Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Provision of Public Services.


asked the Minister for Labour his views on whether theProgramme for National Recovery makes any stipulation as to the manner in which services are to be provided; and whether it stipulates that any particular services must be provided by employees from the public sector or the private sector.

The Deputy is referring to a recent recommendation of the Labour Court in respect of Wicklow County Council.

The ITGWU took a case to the Labour Court claiming that the privatisation by the council of a refuse collection route was in breach of theProgramme for National Recovery. The court's recommendation is as follows:

The court cannot find any reference to privatisation of services in section II, paragraph 11 of theProgramme for National Recovery.

To settle this dispute the court recommends on industrial relations grounds that, as an alternative to contracting out, the disputed route should be manned by staff redeployed from non-essential services.

The consideration of Labour Court recommendations is a matter for the parties to whom they are addressed, in this case Wicklow County Council and the ITGWU.

I understand that Wicklow County Council have asked the Labour Court to re-hear the case as the council feel they were not afforded the opportunity at the original hearing to make a submission on the main issue.

Has there been any investigation within the Minister's Department of the extent to which this recommendation has wider implications, for example, whether it has national implications?

The matter has been considered. In the first place, the recommendation has been considered by the parties involved and Wicklow County Council have asked for a re-hearing. Second, I should say that the recommendation relates to one specific refuse collection route and does not, therefore have general application.

Is the Minister aware that a spokesman for Wicklow County Council, I think their Assistant Manager, Mr. Johnston, stated publicly his view that it was potentially of very wide application, could have implications for the capacity of his and other local authorities to carry on road works and many other schemes? Would the Minister accept that, at a time when resources available to local authorities are more constrained than ever before naturally such local authorities would want to provide services in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible and that it would be intolerable if constraints were to be placed on them as to the form of action they should choose?

Deputy Noonan raised this matter in the course of the past week. I might reiterate what my colleague, the Minister for Finance, had to say in answering a question put to him on Tuesday, 3 May, 1988.

A good declaration in favour of privatisation for the first time ever.

In his reply, the Minister said that, in so far as general issues are concerned, everybody in this House would accept that the Government must have flexibility to ensure that any opportunity existing for reducing the cost of public services, thus reducing the burden on the taxpayer, must be carefully examined. He went on to say that the notion that any service at present executed by the public sector must continue to be provided by the public sector at all costs is not one to which the Government could subscribe. He said he fully accepted that the industrial relations aspect of making any changes of this nature would have to be taken into account. He reiterated that the Government commitment — in theProgramme for National Recovery— to achieving any reduction in the number of public service employees on a voluntary basis must be honoured. That was the reply given by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, on Tuesday 3 May 1988. I should say that it is the view I hold on this matter.

I am delighted to hear that the Minister now holds that view. Would he say whether he considers that view is consistent with the correspondence entered into by the present Taoiseach, then Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Haughey, with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions before the last General Election, when he apparently told them there was no need to worry, that there would be no move towards privatisation of any services?

I cannot recall any major State bodies having being sold off in the past 14 months or so.

That was not the gist of my question. May I ask the Minister whether, as one of those involved in negotiating thisProgramme for National Recovery, the question of restricting the discretion of local authorities, or others providing services, arose in those negotiations; whether he, as one of the negotiators, felt that that issue had been addressed at all by the plan?

No, that issue did not form part of theProgramme for National Recovery. There is no specific provision in that plan for privatisation. Here I might quote paragraph 11 of section II of the programme which says:

In realising their budgetary targets, the Government are committed to the need for the achievement of a reduction in the number of public service employees. They are committed to achieving this reduction on a voluntary basis. They are confident that the comprehensive voluntary arrangements they have introduced will achieve the reductions sought. If in practice, however, the take-up of these voluntary arrangements does not enable the Government's budgetary and structural objectives to be met, the Government will review the position but, in doing so, they undertake to consult fully with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Such prior consultations will take place under the review mechanism provided for in the Programme.

That speaks for itself and makes quite clear what the Government were saying.

That disposes of Questions, both ordinary and those nominated for priority, for today.