Thursday, 28 November 2019

Ceisteanna (2)

David Cullinane

Ceist:

2. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the role the just transition commissioner will have in matters pertaining to workers; the statutory powers the commissioner will have; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49218/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

The Acting Chairman always gives out to me. My question is on the powers and the role of the just transition commissioner. The Minister might be aware there was a lot of discussion on this at the Joint Committee on Climate Action yesterday. Concerns have been raised both at the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which is the Minister's line Oireachtas committee, and at the Joint Committee on Climate Action by Government Members and Opposition Members on the just transition roll-out and policy and the view from the trade union movement is that it is not working. One of the issues raised was the role and the powers of the just transition commissioner, especially in industrial relations matters. The Minister might outline those for us.

The Government has appointed Mr. Kieran Mulvey as the just transition commissioner on a non-statutory basis to facilitate discussions and work with stakeholders to develop, mobilise and deliver opportunities for the midlands. I published the terms of reference for the work of the just transition commissioner on 19 November. The commissioner will engage with the relevant stakeholders, including local community organisations; Bord na Móna; the ESB; the midlands transition team; local authorities and public representatives; and relevant trade unions and workers' representatives. The commissioner will also review experiences and best practices in other projects and areas, nationally and internationally, and will review relevant existing State plans and programmes. The commissioner will then recommend the essential elements of a just transition. The commissioner will report to Government through the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

I have asked the commissioner to specifically consider the following matters in developing his recommendations: delivery of the just transition measures provided for in budget 2020, in particular the just transition fund; optimal structures or processes to support co-ordinated and effective delivery of a just transition in the midlands, including developing liaison channels between institutions in the region and central Government; implementation of other actions under way, or planned, by Government Departments, agencies and companies, including the four competitive funds under Project Ireland 2040, which could contribute to the transition; and any additional actions or measures he considers appropriate for Government consideration. The commissioner has also been invited to take account of relevant existing plans and programmes, such as Bord na Móna's brown to green strategy, the regional enterprise development plan for the midlands, as well as the provisions made in budget 2020, which include the €20 million retrofitting initiative; the €5 million for peatland rehabilitation - outside of Bord na Móna bogs; and the €6 million for a dedicated just transition fund, where the ESB has contributed an additional €5 million. The commissioner will not have a direct role in industrial relations matters in Bord na Móna, which will continue to work with the joint industrial relations council established under the Workplace Relations Commission and with the Workplace Relations Commission itself as necessary.

The problem is the trade unions, including the head of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, are saying there is a real problem here. Whatever about the role of the just transition commissioner, Bord na Móna is not engaging with the trade unions and the workforce. The problem for all of us in here is we want to see a just transition policy, framework and architecture in place that work but if that allows for Bord na Móna to opt out or if that gives Bord na Móna a veto so it does not have to engage, then we have a problem. The just transition policy may as well be torn up. That is what the trade unions and workers' representatives are saying. Bord na Móna is not engaging with the Workplace Relations Commission.

We are saying that we can have a just transition policy but if Bord na Móna or the ESB refuse to engage with the industrial relations machinery then that is just tough luck for those workers. That means we do not have any just transition policy. This is not related to all the measures the Minister spoke about that were in the budget and that Kieran Mulvey will have responsibility for such as the retrofit programme and the rest of it. It is the issues around those workers transitioning into jobs and the protection of their jobs that is the real concern for them. I hope the Minister understands there is a problem and a difficulty here that needs to be dealt with.

I am conscious there are issues that will have to be resolved here. However, I would point out to the Deputy that the joint industrial relations council was established due to a proposition made by the Workplace Relations Commission. This is an independent body that is chaired by the Workplace Relations Commission itself with an independent chairperson. The provision in these joint industrial relations councils as I understand them is that where issues cannot be resolved, they will move forward to the Workplace Relations Commission, which will play a role in resolving those issues. I have some experience of the Workplace Relations Commission and it has advisory services, conciliation services and mediation services. Those services are available to assist both the trade unions and Bord na Móna in resolving issues that arise. Those measures are tried and tested. I am conscious that Bord na Móna itself is an independent commercial company and it must make its arrangements but I also expect it to follow the tried and tested ways of dealing with genuine disputes that have to be resolved. I see a significant role for the Workplace Relations Commission in this work.

The problem is the Minister is not genuinely listening to what the trade unions are saying. He should read the transcripts from when they were before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Joint Committee on Climate Action. They said the joint industrial relations council is not the way to deal with this. They do not have a difficulty with dealing with the Workplace Relations Commission. The Workplace Relations Commission is open to a just transition element in its work because it is slightly different from what would normally be the cut and thrust of industrial relations issues that would arise. The trade unions do not have a difficulty with either Kieran Mulvey as just transition commissioner having a role in industrial relations or compellability with the Workplace Relations Commission but what is there at the moment is not working. If the Minister's position is that it is entirely up to Bord na Móna to engage, and Bord na Móna is an independent body, and if it does not engage, there is nothing he can do about it and our just transition strategy lies in tatters. What is the point if it can simply opt out? That is what the trade unions are saying. We have a responsibility to put a framework in place that compels companies to engage and to ensure there is proper engagement with the trade unions and workers. That simply is not happening and it is not there.

The position is Kieran Mulvey has come in. He was a former director general of the Workplace Relations Commission but he has not come to take on the role of the Workplace Relations Commission. Kieran Mulvey is a man of considerable experience who has taken on the task I set out in my earlier reply, namely, to liaise with community interests across the region. He will also look at things such as the just transition fund, which specifically makes provision for the retraining of workers, and he will make sure that redeployment and those opportunities to reach new jobs are available to Bord na Móna workers. He is not there to replicate the service of the Workplace Relations Commission. As I understand it, the way the joint industrial relations council works is that it is chaired by an independent person who is from the Workplace Relations Commission itself and issues that cannot be resolved there can be escalated to the Workplace Relations Commission in the normal way. I would expect Bord na Móna to co-operate with that process, just as I would expect trade unions to do.

What if it does not?