Private Notice Question. - Alcan Project Closure.

asked the Minister for Labour if he will make a statement on the events which have led to the closedown of the Alcan Project at Aughínish, Co. Limerick; and the urgent action he is taking to bring about an immediate settlement in view of the major implications involved.

As has been widely reported already the immediate cause of the temporary suspension of operations on this project by Alumina Contractors Limited was an unofficial strike, by 47 steel fixers, which began on Tuesday last. This unofficial strike was supported by other workers on the site. As the main body of workers refused to pass the pickets work came to a complete standstill.

I am deeply concerned about the situation, posing as it does grave dangers for the country, the whole of the trade union movement and the workers themselves. As I stated yesterday I propose to meet the company and officers of the ICTU at the earliest possible opportunity to establish the full facts involved in the dispute. I would hope that the parties directly concerned will immediately consider what actions they can undertake to achieve an early settlement of the various issues which have led to the present difficulties.

In view of the grave implications of this matter and the size of the project, will the Minister consider involving either himself or senior officers of the Labour Court in the conciliation as a matter of urgency?

The Deputy will appreciate that there was a meeting in Limerick today between some officials of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the group of unions concerned. I understand that after that meeting a statement will be issued. It may in fact be issued now but it was not available to me before I came into the House. Because of the delicacy of the matter one must at this stage be conscious of the efforts being made by the people concerned. Obviously I will be keeping in touch with the ICTU people as well as with the company. But a decision by me or a direct answer to the Deputy's question may be more harmful than helpful at this stage.

Could the Minister possibly impress on the parties concerned that it is the emphatic wish of all parties in this House that the parties to this dispute should resolve it immediately in the national interest and in the interests of the continuation of the project and industrial development here?

Yes. I will be doing that. I have already conveyed some of that. The Deputy makes a very valid point when he refers to the parties involved in the dispute. It is obvious from Deputy Cluskey's comments in this House this morning that he shares my concern about the sensitivity and about the delicacy of the situation. But one must also ask the question as to whether further debate on this matter at this time in this House is helpful. I have no doubt that all parties in this House share the concern about the serious consequences that could arise.

Particular attention has been given to this site because of its magnitude by our standards. The approximate work force at the moment numbers about 1,500. There are about 10 different contracting firms. There are particular working methods, work technologies. There are bonus payments and there are site allowances. These all make it a fairly difficult and complicated site. Conscious of that, on a request from me, the Labour Court provided the services of a special person to keep in touch with all the developments on the site and this has been going on and will continue. In addition the trade union movement, also conscious of the necessity for such, have created a full-time presence on the site from Government bodies, from congress and from some of the affiliated unions. These are steps that have been taken with a consciousness of the problems. We must be aware that what led to this problem was an unofficial stoppage and one might ask why this did not come to notice earlier. This is something that we must all be concerned about for the sake of the parties involved as well as the community.

Let me say at the outset that we, on this side of the House, share the Minister's concern about the implications of this unfortunate dispute. Can the Minister give us an assurance that he, by virtue of his office as Minister for Labour, will utilise all the legislative and industrial relations machinery at his disposal to bring about a resumption of work and a resolution of his problem? Will the Minister bear in mind that the matter is now extremely urgent? Tomorrow may be too late.

I appreciate the seriousness of the problem. The parties involved must be considered to a very large extent. I am prepared to make myself and the Department or any institutions necessary available. If Deputies in the House are genuinely concerned they will realise that for me to intervene as suggested may well be harmful rather than helpful at this delicate stage. I believe that a decision or a direct answer from me at this stage could be harmful. I am aware of the importance of this matter.

Is it true that some of the difficulty has arisen in relation to the payment of bonuses because some of the firms are utilising expertise in regard to the payment of bonuses and other firms are not? In firms where expertise is being utilised in relation to the payment of bonuses the employees are quite happy. Is that correct?

I do not think it is advisable to go into the details of the dispute at this stage.

We, on this side of the House, share fully the Minister's concern. While fully realising the delicacy of the situation we hope that he and his party will succeed in bringing this to a satisfactory conclusion.

Using the mechanism of the early warning system, was there any indication to the Minister's Department of this very serious development?

While we keep very close contact with the site, this problem developed late on Monday afternoon and we became aware of it on Tuesday morning but the unofficial action had taken place at that stage.

When did the Department become aware that the unofficial action had taken place?

The flashpoint occurred only late on Monday afternoon. The unofficial picket was put on on Tuesday morning. In other words, there was no notice to the parties concerned or to the Department.