This is a technical amendment. All of the amendments we have tabled are of a technical nature.
Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Bill, 1986: Committee Stage.
I want to clarify the question of consultative arrangements. Section 3 (a) (i) (1) states:
In case the specified body is Aer Lingus, is recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining negotiations either by that company or by Aerlinte and represents a majority of the employees of those companies when the numbers of employees employed by them are added together,
I think there might be some confusion in the way that is worded. Consultation does not imply consultation and agreement. It just means private consultation and discussion. In a company that has the right of collective bargaining, there could be some confusion that it means a collective bargaining process when it is merely a consultative process. I see a distinction between the two.
On this section, perhaps the Minister would elaborate at this stage why there are two particular approaches as set out in sections 3 and 4 to the initiating process for sub-board participation arrangements. I would like an explanation to the background of the two approaches.
I want to clarify a point before I reply to Senator Hillery's question. It was felt, in consultation with the parliamentary draftsman and with the legal advice which we received, that two separate approaches would be required to allow for the possibility of two different situations, one where there was a clear majority of workers in a particular enterprise unambiguously in favour of such an approach and such development of worker participation, and the other where there would be a dispute as to whether there was a requirement for such an approach and for the establishment of participation.
This showing of interest by 15 per cent is an interesting idea. I came across it first in the context of the unionisation process in the United States where the National Labour Relations Board which administers the main labour laws acts as the agency to facilitate the unionisation process. I take it the idea is the same, to get a showing of interest before proceeding further?
The thinking behind it is that where there was doubt as to whether the majority of workers wanted to have a poll which would lead to worker participation there had to be in a sense, to use the American analogy that Senator Hillery referred to, a kind of a primary where 15 per cent of the workforce indicated they were interested in having worker participation and the poll that would go with it. The section provides for a poll of employees in a State enterprise to ascertain whether a majority want participation or not. This, in effect, is triggered by an application signed by 15 per cent of the workforce in the enterprise. The rest of the section is essentially the procedures which a poll would have to be conducted.
The subsection to which the Senator was referring to, requires the appropriate officer to take a poll of employees in a State enterprise to ascertain whether a majority want participation or not. It is triggered by an application signed by 15 per cent of the employees. The subsection also requires the appropriate officer to appoint a period of from one to 30 days for the taking of a poll. He must also appoint a day within seven days of receipt of the application referred to as the appropriate day. Only those who are employees on that day will be entitled to vote at the poll. The procedure for triggering a poll is unambiguous and can be used when it is unclear whether a trade union or trade unions represent a majority of employees and where for any reason the options at section 3 are not appropriate. It is anticipated that most cases would be dealt with through the first option, section 3. Other cases would be dealt with through the second option, and very few cases will require a poll. The period for casting votes etc. can be as long as 30 days. This is to allow the necessary flexibility for a large organisation which may have many widely dispersed locations. The appropriate officer is also given flexibility in picking the day of the week which would qualify those employed on that day to vote. This is to avoid any administrative problem if the appropriate day were fixed by legislation.
Section 4 is really a fall-back position, where there is a degree of ambiguity in the perception of whether the workforce want worker participation. The section is very explicit — it is quite long — and it is designed to have a triggering mechanism which then automatically sets off a very clear procedure. The reason we felt it would have to be as explicit as this was if there was in the very first instance a doubt whether the workforce wanted it the procedures would have to be set down very clearly.
I also noticed in the explanatory memorandum that no further poll may be held for four years should a majority of employees reject the proposal. How was the four year period arrived at? Again, I can draw a parallel with the unionisation process in the United States where there is a decertification process for unionised employees. We are not comparing like with like but the idea is the same. I wondered how you reached four years because it would be longer than practice in other countries albeit not in precisely this field.
Unionisation in the US, while it is a useful analogy, is somewhat different. We really wanted to harmonise the period, the duration of office, that a worker director will have. As you now know it is to be four years instead of three. We have used the same period.
I move amendment No. 1a:
In page 7, after line 49, to insert a new subsection as follows:—
"(6) In the absence of any Agreement, the information to be furnished or disseminated by the specified body, shall include such information
(a) as may be prescribed by the Minister
(b) such other information as the specified body would be obliged to furnish if it were a Company under the Companies Act, 1963, as amended."
In moving this amendment I would like to request clarification. If I understand it rightly, the words proposed would strengthen the section in the following way. The section speaks about an agreement that might emerge but the circumstances to which the amendment is addressed is in the event of a failure to have an agreement. Therefore it reads:
In the absence of any Agreement, the information to be furnished or disseminated by the specified body, shall include such information (a) as may be prescribed by the Minister.
"As may be prescribed by the Minister" enables the Minister to exercise discretion as to what he would consider to be the minimum information that is necessary. The second part, (b), of the amendment states:
such other information as the specified body would be obliged to furnish if it were a Company under the Companies Act, 1963, as amended.
That is information which is not only of value and importance to employees but which also could be argued is necesary within the norm of public accountability.
The problem about the section should these amendments not be included is that the information to be furnished could be the subject of a managerial veto or could be left to managerial discretion which might or might not be in either the employees' or the public's interest. If the participative structure which is described as a sub-board structure is to have any meaning, it might be useful if the Minister would take the right to specify the kind of minimal information I mentioned or equally if he were to take a model, which is a minimal one, from the amended Companies Act and regard that as the criteria. I cannot understand, in the absence of such criteria either by ministerial prescription or by taking the model of the Companies Act, how you would resolve the situation where there was not agreement and where the balance had gone in the direction of managerial discretion.
In tabling this amendment we are concerned that the information to be furnished is subject to managerial veto or that it could be left to managerial discretion. If this were the case the question of the sub-board structure could be reduced to a talking shop. We are trying to ensure that there are minimum heads of information to be prescribed in the Bill or by regulation. I trust that some of the other sections may strengthen the structure, for instance, taking sections Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 together. There may be some substance in trying to circumvent any sort of effect that this is likely to have. This is our main concern about the section.
So far as the sub-board structures go this is the most important section. I understand what Senators Higgins and Harte have in mind. Regrettably there is a long history of sub-board structures dealing in trivia. As one noted writer said, sub-board structures have dealt for too long with such matters as toilets and tea towels. While I can see that information is important — later in section 6 this is mentioned — there is no indication of the type of information that should be provided when the sub-board structures are established. I, too, look forward to the Minister's response in that regard.
First, I would refer Senators to section 3 where it is stated that:
the specified body shall, as soon as may be, make arrangements pursuant to section 6 of this Act.
There is a "shall" in a legislative obligation to make arrangements. Secondly, I can understand the concern of Senators Harte and Higgins in relation to the nature of their amendment and its motivation. However, we should recall that we are dealing with legislation governing State companies. For the worker participation legislation to be extended to State companies, it requires the consent of the line departments as well as the Minister for Labour. Under the normal legislation by which any State company is established, be it by statute or under articles of association or by memorandum of association in the case of a limited liability company, there is provision for the Minister to give a direction in the first instance. If the fear of the Senators is that there would be a delaying process whereby there would be endless discussion about the nature of the agreement, there is in another body of legislation, and we can go into each individual company, but in each of those individual companies the line departments particularly and the Minister for Labour would have the legislative instruments and the legal power to direct a company to do a particular thing. That reinforces the "shall" as well in section 3. I would be reluctant to have that power thrust on a Minister for Labour for this reason and this gets back to the philosophical position we had at the time of the Second Stage debate. If it appears that the Minister has the power to make agreements in the nature and the form suggested in the amendment, it would be an easy way out for both management and labour to say, "if we cannot agree let us kick it up stairs and let the Minister try to decide what is the best way to have an agreement for the sort of information in question." That would, in principle, negative the whole thrust of the legislation. The concern of the Senators is that this legislation should not provide a loophole or a safety corner, so to speak, where endless discussion could be used instead of coming to an agreement. We are satisfied because we have had some time to look at the amendment, even though it was circulated at short notice that if we introduced the amendment as it is, it would cast a doubt on the meaning of "shall" in sections 3 and 4 (8).
Would that satisfy the matter of the minimum heads of information? From personal experience I know that these consultative arrangements can finish up like works committees, talking about minor issues such as soap. It can be reduced to that when you are really trying to do something for State enterprise in the sense of not only helping to improve industrial relations but trying to get people to work towards the principles of peace, work and health. If a reference to minimum heads does not go on the record, that could present us with a problem.
I found the Minister's response interesting and helpful in many ways. I can see the point relating to "shall" in section 3 (b) of the Bill. I take the Minister's point that we are talking about State enterprises and semi-State bodies. We are talking about bodies for which there is a responsibility located in a particular Ministry, as the Minister for Labour and the Public Service has pointed out.
Let me make one general point. If we were not talking about State and semi-State bodies I would be pushing this even harder because of the disgraceful lack of commitment by the major parties to implementation of freedom of information and the whole spill over from the Vredeling debate and so forth. We are talking about State and semi-State bodies. I am worried about the relationship between this instrument, the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Act as it might be, and the specific legislation governing each of the companies. Is there a danger that, if it is not expressly and explicitly stated here, this is the instrument against which you will have a more lax interpretation, as the Minister points out, in the legislation governing the operation of the particular bodies? That is the worry which exists.
The other point is a simple one and the background in many cases. What the Minister states is correct in relation to Departments dealing with bodies and companies. They vary in relation to their response to issues that are stated to them regarding the provision of minimal information. This amendment is more motivated by the recognition of the breach than by the observance. It was very much motivated by the fact that there are examples of State and semi-State bodies that have been brought to the attention of different Departments, where information was withheld and where the whole mind of management was not set towards the implementation of the spirit of this section.
Should this section have a minimal expression and can we rely on the word "shall" in sections 3 and 4? Will that be sufficient to override interpretations of the other legislation? Are we assisting the other legislation or are we weakening it by this precise formulation we have in the section? The motivation of the amendment was to have such a specific reference as would not enable it to be watered down. I take the Minister's point that it was not the intention of the amendment to create a situation where people would cynically try to avoid agreement and simply use such a procedure as a residual category.
Like Senator Michael D. Higgins, I feel that everything should be done in legislation to ensure the maximum dissemination of information and I agree with that part of the amendment. But on the other hand, I sympathise with what the Minister has said in regard to this legislation. He is endeavouring to produce alternative ways of setting up a participative procedure under sections 3 and 4. But in each case these are models in which the initiative and the motivation comes from below. I feel that it would be extremely dangerous if we depended on the imposition of any movement from above. This might defeat the whole purpose.
I might say in passing that this is the second piece of legislation we have had in this regard. The original legislation was started in the State bodies. It was hoped that it would be so successful there that it would serve as a model for private industry. I am afraid we must express disappointment there, whether it is the failure of the private sector to imitate, or it was the failure in the public sector to take full advantage of both sides in what was available to them. The Minister has given another opportunity here. Unless we get the initiative and the motivation coming from below, we are not going to solve the problems that plague us at the moment. I say that as one who has, over many years in this House, pleaded for the right of information on the part of employees and of the public.
Well, I can see that the Minister is trying to steer a somewhat delicate course really. After all, in the Morrissey report, the report of the Advisory Committee on Worker Participation, there is considerable employer resistance to the approach the Minister is now adopting. The FUE, for example, do not favour a statutory approach to sub-board structures, and they have their reasons for that. A further reason I can relate to what Senator Michael Higgins has just said is that implicit in what the Minister has just said there is a reliance on the line Department to act. That would bother me to some extent. In other words, I think we should go as far as possible in the Bill if we want to enact it at all.
I have in mind — and I raised it on Second Stage—that there are two vacancies on the B & I board under the 1977 Act. I am a member of the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies which recently examined B & I. We had a comprehensive presentation from the trade unions in B & I. There was very strong criticism of the Minister for Communications for not filling the two board vacancies which he should do in honour and by the letter of the law. Following that public hearing I want to raise that matter here. However well intentioned the Minister is at this point, at the end of the day he is relying on his colleagues in Government and whoever happen to be the Ministers of the day to actually act in this respect. I am just giving an instance, under the parent Act in this case, of a keen disappointment for the people concerned and a source of worry. Furthermore, I might add that the two vacancies in B & I have occurred because the two former worker directors are now redundant.
What we are trying to do here is to reconcile two things. We want to provide a framework within which things "shall" happen — I use the word "shall" in a legislative sense — but there is a triggering imperative in, for example, section 4 (8) 6 of the Bill which states:
In case the majority of votes is in favour of accepting the proposals to which the ballot paper relates, the specified body concerned.
—which would be the enterprise—
...shall, as soon as may be, make arrangements pursuant to section 6 of this Act.
In our legisation that is a very clear and unambiguous statement. There is an onus and an obligation upon the enterprise to proceed along a certain course of action. That is a very clear and unambiguous statement that there is an onus and obligation upon the enterprise to proceed along a certain course of action. There is both the remedy of the court and the remedy of the Oireachtas for people to invoke if for whatever reason a particular board, a managing director, or a State company may be in financial trouble, such as the case in the B & I who are reluctant to act on this. I am not a lawyer but it appears to me that anyone going to court invoking this section has a very clear case if the ballot is clearly in favour of the arrangement. We were trying to reach the balance whereby things would definitely be put into place but that we would not be required to prescribe their form or shape. This point was made by Senator Dooge. This must, in essence, come from the ground up but we must ensure that the ground has room to move, so to speak.
I think — and I have got advice from the civil servants who are with me on this, because I understand and share the sentiment that has motivated the amendment — that our response would complicate and make more difficult the balance between the participatory process coming forward with its own arrangements and its own prescribed forms, etc. Even if they do talk about tea towels and toilets it is for the participatory process to raise the agenda to other matters. Once people start talking they are talking on one side or the other and if one side allows itself to be confined to tea towels and toilets there is a limit beyond which a framework of legislation for participation can go. We cannot prescribe the agenda at that point and say that it is a voluntary process as well. At the end of the day it is a bit like the democratic process —— we have been responsible for the democratic process but we cannot necessarily be responsible for the parties that emerge within it or for some of the policies they advocate or propose. To a certain extent there is an obligation on us to provide a framework in which these things can occur without prescribing the form, because the paternalism of our society is such that the minute we have the possibility of prescribing a form both sides will find it easier to kick it upstairs, force the Minister and the civil servants to produce a prescribed form and then attack it from both sides as the Minister interfering in the affairs of the company.
I ask the Minister to think about what has been said during this discussion between now and Report Stage. Valid points have been raised but not ones we have been able to resolve on Committee Stage. I agree with the Minister — as anyone with any experience of work places in Ireland would — that a discussion on the toilets would be well worthwhile.
The direction we are taking in relation to information and information disclosure, which hopefully will be a feature of the sub-board structures, is a step in the right direction. I mentioned that I am a member of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies and when serving on an earlier committee we examined Fóir Teoranta. Fóir Teoranta, in identifying the main problems of companies that sought their financial help from the manufacturing sector, identified the reluctance of top management to disclose information to any interests about the plight of the company, and that included the employees. All too often you have employees left in the dark until it is too late and yet at the same time they could be the very people who have probably one of the biggest stakes in the success and continuation of an enterprise. This could be followed by closures when their good will could have been employed for the rescue of the company. Equally in the case of Irish Shipping, a company we also examined, if there was more information disclosure about the operations of the company the expertise that unquestionably existed in the staff could have been tapped and liquidation could have been avoided.
I would like to ask the Minister why he has gone this statutory route because there is considerable resistance from the employer end? I know we are not talking about the private sector. Quite clearly these are State enterprises and we have a number of worker directors.
There is some resistance there, too.
You do not surprise me, Minister. What is the background to actually moving on it now? I compliment Father Morrissey and his team for a well-balanced, comprehensive piece of work. I am glad to have the opportunity to do it now. Is it that the Minister has said: "There has to be a statutory push because otherwise not too much will happen"?
One of the points I feel very strongly about is an extension of the point made by the Minister in one of his replies. I would like to thank him for looking at how the spirit of the amendment we have suggested might be accommodated. If this Bill is to be implemented the mind of the parties involved is very important. I can think of clear examples in some of the bodies that are mentioned in the Schedule where some of the people said to me very recently, in relation to something "Managers manage and workers do what they are told". You cannot legislate to change the mind of some management people involved in certain bodies. The fact of the matter is that even though the game has changed in terms of its basic rules the people are the same and they have brought their pre-legislatively prescribed democratic formula mentalities with them. Unfortunately, in the case of worker flexibility you will find that people much further down the line are delighted to be released into new opportunities but they are simply stuck with somebody up on top who is not philosophically or practically committed to this kind of information. There is no point in not taking into account the kind of shock participation is to many people involved in management in Ireland. I have seen great evidence of it even in relation to the professional management training bodies and the courses to which I have seen them released. I have not seen as much emphasis on the human factor and on, for example the morality of sharing information as much as I have on what I would call lower grade competence in responding to external opportunities, including fiscal and technical ones.
My concern is really to do with the line departments and the response from the line departments. I am familiar with a certain amount of experimentation that has taken place in a number of State-sponsored bodies on sub-board structures and one in particular. I am aware that a certain amount of time and experimentation is necessary to get the formula right. In one State body designated for worker directors it took several years to get a workable sub-board structure, which was one without legislation. I am not pushing the Minister to be specific about what should be disclosed, my concern in the Government context is more about the getting the line departments to respond promptly and fairly.
I will refer firstly to the point made by Senator Hillery and then to the points raised by Senator Michael Higgins. I do not believe that a voluntarist tradition — to use the favourite phrase of the FUE in the broader sense of the word — will, without the prompting of some form of legislation, bring about a participatory process. They are great espousers and apostles of the voluntarist tradition but there are very few volunteers within it, as far as I can see. That is the reason the motivation was in the legislation in the first instance.
With regard to the question of information, there is a culture in some of the line departments, particularly those that have a very commercial orientation, that they reflect the style of management within the country generally. That is the point to which Senator Higgins was referring. There are many people in the Civil Service who have taken on board the culture of management, particularly from the private sector, and who would listen to a view that was clearly articulated. There is a dissenting report in the Morrissey worker participation report from the FUE, which would, without reflection upon the individual involved, find an echo in some commercial partners in the State to reinforce the tradition that, if you give people information, it is more damaging than liberation and so on. It is not a point of view with which I agree but it is a point of view which is expressed and which attracts a considerable degree of support.
The relationship between a line Department, a subsidiary enterprise, such as a semi-State company, and the Department of Labour under this legislation would have a fourth dimension to it. In an enterprise where, for example, there were no directly elected worker-directors these provisions will apply in companies where there are not such directly elected worker-directors. In the political culture, which we have evolved over a number of different Administrations, there usually is social partnership representation in some shape or form. If you go down through the Schedule of the companies there are many people either representing congress or representing a union in the area, appointed in a personal capacity but clearly representing the workers' organisations in that regard. If you had a stalemate where, notwithstanding the provisions in section 4 (8) and section 3 (b) and where that was not being pushed very strongly by the line Department and where the line Department was not exactly in opposition to the companies responsible but on the contrary was tactically in favour of the resistance and where the employees wanted to invoke this process and to have it invoked in the full spirit of the legislation, I envisage that they would have access to the board in the normal course of events through the representation about which I am talking even though they would not necessarily have a directly elected director. We are a fairly small homogeneous society in that respect and the capacity of the Irish people to love each other is pretty substantial. I am quite confident the process could be invoked if there were resistance.
With regard to the question of information which is a slightly broader one but which is in the amendment tabled by Senator Higgins and Senator Harte, the House will be interested to know that the companies Bill is now at a very advanced stage and I expect it to be published very soon. It makes substantial provision for updating and improving the process of the body and the content of information a company must provide. Of course, there are various directives from the EC in this area. American practice paradoxically is far in advance of Irish practice or other European nations' practice as well. It goes for better participation and for better collective bargaining if people can agree the figures and know the figures on both sides. There is nothing more calculated to obscure a discussion or a process than not having the facts on both sides of the table.
I am not sure if I have clarified the intent in the section and answered the concern of the two Senators who raised it, but we are satisfied that the provision will enable an appropriate sub-board structure to evolve and that there is in the imperative of the word "shall" a clear triggering mechanism in legal terms that would bring it about.
The Minister referred to the United States experience and, of course, it is true that it is commonplace nowadays to find a very high degree of co-operation between unions and management in the United States. To a considerable extent in the recent past this has been triggered by recessionary conditions. From the management viewpoint — and of course they are not all angels — they are concerned with costs, particularly with labour costs and they have sought individual employee commitment to enterprise objectives. In other words, they try to close the gap between the two sides. We now have a situation in the United States where full time union officals are engaged with boards of directors in a highly participative fashion for survival, first of all, and then for the continuation of the enterprise. Of course, the ideological differences are in turn rather different from the history of these islands in this part of Europe.
I realise the Minister cannot include everything in one Bill. He touched on the possibility, if not probability, that there could be some management, or even board, resistance in some State-sponsored bodies in relation to the establishment of sub-board structures. One difficulty in this area is the presentation of the information to the employees. How is it presented? Is it intelligible? If it is to be made intelligible it gets us back to the ability of the employees to understand it and that, in turn, raises the question of training literally for information dissemination and absorption. While I say the Minister could not include everything in one Bill, if this is to succeed it is critical that an adequate amount of meaningful information is disclosed on the one hand and, of course, on the other, that the employees are actually able to understand it and they need to be facilitated and trained to do just that. I would like to know the Minister's views on that?
I agree very much with what the Senator is saying. The practice in the United States is quite different. The most spectacular example was the co-operation between the United Automobile Workers' Union and both General Motors and Chrysler and the rescue package for Chrysler and subsequently in the rationalisation in GM where they established a development fund which is jointly managed by the trade unions and GM to set up new businesses for workers who would be coming out of the spare labour capacity for new job creation.
In the Irish context we have a different problem. The trade union political culture is different and the British have the same system. The spirit of William Martin Murphy is not totally dead in Ireland. We have a fair bit of it around.
I hope it is very small.
I hope so too, but it can be aggravated by different factors.
A little bit of it down the road.
The real problem is that we have far too many unions and as a consequence the quality of the trade union official and his or her capacity to provide the information needed and to get the back-up service to spend the time to explain to members and to do so in a manner that is clearly capable of being understood without ambiguity, is something that, with perhaps the exception of two to three unions, the vast bulk of Irish trade unions simply cannot undertake. For quite some time Congress have been advocating a rationalisation of trade unions. My first introduction to the realisation of the large number of trade unions in Ireland was from Senator Hillery when he lectured me on trade unions and professional practice in the College of Engineering in 1968.
The Minister is dating me.
It is known that we have 90 unions, 70 within the Republic, and many of them simply do not have the capacity to provide the social services needed, notwithstanding the fact that we give the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, as stated in the Estimates for the Department of Labour, approximately £630,000. There is also technical assistance available through the TAG system. The training and development of the work force in any enterprise in a period when adaptability to change, particularly market forced change upon a company, are such that there would be an obligation that that adaptability be changed by management in a manner that is constructive and productive at the end of the day and some allocation of resources out of total amount available for retraining and training should go to the process of information and communication. I am very much at one with what the Senator is saying but, he rightly says one cannot do everything in one Bill.
The Senator referred to something that parallels the activities of this legislation. In most of the State companies, particularly in those that have worker participation by virtue of their size and shape, there is room for this kind of thing. There is an attempt to disseminate information in a manner that is easily understood by different people but the practice varies from company to company, even within the narrow family of State companies. I am reluctant to prescribe a model or to suggest how that should be done because at the end of the day the test is whether people understand the issues and come to a decision that is to their mutual advantage.
I see a danger of us wandering all over the place on the question of worker participation. What we are after is a common knowledge and a common interest on the question of getting the highest effort possible out of them or making an effort towards a common end. That is the purpose of the Bill. In regard to the amendments we put down, both Senator Higgins and I would be satisfied, having regard to what the Minister has said, that not only is there further legislation liable to follow but there is scope, in addition, for future company law to be of substantial interest to the trade unions. The position has been met with regard to the amendment we put down.
With regard to section 7, I welcome the fact that it requires a State enterprise to describe in its annual report any action taken during the year to introduce sub-board participating arrangements and any participated agreement made during the year. I do not want to refer too often to the committee on which I am serving, but there is plenty of room for criticism about the very wide variety of annual reports. It is extremely difficult to compare them across the board and, in addition, there is rather scant information in certain respects.
One recommendation we made in the context of a recent report we issued in respect of the 26 commercial state-sponsored bodies which were within our remit is that corporate plans should be reported in the annual reports. I raised that with the Minister for Finance last year and he referred to the confidentiality risk but, of course, in some of the State enterprises — several of them monopolies — confidentiality is not really a big problem. Equally, disclosure of information in the annual report about progress on sub-board structures could not be construed as affecting confidentiality. I am very glad this is included. The more information we get in annual reports the better, and I am glad that there was the vision to build it into this Bill.
I welcome the Senator's support for the proposal. I was very anxious to have this provision inserted when we were drafting the legislation because it will have a demonstration effect on other companies. On the general question of reports, far more energy, time and money goes into the glossy publication and production of the report rather than its content. The printing costs of some of the reports relative to the extent of their information is totally disproportionate. In section 7 (1) the objective is to ensure that the information contained will have a demonstration effect on the participants in the enterprise and will be capable of being readily and clearly understood with regard to the process of participation by the public and by other State companies.
Section 8 provides that expenses incurred by State enterprises in establishing and maintaining sub-board participative arrangements shall be borne by the enterprise itself. That makes sense. However, there is a tendency in many companies, including State companies, to refer to cost pressures and in the course of expenditure to prioritise what they see as important and less important. Training is an area that tends to take the knock in recessionary conditions. One could argue that training was never more important. Training for change, for flexibility and adaptability is never more important than when a company is under severe financial pressure. It is one thing to establish the structure, it is another to prepare in a comprehensive way for it. That is time-consuming and, therefore, there are costs associated with it. My concern would be that on cost grounds a State body could use the excuse of lack of finance to get on with the job of implementing the sub-board's structures as envisaged in this Bill.
I do not think a sustainable case could be made. Depending on the physical composition and location of the enterprise — and probably the most dispersed that comes to mind would be CIE in terms of the number of different locations on which people in that company would have to be contacted — in terms of cash and additional outlays of moneys, the cost would largely be confined to printing and to postage where postage was necessary. The only other cost in terms of time would be the opportunity costs of management. It would be very hard for any company — I am reacting to what the Senator has said — to sustain the argument for any length of time, that they do not have the necessary time to do it. If they did not have it then it would be a matter of management making extra time available. They are not on a fixed 35 hour week. If they are, they are not doing their job. They have to be able to respond to certain circumstances. This would only occur once if you were setting up the process. It is a once-off thing that would at most happen every four years. It would be very difficult to justify saying the provisions in sections 3, 4, and 6 could not be proceeded with because of lack of money. I cannot anticipate what the reaction may be. Section 8 states:
All expenses incurred by a specified body in relation to the establishing and maintaining of arrangements pursuant to section 6 of this Act shall be borne by the specified body concerned.
It is clearly an enabling provision to ensure that they are within their own mandate in expending moneys for this purpose and are not acting outside the statute under which they were established if they are not a company under the Companies Act. I understand the fears but I do not think it would be sustainable because the costs would be minimal other than the costs I referred to previously. It would be manageable to work extra overtime should that be necessary.
I am merely putting it down as a marker, perhaps a small marker in practice. From the knowledge I have of companies both in the public and private sectors, those who have addressed the question of sub-board structures in a very serious and meaningful way, have set up joint working parties — it is not merely a question of managerial time — in order to secure the co-operation of the employees. That is vital. They have had to address the question of sub-board structures over a considerable period of time. I was referring to the opportunity costs; I could envisage a situation where they would argue they would be quite substantial in the sense that they might argue there are other more urgent priorities than implementing this. It was in that same context I raised the question of training, which tends to drop in the scale of priorities when companies are under financial pressure.
The development of this process, if it is done in a constructive manner, will enhance the viability and the profitability of the enterprise and its efficiency. Therefore, while there may be a short-term outlay on cost, be it opportunity costs on both sides — and you are right to put down that marker — the long-term benefits, if properly handled, would more than offset any start-up costs.
I agree with the Minister of course. Certainly, the hope would be that the longer term costs would more than justify the efforts expended. However, precisely because there has been such a poor history in the establishment of support structures you have actually had to introduce this legislation, so that it would appear that many managements in the public and private sector would not share the view that there are in fact longer-term benefits and they would rather rely on voluntary means which may not achieve what you want to achieve.
I hesitate to intrude into the Senators political philosophy but the benefit of radical policies would more than offset the unjustifiable fears the Irish electorate have in the first instance. The same would hold through for management as well.
On the Order of Business this morning it was decided the House would adjourn at 8 o'clock. We are not discussing the Bill. Some of the amendments were available before today; others only available today but I understand there was some desire on this side of the House to proceed with the discussion of the Bill. It really should be a matter for Senator Hillery who is alone on the other side of House and contributed constructively to this Bill. I certainly, as the Leader of the House would be guided by his preference as to whether he wishes to continue this Bill tonight, to take it tomorrow if time were available or to leave it over until January 14.
I think Senator Dooge has put it very fairly. I do feel that we have a legislative function to perform. The Bill deserves due consideration and I would prefer postponement in that event to January, presumably that would be preferable. The Leader of the House, however, may be able to outline what the business is tomorrow but my own preference would be to defer it until early in the New Year.
I can predict the business for tomorrow but not the degree of loquacity of the Senators on the business.
If it is in order for me to comment on the Business of the House — I do not think it is but perhaps I can evoke my status as a former Member of this House, not that I wish necessarily to return — I share the sentiments of Senator Hillery. I think, in fact, that the legislation itself would be better informed and the process of participation, to which there seems to be substantial agreement on all sides, would be further advanced if we had a more substantial discussion and perhaps the distractions of the present days will have receded by then as we will not be beset by other distractions in the middle of January.
Earlier we were prepared to facilitate the Minister if he felt there was any degree of urgency about the Bill but thinking about what has been said by Senator Hillery and particularly the fact that it is a development of industrial democracy, another step forward the second tier working its way down, that it is a kind of scheme and because of the state of industrial relations generally, it is very important that we give it the most detailed consideration. It is wise to leave it over to January.