Death of Former Minister. - An Post: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the unwarranted attack by An Post on the postal service; and, in particular, condemns—

(1) the suspension of postal workers,

(2) the recruitment of temporary staff while permanent vacancies remain unfilled,

(3) the refusal to pay salaries of postal workers,

(4) the proposal to transfer the bulk of mail deliveries from Iarnród Éireann to road transportation,

(5) the proposal to reduce the workforce by one-fifth,

(6) the proposal to close at least 550 sub-post offices throughout the country,

calls on the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications, in consultation with the postal Unions,

— to negotiate a solution to the present impasse;

— to agree alternative proposals to the wholesale shedding of jobs and closure of sub-post offices; and

— to agree arrangements to recompense An Post for carrying substantial social obligations for the benefit of the community.

I welcome the Minister to the House. In the course of this debate we will be calling for the resignation of the chief executive of An Post, Mr. Hynes, or calling on the Government to sack him as a man unfit for the job for which he was appointed, on the grounds that Mr. Hynes made an unwarranted attack on the postal service and on the postal workers and thereby provoked an industrial action which was entirely unnecessary. As a result of that, the competitiveness of An Post in its operation, and indeed the competitivenenss of our business and commercial sector, has been seriously affected as well as the all important jobs of the postal workers.

He is in total breach of both the spirit and terms of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. The 4 per cent and 3 per cent for last year and this year have not been paid. We are 17 months through the programme at present and not a penny has been paid even though it was due to be paid earlier this year. The entire Programme for Economic and Social Progress was based on a consensus, on agreement, on a social partnership between the trade union movement, the employers and the Government. While the trade union movement have adhered to that, that has not been the case with the employers in this instance, or indeed in relation to the banks. Mr. Hynes's gung-ho union bashing attitude has been very detrimental to industrial relations, to the existence of the present Programme for Economic and Social Progress and to any future programme in the context of the trade unions being involved.

Last year An Post lost £3.1 million in its year's trading. At present it is losing approximately £3 million per week. That is directly as a result of the unilateral decision of the chief executive of An Post to introduce casualisation at a time when negotiations were taken place, when a ballot was actually in place, arising out of the proposals and recommendations of the Labour Relations Commission to look at proposals that had been made. That is the antithesis of good industrial relations. At present there is little or no service provided in Dublin and a very small proportion of service provided by An Post throughout the country; 1,300 workers are suspended and 2,600 are left unpaid. Workers entitled to their pay have had to take An Post to the High Court to get a fulfilment of their contractual duties. This is all due to what I would describe as Mr. Hynes's bully boy tactics, which are the antithesis of good industrial relations. He has left a trail of destruction — in Guinness, when he closed down a subsidiary there, in Dublin Gas and in Dublin Bus.

Acting Chairman

I would remind Deputy Costello that Mr. Hynes is not here to defend himself.

I will speak about the chief executive of An Post, who is the person responsible for all the activities I have referred to and which have led to the present crisis. The only way I could properly describe him is as a serial company killer, somebody who comes in and leaves a trail of damage in his wake, who unleashes damage, because he goes at it baldheaded rather than going about it through a reasonable process that would be accommodated by a trade union movement that it accommodated, and certainly is accommodating at present. "Hardheaded management" it may well be described in the business sector, but in industrial terms it is simply bad industrial relations and always ends up causing destructiveness rather than a beneficial outcome.

Unfortunately, I have to say that I am dissatisfied with the contribution by the Minister in that she seems to have adopted the position of An Post without due consideration for the complexity of issues involved. The Minister has already accepted the introduction of casualisation while the ballot was going on. She gave her imprimatur to that, even though that was contrary to the recommendations of the Labour Relations Commission and that caused the situation to come to a head. It would seem that succour is being given to An Post by the Minister's words to date in the public media. I would have thought that she, as representative of the Government and as a participant in the social partnership, would be an honest broker in this situation.

I cannot accept, therefore, the amendment, namely, "supports the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications in her efforts to secure the implementation of measures to restore An Post to financial health...". The measures that are being taken by the Minister are, as far as I can see, simply in support of the action that has been taken by An Post management, and that is not going to restore An Post to financial health. In fact, it is costing a tremendous haemorrhaging of resources that is going to have a calamitous effect on the financial figures in the years to come.

I could perhaps read for the Minister what I would regard as a very simple measure for restoring An Post to financial health. If we look at the ledger for last year we see that the fees paid to consultants in the year ending 31 December 1991 amounted to £1,372,211 — that was paid to consultants in a single year; professional fees on behalf of senior management and professional organisations amounted to £127,771; entertainment cost £125,106; personal entertainment— for whom I do not know — cost £11,205, and travelling and subsistence cost £2.2 million. With decent management that would easily eliminate the debt that was incurred last year of £3.1 million.

Remember we are talking about a proposed debt in excess of £10 million last year so, in fact, it was very close to breaking even. If there had been proper control on these expenses the deficit could have been wiped out. That is just one example of where An Post management are still spending money as though they had plenty of it and at the same time preaching to the workers the need for a rationalisation plan, the need for viability, the need for a reduction in the number of employees in the postal service, taking a very hard line in that respect while obviously, on the other side of the coin, there is a very generous approach towards expenditure.

At this point I must urge the Minister to cease acting as a guarantor and as a rubber stamp for all the actions of Mr. Hynes. That must be the bottom line as far as the Minister is concerned and, indeed, as far as the Minister for Labour is concerned. It seems to me that you are acting as a guarantor for all the activities of Mr. Hynes. I have not heard one word of complaint from the Minister in relation to any of the activities adopted by the management in An Post so far, yet they suspended 1,300 of their workers and neglected to pay 2,600. That, to my mind, is a very serious matter and at least justifies one voicing some element of concern at what is taking place. This, of course, is following along the lines of what the banks have done already. It is part of the same type of strong handed tactics that were used in that dispute too and which I find to be equally unacceptable.

Two hundred and fifty casual staff are being recruited into the service at a time when 450 vacancies remain unfilled. Remember that casualisation has never been a facet of the operation of An Post. There have been temporary staff but there has never been casual staff employed on a day to day basis. There are plenty of temporary staff who have been there for six months, 12 months and in excess of that, who could easily be given certain contractual rights. Casualisation means no rights, so I have to say that that development is totally unacceptable and has to be opposed by any trade union worth its salt. It is a new element being introduced.

This problem of the recruitment of temporary staff and overtime did not come from the workers or the unions. It is something that came directly from bad management in 1987 and 1988 when 800 voluntary redundancies were allowed, more or less along the lines of what happened in Waterford Glass, and the company has been trying to retrieve the situation ever since. The result is that there is a great deal of overtime, and nobody is opposed to reducing overtime. Already the union has proposed that the overtime be reduced by a factor of 25 per cent this year, and that it would be done on a gradual basis. But no, we got a blunt, bull in the china shop approach, where everything must happen on a crash programme.

Twelve months ago we had the same viability plan being introduced by An Post and they dropped it because of the local elections in June. Now they have another spring offensive starting along exactly the same lines and with exactly the same procedures and methods. Instead of coming along softly and seeking to persuade by consensus and negotiation, as is enshrined in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, they use a sledgehammer and say this must happen now, that must happen now; it must be done unilaterally, not with negotiation and not with the opportunity for anybody to ballot on it. That is in direct conflict with the recommendation made by the Labour Relations Commission. I have to say to the Minister again that I find the position she has adopted to be totally unacceptable, apparently supporting one side and not giving any credence to the other.

I am concerned at the fact that obviously — and I can see why he is doing it — the chief executive is targeting Sheriff Street sorting office. He sees that as the weak link in the chain and he is trying to break that area because there is a lot of overtime in it. I have to be terribly concerned about that. That is one of the few areas of employment in the north inner city; it employs a number of people. There are hundreds of people employed there both on a direct sorting level as post workers and as cleaners, etc. This would reduce employment very severely in that area, an area which can ill afford it. The Minister should not be shaking her head, because I live in the vicinity and I know.

What about the effect these proposals will have on Iarnród Éireann, who have eight mail trains per day going out of the city, two to Cork, two to Galway, and the rest to other destinations. Already we have lines, like the Sligo line, which are extremely vulnerable. Jobs will be lost there and indeed there is a threat to the future of Iarnród Éireann and to many of our provincial lines.

There is a proposal to reduce the work force by one-fifth. Rationalisation always takes place in the context of reducing the work force, never increasing the workforce. To say it must happen, that it is part and parcel of the viability plan, is unacceptable. Look at the 550 sub-post offices that are to close. That number has, I understand, increased to 800. That cannot take place in a rational fashion, because a sub-postmistress or a sub-postmaster is entitled to be there until they retire or until they voluntarily give up their contract. The State or An Post cannot choose those that are most marginal and costly to the service. They have to wait and see what comes in. They cannot say that the 800 to go will be the 800 who are least necessary; it is going to be a lottery. To deal with it like that is not going to help.

May I say to the Minister that I am disappointed with her noninterventionist policy and with the fact that where she has made statements they have been biased and in favour of one side involved in this dispute. I would like her to put on the record that she will be an honest broker from this point on.

On seconding this motion I wish to say that it is blindingly obvious that this dispute is having a disastrous effect on the country. It is having an undesirable effect on business generally and in particular it is having a disastrous effect on small business, which relies on An Post to engage in commerce. Big business to some extent can deal with communications through the use of FAX machines and so on, but there is a limitation on the extent to which that is viable and to which it can be used.

This dispute is having a disastrous effect on the tourism industry and in particular on the small players in the tourist market, the people who run bed and breakfast and small hotels, the people who provide services for the tourist industry, small restaurants, public houses — they are all going to suffer. It means that the inflow of tourists to this country this year is going to be very seriously diminished arising from what is happening.

In addition, there is the inconvenience and disturbance which this strike presents for the general public. People are very greatly inconvenienced by what is happening. They are unable to do their business, such as the everyday matters of paying their bills or even receiving them. That might be desirable for some people in the short term, but inevitably there will be a day of reckoning. After disputes in the past a number of people have found themselves in very difficult circumstances when a whole series of bills descended on them and they had not made the necessary preparation to cope with that. When these strikes ended in the past a number of small businesses went to the wall as a result.

The proposal to close the sub-post offices is very disturbing. We are talking about a large number of sub-post offices. They play a vital role in maintaining the social fabric in rural Ireland. They act as a central point in keeping small villages in existence. In some places the sub-post office is one of the few centres where somebody is employed, where there is a sense of continuity. Many of these places struggle and the threat of the closure of the sub-post offices will very seriously damage the fabric of those places.

The prospect of closure of sub-post offices in urban areas will present great difficulty for many old people. Pensioners have become attached to the idea of going to the post office on pension day and meeting a pleasant person behind the counter who at least gives them some sense of importance and value. If that is changed it is going to create many social problems for people.

There is also, as Senator Costello said, the irrational nature of the way this is going to work out. There are contracts in existence between the people who run sub-post offices and An Post. Those contracts will have a legal validity and under their terms it will not be possible to terminate them. There will be an irrational series of closures which will be good for nobody.

I understand the genesis of this problem dates back to an agreement which was reached sometime around 1987. It seems that in 1987 the attitude of An Post was simply that everything would work its way out and that a kind of a happy accident would occur whereby the terms of the agreement which were reached in 1987 would result in the desired changes. That has not happened. That is a failure of management. At that stage a certain number of An Post workers took redundancy, but the management of An Post were unable to get it right. It is because of that inability to manage the company properly that we are experiencing the present crisis.

We now seem to have moved into this phase of macho-management, let loose now that the local elections are over and we can let these people rip on the workers in the company. What is happening is appalling, with 1,600 people being suspended. In the latter days of the 20th century it is totally unacceptable that that kind of nonsense should be going on. It is an indictment of management. They have failed miserably when such numbers of people are suspended. They have also failed miserably when 2,600 people are not being paid. That is no way to run a company, it is no way to do business and it is totally unacceptable that strong-arm managerial tactics should have been used.

There is also the proposal to take business away from Iarnród Éireann. That will put in jeopardy a series of lines operated by Iarnód Éireann. It is going to put in jeopardy the jobs of people who work in that organisation. Worse than that in many ways it is going to add to the levels of pollution and to the inconvenience which arises on the roads from the carriage of material up and down the country when that could be carried in a much more suitable and appropriate way by putting it on trains. I cannot see how this kind of proposal comes about without anybody being prepared to take action to stop the disastrous effects it will have on the viability of Iarnród Éireann, but worse in terms of the effects it will have on people as they drive up and down the country.

Senator Costello has dwelt at length on the manner in which what is happening now is in conflict with the provisions of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. What we have to do is begin to think in terms of solutions. It is clear that the impression coming from the Minister's approach in relation to this is that she is very much on the side of the management in An Post. It is a pity and in many ways it is giving encouragement and hope to those people who are prepared to engage in this type of unacceptable managerial practices. The lack of intervention by the Government in relation to this problem is very much in contrast to the attitude taken by the Government during the bank strike. There is very much a hands-off attitude taken in this instance, whereas in the bank strike there seemed to be a far greater level of anxiety to reach a solution.

There are two other points which need to be elaborated on. One is the question mentioned by Senator Costello of consultants being paid in excess of £1 million by An Post. I wonder what sort of service is provided by consultants at a cost of more than £1 million. It is hard to find an easy explanation for somebody such as myself who is not particularly familiar with the activities and behaviour of consultants. I am not familiar with the fees they charge, but looking at those fees you would begin to wonder whether we should all take up some type of consultancy if that is the type of money that is available. It would still be small money to Senator Cassidy — I see him smiling.

You get on the television every time you mention my name.

Some aspects of the differences involved in this case are not that great and it is a pity this type of macho-management is being pursued. It is imperative that the Minister let the word go forth to the people in An Post that a solution has to be reached to this problem. The duty, obligations and the function of management is to manage and to run the company properly. The last thing that is part of a properly run and well managed company is a strike where 1,600 people are suspended and over 2,500 people are not being paid. That is no way to run a business and I hope the Minister will become much more active in seeking a solution.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"supports the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications in her efforts to secure the implementation of measures to restore An Post to financial health, without recourse to State subsidy.".

I congratulate the new Minister on her appointment and wish her well. She has been a close colleague of mine for a number of years, a lady of great ability, integrity and a very fair person. I am delighted to see her in this portfolio and I know she will excel in the other portfolios to which she is appointed.

I speak from the position of having been a postman long before I came into Seanad Éireann. Possibly, I am the only Member of this House who has been a member of the postal service. When I was in the service we were very poorly paid; I gather that pay has not improved very much since. These people are the salt of the earth. They provide an excellent service, a social service in particular. They have a great rapport with the people they serve so efficiently and excellently. I would like to pay a tribute to them.

It would be wonderful to be a Senator here tonight speaking from the opposite side of the House. It is a sensitive time when there is a dispute, particularly a dispute of such magnitude. I support the Minister's efforts to secure the implementation of measures to restore An Post to financial health without recourse to State subsidies. State subsidies are the most important issue. We have a very fine and efficient postal service and An Post provide this service. They were established in 1984 and were given a commercial mandate.

The annual report for the company for last year shows that their performance in the delivery of letter mail was of a very high standard indeed. The company succeeded in delivering 93 per cent of letters on the next working day following posting. Last year the growth in mail volume was the best for a number of years. These facts show that An Post have the capacity and the ability to deliver the goods. There is no doubt but that the users of the postal services wish to see the company continue to provide a good quality service. However, there is a major problem. The company is losing money. Clearly that trend has to be reversed and changes must be made, and as we live in a world of change, the postal service cannot escape.

The employment of temporary and part-time staff is well established in the provinces. That arrangement works well and presumably An Post are satisfied that a similar arrangement would work well in Dublin. I read that the postal service worldwide employ temporary and part-time staff to deal with peak periods and staff taking leave of absence. If the Revenue Commissioners have a massive amount of mail to be delivered, there is additional overtime or additional temporary staff are brought in. If Gay Byrne conducts a competition on his "Late Late Show", it means increased mail for An Post. This is also the case at Christmas time and St. Patrick's Day. When I worked in the postal service we were given small amounts of overtime. One might apply for two hours overtime, but might only get 20 minutes. However, there was always provision for temporary staff, particularly at Christmas time, to deal with parcel post.

There are indications that the EC is becoming deeply involved in the postal service and that the EC may wish to introduce liberalisation, in other words, the well established national postal monopoly seems to be coming under some threat. No doubt the Minister has her own views on this and will make them known to the Commission at the appropriate time.

The dispute which is disrupting the postal service is most unfortunate. I appeal to the management and unions to be as flexible as possible and to get back to the negotiating table. The longer the dispute, the more deeply entrenched views become and it is the workers and their families who will suffer in the long term. I appeal to all concerned to get back to the negotiating table and try to come to an agreement; they will eventually reach an agreement, so why not try to do so this week? The dispute must not spread to the country.

We heard from a previous speaker how the dispute is affecting business, particularly small businesses, and industry. As one who has a small tourist related industry, who has invested a lot of time and money and employs a number of people, I want to tell the Minister that this strike is definitely affecting me. Were it not for FAX and modern technology, the tourist industry and the tourist season, which God knows is short enough, would be in grave difficulties. This dispute is benefiting nobody, so why not get back to the negotiating table?

Figures are bandied around in the media and I have heard that one section of the postal service is getting a lot of money for their services. That must come to an end sometime, and if it has to be now, let it be now. I am sure those people are not unreasonable. I am sure they want to play their part and to secure their own jobs and those of their colleagues in the long term.

I appeal to the Minister and to all concerned to get back to the negotiating table and let common sense prevail. This is 1992 and everybody's view has to be taken into account. Everybody involved has a responsibility to come back to the negotiating table because it is only through communication that this dispute can be resolved.

The opportunities for An Post are not confined to the mail service. The company continue to serve the whole community by providing a wide range of services. Social Welfare recipients appreciate the important role the company play, An Post provide a wide range of savings services, An Post collect television license and help operate the national lottery. There is evidence that An Post are a professional company and can provide a wide range of services in a highly efficient manner. I have no doubt but that the staff wish to see this continue.

I could not agree more with Senator Costello when he said that the north inner city is seriously affected by this dispute. An enormous number of postal service workers come from the north inner city. I have an uncle-in-law who worked in Sheriff Street for many years. The unemployment position in that area is so serious that it is hard to believe this is the Ireland of 1992. I concur with Senator Costello's plea about alleviating unemployment in the north inner city.

The Granby Row Post Office is to close without prior notice being given to any business in the area. This is not good enough. Some of the residents were notified but businesses were ignored.

I recommend the amendment to the House and hope that by this time next week the postal dispute will have been resolved.

Gabhaim buíochas ar dtús leis na Seanadóirí as ucht an rún seo a chur os comhair an Tí agus de bharr go bhfuil deis agam labhairt faoi na cúrsaí atá ag cur as dúinn ar fad chomh fada agus a bhaineann sé leis An Post, agus leo siúd atá ag obair, pé acu an ag obair mar bhaill den fhoireann atá siad nó mar bhaill den fhoireann bainistíochta. Ba mhaith liom anois deis a bheith agam na fíricí mar atá siad faoi láthair a chur os comhair an tSeanaid. Níor mhaith liom tosnú ag caint faoi dhaoine go pearsanta, go háirithe daoine nach bhfuil anseo agus in ann iad féin a chosaint, ach deileáilfidh mé le cuid de na rudaí a bhí le ag rá na Seanadoírí go dtí seo.

I thank Senators who participated in the debate. On 20 February 1991, in the course of a debate on a motion on An Post's reorganisation proposals, my predecessor gave a detailed report on An Post's financial problems and the need for changes in the postal service. Unfortunately, An Post's loss-making problem continues and the need for remedial action becomes more urgent.

An Post have suffered financial losses since 1989. Their accumulated losses to end 1991 amounted to £13.8 million and the company are projecting a loss of £8.5 million for 1992. Their annual overtime bill is £21 million.

At this juncture, I will outline what has been done to facilitate the management-union negotiations on recovery measures for An Post. Early last year my predecessor arranged for the drawing up of a Government/Irish Congress of Trade Unions formula for the necessary management-union negotiations. At a later date and in accordance with that formula, he arranged for the negotiations to be held under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, with a view to drawing up proposals to achieve break-even in 1992. The commission devoted considerable time and effort to this exercise and, in addition, set up an independent tribunal, in agreement with both sides, to make recommendations on An Post's recovery proposals; on certain priority proposals by 15 November, 1991 and on the balance by 31 January 1992. I understand that a total of 41 meetings took place since March 1991. I regret that, despite all these initiatives and efforts, it has not been possible for management and unions to reach agreement on any significant measure to reverse the loss-making trend in An Post.

A formula drawn up by the Labour Relations Commission last October, following an industrial dispute in An Post, made provision for deferment of payment of the first phase of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to postal staff from 1 November 1991 to 1 February 1992, subject to the ability of the company to make the payment. As the company's financial fortunes had not improved in the meantime An Post could not make the payment on 1 February. However, the company reviewed their position in the light of their worsening financial problems and the genuine concern of postal staff about the Programme for Economic and Social Progress payment.

An Post decided to proceed with their priority proposals with effect from 27 April and made the Programme for Economic and Social Progress payment retrospective to 1 November, 1991 to their staff on 15 May 1992. The proposals include the employment of 250 temporary and part-time staff to reduce overtime levels in the Dublin area and maintain the quality of the mails service as the leave season commences.

I must refute the claim that An Post are attempting to exploit workers in any way by recruiting temporary and part-time staff. Already, as Senator Cassidy pointed out, the company employ over 300 temporary and part-time staff in the provinces with pay and conditions agreed by the Communications Workers Union. All over the world post offices employ temporary and part-time staff because it is the most effective means of matching staff to work levels.

I am disappointed that the unions are resisting the implementation of these recovery measures. Such action will aggravate an already difficult financial situation in An Post and delay the implementation of urgently-needed recovery measures.

I also want to refute an impression or a perception, and in these days of mass media communications perceptions and notions of ideas are very important, that in some way An Post propose to dismiss postal workers or lay off people. No such proposal has been put by An Post management. The proposal has been to employ 250 extra people in a temporary capacity. I would not like it to go abroad that An Post, in some way, were proposing that in the Dublin north inner city area people who are working in Sheriff Street should be made redundant and that the Government and the Minister were going along with that notion. Let me dispel that impression.

The development of modern telecommunications services and courier services is providing, as Senator Cassidy pointed out, keen competition for An Post. The European Commission adopted their Green Paper on the Development of the Single Market for postal services last week. The paper, which is a discussion document and the lead-up to the drafting of proposals for Community action in the postal sector, envisages the introduction of possible liberalisation measures. Senators will understand that this could place a further competitive pressure on An Post and other postal administrations in the European Community.

Our postal service plays a major part in the economic and social life of the community. It also provides very important agency services particularly in the disbursement of social welfare payments and in attracting funds for the national savings services. A protracted industrial dispute in the postal service in 1979 caused serious hardship to the staff as well as to customers. Also, the economy suffered serious damage. The community cannot afford a disruption of postal services at this stage.

I appeal to the unions involved to consider the gravity of An Post's financial position and the danger of causing long term damage to the postal service. Postal charges were increased in 1990 and 1991 to generate much-needed additional revenue for An Post but the increases were not sufficient to resolve the company's financial problems. Further general price increases at this stage could not be justified.

All Governments since An Post were established in 1984 have set their face against subsidising the postal service. The taxpayer simply cannot afford it. The pressure from all sides of the House is to reduce the tax burden, not to increase it. A subsidy would be a disincentive for An Post, and their staff in the pursuit of ways and means of reorganising the postal service and of reversing the loss-making situation as well as gearing up the service for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Cost-cutting measures in An Post cannot be avoided if the future of the company and their employees is to be secured. If An Post were to continue on the same basis as they have up to now, at the beginning of 1995 we would not have a postal service and therefore we would not have employment for any of An Post's current employees. I cannot allow that kind of situation to develop.

I have received the report of the consultants appointed by my predecessor to study the socio-economic implications for rural communities of An Post's proposals for closure of sub-post offices and the installation of roadside letterboxes. I will arrange for publication of the report in due course. An Post are not proceeding with these proposals.

An Post's present proposals have been examined by the independent tribunal set up by the Labour Relations Commission, as agreed by both sides. I understand that the tribunal, comprising senior representatives of ICTU and the FIE and chaired by public service arbitrator, Mr. Hugh Geoghegan, S.C., unanimously made recommendations which An Post have accepted. What the company are proposing appears to be fully in line with the recommendations of the tribunal and does not go outside the scope of their recommendations.

I am seriously concerned about the disruption in mail services caused by the postal dispute. It is causing problems as Senators Cassidy, Upton and Costello outlined, for business and it is also damaging our international reputation. I am keeping in close touch with the whole situation. I am making every possible effort to ensure that the dispute ends at an early date and that the postal service can resume its full and proper role in the economic and social life of the community.

The Chief Executive of the Labour Relations Commission met both sides for discussion over three days last week but unfortunately sufficient progress was not made between the parties to effect a settlement of the dispute at that stage.

I am very glad that the Labour Relations Commission are seeking elaboration from the tribunal of their recommendations. When the commission have received the elaboration they will consider what further action can be taken to help resolve the dispute.

I can assure the House that I will remain in close touch with the situation and I hope that the commission's initiative will lead to further negotiations.

I refer to remarks made by Senator Costello at the beginning of the debate. I have been very careful in this dispute to look at the issues. Anybody who knows me well would know that I have a reputation as a straight talker. I do not waffle around the edges, I come straight to the point. I have been a straight talker from the very beginning of this dispute.

I do not think it is helpful to either side in the dispute to start personality bashing. To call for a man's resignation who is not here to defend himself, or to ask a Government to dismiss him, is an unwarranted attack on an individual who cannot respond. Emotive language and emotive debate will not help at this stage. We must ignore personalities and deal very carefully with the issues.

It is easy to get backed into a corner in a dispute because certain people backed me into the hardline corner. I have been interested in the tenor of the telephone calls to my office and the messages dropped into my home in Galway. Regardless of how what is said, it all boils down to a very central question — which side of this disute is the Minister on? Is she on management side, which is what Senator Costello in effect was saying? I want to put on the record something I have said on a number of occasions publicly — I am on the side of the national interest, I am on the side of the taxpayer. As Minister, I have no choice.

Senator Costello talked about difficulties in An Post being related to bad management decisions. I watched a current affairs programme on television last night and I clearly heard the chief executive of An Post accepting that there were bad management decisions in the past. He accepted that there was fault on both sides, that is what I would expect any good professional manager to do. I do not think that is in dispute. What we must focus on are the issues involved in this dispute.

A number of Senators talked about the non-interventionist attitude of the Minister. Since I went into politics in 1975 I have always been a great believer in Ministers not intervening until it is absolutely necessary. The trade union movement and employers, and particularly the Congress of Trade Unions, have gone to a lot of trouble to set up labour relations machinery and I feel very strongly, as a former member of a trade union, that the labour relations machinery should be allowed to operate. The Labour Relations Commission have been involved and there have been results. We have had the results and recommendations of the tribunal. The Labour Relations Commission machinery continues to be available.

I accept and support efforts by both sides to sit around the table. At the end of the day, I honestly do not believe it is the Minister, the Government or any individual member of the Government who will resolve this dispute. It will be resolved by both sides sitting around the table and using the existing labour relation machinery that we all worked so hard to ensure was there.

Much play has been made here and publicly of the consultancy costs paid by An Post. To put it on the record, it is fair to say that a large percentage of the consultancy costs were associated with the computerisation of the counter services to improve and extend the range of services to An Post customers, in particular to those who are in receipt of social welfare benefits. I do not think any Member would say An Post were wrong to invest in the computerisation of counter services to enable them to be competitive in the post-1992 era when we will be flooded with competiton from the telecommunications end and from other sources as well.

People have been saying I was not prepared to talk to the unions. I want to put it on record that I went to Tralee last week to the Conference of the Communications Workers Union; I went from my home in Galway last weekend to the Conference of the Communications Managers Union. At a time of dispute, it would be the easiest thing in the world if the Minister responsible for the company in dispute with their staff stayed away from the conference. I feel it is important for whoever has ultimate political responsibility to meet both sides, to go to the conference and listen to what people are saying.

Many people had a lot to say on the margins of both conferences. Any utterances I made at either venue were straight talking about the issues and encouraging members of both trade unions to come to the table and negotiate with management. I am hopeful that when the Labour Relations Commission receive the elaboration of the tribunal's recommendations it will be possible once again for both sides to come to the table. I encourage management and the trade unions to do that.

At the end of the day, this dispute can only be resolved to the benefit of everybody by both sides sitting down and using the tried and tested industrial relations machinery. I will work very hard to ensure that every assistance is given by the Labour Relations Commission and others to bring both sides together so that An Post will be viable and restored to a financially healthy state. Working together, everyone, and in particular the Government and I, must ensure that An Post can face the implications of the Green Paper which that just been published by the European Commission on the liberalisation of the postal service and the competitive factors and that they will be in a financially healthy state and capable of taking on the competition and beating it. That is my attitude and that is what I want to achieve for the ocmpany and their staff.

I welcome the Minister to the House. The matter before the House is of crucial importance and deserves every consideration. I am disappointed with the amendment because I do not think it has addressed the issue we are discussing.

I am most concerned about the people who are affected by the dispute. They want immediate action. One of the Minister's points was that she should not intervene until it was deemed absolutely necessary. Obviously with any dispute it is difficult to intervene with the toing and froing. The time has arrived for the Minister to intervene given the fact that she has overall responsibility for An Post, but if not by her by her colleague, the Minister for Labour. Whether he meets both sides individually or collectively is not my concern. The main concern is that this dispute be ended as expeditiously as possible. Small industries, businesses and firms are affected as are individuals who are not getting their post. I know measures have been taken to try to get around the difficulties. I know people who depend either wholly or in part on a pension from Newcastle. The postmen have shown goodwill in this area. Even those who have been suspended have gone out of their way to try to see that social welfare cheques are delivered and for this they are to be commended.

In any dispute there are rights and wrongs on both sides. I am not going to go into a litany of various matters or An Post's rationalisation plans but there will be changes. It would be foolish to think that change would not take place in certain areas and that work practices devised years ago would remain the same. Both sides probably recognise that.

Direct intervention by the Minister is required and is necessary at this time. I do not think this matter can be delayed. Some resolution of the difficulties and problems must be found and there must be an evenhanded approach. Management must recognise that the bull in the china shop approach will not wash. Obviously in certain areas in Dublin there have been difficulties. Certain practices there will have to be looked at and examined. Massive losses cannot be tolerated.

We must look at how An Post has developed, how it will develop in the 1990s and into the next century and the plans there are to improve it. There have been many improvements. Efficiency was mentioned. An Post have offered a great service with a higher percentage of letters and parcels being delivered either the next day or within a day. I compliment the staff who work at the various levels who achieved this. They sift through oceans of mail and ensure that despite possible difficulties in relation to handwriting and so on, the bulk of letters arrive on the due date.

This problem must be resolved. Either the Minister or the Minister for Labour should intervene. I agree with what has happened in relation to the Labour Relations Commission. Some matters are being looked at and it seems to be a long drawn-out process. There are many people who cannot afford to wait — small businesses and individuals depending on English pensions cannot afford to wait. What we need is an immediate resolution of this dispute and not just, in the Minister's words, "Keeping abreast of the situation," telephoning now and again to see how the situation is progressing. What we need is a Minister who will sit down with both sides and discuss the issues with them.

Unlike the bank strike where there seemed to be an awareness of the problems and when there were difficulties there was a Minister on hand, this dispute is drifting along. Maybe the problem is a long way from Galway. I suppose until some postmen go on strike down there that it will not be brought home to the Minister. I am sure the Leader of the House has had representations made to him in relation to the difficulties experienced by many individuals. As public representatives we are aware of the difficulties it poses for people. Tonight we must stop the rot. We need the intervention of the Minister and we need it now. I appeal for discussions to be held with a view to resolving the problem.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate this evening. It strikes me at the outset that once again, unfortunately, we have a very difficult and delicate situation with regard to the internal negotiations that must be gone through in some of our major companies and all of the attendant matters that tends to raise in the context of major and substantial change in any organisation. It is never easy to get all sides to agreed on what is the best direction.

Everybody has the right in the first instance, particularly from the union's point of view, to protect their members and the jobs involved. As a Government and as a country we are all trying to create more jobs. When one looks at a rationalisation programme that involves perhaps the shedding of jobs one is always wary of the difficulties that are directly involved. Reference was made earlier by my colleague, Senator Upton, to Waterford Crystal and he likened the similarity of the cases.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kenneally to the House this evening. He comes from my constituency in Waterford. It is good to see him here involved in this debate. There are realities that must be faced. Some drastic mistakes were made by management in the past. Equally, there have been mistakes by unions in the past but that is no benefit in trying to move forward particularly in the case of An Post. It is quite clear to me and it is probably quite clear to everybody in An Post that technology has advanced rapidly in the past number of years not alone in their industry but in many other industries.

Communication nowadays is about speed: the faster one can deliver the message by Fax or telephone information is crucial. Most of that is done electronically now but in the past a larger workforce was required. It is now such a heavily burdened industry in the telecommunications area, which is developing practically on a daily basis, that this organisation in order to protect the people who work in it will have to make changes and alterations. This is particularly so in the context of growing competition not alone in this country, of which An Post are fully aware, but also in a European sense. This is leading to redeployment of people.

If a company is not able to compete at the sharpest end, it will continue to row backwards, mount debt and become less viable. It is in the interests of all in the workforce and in management to ensure that the workforce are allowed to participate in a company to ensure that the company's financial base is improved and that they are allowed to develop and invest further in their core business. That will protect jobs in that company. For example, many people in Waterford Crystal would say that if technology had been phased in over the years, the present impasse and difficulties might not have arisen. That also applies in some respects to the people in An Post.

The reality is that no Government, irrespective of who is in power, can afford to continually use taxpayers' money to subsidise a system that should be capable of at least breaking even, and probably making substantial profits which should be reinvested in the company to ensure that the company have the greatest opportunity in the marketplace because they are the biggest and sustain the greatest share of the activities in the communications area. That is basically what it is all about. A company cannot expect to be subsidised when they should be in a position to make profit.

The cost of overtime in this company is £21 million, a huge amount. This raises the question, which as a member of the jobs forum I am sure will be on the table: who is going to define employment and who should be employed? We have 300,000 people unemployed and a wealth of work to be done. Somehow, over the last decade, we have failed abysmally at all levels of Government to bring those two equations together. I ask people who are in full time employment if it is right that so much money should be spent on overtime when many other jobs — part-time or through job sharing or some other method — could be created to take people out of the social morass. This problem is not peculiar to Dublin or anywhere else; it exists in Waterford, Cork, Galway and Limerick. The definition of employment will have to be answered by both management and unions.

I would go so far as to put down a marker in this debate and say that companies with substantial overtime requirements should not use so much of their funds paying overtime but should employ more people on a full-time basis and help to reduce our massive unemployment figure. This will have to be looked at seriously.

In the context of the situation in An Post two things are required — a reduction in the level of overtime and a definition of the employment that is available in the company. There may have to be many part-time workers. There will always be peaks and valleys in the postal service which will always need to employ many people but perhaps not on the basis on which people have heretofore been employed in that or in other organisations. I am not trying to single out An Post. This is a problem that is running through many different industries in private industries, State industries or whatever.

On the question of ministerial intervention — and I have learned this the hard way — irrespective of who is Minister, ultimately, it will be the people involved who will solve this dispute. I dislike third party intervention because it may lead to what can be termed by one side as a forced solution. I prefer the people involved in a dispute, no matter how difficult or painful the arguments and debates, to reach a conclusion and for both sides, to understand where they are going and what the outcome of their agreement will be after long, hard and sustained negotiation. There is no need at this stage for the Minister to become involved. In too many cases, ministerial intervention is perceived as the first option but it is only after all other procedures have been exhausted that a Minister should be involved. At this juncture, that is not necessary.

I urge all those involved in this dispute to get together and try to find a way forward. The people who will pay the price in this dispute are those who work there. Finally, I ask people to bear in mind the difficulties being created for so many small industries who are struggling and the damage this dispute is doing to tourism, etc.

I would like to give two minutes of my time to Senator Norris.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

There are a number of points I wish to put on the record. I welcome the Minister of State but I am sorry the Minister is not here. It is not very long since I was her union representative and if she trusted me then she may trust me now.

This issue is not as simple as it has been presented either by the Minister or in some of the comments that have been made since then. I want to clear the cobwebs in a number of areas. As a member of the executive council of the ICTU, it is important to put on the record that as late as this morning the executive council of ICTU, by unanimous vote issued full support for the Communications Workers Union and what they are doing in this dispute. I wish to place it on the record that were it not for the CWU there now be an all-out strike because management are doing nothing, they are acting irresponsibly, they are, in effect, almost operating a lock out. They seem to be trying to create an all out strike. It is to the credit of the workers and the union that they have managed to resist that.

I remind the House that we are an island state and by the end of this year we will be the only island member state in the Europe Community. Because of our extraordinarily high telephone charges and transportation costs, there should be European support and a subsidy for the Irish mail services. There is no doubt that we have a very strong case.

In this dispute the media seem to have cast the union in a very poor role and I want to clarify a number of points. I agree with Senator Cullen that this extraordinary overtime bill cannot be justified when the money could be used to create real jobs. I want to put firmly on the record that the union and staff side have said that this is what they want. What I was waiting to hear from Senator Cullen and the Government side was that we were not talking about casualisation, which is simply another words for the exploitation of workers without security of tenure. We have not heard any proposal from the management side to replace overtime with real jobs, but hear a proposal to replace overtime with casual staff. I want to make it clear that Members of this House have not been confused by this effort to fudge the edges between casual staff and temporary staff.

The Minister referred to the independent tribunal set up by the Labour Relations Commission and the fact that it had set out four principal proposals. It proposed the phasing out of overtime, the relocation of some of the Dublin, the closure of productivity deals and there should be an agreed ratio between temporary and full-time staff. I want to put it on record that the union side accepted these proposals. The management have now turned around and taken on casual staff but they are pretending to the general public, and to the Government, that these casual staff are, in fact, temporary staff. There is no comparison between the two. They are two quite distinct and different roads which are clearly understood, and have been clearly understood, by management and staff for as long as they have been dealing with each other.

Casual staff in An Post are people who are employed at Christmas time to help with the extra mail, they work on a week to week basis. Temporary staff have a contract of employment for a specified period. They take up a position until it is decided whether permanent staff are needed. This is similar to the teaching area and the difference between substitute and temporary jobs. They are two different and distinct things. This distinction has not been made clear in the media.

I agree with what Senator Cullen said here tonight but he is being misinformed by people who say the union are not prepared to address the overtime issue — they are and they have said so — and that An Post are prepared to take on extra staff.

Casual staff are employed on a week to week basis and at the whim of the next level of management. They are at the mercy of the people above them and they do not have access to the support of labour legislation like the Unfair Dismissals Act, etc. It is a unacceptable status to grant any worker and it does not fit into any of the definitions given by the social partners — that is, the Government, unions and employers — as to what we mean by employment. It certainly is not taking people on on a casual basis. Everybody has said that. There is work to be done. There are real jobs there. Let us hear proposals from the company to deal with that.

The Communications Workers Union have put forward a series of proposals which have agreed a ratio of temporary to full-time staff; they propose that it should be on a two to one basis. I do not have the time to go into detail but it is important to recognise that what is happening here is an attempt by management to close the union, to create an all-out strike and to lay off staff who have proved themselves to be flexible, adaptable, successful and highly productive.

It is no wonder there is a lack of confidence between management and union at this stage. How can the union trust the management who are trying to introduce casual contracts and pretend they are temporary contracts? That is not the case and if nothing else comes out of this debate, let us all be clear about that.

The Minister said she was on the side of the taxpayer and I welcome that but I want to put one thing on the record. Every worker in An Post is a taxpayer. Every one pays his or her tax on a week to week basis, and I would like to see the Minister on their side. For all that she is being backed into the hard line corner, I know her well enough and long enough to know that she will also listen to an argument and put forward a point of view.

The workers in An Post are being badly treated. The trade union representing An Post workers are being badly misrepresented in the media and publicly. It behoves us as elected representatives to ensure that there is a service provided, that the company treat their workers properly and as a company operating in the semi-State area we must ensure that our responsibility to the workers are fully discharged. The union are prepared to talk and be flexible. They are prepared to talk about a ratio between part-time and permanent staff. I would now ask where are the management? What have they to say to us? Let us hear from them and clear away the cobwebs. Let us get rid of the myths and get down to business. Let us deal with the workers in a dignified and proper way.

I thank my colleague Senator O'Toole for making time available to me, and I understand that Senator Costello has also agreed to give me one minute if that is agreeable.

We would not object to one minute.

I thank the Senator. An Post are an extremely efficient organisation. I have before me the Evening Press of 14 May in which there was a report of the remarks made by EC Commissioner, Filipo Pandolfi, who indicated that we among a very small group of countries in the European Community, have actually met the target of 90 per cent next day deliveries. We have already a very efficient and good service. God be with the days of James Joyce's Ulysses when a letter posted on one side of the bay reached the other in the afternoon. The evidence of that is in the text of Ulysses. Still the present day operation is very efficient. Many other European countries only reach 15 per cent of this quota.

There is a suspicion among a number of people that what is happening here is an attempt at casualisation, what could be regarded roughly as a sort of designer strike cemented by management with the intention of breaking unions. There is a very curious pattern emerging with the banks, RTE and now An Post. The ordinary consumer is caught like a nut in a nut cracker, right in the middle. I speak with some feeling because I am organising an international James Joyce symposium, a very prestigious event. We are expecting 1,000 scholars from all over the world. We have 500 registrants already and the remaining 500 applications are caught up in the post, not becuse of the workers' action but because of management intransigence. It is very difficult to deal with organising banks, accommodation and so on, and this particularly affects a country like ours where we are dependent on tourism.

People have been suspended without pay. I find it extraordinary that people working in the post office system are not getting their pay, although An Post appear to be able to pay the casual workers they have brought in as strike breakers and I would like the Minister to answer that. How can the strike breakers be paid but not the people who are working, who are not in a dispute and have not been suspended? That is disgraceful.

The suspensions must be lifted. Wages should be paid immediately to those who are working. The Minister should intervene. Unfortunately she has damaged her position by appearing to come down sharply on the side of the employers and this kind of macro management should be got rid of.

I wish to share my time with Senator McGowan.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I wish to say a few words about this very serious dispute. It is serious in the sense that our dole queues are very long and they are getting longer by the week. The dispute is causing hardship for employers who are trying to keep people in work. It is unfortunate and will mean that other people will lose their jobs. I appeal to both sides to come together as soon as possible to sort out this sorry mess but I hope it will not be at the expense of the excellent service that has been provided by staff in all the post offices in rural Ireland. I hope that this dispute will not be fixed at the expense of the people in rural Ireland.

Services are limited enough in rural Ireland and the people who run the average rural post offices are paid peanuts. We appreciate the service An Post give us in rural Ireland and also in larger post offices. We are getting an excellent service and we intend to hold on to it. I hope the settlement will not hinder that service. I appeal to the common sense of the people — we hear of a person getting £40,000 overtime pay in the sorting office——

There is no such person.

Is there any reason for that? With so many people unemployed that is unfair. I am quoting from the papers. The taxpayer will have to foot the bill if this dispute is not sorted out. The cost of postage is high and people cannot afford to carry any further burden of personal taxation. The Government cannot afford to sink this country any further in debt. The national debt is already enormous. I hope common sense will prevail and that it will not be at the expense of the excellent service we get in rural Ireland from post office officials. I am totally opposed to letter boxes at the end of the road in rural areas because it would be unfair to expect people living in isolated areas to walk a mile to pick up a letter.

The dole queues are long and everybody wants to shorten them. The people listening to us have families and I appreciate that a strike brings hardship. The sooner it is sorted out the better. I appeal for common sense in the national interest.

I join with other Members to express my concern and my hope that the postal dispute will soon end. Everyone knows our economy is made up of small businesses, each of them depending on day-to-day payments whether for Government contracts, state payments or whatever. The postal service plays a vital role in keeping small businesss alive. Everyone realises we have had a very efficient service until now. I was proud to hear that Ireland has one of the most efficient postal services in Europe and the highest percentage of next day deliveries. The people in the postal service must bear in mind that there is no future for them or their families if the service must depend on subsidy from the hard pressed taxpayer who is already paying for millions of pounds lost in Irish Rail and Irish Shipping and through intervention in various endangered organisations. It is not on. The economy of the country must stand on its feet. Workers here are not as good as the German, British or French workers——

That is a disgraceful statement.

I would have thought that a man representing education interests would have the manners to listen.

My manners are suspended when I hear half the Irish workforce insulted by the Senator.

If the Senator would allow me to finish. I know he has to play to the gallery.

The Senator needs a gallery.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I ask the Senator to speak to the motion.

The Senator has to make a lot of noise on any forum he stands on. That is his profession. Irish workers are better than other European workers, even than the French.

That is fair enough. I withdraw my previous comments.

The Senator gets carried away to such an extent that he is not prepared to listen. He jumps on the bandwagon all the time. We recognise the Senator has a job to do and the best of luck to him.

Every public representative is concerned for the future of the postal service. I am concerned about a threat to close central post offices in Donegal and Lifford. The only case I can make to retain a central post office in Lifford is on the grounds that I can say to any Minister that Lifford post office is a central and viable post office. I say to workers in Sheriff Street, Lifford, Donegal, Kerry and elsewhere, "Look to your future and to the future of your families." If the post business is economically viable it will thrive if workers are sensible, adopt technology and use it to compete with the rest of Europe. That is the only future for our first-class postal service. I spoke to a prominent trade union representative recently who said: "I fight very hard for my workers but I would never take them out on strike. I have a record of never having them out on strike. I get the best deal possible but I have to be sensible at the end of the day about who is going to pay." That is very important in the current situation.

The postal workers can continue to blame An Post but they must gain public support. Taxpayers ask where tax is being spent. There is no future for any service not able to stand on its feet. Irish workers are capable of providing a first-class service and I hope they will continue to do so.

I support this motion and I refer to one section of it. The Minister referred in her speech to the consultants appointed to study the socio-economic implications for rural communities of An Post. She said she would publish the study soon and then she made an important statement: "An Post is not proceeding with these proposals." The proposals were for the closure of sub-post offices and the installation of roadside letter boxes. Rural Ireland must welcome that commitment. It is an important statement that has been missed by many. I will refer to it later.

I wish to congratulate the workers in An Post for their excellent work over the years. It is disappointing that An Post is now involved in a serious industrial dispute with grave national implications. One must be careful in dealing with the issues involved as negotiations have not been completed.

I have been involved in industrial relations for over 20 years and I cannot understand why a company would not pay members of its workforce who are working during a dispute. They should be paid. These people are giving their services to the organisation, they may have to pass pickets, which can be very embarrassing and then they are punished by not being paid. This does not make sense in any industrial relations milieu.

I cannot understand why suspensions should take place. Surely it is important that as many people as possible stay at work and out of dispute. Management are alienating many of the workforce which makes for heightened feelings when suspensions take place; suspensions might be the wrong term. It looks more like a lock-out of certain members of An Post.

High levels of overtime have been referred to and I have seen some figures for this. It is accepted in industrial relations that overtime should not be guaranteed in the workplace. If overtime becomes a customary practice, negotiations should take place between management and unions to sort out the position. I will not elaborate as it might interfere with discussions between the parties.

Negotiations should take place about overtime and agreement should be reached in a fair and equitable fashion between the sides. There should not be a unilateral decision by either side that (1) they are going to withdraw overtime or (2) they will not accept the approach of the other side. I do not accept that overtime should be guaranteed in any organisation. It is understandable that it contributes to one's standard of living and should therefore be part of the negotiations.

The problem with the present dispute is that it affects large sections of the community and if it continues it will affect employment. At present it is affecting the tourism business in Kerry and possibly elsewhere. Hoteliers are frustrated and concerned about the present situation. Many people from abroad who would book with them are unaware of the situation in Ireland and bookings or correspondence are trapped in the post.

Small businesses use An Post to collect debts and they too, are affected. People try to pay a bill as late as possible which puts additional pressure on a small business. People who wish to improve their credit management and delay payment by saying that the letter is in the post or that they are unable to forward it through the post have the opportunity now to do so. If small businesses collect their debts themselves it is an extra cost on them. As a result of this dispute jobs will be lost.

The Minister is quite right to say that she should only get involved as a last resort but that time has now arrived. The next stage will probably be the closure of An Post throughout the State which will precipitate a crisis. Nobody wants that, so while there is an opportunity to defuse the situation the Minister should intervene because the interventions of the industrial relations commission to date have not proved successful. This dispute has gone on too long.

I welcome the Minister's statement that she will not close rural post offices. The closure of post offices would contribute to destroying the fabric of rural Ireland which has suffered mass emigration and migration to the Dublin area. The postal service is a key service with which a community can identify. Six weeks ago when a rural post office was closed in Carrigkerry the effect on the community was unbelievable. Carrigkerry is in a remote rural area where 80 pensioners availed of the services of the local post office. These people now must travel three to five miles to collect their pensions on Friday. They were used to the service in their local area and it was customary for the postmistress to check up on anyone who failed to collect a pension and to deliver it personally. Those pensioners must now get somebody to drive them to Newcastlewest or Ardagh to collect the mail. The case was brought to the attention of the Minister who did not see fit to intervene with An Post other than to make the normal representations. The activity and commerce which rural post offices brought to villages were important. People came to the local village to do their shopping and to have a drink and a chat; the village was the centre of the community. With the closure of the local post office people now must travel to Newcastlewest a larger town where the service will be more impersonal.

I do not support Senator Dardis' contention that the post office must make a profit in every area. There is a social dimension to the postal service which we must recognise and which is enshrined in legislation.

Senator Costello has ten minutes to reply. The Chair did not accept Senator Norris' suggestion that he take one minute of your time. The Chair tries to facilitiate as many speakers as possible and any number of Senators may share a particular slot but I cannot allow the taking of minutes in advance. I hope the Senator understands the situation.

It seems as though Senator Norris appreciated that point. He was going so rapidly that I am sure he condensed a three minutes' contribution into two.

I welcome the Minister to the House but I am disappointed that the Minister for Communications did not see fit to stay on for the entire debate. It will not be possible for us to raise this issue in Private Members' time for another six months. The least she might do was to stay for the entire debate to hear what was said by all Senators.

I thank Senators for their contributions to the debate. The general tenor of the remarks from all sides was that we should seek a speedy resolution to the dispute and that the strength of rightness lies with the postal workers. There has been strong criticism here of management's approach to the dispute. I was delighted at the extent of support expressed for the postal workers and for the Communications Workers Union.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has, at last, indicated that she wants to see this dispute resolved through negotiation and encourages all sides to get involved and that An Post is not going to proceed with the closure of sub-post offices throughout the country or the introduction of roadside letterboxes until the results of the investigative study are published and presumably followed by a public debate on that report. That is a step in the right direction.

The tone of the Minister's reply was unsatisfactory however and out of line with the final remark that she was being fair to all sides. Her reply does not contain a good word for the union while there are large pats on the back for management. In her reply she said:

I must refute the claim that An Post is attempting to exploit workers in any way by recruiting temporary and part-time staff. Already the company employs over 300 temporary and part-time workers in the provinces with pay and conditions agreed by the Communications Wokers Union.

Employing casual workers in the sorting office in Sheriff Street was never a tradition and there is a world of difference between temporary workers and casual workers in the area of rights and entitlements. One has no rights and entitlements as a casual worker; one does as a temporary or part-time worker. What the Minister said is not accurate. She put it wrongly when she said: "The proposals include the employment of 250 temporary and part-time staff to reduce overtime levels". Clearly the employment of 250 casual workers is being suggested by An Post. The Minister also said:

I am disappointed that the unions are resisting the implementation of these recovery measures.

She is disappointed with the unions and satisfied with An Post. The Minister, despite the statement, is taking sides in the dispute. She is not intervening in an attempt to resolve it but is intervening in the dispute on behalf of one side.

It is unforgiveable that the Minister allowed casualisation to go through while the Communications Workers Union was balloting on proposed changes on productivity and casualisation in relation to the deal put forward following the independent tribunal. The nub of the issue was whether casualisation should take place. The Minister allowed casualisation to be introduced at a time when the union was balloting its members on the issue. That adds fuel to the fire because no trade union can allow workers to be exploited. There were 150 full time vacancies and a large number of temporary staff could have been given contracts, but what did management introduce? It introduced casual labour without rights, displacing people with entitlements to secure employment. That is totally unacceptable from the Minister.

The Minister criticised me for referring to the chief executive officer. I make no apologies for referring to the chief executive officer and to management because the problem begins at that source. The dispute began because of proposals in 1987-88 on voluntary redundancy. The result of that higgledy piggledy approach to reducing staff was large scale overtime which has given rise to the present problem where vacancies have been filled and a large amount of money is spent on overtime.

Last year there was a dispute in An Post over payment of the 6 per cent negotiated by the CWU. At that time An Post refused to grant that entitlement until such time as the viability plan were introduced. But after a two day dispute and a ban on overtime by workers, management agreed to pay the 6 per cent. They agreed to look for a break-even and the trade union agreed. An Post agreed to pay the 4 per cent agreed in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress in February of this year. It was paid on 15 May during the dispute; nobody has received the money yet. We are talking about 4 per cent plus 3 per cent that has not been paid when workers in other organisations have received 7 per cent.

Finally, it is important that the parties go back to the Labour Relations Commission for clarification on any of the matters. On 27 April, there was a unilateral statement from An Post that they were going to cease the productivity deals. Let us not overlook a certain irony there. The productivity deals came about because of the 1987 bonus and consolidation which was not what the unions wanted in the first place, they did not want this approach to it. Secondly, An Post declared it was going to introduce 250 casual workers and third it would close Sheriff Street. All that was done without allowing the unions to go through the process negotiated with the industrial relations commission which was to have a ballot and to return to the Labour Relations Commission in order to deal with it. Any changes of this magnitude must be dealt with through negotiation and through balloting. It is not sufficient for An Post to accept them; the workers must accept them as well.

I have no problem in calling for the resignation of the chief executive of An Post. He has left a trail of destruction through Guinness, Dublin Bus, An Bord Gáis and has done untold damage to industrial relations nationally as well as causing the loss of thousands of jobs. The best words to describe him are serial company killer. He is doing nothing for An Post which had a £3.1 million overrun last year. Now we have a £3 million loss per week because of the present dispute. One thousand three hundred staff have been suspended or locked out; 2,600 workers are unpaid. The union went to the High Court and got a decision that the seven workers who took the action should be paid and that An Post was wrong. An Post are now appealing this decision to the Supreme Court. Those are not the actions of a body intent on achieving a negotiated consensual solution to this matter.

I understand that 200 postmen and women in the Foxrock, Tallaght, Blanchardstown and Clondalkin areas of County Dublin who were due to be paid by An Post have just had their wages withheld. These workers are working normally in an area called the survey branch which has a separate administrative structure. There is no reason they could not be paid, yet An Post refused to pay them. This is a callous approach by An Post to people doing a day's work who do not have access to any social welfare payments. They and their families are being victimised by An Post. I cannot come to any conclusion other than to call for the sacking of the chief executive, Mr. Hynes, if he is not prepared to resign.

I always find it very strange that any process of rationalisation, whether a company is making money or losing money, begins and ends with the shedding of jobs. In this era of extremely high unemployment, 281,000, we should be looking a bit more sympathetically towards how we are going to rationalise procedures without first and foremost saying, as has been said in this case, 20 per cent of the employees are going to lose their jobs.

The Minister cannot just wash her hands of it all. She cannot act like Pontius Pilate, say it is not her responsibility and, at the same time, weigh in on behalf of An Post. We have reached a crisis situation. We must have Ministerial responsibility and Ministerial intervention. Otherwise An Post will be so severely undermined it will be very difficult to pull the pieces together again. In the interests of An Post, of the workers, the business community and the entire community, I call on the Minister to get involved as an honest broker in this issue. She must let it be seen quite clearly that she has the interests of the nation and the workers at heart as well as the interests of management.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 15.

  • Bennett, Olga.
  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Byrne, Sean.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Conroy, Richard.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Doherty, Sean.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Dan.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Donovan, Denis A.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ormonde, Donal.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Costello, Joe.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Hourigan, Richard V.
  • Howard, Michael.
  • Jackman, Mary.
  • McDonald, Charlie.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Toole, Joe.
  • Raftery, Tom.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Upton, Pat.
Tellers: Tá, Senators E. Ryan and Fitzgerald; Níl, Senators Upton and Costello.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 16.

  • Bennett, Olga.
  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Byrne, Sean.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Conroy, Richard.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Doherty, Sean.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Dan.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • O'Donovan, Denis A.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ormonde, Donal.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Costello, Joe.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Hourigan, Richard V.
  • Howard, Michael.
  • Jackman, Mary.
  • McDonald, Charlie.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Toole, Joe.
  • Raftery, Tom.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Upton, Pat.
Tellers: Tá, Senators E. Ryan and Fitzgerald; Níl, Senators Upton and Costello.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.