Adjournment Debate. - ISPCC Dispute.

I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. I thank the Minister for the Marine who I understand is standing in for the Minister for Labour. None of us can fail to observe the ongoing problems there have been in the ISPCC. Earlier in the week there was some hope of a settlement of the dispute as there were talks of Labour Court hearings and discussions. However, because these have come to nothing and in fact the situation has become stalemate, I raise the matter in the House in the hope that the Minister may be able to intervene to the Labour Court to bring the sides back to the table to seek a resolution.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is noted, not for management and staff problems, but for the wide range of support services they give to the poorest and most vulnerable sections in the community. This is the first time in the 100 years of its existence that this kind of situation has emerged. This dispute does no good, either to the image of the society or to the 1,000 or so families in either the settled or the itinerant communities who are dependent on the services and the support services of the ISPCC. In my own constituency they provide a playschool service in the local itinerant settlement. This is a valued and very important service in helping the children to become integrated into the community. That little extra assistance at pre-school age, which is so vital, is of great benefit when they go to school.

The issues involved appear to be complex involving redundancies, retrospection pay and the general problems of the society in maintaining their operations under the economic pressures which will be there for the foreseeable future. In the past week as the dispute has been going on there have been no moves whatsoever because an initial Labour Court conciliation attempt was deserted by the management side who refused to submit to binding arbitration. The unions involved, who represent the workers, have offered to submit the issues to binding arbitration in the Labour Court. It would be desirable to bring the sides together to that forum to seek some agreement. The workers and the management must also be frustrated because of the lack of progress and some intervention may be needed to bring the sides together. I am asking if there is any way in which the Department of Labour could get the wheels in motion to get some form of conciliation or to arrange a forum in which the two sides could meet and seek to find a solution.

I regret the absence of the Minister for Labour who, unfortunately is held up in Brussels because of the dispute involving the air traffic controllers and cannot be here for this debate.

I understood that Deputy Higgins was interested in contributing.

Ar mhaith leat——

I should like to add to Deputy Flaherty's plea that some initiative be taken in this dispute for a number of reasons. The workers involved have been working for a long time, because of their own background and commitment, in conditions which would not be acceptable to many other workers of their training or in terms of the number of hours they work. This fact is widely appreciated and I am grateful to Deputy Flaherty for allowing me to submit a few points which have been made to me. This point is very much appreciated by the families of the children involved. That is the reason they have stated publicly they wished this dispute was resolved in a sense of equity to the employees of the organisation involved. It is true to say that any organisation operating at present has to operate conscious of the economic circumstances. That argument is a much lesser one than the case which has been made and put forward by the employees.

The employees have been entirely reasonable in putting forward their case as they have been willing to adopt the usual procedures in relation to the resolution of an industrial relations dispute. There is an obvious recalcitrance in relation to the negotiation process. The reason it is raised in the Dáil is that it is very important in the interests of children and the families involved that attention should be drawn to employees who have for so long worked, in comparative terms to other employees, for low wages. The reason they have not complained in the past is the sense of dedication which they have brought to the work they are doing. They have just realised that the importance of their work, the human contact and the kind of dedication required, has in fact restrained them. For their dedication in the past and for being willing to make sacrifices they should not be treated in the way they are now. The reality is that people who work in the caring profession, and particularly those working with deprived children, are standing out on the street on official strike. It is a very sad day indeed.

A background feature to all of this is the unresolved issue between State provision and voluntarism. We all hope at a certain stage that we know the State should never be bailed out of a situation where it makes adequate provision for children. It never has happened in Ireland so we can leave that part aside. The voluntary sector must not be used as a substitute for State provision. In the charters negotiated for a balance between a State and voluntary provision it is important that those who work within the voluntary sector have satisfactory working conditions, that respects their training and commitment. We must realise that the definition of voluntary must be a definition of the 20th century. I am not making criticisms here. I would like to see the association involved getting much more State aid.

I have listened to all the sides in relation to this dispute. I come to the inescapable conclusion that those people who have worked for a very long time in demanding conditions requiring complex responses to human difficult situations are forced into the position they are now in. It is absolutely unacceptable to simply stand and say there are known procedures by which this dispute can be resolved. There is no way in which anything can be resolved in that respect unless, as Deputy Flaherty said, both parties enter into it in the spirit that they will accept a resolution of the dispute which will take cognisance of the cases put forward by both parties. If that kind of an embargo on the resolution is there, how in the name of goodness can it be resolved other than by intervention?

The Minister for Labour would be well served by intervening and discussing equally such external supports as are necessary from the Department of Health or elsewhere to facilitate a resolution so that the workers can do what they have wanted to do, and which they have been doing: to continue caring for children. They should not be penalised for the fact that they have given unstinting service. If they were in a different kind of work they could have plunged in their claim over a long period of years for wages and conditions of employment and consultation. Incidentally, I have come to the conclusion that we are long overdue with regard to the voluntary sector in giving them basic charterist procedures and conditions and so forth. May the day hasten when that will happen. In the meantime this dispute should be solved. As Deputy Flaherty has suggested, the Minister should use his efforts to achieve a solution.

I am grateful to Deputy Flaherty for sharing her time with me.

It is regrettable that the Minister cannot be here, but he has asked me to outline the present position on this issue. I appreciate fully the concern of Deputy Flaherty and Deputy M. Higgins on this issue.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is a national voluntary organisation who provide a range of family support services to children and their families — for example, creches, play schools and social work services. As Deputy M. Higgins pointed out, approximately 40 per cent of their funds come from the Department of Health and the remaining 60 per cent from voluntary subscriptions.

Because of financial problems a task force was appointed to investigate the position and make recommendations. An accounting firm was part of the task force and they recommended the appointment of a financial controller. A fund raiser within the ISPCC was appointed to that position. Shortly after his appointment the bookkeeper was dismissed, the argument being that there was no job for her. Prior to her dismissal, the union, the Local Government and Public Services Union, had been negotiating on proposed redundancies in the society and also on the payment of wages amounting to £75,000 which were overdue for about three years. I understand that agreement had been reached about a number of redundancies and progress was being made on the wages front. The new wage proposals were to extend to 1990, on a phased basis. However the dismissal of the bookkeeper threw the whole negotiations into disarray and caused an official stoppage of work since 16 June.

Two Labour Court conciliation conferences have already taken place in an effort to resolve the dispute. It is important to note that the Minister for Labour has made some inquiries in the matter and he now understands that the parties are willing to return to Labour Court conciliation talks. The Minister would hope the talks under the auspices of the conciliation service of the Labour Court could be got going again as soon as possible. I understand that late this afternoon developments along these lines have taken place and it is hoped that Labour Court conciliation talks will recommence at an early date.

The Deputies will appreciate that as the talks will resume almost immediately, it would not be helpful at this stage to get any more involved in the issue and it should be left to the conciliation service to resolve this unfortunate dispute.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 26 June 1987.