When the debate adjourned I was talking about the number of companies in our economy which are not only not prepared to allow trade union representation but which take a vigorous and sometimes vicious attitude in preventing workers from obtaining professional representation. The Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, will be aware of the ongoing dispute at the Oxigen waste management company, which has to be addressed as soon as possible because it presents a grave threat to industrial peace in the country. Oxigen has a recycling and waste management contract with Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council and other local authorities in the Dublin region and those are vital functions for the city and other areas where the company operates. It is also a vital part of the overall waste management plan which has been rolled out by the Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Minister should be aware that workers seeking the simple facility enjoyed by Members and staff of the House – professional representation regarding conditions and rates of pay – should not have that denied them. Senior workers should not have to walk up and down outside the gates of the Oxigen factory in Clonshaugh to demand this basic right.
I welcomed the Bill last night because sections 8 and 9 seek to begin the process of outlawing the victimisation of workers who seek professional representation. The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, said that the code of practice on victimisation in the workplace is being prepared at present by the social partners. There is a sense of urgency about this and, following the passage of the Bill in coming weeks, the kind of blatant victimisation of people attempting to become members of SIPTU which has gone on in Oxigen will be outlawed. The perpetrators of that crime should be dealt with severely under this law. Yesterday the Minister of State stressed the voluntary nature of industrial relations and the Minister knows from her landmark long spell in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment that I have tried to contribute to this debate. I have tried to have Article 40.6.1º of the Constitution vindicated. That Article guarantees to all citizens the right to form associations and unions and that is why I said that attempts by Oxigen and others to prevent trade union representation is frankly unconstitutional. This issue should be pursued on these and other grounds.
The Minister will remember the debates we had in 1998 and 1999 when I was Labour Party spokesperson on enterprise, trade and employment, particularly regarding my Trade Union Recognition Bill. A key point the Minister made at the time was that she was afraid to come forward with the full report of the high level group, to accept my Bill or to look at the situation which had evolved in England. Under Tony Blair's leadership of the British Labour Party mechanisms could be created in the workplace which would trigger when a number of workers wanted professional representation by a trade union. Mechanisms could be put in place which would trigger the availability of a full trade union representational structure for a company. Although we still have not reached that point, I welcome what the Minister did in 2000 with the code of practice, which arose from a previous Bill, and which has now been extended here. As I said, these seem like baby steps towards the desired outcome, which is the right of every citizen to professional representation in the workplace.
Deputy Stagg, the Labour Party Whip, referred earlier to the Ceann Comhairle's role on the Committee on Procedure and Privilege. We have the facility of calling on the Ceann Comhairle to represent us on key issues affecting our work and conditions. Most of those working in this House are fortunate that there are skilled professional trade union officials who can help them and most people would feel those officials have done a very good job in the benchmarking debate and related issues in recent years. The idea is that those in the workplace, such as the employees of Oxigen, should be entitled, as a basic civil right, to meet in the canteen after work with the shop steward; I often did that in my earlier career. The entitlement to meet to discuss work conditions or the future prospects of one's company seems basic.
One of the arguments the Minister put forward in 1998-99 was that we could not upset the Americans in particular. Many high-tech companies were coming to Ireland, particularly from Silicon Valley in San José, which had a culture of not having trade unions and which had all kinds of other devices for representation.
I am disappointed the Tánaiste has had to leave the Chamber. During the past almost seven years it seems that the greatest factor affecting my region on the north side is American companies deciding not to locate here or existing companies deciding to leave. Many high-tech companies have fled industrial estates on the north side to relocate in places such as Bangalore in India and Singapore. In recent weeks, one of our major companies decamped to China.
One of the key reasons for such developments is our lack of competitiveness, for which the Tánaiste has a grave responsibility, particularly in terms of insurance costs. It is astonishing the Government parties have been in office for almost seven years, yet we are still only getting to a point, which one of the Tánaiste's predecessors in office had reached, on the monitoring of the insurance industry and on dealing with problems that created grave issues in regard to insurance costs. That lack of competitiveness, for which the Tánaiste has direct responsibility, is a serious issue.
The argument that seems to be espoused at times by the IDA and others, that we could not have full trade union recognition because of the impact that would have on inward investment, can be effectively rejected. I was proud a few years ago to stand with workers in the north inner city when they sought to be represented by MANDATE trade union. However, it is astonishing that distinguished companies from, say, Germany, which has trade union recognition and a strong tradition of socio-economic involvement and social partnership, come here and insist on non-recognition of trade unions and perhaps on conditions and pay rates which are out of kilter with the traditions of our labour market. It is critical that in areas where major multiples are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as is the case on the north side, there is trade union recognition.
In the year that I brought forward the Labour Party's trade union recognition Bill there was a major campaign by SIPTU to achieve trade union recognition for some of the lower, if not the lowest, paid workers of Ryanair. During the past six or seven years a vicious and vindictive campaign against the trade union movement has been carried out by Michael O'Leary and Ryanair, which has sought to portray trade unions and professional representatives of staff in a completely ludicrous light and which four or five years ago almost precipitated a major crisis at the airport.
This Bill offers some small steps towards the ideal of full trade union recognition, for which the Labour Party sought to legislate in the past and will seek to do likewise in the future.