Tuesday, 27 May 1986
Dáil Eireann Debate
Proinsias De Rossa: asked the Minister for Labour if, in view of the serious problems now being caused by the strike of 4,200 Dublin Corporation employees, and particularly the likely effect on health from the non-collection of refuse, he will use the powers available to him under the Industrial Relations Act, 1946, to request the Labour Court to intervene in the public interest and report to him on the issue, and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. B. Ahern: asked the Minister for Labour if he will, as a matter of urgency, request the Chairman of the Labour Court to organise further talks between both sides in the Dublin Corporation manual workers' dispute in an effort to restore essential services to the people of Dublin city.
Minister for Labour (Mr. Quinn): I propose to take together Deputy De Rossa's and Deputy Ahern's questions about this dispute. The origin of the dispute lies in a claim by the unions involved for a £15 per week pay increase under the 25th pay round, a shorter working week without loss of earnings, and an additional two days' annual leave. At that time pay guidelines generally had not emerged and the corporation were reluctant to become a trend setter for public service pay. The unions rejected the corporation's approach and on 30 November 1985 the claims were submitted to the Labour Court.
 Conciliation conferences took place on 17 January and 6 February 1986. At that stage a Government offer on public sector pay had emerged and at the February conciliation conference the corporation made an offer in line with the public sector offer. The unions again rejected this offer and, as no further progress was possible, the claim was referred to the Labour Court. A court hearing took place on 13 February 1986 and the court issued a recommendation on the claim on 21 March 1986.
The court upheld the corporation's offer. Following ballots of their members, unions rejected the Labour Court recommendation and served formal notice of strike action to commence yesterday. While the dispute is primarily one between the corporation and the unions representing general operatives, one union has extended its picketing to Dublin County Council.
In view of the fact that the Labour Court have already issued a recommendation in this case, which the unions concerned have rejected, I see no point in asking the court to get involved at this stage. However, I am conscious of the seriousness of this dispute and I assure Deputies that I am keeping in close contact with the situation.
Proinsias De Rossa: I am sure the Minister is aware that the reason the unions are looking for a rise of £15 per week rather than a percentage rise, which is being promoted as the norm in the public service, is that the majority of these people are low paid manual employees and a percentage increase would be worth practically nothing to them. In view of the inconvenience and health hazard which will arise very shortly — the corporation handle between 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of rubbish per week — would the Minister not consider it necessary for him to step in to bring the sides together to find an amicable arrangement? It is clear in all these disputes that an arrangement has to be found at the end of the day.
Mr. Quinn: The Deputy's question and  his supplementary, and the question put down by Deputy Ahern, referred to my position as Minister for Labour and the role of the Labour Court. I have had time to look at this matter in some detail and, as I said in my reply, the Labour Court have been involved and they have made a recommendation. In view of what has happened to date and the stage at which this dispute is, the request for me to ask the Labour Court to intervene at this stage is not constructive.
Mr. B. Ahern: It is two months since the Labour Court made a recommendation. As Deputy De Rossa said, and as the Minister knows, the majority of people on strike can ill afford it because they have a take home pay of only about £100. A flat increase of 7 per cent less levies and PRSI would mean about £4.50 to them, compared with the 7 per cent which was offered to public servants who are on far higher salaries. The Minister has considerable powers under the Labour Court Act and in less important disputes he has intervened very quickly. In the interests of these people who cannot afford to go on strike, and who do not wish to strike but feel they are justified in making this claim, I ask the Minister to intervene at an early date.
Mr. Quinn: I appreciate the seriousness with which Deputy Ahern and Deputy De Rossa have brought their responsibility to bear on this matter. There are professional negotiators on the union side, in the Department of Labour and in the Labour Court, and I do not believe it is helpful if we give the impression that we are available to intervene in any dispute, from whatever side of the House. The Labour Court provide a process of conciliation and make recommendations. That process has been invoked and a recommendation has emerged. I regret that strike action was voted upon by all the people involved, particularly having regard to the fact that they are low paid employees. Let me as Minister for Labour reiterate that my responsibility is to ensure that the machinery of industrial relations is functioning, is  available and has been discharged. That machinery is still available. The Labour Court are still there and the institutions and the parties to the dispute can still return to the negotiating table to talk. That is the way this matter might be resolved now.
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