This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.
Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2000 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for the amendments which he accepted in the other House. Senators, particularly Senator Costello and myself, had argued for an extended definition of "the entirety of labour relations practices". That is an important amendment, touching on employment practices outside the State, and I am grateful to the Minister of State for accepting it. As the Minister of State has said in relation to amendment No. 2, referring to section 2, the effect is to make it clear that the Labour Court, which is required to have regard to the entirety of labour relations practices in the employment concerned, is not confined to labour relations practices within the State when considering a case before it. In view of the advent of so many non-national firms, while the employment created is always welcome, it is important that we have appropriate control and that the Labour Court should be able to examine practices outside the State which – and I do not wish to give offence – might not be acceptable in this country, for reasons connected with our traditions and customs.
I also welcome amendments Nos. 5 and 6, relating to section 8, providing for re-examination of the total ban on industrial action during the process outlined in sections 2 to 6 of the Bill. These amendments answer the calls that were made and modify the blanket ban on industrial action.
Overall, I heartily concur with the comment by the Minister of State that the amendments which he has accepted further improve the Bill. I again thank him and the officials of his Department for their valuable work on this important legislation. I am sure that the others in the House will equally appreciate all that went into this. The high level review group, ICTU and IBEC deserve to be complimented for their input. I thank the Minister of State for accepting these amendments.
There is no point in delaying the business of the House. I welcome the Minister. It is great to see when a Bill is initiated in this House that in the different Stages the Minister and his officials take cognisance of the valid points made here. The focal point of knowledge is not on one side or the other but our debates can, as the Minister of State acknowledged, strengthen and improve a Bill, as happened today.
I welcome the latitude given to the Labour Court, a body I admire. Without the dedicated work of many people in it over the years, we would not have the harmony and good practice which exists most of the time in our industrial relations. We are recognising its wealth of experience and it is good that it will be given latitude. Having put in valuable work on industrial disputes, it is important that it does not fall apart. I am glad the Minister listened to the points raised in this House about shortening the process. Given events over the years, and especially in recent months, we know the difficulties that arise, particularly for the west and other peripheral areas, when disputes continue for a long time. For example, the west's tourism industry was hit by the rail dispute last year and this year. It is good that the process is shortened and this particular amendment, with the focus on the need for a faster response, will improve the partnership idea and employee relations. I prefer that term because the country has progressed from personnel to human resources. We must move from industrial relations to employee relations.
The Minister of State gave a fair and comprehensive explanation of how the amendments improve the Bill. He acknowledged the work of the Members on the other side of the House. I welcome the Bill and look forward to passing it. I thank the Minister and his officials for their work.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt. We have not always agreed. One of my criticisms was that he was unwilling to accept amendments. He must be here today expecting me to welcome him because, after the last time, he thought it over and accepted some amendments. I am sorry but there is one I do not welcome. Senator Costello will not agree with me, but I am concerned about amendment No. 2 which Senator Coghlan discussed. It reads that in the course of an investigation under section 1 "the court shall have regard to the entirety of labour relations practices in the employment concerned including labour relations practices engaged in by the employer or an associated employer in another employment including an employment outside the State." The word "shall" is wrong; it should be "may". There is a danger in the amendment the Minister of State has made.
In the 1950s, our professor in UCD, George O'Brien, talked about how we had the worst balance of payments, the worst unemployment and the worst emigration, but look how the world has changed. The reason our world has changed is that we did things ourselves. We decided we did not have to copy what was happening elsewhere, we decided to do our own thing. In the past year the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, has been criticised. I was delighted to see yesterday that the OECD appears to be supporting his views and the action he has taken. We said that we were not going to copy what others do and that we would decide what is the right thing for us to do. We, therefore, broke some rules. We looked at our traditions, heritage and the ethos of the past and said that is the way we do things in Ireland. We said let us improve them and let us look outside by all means, but let us not be obliged to copy what others do. We can now look at what has happened in recent years, at the support for this economy and at its success because we have been proud to stand up for ourselves and say we believe we have confidence.
In the 1950s we did not have confidence. Those of us who lived during those times believed we would always be last. I met a Japanese man last year and when I asked him how he succeeded, he gave me a lovely quote. He said: "Whether one believes one can or whether one believes one cannot, one is right." If one goes to a football game or a golf match and says one has no chance against that lot, one is right, one does not have a chance. If one goes in and says one can win, then one is right, one can win. That is what happened to us sometime in the late 1980s. We, as a nation, got together and said let us show the world that if we believe in ourselves, we can do it, and we can do our own thing. We did not copy what others did.
I fear the change the Minister of State has made in that the term in the section now reads "shall". We are talking about the Labour Court. The Bill states that it is not confined to traditions and practice inside the State. We shall now look outside the State and shall take that into account. That is an error. There are times when we may be strong enough to say that whatever is being done elsewhere, we are doing the right thing. I am not sure this Bill will enable us to do that because it will force us to look abroad and to adopt practices that may not be the right ones for Ireland.
Last year I spoke to a hero of mine, a man called Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore. I did not know his history. He was a trade unionist and came from that background. He was elected Prime Minister and leader, and I think his title is still First Minister. Singapore has become the success story in the world, or certainly in Asia, because it decided to do its own thing. I fear that we are losing some confidence when we say we shall take into account what is happening abroad.
I urge the Minister of State to rethink at this late stage and to see if there is any way to avoid forcing the Labour Court to take into account practices that may not be suitable to Ireland. I hope the Minister of State will allay my concerns and tell me that it is not obliged to do so. I would have much preferred to see the word "may" rather than "shall". I am not sure if one can table an amendment at this stage, but I urge the Minister of State to respond to my concerns and see if he can put my mind at rest.
I welcome the Minister of State with this legislation which is returning from the Dáil. I acknowledge what other speakers have said, that the Minister of State has listened very carefully to what was said in the Seanad when this Bill was introduced here and has responded in a very detailed and comprehensive way to the points of concern raised.
The purpose of this legislation is to promote harmonious relations between workers and employers. It will fill the lacuna identified by the social partnership in the last programme. I do not share Senator Quinn's fears on this issue. The Minister has not amended what Senator Quinn thinks he has amended. The word "shall" was in the Bill when it left this House. We have simply extended section 2(2) which previously read, "In the course of an investigation undersubsection (1) the Court shall have regard to the entirety of labour relations practices in the employment concerned”, by including the words “including labour relations practices engaged in by the employer or an associate employer in another employment including employment outside the State”. We have teased out the definition of the entirety of labour relations practices in the employment concerned which could be construed as coming within the umbrella ambit of the original statement.
I raised this issue because of my concern regarding a multinational company which had recently set up business in Parnell Street. I met with the chief executive officer and directors of the company who informed me they were engaging in proper practices, etc., and that different practices, in terms of dealing with trade unions, were engaged in on the Continent – Belgium and Germany – than were engaged in in Ireland. It is only appropriate that the Labour Court should have regard to those practices when investigating the matter. A long, unnecessary, industrial dispute could have been avoided if an appropriate response had been made to the trade union representing the workers in that store.
I wish to further assuage Senator Quinn's fears on that issue. The Labour Court must have regard to those practices; it does not have to abide by or introduce those practices. A gap would exist in the legislation if a multinational company, from the European Union in particular, could come into this country and engage in totally different practices and such practices could not be investigated and the Labour Court could have no regard of them if the employer refused to engage in collective bargaining. Then we would not be making progress with this legislation. We would have to amend it again at a future date if we did not introduce this amendment. I compliment the Minister for doing so. The use of the word "shall" in that context is appropriate.
The word "may" is used at the beginning of section 2 which reads: ". . . . .at the request of a trade union or excepted body, the Court may investigate a trade dispute. . . . . .". The Bill then lists the conditions under which that investigation should take place. I am fully in favour of what the Minister has done in this regard. I do not see any reason to fear that we will be forced to adopt foreign practices. The greater likelihood is that practices which were engaged in by the mother company might be transferred because they are more beneficial in the home country.
We agree with amendment No. 1 which holds with normal legislation. The Minister has, by his amendment to section 8, stymied the possibility of an employer getting the court to cease its investigation on spurious grounds. The court could be stopped mid-stream, as the Minister said, by an unscrupulous employer resulting in the matter not being resolved. The Labour Court can now proceed with an investigation if it decides there are reasonable grounds to do so. It has the option, taking all things into consideration, to decide whether practices abroad or in other sectors of overall employment are relevant and to decide whether an investigation should proceed. There is no compulsion on the Labour Court to proceed with an investigation. The Minister is quite right in bringing forth such a provision which strengthens the legislation and means we will not end up with confusion.
The Minister has improved on the timescale within which a determination must be acted upon. I was seeking a six month period. A determination must now be acted upon within three months. That will focus the mind and will no doubt result in greater speed and urgency of action.
The legislation, though short, is important. We now have the power, when experiencing difficulties with employers, big or small, to engage in proper industrial relations. The Labour Court, which is, as Senator Cox said, a very respected body, will now be in a position to intervene within the terms of reference as outlined here. It will have a great deal of flexibility in making decisions in the context of its intervention. I have no doubt this will obviate the need for a great deal of industrial disputes, strikes, etc., which damage our economy and country.
I am delighted with the legislation and amendments brought forward by the Minister. I hope nobody feels compelled to table any amendments which might cause the harmony of this Bill to be undermined.
I, too, would like to make a brief contribution to the Report Stage. I join with all sides of the House, with one honourable exception, in welcoming the Bill. I have always admired Senator Quinn's entrepreneurial skills. As an example, I think of the success story of Ireland Incorporated. I would like to have heard him develop more his admiration for the Prime Minister of Singapore. I interpret what he said as meaning he was impressed by the economic success story of Singapore, but at what price was that achieved? Singapore would not be the top of my list as a bastion of democracy, free speech and independent thought or action. Given that that was said by someone who is concentrating all his life and efforts in the entrepreneurial area, that is understandable and he, like the rest of us, has to feed his family, but the question must be asked whether success is judged by one's commercial and material achievements.
I was taken aback by a statement by IBEC during the week that this country is a strike-ridden one. That was not only picked up by the media here but disseminated through the international media. That was an extraordinary statement for it to make at a time of unprecedented prosperity, when 800,000 more people are at work than in the mid-1990s, when our growth rate is so high that the OECD practically apologised yesterday for saying it would be slightly reduced to around 8% and that it was not concerned about inflation, which seems to be exercising the minds of many people. I have not heard of as many people exercising their minds over the inflationary pressures in this economy. When inflation was a problem in the 1980s, I did not hear many people talking about it. It is accommodated within the growth rate we are experiencing. If our growth rate was 2% or 3% and our inflation rate was 3% or 4%, inflation would be a real problem, but I do not want to go down that road. The OECD nailed that shibboleth on the head.
I am concerned about what I perceive to be an irresponsible statement, a soundbite which the person who said it knew would be picked up, made by a highly responsible organisation. While there are many industrial relations problems, the progress achieved in that area is a tribute to the Labour Court and to the respect in which it is held, to which Senator Cox referred and whose view was endorsed by Senator Coghlan and I am sure by Senator Quinn.
One of the most intractable disputes affecting our transport industry involves a group of drivers who, for reasons best known to themselves, refused to accept the consensus approach, who, like lost souls, wandered around looking for a union to give them a home and found themselves in bed with the ATGWU, which is slightly to the left of Genghis Khan in some of its trade union practices. While that is its agenda and it is fairly entitled to take the position it does, when somebody like Mick O'Reilly, who wears his ideology on his sleeve, agreed the best way forward for the former ILDA workers was to go into the Labour Court, that was a momentous decision which gave an indication of how much respect there is for the Labour Court and its procedures.
The problems besetting industrial relations in Iarnród Éireann are not a matter for the Minister of State in the sense that he is not responsible for the operation of that company, although he would have an input into industrial relations machinery and how it addresses what seems to be a deeply flawed industrial relations environment in our major transport company. I hope this Bill, strengthened as it is from its consideration in this House and in the Dáil, may act as a catalyst to help resolve the difficulties besetting our national transport company.
I am sure the Minister of State will agree that in this millennium such a vital service as transport cannot continue to be bedevilled by a breakdown in industrial relations each time one section of workers, looking over their shoulders at another section of workers in the same company, decides they will not operate the mandate they have been employed to do. I am thinking specifically of the decision taken by the mainline train drivers to sign up to an agreement and within a short period of weeks, when their colleagues operating the DART service signed up to an improved and different agreement, they decided they would institute strike action with the company. Someone somewhere is to be blamed for that. Much of the blame in that instance lies with Iarnród Éireann management. How could a company in the modern era decide it would treat one group of workers different from another group of workers. It would be as if Senator Quinn decided he would provide a different environment—
The Senator is wandering a long way from the amendment.
I am talking in terms of the practices which are addressed in relation to the practices that operate in different countries.
The Senator may speak only to the amendments by the Dáil.
That is what I am talking about.
Will the Senator finish the sentence he had begun?
I am sorry that is the interpretation held by the Acting Chairman. This is important legislation. It would strike anyone as bizarre if Senator Quinn decided he would treat workers in his organisation, who were doing exactly the same job, differently. For example, if he decided that in May he would give one section of his workforce certain pay and conditions and a month later he decided he would do something different for another group of workers doing the same work in the same section. Mainline train drivers and DART drivers essentially do the same job although in a different environment, yet CIE management gave them two different deals. That led to a breakdown in the industrial relations machinery. I hope that type of situation will be addressed in the Bill. In the context of the strengthening of the Labour Court through this legislation, in the case of issues such as that and others that boil up, strike action should be the last rather than the first resort.
The Minister of State outlined the environment in which this legislation would operate and said it would be as flexible as possible to allow even the most intransigent of parties to come to the Labour Court and feel confident the issue concerned would be addressed by it and that the machinery he is setting up would, hopefully, result in offsetting industrial action in the first instance. I think I am right in saying he was prompted in this regard, to a large extent, by what happened at Dublin Airport in terms of Ryanair, where related unions went out in sympathy and all of a sudden the airport closed down because of what he outlined, if my memory serves me right, as a breakdown in communications or perhaps insufficient industrial relations machinery being in place to resolve the problem before it ended up with workers out on the picket line. I would like to think the Minister of State has addressed that type of situation in the context of this legislation.
Whenever an organisation as important to the Irish economic success as IBEC uses what I would refer to as irresponsible language that does not seem to have a basis in fact, there is a need for the Government to respond. The silence was somewhat deafening in relation to the statement it made and it should not be allowed to go unchallenged.
I applaud my colleague, Senator Costello, particularly in the context of the one amendment with which Senator Quinn has a difficulty concerning practices operating within the same company but across country boundaries. My only reason for supporting that view and this amendment is that increasingly we are living in a world of globalisation and multinationalism where decisions are being taken elsewhere relating to Irish workers. By deferring to their trade union leaders, Irish workers have been considerably restrained over the past number of years. Within the social partnership concept, things have been fraying at the edges over the last two years. However, the centre is still holding because the vast majority of workers and employers accept that the social partnership model has worked well.
In drawing up a proper industrial relations framework, it would be irresponsible to have no legislation referring to practices in another country by a company operating in Ireland. We cannot ignore the practices of a multinational company in cases such as the Aldi dispute. As Senator Costello said, Aldi treated its workers differently in Ireland from the way it did elsewhere. Because of the huge volume and growing level of overseas investment over the past ten years, it is vital that this amendment is taken on board.
I thank the Minister of State for returning the House with amendments that have strengthened the legislation. I hope it will also strengthen our impressive architecture of industrial relations machinery. We can look forward to the future with great confidence.
I thank the Senators who contributed to the debate, a number of whom participated from the outset, especially Senators Coghlan, Cox, Quinn, Mooney and Costello. I will now address the various comments made, after which I will deal with those of Senator Quinn.
Many have rightly acknowledged the role of the Labour Court and our industrial relations machinery. Senator Mooney made this point, a point to which I will return. We have very healthy industrial relations machinery and, as Senator Quinn stated earlier, we are the envy of many owing to the voluntarist nature of our industrial relations. Senator Mooney is right in disputing comments made by IBEC that we are a strike-ridden nation.
Where the comments of Senators Quinn and Mooney are concerned, the issue was debated earlier and my initial response was that there was no need to address the issue of companies working outside the State. Senator Costello rightly stated that the provision was mandatory in the first place. The word "shall" was always there and the added clause does not affect it. I want to reassure Senator Quinn in this regard. I have no problem with the approach in that we frequently look beyond the State for guidance on a whole range of policy issues. There is no reason why we should not look at the experiences of any country, even Singapore, although Senator Mooney might not like that.
The role of the Labour Court in a dispute involves listening to both sides of an argument. If either the employee or employer wishes to make an argument citing what a related company does in another jurisdiction, there is no reason why the court should not take it into account. Both can seek such redress. As I stated in the Dáil, this practice may not be in the interest of trade unions in every case. When looking at another company in another jurisdiction, there may not be a union. It could be in a non-unionised country.
Returning to the point made by Senator Mooney, I do not agree that this country is strike-ridden, although we have had some disputes that have highly discommoded large numbers of people, commuters, students, etc. We must be determined to improve the resolution mechanisms. That is what is being done in this Bill. We are working from a floor of voluntarism in a unique system.
Earlier, I paid tribute to the Labour Court and the people in IBEC who have worked in this system. Equally, I pay tribute to the members of ICTU, its general secretary Peter Cassells, and Des Geraghty who are moving to other posts. I worked closely with them on these kinds of issues, because it is invariably union people who approach me as Minister of State. David Beggs, who will take over as the general secretary of ICTU, is another man I respect greatly, not just in terms of union affairs but because I worked closely with him as Minister. These people and many others have shown admirable leadership. We must acknowledge that there are also pressures on that leadership because many of the issues with which we are dealing will have to be considered under the trade union umbrella within ICTU.
This Bill resulted from the Ryanair dispute. We are putting place a mechanism to ensure such a dispute will not happen again. We have had many high-profile disputes that have affected many people and public services. However, the disputes have not created an overly negative impression of trade union affairs. The number of strikes has been around 40 per annum in the last few years, which is historically low. Furthermore, the number of man days lost in 2000 was about half that of 1999. I agree with Senator Mooney in saying that the Irish Rail dispute was caused by a minority group. It was unnecessary and should not have occurred in advance of the issues being dealt with by ICTU. Many of these issues are now inter-union related. There are huge responsibilities on the ICTU leadership in the coming months. I will work very closely with the union leaders.
There is an important code of practice regarding disputes concerning essential services. This has been developed by the LRC and agreed between the parties. It is up to them to introduce it at a procedural level. I am not happy that, despite commitments by the parties, especially under the PPF, sufficient attention has been paid to this code. We should progress the effective voluntarist approach. I urge the parties involved, including the LRC, to redouble their efforts to initiate discussions on the adoption of voluntary codes. For me, that is one of the missing links and commitments made within the partnership system that has not been honoured or progressed. This is relevant to the comments of Senator Mooney and others.
Again, I thank the Senators. I hope my reassurances on the issue of looking at other companies outside the State have satisfied them, especially Senator Quinn, because the legislation facilitated it in any case.
Was "shall" compusory?
As Senator Costello stated, the word "shall" was in the Bill.
That was all right before, but once the others are included, it is not.
The Bill states that "the Court shall have regard to the entirety of labour relations practices in the employment concerned". I argued that that language was adequate to cover the Labour Party's concern. To be fair to the Labour Party, it did come forward with some constructive amendments. In the spirit of compromise, I was willing to accept their fine argument. On my last visit to this Chamber I was satisfied that the language that existed covered the situation that Senator Costello wanted addressed. I accepted the amendment to ensure that we have absolute clarity and in the spirit of compromise, and I would be straight up about that.
I thank Senators for their general comments about industrial relations. I have outlined my own and the Government's position on this matter. In particular I want to thank Senator Cox who has soldiered through this Bill with me from day one. On behalf of the Government I thank her for her contributions not just today but also in the earlier stages.
Is Report Stage agreed?
Will the Senators who are claiming a division please rise?
Senators Henry, Norris, Quinn and Ross rose.
As fewer than five Members have risen I declare the question carried. The names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Official Report and in the Journal of Proceedings.
I welcome the fact that the Bill will pass. I acknowledge the difficulty Senator Quinn had in relation to the amendment and I respect his right to call a vote on the issue. I compliment the Minister on finalising this legislation and the work of his officials. The fact that the Minister took on board all the views expressed in this House and returned with a much stronger, improved Bill is a reflection of the spirit of compromise and partnership pervading industrial relations.
I support the comments of Senator Cox. The Minister has listened very carefully to Senators and responded with amendments. I have a problem with one amendment because the addition of one word changed the context. There was a case to be made for rejecting it and I regret I was not able to persuade the House in that regard. The Minister and his team have created good legislation that contains a single flaw. Nevertheless, I hope it works well and I congratulate the Minister.
I wish to be associated with the complimentary remarks directed at the Minister. He has handled the legislation very well, taking on board the earlier debate on it held in this House. This shows the degree to which all sides can contribute to legislation initiated in the Seanad. I welcome the fact that the Minister returned to the House with important amendments.
I regret I was unable to assist Senator Quinn regarding his concerns about one section. I hope he does not think me churlish but, unfortunately, the section in question was the one I was most anxious to see passed.
I endorse all that has been said and express my admiration for Senator Quinn for his political courage in going against the flow and opposing the massive consensus in this House. In the circumstances, however, this has been a good day's work and I commend the Minister not only for steering the initial Bill through this House, but also for returning with what the Seanad, with one honourable exception, believes to be a strengthened Bill.
I sincerely thank the Cathaoirleach and Senators for allowing me the opportunity to bring this legislation to a conclusion. There is always a great sense of achievement on reaching this stage in any legislation. This Bill came about as a result of the Ryanair fare issue, the high level group and other matters. Senators will be aware of its history.
I respect Senator Quinn's right to put down this amendment. It will be a very boring day when we achieve absolute consensus, especially in this Chamber. Politics never ceases to surprise me and today's decision by some of my good friends, who I had thought were centre-left politicians, to support Senator Quinn was no exception .
We have a sense of loyalty over here.
I am beginning to understand the unique workings of this House. I thank the Opposition and my own side for giving an excellent example of how all sides of the House can put together very worthy amendments. I accepted the vast majority of these and now look forward to implementation of the legislation. It will especially benefit workers, many of whom have had grievances in the past. This legislation will add to the cohort of existing legislation and encourage the voluntarist nature commended by all sides during the debate. We all want a better country to live in for both workers and business.