That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Trade Union Acts 1871 to 1990 to remove restrictions on trade union members engaging in strike action and industrial action.
The Bill seeks to amend the Industrial Relations Acts. It is said that the toughest, harshest anti-trade union laws in Europe are those in the UK. This is a legacy of the Thatcher era and the anti-union legislation from the 1980s, which was copper-fastened by the Blair Governments of the 1990s. Last summer, however, when the courts here blocked Ryanair pilots from striking, the courts in the UK did not block strike action by Ryanair pilots there. The anti-union laws in Ireland would give those in the UK a run for their money. The Industrial Relations Act was introduced under a Fianna Fáil Government by the then Minister for Labour, Bertie Ahern, in 1990. It was opposed by the left but supported by the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and sold to it on the ground that it avoided the worst excesses of the anti-union legislation being introduced at the time in the UK. That legislation now puts up obstacle after obstacle to workers and trade unions in standing up and fighting for their rights and conditions.
Anti-union legislation has been used in recent times not only against Ryanair pilots but also against National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, ambulance paramedics, Tesco workers and many others. The Bill seeks to amend the legislation to restore rights to workers and trade unionists and to reduce the power imbalance between capital and labour. Trade union legislation in Ireland effectively bans political strikes. Would the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike of the mid-1980s or the PAYE tax protests of the 1980s be possible under the current trade union legislation? I think not. There are current issues on which trade unionists and workers are hampered from campaigning by this legislation.
Strikes against sexism and racism and strikes for action on the climate and housing emergencies would all run smack bang into the Industrial Relations Act 1990. Injunctions are regularly taken out and granted by the courts against workers fighting for their rights. The idea of solidarity action, as pioneered by Connolly and Larkin, that an injury to one is an injury to all and that workers should take action where necessary in support of other workers, is illegal under the current legislation. For instance, Tesco workers were pressurised not to picket outside their places of employment but, instead, to stand outside the shopping centres where the shops are located. I could give many other examples. This Bill seeks to restrict the grounds upon which an employer may obtain an injunction against workers or trade unions fighting for their rights.
The Bill also aims to cut out State interference in trade union affairs. Under the 1990 Act, a secret ballot must be held before industrial action can be taken and one week's notice of such action must be given to the employer. During the summer, we saw how this provision was interpreted by the courts in the Ryanair case, where the judge refused to accept a sworn affidavit by a trade union official that the ballot had been conducted in the proper fashion. In effect, the union was asked to give over the names of its members, in a public fashion, to a notorious anti-union employer which granted trade union recognition only when it came under pressure to do so in a previous case. That is completely unacceptable. Unions should be permitted by law to organise their own ballots. Whether those ballots are held in secret or openly is a matter for the union. This is the spirit of the Bill, namely, that workers and unions should decide such matters, not the State.