Adjournment Debate. - Kerry Strike.

This matter relates to a strike which took place in the Killarney Hoisery Company factory nine weeks ago. Having given notice of the question on 21st April, I raised the matter on 27th April when I asked the Minister to say if he was aware of the prolonged strike in the firm, if he would state when he had become aware of it and the efforts he had made to settle it. In his reply he did not say when he had become aware of the situation or the efforts he had made to bring about a settlement.

To my mind and to the business and working people of south Kerry this is a very serious matter. Indeed, it is serious for the country as a whole when there are so many people unemployed. Here we had an industry catering for approximately 800 people and it looks very bad for the Minister and his Department that nothing appears to have been done by him to settle the dispute. The probability had been obvious for approximately six to nine months before it occurred because of the industrial relations within the firm, which were not the best.

The Minister has often spoken about the Department's early warning system which he had set up. I now ask him what exactly has become of this system? Does it apply only to Dublin or his own constituency in Dublin, or does it exist at all. I ask him to tell the House the type of relationship that exists between his Department and firms such as the Killarney Hoisery Company where it was known approximately nine months beforehand that a strike was imminent. It looks to me as if the Minister could not care less about the interests of workers so remote from Dublin as Killarney is. It appears to the people there, business and workers, that the Government and the Minister have no interest whatsoever in those living so remotely from Dublin.

The Minister has had his photograph in the newspapers during the past few days saying he would dole out £20 per head to employers in respect of people put back to work, but here we have a situation whereby 800 people could have been retained in employment if the Minister's so-called early warning system had worked and if he had made any effort to settle the dispute. If this had been done generally by the Minister it would have been unnecessary for him to have put his photograph in the newspapers. He could easily have averted this strike.

I wonder does he appreciate the concern of the business community and the workers in south Kerry at the closedown of this industry which was brought into the country more than ten years ago, giving tremendous employment to the people of south and east Kerry. It is an industry which was a great boom to the town of Killarney and to the agricultural community in east Kerry. A number of smallholders were employed in this industry and the money they took home was put into building up their small farms and small holdings.

It was quite clear from the Minister's replies to my supplementary questions on this matter on 27th April that he took the whole situation rather lightly. I excuse him because he was busy then on legislation, but it appears that he did nothing whatsoever prior to that date to avert the strike and the closure of this major industry. It is quite obvious that he has done nothing since then to remedy the situation. The Minister may think that nobody in south Kerry has any interest in this situation, but I assure him that as long as I am an elected representative in this House I will look after the ordinary man and the workers in south Kerry and Killarney. I am not afraid to come into this House at any time and challenge any Minister on his standing in situations like this. It is terrible that we have had the closure of a major industry and that nothing whatsoever has been done about it.

The Deputy must now make his concluding remarks.

I challenge the Minister to say exactly what he did about this before I raised this question, when he became aware of it and what he has done about it since.

Initially I must inform the House that the Labour Court have been involved in this dispute since it started. Before the strike commenced an attempt had been made by a conciliation officer of the Labour Court to get the basic issues in dispute resolved but that attempt failed and the strike started with the withdrawal of labour by the 800 workers from finishing time on Monday, 21st March. I emphasise that a conciliation officer of the Labour Court was actively involved in the days preceding the withdrawal of labour.

The workers were seeking, we understand, satisfactory redundancy compensation terms. There was a question of part-timers being made redundant first and there was the application of seniority in female field departments and the question of voluntary redundancy. The Deputy surprises me in his contribution when he says that he knew that relations in this firm were bad for almost nine months before the strike commenced. It is difficult for any Department of State, especially the Department of Labour, to know the exact state of industrial relations in every individual workplace throughout the length and breadth of the land on any one day of the week. The Deputy did ask about the position of the monitoring unit of my Department. Nobody claims that that unit is there to be infallibly correct about potential breakdown in industrial relations in the future over every industry and every workplace in Ireland. When I established the unit I saw it as a helpful agency in my Department assisting me in gathering information about possible difficulties that might arise over major industrial sectors.

In this dispute the Labour Court was seized of the matters at issue from the start. They failed to avert the withdrawal of labour and it happens occasionally in problems in industrial relations that one fails despite one's best efforts. The strike proceeded. A meeting arranged by the managing director of Penneys Limited took place in Dublin on 23rd April and that meeting was attended by senior officials of the union concerned and senior management of the company. The company is a cross-channel controlled company and senior management are generally in the other country. An agreement was reached at that meeting which was endorsed and supported by the union officials who attended the meeting. That settlement formula was put to a meeting of the workers in Killarney on 27th April but was rejected by over 300 votes to 165.

The total number of employees in this firm was 800 workers, so that 200 workers did not attend a meeting which was called to decide whether an agreement reached at a top-level meeting between union officials and the company would have their agreement. It is a case of the abstention of workers. It is regrettable that 200 workers did not come to a meeting at which so important a matter was to be decided.

The Minister is blaming the workers.

I am not blaming the workers.

The Minister is blaming the unions.

Order. The Minister, please.

I am describing a factual situation. Agreement was reached in Dublin between the two sides, recommended and put to a meeting in Killarney, and 200 workers did not attend the meeting. I am not blaming anyone. A further meeting was arranged for 10th May, when there was another meeting of the parties concerned, this time under the auspices of Killarney Urban District Council. Present at that meeting were Mr. Teddy Clifford, chairman, Senator Michael Moynihan, vice-chairman, and Mr. P. O'Donoghue, town clerk. That meeting was adjourned until next Friday and I am hopeful that both from this meeting and from further assistance from the Labour Court we will rapidly get a settlement of this very serious dispute.

Is the Minister doing anything except blaming the workers?

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 12th May, 1977.