I move amendment No. 1:
In page 18, to delete lines 43 to 45 and substitute the following:
"(3) For the removal of doubt, the rights and entitlements in respect of tenure, remuneration and superannuation enjoyed on commencement by persons who are employees of the amalgamating bodies shall not, by virtue of the operation of this Act, be any less beneficial than those rights and entitlements enjoyed by those persons as employees, or former employees of HETAC, FETAC and NQAI, immediately before such commencement.".
I tabled this amendment on Committee Stage, at which point I expressed my concerns about the fact that with the amalgamation of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC, the Further Education and Training Awards Council, FETAC, and the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, NQAI, the working conditions of staff might be downgraded or changed to some extent. The Minister indicated that there could be minor changes and stated the best way to deal with the matter would be through a process involving the unions and management. He also indicated that he understood from where I was coming on this issue but said there was no need to set anything in stone in respect of it. He then stated he would consider the matter further but that he was strongly of the view that there was no need to change the legislation.
I am supportive of any arrangement that will harmonise relations with management and improve the efficiency of existing work practices. However, this must be done in a way which does not undermine or diminish the protections for and conditions of workers in the context of salary and pension rights and other related matters. I am not in a position to provide examples, but as I informed the Minister on Committee Stage, a number of people have expressed their concerns about it to me. Any change, such as amalgamation or changes to job specification, means people are concerned about how it will have an impact on their livelihood. There will be changes to the management structures and how people operate. That is where the concern of the staff comes from. I note the Minister's comments about the intent of the Bill. Has the Minister examined this matter again? The Minister gave assurances that he did not think it was useful to include this provision in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can put on record his view on the changes.