Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Bill, 1972: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I feel that at this stage in our social development the House will welcome this piece of legislation and I am pleased to be able to present the Bill for consideration. We have our social welfare code and our redundancy payments legislation and I think it is a logical sequence that we should now give legislative backing to the concept of minimum periods of notice in respect of the termination of employment. As a first step in this area, the Bill, as I have indicated, provides for minimum standards and I would expect that these standards will be reviewed periodically in the light of experience. In anticipation of this, provision is made in the Bill for variations in the periods of notice by way of affirmative order.

The Bill sets out to do two simple things. The first is to prescribe a minimum period of notice which must be given by an employer who wishes to dispense with the services of an employee, or by an employee who wishes to leave his employment. The second is to give any employee who is in doubt about any of the more important terms of his employment the right to have the terms confirmed in writing by his employer; new employees must be given such a statement without having to ask for it.

Under the Bill an employer will be entitled to a statutory minimum of one week's notice but the entitlement of an employee will vary with his service. He will be entitled to one weeks notice if in service for at least 13 weeks but less than two years, two weeks notice if in service for two to five years, four weeks' notice if in service for five to ten years, six weeks' notice if in service for ten to 15 years, and eight weeks notice if in service for over 15 years. I should like to emphasise that this legislation should not impose any financial burden on employers. Where an employer proposes to dispense with the services of a worker, he notifies him in one form or another. It should not cost anything to bring this notification into conformity with the minimum period requirements laid down in the Bill, where such is not the case already. There is, of course, nothing to prevent an employer from giving better terms than those provided for in the Bill.

The Bill will not interfere with the rights of employers and employees who may wish, by mutual agreement, to dispense with notice of any kind. Neither will it interfere with the rights of one party to terminate employment without notice in the event of serious misconduct by the other party.

In addition to the minimum notice question, I am providing in the Bill that a worker will have a statutory right to get from his employer, on request, written particulars of the main terms of his employment: in the absence of better terms the statutory minimum periods of notice would, of course, form part of the terms of his employment. A new employee must be furnished with such a statement within one month of commencing work.

Senators will have noted that disputes under the Bill will be dealt with, in the first instance, by the Redundancy Appeals Tribunal but that there will be a right of appeal to the High Court on a question of law. This provision has been prompted not only by the desire to provide readily accessible machinery for resolving such disputes, but also by the high degree of acceptability which the tribunal's decisions in other fields have won from the employers and workers alike. I hope that this piece of legislation will be conducive to good employer-employee relations, and I commend it to the House.

The Minister has indicated, in his opening speech that there are two simple principles in the Bill, namely, the principle of minimum notice in section 4 and the principle of written terms of employment in section 9. Both of those principles are quite acceptable to the Fine Gael Party. I hope I do not distress Senator Crinion by saying they are acceptable to us because they have long been part of our policy.

We support what the Minister proposes because we believe in what he proposes. We would be a poor Opposition if we accepted, automatically, whatever came from the Minister and from Government representatives just because it came from them. We would also be a poor Opposition if we automatically opposed everything that came from the Minister or from the Government spokesmen just because it came from that quarter. We support the two principles proposed by the Minister because we believe in them and because we believe they are urgently necessary for the improvement of the general industrial climate in this country. But it cannot be taken that we think that what is proposed here is an answer to all the problems in the area of industrial relations or that we think that the extent of what is now proposed is adequate to meet the needs of the present time in Irish industry.

The Minister was able to make a fair defence in reply to the Second Stage debate on the Social Welfare Bill, discussed early this afternoon, by saying that the distance to which he could go in regard to that Bill and similar measures was limited by financial considerations. That is not true of the extent to which it is possible to go in regard to the principles which are put forward in this Bill.

We have in this measure two proposals and it is up to the House to examine them on their merits. Quite frankly, we would have been happier if the Minister had done this a little differently and, perhaps, gone deeper in certain regards but these are points which can be teased out on Committee Stage. For the present we can welcome the fact that the Minister has done something in this regard. What he has done is largely to enshrine in our legislation what the British Tories introduced ten years ago. I agree with what they did ten years ago and I agree with what the Minister is proposing now.

The basis of my support for the Bill is that it should make a small but real contribution towards the reform of what we might call our industrial condition in this country. We have been slow in social reform. We have been slow to look at the position of industry in other than traditional terms. I think we have been foolish in this. In the present instances we certainly have every incentive to look at this as the beginning of a new departure. There are cases in regard to the management of industry, in regard to legislation and industrial relations, in which there are conflicts between what we want to do on the grounds of humanity and what we want to do on the grounds of economy. However, this conflict is in many areas much more apparent than real. There is a growing realisation that efficiency is always as much a function of human factors as of technological and financial factors, and very often efficiency under modern industrial conditions is primarily dependent on human factors.

In the particular area with which we are dealing here, employers may be irked by what they would be made to do under this legislation. I think if they do it in a proper spirit, this will not be something which will impair their economic effort or affect the efficiency of their organisation. It will, by changing the industrial climate, actually be not only to the humane benefit of the workers, but to the economic advantage of the employers.

What is the Minister asking us to do? Under section 4 he is asking us to make it obligatory for a minimum degree of notice to be given before cessation of employment, and fixing that minimum degree of notice on the basis of length of service As I indicated earlier, he is proposing to enact into our law section 1 of the United Kingdom Contracts of Employment Act, 1963, as amended by section 19 of their Industrial Relations Act, 1971. I am glad that, in introducing the British provisions if 1963, the Minister has included the amending benevolent amendments—section 19 of the 1971 Act—although I am sure our trade union movement would not welcome his going very much further in the adaptation of the 1971 Act to Irish conditions.

Why is this something that we must support in principle? Why is it something that could make a marked improvement in the industrial climate? A person who works for a long period in an individual enterprise has made a substantial investment in it. It is on that principle that I support wholeheartedly what is proposed in section 4. Somebody who works year after year in a single job has invested a large amount of that precious property—his own life: the passing years of his life —in this enterprise. In social terms this is a very real investment. It involves a degree of commitment for greater than that of many a casual financial investor in the enterprise. Just as in the various pieces of legislation in regard to companies we give certain rights to those who invest their money, so too we must give rights to those who invest not only their labour, but a substantial part of their lives. It is along these lines that we should look at enactments such as have been made elsewhere, and such as we are now making here.

I should also like to refer to section 9 in which the Minister asks us to approve that notice of terms of employment be given to new employees and that notice, in writing, of the terms of employment be made available at any time, on request, to any employee. This enactment, too, is something which has its own justification. The worker is often at a serious disadvantage in regard to the employer in that he may be unclear as to the nature of the contract of service which he has entered into with that employer. This is a reflection of a development which applies not only to the employee in industry but is beginning to apply throughout the whole of our society. There is arising now, with increasing education, with increasing awareness, with improved communication, a new right that was hardly thought of as a right until recently: the right to information. I think the Minister might have gone even further in this particular area. In these days of rapid technological change, of even more rapid organisational change in private enterprise, we must take very seriously indeed the right to information about what is going on on behalf of those who are employed in these enterprises. Unless this is the atmosphere or the climate in employment, we will never be able to reach the degree of productivity in industry which alone will enable the Minister to put into effect the various social welfare plans which he mentioned to us earlier this evening and which he would like to see put into effect but cannot, because of limitations of finance. It is only by a reform in the whole attitude, not of individual employers but of the whole of society, to industrial employment that we will be able to produce the degree of social reform in all areas which we would all like to bring about. Unless these changes can be made we will not be able to do these things. If we cling to an outmoded view of the employer/employee relationship, and if we continue to look on this as a matter of conflict rather than a matter of confidence then we will have no hope of bringing about worthwhile social reform through democratic action. That is the objective of all political parties in this House.

On this Stage I am talking about these points of principle, not just because they would be out of order on any other Stage, but because on a Bill of this type it is something we should advert to. On Committee Stage we will be able to talk about the details of what the Minister has proposed, about the ways in which he has proposed to do it and to discuss the immediate meaning of the various sections of the Bill.

I should like to emphasise at this stage the reason why I say that I would be happier if there had been more in this Bill: it is not just because I am speaking on behalf of the Fine Gael Party on a Bill proposed by a Fianna Fáil Minister, but because I believe if we are complacent about these matters and if we accept the little that is now being done as enough to allow us to forget about the particular situation that gives rise to these problems for a few more years then we are adopting a very dangerous attitude. If we just pass this Bill and say that things are much better than they were before, then we may be leaving ourselves in a dangerous situation. The Minister indicated earlier that it had been his experience that he got most complaints after he had done something. This is a truth of history. It is never in times of greatest repression that a revolution comes; revolutions only come after there has been a relaxation of the repression, and just as a little learning is a dangerous thing so too a little reform can be equally dangerous, in the historical context.

We should be clear about what our objectives are. We should make up our minds about the degree of our dissatisfaction with the social fabric of our community and, having made up our minds clearly about our degree of dissatisfaction, we should then see if we cannot, within the constraints— financial and otherwise—which are upon us, achieve the major part of the reform that is desirable. Partial reform is the food of revolution. We may pooh-pooh the idea of social revolution in this country but we may wake up one day to find out that we were wrong.

Perhaps I have strayed from the immediate provisions of the Bill but I wanted, particularly in view of what was said on the previous Bill by Senator Crinion and, to some extent, by the Minister in reply, to give the underlying ideas behind the attitude which I take on this Bill of wholesale welcome of the provisions in sections 4 and 9 for what they do, coupled with a doubt as to whether this is an adequate response to the situation at the present time. There are many details we can discuss on Committee Stage.

With regard to the question of minimum notice, there are going to be considerable problems in a number of areas. I am concerned with the problems of the civil engineering and the building industry. I feel there may well be particular problems in this regard. I am also concerned that the powers of the Minister in section 4 to vary the provisions of that section are too wide and not adequately hedged around. With regard to the question of notices of employment there are other things here in regard to the notification of changes as they occur, matters in regard to the question of the provision which allows an employer to refer an employee to an accessible document, which might be subject to abuse. All these can be discussed on Committee Stage.

On this Stage I would prefer to discuss this Bill and the proposals in it as part of a larger problem. We would be foolish to think that because we have provided for redundancy and a notice in regard to dismissal that this is all that needs to be done. We are wrong here. We will have to get down to the question not just of provision for redundancy but of avoidance of redundancy. In the establishment of the Department of Labour we had a start made in regard to manpower planning and much good work has been done, but it is now time to see if a great deal more could not be done. We have been obsessed, perhaps rightly so, during the past year with the question of adjustment to Europe in terms of European institutions and practices, but we can only adapt to Europe and survive in Europe if our own social fabric is sound. So in regard to labour relations we need, from now on, a much more intensive investment of energy and thought in fields such as manpower and planning. This Bill may help. If an employer is forced to give notice he is forced to anticipate redundancy. If he must do this in this way it is a smaller step for him to go into such questions as manpower smoothing.

The time is right for an effort by the Department of Labour in this regard. Many of our firms have been doing far more than is in this Bill in regard to notice before a dismissal and redundancy. It would be worthwhile for the Department of Labour to put down, in booklet form, the good practice of certain Irish firms and disseminate widely this practice of the best which might then be an encouragement to those who have not thought of the problem, not for lack of goodwill but perhaps because of lack of knowledge and lack of turning their attention to the problem. If such firms can see the practices of firms they know to be profitable and successful, they may well ask themselves what, then, can be so wrong in this. It does not seem to cripple these organisations to have a decent policy in this regard.

Regarding notice of conditions of contract, a project which the Minister's Department could take up would be one of disseminating throughout industry not just the question of procedures and rights but of prime examples from Irish industry of positive employment policies—bringing to the notice of other employers what is good practice. Because the humanitarian and the economic are not in conflict in many cases these examples of first-class practice on the grounds of good industrial relations come from what are recognised as the most profitable firms. The legislature, the Minister's Department and industry need a move towards positive policy and information and an acknowledgement that in the modern, technological age in which we live access to information is so often the difference between success and failure.

For these reasons I express some reservations about the extent of the Bill. Looked at in isolation and on their merit, the proposals the Minister has made are unexceptional. The question we must ask is whether this is too small a contribution at the present juncture. Is this a sufficient response to the problem? I should be glad to have my doubts in this regard resolved. There is an indication that the Minister's Department from now on will be pursuing a more positive policy in regard to industrial relations, not just regarding legislation but in regard to the provision of a good information service, in the provision or the dissemination of model schemes which have been proved in practice.

I thank the Minister for what he has done but should like to see more being done.

The Senator reminds me of the man who said "God bless you" as he shot the man.

The Minister may think Santa Claus has come six days too soon when I state that, like other Senators, I welcome this Bill. On previous occasions the Minister has told this House he is introducing pieces of legislation as they arise rather than taking a comprehensive view of the whole industrial relations situation. So far he has honoured that statement as we have had a number of small but important steps forward in the industrial relation scene. I do not want to be niggardly in paying tribute to him and to his Department for what they have achieved in the last two years.

I agree with what the Minister stated in relation to the operation of the Redundancy Payments Tribunal. They have been a wonderful asset in industrial relations, have worked exceptionally well and seem to be the obvious group to deal with problems which may arise under the Bill before us.

When this Bill was circulated a number of people who were not directly involved in the situation wondered why it was necessary to have such a Bill. There was a traditional concept that you got and gave your notice in relation to the manner in which you received your wage or remuneration. If you had a weekly wage you received a week's notice, a monthly wage, a month's notice and so on. This system has not been operating and I am glad to see this type of legislation going on our Statute Book. I think it will lead to a better relationship between employer and employee and this is what industrial relations are about. Many firms go further than the terms set out in this Bill. It is a minimum standard that is being required now. Some of the larger firms, not in industry or manufacturing business, but in the services, some semi-State bodies, have been known to dismiss young employees after 12 months' employment on three hours notice. This has happened in my own field of employment. It has rebounded on employers too because when a person finds some favourable employment he has no inhibitions about giving three hours' notice to his employer. As we expand industrially we are getting greater mobility in our employment and, therefore, the requirement of a minimum notice from both sides is important.

There are aspects which I should like to raise on Committee Stage. There are some explanations and clarifications which I require from the Minister as to why, for example, he has exempted the Civil Service, and why, fortunately, local government and the health boards staff are covered by the Bill. There are traditionally two areas which seem to follow in line and I should like to know what particular reason there is for the exemption of the Civil Service.

I am glad to see in the Bill as it is at present an alteration in connection with the giving of information. It is difficult for those who are not directly involved in dealing with disputes to understand how seriously lacking in information workers can be. Many of them have not got a notion as to what their contract of employment is. Very often indeed one could hardly say there is such a thing. This had led to a great deal of industrial unrest. We have all seen pickets outside a factory owing to the dismissal of an employee the reason for which may not be very clear. I do not think the Bill will help out his point but often the reason has been the lack of proper notice, and the Bill obviously helps there.

Reverting to the question of information, I suggest to the Minister that, while he has gone some way in the other House by stating that every new employee should be given particulars in writing, we may have to look somewhat further. There could be changes in the conditions and, under this Bill, there is no requirement that the employee should be notified of these changes. There may be cases where major changes in the conditions take place and the employee should be notified.

I should like to ask the Minister to indicate if pregnancy leave is covered in the contract of service. If there is no formal agreement with the employer, will pregnancy leave be included in sickness or injury benefit? If it is not already covered I will be tabling an amendment. I welcome most of this Bill and I look forward to further Bills of this type. We should not look towards Europe to find our solutions. Many of the European solutions could not be translated into our circumstances. What happened recently in Brussels is something we would not welcome here. Europe has quite a lot to learn from us in the way in which we conduct our trade union business. When we join the EEC next January this may be one area in which we can give a lead to other countries.

I do not know what are the intentions of the House but I would hope that the Committee Stage of this Bill would be taken after the Christmas recess.

It is now 6 o'clock. Would the House prefer to adjourn now or to allow the Minister to reply?

As the Minister pleases.

The Bill is a short one and has been well received by the House. Originally it was the intention to have an omnibus Bill covering legislation dealing with industrial relations. Instead we are introducing separate Bills to cover certain matters as we get acceptances from the social partners, as the two sides of employment are now called since we are entering the EEC. I agree that a firm which has good relations with its employees will have better conditions than we are providing in this Bill but we must legislate for those who still stick to the old method whereby, no matter how many years the employee has worked, it is quite common for him to get a week's notice. The Bill will do away with that.

I should point out that there are many details which Senators may wish to have explained more fully. As it is not proposed to take all Stages of the Bill tonight I will deal with them on Committee Stage. With regard to employers, the fact that they are compelled to give notice to new employees within a month may give Senators the impression that we are putting them to a lot of trouble, particularly in the construction industry where people shift from one employer to another. It may be felt that the necessity to give written notice and conditions of employment could be awkward. That is not so. The firm may have a general set of rules or conditions of employment posted up on the walls of their factory, workshop or office and they need simply direct the attention of their employees to that notice.

I hope they will be legible as well as accessible. We have all seen notices which have been duly posted and then defaced by age.

I could talk for hours about the neglect in putting up warnings in relation to the safety regulations. They do not often get the prominence we would like. However, that is not relevant here. Any criticisms Senators may have of the Bill and any amendments they may contemplate putting forward may be based on the fact that they may think the week's notice is too short on the lower end of the scale. Employers may think that the eight weeks is too long at the top of the scale. We tried to get an optimum that would be reasonable. We will have a further opportunity to discuss the Bill on Committee Stage. While I do not wish to appear difficult, I must say I should like the Bill to go through in its present form. I cannot accept any amendments as was the case in the other House.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for first sitting day after Christmas recess.
Business suspended at 6.5 p.m. and resumed at 7.30 p.m.