Tuesday, 13 May 1986
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. B. Ahern: and Mr. Noonan(Limerick West) asked the Minister for the Public Service the steps he proposes to take, as a matter of urgency, to end the present dispute between the Government and the agricultural officers which has already halted sales to intervention of butter and beef and which, if escalated, will have such serious consequences for the agricultural industry and for the economy as a whole.
Minister for the Public Service (Mr. Quinn): During the negotiations earlier this year with the Civil Service unions on an agreement on the 25th round and related matters, all outstanding arbitration findings were discussed in a working party. Certain proposals were put which took account of the special factors which existed in the case of some of the Union  of Professional and Technical Civil Servants findings — for example, that offers had been made prior to arbitration but had been rejected by the union. In the event the UPTCS did not accept the package of proposals then offered.
In the light of the agreement reached last week with teacher unions and now being put to ballot by them, I had hoped to negotiate a settlement with the UPTCS on the same broad lines. The union maintained that their arbitration awards were unique and they were not prepared to negotiate a settlement along the lines suggested.
I regret that the union was not prepared to negotiate a settlement on these lines and that it has taken industrial action the effect of which on the agricultural industry could be out of all proportion to the alleged grievance being suffered by the members of the union. I call upon them again to reconsider their position before major damage is caused to the agricultural industry and to return to the negotiating table with a view to negotiating an agreement on the same lines as was done for teachers.
Mr. B. Ahern: Since there are a number of unions and bodies which have not yet accepted the 25th round, and since the UPTCS have made their position clear from the outset, would the Minister not undertake to return to the negotiating table and try to sort out these differences? Last week the Minister conceded in the teachers' dispute the principle of paying full conciliation and arbitration awards. Surely he is in the same position and can negotiate with these people on the same basis? The Minister said they should return to the same negotiating position as the teachers. He should return to the negotiating table tomorrow and avoid a major problem for the agricultural industry.
Mr. Quinn: I know that Deputy Ahern, the Opposition spokesman for industrial relations, shares my concern that this country minimise as far as possible self-inflicted wounds in unnecessary industrial relations conflicts. I do not  regard the use of the words “concession” or “concede” as helpful to either side in relation to the dispute which was accepted by both sides last week and which has now been put to members for ballot. I repeat what I said on Saturday night to members of the UPTCS. I am ready and willing to negotiate at any time with that union. Already we have made offers to them in relation to the nine specific awards and findings which are available to their members. As the House is aware, this is not a homogeneous group of people working within the Civil Service but different categories who are open to accept findings that have been made by the arbitrator. I urge them, in the context of what they are disputing and the potential damage they can do to the agricultural industry and all the PAYE workers in that industry, to come back to the negotiating table where we can continue to negotiate with a view to finding a settlement to this dispute which is acceptable to both sides.
Mr. B. Ahern: This question is important for agriculture but a number of other groups, for instance foresters, are awaiting the outcome of this issue. Will the Minister in the House say on what basis he is asking the union involved to come back to the negotiating table? It would help if he set out the basis clearly. Is it on the lines of a phased payment of the full amount of money due?
Mr. Quinn: The House will accept that this is not the place to try to enter into negotiations with any group of workers represented by their trade unions. However, I repeat what all Members on the other side of the House will accept, that this side of the House is available and ready to negotiate with a degree of flexibility with the representatives of all the categories of professional workers within the Civil Service who are affected by this dispute. This is not the place to set out in whole or in part the details of such discussions but it is the place to reiterate publicly the fact that we are anxious that  discussions should recommence so that the consequences of this dispute will not fall on innocent third parties.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): I am sad to hear the Minister's reply. Is he aware that this deteriorating situation will result in many meat factory closures and closures of co-operatives and that thousands of jobs will be lost and perhaps not regained? What action does he intend to take to protect these jobs and, more important, the agri-business?
Mr. Quinn: I am aware of the potential impact this dispute, if prolonged, could have on the agri-business. For that reason I am anxious that talks should reopen with the representatives of the professional workers in the Civil Service whose action eventually will affect that industry with a consequent loss of revenue to the economy and of jobs to those directly employed in the industry at whatever level. Therefore, I repeat openly in the forum of this Chamber the invitation to the representatives of that union to come and resume the negotiations which were broken off on Saturday evening, with a view to arriving at a settlement on terms acceptable to both sides. I repeat what was said at that time to the representatives of the trade union involved, that we have room to negotiate and we are anxious to negotiate and find a resolution to this problem.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): After all, the question was mine as well. Will the Minister agree that he and the Minister for Agriculture have a national duty  to use their good offices to resolve this escalating crisis? They have a responsibility to protect the agricultural sector which is now under attack from both at home and abroad. Will he agree further that the Government have acted appallingly in both of these matters?
Mr. Quinn: I can understand Deputy Noonan's concern when speaking on behalf of the Opposition party and I accept that this is a matter of national concern which crosses party political lines. For that reason I expect the Opposition party will join with me in requesting the trade union involved to respond to the invitation that has been extended here again today to enter into negotiations to see if a proper resolution of this matter can be found and, in the interim, to avoid doing the kind of damage Deputy Noonan has described.
Mr. H. Byrne: We on this side do not want to see the continuation of this because every day that passes spells more disaster for the agricultural community. Is the Minister aware that 5,000 tonnes of butter per day are manufactured in this country and that in one instance a substantial milk co-operative is within two days of having its stores full and that all co-operatives are now feeling the pressure? Has he or have the Cabinet contingency plans for storage in the event of this strike continuing? Can he assure us here today that farmers will not have to spill their milk once again into the rivers of Ireland?
Mr. Quinn: If they spill their milk into the rivers of Ireland they will be compounding one problem with another and will be breaking the environmental legislation this House has enacted. I hope we will not reach that. I am aware that we are at the season of maximum milk production. The efforts of the Opposition  would be best applied to joining with me in ensuring that negotiations are reopened with the trade unions. The sentiment has been expressed by the other side that the message which should come out of this House is that there is a solution to this dispute; it can be negotiated, and in the process of trying to find that negotiated settlement, innocent third parties, including the Irish economy, should not be put at risk.
Mr. H. Byrne: For instance, what option have farmers other than to spill milk if it is not accepted by a co-operative? Will the Minister ensure that farmers and co-operatives will be compensated for any losses that may be incurred because of the continuation of the strike?
Mr. Quinn: It is precisely a reply to questions such as that which would have the effect of prolonging this dispute. Therefore, the House will understand me if I decline to give any kind of answer to those questions.
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