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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 2 Mar 2004

Vol. 175 No. 16

Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003: Committee and Remaining Stages.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Fahey, to the House.

Bill put through committee, reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I say, for the benefit of our guests in the Visitors Gallery, that not all legislation is passed as easily as this. This is an excellent Bill. I thank the Minister of State and his staff for introducing this well crafted legislation to the House. It has been well received by all sides and will be enacted as quickly as possible.

I congratulate the Minister of State on the Bill and wish him continued success in his ministerial career.

I join Senator Leyden in his comments. I apologise for being three minutes late for this debate.

It is just as well Senator McDowell was not any later.

I congratulate all concerned on their expeditious treatment of Committee Stage.


I congratulate them on their efficient treatment of Committee Stage.

I accept that this is a partnership Bill and an issue of the partnership process, into which we are all bound to a greater or lesser extent. However, a greater issue is the right of people to be represented by a trade union which, in turn, is recognised by employers as a negotiating body. Sooner or later we will have to deal with that issue. Many in Government are favourably disposed to that but we have not yet succeeded in negotiating a solution at partnership level. In the next stage of partnership, in the not too distant future, I hope we will succeed in grasping that nettle.

I compliment the Minister of State and his officials on the Bill. It arose out of Sustaining Progress and honours everything that was agreed between the employers' representatives and the ICTU. It brings to fruition the experience gained from the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001. The Bill before us this evening may not be perfect but it is an important work which can be built on in the future. I welcome the Bill and I thank the Minister of State.

I welcome this legislation. I pay tribute to the Minister of State's contribution to the Bill and the flexibility and openness with which he dealt with it. We have had many rows over the years on many issues but this Bill has been improved substantially since it was first drafted and aspects of it which were of concern to the trade union side have been resolved.

I agree with Senator McDowell when he says that the Bill is a compromise. I supported it on every Stage and did not table amendments to it. It is what we agreed and we sweated blood to produce it. It is extraordinary that the employers and business people of Ireland do not have sufficient confidence in themselves to recognise trade unions. The situations to which this legislation will apply are currently dealt with by a protocol. The employers' side decided to play ducks and drakes with the protocol and to drag it out, make it impossible to work, reduce its credibility and ensure that people did not have confidence in it. Discussions and negotiations on the partnership agreement were blocked on this issue because the ordinary members of trade unions did not accept that they could be equal partners if their unions were not recognised by the other side. This is a crucial point for the future.

The law is so designed at present that trade unions must be amenable to the law of the land and play by the rules. It is in everyone's interests that each side recognise the rights of the other.

This legislation will stop the playboys in the business world who try to make negotiation difficult. There will now always be a way of dealing with a dispute. The resolution of a dispute should leave no one completely happy.

I welcome this legislation and I welcome the openness of the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, in dealing with it. He did not meet all the demands of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions but he was open and flexible. His officials put extraordinary work into this Bill in the past two years. Last week, when I spoke to the president of SIPTU, Mr. Jack O'Connor, he said the sooner we get this legislation into operation, the better as it will give people trust and confidence in the system.

I thank the Senators for their contributions to the debate on the Bill and I welcome the unanimous support of the Seanad, which has enabled us to progress the Bill more quickly than any legislation. I thank Senators for their compliments to me and my staff.

This is good legislation. The debate in both Houses has improved the Bill, as initiated. As Senator O'Toole stated, the Bill emanated from an agreed approach by the trade union andemployer organisations under Sustaining Progress and it certainly enhances the effectiveness of the existing procedures for dealing with disputes where negotiating arrangements are not in place. I thank the trade union and employerorganisations' representatives involved in the negotiation of the agreement and, in particular, I acknowledge their achievement in reaching an agreed approach to enhancing existing provisions in the context of disputes where collective bargaining arrangements are not in place. I take the point made by Senator O'Toole that not everything is agreed, but I have no doubt the responsible approach being taken by the trade union and employer leaders has been the single most significant contributor to our economic success in the past number of years.

In response to accession countries that ask about the Irish economic miracle, I tell them that after education, the partnership approach, where the trade union leadership has had to embrace change not exactly to its liking, has made a very significant contribution to our economic success. Given that the President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is present, I wish to acknowledge that fact.

The Bill will strengthen industrial relations procedures and will introduce a prohibition on victimisation of employees in the context of a dispute where the code of practice or the voluntary dispute resolution has been invoked. It will be supported by the revised code of practice on voluntary dispute resolution and a code of practice on victimisation. The Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will be an important part of the industrial relations legislative framework and, as Senators said, the legislation will contribute to greater stability in Irish industrial relations.

On the question of trade union recognition, which Senator O'Toole mentioned, our system is one of volunteerism, which is strongly supported by workers and employers. While the legislation may not be as revolutionary as Senator O'Toole and others would wish, it reflects the consensus between ICTU and IBEC, which I saw as the key in framing this Bill. I have deliberately refrained from bringing forward legislation which would be opposed by the unions or the employers in order to develop the sense of partnership that exists. While difference still exist, the respect that exists between employers and unions is a solid foundation of our industrial relations regime. Long may that continue. We accept there are some difficulties around trade union recognition but while I am in this job, I am open to improving on that situation.

I thank the staff of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, who, as Senators stated, put in an enormous amount of work to the Bill during a very busy time leading up to the Irish Presidency. I thank all who contributed to the legislation, during what must be the fastest passage of a Bill during my 22 years in the Oireachtas.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.15 p.m. until10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 March 2004.