This is essentially Deputy Quill's amendment from Committee Stage and I was happy to support it then. I accept that the Minister of State has made some effort in including it, albeit in a changed fashion, in the Seanad amendment before us.
Part of the problem is that we are endeavouring to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Inevitably we have ranged wider into some of the more fundamental questions posed by industrial training efficiencies than were prescribed in the Bill which sought to do no more than levy a portion of the quite extensive cost of industrial training on employers. In itself that constitutes minimal progress after many years of tussling with the issue. All parties in the House, and the Minister agreed on Second Stage that, unfortunately, most employers seem to view the question of training as a cost on industry rather than an investment in productivity and competitiveness.
Therefore, Deputy Richard Bruton had a very strong, fundamental point when he argued from the beginning for the necessity for a whole rethink of the industrial training and apprenticeship system to have been set out in a White Paper so that we could consider questions like this in context. That is a fundamental argument, one which highlights the difficulty posed for us in dealing with a very narrow aspect of the entire industrial training question.
Competitiveness seems to be the "in" word. We now have a Programme for Competitiveness and Work. I understand the employers wanted to call it a Programme for Competitiveness and the trade unions were successful in having tacked on the terms “and Work”. I am not sure whether, like a lot of things we do, there is too much meaning to that. However, if one is to look at the question of competitiveness, Deputy Quill is quite right in pointing to the significance of industrial training.
I took issue with a colleague in the House yesterday who seemed to be of the view that our special tax regime of 10 per cent was the main plank of our competitiveness in this economy as far as the multinationals are concerned. I do not believe that is the case and the multinationals admit there are other factors for their presence. They are here generally speaking, because we have a well trained, highly educated, English-speaking workforce; because they want to gain access to European Union markets and other reasons in addition to the special tax regime.
This area Deputy Quill has highlighted is a significant factor in international competitiveness. If one does not have a workforce trained to the highest degree possible, that has the multi-skill adaptability and flexibility about which Deputy Quill spoke, our competitive ness is undermined. Therefore, it is difficult to confront an issue as major as this. For example, in my Second Stage contribution, I dealt in passing with the system that obtains in Germany. Other Members of the House agree that although it is a radically different system, we should examine it in terms of revamping policy in this area. We are hidebound by the fact that the Bill is so narrow that it merely deals with the question of whether employers ought to be required to make a contribution to the fairly significant costs of apprenticeship. The Minister will say that she has broadened the Bill somewhat to deal with the question of equitable recruitment. She has, but like Deputy Quill I do not know whether this amendment is more than aspirational. The Minister is now required to consider these matters. Having regard to the traditional profile of apprenticeship and the practices that have obtained for hundreds of years, the Minister can reasonably say she is implementing the letter if not the spirit of this Bill without impacting greatly on the three headings in the amendment. The traditional profile is such and patterns on this question are so ingrained in both sides of industry, that the Minister merely taking those factors into consideration will not bring about a sea change in attitudes which will either facilitate greater equity in access or on the question of multi-skilling.
Deputy Quill has raised an intriguing question on multi-skilling, on which I would like to hear the Minister's views. In industry in 1994 the term "multi-skilling" is as commonplace as any other that has been in vogue since we became an industrial country. I am intrigued as to why the draftspersons should find the word unsuitable. The text of the amendment, paragraph (iii), reads:
the potential for developing the skills of apprentices of the sector or sectors of industry to be designated so as to make it possible for them to adapt to technological and other developments;
Perhaps it means the same thing but I am mystified as to why a term that is in vogue, which is understood by both sides of industry where traditional demarcation is breaking down, is somehow repugnant to the draftpersons. The Minister will be aware that the question of multi-skilling is at the coalface of some disputes that have surfaced recently. It is a bitter pill to swallow for some traditional craftpersons that we are no longer in the era of the one skill, one dimensional approach to craft and so on. Multi-skilling is pertinent and relevant in the context in which Deputy Quill raises it. I do not know, and I am open to being convinced by the Minister, why the term is jettisoned in favour of waffle. I always thought it was the task of Government, with their superior resources to point to imprecision in amendments put forward by the Opposition and to tidy them up. In this case it is the opposite. While I welcome the amendment in so far as it goes, I wonder whether it will be meaningful at the end of the day.
The emerging needs of women was a key factor in this legislation. The Minister is as genuine in supporting these needs as is anybody on this side of the House. However, despite all the well intentioned aspirations in the world, the prospect of the emerging needs and requirements of women in the workplace being acceded to and developed is slim. The enshrining of a mere aspirational intention in legislation will not change that.
The Minister opted for the voluntary code of practice following discussion with the social partners. As I said at the time, it is patently evident to anybody in public life that the views of the social partners matter a great deal more than those of us who seek election to this House. We will see how long that continues and whether it is a good thing. It is time somebody made an academic analysis of the stifling consensus which is smothering debate here, but that is another day's work. The Minister decided to opt for the voluntary code because this was the preference of the social partners. I wish the Minister well, but I am not sure that at the end of the two year trial period, it will have produced a great deal of tangible results. I would like to hear the Minister threaten to review it and take what legislative measures may be necessary in the event of the voluntary code not producing the desired results.