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.