Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Local Authority Engineers' Dispute.


asked the Minister for Labour if he is aware of anxiety concerning the continuation of industrial action by local authority engineers; and if, with other members of the Government, he will take action similar to that which he took in the case of the bus strike.

There have been a number of requests both to myself and the Minister for Local Government for intervention in this dispute. Together with the Minister for Local Government I have considered these requests very carefully since we are concerned about the effect which the dispute is having on the whole range of local authority fuctions and on the employment of many who are unconnected in any way with the dispute.

I have given consideration to the desirability of my intervening in the present dispute and whether this would have a positive effect. Intervention by me in a dispute situation may only be contemplated as a general rule where the existing industrial relations situation has not produced a satisfactory solution. It is an exercise of judgment in all cases and its expressed purpose is to permit the agencies entrusted with industrial relations to resume the work which is naturally theirs. My intervention in the Dublin bus dispute took place only after the Labour Court Recommendation of the 10th May had been rejected as a basis of settlement. After drawing up a framework on June 8th of settlement terms acceptable to both sides. I referred the general agreement on settlement terms to the Labour Court's conciliation service for further negotiations on the detailed application of the settlement.

In general it may be said that if intervention is to have a positive effect it may only be proceeded with where the disputing parties mutually accept the need for such. These conditions do not exist in the dispute in question. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions have given a great deal of attention to this problem but their efforts so far have not succeeded in resolving the dispute. There are, however, procedures which if followed within the framework of Congress could bring about a settlement.

I understand that the matters relating to this dispute are on the agenda of the annual delegate conference of Congress which opens on Tuesday next. I would hope that this annual meeting should afford both parties opportunities of settling their differences. I have already announced publicly that I would act on a joint request from the unions concerned to make mediation facilities available which would help them reach mutual agreement. In this way I would hope that there would be provided the essential ingredient of acceptability to both sides which is needed for any successful intervention in this dispute.

Is the Minister aware that there is general public anxiety about this industrial dispute, that the public are most anxious that the Minister should personally intervene? If on Tuesday next no progress has been made would the Minister at that stage take action and intervene with the Minister for Local Government, without discussing it here?

I am aware of public anxiety relating to this dispute. I do not think it would be wise to prejudge what may happen next Tuesday.

I am sure the Minister is aware that this is not an industrial dispute. It is an inter-union dispute. Is he aware that in this case there is class distinction? Some members can work to rule and are not anxious to settle the dispute, so that people withdraw their labour. They cannot negotiate. If they do, the rest of the local officials will withdraw their labour.

The matter is being dealt with by the trade unions. If there is willingness on the part of both parties to accept the conclusions reached by Congress this matter will be settled, but lacking the agreement of both sides to any intervention there would be no point in such intervention. I have said in reply to the original question that I would act on a joint request from the two unions concerned to make mediation facilities available. Lacking such mutual request there would be no point in any intervention.

Would the Minister take the initiative himself and try to bring the two parties together instead of sitting in his office waiting for them to come up, which they will not do?

Would the Minister say whether or not he had this joint request in respect of the bus strike?

As I have explained, if the Deputy was listening, in reply to the original question——

I was listening. I still do not know whether the Minister had or had not. Would the Minister just say briefly yes or no?

The reply to the question put down by the Deputy explained the background against which intervention was embarked upon, both in its positive respect and also in respect of the case where the existing industrial structure had broken down and also, of course, where there is mutual acceptance of the need for intervention. When these conditions are lacking, intervention is not embarked upon.

Is the Minister aware that work is being held up in many counties because of this strike? In my county, for instance, roadworks are held up completely at the moment. In view of the fact that this matter has been going on for a considerable time, would the Minister follow the suggestion made by Deputy Meaney and try to do something positive to have the matter brought to a conclusion?

I understand that the County Managers' Association are also meeting one of the parties—the AEW—on 4th July. They did meet both unions on 20th June and the matter is to be further considered at a meeting of Congress next week. I am aware of the disruption as a result of the strike. These various steps have to be carried through.

May I ask——

Deputies have had a lot of latitude on this question.

This is the most important question on the Order Paper today, Sir, because a great deal of work has been held up. I would ask the Minister if he is aware that this is bringing discredit on the trade union movement. This is an inter-union matter. The Minister as a trade unionist ought to try to bring the two parties together and to get a settlement. The prestige of the unions is at a very low ebb.

Is it not the function of the Minister as Minister for Labour to try to prevent industrial action of this kind or is he sitting behind the Congress of Trade Unions?

The Deputy is now engaging in argument.

I do not think it has ever been visualised that the portfolio of Minister for Labour is to eliminate industrial disruption. This is an objective.

Would the Minister agree with what Deputy Callanan said?

Question No. 26.