What is considered necessary is a means of bringing to an end any such discussions if it becomes obvious that agreement cannot be arrived at. Much earlier in my life I had the ambition to establish a pensions scheme for railway workers and I introduced a Bill in 1933 providing machinery designed to achieve that end. That Bill, which became an Act, required the preparation of a scheme and its submission to the Railway Tribunal. Unfortunately, the Act did not provide for the position that might arise in the event of the tribunal deciding, as, in fact, it did decide, that the scheme did not meet the reasonable requirements of the employees. When a scheme had been prepared by the company and submitted to the tribunal, which rejected it on the grounds I have stated, the full requirements of the Act had been discharged and nothing followed therefrom.
I felt that it was desirable, in the case of this Bill, we should have some provision which would ensure that, if a deadlock did arise in consequence of disagreement between the Department and the board, it should be capable of being resolved in some way. That power to enforce some modification against the wishes of the board is not likely to be required. Senator O'Callaghan asked what would be the cost of the Bill. So far as the Exchequer is concerned, there will be no cost. All the Bill contemplates is the establishment of certain funds into which both the workers and the board will make contributions in respect of each period of employment of each worker and, out of these funds, the appropriate pensions will be paid. There will be some cost to the Electricity Supply Board, which it will have to meet out of its general revenue. That cost will be small in relation to its general revenue but, nevertheless, it will not be unappreciable and that fact must be kept in mind in considering the nature of the provision to be made for the employees of the board.
Senator Campbell said that this Bill has many objectionable features but not as many as it had when first introduced. When the Bill was introduced, objection was taken to the form of many of its provisions. I think that these objections were due largely to suspicion that something was intended which had not been thought of. Following discussion and consultation, it was found possible to clear away these suspicions by re-wording various provisions of the Bill so as to clarify the intentions. It is true, however, that the main principles of the Bill have not been altered. I know that objection has been taken to some of them but I do not agree that these objections are sound. I am strongly of opinion that they are entirely unsound where they relate to the tribunal to be established under the Bill. Senator Campbell referred to the fact that this tribunal will deal not merely with disputes arising out of the pensions scheme but other disputes affecting rates of wages and conditions of employment which may arise in the course of time between the employees of the board and the board. In my opinion, that will prove, in the long run, to be the most important provision of the Bill and I feel sure that, after some experience of its working, employees of the board will come to regard it as their greatest safeguard.
Certainly, I feel it is desirable that we should have some such provision in the Bill, so long as it provides that a penalty will be suffered by workers who break their contracts of service by going on strike. If we were to leave the tribunal out of the Bill, or confine it to dealing with disputes affecting pension payments, such workers would be denied all protection, and would have no means of securing rectification of any injustices from which they believed themselves to be suffering. The establishment of a tribunal was decided upon solely as a protection for them. It was felt that, having penalised them in their right to strike, they should, at the same time, be given an alternative method of having their grievances considered.
The appropriate section of the Bill does not, in fact, say that the decisions of the tribunal will be binding on anybody, either on the board or on the workers. I think we should seriously consider that before we make it compulsory. I can give the House an assurance that the board will comply with the decisions of this tribunal, but, if we were to provide expressly that the decisions would be binding on the board and the employees, then, we would in fact be doing what the Bill does not set out to do. That is, removing, in all circumstances, the right of the workers to withdraw their labour. If the workers employed by the board feel strongly about any grievance, and fail to get it rectified by the tribunal, then it is still open to them to resort to withdrawal of their labour, if they think that will secure their ends, and if they are prepared to face the penalty that is involved. I do not think it is correct to say that that is a retrograde step. Other workers with pension rights are in a similar position. When the employees of the Dublin Corporation went on strike, they, in fact, broke their contracts of service, and debarred themselves from pensions. When that strike was ended the Government had to introduce fresh legislation to restore the rights the workers had sacrificed, and which they could not have restored to them legally without a new statute. I feel strongly that, in the course of time, if this tribunal works as it is intended, the employees will come to regard it as an important protection for themselves, and would strongly object to any proposal to take it away again.
The pensions of the members of the board are not contributory. Clearly, the numbers would be too small to have a pensions fund on a contributory basis for them, and it would be difficult to arrange that they should participate in the pensions fund of the non-manual workers. Apart from these practical difficulties, their circumstances are, I think, also different. A person enters the service of the Electricity Supply Board presumably with the intention of remaining in that service all his life, and getting such promotion within it as his abilities entitle him to, looking forward to retirement at the end of his active life on the pension the Bill has provided for him. A member is appointed to the Electricity Supply Board at a fairly advanced age, after he has established his reputation for efficiency and administrative capacity in some other occupation. He is appointed only for a period of five years. At the end of five years he has no assurance of re-employment and in various circumstances, even though he had been a most excellent member of the board, and had fully discharged his duties, he might not be reappointed.
It is true that we have tried to establish the principle that positions of that kind should not have any political significance attached to them, and that the men appointed should not go in or out with Governments, but circumstances might arise in which a member of the board appointed by one Government, would not be reappointed at the end of his term of office and that element of uncertainty, as well as the limited field of employment available to a member of the board, did, I think, justify different provisions from those provided for men in regular and continuous service with the board, and who cannot lose that employment except in very abnormal circumstances or through their own fault.
We can discuss any other matters in Committee. There were two general questions I would like to mention. Senator Campbell is aware that I have, on occasion, conveyed to authoritative quarters in the Irish trade union movement, my personal opinions on the principle of compulsory trade unionism. I do not think we should attempt to apply the principle in the limited field of the Electricity Supply Board service, because there does not appear, as yet, to be any general recognition, much less acceptance, of the consequences which must follow from the adoption of that principle. Clearly, if we are to have compulsory trade unionism, we must have full reorganisation of the trade union movement structurally, and a necessary consequence would be the complete divorcing of the movement from Party politics. There are other consequences which would follow also, and while I think there is something to be said for it as a means of securing more efficient organisation of our labour resources, I am not at all sure that the full application of the principle would find very ready acceptance by many trade union leaders. However, it is a question we need not attempt to decide on this measure.
The matter of rural electrification is also somewhat outside the scope of this measure. I should like to say that there is nothing which is of greater importance nor which I would more like to see the Electricity Supply Board engage in. Unfortunately, it is out of the question in present circumstances. The equipment necessary to enable any scheme of rural electrification to be carried through is not available. I have, however, asked the Electricity Supply Board to prepare a scheme, complete in all details, for rural electrification, and to have that scheme ready to be put into operation when present conditions have passed and it will be possible to obtain the material which will be required for it. I cannot, of course, say what the details of such a scheme would be, or its cost, either to the board or the Exchequer, but I do hope that when the war ends there will be such a scheme completed so that the Government then in office can proceed with it if they think circumstances are such as to justify it.