Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 6 Mar 1969

Vol. 238 No. 16

Trade Union Bill, 1966: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

When I moved the Adjournment of the debate last night, I was discussing the proposal and the suggestion surrounding the proposal that an incomes and prices board or an incomes policy as it is called would solve all our problems. I was doing it in the context of the priority which is put, in this country, on settling a dispute at any cost, not alone at any cost to the employer who can, perhaps, well afford it, but at any cost to the economy. I was trying to make the House complete its thinking on this question of an incomes board.

When I was introducing these measures I did say that I do not reject the idea of setting up a body which would examine the potential of the economy at any particular time, examine claims for increased salaries, wages, dividends, profits, professional fees and so on and hand down recommendations. However, I do not think the House has finished its thinking if it accepts the Fine Gael idea of an incomes policy as preventing strikes for evermore.

If the members of any section of the community are not satisfied with the decision given by a prices and incomes board, they will still be entitled to go on strike and if the priority for the community is the settlement of strikes at all costs, continuation of the strike would bring pressures on whoever is in charge, whoever is in government, to overthrow, to push aside the recommendations of a prices and incomes body and concede or else to try to uphold the prices and incomes recommendations and put up with the strike. It may be a good idea to have guidelines given by some independent body other than the politicians, the Government, or the Labour Court—what we have at the moment—but what I want to point out is that guidelines will not necessarily be acceptable and are unlikely to be accepted in view of our experience up to date on the question of salaries and wages.

If Fine Gael continue the thinking on this question and if they can promise that we will have industrial peace with this new policy, they will have to have stronger measures than merely a body making recommendations and if they do their thinking to the full they will have to see that these measures will have to have legal sanctions and penalties, and if they are not prepared to have penalties they will have to think what they will do when such people have to be dealt with, whether they are going to have the extremes of the law operating to solve our incomes policy or whether they will leave that to some other type of government. The thinking of Fine Gael if carried to full length must bring it to the extremes of the law. I think it was Deputy Dillon who said that Hitler had solved the problem in that way.

Was that not the thinking of Deputy Lemass?

I think that they should do the full degree of their thinking when they are offering a solution which can only be successful in a set of circumstances and in a situation where totalitarian power is in the hands of someone unscrupulous enough to use it to its full degree. What do they want the Minister to do, bring in the troops? That is the answer and the only answer to a successful prices and incomes policy. Short of being successful by these methods a prices and incomes policy cannot have any success in settling disputes as long as people are not satisfied with the incomes they are offered.

That was Deputy Lemass's thinking but he upset all that in order to win two by-elections.

If the Deputy does not allow me to speak, I will have to go to a more orderly audience and then he will have another complaint to make.

The Government agreed with the motion on prices and incomes in 1967.

What did Fine Gael introduce in 1967?

The Government were in favour of it that time.

I do not object to the setting-up of, and I think we should consider it seriously, a prices and incomes consultative board but that is not the answer and it cannot be offered by Fine Gael as the answer to our problems unless they are prepared to follow it to the extreme and I do not think that this would work in a democracy. It may offer guidelines but it is not the solution.

You will never get a 100 per cent solution.

I do not think it even goes half-way. We have had guidelines in the past from both the Government and the Labour Court and they were cast aside. Deputy T.F. O'Higgins made a speech in which he described these legislative proposals of mine as a mouse. This is the mouse with which Fine Gael were frightening the wits out of the workers at the time of the referendum. For a Party that a short time ago was offering themselves unconditionally to the socialist Party, it seems to me that Deputy O'Higgins's speech was a big rebound from what they alleged they wanted at that time. By saying that this legislation was a mouse Deputy O'Higgins implied that they would do something stronger. When everybody wants a strong man Fine Gael is prepared to be strong and when everybody wants a weak man Fine Gael will be weak.

During the referendum campaign I had to deny allegations by Deputy Corish that we were preparing repressive legislation. I published at that time the conditions of the proposed legislation and to give Deputy Corish and the Labour Party their due we heard no more about it but on television on the night before the voting the Leader of Fine Gael was again calling it repressive legislation.

He did not know anything about it at that time.

He did not know. I had published it. He was only concerned with calling it names. At that time he wanted the votes of the workers. Now it is a mouse.

There is no use twisting this. We agree with this.

I will get away from that now but I would like to answer some of the points raised during the debate. A lot was said by Deputy Michael O'Leary about the lower paid workers and he gave the impression that all our troubles are due to the lower paid workers. They are not. All our strikes are not due to the lower paid workers and most of the suffering put up with during strikes is in fact being endured by the lower paid workers and their families. It is not right or fair to these people to lay the blame at their doors for every discomfort the community has to suffer when people decide to go on strike and have disputes about wages.

If I may go back to the question of this legislation not being a cure for all our ills, I should like to say that it is only the beginning of a movement which, if taken up by all the people concerned, could lead in the end to a solution. I am disappointed that I cannot offer at this time to the House a line of legislation which I could say would work. In the present circumstances I am convinced that any legislation any man could think of which would solve the problem would get through the House but the result would be quite ineffective in operation. When I say I am disappointed I mean that I am not disappointed in the type of legislation that could be brought in here and passed but I am disappointed in the type of legislation that could be brought in here, passed, and operated effectively, a type of legislation that would be operated by the people concerned.

I hope that the suspicions which exist at present will be removed so that we will be able to introduce further legislation to lead towards sanity in the field of industrial relations in this country. That will take time and the time for the introduction of legislation to solve all our industrial problems is not now. There have been attempts to place the blame for our problems on many people but if we are placing blame, some of the fault lies with the trade unions. The structure of the trade union movement in Ireland, if one can call it a structure, is such as to make it almost impossible to have orderly procedures. In introducing trade union law I was faced with the problem of dealing with the troubles of the employers but the first step towards improving our procedures will have to be an effort to bring order into the area of trade unionism. The number of trade unions is far beyond what is necessary. Our trade union structure makes it almost impossible for those in trade union official posts to have any authority or to deal in an orderly fashion with the employers or with the State.

The Congress of Trade Unions say to me they do not want any law, and I should be delighted if we did not need any law, but I am quite satisfied that, because of the structure of Congress and because of the amount of authority they are given by their constituent unions, Congress is quite incapable of putting the trade union situation right. We are now in a situation where their only capacity is to carry out a paper war on anybody who tries to make changes from outside.

I have had consultations with the Congress of Trade Unions in a attempt to identify what is wrong in this field. Having identified what is wrong we set about trying to find ways of putting it right. When the Congress of Trade Unions walked out at the end of the discussions—at least they decided that the discussions were at an end—they did not say what it was they disagreed with. They tell me now to withdraw the Bill because they question the drafting. As I said last night, I have invited them to come and meet my officials and point out where they think the drafting is wrong and we can change that; or if they have any ideas as to how they themselves would solve what they think is wrong, I shall accept those. I cannot accept what Deputy Tully says: "Stay out of this. They will fix it themselves." We have been hearing that for too long now. We see the possibilities for our country, possibilities of new employment and better education, better care of the weaker sections, better wages and all the growth that is feasible, almost within our grasp. If there is danger of these things disappearing or if we are to be frustrated in achieving them because the trade union movement is incapable of putting itself right, then we must take up this task ourselves in this House—we were elected to protect the community—and try to put things right. I have explained it cannot be put right by repressive legislation. We cannot vote it right or wish it right, but at least we can force the Congress of Trade Unions and those in the trade union movement who feel a responsibility wider than their trade union or even a long-term responsibility for the members of their union, to sit down and say what their solution is. If they have no solution or if they want to let the matter lie there, then we are entitled to expect them to co-operate with any legislation we pass here which cannot function without their co-operation.

There are also faults in management. The glamorous things in management are markets, machines, packaging, design, seminars and so on. However, the rate of progress of this country will be determined by the capacity of management to handle their workers. I have found with the most intellegent of people, even people who have some experience in politics and are in business, that they do not want to be bothered with dealing with any section of the workers. They would rather have these problems solved by a national agreement so that they will not have to sit down and discuss them with the workers. This is wrong. As long as employers or managements keep shifting this question of wages and conditions of employment on to the FUE or on to a national basis and asking why the Government do not fix it, the problem will remain unsolved.

Will you abolish the FUE then?

I should like management to use all the resources that can be offered to them by any national organisation which they support, and my Department will go as far as they can to supply any services the trade unions and management want to help them to do their own job. However, I will not take on my shoulders the anxieties, responsibilities that properly belong to management. It is not that I do not want anxieties—I have plenty of them—but as long as they are carried by the State, as long as people can ask "why does the Minister not come in and settle the strike?" management will shirk their responsibility.

I do not know how strongly you must speak to management, how strongly you have to cajole or coax them to get down to this one fundamental problem which is the most difficult problem they have; to get them to use their national organisation as a consultative body and to use all the resources available to them to find the solution in their own plant, in their own industry; to get down to the problem and get away from the idea that it can be solved by some outside body while they get on with more pleasant matters.

Would the natural solution not be to abolish the FUE?

I have spent over two years as Minister for Labour and some time before that as Minister for Industry and Commerce, and in the course of the day's work, 15 or 16 hours, I have heard every sort of opinion, but I have more than once wondered whether by setting up the Labour Court, by setting up the Department of Labour and by setting up, perhaps, the organisation to which the Deputy is referring, we are not tempting these people to shift their responsibility away from themselves. I am making a last appeal to them that if they want their negotiating machinery to work they will have to make it work. The primary responsibility is with management, and I would remind those of them who think that if it does not work it will be made to work for them that the situation in which the workers will be organised for management will be a system of government where they will not have the other freedoms either. Some people think this section can be hived away from them to be controlled by law or by the Government.

Surely the top man in the business should be the personnel manager?

I agreed with that last night. As the Irish Management Institute Survey showed, Irish business firms have an amazing attitude to the personnel function. Perhaps we have not a tradition; perhaps, as I said last night, we have to go over the cliff into total destruction before they find out we have to work at this problem to get it right. I think that the shifting of this question to national organisations or on to the Government or the Labour Court has led to national confrontations we need not have had. I will not go further than that except to say that in the middle of this strike when people are saying rough things about trade unions and rough things about hidden, perhaps arrogant, perhaps unofficial, groups, there are bloody-minded people on the other side, too. To Deputy O'Higgins, who implied, without saying it, that the time has come for strong action, let me say that what we are witnessing now in the strike that is going on at the moment is the effect of strong men taking strong lines and making negotiation unreal.

Many of the notes I made as this debate went on would have been more appropriate to a calmer situation, not because of the agitation at the moment but because almost anything that can be said in this field can influence the length of the present strike. I am convinced that if anybody thought that the Government were going to come into the present strike it would go on for a long time. I have met some people who expect the Government to pass legislation to make the workers' side come to heel, as they say. I have met people who seem to live in the hope that the Government would come in and force the employers' side to yield. Both sides will keep going if they think the Government will come in on their side.

Apart from what was raised in the House there is an article this morning in the Irish Times. Some years ago I decided that so long as the Taoiseach left me in this post my period of office would be devoted to establishing procedures, if this is possible, and that the procedures we would establish would be negotiation—and I have made a plea for the full use of the management function at the beginning of negotiation at plant level; the making of agreements at plant or industry level, the provision of conciliation officers to those who find they need outside help and the establishment of the Labour Court to make recommendations. If we can get these procedures functioning I would happily leave my post feeling that I had contributed but if my time is to be occupied by jumping into the arena in each dispute I would consider my time wasted.

I strongly urge the House and the newspapers who have such an influence in this matter to set about establishing an atmosphere for procedures that will be accepted and not to try to create a situation where the unofficial or the most stubborn will bring everyone screaming to their knees.

I respect this article in the Irish Times. Two or three years ago, before I embarked on this policy which I have outlined, this article would have appeared earlier and in situations of much less disruption. It is something to say that we have now had five weeks of a strike of a most disruptive nature when anxieties have been raised by the almost anarchical behaviour of some people and it is only now and in a mild way, that the request comes for intervention by the Minister. The article refers to previous interventions by Ministers. It refers to Deputy Lemass. I do not remember Deputy Lemass intervening in any strike since the establishment of the Labour Court. I would point out to the writer of this article—he has given thought to what he is saying and he has not tried to score points—that in each of these interventions before—and the word intervention is a nice way of not committing yourself to what you want the Minister to do—when a Minister went into a strike to force a settlement, all the procedures had been used. The Labour Court had made a recommendations and it had been rejected. In some cases its second recommendation had been rejected. All the procedures the State had supplied had been used and the strike was going on. Then the Minister came in. There were differences of opinion at that time as to whether the Minister should have done it or not. I would have justified it on the basis that all the State procedures had been used and that if the Minister had not gone in to seek some solution somebody else would have had to do it.

But in this present dispute the Labour Court has been ignored as if it did not exist. I know the anxiety people have for a settlement and perhaps they believe I could bring about a settlement by going into the dispute now but by so doing I should be undermining the Labour Court which has not been used; I should be justifying the people who ignore the Labour Court and I should be justifying the people who rejected their own officials.

Nobody feels the pressure stronger than I do, the pressure that a politician feels to appear to be doing something. There is nothing more glorious than action when you are in the public eye and nothing as destructive of a politician's position as to have to work quietly behind the scenes to try to establish order so that those who come after us will have some order in their industrial life. The pressures on me are much stronger than on anybody else asking me to intervene but I believe that my policy is what should be carried out. We should establish procedures and we should restructure our trade unions and make our managements take on the anxieties that are properly theirs. And we should do that under the heaviest of pressure just as we would all be willing to do it when no pressure is being exerted.

Hope is not lost in this dispute. There has been great disruption and loss to the country, but at this stage, with all the loss behind us, we gain nothing if we undermine the procedures that are established. We should establish might instead of right; if we establish that, the stubborn will win, and reason cannot prevail. If we establish that now, having lost so much, then nobody could justify our not having interfered with the whole procedure several weeks ago.

In any course in politics you will have people who disagree with you. At this point when the pressures are enormous and the losses great, people are anxious and angry—and I have met angry people—it would be all too easy to forget that there are others coming after us, that there is next year and five years and ten years ahead. Some day, somehow, this country will have to set up procedures and we shall have to behave as sane human beings. We shall not do it by giving in under the pressure and talking sensibly when the pressure is off. I suppose there are other places for a politician to justify himself. It is not the place in which I have to justify myself because, except for a few feather touches of suggestion as to what they would do if they had my task, all the speakers obviously understand that there is something bigger at stake here than just the settlement of a strike. Deputy Kyne has been for many years a trade unionist and he knows the effect of politicians intervening in matters like this; he said that this is no task for the Minister and he posed the question to those who suggested strong action: "Do you want the troops in?" We do not. If we fail to make free negotiation work we will have another system but, while it is free negotiation, let us give that free negotiation its full chance of proving whether or not it can be worked by the Irish people.

The article in the Irish Times points out the need for a national scapegoat. So long as we are willing to have scapegoats we will, I suppose, continue to have insoluble problems. I believe, however, that if people want to bring the force of public opinion to bear on this strike, and this is the only sanction available to us in our freedom, then they should not behave like hens pecking at those who are easy to peck but should, rather, turn the full force of their limelight on the people who are responsible for making the machine work. The very word “scapegoat” brings home to us how easy it is to turn from a difficult problem and find someone to blame. We should, I think, be grateful to the writer of the article for making us think and showing us that we are at the stage when lesser mortals turn to look for a scapegoat instead of bringing the full force of their moral pressure, their publicity and their limelight to bear on those engaged in conflict and on those capable of finding a solution to that conflict.

This legislation seems to have been accepted in the spirit in which it was hoped it would be accepted. It has been on the stocks for some time. It was not introduced to solve the present dispute. I pretend nothing for it except that it is the beginning of a solution to one aspect in the sphere of human relations in industry and commerce and the problems affecting our economy in that particular sphere. The House must accept and, accepting, must try to make others accept that, while there is freedom, there will continue to be strikes. While there is freedom, freedom will continue to be abused and will be seen to be abused by either one side or the other. As I said, the very existence of the Labour Court and, perhaps, of the Department of Labour, with a politician, perhaps, in a vulnerable position, may take the pressure off those people whose job it is to make free negotiation work. The very fact that there is a Department of Labour with a Ministerial head means that that Ministerial head risks being a scapegoat. Apart from the unattractiveness personally of such a role there is the responsibility of being a scapegoat for those who should make the system work. It is easy to turn away from a person who is difficult and take it out on someone who is more vulnerable.

I want now to tell the House and the country that it will take years to change the attitudes of the Irish people in both business and trade unions. It will take years to change their dispositions, to bring them into line with our hopes in regard to the way we should live by bringing those hopes into line with our ambitions for success in every sphere of activity and, until these years have passed, until dispositions have changed, until stubbornness ceases to be admired, we will have strikes and the hardships that workers have to endure in strikes, the losses that businessmen may suffer, together with the interference with the national endeavour.

While these changes of attitude are being gradually brought about and suspicion, arrogance, false leadership and misunderstandings are being removed, whoever occupies the job of Minister for Labour will have to bear with assertions that it is not worth while having a Department of Labour. I say it is worth while trying. I cannot shrug off this job as others might do. Others say they should not have to bother with these workers or with these problems. I will not shrug off responsibility. Even if the task seems to me to be enormous, difficult, intricate and unproductive of results, no matter how energetically one works, it is still worth while trying. It is worth while trying apart altogether from the good the Department has done in the setting up of machinery and the financing of that machinery to train our workers, our skilled personnel, our managers. To my mind this will be the greatest single contribution which will be made in the years to come towards the success of Irish industry, apart from that which we do not control, industrial relations. Apart from the benefits to be gained from training and protective legislation like the Redundancy Payments Act which is now operating successfully and has been much praised by workers who find themselves in need of its provisions, apart from the protection of workers in their places of employment, the extension of the inspectorate, the subsidising of organisations to help save the lives and protect the health of workers, apart from providing guidance in careers and stimulating thought in the guidance of both children and adults—adults who find themselves in jobs unsatisfactory to them—into employment, apart from setting up an entirely new concept of guidance and placement throughout the country, on which we have Government decisions and with which we are going ahead with offices and placement officers to whom employers will be tempted to go and of whose services school leavers will gladly avail, apart from all these functions, the Ministry of Labour is like any other Ministry in that one can get results by one's own work and one's own personal investment of time and energy; and I still think it is worth while having a Department of Labour even if the only thing these first patient, perhaps somewhat discouraging, steps do is to lead along the road to the point at which Irish people organised in trade unions and in management will come out into the light and leave suspicion behind them, unafraid to say what it is right to do and not afraid to do it. Until such time all I can do and all this House can do is legislate. I shall leave it to the Committee Stage to consider amendments or suggestions from trade unions or from any people who think they have any influence in the trade union movement. All I can do is prepare legislation that will work provided people co-operate. As I said earlier, this House may pass all the law it likes but the only law that will work is that in which trade unions co-operate.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 56; Níl, 8.

  • Aiken, Frank.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Belton, Paddy.
  • Blaney, Neil T.
  • Boland, Kevin.
  • Brennan, Joseph.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, Patrick J.
  • Burke, Joan T.
  • Burke, Patrick J.
  • Calleary, Phelim A.
  • Carter, Frank.
  • Childers, Erskine.
  • Colley, George.
  • Connor, Patrick.
  • Corry, Martin J.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Cronin, Jerry.
  • Crowley, Flor.
  • Cunningham, Liam.
  • de Valera, Vivion.
  • Dockrell, Maurice E.
  • Dowling, Joe.
  • Egan, Nicholas.
  • Esmonde, Sir Anthony C.
  • Fahey, John.
  • Fitzpatrick, Thomas J. (Dublin South-Central).
  • French, Seán.
  • Gibbons, Hugh.
  • Gibbons, James M.
  • Gilbride, Eugene.
  • Gilhawley, Eugene.
  • Governey, Desmond.
  • Haughey, Charles.
  • Healy, Augustine A.
  • Hillery, Patrick J.
  • Hogan, Patrick (South Tippearary).
  • Jones, Denis F.
  • Kenneally, William.
  • Lalor, Patrick J.
  • Lemass, Noel T.
  • Lemass, Seán.
  • Lenihan, Patrick.
  • L'Estrange, Gerald.
  • Lynch, Celia.
  • Lynch, John.
  • MacEntee, Seán.
  • Meaney, Tom.
  • Millar, Anthony G.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Moore, Seán.
  • Moran, Michael.
  • Norton, Patrick.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Malley, Desmond.
  • Wyse, Pearse.


  • Corish, Brendan.
  • Coughlan, Stephen.
  • Kyne, Thomas A.
  • McAuliffe, Patrick.
  • O'Leary, Michael.
  • Spring, Dan.
  • Tierney, Patrick.
  • Tully, James.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Mrs. Lynch and Carter; Níl, Deputies James Tully and Kyne.
Question declared carried.

Committee Stage?

I will leave it to the House. Two weeks or three weeks?

Three weeks.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 27th March, 1969.