Organisation of Working Time Bill, 1996: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, line 12, to delete "which," and substitute "which".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, line 26, to delete "educational" and substitute "education".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, line 40, to delete "a year beginning on any 1st day of April" and substitute "such period of 12 months as an employer may designate".

This is similar to an amendment I moved on Committee Stage and on that occasion I did not push it. However, I have subsequently been talking to employers in relation to this matter and many of them suggest that the starting date for calculating the holiday period should be 12 months and should not specify 1 April. We must have flexibility in relation to work practices. We must be practical. There are other aspects of this Bill, as the Minister of State knows, with which I am not happy. However, I do not see any reason we cannot give flexibility to employers in relation to the starting period for calculating annual leave. I do not know why we must enshrine in our law that it must be on 1 April.

I promised that I would look at Deputy Harney's suggestion on this issue when we discussed it on Committee Stage. On the face of it, it appears to be a practical step but I am advised there are some problems. First, as I mentioned on Committee Stage, if we had brought it in from a current date it would have the effect of postponing people's holiday entitlements, as agreed with the social partners and included in the Bill. It would have the effect of postponing the extra day's holidays, possibly for a year. To get one extra day people on 15 days would have to go up to 16 days this year, 18 days next year and 20 days by 1999. They could thus miss the enactment time by 1999.

Employees should begin to benefit from the directives without further delay. The first additional day of the statutory annual leave entitlement should take place this year. It is right and proper that it should be phased in; it gives businessmen better time to adjust rather than postponing the evil day.

I have also looked at the possibility of a two-tier definition. This is what I undertook to come back to on Report Stage. One would apply up to the end of the transitional period with a phase-in of additional leave because there is a real problem about accepting this up to 1999. Deputy Harney's amendment would apply thereafter. However, when we looked constructively at the suggestion she made, it threw up new problems. We would have to include additional provisions as to what would happen if an employer decided to change the commencement date of the year from 1 April to a date of the employer's choice. What would happen in any interregnum that would build up? It would make the definition unduly complex. Annual leave entitlements apply to all employees. It is an issue that is important and practical for everyone. It is important for people to know where they stand. Our legislation in this area should be clear and unambiguous. Though I did look at it seriously I am afraid I am not in a position to accept this amendment.

However, as I said on Committee Stage, this provision has been there for 20 years and we have had no problems with it. I have not heard of the problems the Deputy says employers have with it. For internal purposes an employer can run with the leave year from 1 January to 31 December and there is no problem with that. It is just for the purpose of computing the legal entitlements from April to April. This has been in law for 20 years without any problems arising and it gives a clear test when checking if somebody is getting what they are entitled to.

If you had variable periods it could pose problems from the point of view of people establishing their legal rights and all the complex provisions around an interregnum. Although on the face of it it looked like a sensible proposal, I am not in a position to accede to it, although I gave it an honest hearing.

I propose to accept two other amendments tabled by Deputy Harney. They are amendments Nos. 26 and 28 in sections 25 and 29 respectively. If there is a guillotine they can be taken as amendments accepted by the Minister of State.

The generosity of the Minister of State is a great cause for celebration. I think they are the first two amendments of mine that have been accepted during the 27th Dáil. I must be on a winning streak. I will not press my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 7, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:

" `shift work' means any method of organising work in shifts, whereby employees succeed each other at the same work stations according to a certain pattern, including a rotating pattern, and which may be continuous or discontinuous, entailing a need for employees to work at different times over a given period of days or weeks;

`shift worker' shall mean an employee who engages in shift work;".

This amendment relates to a definition and I am seeking the approval of the Minister of State to include a definition of shift worker. The Bill contains definitions of rest period, short time and working time. I feel this definition should be included. I am conscious that this definition is taken word for word from the directive.

Which is part of the Bill.

Will the Minister of State clarify if it is appropriate to insert it in the Bill? On Committee Stage the Minister of State said it is part of the Bill and is, therefore, not required. However, I wish to seek clarification on this particular definition. I will not press it if there is a satisfactory explanation.

The directive is an appendix to the Bill. The meaning in the directive carries over into the Bill. If there was any contradiction between meanings in the directive and in the Bill, the meanings in the directive prevail in European law. Therefore, there is no need for the amendment which is redundant as it is already provided for.

That is satisfactory.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 7, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

" `week day' shall mean any day of the week, except Sunday;".

This refers to a definition of week day. During the debate we had references to Sunday and Sunday work, with which we will deal later in the Bill. It is important that week day shall mean any day of the week except Sunday. There is a need for clarity regarding weekdays, meaning Monday to Friday. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify her position on this matter.

On Committee Stage, section 21 and the Second Schedule were amended. The effect of these amendments was to remove the need to define what a day of the week is for the purpose of a public holiday. A public holiday could arise any day of the week, including Sunday if, for example, St. Patrick's Day fell on a Sunday. The Bill now provides that employees are entitled to a public holiday regardless of what day of the week the public holiday falls on and regardless of whether the employee is normally obliged to work on that day or not. They would get their day in lieu for St. Patrick's Day falling on a Sunday. The amendment is, therefore, redundant.

Elsewhere in the Bill we deal with the issues of Sunday working and Sunday premiums. It is well provided for.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 7, line 7, to delete "is".

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 7, to delete line 33.

This amendment seeks to exclude an exemption for the activities of doctors in training. There was a public debate on this issue because many junior doctors complained about their long working hours. This situation is unsatisfactory, particularly for those working in hospital theatres. We should not include the same exemption for junior doctors as for those who work at sea. Like the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, a special provision should be inserted to allow junior doctors to be included in the Bill. I said on Committee Stage that it should be possible to deal with this situation. I tabled an amendment to allow for a collective agreement under an opt-out clause. The thrust of the Bill is wrong in relation to junior doctors.

Progress has been made in the discussions between the representatives of junior doctors and management since I tabled this amendment. Perhaps the Minister could clarify what progress has been made at the EU Council of Health Ministers which is dealing with this issue. I know that legislation or directives in relation to junior doctors are not only dealt with by the Minister but also by the Minister for Health.

I pushed this amendment on Committee Stage because we must not allow this exemption for junior doctors as it sends out the wrong signal. It is not in the interests of patients if junior doctors suffer from fatigue and are not able to cope in difficult hospital circumstances. I ask the Minister to take on board my views and to clarify what progress has been made at the EU Council of Health Ministers.

It will be possible to deal with this by regulation if agreement is reached in Europe. The permanent working group of European doctors has been involved in trying to find a common solution to the problem of regulation. A Commission White Paper is awaited. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, the Deputy knows the Commission must propose it before it comes to the table of the Council of Ministers. It is, therefore, with the Commission at present. Some preliminary drafts have been circulated within the Commission. It will require a specific Council recommendation to come to the table of the EU Council of Health Ministers. The Commission is still working on it in consultation with the permanent working group of European doctors.

Only junior doctors are excluded; all other medical staff are included under the 48 hour rule. Improvements have been made in the recent agreement reached. I agree with Deputy Tom Kitt and I hope the 48 hour rule will apply to everyone. As soon as the proposal is put on the table at the Council of Health Ministers, I will be the first to suggest the regulation.

While I welcome the Minister's reply, it is essential to put down a marker on this issue so I will press the amendment.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 8, line 40, to delete "may" and substitute "shall, before the coming into operation of Part II of this Act,".

Both these amendments relate to consultations which will take place before regulations are made under the Act. Those consultations will take place before that happens so it is unnecessary to write it into the Bill. It would be unduly prescriptive, to use the Deputy's words, to do so.

There is a sense ofdéjà vu about this amendment. It seems extraordinary that in a week when the Government decides to look for a derogation from Europe in relation to an environmental matter, which does not make environmental or economic sense, we will be out on a limb looking for an exemption. We want Europe to give us permission not to charge for water, although we know from an environmental and an economic point of view that we should because it is a scarce resource. Yet we have decided not to avail of the flexibility allowed for in the directive which would suit workers and employment and help to maintain Ireland's competitive edge in industrial investment. There is a certain irony in relation to those two matters.

On Committee Stage the Minister said that agreement had been reached between the social partners in relation to the Government's attitude to the opt-out clause. This forces the Minister to make regulations or a statutory instrument exempting those sectors from the main provisions of the Bill, which relate to the 48 hour week, in advance of their coming into force. It is important in the interests of consistency that we are clear on this matter. The Minister said there would be consultations in relation to the regulations. Perhaps she could clarify if she will make a statutory instrument available before the Bill comes into effect. The changes in work practices as a result of this legislation will be substantial. It is important that employers, industry and workers are aware well in advance of the nature of those changes. There is no point in people preparing to make changes if they are going to be exempt from the main provisions.

Ireland is foolish not to avail of the maximum flexibility. This is a small open economy with an enormous unemployment problem. I have had discussions with American companies, the American Ireland Chamber of Commerce and others and they all agree that although we have done well in terms of industrial development, there is no doubt this will have a detrimental effect on Ireland's capacity to continue to attract major investment. It will put us at a disadvantagevis-à-vis Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is a mistake that the Government has adopted such a rigid approach to this matter. The Minister said it only affects 6 per cent of workers and that is true but why should any worker who wishes to work more than 48 hours per week not be allowed to do so? When the European Union allows us to have that flexibility, we should avail of it.

Newspaper articles state that a worker who receives a salary increase of £20 per week loses £10 of it in deductions. There are many things wrong with the tax and welfare systems and we do not need a rigid regime which will make Ireland less attractive for investment or which will make matters more difficult for the industrial sector. It is particularly difficult for small and medium sized businesses because regulations of this kind fall heavily on smaller companies which need greater flexibility.

We dealt on Committee Stage with the various sectors that were affected and I do not see much point in raising that matter now because the Minister was adamant that she was not going to change her position and, in any event, agreement has been reached with the social partners. In the interests of clarity and consistency, it is a pity that the Minister is not making the regulations in advance. If she does not want to do so by way of accepting my amendment, which substitutes "shall" for "may", perhaps she would give an undertaking that it will be done by way of statutory instrument prior to the implementation of the main provisions of this Bill.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 9 not moved.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 13, line 37, to delete "time-off" and substitute "time off".

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 14, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

"(7) Except for certain `exempted activities' to be provided for by the Minister under regulations made under this Act, an employee shall not be obliged to work on a Sunday without his or her consent.".

This amendment endeavours to deal with Sunday work in the retail sector. We discussed the matter on Committee Stage and the Minister gave assurances that she would look at this area and report back to us. In the meantime, I introduced a Private Members' Bill, which I published last November, entitled the Protection of Workers (Shops) Bill, 1996, which deals specifically with this area. The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Rabbitte, said, prior to knowing about my Bill, that the need to provide workers in the retail sector with a voluntary opt-out if they did not wish to work on Sunday needed to be dealt with in separate legislation. I welcome the fact that the Minister accepted my Bill because it is important that Opposition Bills which are beneficial to workers are accepted by the Government. Another member of Fianna Fáil, Deputy de Valera, has had a Private Members' Bill accepted recently and this is a welcome development.

There is no need to go into the details of my Bill because it has been discussed already. It gives shop workers the right to opt out of Sunday work. It states that a shop worker shall not be obliged to work on a Sunday without his or her consent. It also deals with appropriate pay and notice. I hope we can deal with it as expeditiously as possible.

It is important that all businesses operating in the retail sector accept the fact that there is all-party support for this Bill and that they put in place immediately appropriate provisions for workers in such a position. In saying that, I welcome the fact that Tesco, which has decided to operate in Ireland, is making such a provision for its workers. This House recognises that Sunday should be treated differently and workers should not be coerced into signing a contract of employment to work on Sunday if they choose not to do so. If other workers wish to work on Sundays, my Bill provides for that also.

Dunnes Stores has been criticised over the years but I acknowledge the fact that it responded positively to public concern about its initial plans to open on Easter Sunday. I and others called on other stores to follow suit when Dunnes Stores decided against opening on that day and I was disappointed that they did not respond.

In the light of my Bill, I ask those doing business in this sector to take note of the cross-party support for this voluntary opt-out for workers and I respectfully suggest that they make the necessary provisions immediately. I acknowledge that some are already doing so.

I tabled this amendment to allow for that but as the Government accepted my Bill in the meantime the matter has been dealt with in another way. Therefore, I will not press this amendment.

I congratulate Deputy Kitt on introducing his Bill which was accepted by the Government. On Committee Stage, I made a strong case against Sunday trading in the context of rural Ireland. The Minister claims it is not possible to legislate for small shops without affecting the big ones.

Sunday trading is a new concept in Irish life. The local shop used to sell newspapers and some groceries for a couple of hours on Sunday in villages, towns and cities. The scene has now changed and the community and the people working in retail shops are not interested in that. We will see the demise of rural Ireland because, rather than going out for a leisurely Sunday drive and a walk in the countryside, people are now shopping in the large multiples for even the smallest items which can be bought in the local shop and use the occasion as a form of social outing.

There has been an influx of large multiples. I do not have strong views on that but I have visited European countries which have legislated against Sunday trading while, at the same time, allowing small shops to open and sell the Sunday newspapers and items such as bottles of orange and boxes of smarties. I cannot understand why we have failed to address that problem. I have my finger on the pulse in my constituency and there is no interest within the community or the workforce in Sunday trading. I ask the Minister to examine the matter.

I do not understand why Ireland cannot legislate on this matter. We must have the right to do so under EU Directives. The easy option is to say that we cannot legislate for big shops alone without affecting smaller ones. I am concerned about rural Ireland and I know Deputy Kitt and I have the full support of MANDATE, which looks after the interests of workers in the retail sector. They have very strong views on the matter, the consensus being against Sunday trading in larger, multiple shops.

Like Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, I would prefer not to see large scale shopping on Sundays. Sunday is a special day, particularly for people like us who tend to work a six day week. It is nice to have a seventh day of rest, affording us an opportunity to be with our families.

With that in mind I consulted people on all sides who considered Sunday a special day, ranging from MANDATE, RGDATA, the Consumers Association of Ireland, the bishops, Uncle Tom Cobbly, and all.

Being anxious to tackle this complex issue I took careful legal advice. There was no unwillingness on my part, but the legal advice given me is to the effect that one cannot deal with small and larger shops in a different manner. While Deputy O'Keeffe said there never had been any Sunday trading, in the same breath he said traditionally small shops in most towns sold papers, milk, bread, tea, rashers, etc. In law, that represents Sunday trading. That is my dilemma. If one restricts the larger outlets, one must also restrict the smaller. There would be an outcry in rural areas if people could not buy such commodities after Mass on Sundays.

The same would apply in cities where people might do their main shopping on Saturday but, if and when they ran out of some commodity or received unexpected visitors and wanted to cook an apple tart, will want to purchase the ingredients, a couple of packets of biscuits or extra milk. In such circumstances the local small shop gives an invaluable service. Nobody proposes to outlaw small scale shopping on Sundays, which does not interfere with its being the normal day of rest.

MANDATE made it very clear at its conference that there is a legal and constitutional obstacle to Sunday trading. Deputy Tom Kitt and I have been examining what can be donevis-à-vis Sunday working. In this Bill we address a premium for Sunday working and offer time off for those who work on Sundays. I have accepted Deputy Kitt's Bill which will be fully examined by the parliamentary draftsman followed by thorough consultation before being scrutinised by this House.

In this Bill I have already provided that people whose contract of employment does not specify that they must work on a Sunday will be allowed retain Sunday as their day off but a difficulty arises in respect of those who do have such a stipulation in their contract of employment. That issue is dealt with in Deputy Kitt's Bill. I suggest we progress the matter in that manner and ask that he withdraw his amendment.

While understanding the Minister's legal dilemma it is possible to overcome such obstacles. I should remind the House that many large multiples trade in as much as 40,000 square feet, the norm being perhaps 10,000 square feet. I want to see small shops of approximately 60 square feet remain open on Sundays. Is it not possible to legislate on the basis of square footage? I should be interested in hearing the Minister's response. I am glad to note that she like myself, likes apple tart——

——and, like the Deputy, also support the bacon industry.

Unprecedented events have taken place in this House in recent weeks. Private Members' legislation has been accepted by the Government. I welcome that as a new scenario in Irish politics. While that type of consensus obtains, surely it is possible to overcome the obstacles encountered in the matter of Sunday trading which I have so vehemently opposed? There are six towns and several villages in my constituency in east Cork where traditionally the very small local shops only, including the local butcher, remained open on Sunday mornings. The new trend is that these are being forced to remain open because of the leadership of the large multiples. This is exacerbating the shift in population from rural areas to the east coast from Dublin right down to Wexford, something with which I totally disagree. We talk much about decentralisation and offer incentives to people to live in rural areas but have failed to identify and deal with this particular problem.

I share Deputy Ned O'Keeffe's concerns about Sunday trading on which an extensive discussion took place within our Parliamentary Party when the general consensus was that something needed to be done.

A White Paper was published on the issue in the United Kingdom. I hope we will be centrally involved in the next Government, and that it will produce a White Paper and hand over this complex debate involving constitutional issues for consideration by a committee of the House following representation from all interested parties, ranging from MANDATE, RGDATA to shop owners. It is interesting to note that RGDATA supported the Fianna Fáil Bill.

As legislators we cannot continue to adopt alaissez-faire approach. We are concerned to be good Europeans and comply with directives from Brussels. It is interesting that in other member states there are all sorts of restrictions on Sunday trading. There are restrictions in countries such as in Germany, France, Sweden — where there is quite a liberal regime — in practically all European countries with the exception of ourselves and the United Kingdom. While appreciating that many of these are for religious and cultural reasons, I am convinced this debate is only beginning. There is legitimate concern among Church leaders and some members of the general public. While we cannot ignore the fact that many shoppers vote with their feet it is not a matter of simply imposing very strict controls. The subject lends itself ideally to deliberation by a committee of the House, across party lines.

Deputy Ned O'Keeffe's concerns are indeed legitimate; apart from public interest concerns we must protect the small shopkeeper. The Minister spoke of people buying papers, ingredients for apple tarts and so on, and clearly we do not want to interfere with that traditional practice on Sunday mornings.

MANDATE and others, in submissions have mentioned square footage — an area the size of a tennis court has been proposed as a sort of cut off point. Such would cover Deputy O'Keeffe's and my concerns; in other words, that anybody trading on Sundays in an area larger than that could be legislatively restricted. I merely suggest that as a possible demarcation line we should stipulate a precise square footage, above which regulations and controls would come into play.

I will not press my amendment because the Minister has accepted our Bill. However, this debate is not over and, following a White Paper, the best possible approach is to have the matter examined by a committee of the House at which all interested parties will be represented.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 12 in the name of Deputy Harney. I observe that amendment No. 13 is related and suggest that they be debated together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 15, between lines 30 and 31 to insert the following:

"(6) Notwithstanding subsection 1 of this section, an employer may permit an employee to work, in each period of 7 days, more than an average of 48 hours calculated over the applicable reference period, if—

(a) he has first obtained the employee's agreement to perform such work;

(b) no employee is subjected to any detriment by his employer because he is not willing to give his agreement to perform such work;

(c) he keeps up-to-date records of all employees who carry out such work;

(d) he provides to an inspector appointed under section 8(2), at the request of such inspector, information on cases in which agreement has been given by employees to perform such work.

(7) An inspector appointed under section 8(2) may certify that he has prohibited or restricted the possibility of some or all of the employees of an employer working, in each period of seven days, more than an average of 48 hours calculated over the applicable reference period.

(8) An employer who, without complying with paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection 6, permits an employee to work, in each period of 7 days, more than an average of 48 hours calculated over the applicable reference period, shall be guilty of an offence.

(9) Where an inspector appointed under section 8(2) issues a certificate pursuant to subsection 7, the employer named on the certificate shall be guilty of an offence if, in contravention of such certificate, he permits an employee to work in each period of seven days, more than an average of 48 hours calculated over the applicable reference period.".

We should not seek to get out of certain directives. We never got an opt-out in respect of environmental matters. Ireland will put itself out on a limb by seeking an exemption purely in the interests of saving certain vulnerable Dáil seats.

This will be bad for the environment and the economy. However, in an area where there is flexibility an opt-out would have beneficial effects on inward investment and would be good for employment and give workers the freedom to work all the hours they wish to work. This is about freedom of choice and about people who may want to increase their take-home pay. It was confirmed yesterday by the Minister for Finance, that a person who gets a £20 increase in salary, at a certain level, ends up £10 per week less well off. There is much to be done to discourage the black economy, to encourage employment, and give workers a break so that they are not forced by economic necessity to work overtime.

It seems extraordinary that the prison service and the State sector generally will be exempt from the provisions of the Bill and it will fall heavily on the private sector. In certain sectors there will be difficulties in relation to manpower planning and extra workers will have to be recruited, adding to the cost base and making many blue chip companies uncompetitive. I am disappointed the flexibility being sought in relation to other matters was not sought in respect of this matter.

This amendment brings us to the heart of the debate on this legislation. On Committee Stage it proved to be a controversial issue. My party has taken a position based on our concern for the right of the individual worker to make the choice to work more than 48 hours if he or she wishes. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions had some concerns about our position. The deputy party leader, Deputy O'Rourke, and I met Peter Cassells and Patricia O'Donovan to discuss the issues involved. They understand our position and obviously do not agree with us. If we agreed on everything it would make for a boring political life for all of us and society would be the worse for it.

I have not changed my mind in the course of this debate in relation to my position and that of my party. There is no need to rehearse the arguments we have made but we are calling for the opt-out with all sorts of protective measures enshrined in that amendment of which the Minister is aware. We have also an option for the individual and we make provision for the collective opt-out, which is a sensible course of action.

The representations received have been forceful. My colleague, Deputy O'Keeffe and I have represented many of the views from individual workers and companies who are worried about the implications of this legislation. However, I am convinced the Government will go ahead with this and it is a mistake. While this legislation is welcome and is vitally important in the interests of the health and safety of workers we are focusing primarily on this aspect of the legislation. To phase in its implementation over two years is simply not good enough and is not adequate. If I were Minister I would avail of the opt-out and the provision for a review after seven years under the EU directive. The sensible way to deal with this matter is to allow for the opt-out. The broad objective of my party and no doubt of all of us across party lines is to protect the worker at all costs. Workers have told us — and we are representing their views — they want this opt-out. Clearly there is a need to review this matter over the next seven years. A review towards the end of seven years involving the Commission and the Council of Ministers would give the Government of the day an opportunity to assess how the legislation operated and impacted on workers' conditions and potential employment here. I am not trying to make a case for inward investment but it is important that as legislators we do not ignore submissions. Since the Minister has met the interested parties who made submissions during Committee Stage, perhaps she will clarify the results of her meetings.

The sensible way to deal with this matter would be to give everybody an opportunity to adjust to the new situation and to review the procedures after seven years. If it comes to it, my party will press the amendment. I am anxious to see if the Minister will give way. We object to the manner in which she has dealt with this aspect of the Bill.

This is good legislation. Much thought and work has gone into it but this section discredits it. We no longer have visionary politicians.

Speak for yourself.

The next election will be fought and won on two issues: taxation and crime. Following recent criminal events in Tallaght, 600 people attended a meeting to discuss how to solve the problems.

I come from an area where we have seasonal work and seasonal industries. The level of submissions and lobbying in my area from people working in the food industry, is unreal. Employees are not satisfied with the 48 hour voluntary opt-out and they desire an open ended arrangement similar to that suggested by Deputy Kitt. Management are also dissatisfied with the provision as it stands.

This matter is about competition. If Ireland is not competitive in world terms there will be an increase in the numbers on the unemployment register, which currently stands at 260,000. The tiger economies of the Far East are attracting jobs which Ireland should be procuring. Those on long-term unemployment and unskilled people are not obtaining employment. Those who work in the industries to which I referred are unskilled and this provision will place industry and employees at a major disadvantage. I appeal to the Minister of State to reconsider this matter.

With regard to the farming sector, I referred to the bloodstock industry on Committee Stage. This is a very sensitive and valuable industry and is worth many millions of pounds to the economy. Those involved in the livestock industry and animal breeding are aware that continuity is required in the areas of breeding, husbandry, etc. However, this is being changed. It is well known that farmers and their employees, who are adequately compensated, work approximately 60 hours per week. The Farm Apprenticeship Board, which is a wonderful training organisation, made several submissions in respect of the legislation and argued strongly against the 48 hour voluntary opt-out. I do not know whether the Minister of State met representatives of the board, which works in conjunction with Teagasc, the training organisation, but it supports the views I expressed. I do not wish to be seen as long-winded or critical but common sense is needed on this issue.

In keeping with the spirit in the House in recent weeks where there has been consensus and agreement on Private Members' Bills and other legislation and past arguments and divisions have been forgotten, I appeal to the Minister of State to reconsider this matter and concede the amendments. Logical arguments in favour of their acceptance were made by Deputy Kitt, who is an expert in the area of labour law and labour affairs, and Deputy Harney, who is a great defender of commercial business in Ireland.

I was working from the list of Committee Stage amendments.

On Committee Stage, many of the colleagues of the Minister of State vehemently opposed the 48 hour opt-out. Many other countries such as Britain — Tony Blair is moving to the right and he will not change anything, provided he is fortunate enough to gain a majority in the House of Commons — and France will have the opt-out. As a small country, Ireland cannot afford to pay the high costs it incurs at present.

When an influential organisation such as the American-Irish Chamber of Commerce takes time to make a submission to an Oireachtas committee, it should send a clear message to everyone. There are 400 North American firms with businesses in this country which provide good employment and we would welcome more of them. However, the provision under discussion will be a disincentive for North American industries. It is probably true to state that Ireland inherited Sunday trading from the US but, at the end of the day, we must make our own decisions. We want to attract the jobs, skills, industry and investment offered by North American companies but if the correct climate and ingredients are not in place, we will not attract them in future. Deputy Harney is correct to speak strongly about that area.

The letter sent by the IDA to the select committee, which was subsequently withdrawn, was written with the best intentions and represented a good way to do business. Good vision was displayed in that affair because the message came across loud and clear. I appeal to the Minister of State to reconsider this entire area. Deputy Kitt referred to a period of seven years which is a long time, two Governments might come to office during that time. At that stage, Ireland will have prospered and progressed enormously because of the introduction of economic and monetary union which will lead to low interest rates. European Monetary Union will provide milk and honey and transform Ireland into a land of opportunity.

Ireland attracts jobs from the original land of opportunity and freedom, the United States. The submission to which I referred earlier convinces me that there is a strong case to agree to the 48 hour voluntary opt-out and put in place an open ended arrangement. We must consider the wealth, strength and employment potential of other European countries to see what can be achieved if we are to build a good economy.

Deputy Harney stated that she felt a sense ofdéjà vu and, if she made the same speech twice because she received the wrong amendment list, we have heard her in stereo. I do not want to revisit previous arguments and discussions in great depth.

Deputy Brian Fitzgerald's contribution on Committee Stage was solid and practical. In his work as a trade union official, the Deputy had much experience of dealing with restructuring arrangements, companies and situations where people traded overtime for jobs. Deputy Harney stated that it would be terrible if a poor business person were forced to take on additional staff but we are concerned with the creation of employment.

The economy has been extremely successful and, in the four years I have been in office, there has been an increase of 160,000 in the number of people in employment. I met representatives of the American-Irish Chamber of Commerce to which Deputies Kitt and O'Keeffe referred and there has been a great deal of exaggeration in respect of this provision's effect on multinationals. When we met the American-Irish Chamber of Commerce and discussed this issue in detail, it emerged that they had a perception that Ireland is excessively regulatory. We pointed out that the legislation is major deregulation to simplify labour laws dating from the 1930s, recast them in a modern framework and ensure that it will no longer be necessary for 21 companies to approach my Department each week to seek endorsement for changes in shift patterns. The Bill is a major attempt to deregulate and simplify the labour laws and the main concern of the American-Irish Chamber of Commerce was about perception, not reality. These arrangements will not pose problems for inward investment and American multinationals operating in Ireland which have working conditions better than those laid down in law and pride themselves on being good employers.

A number of firms and sectors sought a two year lead-in period with regard to implementing the provision. This was agreed with the social partners, IBEC and the ICTU. Both sides signed that deal. This provision is a balanced and measured approach to the problem of excessive overtime and will meet the needs of groups — they remain a minority — for which an immediate 48 hour week could pose a problem. We are not providing an exemption for the entire State sector because most of this sector will be covered by the 48 hour rule.

I remain concerned about the issue of excessive overtime. It is my strong view, borne out by health and safety statistics on accidents and fatalities in the workplace, that consistently long working hours cause problems. Standards slip and mistakes are made, sometimes with regrettable and sad consequences. I apologise to no one for introducing legislation with a health and safety focus which states that excessive working hours are bad for the health of workers and safety in the workplace. I need only highlight the fact that, in the current year, 11 people were killed as a result of accidents in the workplace, the majority of which were avoidable. That is an alarming figure.

In tandem with the Health and Safety Authority I will take all possible measures to improve people's physical working environment and ensure health and safety in the workplace. The conditions under which employees work, such as rest breaks and maximum working time limits, should be seen as a welcome addition to the necessary protection of workers. I am sure if we examined volumes of Hansard from the 19th century when there was a move away from the seven and the six and a half day working week and other fundamental changes were made to labour law, we would find alarmist predictions about the effect on competitiveness and the workplace. Conditions and living standards have improved immeasurably since then and the alarmist predictions were not fulfilled. Alarmist predictions were also made about the loss of jobs, female employment in particular, and competitiveness when equal pay legislation was introduced in 1975, yet the sky did not fall on our heads and there are more women in the workforce now than ever before.

There is much unnecessary alarm about this issue. Rather than succumb to the robust protestations of lobby groups, we should consider the reality and see this as a sensible and balanced provision which has been accepted as such by those involved in industry.

If the Government does not call the election soon we will all suffer from excessive working hours. If they are bad for our health the Minister of State should make sure we do not have to endure them too much longer.

The Minister said that employers may have to take on more workers and I am in favour of greater employment. However, some companies will find their cost bases substantially increased and will be put at a competitive disadvantage. The security industry is an example I have raised before. It is full of cowboys who do not care about regulations and the black economy is rampant in that sector. One company told me recently that this legislation would add £50,000 a year to its security costs. We may consider this to be in the interests of workers. However, it will not be good if people lose their jobs to employees of companies in the black economy who are also collecting welfare payments.

We must be practical in this matter and accept that the greater the amount of flexibility the more employment is encouraged. We are talking about the freedom of the employee to make a choice. Many employees choose to work long hours, particularly young people who might be getting married or saving for a house. It is their choice and in a free society they should be able to make it.

Deputy Ned O'Keeffe is right about what will happen in the UK because I doubt if a new Labour government there will change the British policy on this issue given Mr. Tony Blair's policies on public spending, social welfare reform or taxation — he is talking about an initial tax rate of 10 per cent. If the Minister of State's party had similar policies to those of the British Labour Party I would be enthusiastic about going into Government with it. However, I see no sign of that; her party is about 15 years behind its British counterpart. Mr. Blair is advocating for Britain what is needed for Ireland — he wants to develop the enterprise culture; he will not turn the tide against privatisation; he is in favour of maintaining low tax rates, introducing an initial tax rate of 10 per cent and radically reforming the welfare system. As they have been his views for some time I do not believe he will change British policy on this matter because he knows it makes sense for Britain. This is true in the context of inward investment from outside Europe, in particular from the United States which cannot understand why we would not opt out of something so inflexible.

Although this may not have great practical effects on many companies that do not operate on the basis of large amounts of overtime and although there is some flexibility in the way in which the provisions apply, it will be damaging from the point of view of perception. It will make the IDA's job more difficult. The Bill is excellent, by and large, and the Minister of State is deregulating some labour practices which have not changed since we achieved our independence. However, many impractical features remain in our labour legislation regarding how employees are paid, for example, which need to be updated. Flexibility would be in the national interest and in the interests of workers and employment and I regret we did not opt for it.

There is a contrast in our approach to this issue, on which we could have had an opt out, and our approach to water management and the protection of the environment. Flexibility and opt-outs are not allowed and we have never got an exemption in relation to an environmental directive, yet, in the interests of saving vulnerable seats, an exemption is to be sought in the knowledge that it will not be obtained. This points up an ironic inconsistency in the approach to these matters.

I agree with Deputy Harney about the hypocritical inconsistency on the issue of water management. The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, has indicated that he will not accept the directive from Brussels on that issue yet, in this case——

It has not been adopted yet.

The position of the Labour Party is based on electoral problems, particularly in one constituency. The Minister of State and I share the same constituency and she does not have such problems according to the polls I have seen.

The electorate is very discerning.

Our view on this issue is based on the real world and on the information we have received from workers. The Minister of State has heard the views of Deputies from urban and rural constituencies on this matter.

The Minister of State and others have disingenuously raised the possibility of a reversion to sweatshop practices and there have been alarmist statements with regard to health and safety. We support health and safety measures. I stress that these amendments relate to a voluntary opt-out. There is a "we know what is best for you" attitude permeating this section which is a dangerous ideological position for a small open economy.

We must examine carefully these EU directives. My party is fully committed to participation in the EU but we should be careful about the small print, so to speak. In this case we consider that there is a better way to deal with this section of the Bill and we have suggested it. We have not simply objected to the provisions; rather, we have suggested a practical alternative.

The case for the IDA has been well made. I agree with Deputy Ned O'Keeffe that the IDA's true position was as stated in the first letter it sent to the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy. Mr. McGowan deserves marks for making his point and whatever happened afterwards is history. The Irish Concrete Federation has also expressed concerns. It pointed out that it has problemsvis-à-vis competition with those in the concrete business in Northern Ireland. Its arguments on this point have not been addressed. It has been argued that all will be well and that the arrangements will be phased in over a period of two years but by that stage the matter will be lost in the bureaucratic system administered from Brussels. I am concerned about this aspect of the Bill which the Minister of State has been asked to reconsider by my colleague, Deputy O'Keeffe.

This is the wrong way to go about dealing with the issue. It would be more practical to phase in the arrangements over a seven-year period at the end of which they would be subject to review. This would not alone meet the needs of workers who wish to have freedom of choice but also the needs of industry. As the Minister of State is aware, some of the submissions were extensive. There is no need to list the agencies, bodies and representative groups which have expressed serious concern which has not been addressed. I regret that the Minister of State is determined to proceed in this manner.

The Minister of State mentioned the health and safety aspects and that some workers are required to work an excessive number of hours. This is an exaggeration. We moved away from such a system a long time ago. There is now greater flexibility and a better understanding between employers and employees. It is alarming and disappointing that the Minister of State would make such a statement. She gave many quotations but the reality is that if two countries in Europe decide to opt out, a problem will arise immediately.

I wish to comment on the effect the arrangements will have on the agriculture industry, both at production and processing level. The Minister of State did not deal with this issue. Many fine submissions have been made. The Minister of State comes from the wealthiest part of the country, the stockbroking and banking belt, where people know little about the dairy sector. However, they know much about PLCs. Even though she represents a party of the left, the Minister of State has their support. To generate more wealth and income, they would like her to adopt a more flexible approach in this Bill.

The agriculture industry is going through a traumatic period. In a short few months farmers have lost £200 million and will soon incur additional costs. Instead of an increase, there will be a downturn in employment. The Government side of the House, which is being directed by the two left wing parties, is doing little to help them. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry has run from the issue. He goes racing regularly — last week he was at Aintree.

The problems of the dairy and processing sectors are not being addressed. Seasonality presents a problem. I would like to know what the Minister of State said to the organisations concerned when she met them. The bloodstock sector is vital to the economy but it cannot operate on the basis of a 48 hour week. In the dairy sector, farmers have to tend their cows overnight in case they calve. This seems to have been forgotten.

The Government is anti-farmer. Farmers are waiting to tell those on the Government benches, particularly the members of Fine Gael, what they think of them. This Bill adds to their problems.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 15, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:

"16.—(1) An employee may waive his statutory right to a 48 hour maximum working week by either—

(a) a written agreement with his employer, or

(b) pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement as approved by the Labour Court.

(2) An employee who refuses to give his or her consent to the waiver shall not be subjected to any detriment by his or her employer.

(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, where such a waiver has been agreed, an employer shall not permit an employee to work in each 7 days more than an average of 60 hours calculated over a period of 12 months.

(4) The employer shall take the necessary steps to ensure that health surveillance is made available to the employee in question within the meaning of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations, 1993.

(5) An employee to whom this section applies may, at any stage, withdraw his or her consent by giving to his or her employer one month's notice in writing.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 16, line 41, to delete "24 hours" and substitute "48 hours".

Many worthwhile suggestions have been made that the legislation should be improved to provide greater protection for workers. This is a straightforward proposal. The notice required to be given is too short and should be extended.

This matter was addressed in a more generous way on Committee Stage. The rule is that an employee should be given 24 hours notice before the weekly break. If an employee has Saturday and Sunday off, he or she has to be told on Thursday night what his or her hours for the following Monday are.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 18, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:

"(4) (a) It shall be unlawful for an employer to require the attendance of an employee at his place of work for the purpose of work without providing that employee either—

(i) work on that day for a continuous period of not less than 3 hours, or (ii) remuneration in lieu of the above.

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a), an employee may waive his rights under this subsection by a written consent agreement with his employer but the said consent should not be a condition of his employment.".

This amendment would require an employer to give adequate notice, to specify a minimum number of hours and to pay adequate remuneration. So far as MANDATE is concerned, the practice of offering zero hour contracts is still being followed. We welcome the fact that this Bill goes some considerable distance in dealing with the issue. Zero hour contracts should be eliminated.

During the debate on the Protection of Young Workers Act the Minister of State and I highlighted the need for legislation in this area. In a time of increasing casualisation of employment, there is a need for greater protection in terms of adequate notice, remuneration and so on. Employers need to be upfront with their workers. This morning on Radio Ireland Peter Cassells spoke eloquently about this issue. In the context of Partnership 2000, he made the point that there was a need for a change of attitude in the workplace.

I have spoken to workers who found themselves in such positions. We need to give comprehensive protection to young people who have to wait beside a phone to know if they are working and who are not given the hours they were promised. I acknowledge that the Minister has gone a considerable way in dealing with this issue but further work is required. What progress did she make in this area during her discussions with MANDATE which I understand is not completely satisfied with her efforts?

I had a two and a half hour discussion on the Bill with MANDATE before Committee Stage. Initially it did not fully understand my proposal but it finally accepted that it will effectively outlaw zero hour contracts. If it has gone back on this in any way it is more a touch of pre-conference collywobbles than anything else. I do not use the term "zero hour contract" but the wording used has the same import. A person on such a contact who is not given work will have to be paid money on a weekly basis. The Deputy proposes that they should be paid on a daily basis but MANDATE is happy that my proposal meets its concerns. There will not be zero hour contracts after the enactment of the legislation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

We now come to amendment No. 16. Amendments Nos. 17, 18, 19, 33, 35, 37 and 39 are related. Is it agreed that we take amendments Nos. 16 to 19, inclusive, 33, 35, 37 and 39 together? Agreed. Recommittal is necessary in respect of these amendments.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 16 to 19, inclusive.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 19, lines 17 to 19, to delete all words from and including "whichever" in line 17, down to and including "namely" in line 19.

These technical amendments arise out of a possibly unintended consequence of the way we are dealing with thepro rata holiday entitlements of people who work less than full hours in one year. This amendment will ensure that they receive a maximum of four weeks holidays and that a person who works for nine months does not get five weeks holidays.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 19, line 24, after "hours," to insert "or".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 19, line 25, to delete "year", and substitute "year (but subject to a maximum of 4 working weeks):".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 19, to delete lines 26 and 27 and substitute the following:

"Provided that if more than one of the preceding paragraphs is applicable in the case concerned and the period of annual leave of the employee, determined in accordance with each of those paragraphs, is not identical, the annual leave to which the employee shall be entitled shall be equal to whichever of those periods is the greater.".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments reported.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 19, line 31, after "regarded" to insert ",for the purposes of this Act,".

This is a drafting amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 19, line 32, to delete "has worked" and substitute "works".

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman

We now come to amendment No. 22. Amendment No. 23 is related. Is it agreed that we discuss amendments Nos. 22 and 23 together? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 19, line 47, to delete "The reference" and substitute "References".

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 19, line 48, to delete "a reference" and substitute "references".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 24, line 1, after "who" to insert ", without reasonable cause,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 24, to delete lines 17 to 21 and substitute the following:

"(1) In this section `relevant provision' means—

(a) any of the following sections, namely, section 6(2), sections 11 to 23, or section 26,

(b) the provision referred to in section 6(1) of regulations, a collective agreement, registered employment agreement or employment regulation order referred to in that section, or

(c) paragraph 9 of the Fifth Schedule.".

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman

We now come to amendment No. 27a. Amendment No. 28 is an alternative. Is it agreed that we discuss the two amendments together? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 27a:

In page 26, line 45, before "any" to insert "with the consent of the employee,".

This is an alternative to Deputy Harney's amendment No. 28.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 28 to 30, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 30, line 32, after "case may" to insert "be".

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Due to a printing error, a correction requires to be made to amendment No. 32. In the last line of subsection (1) the reference to "subparagraph (i)" should read "paragraph (i)".

Bill recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 32 and 33.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 33, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

"41.—(1) Section 49 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, is hereby amended by the substitution of '£1,500' for '£1,000' in each of the following provisions of that section, namely, subsection (1), paragraph (a) of subsection (2) and subparagraph (i) of subsection (3).

(2) Paragraph (j) (which increases a certain penalty under the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972) of section 58 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, is hereby amended by the substitution of `£1,500' for `£1,000' in each place where it occurs in that paragraph.

(3) Section 39 of the Safety, Health and Welfare (Offshore Installations) Act, 1987, is hereby amended by—

(a) the substitution of `£1,500' for `£1,000' in each of the following provisions of that section, namely paragraph (a) of subsection (1) and subsection (2),

(b) the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (b) of subsection (1):

`(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both a fine and such imprisonment.' and

(c) the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (b) of subsection (7):

`(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both a fine and such imprisonment.'.

(4) This section shall have effect as respects offences committed after the commencement of this section.".

This amendment will increase from £1,000 to £1,500 the fines under the Health and Safety Act for a District Court prosecution. As Deputy Kitt knows, the amount cannot be increased beyond £1,500 for District Court fines as it is a general limit. However, I am sure he will welcome this 50 per cent increase.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 33, to delete lines 27 to 30 and substitute the following:

"1. In paragraph 2—

`each working week reference' means, in relation to section 19(1), each reference in that section to 4 working weeks;

`percentage reference' means, in relation to section 19(1), the reference in paragraph (c) of that section to 8 per cent.".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments reported.
Amendment No. 34 not moved.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 35.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 33, to delete lines 33 to 35 and substitute the following:

"(i) for each working week reference there were substituted a reference to 3 working weeks and for the percentage reference there was substituted a reference to 6 per cent., and".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.
Amendment No. 36 not moved.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 37.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 34, to delete lines 2 to 4 and substitute the following:

"(i) for each working week reference there were substituted a reference to 3 working weeks and one day and for the percentage reference there were substituted a reference to 6.4 per cent., and".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.
Amendment No. 38 not moved.
Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 39.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 34, to delete lines 12 to 14 and substitute the following:

"(i) for each working week reference there were substituted a reference to 3 working weeks and 3 days and for the percentage reference there were substituted a reference to 7.2 per cent., and".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment reported.
Amendments Nos. 40 to 42, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 36, line 30, to delete "whole Act" and substitute "whole Act.".

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 not moved.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 37, line 49, after "entered into" to insert "in".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 38, line 2, to delete "labour" and substitute "Labour".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 38, to delete lines 4 to 7 and substitute the following:

"(b) in a case where no body of the kind referred to in subparagraph (a) stands recognised by the employer concerned for the purpose of negotiations concerning the pay or other conditions of employment of the category of employees to whom the employee concerned belongs, a".

This amendment is intended to provide for two mutually exclusive situations. As drafted, there was a technical problem with the Bill and this clarifies the matter.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 38, line 18, after "approved" to insert "of".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 50 not moved.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 39, line 14, to delete "schedule" and substitute "Schedule".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 42, line 25, to delete "periods." and substitute "periods,".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 42, line 26, to delete "DIRECTIVE" and substitute "DIRECTIVE:".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 42, line 33, to delete "to;" and substitute "to:".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 43, line 6, to delete "working at the employer's disposal and is carrying" and substitute "working, at the employer's disposal and carrying".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 48, line 14, before "lower level" to insert "a".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 48, line 18, to delete "member" and substitute "Member".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 48, line 47, to delete "article" and substitute "Article".

Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass".

I thank Deputy Kitt and his colleague, Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, who contributed robustly to the debate on the Bill. Deputy Kitt, who is a constituency colleague, has the workers' interests at heart. I believe he is mistaken in one particular respect but we have had a fair, open and honest debate. Deputy Harney also contributed in her own inimitable and robust fashion. I disagree with many of her points but she made a valuable and democratic contribution.

The Bill will mark important progress in updating our labour laws as we approach the 21st century. We need a modern framework of labour law that ensures our economic progress is not based on the exploitation of workers. It must be both flexible and simple and respect workers' basic rights.

I thank my own staff who worked long and hard not only in preparing some very technical issues in relation to the Bill but also for their involvement in an unprecedented level of consultation with the social partners. I thank the social partners for their co-operation. Despite the difficulties experienced in the past we were able to reach agreement, and the Bill reflects a balance between the views expressed on both sides. That partnership is important for us in framing our labour laws.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the manner in which he presided over the latter part of the debate when we disposed of a large number of amendments. I am conscious of the fact that many of our colleagues are currently campaigning, and I am sure the Minister of State and I will have an opportunity to do that later this week.

I thank the Minister of State for the manner in which she put her case. I welcome the broad thrust of the Bill. We differed on one particular aspect, mainly, the question of the 48 hour week and the need for a voluntary opt-out. I thank my colleagues on this side of the House who contributed to the debate, particularly Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, my colleague Deputy O'Rourke and others who took a strong position on this matter. I hope it was accepted that the views we expressed were based on our own assessment of the situation. Out of this debate Fianna Fáil had a Private Members' Bill accepted by the Government in relation to workers' rights, and that is to be welcomed. It was important to deal with the whole question of Sunday work in the retail sector.

Fianna Fáil has been a strong advocate of social partnership. We initiated the whole process and we welcome the new programme Partnership 2000. I am aware there is some evidence of cracks appearing in that agreement. I hope they can be mended because it is worrying that they appeared at this early stage. Serious concerns have been expressed by Peter Cassells and others and I hope those can be addressed.

In regard to issues such as the provision of an opt-out clause from the 48 hour working week, there is an onus on legislators to look beyond the process of social partnership and consensus. Deputy Jim Mitchell made the valid point that while consensus on various issues is a welcome development, it is equally important that legislators keep their eyes on the real world in terms of the concerns of individual workers and industry. We have a role to play in the way we deal with specific issues; in this case labour legislation was required. It is my experience that we cannot always depend on consensus. I watched the Minister of State trying to juggle the interests of the trade union movement and those of industry, employees, etc. In this case they simply did not gel. Many workers expressed views to us that their own trade unions were not articulating their genuine concerns. One could say this issue fell between those interests and there was a clear need for the legislators to enact a law pertaining to the real world.

I wish the Minister of State well with this legislation. We are concerned about the aspects to which I referred but I hope they will not impact too seriously on those we endeavour to represent.

Question put and agreed to.