Industrial Disputes.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this serious issue on the Adjournment of the House. The IFI plant in the Cork harbour area closed some months ago with the loss of hundreds of jobs. I submitted this matter for the Adjournment debate early this morning to the office of the Ceann Comhairle. I expected that the Minister, Deputy Harney, or one of her junior Ministers would be in the House to address the issue of the problems in the ADM plant in Ringaskiddy, County Cork. It is unacceptable that neither the Minister nor her junior Minister is in the House tonight. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, who is a courteous man. I presume he will read out a script in response. I find it unacceptable that none of the 12 Fianna Fáil Members from Cork city and county are in the House to speak on an issue of fundamental importance to the economy of the Cork region. I wonder if I am wasting my time in raising this matter. The arrogance and indifference of this Government is unbelievable. It believes it has four more years to go before an election and if ADM goes down the tubes it will be long forgotten by then.

I want to highlight the plight of the workers in ADM, 80 of whom have been locked out since 5 March 2003. This situation has put 75 members of different unions out of work. They are workers represented by SIPTU, APT branch, TEEU and AEEU.

The company met with union representatives in February and outlined its need to change work practices and procedures. The union wanted to discuss the ramifications of such changes but the ADM management refused saying that the changes were non-negotiable. The union committee suggested that management should speak to the workers. Union meetings were called and the overwhelming majority of SIPTU branch two workers voted against the company proposals. The union officials suggested that the case be referred either to the Labour Relations Commission or to a full Labour Court hearing. The company refused and this was a breach of current company-union agreement and also in breach of the partnership criteria.

Most of the employees are shareholders in the company and have an average of about 25 years service. The company insisted on the implementation of the changes on 5 March 2003 regardless. When workers arrived for work that morning, senior management stood at the entrance and refused them admission. They were locked out and denied due process. That is an incredible situation in 2003.

The workers applied for social welfare benefits from 5 March and some have not yet received any decision and some have been refused social welfare payments. On 13 March 2003, the company informed the workers that they had been temporarily laid off. In all that time they received not one cent from the company or from the State. Many of those workers have contributed to the State for 40 years and more. They are being denied their rights by the Government in their hour of need. A deaf ear is being given to the behaviour of the company. The workers and their families have been demoralised by the company. They are suffering the stress and anxiety of being without work and severe financial hardship.

I am appealing to the Government to take immediate action to remedy the situation. I appeal to the Minister of State to ask the Minister to arrange talks between the company and union representatives. Cork cannot take any more of this type of behaviour from this Government.

An industrial dispute at the ADM plant in Ringaskiddy, County Cork, has resulted in the temporary closure of the company since 10 March 2003. This dispute arose when the company sought agreement to introduce a restructuring plan, including new rostering arrangements. The new arrangements were due to come into effect in early March 2003. The conciliation service of the Labour Relations Commission was asked to intervene between management and staff representatives due to difficulties in introducing the new arrangements. On 5 March 2003 an officer of the commission met with representatives of staff and management. The outcome of these discussions was rejected by SIPTU. The company then announced its intention to close the plant for a temporary period in order to facilitate a review of plant operations. Operations at the Ringaskiddy plant ceased on 10 March last.

The company indicated to workers that the review would have regard to the overall operations, the business and economic position and industrial relations in the company and undertook to make its intentions known when the review had been completed. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment understands that the review is still in progress and that no announcement has been made regarding the future of the Ringaskiddy plant.

It is disappointing that all the jobs at the plant could be at risk as a result of an industrial dispute, particularly in light of the failure of management and the unions to achieve a solution to the impasse, despite the intervention of the Labour Relations Commission. The loss of these jobs would be a major blow to the local economy.

The Minister has stated in this House on previous occasions that it would not be appropriate to intervene in such disputes. Instead, the parties should utilise the expert services of the dispute-settlement machinery in order to avoid continuing disruption and hardship. The experience and expertise of these services are available free of charge to disputing parties and offer them the best avenue for resolving their differences. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the parties concerned to ensure that agreement is reached.

The ADM plant in Ringaskiddy has been in operation for more than 30 years and has made an enormous contribution to the economy of the area. I am confident that, with goodwill on both sides, there will be a positive outcome following the company's review of operations and that the plant will continue in operation for many years to come.

On a point of order, in regard to the Minister of State's response—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:

The Deputy is completely out of order. We cannot set a precedent. I call Deputy Broughan. The Deputy is completely out of order.

The Minister of State's response completely misses the point.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:

We cannot set a precedent here. I have called Deputy Broughan. There can be no departure from long-established practice in accordance with Standing Orders.