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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Jun 1942

Vol. 26 No. 17

Electricity Supply Board (Superannuation) Bill, 1942—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill, as the House is aware, has two main objects. It authorises the Electricity Supply Board to establish funds from which pensions can be paid to its employees on retirement, and to contribute to those funds, and it authorises the board to pay out of its own funds pensions to members of the board on retirement. In so far as it concerns members of the board, the pensions and gratuities for which the Bill provides can be paid only to such of them as devote their whole time to the affairs of the board, and subject to their having at least ten years' aggregate service, which may, however, be split up into separate periods, provided one of the periods is at least for five years. In justification of that provision of the Bill it can be pointed out that, in an undertaking of the magnitude of the Electricity Supply Board, it is important that the personnel of that body should be persons of high administrative capacity and considerable business experience. Those necessary qualifications are most likely to be found in persons who have demonstrated them in other occupations, and consequently it is inevitable that the Government's choice when a new appointment is to be made will be limited to persons who are somewhat advanced in years. Moreover, appointment to the board in a whole-time capacity entails on the part of the person concerned the surrender of the post which he formerly held, with little or no prospect of again securing it in the event of his not being reappointed to the board. It is considered desirable, therefore, in the interests of efficient administration that the whole-time members should be relieved from that anxiety as to their future, which must persist so long as they have no assurance of a pension on retirement.

The position of the part-time members is, of course, quite different, since they continue to follow their primary occupations, and there is no case for including such persons in the scope of the Bill. It is proposed that pensions which shall be payable to whole-time members of the board shall be calculated at 1/48th of the annual salary for each year of service, with a maximum of 20/48ths for 20 or more years of service, and the pensions will be payable on retirement after reaching 60 years of age, or on earlier retirement due to ill-health or non-reappointment.

It is also provided that, where a member dies whilst in office, after at least five years' continuous whole-time service, a gratuity equal to one year's salary may be paid to his legal personal representatives. In so far as the employees of the board are concerned, it will, I think, be generally agreed that an important public body such as the Electricity Supply Board should be in a position to arrange for contributory pensions for its employees. Most, if not all, corresponding bodies possess such powers, and many industrial and commercial concerns have in recent years introduced of their own volition contributory pensions schemes for their staffs. In doing so, I do not wish to suggest that they were influenced entirely by philanthropic motives. It is becoming increasingly appreciated that the knowledge that provision is being made for a worker's ultimate retirement is, in itself, beneficial, not only for the worker, but also for his employer, since the greater sense of security which he thereby enjoys tends to bind his interest more closely to that of his employer, and renders him less prone to endanger his future by ill-considered action.

It is the intention to establish separate superannuation funds for the manual and non-manual workers. In accordance with the scheme of the Bill, the board will prepare and submit to me, after considering any representations made by the employees concerned, pension schemes; and when approved those schemes will be brought into being by means of an Order to be made under this Bill. It was considered unnecessary to set out in the Bill itself all the complicated provisions that would necessarily arise in the preparation of the scheme, or to embody the scheme as a schedule to the Bill. The procedure adopted is, I think, the wiser one. The purpose of the Bill is to authorise the board to prepare a scheme, subject only to the limitations imposed in the Bill and subject to subsequent approval by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The scheme will be prepared in consultation with the employees of the board, and when the necessary Order under the Bill is made it will have statutory effect.

Has the Minister for Finance not, in fact, power to amend and alter the scheme so as to make it his own?

Could the Minister for Industry and Commerce, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, not modify it so as to make it a new scheme?

It is true that the Minister can require modification of the scheme, but it would be entirely incorrect to say that he could scrap the whole scheme prepared by the board and substitute a new one. It is considered desirable that there should be some power to ensure that, in the preparation of the scheme, considerations of public policy could be taken into account. I explained in the Dáil, when the point was under discussion, that I hoped that, at some stage, similar provision for workers on retirement will become a standard feature of employment in all public utility undertakings and industrial and trading concerns. If that hope is to be realised, I think that we must take steps, in introducing such pension schemes for the public utilities which are, in a sense, under our control, to see that too high a standard is not set and that we establish a practice which it will be possible for less favourably circumstanced undertakings to follow. That is the only respect in which considerations of public policy arise in connection with any scheme that may be submitted by the board. It should be clearly understood that the Department of Industry and Commerce, apart from arranging for the necessary Order, will take no part in administering the schemes. The body or bodies created by that Order to work the schemes will, subject to the terms of the Order, be solely responsible for their administration.

While the schemes will be on a contributory basis, it must, nevertheless, be recognised that such pensions and gratuities as they might provide will represent a very important benefit to those eligible to participate in them. It is, therefore, only fair and reasonable that, as a condition precedent to being permitted to enter the appropriate scheme and to enjoy its benefits, the workers concerned should be dissuaded from undertaking action which might interfere with the due performance by the board of its functions— such as would be the case if strike action were taken. However, it is necessary and desirable to provide, on the other hand, for the hearing and settlement in proper form of any questions which may be at issue between the board and its manual employees. The Bill provides that, for the purpose of calculating pensions to manual workers, the expression "continuous service" shall be deemed to exclude any period prior to a break in service, where that break was due to wilful action—such as strike action—by the workers. In other words, where a manual worker goes on strike, he will forfeit his rights to a pension for services up to the time of the strike, though contributions made by him to the fund in respect of that period will remain in the fund.

The importance of the maintenance of the electricity supply to the whole community is obvious to everybody. Any hasty action which would involve a sudden interruption of that supply might have serious consequences for thousands of workers throughout the country. It is obvious that we should endeavour to reach a position in which such circumstances could not arise. The workers employed by the Electricity Supply Board enjoy reasonable security in their employment, and on that account can be expected to take a more reasonable attitude, in relation to matters that may be in dispute between them and their employers, than workers not so circumstanced. If they are given the added security of a pension on retirement, it is only reasonable to ask that they should accept an arrangement under which such matters in dispute, if they arise, will be settled otherwise than by strike.

The Bill provides, therefore, for the establishment of a tribunal which will arbitrate on any issue that may arise between the board and the staff, which in other circumstances might be settled only by strike action. The tribunal will have power to make awards which will be binding on the board and which will secure justice for the workers in such dispute. It is recognised that, if any limitation is to be put upon the worker's right to protect his interests by withdrawing his labour—it is perhaps incorrect to call it a limitation, since what is involved here is more a penalty than a limitation—we should at the same time take every measure to ensure that that position will not be exploited to the detriment of the worker and that, if a dispute should arise between him and his employer, he will have the means of ensuring that an impartial verdict will be given in his favour, should the facts so justify.

The tribunal to be established under the Bill will consist of three persons— a chairman, who will be appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce on the joint nomination of the workers' member and the board's member or, where they fail to agree, on the nomination of the Minister; one member, who will be appointed by the board; and one member who will be appointed by the employees concerned, in accordance with regulations to be made under the Bill.

That tribunal will be invested with the powers of the High Court in enforcing the attendance of witnesses and compelling the production of documents, and generally, it will be an entirely impartial body armed with all the powers necessary to enable it to probe the facts relating to any matter referred to it before making a determination. I think I have outlined the main proposals of the Bill. I should perhaps mention that among other provisions are sections which enable the board to pay supplementary pensions in the case of workers who have entered the board's employment so late in life that they could not hope to secure a reasonable pension under the scheme, and also to enable the board to pay contributions in respect of the past service of employees, so as to ensure that in respect of that past service, some pension rights will accrue to employees. It would be optional for an employee to make contributions himself. If he does so, he will be entitled, of course, to a much larger pension on retirement.

I assume the House will give general approval to the principle of the Bill, in so far as it relates to the establishment of a pension scheme for Electricity Supply Board employees. There may be some difference of opinion as to the scope of the Bill, or on the means of bringing it into operation. These matters were discussed in detail in the Dáil and no doubt will be discussed here, but as the only issue involved now is the principle of the measure I confidently recommend it to the House.

I entirely agree with the last remark of the Minister that what we are called upon to do this evening is to agree that the principle of the Bill is a sound one. I am in entire agreement with that. A scheme for pensions for manual as well as clerical workers of the Electricity Supply Board is rather long overdue, and it is now very welcome. Anyone who knows the conditions of workers, particularly manual workers, is aware that the most coveted benefit of all is continuous employment and since the Electricity Supply Board does give continuous employment it is only right that it should have also a pension scheme. I happen to know that there have been some very difficult and very hard cases of death and sickness occurring since the board was set up, and the board had no power by legislation to do anything—even a small thing which it would be quite willing to do but which there was no legal power in it to do. This Bill remedies that position.

It provides also for a scheme of pensions for manual workers and it may very well be a beginning in a very desirable direction. I agree with the Minister that it is necessary in the case of a board of this kind with independent or almost independent functions, that in the fixing of a scheme due regard should be had for general public practice and for certain principle. This is rather a Committee point and we can discuss it in Committee. Under Section 5 of this Bill the Minister for Industry and Commerce, after consultation with the Minister for Finance, is given power to confirm the scheme prepared by the board either without modifications, or with modifications, whether by way of omission, alteration or variation as the Minister shall, after consultation with the Minister for Finance, think proper.

I agree that the present Minister has not in his mind the idea of making a scheme himself, but it does seem that this provision enables the Minister for Industry and Commerce, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, to amend the scheme so that it would be an entirely new scheme. We may get more light on this matter on the Committee Stage, but the Bill, as I understand it, simply provides that the board prepares the scheme and the Minister has power to do what he likes with it before it is brought into operation. He may make very substantial changes. I am not saying that any substantial changes will be made in the first scheme to be submitted, but the power seems to be complete for the Minister to do what he pleases with the scheme. Considering the immense power the board has in other directions—it may be argued that they ought not to have them, but seeing that they have been exercised and on the whole satisfactorily exercised—it does seem rather remarkable that in this matter of preparing a pension scheme for employees, they should be subject to the provision that their scheme may be altered, even by way of addition and put into operation without further ado, or further consultation with the board or its employees. However, as the Minister himself has suggested, we will be able to go into that in Committee.

I hope that the scheme referring to manual workers will be the beginning of other schemes of the same nature. It would do a great deal to improve the lot of manual workers whose greatest difficulty is intermittent employment and periods of idleness instead of continuous employment. I am inclined to agree that granted continuity of employment and pension rights people in a public utility undertaking should not have the unrestricted right to withdraw their labour—the thing, of course, seems to me to be incompatible, and the tribunal provided by the Bill is rather in the nature of the tribunal which Senators may recollect was proposed by Senator Douglas, and seconded by myself, in a motion some years ago. We shall be able to discuss the question of the tribunal in Committee. I would be inclined, as Senator Douglas said on that occasion, to make membership of a union compulsory, provided that there were a code that a union could not refuse to enrol a particular person, thereby preventing him from earning his living.

Of course, all reform is a gradual thing, and this Bill may, in fact, contain the seeds of a very beneficial change, not only in the way of improving the lot of the workers but, also, in the way of providing a solution of the problems of strikes and lock-outs. Even if the tribunal is not perfect, and if the flaws are discovered in Committee, and even if certain people are not satisfied, this Bill is a beginning—a beginning which may be very fruitful—and I think it should get a Second Reading.

I did not gather from the Minister what the cost of the scheme would be, but it is a Bill that I welcome. It is a step in the right direction and perhaps others will follow. I take the opportunity to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that there are 500,000 rural homes that are not electrified. It would be a good thing if the Minister directed his attention to possibilities in that direction. The scheme, or schemes, I had in mind would entail no expense on State funds. What would be required is the setting up of an advisory bureau to direct many people who are anxious, in these days of bad light and dull homes, to make their habitations comfortable.

If a farmer is in difficulty about his business he can, at a moment's notice, call in an expert who will advise him in regard to agricultural or horticultural problems. His greatest difficulty is on a dark morning, or evening, when he has to work "by the struggling moonbeams' misty light, or the lantern dimly burning". I suggest to the Minister that if the farmer had his home electrified it would be the greatest boon that could be conferred on him.

Of course, that is not relevant to the Bill, Senator.

I am sure the Minister will not object if I suggest that there are natural resources which are being neglected. I refer him to wind-and-water-power schemes. I am speaking from personal experience and I know what it is to have a farmyard electrified. It can easily be done. There are many people looking for wind-and-water-power schemes but with only partial success. I hope I may be allowed to continue to refer to this.

It is not quite relevant, Senator.

I am sure the Minister will be glad to think the matter over and that he will act. European countries such as Switzerland, Holland and Austria are using wind and water power very largely. I believe Switzerland is exporting current to some neighbouring countries and we are just as favourably situated as these countries for the use of wind and water power. The time for development is ripe. All I suggest is to put down a small fraction of the sum to subsidise this pension scheme as a nest-egg for the setting up of a bureau or department that would advise country people who are anxious to electrify their holdings. It would be money well spent and would return handsome dividends. If farmers want advice on agriculture or horticulture they get it, but they have no place to go for advice on this question. It would be a great help if there was a bureau, department or advisory board which would give advice of the right kind and help in the establishment of a standard plant of wind power or water power to suit our requirements.

I have no desire to be critical of the measure before the House, and I want it to be clearly understood that I have no desire to minimise the great advantage derived from any pension scheme by the workers whom it is intended to cover. When the Bill which the Minister has submitted to the House was in its original draft it was considered very objectionable by all sections of the staff of the Electricity Supply Board and by the trade union movement. While admitting that the Minister was not unfavourable to the representations made to him by the National Executive of the Trade Union Congress in regard to the measure when they met him before its introduction, I think he will admit that there has been very little departure from the basic principles as set forth in the Bill originally. Although some, but not all, of the more objectionable provisions in the Bill were removed by the Minister's amendments during its passage through the Dáil, I think it would be a fair and accurate appreciation of the present position in regard to the Bill to say that notwithstanding these amendments the measure still contains many features which are regarded as objectionable by those to whom it is intended to apply and in respect of its main provisions it still remains much the same Bill as it was when it was introduced in the Dáil.

While the board made pensions available for their own members on retirement, without reference to the Minister, and, I think, are not required to make any contribution to a pension fund, there has been no departure from the contributory principle as applying to the staff nor from the ratio of contributions to be made by the staff to the fund. It is only fair to say, however, that whilst the Minister was not prepared to depart from the contributory principle he did agree, and promised the National Executive of the Trade Union Congress, that in drawing up its scheme the board would consider the representations of the staff and that when the board scheme came before him he would have to have regard to all relevant circumstances, including the position of the staff and any representations made to him as Minister, before he would confirm the scheme and refer it back to the board for reconsideration.

It seems to me most unfair that members of the board should be in the privileged position of not being required to make any contribution towards a pension granted, as the Minister has said, after ten years' service, while manual workers and other relatively low-paid workers in addition to the payments for their whole future service if they elect to become participators in the scheme, will have to pay the arrears or retrospective contributions covering their service with the board prior to the coming into operation of the pension scheme.

Not being an advocate of class warfare I am reluctant to use the term in any respect, but having regard to the difference in treatment as between the members of the board and the staff, I cannot withhold the comment that it does look uncommonly like class legislation. The staff of the Electricity Supply Board, both clerical workers and manual workers, have been devoting considerable time and attention to the consideration of this Bill, and more particularly to the financial basis of any scheme of superannuation that may be drawn up by the board within the limits of the Bill as it now comes before this House. They remain of the opinion—more especially the manual workers—that the benefits they will receive are so small in relation to the price they will have to pay, both by way of future and retrospective contributions, that it may not be worth their while at all to elect to come into the scheme and they would, I understand, prefer that the Bill should be dropped altogether or, at least, deferred until a scheme or Bill more satisfactory to them, more in consonance with their desires, and one having more regard to their ability to pay the contributions could be produced.

Then there is the provision—a very drastic one and one that is very obnoxious to the whole trade union movement—providing that disputes, not, let it be noted, only disputes arising out of the application or administration of the Bill or of the Act itself, or the schemes that may be drawn up under the Act, but all disputes including disputes between the board and its manual employees in relation to rates of wages and hours of labour, shall be referable to the tribunal and shall be determined by the tribunal. The provision made in the Bill for the penalisation of manual workers who take strike action is regarded by them as a most retrograde and unnecessary one. I think the Minister in introducing the measure this evening said that there was not much danger of participants in any scheme set out in this Bill jeopardising their future by any act, but I think there was no necessity to set out a provision such as exists under Section 12 in which the workers participating in the scheme would be required to give some guarantee for their future good behaviour. So far as I can gather the opinions of workers on the staff of the Electricity Supply Board, they regard this as a retrograde and unnecessary provision. Many of them I imagine, even if the financial provisions of the Bill were of such a satisfactory kind as to impel them to come into a superannuation scheme, would, I am afraid, prefer to forego the benefits of the scheme rather than sign away their right to resort to strike action in what they consider to be defence of some principle. It is a right that Irish trade unionists should not lightly relinquish, and having regard to the whole history and tradition of the trade union movement here, I do not think it is to be wondered at that they will continue jealously to guard that right and to maintain their liberty of conscience even at the risk of the sacrifice of some material advantage. I know that there is no compulsion on any member of the staff to come into this scheme of superannuation. They can elect to remain out of it and hold themselves free to take any action they like.

Personally, I abhor strikes, but having regard to the Minister's statement to which I referred, I do not think there is very much possibility of strikes developing in the Electricity Supply Board. It is well known that where conditions are relatively good there is a reluctance on the part of employees in any undertaking to resort to strike action without some grave reason. Personally, I think it is a great pity that such a socially desirable and necessary scheme should be jeopardised by such unwarranted and unnecessary interference with the individual's liberty of action and the right to determine his actions in such matters according to his conscience. One would have thought ample provision already existed under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, and under the Electricity Supply Board's originating Act, which makes it a criminal offence to interfere with the production of electricity. Surely the powers given under these two Acts ought to be quite sufficient without resorting to the device adopted in this Bill, and without extending the powers to deal with such interference in the present measure.

Considerable objection also, I understand, is taken to sub-section (2) of Section 11 in so far as it compels the tribunal, when considering wages or other disputes, to take into consideration the advantages of employment under the board, including "regular employment" and the benefits of the pension scheme. There are other undertakings in this country to which the consideration of constant and regular employment applies, and I do not think there is any necessity to make it a condition that the tribunal should take this factor into consideration. It might be used by the tribunal, not to increase wages but to depress wages. After all, if the tribunal is compelled to take into consideration the privileged position of the workers in an undertaking such as the Electricity Supply Board, one way in which that consideration could be translated into action, in my opinion, would be for the tribunal to say: "These workers are in such privileged employment that the rate of wages paid to them should be lower than that obtaining in outside occupations." It may be an exaggeration of the position to say that, but there is the possibility that the tribunal might be influenced in that way, if they are compelled to take these considerations into account when questions concerning wages and conditions come before them. I do not think that is the intention that the Minister has but I think that that is implicit, if not explicit, in the section which states that the tribunal is compelled to take these matters into consideration.

There is another point in regard to Section 11 to which I should like to direct the Minister's attention. It does not appear clear, to me in any event, that the decision of the tribunal is to be binding on the board. It is perfectly clear, of course, that the decision of the tribunal will be binding on the manual workers as they will suffer forfeiture of benefits under the strike clause. It may be, however, that the words "be determined by the tribunal" in sub-section (1) of Section 11 cover this point and that the binding obligation, if not explicit, is implicit in this section. In that connection, I should welcome a statement from the Minister that the determinations of the tribunal are binding on the board as well as on the manual workers.

In so far as the whole question of a pension scheme for any body of employees is concerned, notwithstanding the few criticisms I have had to make of the Bill, I am in entire agreement with the Minister that it is a laudable and desirable principle that pension schemes should be established for all workers, as far as possible. He has expressed the hope that similar schemes for public utilities and industrial undertakings may develop as the result of the experience gained by the operation of this measure. I do hope that it will fall to the lot of the present Minister in the near future to develop and extend the scheme which it is now proposed to apply to employees of the Electricity Supply Board.

There is just one other matter that I should like to bring to the notice of the Minister in connection with this scheme. The Minister probably has some knowledge of the matter already. I refer to the case of former employees in the Pigeon House. It would appear that when that undertaking was taken over by the Electricity Supply Board, the services of these men were dispensed with. Some of them were granted an annuity in respect of their services and for the loss of employment. Subsequently, I gather, some of them were taken over by the Electricity Supply Board.

I intend to deal with the position of these individuals in another Bill which is being introduced. It does not relate to what is in this Bill.

In connection with the tribunal which it is proposed to set up under this Bill, and in regard to remarks made by Senator O'Callaghan a few moments ago, I think it is interesting to note that the Electricity Supply Board staff committee desire a further development of the matters to be dealt with by the tribunal. They have represented to me that they would like an extension of the matters to be considered by the tribunal. These do not concern wages or conditions of employment, and I do not expect that they could be dealt with under Section 11.

It might, however, be no harm on Second Reading to refer to these further matters which they would like to have dealt with. They suggest that it would be advisable to establish district councils in connection with the Electricity Supply Board undertaking on the same lines as those established under the Whitley schemes in Great Britain. They also suggest—I am afraid a Fianna Fáil or a Fine Gael Government would not grant this; it will probably be left to a Labour Government to deal with it and even they might be slow to consider it—the inclusion of all employees in their trade or professional organisations. In other words, so far as I can gather the suggestion is that there should be compulsory organisation in trade unions or other bodies inside the Electricity Supply Board service. I do not know whether I am interpreting their views in that respect correctly but these are the representations made to me. They also suggest the provision of educational facilities and training for young people; the encouragement of study and research, the preparation of statistics and reports on the industry, in other countries and throughout the world generally, and as to the effects of customs and excise duties on the industry. I am not responsible for originating these suggestions but they have been put forward to me as matters which I might refer to on Second Reading. They also suggest that the tribunal might undertake the task of making representations to the Government, State Departments and other authorities as to the opinions and needs of the industry and those engaged in it. They further suggest that there should be consultation beforehand, presumably with the board and staffs, before the introduction of legislative or administrative machinery affecting the industry. The Minister is faced with a very full programme in dealing with these matters.

You would have to substitute the tribunal for the board and, after a bit, for the Government.

The tribunal might be better engaged in doing that than in dealing with wages and conditions which the trade unions have dealt with very effectively up to this. I do not wish to delay the House further except to say that I approve of the principle embodied in the Bill, namely the provision of pensions for workers in undertakings such as the E.S.B. I also join with the Minister in expressing the hope that this Bill will be the forerunner of others, covering not only workers in public utilities and in sheltered occupations, but all industrial workers throughout the country. I am sorry I have had to introduce a critical and discordant note into the Second Reading debate on this Bill but I think the Minister understands the point of view which I have put to him. My remarks are not intended to be destructive of the good results which it is hoped to achieve by the Bill and I am sure the Minister will accept my observations in that spirit.

Mr. Honan rose.

As it is now 9 o'clock, the time arranged for the adjournment of the House, I suggest that the Senator move the adjournment of the debate.

This is, I understand, an unopposed measure and, if there is no objection, I think we should sit until 9.30, if necessary, in order to complete this stage. That might meet the Minister's convenience.

I should prefer that course.

Agreed to sit, if necessary, until 9.30 p.m.

I merely wish to express my approval and appreciation of the Bill which, I think, is somewhat overdue. In the Electricity Supply Board, as in many other undertakings of that kind, a great number of the staff, particularly electrical engineers, become too old for work at a very early age. It is the tendency at present in highly-industrialised undertakings to regard certain members of the staff as too old for work at an early age, and it is only proper and correct that some provision should be made for them in afterlife. The only regret I have is that the Bill is not of more general application.

It has, however, been indicated by the Minister and other speakers that this Bill may be only the forerunner of more extensive schemes. Many other sections of the working community deserve consideration in afterlife as much as the employees of the Electricity Supply Board or any such institution. Shop assistants, bus drivers and other classes get old for work at a comparatively early age. There is nothing more pathetic than to see a man who has spent the best years of his life in a certain occupation leaving work at a very early age, having, perhaps, saved a little money, which proves insufficient, and being dependent on that amount for the remainder of his life. The Minister may, at some time, see his way to provide for compulsory pensions for all employees and for comparatively regular employment. This may not be directly relevant to the Bill before the House, but it has a bearing on it. A man may save a little money which may be of very little use to him towards the end of his days, because he does not know how long or how short his life may be. If proper arrangements had been made during his working life, he would, probably, be in receipt of a pension which would keep him in comparative comfort during the remainder of his days. This Bill will meet with general approval, and I hope it is merely the forerunner of pension schemes in many other branches of industrial activity.

Senator Hayes had some criticism to offer on the provisions of Section 5, which give the Minister for Industry and Commerce, in consultation with the Minister for Finance, power to require the modification of a scheme submitted by the board. I should make clear that it is not intended that that power should be used to force upon the board some scheme, or some provision in a scheme, to which the board strongly objects. It is contemplated that the board, having prepared its scheme, will submit it for examination and, if any alterations therein seem to be desirable, the proposed changes will be discussed with the board.

That is not in the section.

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.

Is the Minister aware that there are numbers of people now attempting local schemes with water-and-wind chargers?

I am aware of that.

I am suggesting that these schemes are partly misdirected and will end in partial or complete failure. If there was a Government bureau or some other Department to give advice to such individuals it would be useful and the money would be well spent.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for first sitting of Seanad after this week.
The Seanad adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 18th June.