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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 13 Nov 2003

Vol. 574 No. 3

Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

I welcome the Bill and its provisions for the resolution of disputes, the introduction of new codes of practices and the new powers that will be given to the Labour Court. Even though people in Donegal might believe this Bill is too little too late, we are moving in the right direction.

Donegal has seen a number of job losses over recent years. A task force on employment was drawn together by our capable county manager, Michael McCloone, in conjunction with the Tánaiste's Department. While the report and its contents in that regard were welcomed at the time, it would take more than €0.50 million to implement it. Unfortunately it is still gathering dust in county council offices in Lifford, with the result that Donegal has the highest level of unemployment nationally, more than twice the national average.

Since January some 1,200 jobs in member companies of IBEC have been lost in Donegal and some 80% of all redundancies in the north-west have been in Donegal. While I may be straying slightly from the Bill, the unemployment crisis in Donegal must be raised at every opportunity in the House to help bring it to an end. I appeal to the Tánaiste to focus more of her attention on unemployment in Donegal. We have enough reports, it is now time for action and the necessary resources to be put in place to end this crisis.

Inishowen is one of the areas worst affected by unemployment in County Donegal. I highlight the difficulties facing the remaining workers in the renowned Fruit of the Loom factory in Buncrana. As far as I am aware, the code of practice that was in place in this plant has been scrapped by management and the workers there are operating in an extremely difficult environment. I am not sure what the Minister can do, but I request her to use her good offices to help to resolve this dispute. If she cannot intervene, her advice and direction in this case would be much appreciated.

I apologise for not sticking precisely to the Bill, but exceptions must be made for Donegal, given the unemployment crisis there.

With respect to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, I find it surprising that a representative of the Department Enterprise, Trade and Employment is not here for the entirety of this debate. I appreciate that the Department has many wide-ranging functions that can keep everyone occupied, but given that it has as it departmental head the Tánaiste and also two Ministers of State, it should properly recognises the contribution this House can make to legislation put before it by the Department and have a representative from the Department overseeing this debate. I express disappointment that no member of the Department is present in the Chamber.

In responding to this legislation yesterday my party colleague and spokesman on this area, Deputy Eamon Ryan, expressed disappointment that the process which accompanied this Bill, its genesis and the quick proceedings that brought it to this House, were influenced by the degree to which the social partnership works more for some within the social partnership process than for others. I can speak from personal experience in that before I was elected to this House I participated in social partnership as a member of the National Economic and Social Council representing the community and voluntary pillar. While I found the experience I gained in the three years I was a member of the council extremely valuable, it was clear that there were different classes of membership in terms of the social partnership process. Some partners were more equal than others and the most senior and most equal of the partners are undoubtedly the employers pillar and the unions pillar. This legislation is borne out that recognition.

This Bill is welcome in its own right. It provides for small but necessary steps in areas where reform is required. However, it is unfortunate that legislation is necessary for what should be basic and definable constitutional rights, as speakers have said. There is a contrast in the speed with which this Bill came to the House. Although it has already missed a deadline, having been promised in Sustaining Progress for early 2003, it still has come to the House within a relatively short period of time. Legislation that would have far greater importance for the community and voluntary sector in the partnership process is the charities Bill. We are still waiting for that legislation, 25 years after it was promised in the Costello report. It is interesting to see how the Government prioritises its legislation programme with the slight, but important, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2003, yet important legislation such as the charities Bill is still not brought before the House.

I am dissatisfied with how this House deals with the partnership negotiation process. Sustaining Progress was never discussed in this Chamber, although it has been discussed in the Upper House. All participants – the ICTU, IBEC and the community and voluntary pillar – in the social partnership process have processes in which to endorse partnership agreements. It is not just for Sustaining Progress but all other agreements before. However, this House has none. It should be a basic requirement of the social partnership process that a debate and a vote in this House must accompany any agreements. That this is not the case, is not only a slight to this House but further demeans those of us on this side who are not participants in the everyday business of government. On these grounds, I want to see a more proactive approach from the Government.

This Bill is inching along in terms of legislative reform in areas that should be taken for granted. The principle of freedom of association is enshrined in our Constitution, yet the idea of people choosing to be part of a trade union is in question with many employers. Other forms of victimisation can and do exist. I had experience in my employment career where membership of a political party was put as a question mark at a particular time. While this Bill does not deal with those specific areas, I can let the Department know there are many areas that are in need of greater reform if we are to be serious about dealing with victimisation in the workplace.

Those supportive of the trade union movement must remember that there is a need for better legislation and considerable reform in this area. They should also be aware that freedom of association carries with it the individual's right to disassociate. If industrial relations are to be based on the right of the individual worker, it is not only the right of people to choose to join a union, it is also the right to remain in or leave a union. It is also their right to have different unions operating in an individual industry or company. There is still the potential for a great deal of industrial unrest. This is not only due to how employers are dealing with current legislation. It is also due to practices in the trade union movement that make it difficult for individual workers to choose not to be a member of a union or create another one in their particular company or industry.

The social partnership process has been successful in generating a better era of industrial peace. It can be seen in the number of days lost to strikes, decreasing dramatically from 1987, with the first partnership agreement. However, in the last two years this figure has started to creep upwards again. This is a worry for the House, the Government and, in particular, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney. I am not certain that this trend can be reversed through the introduction of Bills such as this. Why is a degree of industrial unrest beginning to simmer again in many companies? It has been alluded to by previous speakers that some of it is caused by economic uncertainty. This comes from the idea of industries that can relocate at a moment's notice outside of the country, having been here for a period that suited them and having availed of the various tax concessions offered.

However, much of the increased industrial unrest is occurring within the public sector. Some of this is a result of the Government's dealings with the public sector. There have been unnecessary confrontation and ill-defined polices that create for many public sector workers an uncertainty as to their future. For example, not only have prison officers been affected, but those in the ancillary services to the Prison Service. At Spike Island Prison, workers in the education sector are uncertain because of ministerial statements made up this week. I say "made up" because many Government announcements seem to be off the top of the head. Then there is the Government deciding whether to privatise or change the company formation of other public companies such as Aer Rianta, the ESB and Aer Lingus. This is all done in a ham-fisted manner that is leading to an era where industrial unrest will be more likely. If that occurs, the Government will have to take a great deal of responsibility for it.

Some industrial disputes have occurred as the last kick of a dying company or industry. The situation in IFI was badly handled by the Minister. There are also those in the private sector who are abusing redundancy legislation. Questions have existed over the scale of redundancy payments and the future of pension provisions. In Cork, there was also the manner in which the ADM dispute was handled. This was nothing less than a lockout by employers of workers who legitimately wanted to carry out their work. This is the very type of victimisation that this Bill professes to address but it will not do so.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has a great difficulty in that it is attempting to speak through both sides of its mouth. The focus of our policy in attracting foreign direct investment is persuading multinational companies to locate here on the basis that they will not have to deal with workers who are part of trade union structures. At the same time, the Department is introducing legislation that professes to protect and improve such rights. The Department, the Government and, in particular, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, cannot have it both ways.

The Green Party wants to see a serious attempt to bring forward a framework for industrial peace that will live long into the future. That is not without its dangers because one might find a situation where various actors are either offended or rewarded too much. There was the infamous introduction of such a policy in the UK in the late 1960s. Barbara Castle, the then Minister for Employment and Productivity, introduced a White Paper, In Place of Strife, that upset the UK trade unions. Whatever about the content of that policy and the fact that it was applicable to Britain, I do not see any real attempt by the Tánaiste and Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment or the Government to introduce an all-embracing policy in terms of workers' rights, freedom to associate, and how and when trade unions should interact in industrial policy. The Government has too much of a crutch in the social partnership process.

This legislation introduces and gives further resources to structures that ordinarily should not exist. We in this House should have huge question marks over why people have to seek forms of redress for what should be natural constitutional rights. However, to satisfy agreements that have been made with actors in the social partnership process, we are prepared to prioritise the business of this House to make sure those commitments are maintained and other more important commitments are not considered.

In future social partnership should be structured so that it is an equal and valid partnership. Earlier I mentioned that the Dáil does not have the right to vindicate the agreements through approval by this Chamber. It is also unusual that if those within the community and voluntary pillar reject an agreement, they put themselves outside the pale. What type of partnership is that? Those who do not agree with the agreement have to go somewhere else and are not involved in the future processes. For this reason, groups like the National Women's Council of Ireland and Community Platform are not involved.

I would be very surprised if this were the case for ICTU or IBEC. In such a case it would be argued that there would be no agreement. However, social partnership would continue in some other form. They would have more negotiation and come up with a different agreement. Part of this different but equal approach within social partnership means that a key party can say: "Either you agree with us or you are out, but if you are one of the really important parties in the social partnership we will keep working until we agree." That type of double standard does not help the social partnership process. For those of us who are excluded by our membership of the Opposition, it does not help the quality of public life or decision-making.

This is a slight Bill that introduces reforms of a small nature, which are welcome in that they go in a particular direction. I remain disappointed that it does not address the wider issue and produce policies in the area of industrial harmony and peace. I do not expect it will be a policy priority of the Tánaiste to do so. If any lesson can be taken from this legislation and its accompanying debate it should be that we will have future legislation that will give greater hope to those who have been badly treated by the existing legislation.

I wish to share time with Deputy O'Connor.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill, the purpose of which is to implement the specific measures contained in sections 8.8 to 8.11 of part 2 of Sustaining Progress. The measures are also intended to enhance the effectiveness of existing dispute resolution procedures, which were put in place by the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 and the code of practice on voluntary dispute resolution by introducing timescales. Section 8.9 of Sustaining Progress specifies that an indicative overall timeframe targeting 26 weeks – with provision for up to a maximum of 34 weeks where necessary – for the processing of cases under the dispute resolution code would be introduced, which is why this Bill is necessary.

We are very fortunate that industrial relations have always been dealt with on a voluntary basis. There has been consensus among social partners that the terms and conditions of employment of workers are best determined through the process of voluntary bargaining. The Government has done everything it can to support this voluntary process, which has worked very well on our behalf over the years.

In the course of time we have had to introduce certain dispute resolution services. Last night the Minister of State indicated that he fully supports this and he gave some figures indicating the success we have had. The Labour Relations Commission chaired more than 2,000 meetings last year, 80% of which resulted in settlement of disputes. This is an excellent success rate, which shows the mechanism has worked very well. It is unfortunate that from time to time issues are not resolved through the Labour Relations Commission and need to be referred for further investigation to the Labour Court. While the recommendations issued by the court are non-binding, there is an acceptance rate of more than 80% by the parties to the dispute.

The mechanism in place has worked well and it has served the country well to have a voluntary approach, which is welcomed by employer organisations, trade unions, staff organisations and individual staff members. However a number of issues have arisen. One of the reasons for having this Bill is that there has been a degree of frustration particularly with the lack of timescales for dealing with disputes, which is specifically addressed in the Bill. There have been complaints over the length of time taken to process cases through the Labour Court. Matters should be brought to a head within a reasonable length of time.

Section 2 of the Bill deletes section 2(1)(b) of the Act of 2001 and replaces it with a provision which allows the court to investigate a trade dispute if one of the following three conditions have been met: a breach of the timescale in the amended code of practice on voluntary dispute resolution; the exhaustion of the timescales in the amended code of practice; or the receipt of a report from the Labour Relations Commission that no further efforts on the part of the commission will advance the resolution of the dispute. This section tries to deal with disputes in an effective way rather than allow them to go on endlessly with no resolution in sight. I welcome this provision.

Section 3 replaces section 3 of the Act of 2001. This section enables the Labour Court to allocate its resources more efficiently by allowing it to combine preliminary and substantive hearings in a dispute referred to it under section 2(1) of the Act of 2001. This goes a long way towards reducing the length of time taken by the Labour Court in conducting an investigation. It is still possible to take the preliminary hearings and substantial hearings separately. However, if the court feels time would be saved by combining them it will now be possible to do so, which is an important improvement in the 2001 Act. The length of time involved in resolving the dispute has caused considerable disquiet among parties that have had to go to the Labour Court.

Section 4 replaces section 10 of the Act of 2001 to enable a trade union or excepted body to apply to the Circuit Court for the enforcement of a Labour Court determination. If an employer has failed to implement its terms, the Labour Court determination is binding and enforceable by order to the Circuit Court. As I mentioned, in most cases the Labour Court is very successful and parties accept its decision. It is hoped this trend will continue. However, we are all aware of a number of past disputes that have been quite contentious. When the Labour Court makes its recommendations it is important that the parties to the dispute implement those recommendations. If they fail to do so, it should be possible to go to court to ensure the parties comply. I welcome this section, which will enhance the resolution of disputes and importantly will give this Bill some kick and power.

Section 5 provides for the processing of cases, which had, at the date of enactment, been referred to the Labour Court under the Act of 2001. These cases will now be treated under the new legislation. This is a procedural matter and it is important that any benefits that may arise under the new Bill should be applicable for cases previously referred to the Labour Court under the 2001 Act.

As well as the issue of the timeframe, one of the critical areas for complaint under the current mechanisms is victimisation. I am delighted the Bill deals comprehensively with the issue, specifically under section 8 where victimisation is defined. It allows for acts to be specified and the code of practice on victimisation to be included in the definition. A complaint of victimisation may be made in circumstances where there is a trade dispute in which the code of practice on voluntary dispute resolution has been or is intended to be invoked, and arises where an employee's membership or activity on behalf of a trade union is challenged by an employer, or where a manager discharges his or her managerial functions. When taken in conjunction with section 9 which deals with complaints of victimisation, it empowers a rights commissioner to hear those complaints from an employee, trade union or accepted body and to make a decision on the matter. The section also provides that a rights commissioner may award compensation where he or she considers that to be equitable.

If we are serious about eradicating victimisation, the last part of the section, which allows compensation to be awarded, is important. It shows that we are trying to tackle a problem that exists in the workplace. Other Members have given examples of where victimisation might take place, whether to a member of a trade union, a political party or whatever. It is important that it is not tolerated in our system and that we are serious as legislators about its eradication. For that reason I welcome in particular these two sections which deal with victimisation.

It is also important that there is an appeals mechanism to the Labour Court arising from a decision of a rights commissioner. This is specified under section 10. It is one's right and entitlement to have an avenue for appeal. The Labour Court is empowered to take evidence on oath under section 11, to administer oaths and to compel a person to attend to give evidence where there is an appeal of a rights commissioner's decision in a victimisation case. This is critical. We all know there are parties who are guilty of victimisation and are reluctant to come forward and give evidence. It is important that they are compelled to do so in such situations. This part of the Bill's "get-tough" mechanism shows our determination to tackle these problems.

The two most important sections deal with the timescale within which disputes can be settled and the victimisation issue. If we can cater satisfactorily for these two areas, it will allow an equitable system to exist within our industrial relations environment. It will also mean that disputes do not drag on endlessly without resolution and that people can see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The voluntary manner in which we have dealt with industrial relations over the past ten to 15 years has been a great success. It is to be hoped that the mechanisms in place, such as the Labour Court, will be used as last resorts and that the voluntary system of resolving disputes about terms and conditions of employment will continue. Disputes will occur occasionally, however, and it is important that the supportive legislation is in place to allow the voluntary mechanism to continue. I believe the Bill does this and I commend it to the House.

I listened carefully to the speech of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Fahey, and was impressed by what he said and the manner in which he dealt with the subject. I sometimes make the point, not flippantly, that I was not born a politician. In fact, there was a time when I was quite normal. Throughout my life I have had normal jobs. I reflect on that when looking at this important legislation.

When I left school, I went to London for a while and then returned to Dublin. I worked in three different companies during that part of my career, about 40 years ago. Times were different in Dublin then, as was the industrial relations climate. I recall working for an old Dublin company, which has survived to this day in different forms, where I became involved in trade union issues. I became an assistant to the shop steward and was for a while a member of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions.

When I moved to Tallaght first, in 1969, and changed jobs, I became a shop steward in a warehouse. I recall that I was interested in the work and enjoyed being able to make my own contribution in those days when I was much younger and probably less wise. I do not know whether I am wiser today, but they were different times.

I recall being promoted to manager of the warehouse. Many of my colleagues felt at the time that the main reason for the promotion was that I had been such an effective shop steward. I always denied that. Those are the experiences I draw on when examining this legislation. It is a part of my life of which I am proud.

It is important that we appreciate how much work has been done on the industrial relations front. Over the years, perhaps because of the challenging times we lived through, certain aspects of industrial relations lapsed to some degree. In the 1970s and 1980s it was a question of holding down a job and doing one's best to stay in employment. That is why it is timely that the Government is bringing forward this legislation.

There are still issues and challenges to be faced. People are still being victimised. There is still a need to deal with industrial relations problems. That is evident every day, although they may not be highlighted as much as in the past. While most of the problems we as politicians encounter in our clinics relate to housing, social welfare and the issues of the day, I receive a good number of representations regarding industrial relations issues, with some claiming they are being victimised and others believing they are being made redundant by their employers before the year is over. These issues still exist. It is good that we acknowledge the legislation and appreciate what the Minister of State said, namely, that the basic aim of the Bill is to strengthen industrial relations procedures and give effect to the Industrial Relations Act 2001.

Many workers who are members of trade unions, some of which are headed by the ICTU, will be pleased with this legislation. From having listened to the speeches, I was glad to find that Members were in general agreement on the Bill. There will always be the dotting of the "i"s and crossing of the "t"s where some of these matters are concerned. Colleagues on the Opposition benches, such as Deputy Boyle, will take the opportunity to make their political points and that is fair enough. If I remain in the Chamber, Deputy Ring will probably entertain me with a few more. However, even Deputy Ring, fair man that he is, will understand the merits of this legislation and give the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, his head. Perhaps we could ask the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, to convey this message, because this is good legislation that will have enormous support.

It is fair to reflect on what the Minister of State said in his speech about the system of industrial relations essentially being voluntary in nature. This is important. The approach of successive Governments to industrial relations has been one of voluntarism. There is an often expressed consensus among the social partners that workers' terms and conditions of employment are perhaps best determined through voluntary bargaining – between employers' associations and one or more of the trade unions or staff associations. We should look at this in a positive manner, bearing in mind that this approach has served us well over the years.

I have 40 years experience of being in the workforce. As a Dáil Deputy this is the first time I am in a job where I am not sure of the future, although I am confident about it. I always had a sense in my previous jobs that they were more permanent and more normal. Good trade union mechanisms were in place. Co-operation and a positive attitude existed between trade unions and employers. I was a member for many years of the then Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.

Debate on the Bill provides an opportunity to acknowledge the work of trade unions. We should pay tribute to those who have contributed enormously to the relationship between the trade union movement and employers. There is widespread support for this legislation and it is fitting that it be brought up to date.

Other colleagues have closely examined the legislation on a section by section basis so I do not feel the need to do so. A number of aspects of the Bill are especially welcome.

Backbenchers, Government backbenchers in particular, have an important role in listening to constituents and others, such as those in the trade union movement. At a time when the Minister of State is under pressure for various reasons, he listened carefully to what was said. This is reflected in the contents of the Bill, which I expect will receive widespread approval. The Minister of State should be complimented in this regard.

I am enthusiastic about the Bill. It will be welcomed, not only in Dublin South-West which I represent, but throughout the country. I hope there will be a positive reaction to it in the House. I commend the Bill and wish the Minister of State well in dealing with the legislation.

Although I have 20 minutes in which to speak I can assure the Acting Chairman that I will not take that long.

What Deputy O'Connor said in regard to the proposed legislation is correct. I have never seen legislation come through this House where there was not a trick at the end of it. We got caught with the Planning and Development Act 2000, of which we see the effects this week. I hope this legislation is positive for workers' rights.

I compliment the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court on the job they have done. There is no doubt that they resolved many disputes over the years, on which they worked hard. They have to make decisions on all disputes that come before them. Parties in dispute accepted some 80% of their recommendations.

I often wish we had some kind of union representation in the House. Instead of getting three and a half years or five years, if the unions were stronger than the politicians we might be able to get a longer time in the House without going before the people.

A union might also do something for us in regard to the incitement to hatred Act. In recent years the Act could be used against the way certain people have targeted politicians. As in every other sector in society there are good and bad politicians. Some 99.9% of the people who have served in the House have done the job in an honourable way. In recent weeks people, including the media, were most vicious about politics and politicians.

The media would say I am giving out about them. When the Dáil returned recently the most important issue, as far as I was concerned, was the landslide at Pullathomas, County Mayo, which I raised as a matter on the Adjournment. There were not enough seats for the journalists in the Gallery for the row that took place earlier about Deputy Collins. No coverage was given that day to the people of north Mayo even though it was the first time that the Minister was responding on the matter.

During the summer months people in the media come to us looking for stories. They feed and live off us yet if the incitement to hatred Act was looked at there could be many prosecutions in the courts. There is not a great deal of sympathy for politicians and politics so I suppose I am flogging a dead horse.

Two major elements are evident in the Bill, one of which is the timeframe of disputes. If one can nip a dispute in the bud at an early stage it stops the bitterness that can creep in if it is left to drag on. Friction is created in companies when people are not receiving a salary. People come under pressure from management to break up the dispute. It is vital that the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court be involved as quickly as possible so that an early decision can be reached. In 80% of cases the parties to the dispute accepted these decisions. People have a right to be represented by a union. Although unions have had a bad name for a long time, they are a necessary evil.

Recently a young man who had just started work came to see me. The Revenue Commissioners or some Department should examine what happens when young people start work. This young man, who was living in rented accommodation, had been working for seven or eight weeks. He was being taxed at 42% because his employer had not sent in a form. In the past this was done automatically but now employers do not seem to do it. This individual was still paying emergency tax because he was not properly set up in regard to the Revenue Commissioners.

I have never seen advertisements from the Revenue Commissioners or any Department to advise people of what they should do when they begin work. The new system gives everybody a PPS number from the moment of birth. People should be informed about what to do when they get a job, either at school or in third level colleges. They need to be advised about which forms they need to complete. The Government levies emergency tax on people but does not explain how to reclaim it or how soon it is possible to deal with the matter. It is something that should be considered. There are enough spin doctors and advertising agencies within Departments to inform people starting work for the first time about taxation and pensions. It is about time that happened. When someone leaves school to work for the first time, he or she does not understand how the system operates and should be helped.

The young man in the case I mentioned lives in rented accommodation and does not receive the money he needs. He is under pressure for the past few weeks because he is working long hours. He is taxed at 42% and no one told him how to reclaim the money. He started work this year and brought a previous P45 to his employers which did not reach the Revenue Commissioners. I had to make a phone call yesterday after which the system was set up for him. If a Department does not have responsibility for something, it should pass it on to the Department which does to ensure that, when young people start working, these matters are explained to them.

I listened earlier to the reference to blackspots. I hope the Government will consider their location when it introduces decentralisation in the next few months. I hope to see Departments establishing offices in areas which have suffered from a great deal of unemployment over the years, one of which is my area of north Mayo. The recent census revealed north Mayo to have been one of the areas which has suffered most from unemployment. I hope that can be dealt with.

Victimisation is the one issue I am pleased to see being dealt with in the Bill. How often have we heard it said of someone that they should not be employed because they are union members and troublemakers or that they nearly closed down a nearby factory? Such people are needed because they represent workers and unions. Over the years, they were given a bad name and were certainly victimised in terms of promotion and further employment. I am glad to see this being dealt with in the legislation. It is wrong that someone should be victimised because they are doing a job well and representing workers. I hope the Bill's provisions work because it is wrong that someone who does a job well should be penalised.

It is important that disputes can be referred to the Labour Court as soon as possible to enable it to make a recommendation quickly. It is also necessary that people who want to be in a union are allowed to join one. I am open to correction, but it is my understanding that the Bill provides that office workers can bring their grievances to the Labour Relations Commission, even if they are not members of a union. That provision should be made.

There are a great many small businesses with few employees which do not justify the presence of a union. At the same time, there should be some representation for workers in these businesses and they should have a forum in which to resolve disputes which arise. That is better than permitting a problem to build up in an office to the point where people have to leave because there is no referee. I hope I am correct that such a provision is made in the Bill.

People refer to social partnership. There is no doubt that industrial relations have improved in recent years and we have seen fewer strikes. It is important that employers and employees honour the agreements which have been made and bring in the changes that have been requested. Good industrial relations are important to sustaining employment levels. We must have employers who have no problem with union representation for their workers.

On the other hand, we must look at the foreign companies that have located here and which do not want union representation for their employees. The unions are not too happy about this. There have been many Irish companies which have not wanted union representation either. The time has come to ensure that people have a right to join a union if they wish to do so. Their right to bring a union into a company should be protected.

We see what is happening to foreign workers who come here on work permits. These people come to me in my capacity as a public representative and I find in some cases that they work 17 and 18 hours per day. They cannot complain because the person who holds the work permit is their employer. That is wrong. These people feel there is no one to represent them. The Minister and his Department should consider the right of people who come here to work to have union representation. There needs to be some means for them to air their views in the event of a dispute and someone to arbitrate on it. What is happening is not good. Many of these people are treated in the way the Irish were many years ago when they went to America and Britain.

I hope this legislation proves to be positive and that its provisions on timeframes work. When disputes occur, they should be dealt with as quickly as possible. I hope industrial relations will continue in the way they have in recent years.

The social partnership negotiations have probably taken responsibilities from the House that should be dealt with by it. Representatives of the various groups meet in Government Buildings and spend a number of weeks reaching an agreement. Many debates take place there rather than in the House. While that is another issue, there should be discussions of social partnership issues as negotiations take place. When the negotiations end, the House should be told what has been agreed. We should not be isolated.

I welcome the Bill and hope the people who need the Labour Court can access it and that it will work speedily. I compliment the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court on doing an excellent job over the years. We do not have the opportunity often enough to compliment them. They have a difficult job and have worked fairly to deal with disputes and make decisions. Those decisions have worked well.

It is instructive that a Bill entitled the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill should have emerged from the Sustaining Progress agreement. It offers some protection for workers against victimisation due to trade union membership. We have all seen examples of such victimisation in our experiences over the years in our respective constituencies and in the wider field. I must emphasise that the Bill offers only some protection.

Why should so basic a right as labour representation be up for negotiation? Why should trade unions have to bargain with Government and employers for the right of workers to join trade unions and to have the opportunity of effective collective representation? These are questions which need to be asked. It shines a light on the reality of the relationship between Government and the trade unions. That they should have to do so tells us much about the status of workers' rights and the flawed nature of the so-called partnership process.

Some 90 years ago employers, such as William Martin Murphy, joined together to crush the trade union movement in the infamous lock-out of 1913. Disgraceful scenes were played out in this city as the various arms of State were brought to bear in a brutal manner on innocent protesting workers, some of whom lost their lives. The workers demonstrated and campaigned for the right to be members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Other protests and exercises took place in other parts of the island at the time. In the years which followed, the trade union movement flourished but its great days have passed and today, sadly, we see a very different picture.

I pay particular tribute to those who were at the coalface and spearheaded the development of the trade union movement in my constituency, particularly in my community, my native Monaghan. Their rise coincided with the advent of partial independence on the island and the early decades of native enterprise and address of the failure of the previous system imposed on us to meet the needs of Irish workers.

Today, nine decades after the 1913 lock-out, the right to be a trade union member is not recognised in legislation and there are no guarantees. We do not have the protections necessary, as is exemplified on the streets of Dublin today. Multinational companies are given every facility to establish here and benefit from one of the lowest corporation tax rates anywhere in the world, but are allowed to operate a policy of non-recognition of unions. We can be no more proud of native companies than inward investors who exploit Irish and other workers, and the tragedy of this Bill is that it will do little to change that.

I have spoken many times in this Chamber about the Government's woeful mishandling of waste management in all its dimensions. I referred to the disgraceful scenes of workers having to protest in Dublin today to establish their rights to trade union membership and representation. I refer specifically to the dispute at the Oxigen waste management company, which operates a huge contract for Dublin City Council. The Government has facilitated and encouraged the privatisation of waste management by local authorities, which the Minister might say she is proud of. Privatisation takes away democratic accountability for essential services, including decision-making powers on such key matters as charges and waivers. I regret greatly that in my county there is no longer a local authority controlled waste collection system – the entire collection service in County Monaghan is privatised and I very much regret that.

Another result of privatisation is that Oxigen refuses to recognise the right of its workers to join a union, which workers in that sector have exercised and enjoyed for decades. The conduct of this company is a downright disgrace and is a throwback to the ethos which applied in the employer sector in 1913. Shamefully, non-union labour has been hired to do the work of the locked-out employees. The company has employed immigrants to break the strike and it is alleged that these workers have, in turn, been threatened with the loss of their work permits if they attempt to join a union. Using worker against worker and taking the selfish interest of great profits, exploiting workers at every level and turning them on each other is a disgraceful manipulation of good and ordinary decent people.

Lorries are being driven at speed through the picket lines which are being maintained by the 56 workers. Last week, the strikers' caravan at Ballymount was burned out – the Minister may be aware of that. Such a practice should be roundly condemned, although I have not heard it mentioned by any Government spokespersons who are often quick to condemn other actions.

The four Sinn Féin councillors on Dublin City Council, together with the Labour Party members, tabled a motion on 3 November supporting the Oxigen workers in their strike for the right to union membership and, very importantly, calling on the city manager to ensure that all contractors recognise trade union rights. Disgracefully, the motion was ruled out of order by the council's legal adviser, who judged that the city manager was not empowered to implement it. This is another example of how local democracy has been rendered completely powerless. Basic protection cannot be offered to workers whose wages come indirectly from public funds.

I will not oppose this Bill because there are important elements of it. The main difficulty I have is that it does not go far enough; it is far from adequate. Trade union recognition should be copperfastened in more comprehensive legislation. I encourage the Government to address this absolute requirement. The right to work should be properly recognised so that we do not have the scandalous abuse of the work permit system by employers. At present permits are held by employers rather than employees. That approach should be abolished since it is another throwback to times past when workers were tied to employers as indentured servants.

Yesterday's national media referred to an asylum applicant who is placed in Mosney in the north-east and is now on the tenth day of a hunger strike, protesting that he is denied the dignity of the right to work while his papers are being processed. I emphasise this aspect because it is hugely important. The refusal of the right to work has clearly drawn a distinction in the minds of many between those who are brought in here specifically to carry out particular work functions and others who come to our shores seeking an opportunity. They are often either in flight from oppression or seek a new economic break in this country which is something we enjoyed on other shores over centuries. It is important that this issue is addressed substantively.

We must make it clear that everyone in our society, indigenous or otherwise, recognises that those who come to these shores are here to play their part as constructive contributors to the overall labour pool. They wish to be fully compliant, unlike many in the indigenous community, with our tax laws. It is important that we take heed of this process. We must recognise that people denied the dignity of work will, of course, have recourse to drastic protests.

I also wish to highlight the need to introduce into our education system an appreciation of the rights of workers and the importance of the vindication of those rights. We had a school visiting group in the Visitors' Gallery this morning. This area is not reflected adequately within the CSPE curriculum. Future employers and employees should have a shared understanding of the importance of the right to trade union membership and representation and of representative bargaining with employers. The only way we can ensure and guarantee this is to introduce it in the school curriculum in order to ensure at the earliest stage possible, an appreciation of the importance of equity and fairness in all our dealings throughout our lives.

I pay particular tribute to those within the trade union movement who have honourably and stoically stood by the rights of workers and who fearlessly campaign in their interests. I pay tribute also to the trades councils, particularly the trades councils in my county. They have demonstrated a keen awareness of the important role they can play, within the overall configuration of society, in ensuring a strong voice in the interests of workers and of fair play and equity in our communities. This important role needs to be acknowledged and appreciated by all sides.

Sinn Féin will not oppose this Bill. We urge the Government to recognise the importance of introducing effective legislation which will, once and for all, copperfasten in law the rights of workers to trade union membership and representation. This basic and fundamental right needs to be guaranteed in law.

This important Bill marks a watershed in how far we have come. Everybody talks about partnership and how much it has meant to us. With partnership comes commitment. There has been major commitment towards getting on with the process and this marks where we are now. Everybody realises that we must get on with it. We have seen how working together, based on agreement, has made a difference to our economy over the years. The whole process is brought about through agreement of everybody involved, IBEC, the ICTU and others.

This Bill extends the existing legislation to give the Labour Court new powers to resolve disputes in circumstances where the parties have not engaged in talks, where negotiation arrangements are not in place and where collective bargaining fails to take place. Social partnership has been the essential ingredient of success in previous agreements like the Programme for National Recovery, the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, and currently Sustaining Progress, which will expire in 2005. These programmes have played a major part in transforming every sector of the Irish economy. Unfortunately, we still have inadequacies in society. These have been well highlighted in pre-budget submissions by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and others.

In the course of negotiations between the social partners leading to the adoption of Sustaining Progress, the trade union negotiators sought significant amendments to the previous Industrial Relations Act including mandatory trade union recognition. The current Bill incorporates some improvements but the key demand of the trade unions to have the legal right to represent members where they choose, has still not been met. While it remains a trade union demand, it is not addressed in this Bill. The Bill fails to meet the concerns of trade union members regarding recognition of their union and their right to choose to be represented by a trade union.

I am a member of the IMO which is a trade union. Trade unionism is a way of countering the employer end of the equation. As one who worked in various jobs as a student before qualifying as a doctor, I have seen the issue from different perspectives. Different perspectives colour people's outlook depending on the situation from which they come. For example, people might come from a situation where they have seen discrimination against family members in the workplace. If they are from an employer background and run a business they see things from that perspective. The good thing about the agreement process is that people are prepared to look at both sides. They realise that there will be no progress otherwise.

There are 600,000 more people employed than in 1992 as a result of the partnership approach. We need to remain competitive. With the enlargement of the EU, we will have to compete with many others for jobs. We have already seen that if we lose our competitive edge, the jobs go elsewhere. Our dependence on multinationals, which has been important to our development, has meant that we are subject to their whim. We need to ensure that we encourage indigenous industry as much as possible through providing the proper infrastructure. It is Government policy to have balanced regional development but we must provide the infrastructure to ensure we get the industry.

Industrial jobs are declining. We in the west need to know that we can be in a position to attract whatever jobs are available. We cannot do that unless we have the infrastructure, the roads and rail services. Some important projects like the western rail corridor and Knock Airport need investment. Knock Airport, although an international airport, has not received the same investment as Dublin, Cork or Shannon.

Returning to the Bill, it is important that we seek agreement. The Bill is logical and promotes the process of trying to seek agreement. It is only at the end of the day that the big guns are brought in to try and get a resolution to the process. Much of our time and many of our resources are wasted. This leads to the enrichment of lawyers who like to bring every dispute to the courts with the result that taxpayers end up paying higher insurance, etc.

Let us consider how partnership has worked for us. We have gone from 583,000 workdays lost in the 1970s to 97,046 workdays lost in 2000. That is a big improvement, from 192 strikes in 1984 to 39 in 2000. Social partnership, therefore, has been good for us. There is a cost involved, with benchmarking, etc., but this is one which needs to be paid because it is the price of a stable economy, which is so important to us.

We must remember, on the other hand, that the vast majority of people in private sector employment are not in unions and we must respect this right as well. We must respect the right of people to get on with it. We need to keep our competitive edge but we also need to ensure that our workers are happy, productive and competitive.

If, as in the Shannon region, there was a special tax incentive scheme for my area in Mayo, it would have meant so much and would allow us to attract the type of industry we need to keep our people there. Half our graduates must go to Dublin to get their first job. Dublin is overburdened already. The price of providing services for all those people who really do not want to be in the Dublin area, and who would wish to be in the west but who must go to Dublin, and of keeping them there, would be far less than giving the services through balanced regional development which would be much more cost-effective for Government. I need not go into the price of a mile of motorway compared to that of tarring a road or ensuring proper access in the west. It makes great sense. We have services there. We have schools which should not close down. We have electricity and all the other services. We just need the people, but to have them we need something to keep and bring them there. I hope the Minister will think hard about decentralisation when it comes up because that is one sure way to attract people and enterprise. It has worked in the past and certainly will work again.

One must remember that the highest unemployment rate in Mayo is in the Pullathomas-Inver area. According to the figures of Séamus Caulfield, every DED west of a line from Killala to Newport has shown a negative balance, except two, one of which is Mulranney and the other of which is slightly up from there. The bottom line is that we need some of the investment from down here.

Partnership can accomplish so much. The unions have the potential, as the Government has, to work together. That potential has been exercised to a degree but it needs to be continued. There is so much that needs to be done – there are real people's needs – and the programme does spell out all the good things that can happen. There are very good provisions contained in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness about all the good which needs to happen in areas such as housing, social housing, proper cancer services, etc., and on which we need to work. The Cancer Care Alliance, for instance, is composed of many people – Members of the Oireachtas, the community, the unions, etc. Everybody working together can accomplish so much, everybody pulling against each other has the opposite effect.

This is a good Bill because it brings to bear many important mechanisms in a logical progression and it is an improvement to the extent that it takes away the opportunity for employers to frustrate the process because of the tight timeframes, etc. If employers are not using the process meaningfully, the trade unions will be enabled to call a halt to it and proceed directly to the Labour Court for the determination of a grievance. In the event of a dispute being referred to the Labour Relations Commission and that commission advising the Labour Court of its inability to achieve a resolution of a particular dispute, the trade union may refer the dispute to the Circuit Court.

We must always remember people who are not members of unions. Some 70% of companies in the private sector are not unionised. Their staff do not have the right to be represented by a trade union but we must recognise that in the Constitution there is the understanding that people have a right to disassociate or associate.

We need to look at what comes out of this. The definition of collective bargaining will be important because so much hinges on it. Where collective bargaining does not take place the trade unions are permitted to process claims on behalf of their members, but we need to know what collective bargaining means and this is important. Perhaps the answer is having the Labour Court decide what constitutes collective bargaining. It may well be that there are devices where people such as employers can get around this. I suppose it will be up to the Labour Court to decide, or it should be.

This is an important Bill, but there are situations for which it does not provide. For example, it does not define "employee". I particularly welcome the aspect of the Bill dealing with victimisation. Everybody would abhor the bullying or harassment of employees, particularly those belonging to a union. While that is probably alleged, if it is a bona fide case it needs to be addressed. Codes of practice are good. They give people guidelines, through which they can go and which will help them. The Bill provides that where a trade union intends to refer or has referred a dispute to the Labour Court, no employee may be victimised on account of his or her membership or otherwise of a trade union or any union activity.

There is also provision for a complaint of victimisation to be made to a rights commissioner within six months of the alleged instance. The rights commissioner may investigate an issue for determination, awarding up to two years' remuneration as compensation.

I am glad to have spoken on this Bill. It is an important move in the right direction and I congratulate everybody involved with it.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on the Bill. Before I get into the details of this legislation, let me first state that some employers would want to get their act together in the way they treat their staff. There is now a new arrogant macho-type management style emerging. It is essential that they are tackled head-on and told their style is a thing of the past. It is bad for industrial relations, for all staff, for the consumer and, if they look deeper into themselves, for productivity and quality service. Their arrogance and self-importance is costing them money, and also future customers.

Whether one is a top chief executive or a Minister, people must always be treated in a fair and just manner. Anyone interested in serious industrial relations has got to wake up to this reality. These issues are particularly relevant to this debate in the Dáil.

The purpose of the Bill is to implement the specific measures contained in section 8.9 of Part 2 of Sustaining Progress which are intended to enhance the effectiveness of the procedures put in place by the Industrial Relations Act 2001. Section 7 enables the Labour Court to give priority to cases it considers reasonable, referred to it under the Act. I welcome this section as it allows and provides for speedy resolutions of disputes.

Section 9 empowers a rights commissioner to hear a complaint of victimisation from an employee, a trade union or an excepted body, and to make a decision on the matter. This section is very relevant to some of the industrial relations problems being experienced in the State. On the workers at Oxigen Environmental Limited who wish to join the trade union movement, for example, imagine that in this day and age a group of workers are not allowed to join a union of their choice. It is a disgrace and I call on everyone to support the Oxigen workers. Dublin City Council must also accept some of the responsibility for the current situation as it awarded the contract to this company to collect our green bins. Trade union recognition is a basic human right and it can never be tolerated that companies treat their staff in such a manner.

While I welcome this legislation, and it is a major step in the right direction, I would like to see proper rights and recognition for all workers. For example, the Cabinet is not prepared to listen to the sensible and progressive ideas of the staff regarding the proposed break-up of Aer Rianta. Our airports are at risk and I urge the Minister to listen to the real economic arguments in this debate.

The same is happening in the prison officers' dispute. Taking a hard stance or bullying one's way around the Prison Service is not a responsible way for a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to act, and it goes against the ethos of this Bill. People in the Prison Service have a very difficult job, as I know through having dealt with them for the past 15 to 20 years. They should never be treated in this way. I urge the Government to talk further with the Prison Officers' Association. Privatising the Prison Service will be a disaster. The Prison Officers' Association proposal to secure savings of €30 million should be considered seriously. There is no point talking about this legislation today if we do not treat trade union organisations such as that one with respect and dignity.

I also encourage the trade union movement to look into its own heart, note how the leadership is drifting away from the poorer sections of society and ask itself why 30% of our population feels excluded, ignored and marginalised. It must fight for the rights of those people. Cosying up to Government, not showing leadership or going with mainstream society is not good trade unionism and it is bad for future industrial relations. These are the types of tough decisions which the leadership of the trade union movement must take. It is time to remind ourselves of people such as Connolly and the late Mattie Merrigan who always put working people first and looked out for the marginalised in our society. The trade union movement must remind itself of these men's vision.

I see myself as a part of that movement, having been a member of the INTO for over 20 years. Let us get back to the men and women of no property and fight for the 50,000 people on social housing waiting lists. It is essential that the trade union movement take a broader line than just on wages and conditions when discussing this Bill, particularly on industrial relations. I feel very strongly about this. While our top priority should be looking after our members and their working conditions, we must also set the broader agenda. The run-up to the budget is an ideal time for this. We have to do something in this budget. Recent budgets have favoured the affluent sections of society. They have consistently widened the income gap between the poor and the well-off and have created a less equal society. This is an issue for the trade union movement.

Despite improvements there are still unacceptable levels of consistent and relative poverty. There are nearly 300,000 children living in households with a weekly income of less than €175. That is relative poverty. There are 70,000 children living in bad conditions where they have neither warm meals nor warm coats, and their families are in debt and have to rely on charitable organisations. There are children attending primary schools every day who are undernourished and in some cases hungry because they live in low income households. There is the scandal of 50,000 households on waiting lists for social housing which represents more than 120,000 people. There are also people on low incomes neglecting their health because they cannot afford health care.

The trade unions must look at these types of issue and take them on board when discussing industrial relations and so forth. These issues must be the kernel of the trade union movement which must look after people in receipt of social welfare and families on low incomes, and deal with housing and education.

Let us remind ourselves of the crime problems in the broader society. Among the 70,000 children living in extreme poverty there are 1,800 to 3,000 living in very violent and dysfunctional families. These are the children who will end up in the hands of the Prison Service, they are the future gangland members. If we do not tackle issues of this kind in a debate on crime we are taking our eye off the ball. I urge the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to listen to the argument for targeting resources on the most needy, including those 70,000 families who should be given help in every way possible.

We have started some projects and I welcome them, particularly the breakfast and homework clubs and intervention at pre-school level because by the time these children reach ten, 11 or 12 they are lost. If we do not get them before they are three or four they are already on the way to prison. We must consider and deal with these problems in regard to future industrial relations issues too. If we face up to them we will have fewer industrial relations problems and a calmer, safer and more caring society. The Labour Court could become redundant if people stopped labelling other people and discussed and listened to their ideas.

The Aer Rianta row is another example of this. Ministers seem to be driven by ideology and are riding roughshod over trade union members without listening to balanced economic and social arguments. Many members of the public are not aware of the reality of Aer Rianta. It is a national asset, the jewel in our crown. It made €36 million in profit and returned €8 million in dividends to the Exchequer last year. The charges there are €5.36 and even the regulator says that they are too low. This is an important company that is doing great work and providing excellent jobs. It needs modernisation and efficiency, but the Government is not handling this issue in the right way. Look at how the Minister for Transport handled it – on 10 July he announced the break-up of Aer Rianta and on 18 July he agreed to a two-week period of reflection. While the unions were reflecting the Minister undermined their agreements by forging ahead and announcing the new board members. On 1 August the unions received shallow commitments to discussions on the break-up. On 20 August unions clarified that Aer Rianta could not give assurances regarding jobs, terms or pensions. To add insult to injury, on 26 August the Minister employed consultants to assist the break-up process.

Is it right during a time of so-called partnership that the Minister refuses to provide real reasons for the break-up? Does 15 minutes of a discussion with union leaders in eight months constitute respectful recognition of airport workers' concerns? Is it understood that as a consequence of the Minister's proposal hundreds of millions of euro, returned to the Government through the efforts of Aer Rianta workers, which could help improve health, housing and education, will be gone forever? This is their side of the discussion today on the proposed Industrial Relations Act.

I raise these issues because if one is to have quality industrial relations one has to listen to the voices of people on the ground. I have posed many questions, for the Government and employers, but I have equally posed questions for trade union leaders on the direction in which they are going. It is essential that we deal with these issues in this discussion. The Bill is a step in the right direction and it has potential, but workers' rights must always be protected in a society that claims to be democratic and inclusive.

I too welcome the Bill. This approach to ensuring that those who are not represented fully by trade unions have an opportunity to resolve their disputes is necessary. There was always a large group of employees who were not able to negotiate with their employer because on most of these occasions the employer would not accept that they could be represented. Even if the person was in a trade union the union had a negotiating understanding with the employer, and employers are within their rights to do that.

I have 20 years' experience in industrial relations as a management representative. The trade union movement in Ireland has played an enormous role in developing relationships between employers and employees and in ensuring its members have proper conditions of employment. Without trade unions, workers would not have the conditions that exist today and for which previous generations fought hard. I congratulate those involved in the movement on the excellent work they have done through the years.

I also congratulate IBEC, which is a registered trade union, because it has played a significant role in educating and advising employers about proper industrial relations and in getting involved at the coalface in negotiations on behalf of businesses. Small businesses in particular do not have the personnel with the necessary skills to negotiate agreements and conditions of employment with trade unions. IBEC has played a significant role in facilitating relations between employers and employees.

Voluntarism is the essence of our industrial relations system and, in certain circumstances, legislation must be introduced. A number of Bills were enacted in the 1970s in particular because of EU directives rather than the evolution of industrial relations in the State. These included the Equal Pay Act, which people said would destroy employment. One would be laughed at if one said that nowadays. However, it was strongly argued at the time that the Act would be detrimental to jobs in Ireland.

When the Unfair Dismissals Bill 1977 was enacted, employers were appalled because they believed they would never again be able to discipline an employee. There was an overreaction to the provisions in these Acts but time has proven that they have facilitated relations between employers and employees in terms of resolving disputes in the areas they cover. However, most problems are resolved through mutual discussion and negotiation.

My only concern is that, as a result of the various agreements that have been reached in recent years, including Sustaining Progress, both trade union and employer representatives have lost the skills to negotiate pay agreements. Inevitably, national pay agreements are part of a cycle and there will be a return to local bargaining. Trade unionists and employers will have a great deal to learn to obtain the skills to negotiate agreements on a workplace by workplace basis. I recall negotiating 12 month agreements with unions annually. Many skills were developed in each round of negotiations but national pay agreements have eliminated the need for them. The time will come, however, when they will again be needed.

I was a human resources manager in the 1970s. When a case was taken to the employment appeals tribunal, IBEC and trade union representatives attended on behalf of the employer and the employee and both sides of the argument were made in an informal way. I was an IBEC nominee on the employment appeals tribunal for nine years and I witnessed negative changes during that period. Highly paid lawyers represented both sides in cases and their fees ran to thousands of pounds depending on the length of the case. The employment appeals process is now about legalities rather than settlements. We should return to the days where the trade union official and the IBEC representative negotiated at the tribunal because it is treated similar to a court nowadays. I never tolerated this because the tribunal is not a court. Sometimes, during cases lawyers referred to hearsay at which point I intervened and said I wanted to hear it.

Industrial relations are about trying to settle disputes, not generating court cases, and it is a pity lawyers seek numerous hearings because it is unnecessary to engage lawyers. The IBEC and trade union representatives who sat on the tribunal with me had more understanding of the industrial and human relations involved because we all came from the same background and we could tune into the human aspects as well as the industrial relations aspects of the dispute between both parties. As a consequence, one was more likely to get to the truth and thereby reach a better decision than by listening to arguments about points of law and foolproof facts which lawyers like to outline. Industrial relations involve human relations as well as being a mechanism for formal dispute settlement.

The Bill improves the position of workers who are not represented by trade unions. Everybody should have an opportunity to be represented but the world does not work like that. It is important that those who do not have the opportunity to be professionally represented should be able to avail of a mechanism whereby their views are heard and their disputes settled.

I welcome the Bill and its provisions. I pay tribute to the staff of the Labour Relations Commission because they work hard to ensure disputes are resolved. They are extremely committed to their work. When I served on the employment appeals tribunal, they were concerned when disputes were not settled. They did not act like people who had a job to do because they felt they had a mission to ensure disputes were resolved.

I recall the old days when rights commissioners traversed the State in helicopters and so on to ensure disputes were settled. During meetings, the commissioner would often take a toilet break. He would then isolate one group and ask them what they would accept to settle the dispute. He would then call the other group aside and ask the same question. The disputes were resolved in that way. One should compare that to the alternative of having two highly paid lawyers arguing the case for their respective clients. I would like to pay tribute to the body of people who worked in that area.

A previous speaker referred to the position of people who are not and never will be represented, namely the poor and those who are not in employment. Those in employment have an opportunity, through the various means provided to improve their conditions of employment. However, the Government and the State have a duty towards those who are not in a position to improve their own conditions. We should listen very carefully to the voluntary groups which represent those people.

We have recently had pre-budget submissions from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, CORI and others. Those bodies try to provide for the poor a service of the type which trade unions give their members, but without the power of the trade union movement. Government and Opposition have a duty to listen very closely to the message from what I might call the trade unions of the poor – the voluntary social service organisations. They have not got the mechanisms which we have set out in this Bill and cannot take their claim on behalf of the poor to a court in which they can argue it with the Government. They can make representations to the Government through meetings and otherwise, but ultimately they do not have the sanction available to trade unions – the withdrawal of labour.

That very important sanction must be protected at all costs. People must retain the right to withdraw their labour if they are not happy with the approach of their employer. That right was originally enshrined in an Act of 1882 and confirmed in the 1906 Act and our more recent industrial relations legislation, without which I do not believe we would have made the progress we have made with regard to conditions of employment. My point is that the poor and those who speak for them do not have that sanction. For that reason, our responsibility is all the greater to listen to their claims.

There is a great deal of concern about the level of competitiveness, to which the previous speaker referred. Jobs are being lost to the third world and eastern Europe because of cost conditions. Perhaps that is inevitable. However, we must ensure that young people are given the skills required for the future, not skills which are moving away.

I am familiar with the experience in Limerick, including the work of the University of Limerick, previously the National Institute of Higher Education, to change the type of employment in that city. I recall a time when people from the Limerick area were employed at Shannon on menial, repetitive work on assembly lines in companies such as EI, which no longer exist. We have now moved to employment in areas of technical expertise and we must look beyond that for the future. We must consider what type of employment will be required five, ten or twenty years hence. The type of employment will change, because we are losing competitiveness in certain areas which I believe it will be difficult to recover.

We must try to control costs. It is unrealistic to expect the return of those industries which are leaving this country. However, there are alternative possibilities if we have the vision to consider what the needs of employers will be in future years and ensure that our third level institutions, the colleges of technology and universities, provide the required qualifications and skills in that regard.

What has attracted high-tech industries to Ireland is the knowledge and skills of our young graduates from third level institutions. That has been a key to our success, no less than our competitiveness with regard to costs of production. We must build on that success in terms of the skills, training and qualifications which are necessary today, but we must also consider what is necessary for tomorrow. While I do not have the answers in that regard, I believe there are people in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and other Departments who are capable of taking an overview of world developments in technology and the types of product likely to be demanded in future with a view to ensuring that we have the skills to develop, promote and market those products.

Effective marketing and promotion are key aspects of ensuring our success in international markets. The three important areas for attention include research and development to find the right product, followed by its manufacture and marketing. We need to anticipate the needs of future generations, research and develop the right products, manufacture them and move them on. By providing the right ethos, we will attract companies from abroad. In looking to the future, the priorities for any company are to survive, develop and make as much profit as possible. Those who fail to look to the future will find that their products have become redundant. That happens even in the food sector, with companies going out of business as a result of failure to carry out research and development in a futuristic approach to their enterprises. The trade union movement, in all its aspects, also has a major part to play in this regard by looking ahead to the position of its members in ten, 20 or 30 years from now.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate all involved, including those who participated in the negotiations on the Sustaining Progress agreement, for recognising that this type of approach is necessary to assist those who may not have the power of a strong trade union representation.

I do not know why the Government wastes time in bringing Bills such as this before the Dáil, on the pretence that we have a serious debate on serious industrial relations issues. This Bill is quite akin to the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001, which also took up a great deal of time. I tracked that Bill through Committee and Report Stages. It was pathetic legislation which was designed, as is this Bill, to avoid the central question of mandatory trade union recognition by employers when workers wish to join a union and to wipe the eyes of workers by pretending we have some kind of substitute in this case or in the case of the 2001 legislation.

If the situation were not so serious, the 2001 legislation, which this Bill amends, would be laughable. It provided the most contorted procedures for workers and unions to follow when recalcitrant employers would not recognise the workers' fundamental human right to join a union to negotiate on their behalf. We had the ludicrous provision in that Bill whereby workers and their unions could chase employers through the Circuit Court and elsewhere, possibly for months or years after the employer had shut up shop and moved on. The procedures put in place were too complex and drawn-out.

This is an attempt to avoid the central issue, namely, it should be an automatic right of workers to join a union and to have that union recognised by their employer. We need a trade union recognition Bill, not an excuse pretending to be one. These Bills can be traced back to the Ryanair dispute of 1998, when 40 baggage handlers joined SIPTU. They wanted SIPTU to negotiate their terms and conditions with Ryanair but the Minister's friend, Mr. O'Leary, refused to tolerate any trade union within the company and refused to negotiate. He victimised those workers in the most ruthless and brutal fashion, forced them to strike and created enormous problems in Dublin Airport. If anyone else had done that the Minister would have been on her feet denouncing the anarchists who had caused the trouble but we had no such denunciations from her at the time. The victimisation and pressure were so ruthless and obvious that even the Taoiseach referred at the time to an unacceptable capitalism that was red in tooth and claw when referring to the methods of Ryanair.

Of course, by the time we arrived at the 2001 Act – and now the 2003 Bill – the question of trade union recognition had been watered down out of all recognition in comparison to what was before us in legislation. One only has to ask if the grievances of workers whose bosses will not allow their trade union of choice to negotiate for them would be resolved by these bits of legislation. Clearly they would not, and the proof is in the serious and intractable disputes going on as we speak, disputes which are intractable because of the position and attitude of management. For example, 52 employees of the Oxigen waste management company, mainly young workers, joined SIPTU and wanted that union to negotiate for them. For the last five weeks they have been out on strike and their employer refuses to accept the democratic decision those workers made.

Another waste management company, Greenstar – which is owned by National Toll Roads – had 14 workers join a union. Again, they found themselves outside the gate when the company refused to take up a reasonable position and to accept that these workers have a right to be represented fully by a union of their choice. It is getting up to all kinds of tricks to put pressure on the workers to try to break the strike.

What is really scandalous is that both of those companies are benefiting hugely from public funding. Oxigen has many contracts with local authorities in the Dublin area and perhaps beyond, collecting green bins with certain recyclable materials. It is incredible that public bodies should continue to deal with companies which refuse to recognise a civil right to join and be represented by a trade union. It is the same for National Toll Roads, which has been the beneficiary of huge concessions from public bodies and is in line for huge public contracts with the new toll roads the Government is building around the country. If the Government had any commitment to workers' rights there would be a clause that none of those companies could avail of any public funding while they refuse to recognise trade unions in their workplaces and refuse to negotiate with workers who join those unions. However, the Government is not committed to workers' rights.

As is the case in many policy areas, the Government talks about rights but, in practice, it does not implement what it stands for. The Government, like the employers, pretends to stand for partnership, when partnership is a complete myth in practice. Partnership is the leaders of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions hob-nobbing with the leaders of IBEC and Ministers, arriving at deals behind closed doors and foisting those deals on a workforce which is largely kept out of the process, then saying "We're all the best of friends."

The reality totally belies partnership. If we had a genuine partnership, workers would not be outside the gates of Oxigen and Greenstar because their bosses refuse to recognise trade unions. Not enough people are showing up the emperor's new clothes of partnership, something which needs to be done. The Minister cannot deny that the effect of partnership, since the first deals were worked out in 1987, was to secure a substantial transfer of wealth from working people to employers, the corporate sector, the landlord class and the financial sector. According the Central Statistics Office, figures from 1987 to the early 2000s on the sharing out of the national cake show categorically that over this period the so-called partnership has been used to restrain the wage increases due to workers while putting no restraints whatsoever on rent and profits. If one takes the housing sector alone, there has been a massive grab by speculators and big developers out of the pockets of young people attempting to buy their first home. Are these speculators the partners of the working people attempting to purchase a home? That is absolute nonsense.

Unfortunately, we have a trade union leadership where those at the top are gutless, they do not stand up to Government and employers and they are satisfied to go along with excuses of legislation which pretend to be a concession to the right of workers to join a union, but they are no such thing. Is it any wonder that with the concessions made year after year by the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, employers are prepared to act like jackboot generals in the way they treat their workers.

I hope the Minister does not trot out again the constitutional excuse for the Government not bringing in legislation to grant automatic trade union recognition to workers, which was done in the debate on the industrial relations (amendment) Act 2001. Incredibly, the Constitution is relied upon to refuse workers an automatic right to join a union arising from what became known as the Abbot and Whelan case. That argument is constantly trotted out. In 2001, the Minister of State used that argument against the demand by rank and file workers for their right to join a trade union and an automatic right to be represented by one. The judgment, which was never written down and went unreported, relies on Article 40 of the Constitution. It is inexplicable that articles of the Constitution, which refer to the right of citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions, the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and without arms and the right of citizens to form association and unions, is put up there as an excuse for not giving the right to workers to be automatically represented by a trade union.

The Government should not bother coming in here with these excuses of flimsy industrial relations legislation in the future. When it is ready to bring in a genuine trade union recognition Bill, which would mean that a group of workers who decide to join a union would have an automatic right underpinned by law and that their employer must deal with such a union, it will be worth debating the issue.

Deirtear go mbaineann an Bille seo le socrú breise agus feabhsaithe chun caidreamh comhchuí a chur chun cinn idir oibrithe agus fostaitheoirí. Leathscéal atá ann i ndáiríre in ionad reachtaíocht chuí, ní hamháin go mbeadh an ceart ag an lucht oibre dul isteach i gceard cumann ach go mbeadh an ceart ag an gceard cumann san dul i dteagmháil le fostaitheoir agus go mbeadh sé de dhualgas ar an bhfostaitheoir, de réir dlí, déileáil leis an gceard cumann thar ceann na n-oibrithe úd.

Nuair atá an Rialtas réidh chun teacht isteach ins an Dáil le reachtaíocht den tsaghas sin b'fhiú an t-am a chur isteach agus díospóireacht cheart agus chuí a dhéanamh fúithi. Os rud é go bhfuil an Rialtas ag teacht anois, dhá bhliain i ndiaidh Achta 2003, le Bille eile nach réitíonn an cheist chonspóideach seo, nílimid ach ag cur ama na Dála amú.

I have no great objection to the Bill. It is necessary it is passed by the House in accordance with previous agreements and arrangements arising from partnership discussions and in particular the discussions on Sustaining Progress.

I compliment the trade union movement and management on the responsible attitudes they have adopted to collective bargaining in recent years. This has been hailed as a great event and has been copied by others elsewhere throughout Europe and in many others parts of the world. While recognising the great benefit of the partnership agreements heretofore, if the Government does not keep its end of the bargain that creates problems, hence the need for legislation such as this to be introduced from time to time.

My colleague, Deputy Joe Higgins, with whom I have had disputes in the past, has pointed out a sore point which affects a great number of the new generation. At the central core of Sustaining Progress and previous agreements there would have been some indication to the workforce as to what they would have to contend with over the next two, three or four years, or whatever is the duration of a partnership agreement. The largest item of expenditure which any family has to face is the purchase of a house, yet there has been not only a doubling or trebling, but a quadrupling of the costs in terms of house prices imposed on a householder over the past five or six years. That is disgraceful. I cannot understand how any negotiators can say after an agreement has been reached that they are sorry about it and that it did not work out the way they thought it would. This is a clear case of the Government changing the goalposts after the agreement has been reached and then complaining when people start seeking higher wages. What else can they do if they cannot live as a result of being tied into an agreement which was based on conditions prevailing at that time.

I do not know what is going wrong, but the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Joe Higgins and the two Ministers opposite must be aware that if costs go beyond the reach of people and cause a burden to be imposed upon them, there are two things they can do, they jobs can be moved out of the country – the relocation of jobs was discussed earlier – or they can seek higher wages, which will result in a further relocation of jobs, and they can still seek higher wages. The Minister has gone on record to say that it was not our intention to be a low wage economy. That is correct, but ours should be a competitive economy. Those two elements are interdependent. As we move away from competitiveness and into the higher wage bracket, which seems to be the direction in which we are going, that means the workforce has no more in their pockets than they had previously; they have less and there may be fewer of them in the workplace.

Something has gone radically wrong with the way Government policy has been pursued in recent years, something on which we have not been able to get answers. It is all hinged around housing policy. The biggest single driver of the movement towards lack of competitiveness is higher house prices, to such an extent that there is no possibility of a young couple in their late 20s or early 30s buying a house. They will shortly be able to rent or lease a house for the same cost it would have taken to buy a house a few years ago, but they will only have it for five or six years. An extraordinary transformation has taken place which I cannot understand. The Government is obviously aware of it because it is the main beneficiary. Higher house prices means higher stamp duty returns to the Exchequer. This is the only area of the economy where revenue is growing rapidly. Expectations have been exceeded beyond all projections. The result is that fewer people will be in a position to own a house.

I have a reasonable knowledge of how people react when they find themselves in the position where the stability that goes with house ownership is removed. They see something tangible for which they can work and live removed and their being given the headline goal of paying someone else's mortgage. With this, any pride and commitment to the economy is removed.

It is a disgrace that it has been allowed to continue. There was no need for this. Countless artificial barriers were put in the path of people who ordinarily would have bought their own houses. Every obstruction possible was devised to slow down the housing sector. It has slowed to such an extent that Ministers now inform us that it was a good idea because these people have been housed and accommodated.

This negative aspect of the economy relates to the Bill. The more we go in this direction, the greater the need for this type of legislation. In future, more industrial disputes will arise directly from the scenario to which Deputy Joe Higgins and others referred.

There will always be disputes as to whether people should be excluded from joining a union or whether membership should be mandatory. There are differing views on this issue. It is important that we achieve some degree of balance regarding the degree to which the trade union movement can represent the workforce. If unions are eliminated from the equation, a haphazard situation of unofficial and lightning strikes will ensue with the result that the economy cannot be run, let alone an organisation or operation. It is a question of achieving the right balance and ensuring that the rights of the workforce are recognised.

There is also an obligation on employers and management to manage properly. This may be at variance with the wishes of the trade union movement. However, the job of management is to manage their specific aspect of the economy. They should not abuse their position. In any case where management failed to manage, not only did they have to walk out the factory gates, so too did the workforce.

It is important to remember that the introduction of this legislation appears to have been an afterthought or with the purpose of addressing issues that may arise. Issues do and will arise. As long as we have a Government – the main sponsors of the partnership process – that allows the goalposts to change mid-term, it will be necessary to amend for recovery in some way. It is the responsibility of the Government to take this on board.

There is no better example of Government, partnership and trust than the previous general election. Management and the workforce of the country were informed that an agreement was imminent. They were given the clear impression that they could proceed on the basis of what was visible and on the negotiating table at the time. Scarcely had the ink dried on the ballot papers than the Government set about pulling rabbits out of hats at a rate of knots that set aside almost everything said to the electorate beforehand. The Government and management clearly had no intention of keeping the bargain they had entered into. They were determined to break it from the beginning and put forward proposals and suggestions of living up to it.

Faced with this, people will have become cynical. It is not only the unions that have become cynical but also the electorate. When the electorate becomes so, there comes a change. When the time comes, the arbiters of right and wrong in a democracy – the electorate – will take its decision seriously. The failure to deliver the agreement put on the table by the Government before the election is a disgrace. While I do not wish to paraphrase a certain British politician, it must be said of the Government that, in the case of the previous general election, never was so much promised by so few to so many with such disastrous results.

This issue goes far beyond affecting the trade union in the individual firm or the relations between it and management. It has extended into the partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress. We know how far the Government's commitments and indications given beforehand have been sustained. It now goes to the core of democracy. Those who entered the agreement or bargain at a certain time have seen it go up in smoke before their very eyes and have no way in changing it. They must wait until the next general election which could be in four years' time, assuming elections have not been abolished by then or replaced with some electronic means to get the opinion of the electorate. I hope that, from the past experiences of collective bargaining and partnership, all parties keep their sides of the bargain in the future, especially the Government.

I apologise on behalf of the Tánaiste, who was due to reply to the debate, but unfortunately had to go elsewhere.

I refer to Deputy Durkan's non-political point in hoping that the electorate in the next general election will give this Government its answer. In some ways it is a pity that Fine Gael did not get into power, as that party promised more based on less taxation and borrowing than the current Government. In changed circumstances, it would have been interesting to see how much Fine Gael would have delivered.

In these circumstances it would be interesting to see what the Minister will pay.

Would it have repaid the Eircom shareholders?

Does the Minister know what the Eircom shareholders think?

Would it have repaid the taxi drivers following the change in the licensing?

Will the Minister pay them?

The extravagant promises by Fine Gael were over the top and bore no relationship to reality.

The only people to whom Fianna Fáil did not promise anything were those with no houses. They still have no houses and the Minister also had a major role to play in this.

The electorate gave its judgment on Fine Gael at that time.

I thank the Deputies who made contributions on this Bill. The Bill now before this House has emanated from an agreed approach by both the trade union and employer organisations, under Sustaining Progress, to enhance the effectiveness of existing procedures for dealing with disputes where negotiating arrangements are not in place. I thank the trade union and employer organisations' representatives involved in the negotiation of this agreement. In particular, I acknowledge their achievement in reaching an agreed approach to enhancing existing provisions in the context of disputes where collective bargaining arrangements are not in place.

In the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness it was agreed that the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 and the code of practice on voluntary dispute resolution, which supports the 2001 legislation, would be monitored during the course of the programme. The outcome of this monitoring process has resulted in the Bill which is now before the House. In addition, we will have a new code of practice of voluntary dispute resolution and a code of practice on victimisation.

The effect of the Bill and the codes of practice will essentially be to enhance and strengthen existing procedures with a view to processing cases within a specific timeframe and to introduce a prohibition on victimisation of employees who are members of a union, managers discharging their managerial functions and other employees in the context of a dispute, where the code of practice on voluntary dispute resolution has been invoked or is intended to be invoked.

On behalf of the Minister, I welcome the general support expressed by Deputies for the Bill. Deputies have raised important points during the course of this debate. I would now like to respond to a number of the points made.

A number of Deputies have raised the issue of statutory trade union recognition. Traditionally, our industrial relations legislation has been designed to help and support parties in their efforts to resolve their differences, rather than imposing a solution on parties to an industrial dispute.

The recommendations in the report of the high level group, which laid the foundations for the 2001 Act, affirmed the consensus that exists to maintain voluntarism as the preferred approach to dispute resolution. In the negotiations on the national agreement, Sustaining Progress, trade union and employer representatives re-affirmed their agreement to this approach. The Bill before the House reflects their preferred option of continuing our tradition of volunteerism. It is not the Government's policy to impose legislation in the industrial relations arena where parties are prepared to work together towards achieving progress in this area.

Deputy Howlin raised the Government's position on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This charter was proclaimed as a political declaration at the Nice European Council in December 2000. At that time, the question of whether its status was legally binding or otherwise was left to one side. Part of the mandate of the Convention on the Future of Europe was to consider incorporating it into a new constitutional treaty, thereby giving it legal status. Accordingly, the convention established a working group to look at this question. The outcome of its work formed part of the report of the convention, which is currently being considered by the Intergovernmental Conference. Among the subjects under discussion at the Intergovernmental Conference is the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

A number of Deputies raised the ongoing dispute in Oxigen. This case involves a trade union recognition claim by SIPTU members and pickets have been in place at three company depots since 14 October. Most trade union recognition disputes have their origins in concerns about pay and other conditions of employment. This Bill would allow issues on pay and conditions to be investigated by the Labour Court within a specific timeframe.

Deputy Hogan sought details on the number of cases processed under the current code of practice on dispute resolution. To date, 96 cases have been referred to the Labour Relations Commission. Of these cases, 11 have been successfully resolved by the commission, nine cases were withdrawn, five were referred to the Employment Appeals Tribunal or to the conciliation service of the Labour Relations Commission, 18 cases were referred to the Labour Court under the 2001 Act, a further ten were referred to the Labour Court by the Labour Relations Commission under legislation other than the Act of 2001 and 18 cases are the subject of on-going discussions in the Labour Relations Commission.

The remaining cases are at different stages in the process. Some are on hold. In other cases the trade union or employer refused or failed to respond and in seven cases the procedures under the code of practice were exhausted without agreement being achieved and the trade union or excepted body could not avail of the Act of 2001, as the conditions set out in section 2(1) had not been satisfied.

Deputies Hogan and Connaughton sought clarification on the code of practice on victimisation. This code of practice is currently being developed by the Labour Relations Commission, in consultation with trade union and employer representatives. The code of practice on victimisation will only be applicable in instances where the code of practice on voluntary dispute resolution has been invoked or is intended to be invoked.

The legislation in conjunction with the codes of practice will result in more effective and efficient procedures in the dispute resolution arena and will contribute to greater stability in the field of industrial relations. On behalf of the Minister, I again thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate in a positive and constructive manner. I hope the remaining Stages of this Bill can be swiftly progressed through this House on the basis of all-party support.

Question put and agreed to.