provide for equity in access. I know the Minister's capacity for dealing with problems is well beyond that of her predecessors over the past 20 years who failed to resolve this problem.

But I will not be around for 20 years.

None of us will have 20 years to deal with this matter.

The Deputy looks youthful enough.

The Minister should not be deceived by appearances. I feel strongly about this issue which is the core of this Bill. I am not saying my amendment is ideal but it provides that we should ensure that under the proposed apprenticeship arrangements for the designated trade, all suitably qualified applicants will have an equal chance of obtaining a place on an apprenticeship, decided against criteria which are clearly set out and available for public inspection. That is more specific in its intent than the Minister's amendment which provides for requirements to be complied with for the purpose of ensuring that the recruitment is carried out in an equitable and fair manner. What constitutes equitable and fair should be clarified in the way I seek in my amendment. We should say that all suitably qualified people will have an equal chance of obtaining a place on an apprenticeship scheme decided against criteria which are clearly set out and available for public inspection. The Minister will recognise that my amendment is more explicit and gives more direction to the Minister and her Department in the type of regulations she should draw up.

While I realise it is difficult for the Minister on Report Stage to accept an amendment, I feel strongly enough about this issue to put it to a vote. I am determined that we should give the Minister today explicit instructions on this issue. I am convinced that the Minister's views in this regard coincide with mine and, indeed, with the Opposition in general. As Dáil Members we should give the Minister instructions as to the direction in which we want to see this issue go that are clearer than in her amendment. I hope that the Minister can accept my amendment or at least incorporate some aspects of it into her amendment.

I also tabled an amendment on this issue. It asks the Minister to put in place a formal procedure that will ensure equity of access to all eligible applicants for apprenticeships. In a sense, the Minister has gone much of the way to meeting my request. She certainly has met the spirit of my amendment in the manner in which she extended the Title of the Bill. That must be welcomed as a signal of the Minister's intention to proceed in this direction. However, putting it down on paper and meeting the requirements of my amendment are two different issues. I am not certain that the full extent of my amendment has been met in the Minister's amendment which disappoints and surprises me. I agree with everything Deputy Bruton said and I will not delay the House by repeating points already made.

The issue of equity was the key consideration in the contributions of all Opposition Deputies. In turn we pointed out to the Minister how, in our experience, the existing system was unsatisfactory and unfair. We asked the Minister particularly to address points made to her on Second Stage and in our amendments on Committee Stage. We expected her to make a more comprehensive response.

The reality—this was spelled out by another Deputy who is not present—is that it is easier for a young person to secure a place in medicine at third level than to secure places on many apprenticeship courses. Part of the reason for that—it is not the main reason—is that whatever else is said about the CAO system, it is open, transparent and fair. The same cannot be said about entry to any of the apprenticeship schemes and it was that issue, more than any other, which we sought to have addressed in this Bill. We felt any improvement that might be brought about in apprenticeship schemes—there is scope for major improvement — hinged on this key requirement. That ought to be settled and put in place at this stage in the development of apprenticeship schemes. People must have free and open access to places on these schemes and any improvements envisaged by the Minister in the context of this Bill must be equally available to eligible young applicants. I am not convinced that is being done.

In the course of the Second Stage debate, I suggested that FÁS be required to draw up a list of eligible applicants. I accept that could be perhaps unattractive to employers but it should be possible to perfect the system. In addition to drawing up a list of eligible people who meet the basic requirements set out in law and who might also be subject to assessment criteria, FÁS, which has much expertise and experience in this area, should categorise these young people into areas such as crafts and trades where opportunities exist. Therefore, if an employer was considering taking on a young apprentice, he or she would not have to go through a list of hundreds of young people. For example, young people who expressed an interest in the plastering trade would be put on a list which would be available to employers. Those who expressed an interest in hairdressing would be put on another list. That concept is so self-evident it should be taken on board.

Debate adjourned.