Thursday, 15 February 1968
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. James Tully: asked the Minister for Labour if he will state, in relation to the major fuel crisis in the supply of electricity, the last date on which representatives of Bord na Móna were in conference with the representatives of the trade unions representing Bord na Móna employees who have been on strike since 8th February.
Mr. James Tully: asked the Minister for Labour what efforts were made by the management of Bord na Móna to explore the possibility of negotiating a settlement with the trade unions concerned between 24th January and the commencement of the strike of production workers on 8th February.
As Minister for Labour, I feel it my duty to state that I believe that the cause of industrial peace may not always be served by giving detailed information on the course of industrial disputes in progress. However, lest there should be any misunderstanding about the amount of work done in trying to get this dispute settled, I shall give the House a general account of the development of the dispute in so far as the Labour Court and its conciliation service were involved.
The claim which has led to the dispute was served on Bord na Móna on 1st March, 1967, and covered a number of items. In direct negotiations and at conciliation conferences offers were made on some of the items in the claim. These offers were not accepted by the unions. The claim was  then referred to the Labour Court and, on 30th June, 1967, the Court issued its recommendation. The unions rejected the recommendation and voted for strike action. However, this strike notice was not served pending further conciliation conferences.
In October, 1967, a new dispute developed about the working of a 5½-day week in winter. A conciliation conference on this dispute was held on the 26th October, 1967 but an unofficial strike developed. The unofficial strikers had all resumed work by 1st December and on that day the unions served a strike notice on the board to expire on 11th December. This strike notice renewed the claim for a wage increase which had been part of the original claim made on the 1st March.
As the result of two conciliation conferences held early in December, the dispute about the winter working hours was settled and arrangements made for a suspension of the strike notice, while further discussions were held on the outstanding wage claim. Conciliation conferences on the wage claim were held on 11th, 19th and 20th December and on 1st and 2nd January, 1968. At these conferences the negotiators agreed to work towards an agreement providing for a phased wage increase over a two-year period. The proposed agreement was put to a ballot vote of the workers and was rejected and the strike commenced on 8th February, 1968.
Mr. James Tully: Will the Minister not agree that the wage demand first served was not at any time withdrawn, that it was merely deferred and was part of the offer which was balloted on originally by the men? Does he not know that, therefore, it was the same demand which was originally served?
 Is the Minister aware that since 24th January last nobody, neither the Department of Labour nor Bord na Móna, bothered to make any attempt to bring the parties together in an effort to settle the dispute until severe pressure was put on by putting down these questions? This has been allowed to happen, despite the fact that this dispute can cause grave hardship all over the country. Does the Minister agree that £10 a week for somebody working out in the middle of a bog, sometimes in the middle of the night, is an adequate wage?
Dr. Hillery: The Deputy is an officer of one of the unions concerned. What we have here is the operation of free collective bargaining. If he, as a Deputy and as an officer of one of the unions concerned, wants a change in that, if he wants interference by me, he should say so. If he wants free collective bargaining, he will have to put up with that.
Mr. James Tully: The Minister and his Department asked for the services of the Labour Court which, I understand, were set up for the purpose of settling disputes of this kind. When we ask that they do just that job, the Minister now threatens to bring in legislation.
Dr. Hillery: There have been 13 conciliation conferences, the Court and the conciliation services are available and that situation is something I do not think I should interfere with. Neither do I think the questions should be used in the House to bring the Labour Court into disrepute when they are doing their best for both sides. That is something the Deputy should make up his mind on. I am not threatening to bring in legislation. I am asking the Deputy if he wants to use the House in this way, if he wants me to interfere. If so, would he say so outright? Will he say if he wants me to introduce legislation?
Mr. James Tully: Is it not true that when the national grid was in danger before, the Government of which the Minister is a member had no hesitation in bringing in legislation? Is this the only way the Minister can see to deal with the situation which in normal times could be dealt with by the Labour Court doing the job for which they were set up?
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