The centenaries of several momentous events will take place during the coming decade. The Dublin Lock-out began on 26 August 1913 when all the trams on O'Connell Street stopped as workers sought pay rises ranging from one to two shillings a week. In response, the Dublin Tramway Company locked out members of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union who refused to sign a pledge to leave the union. A general strike was called and, in the disputes that followed, more than 20,000 workers were either locked out of their jobs by their employers or went on strike. In saying that, it is important to recall that not all employers took part in the Lock-out and some still have a major presence in the city.
The Lock-out continued for six months, with the strikers and their families suffering ever-increasing hardship, despite assistance from trade unions and charitable institutions. By early 1914 the Lock-out wound down as their worsening personal circumstances forced the strikers back to work. While the Lock-out was seen by some at the time as a defeat for the trade union movement, history has shown that it set in train events that led to the improvement and protection of working standards.
The 1913 Lock-out will be the subject of a programme of major events supported by the State in co-operation with many organisations, including Dublin City Council, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and the national cultural institutions, universities and vocational education committees. While many of these events are still being finalised, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, has indicated he has provided funding to The Irish Times to facilitate the production this year of a special edition supplement on the Lock-out, a copy of which will be provided by the Minister to every school.
I will now address the Government's record on the economy and workers' rights. On its election, the Government was faced with an unprecedented economic crisis domestically, including an unemployment rate of more than 15%. The economy had endured three consecutive years of negative growth, more than 250,000 people had lost their jobs and the unemployment rate was at a level not seen since the mid-1980s. The banking system was teetering on the edge of collapse and we were locked out of international bond markets. We had recently obtained the EU-IMF bailout, an appalling scenario never before experienced by this country. Faced with this, the Government had a very clear idea of what needed to be done. We needed to reinvent and rebuild the economy, exit the bailout and get people back to work.
Such a catastrophe was always going to be extremely challenging and people had to take difficult decisions. However, the results of these decisions are becoming apparent. The economy has returned to consistent growth and is predicted to grow steadily next year and thereafter. Private sector employment levels have grown by an average of 2,000 per month since the first Action Plan for Jobs was launched, notably in some sectors of the domestic economy. The unemployment rate is below 14% for the first time in three years and is predicted to decline further as the domestic economy begins to recover. I remind Deputies that in the three years before the previous general election, 7,000 people on average lost their jobs every month. Ireland is now ranked by independent studies as the second most attractive country globally for foreign direct investment, which continues to deliver benefits for the economy.
The Government is also working hard to correct the public finances. Long-term Government bond yields now stand at less than 4%, down from 14% not long ago. Moreover, the bailout agreement has been renegotiated to reduce its cost, which will save approximately €9 billion in repayments. The promissory notes have been eliminated and we have cut our borrowing requirements by €20 billion over the next ten years. We are also on track to leave the bailout by the end of the year.
Despite the macroeconomic gains hard won over the past two years, it is perfectly understandable that people believe the burden is weighing heavily and the road is too long. Having achieved stability, the Government is now focused on measures that will return appreciable growth to the economy. It is these that will ultimately bring a lasting easing of the financial burden being experienced by so many. To do this, we must continue working to bring our national finances under control; work out the legacy of personal and mortgage debt; do everything we can to create more and more jobs; and make Ireland the best country in the world in which to do business by 2016, in line with the mantra of the Taoiseach.
The Government's annual Action Plan for Jobs is a firm focus for the Government in driving this recovery. Last year, 92% of the 270 actions designed to make it easier for employers to protect and create jobs were implemented. The plan for this year continues the targeted approach for our industrial policy in encouraging key clusters and sectors and we have implemented strategies in the areas of manufacturing, cloud computing, health care and life sciences.
The agrifood sector, with which I am most familiar, is an integral element of the Government's 2012 Action Plan for Jobs. The Food Harvest 2020 strategy has the capacity to deliver an additional 25,000 jobs if we meet the targets set out in the plan. Achieving these objectives is my priority as the chairman of the Food Harvest 2020 implementation committee.
The protection for vulnerable workers is particularly important during a recession. While job creation is our primary focus, the Government has also been very active in protecting the lowest paid, the most vulnerable workers in the economy. One of the first decisions taken by the Government was to reverse the cut of €1 per hour in the national minimum wage that had been introduced by the previous Government in January 2011. In addition, the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012 provided for a series of reforms aimed at transforming our statutory wage setting mechanisms - REAs and JLCs - modernising them and making them fit for purpose.
As Deputies will be aware, a recent Supreme Court judgment held that Part III of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 - the legislation providing for the registration of collective agreements - was invalid. This is a significant judgment which has raised a number of important questions, including possible implications for the 2012 Act. In this regard the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has sought legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the various issues arising. The Government intends to conclude its considerations of the implications of the Supreme Court decision as matter of urgency with a view to providing a constitutionally robust legislative framework in this area in the not too distant future. It is just over a year since the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act 2012 came into force. With the exception of pay, the provisions of the Act came into effect on 16 May 2012. The Act applies the principle of equal treatment in terms of basic working and employment conditions for agency workers as applies to employees recruited directly by the hirer to do the same or a similar job.
Regarding workplace relations reform, in 2011 the Government inherited a complex system dealing with enforcement of employment rights that was no longer fit for purpose. It was frustrating for employers, employees and professionals representing them. There were real issues involved including long delays, a confusing array of methods to process cases, an overlap of functions between the bodies and different appeal avenues for elements of the same case.
Substantial progress has already been made in reforming the system, including a new single workplace relations customer service portal which is now fully operational. A new workplace relations interim website is now in place, a single complaint form that deals with over 100 first instance complaints has replaced the 30 forms previously in use and complaints are now acknowledged and employers notified, on average, within five working days;.
The next major step in this reform programme is to establish a two-tier workplace relations structure where two statutory independent bodies will replace the current five. We will have a new single body to be called the workplace relations commission and a separate appeals body, which will effectively be an expanded Labour Court. While considerable progress has been achieved to date, completing the proposed reform requires legislation. The Government is committed to enactment of the legislation at an early date, with a view to having the proposed new structures in place from 2014. Social dialogue continues to play a critical role in policy making and in the management of the Irish economy at what is a very difficult time for many citizens. This has been evident in addressing public sector pay. The Government has sought to deliver the necessary savings by agreement and this has been the basis for engagement with public service unions over recent months. I hope this process will be successfully concluded. A number of unions have been balloting in recent days.
It has been the consistent policy of successive Governments to promote collective bargaining through the development of an institutional framework supportive of a voluntary system of industrial relations. In the context of the programme for Government commitment, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has written to all social dialogue actors about reviewing collective bargaining against the backdrop of industrial relations legislation. Submissions have been received and discussions have been taking place between stakeholders' representatives and departmental officials.
The Minister expects to be in a position to conclude this consultation shortly and to report to Government in the autumn on the outcome of that process and what proposals to improve the system of industrial relations might be brought forward in 2013. In this context, I am certain that satisfactory arrangements can be put in place that will reconcile Ireland's constitutional, social and economic traditions, and international obligations, while at the same time ensuring continued success in building Ireland's domestic jobs base and in attracting overseas investment into the economy.
The Government has had to make many hard choices in putting this country back on track and our work is far from done yet. It has negotiated - and will continue to negotiate - constructively with the trade unions, most of which know that sometimes it is necessary to take a step back in order to preserve the long-term interests of their members. Hard choices are a part of leadership the Government has shown. We have some way to go before we see full economic recovery but I am confident we are on the right road and are doing what is best in the interests of our country and our people.
I thank the Deputies opposite for tabling the motion. The Government will not support it and has tabled an amendment which is self-explanatory. It has provide me with the opportunity to outline in some detail, on behalf of the Government, what the Government is doing in not just talking about workers' rights but also introducing the reform and modernisation needed to balance workers' rights with the need to create a competitive environment in which to set up, do and grow business in Ireland and out of Ireland. The Government is achieving that balance and the evidence is there in terms of meeting job creation targets, but we have a long way to go.
The Government is only half way through its term. We have considerable reform to introduce in this area as well as in many other areas. We will continue on that reform agenda for the next two years and at the end of that process I hope we can be judged as a Government that has reversed the fortunes of Ireland - an Ireland that was collapsing when we took over but an Ireland that will be growing and expanding in a way that respects both workers and employers, and puts a legislative framework in place to back that up by the time we go to the country in two and a half years.