Wednesday, 29 June 1966
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. O'Leary: and Mr. Mullen asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether he is aware that 90 dockers employed by British Railways, who have been out of work since 23rd May as a result of the British seamen's strike, have been refused unemployment benefit by his Department; and if he will ensure that payment is made to the men concerned who are undergoing grave hardship.
Mr. O'Leary: asked the Minister for Social Welfare what legal advice is obtained in regard to the interpretation of any clause of the Social Welfare Act, 1962, where interpretation may lead to the withholding of payments in a number of cases.
In the exercise of his statutory functions, a deciding officer disallowed the claims under the provisions of section 17 (2) of the Social Welfare Act, 1952, on the grounds that the claimants had lost employment by reason of a stoppage of work which was due to a trade dispute at their place of employment and that they were consequently disqualified for the receipt of unemployment benefit. The trade dispute in question was the British seamen's strike, which caused the suspension of British Railways shipping services into and out of Dublin. The deciding officer held that this dispute embraced the British Railways berth at Dublin Port, the place where the dockers in question were employed by British Railways.
Appeals were lodged, on a test case basis, against the decision of the deciding officer. Following an oral hearing which extended into a second day and at which there was representation of all parties concerned, including trade union and legal representation of the claimants, an appeals officer upheld the disallowance of the claims.
In accordance with the provisions of section 44 (5) of the Social Welfare Act, 1952, the decision of the appeals officer is in this case final and conclusive. If, as I understand was indicated in the course of the appeal, the men's trade union—the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union—feel that the decision involves an issue on which they are entitled to seek recourse to the courts, I shall, of course, facilitate the union in that respect as far as I can.
As the Deputy is no doubt aware, title to benefits under the Social Welfare Acts is determined by experienced officers of my Department who are appointed under the Acts to be deciding or appeals officers for the purpose. While these officers are, and are  required to be, free and unrestricted in discharging their statutory functions under the Acts, I have no doubt that they suitably inform themselves on legal and other questions relevant to the proper discharge of those functions, whether in particular cases or otherwise.
I should like to take this opportunity to correct a misconception which has been publicised in connection with the decision in this case. According to Press reports, an officer of the IT & GWU has stated that the effect of the decision was that if workers in any employment in this country were laid off because of lack of business or inability to get raw materials from abroad, they would be denied unemployment benefit. The decision has no such effect. Provided that the dispute is not at the premises or place where they are employed, workers who lose employment by reason of lack of business or shortage of materials as a result of a trade dispute will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefit. I wish to make it clear also that the trade dispute disqualification in the case of the British Railways dockers has not affected those of the general body of dockers whose employment opportunities were diminished by the curtailment of shipping generally. Payment of unemployment benefit has been made in such cases subject to the usual qualifying conditions.
Mr. O'Leary: Is it the case that where employees have no disputes with their employers and there is a stoppage in another country, these employees should be deprived of unemployment benefit by Social Welfare in this country?
Mr. Boland: It is held that the shipping service demands the performance of two separate though complementary functions: the operation of the ships and the loading and discharge of the cargoes. Therefore, the work of the dockers, who are employees of the company, is an integral part of the normal working of the service.
Mr. James Tully: The Taoiseach might attack those who are in the House and not attack those who are dead and gone. It is untrue that Deputy Norton was responsible for this. This Government were responsible for it. It is typical of what they do.
Mr. James Tully: Would the Minister be able to say is he satisfied that it is in order for his Department to deprive workers who are employed by an Irish firm in Ireland from receiving unemployment benefit because they have been laid off due to a strike by a British firm in Britain? Will the Minister say if he can quote from our legislation the regulation which enables him to take advantage of this to starve these people into going back to work?
Mr. Clinton: I can give the Minister the names of families in Clondalkin being looked after by the St. Vincent de Paul Society because the bread-winner is locked out. If I give the Minister these names, will he see to it that they get benefit?
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