Wednesday, 10 June 1964
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Clinton: A question of mine on yesterday's Order Paper made certain inquiries in relation to the dispute and strike which is at present going on in the Dublin District Milk Board. I had hoped the Minister's reply would explain why this strike should ever have taken place and that it would also indicate that the Minister had in mind to take certain measures, as a matter of urgency, calculated to lead to an early settlement of the dispute and to an early resumption of the  normal functions and services provided by the Board. The reply by the Minister gave, I would say, a reasonably accurate but nevertheless full report of what has led up to the present position.
To ask the Minister for Agriculture if he will give the history of events leading to the present dispute and strike in the Dublin District Milk Board; and if he will outline the steps to prevent this strike occuring.
Mr. Clinton: It is not so very long. The substance of the reply is the history given by the Minister back to 1961 when opportunities were last granted to the staff of the Dublin District Milk Board to have the machinery of arbitration come into play on their application for an increase in salary. At that time a substantial increase was granted. Two years later, the same staff came along again with a fresh application and, for some reason, the Minister considered this an abnormal happening. It was exactly two years after the 1961 increase that the second application was made. It was made in December, 1963. I wanted to be absolutely accurate and that is why I wanted to give the Minister's reply.
At the time the arbitrator's award was given in 1961, it was a substantial award. That indicates to me, at least, that the arbitrator investigating the case was satisfied that the staff of the Dublin District Milk Board had been very much underpaid up to that date. He made his award, bringing the salaries of the people employed up to the salaries in most of the semi-State bodies. Between that date and December, 1963, a further substantial increase was secured by the semi-State bodies to which I referred and that  made the staff of the Dublin District Milk Board feel, I believe, entitled to make a further application.
While they were quite satisfied with the award they got in 1961, they felt that, if other semi-State bodies got this additional award, they were entitled to look for another increase. Consequently, they lodged the application in December, 1963. They were brought into the Department. They hoped the invitation meant they would have an opportunity of discussing their claim and having it considered. Apparently, when they reached the Department, it was made quite clear by the officers that they were there merely to listen to the case these people had to make but neither to discuss nor consider the claim. This was looked upon as discourtesy more or less in the circumstances. It certainly did not improve relations.
It is important to remember that this claim was lodged prior to the ninth round and certainly a considerable time before the 12 per cent had been decided upon. I think I am right in saying that the staff of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara were in a similar position. Around the same period, and before the ninth round, they had lodged a claim. Now, they got the ninth round, but they still pursued their claim, and eventually they were granted the facilities of arbitration. When arbitration failed to bring about a result, the Labour Court was brought in.
All the staff of the Dublin District Milk Board are asking for is that their case be considered in a reasonable way and that the machinery available be used to decide whether or not their claim is just. As far as I know, they are quite prepared to accept, without question, the result of any such arbitration. In the course of supplementaries, I said the Taoiseach had stated in this House that there was no reason at the present time why a strike should occur in this country, that we have adequate machinery and that that machinery should be fully utilised before any dispute arose. In this case, the machinery has not been used and I assert the worst possible staff relationship exists at the moment. It is altogether wrong and  very irresponsible for a Minister of State to say, as the Minister said yesterday, that he would never allow arbitration in this case.
Mr. Clinton: Perhaps the Minister will repeat what he said when he replies. I looked for the Minister this morning to discuss this matter seriously with him. My only anxiety is to have a settlement, and I want to have an early settlement. I looked for the Minister this morning to see if, even at this stage, I could intervene to the extent of persuading the people concerned, and that includes the inseminators in the Leinster cattle breeding station, to return to work. Would the Minister consider, if that happens, offering to put the machinery of arbitration in motion immediately? That is all that is being asked. I think it is a reasonable request and I am hopeful that the Minister will consider that it is a reasonable way to approach the matter and that it can be settled on that basis.
I need hardly draw attention to the losses which are occurring. At the station, we have about 40 inseminators. These men are all out. At this time of the year, the normal number of inseminations would be 500 to 600 per day. Perhaps a couple of hundred would be repeat inseminations, but there is still a loss of about 400. Let us take the figure of 400 for the purpose of calculating the loss. If we put three gallons per cow per day in the spring of next year, we can see what a very considerable amount of milk will  be lost and the loss of income that will mean to the farmers concerned. It is a loss of income to the State, a considerable loss.
I know expenditure must be placed against that, but there is a loss and, worse still, I am aware that at least three of the inseminators have gone to England already. The book-keeper has taken up another job and I fear if this is allowed to go on indefinitely, we shall have no staff. Many of these people, who are not wealthy people, incidentally, have built their own houses with the aid of loans and grants and they cannot afford to be idle, but they will not pass a picket. That is something we have in this country, whether right or wrong, and the Minister knows it. It is altogether wrong to insist in an unreasonable way that this should happen. These men will have to go out of the country to get employment and they will not be available when we want them. These are losses and considerable losses, that should not be lost sight of,
There is a loss of income, a loss of trained staff and a loss of confidence in the service. This happened once before. I know what happened and I know what is about to happen at this moment. Many farmers are making up their minds to buy bulls. Many of them will not be too particular about the quality of the bulls. That is very unfortunate. When they buy a bull, they will not go back for the service for a considerable time at least. I think an amount of good work was being done under the AI service available and the standard of the bulls was improving all the time. We have evidence that better bulls are coming into the station. Allowing this situation to continue will only create illwill and a sense of grievance on the part of the staff and, generally speaking, it is altogether undesirable and unnecessary. It should never have taken place.
Mr. Clinton: The Minister is quite wrong in believing I am taking sides. I want to see a speedy settlement of the dispute. I believe that is easily possible and that if the Minister so wished the dispute could be settled overnight. If he does not change his attitude, I should certainly blame the whole thing entirely on the Minister.
Mr. Clinton: I am surprised that the Minister should adopt this attitude. He surely understands that I have some concern for the service provided through this station in Lucan and that I am naturally anxious to see that service resumed, without any considerable loss to all concerned. I again appeal to the Minister not to continue on this foolish road of absolute opposition, saying that in no circumstances will he allow the arbitration machinery to be used in this case.
Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Smith): It is not easy to deal with a subject such as this at Question Time, but I thought I made a fair effort, as I believe the records will show, to demonstrate clearly where I stood in the matter. I reminded the Deputy of his Party's attitude towards the ninth round, of all the criticism that was levelled——
Mr. Smith: ——at the Government, in fact, to the extent of buying a political ticket on the strength of the ninth round. Here we have one of the Fine Gael members, Deputy Clinton, who is always posing as a farmer and a farmers' representative and spokesman——
Mr. Smith: Nothwithstanding that pose, he comes into this House to advocate not only the ninth round and its provisions for those for whom it was intended, but red-hot on the receipt of the ninth round, he wants me to concede arbitration. I made it clear here at Question Time yesterday that the claim of the staff of the Dublin Milk Board had been arbitrated on generously——
Mr. Smith: And made retrospective to 1960. I gave figures showing that by comparison with similar grades in my Department, that award was about £117, at the maximum, greater than that given to my own staff. It is true that employees of the Dublin Milk Board made a claim which they were entitled to make, but at that time there was a national agreement reached——
Mr. Smith: Suppose I were to take the line, which I could have taken, although it would appear to be a bit unreasonable for a member of the Government to do so, of saying: This claim was received prior to the national agreement and, therefore, I will not concede to this staff the benefit of the national agreement, but let them go to arbitration. I could have met the case that way, but, having taken the course I took, which was the normal one, seeing that the Government accepted the agreement and implemented it, it would be strange if, in relation to this staff, because their claim was made prior to the agreement, I should say: “The agreement will not operate but you will get arbitration.”
Mr. Smith: I am going to explain my own case and I know it very well. I know on what side I am, the side of fair play and justice. My conception of fair play and justice is that I should not just use this House for the purpose of blowing hot and cold. I know the inconvenience the farmers suffer and I know what this service means. First, I would wish it had never arisen and, naturally, I should like to see it settled in half-a-second. I do not think Deputy Clinton's remarks will contribute in any way towards that end.
Mr. Smith: In the proper way. I know the inconvenience that farmers suffer and the loss that will be sustained, but in a service such as this which is so sensitive to irresponsible action, am I to allow such irresponsible action to force me into conceding something I know is not just? My refusal of arbitration in this instance is not comparable with the ordinary application at a normal time for arbitration on a legitimate claim and it is entirely fruitless for any Deputy to attempt to represent it as such.
I should like the inseminators and the staff of the Milk Board to realise that in the Dublin milk area there are 3,500 licensed bulls, apart altogether from the service that is provided by the insemination stations: that only 40 or 50 per cent of the cows in the country are inseminated.
Mr. Smith: It is, but it would not be a useless exercise if the inseminators would give a thought to these figures that I have just cited and also give a thought to the point that Deputy Clinton himself has made, that the farmers may say to themselves, “Are we going to be held up from year to year by 19 or 20 people who, by their action can—I would not say force— but entice 50 other more important people to, as they say, refuse to pass  the picket?” Then the farmers will take the further step Deputy Clinton has mentioned and, instead of there being 3,500 bulls for service in the Dublin milk area, there may be 6,000. That is something that will have to be faced by farmers and stock owners if this service is going to be held up in this fashion, notwithstanding the treatment being meted out to them, which is the same as the treatment being meted out to staffs of other organisations and other employers.
There are many employees who have been fighting to get the 12 per cent. It was given willingly. What is wrong with them? Do they think they can walk out and hold a gun to the head of the farmers of the country who, from the milk they produce and all the rest of it, are paying their salaries? If they think that, I can tell Deputy Clinton and everybody else that I will be right here four square where I am, on my feet, to resist that by every means at my disposal.
I know how people can be canvassed, even the secretaries and the chairman of farming organisations— the NFA. I got two wires yesterday. How do I know these wires were not canvassed wires? I remember on another occasion there was a creamery strike threatened in the south. It was in the Dairy Disposal Company area. It was in a number of their creameries. Of course, I received wires from members of my own organisation, who had no association with creameries at all, warning me of what would happen to the milk and all the rest of it. These wires, of course, were intended to intimidate me and it was thought I would stuff them into my pocket and say nothing about them. I replied to them. I just told them that while a Minister should listen to what is reasonable there is no use trying on  this pressurisation simply because some inconvenience may be caused.
I know Deputy Clinton since he came into this House. He is a mild and modest man. He is a Deputy who can go a bit with everybody. I have no doubt that I will have questions from him on the Order Paper asking me about all the farmers' problems all over the country and, of course, when there is a trade union dispute of some kind or another, Deputy Clinton will be on the band wagon, too.
Mr. Smith: If Deputy Clinton wanted to do something that would be advantageous to the staff who have foolishly taken this course, the proper thing to tell them, as I tried to tell them yesterday, was to have a bit of common sense and wit, in their own interest, and to go back to their jobs. There are plenty of people who would be glad to have them.
Mr. Smith: We will see. I can give the House the assurance that there will be other claims and other demands in the course of time, but, as far as this claim is concerned, following hotfoot on the concession of the 12 per cent, they are just up against a stone wall.
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