The Minister of State has listened carefully to all of the arguments made by the Opposition.
Employees (Provision of Information and Consultation) Bill 2005 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).
If it were legislation I would have dealt with——
Is there a quorum in the House?
The Minister of State should just say that the Minister has listened very carefully to all of the arguments and will take them on board.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill which is very relevant to current events in the working world. Many industrial disputes have occurred because of lack of communication within the workplace. The importance of communication in any workplace or business is often overlooked and especially if industrial disputes arise. If the right mechanics of communication are put in place, it can often stop industrial disputes happening. Many working hours have been lost because of the lack of a channel of communication between employers and workers.
This Bill is an attempt to bridge the information gap between worker and employer and this attempt is long overdue. Any legislation that does something to improve industrial relations will always have my support. It is important to have a formal means of dialogue within the world of work. Without communication, resentments can fester, leading to future trouble in the workplace. The industrial peace secured by the rainbow coalition has been threatened by the "could not care less" governing style of this current coalition. Thanks to a European directive, the Minister is finally bringing through the Dáil a Bill which provides some movement on the important plank of Sustaining Progress. However, employers in the shape of IBEC have already signalled their concerns about this Bill. I can understand their point of view as they already do business in a highly regulated environment. If the Government is going to add another layer of regulation, it had better get it right on this occasion.
We can all recognise the benefits of consultation and sharing information. I refer to the ongoing dispute in An Post and a consultation forum might have been of help in this case. Strike action has been threatened in An Post over the past months and years. A strike in An Post would create grave difficulties for the economy, especially facing into the Christmas period. The importance of communication within An Post should be noted.
I refer to the situation in Irish Ferries. Who could have predicted some months ago that the Irish Ferries situation would have come to this stage? If the workers had been kept informed about the company's plans from the word go, I do not think the situation would now be as serious. The situation in Irish Ferries which is now out of hand will be the subject for discussion under Standing Order 31 this evening. Over the past few days, we have witnessed an Irish company behaving in a manner which I never thought I would see. I never thought I would see the day when an Irish company would send in people in suits and security men to handle Irish workers in the way they did. The loyal workforce, the seafarers of Irish Ferries, have given years of great service to a company for which they had a high regard. I do not think any of the Irish Ferries workers would have expected to have been treated in this way.
The more information that is shared in the workplace, the better that workplace will be. Sharing information allows people to be aware of what is happening, of the future plans within a company and of what that company expects of its workers. If that type of information is shared and if everyone is brought on board, there will be a far better relationship among employees and management right down the line.
It is easy to forget that workers and management all have one ultimate aim, namely, to ensure that a company — whether it be involved in engineering, processing or whatever — provides their wages. Most people also want to see their company being on top and doing its best. If something happens or if the boat sinks, they all go down together. I do not mean that badly in the case of Irish Ferries. It is important that all employees should be kept informed.
Employers need not fear the idea behind this Bill. The consultation process is designed for two situations, namely, collective redundancy and major changes in work practices. Using consultation in these circumstances can only be good for workers, managers and everyone else involved.
Even though the Minister is following Europe on this, I am glad that he is recognising the many ways in which workers can help their companies. That workers can do so is important. As stated earlier, all workers and management are aiming at the one goal. Until now, ideas seemed to flow in one direction, from the employers to the workforce. Now members of workforces, through forums, will be able to contribute their ideas for the good of a company.
Under the Bill, employers must provide information on important matters such as the future direction of a firm, major changes in practice or changes to contract. When they are discussing important matters such as the future direction of a company, it gives workers a kind of partial responsibility as well. It is probably good to see that happening because it means workers will have an important and pivotal role to play in their workplaces.
With this kind of information at their disposal, workers will be able to make useful suggestions to management and to help in drawing up plans for the future. It is important for workers to draw up useful suggestions to management in the context that they can all play major roles. This is a big step forward because we all know of firms that were in trouble but that kept their workforces in the dark until it was too late. We have seen it for many years, particularly in the past three to four. The Government often states that it is creating 1,000 jobs per week.
I do not see too many jobs coming to Wexford. I could bring the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to many places in Wexford for which we are seeking jobs.
There is nothing as bad as 60, 70, 200, 300 or whatever number of employees being brought into their workplace and told that the company is closing down in one, two or three weeks. These employees would have given so much to that company and would have so much on their shoulders, whether it be in the form of mortgages, car loans, credit union loans, bank loans, etc. Due to the fact the employees were left in the dark and that this happened all of a sudden, they would not be in a position to seek alternative employment, streamline or whatever. It has often been the case that a workforce has had better ideas than management in terms of how to keep a firm afloat. There were reports last week about a company in Sligo that was taken over by an American company and closed down within a number of months. That must have been devastating news for the employees. They were sure that a multinational company was taking over and thought that their futures were bright, that they would be there for many years and that, perhaps, they would climb the ladder within the company. However, all of a sudden the entire company has been shut down. I do not doubt that this news was devastating for all involved, particularly in the lead-up to Christmas.
There are still major questions surrounding this legislation, for example, how much of a difference will it make to most of the firms within Ireland. The largest companies already have their own consultation procedures with their workforces and the smallest are not contemplated under the provisions of this Bill.
Is the Minister introducing a Bill that will just sit on the shelf? There are far too many of those already. They sit on Government shelves beside an increasing number of reports. In a parliamentary question tabled earlier in the year, I asked each Department how much it spent on reports. There is a large number of such reports, which either have not been implemented or which are just lying on Government shelves gathering dust. It is easy to introduce a Bill or to undertake a report on a matter merely to avoid answering a question. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, formerly the Minister for Health and Children, was brilliant in undertaking reports to avoid answering questions.
The Government would never have introduced a Bill like this on its own initiative. The only reason it has done so is because it was given a direction from Europe. Most of this type of legislation has been handed down from Europe. Why is it left to the European Commission or the European Parliament to make these laws? Why is the Government not doing its duty in this regard?
I have no doubt that the Government is running out of steam and ideas. One need only look at the legislative programme to see that it has almost given up in that regard. However, it finally introduced this Bill after a long wait and I suppose we all should be grateful that the legislation has come this far.
I must criticise the Bill for the creeping bureaucracy I see within it. There is much provision for certain numbers of employees to trigger certain actions. My feeling is that this sort of approach leads to, rather than avoids, conflict. There is no need for the Bill to be bureaucratic. The idea behind it is simple and sensible. It is the Government that has added the red tape to this Bill. We have seen what red tape can do in any walk of life. It is ludicrous bringing red tape into the Bill. The Government cannot make it pure and simple. I refer, for example, to the new section 18, introduced on Committee Stage in the Seanad, which provides that the Minister may appoint inspectors for the purposes of the legislation. The powers of the inspectors are set out and include that to enter certain premises to make such examinations or inquiries as may be necessary for ascertaining whether the legislation is being complied with and require the production of relevant records and information. The section also provides for offences of obstruction and non-compliance with requests from an inspector.