Estimates 1990. - Vote 33: Labour (Revised Estimate).

Wednesday, 11 July 1990

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 401 No. 5

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Minister for Labour (Mr. B. Ahern): Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I move:

That a sum not exceeding £128,767,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1990, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Labour, including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain grants and grants-in-aid.

In the short time at my disposal, I cannot hope to do more than highlight some aspects of my Department's work which are particularly important.

To begin with I should highlight my main priorities at present.

[1471] In the first place, we have had a successful Presidency of the European Community. Long-term unemployment has been put back on the Council's agenda and a programme for the implementation of the Social Charter has been drawn up.

As regards the Community Support Framework, over £1 billion has been pledged by the Commission for the period to 1993 in respect of training activities. This massive investment will further enhance our potential for economic development and growth.

While there has been much activity in relation to European Community affairs, this has not hindered progress at home. Strike activity has fallen dramatically and the Industrial Relations Bill has passed all Stages in this House. The Bill has been one of my main priorities since assuming office. Its enactment will make a major contribution to improving industrial relations practices and procedures.

As regards employment and unemployment the Live Register figures have fallen substantially. Employment has begun to increase in the past few years, in contrast to the position in the early eighties. With regard to training activities, major advances can be reported in respect of certification, apprenticeship and improved programmes for the disadvantaged.

Other areas in which considerable progress can be reported include safety measures and the establishment of the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health and positive action for women. I am also preparing, as a major priority, a Bill to provide for the extension of all labour legislation to part-time workers. I intend to have a Bill drafted shortly.

To complete this summary of main events, let me emphasise the overall progress which has been made in the past few years in economic and social development. A few years ago the very nature of our political institutions was being questioned as our inability to find solutions to our economic problems led to an air of hopelessness. We have, however, effectively put the economy of this country [1472] back on its feet. As we come to the end of the current Programme for National Recovery we stand at a crossroads. The places on one sign are well known to us: high inflation, losses in real wages, job losses and debt traps. The other sign points to a new programme for economic and social progress so that, once and for all, we can solve the problems which still remain with us and conquer the scourges of unemployment and emigration. The choice is in our hands. We have no option but to choose the road of consensus and co-operation.

I would now like to turn to the issues I have mentioned in further detail.

First, the main focus of activity during the first six months of this year has been the Irish Presidency of the European Community. The huge amount of work involved has, I believe, been fully justified by a successful Presidency, which has drawn the attention of the other member states to Ireland and heightened awareness here of the European Community.

My two priorities from the beginning were action to help the long-term unemployed and measures to implement the Social Charter. I was very pleased that both my Presidency Resolution on Action to help the long-term unemployed and the Presidency timetable for the action programme were accepted by the Social Affairs Council.

Overall, the Presidency programme we pursued was ambitious and broad in scope. An additional major factor was introduced by the rapid developments in Eastern Europe. These inevitably had an impact on the business of the Presidency, and they will continue to play an important part in Community matters for the foreseeable future.

I am pleased to say, however, that the Irish Presidency, with the full co-operation of other member states, dealt successfully with all the social affairs issues raised during its period of office.

Turning now to economic development at home, we are receiving a massive injection of investment from the European Community through the Community Support Framework negotiated by the [1473] Government with the Commission last year. Already since 1973 we have been approved for assistance from the European Social Fund alone of over £1,437 million. For the period to 1993, the Commission has pledged a sum of £1 billion under the reformed European Social Fund.

The Government intend to continue to make optimum use of the Fund for vocational training, for improved technological education and for schemes to train and rehabilitate the long-term unemployed. This will further enhance our potential for economic development and growth.

Industrial relations have a major part to play in supporting a climate conductive to investment. Over the last few years there has been a marked improvement in the industrial relations environment. Last year indeed was an exceptional year; the number of days lost through strikes was only 41,400, the lowest since 1944.

Over-ambitious expectations could jeopardise this. While the economic forecasts are optimistic, we are a small economy, exceptionally vulnerable to international economic developments in an increasingly competitive world. We simply cannot afford the luxury of domestically generated policy mistakes.

I have been anxious to ensure that the legislative framework on trade unions and collective bargaining makes a positive contribution to good industrial relations. In line with my commitment under the Programme for National Recovery, after extensive discussions with employers and unions, I introduced the Industrial Relations Bill to this House last December. The Bill has now passed the House and I am confident that its proposed measures will make an important contribution to better industrial relations in this country.

The Programme for National Recovery has led to major progress on a wide range of issues and the targets which it contained have been achieved and indeed in some areas far surpassed. The success of the programme demonstrates the advantages of co-operation between the Government and the social partners, [1474] working together towards the attainment of common goals. However, if we are to build on the achievements already made, it is essential to put a successor in place. I know it will not be easy to negotiate but, given commitment and goodwill on all sides, I know that we can achieve a programme for economic and social progress.

1989 was the year in which the economic recovery began to yield a significant increase in real employment. All the economic commentators are now agreed that total employment increased by between 10,000-12,000 net in 1989, or just over 1 per cent. The prospects for 1990 are even more encouraging. The ESRI is forecasting that total employment this year will be 16,000 higher than in 1989, while the Central Bank is only slightly more cautious.

A heartening feature of the employment performance during 1989 was that fewer jobs were lost than at any time since 1979. According to official statistics gathered by my Department, notified redundancies were down to 13,395 as against 23,037 in 1988. This was the lowest annual total since 1979.

This welcome development has continued during the first four months of 1990, with the number of notified redundancies almost 25 per cent lower than in the corresponding period in 1989. If this trend lasts for the full year, it will ensure that the net employment effect of new jobs created will be even stronger than in 1989.

By far the largest part of my Department's Vote over £114 million, will be spent this year on training and employment services. This will given training and job creation places to 54,000 people in 1990. This expenditure contributes significantly to the achievement of greater employment levels and to helping the unemployed.

FÁS is developing certification for all its courses in conjunction with the City and Guilds of London. This should enhance the attractiveness of FÁS courses for the unemployed and improve their job prospects.

[1475] The question of “standards reached” is also to the forefront in the apprenticeship review currently being undertaken by FÁS. I am looking forward to receipt of the FÁS proposals for a revised apprenticeship' system later this year.

In the case of the hotel and catering industry, demand for trained people now exceeds supply. CERT has a very important role to play in meeting the targets set for tourism in the run up to 1993. CERT are expanding their training to over 9,000 in 1990. More than 1,000 of these will be recruited from among the unemployed.

A number of FÁS programmes are targeted particularly at the disadvantaged. These include Youthreach, the integrated programme of education, training and work experience for early school leavers. In 1989 over 3,000 young people who had left school with no qualifications started on Youthreach. While it is too early to assess the programme fully, I am confident that it is addressing the real needs of early school leavers.

For the long-unemployed, I would like to mention in particular the social employment scheme, which is being expanded this year by 50 per cent to 15,000 places.

Teamwork has been continued in 1990, despite the fact that assistance from the European Social Fund is no longer available. The employment incentive scheme has also been targeted more closely towards this group and other disadvantaged persons.

The general measures to help the long-term unemployed, such as the social employment scheme and the employment incentive scheme, also provide assistance for employment blackspots.

Additional measures are directed specifically at urban areas. The end result will be that local facilities will be improved to the benefit of all residents.

As Minister for Labour, I am committed to the improvement of the status of women in employment. While the legislation relating to equal pay and equal treatment can only provide a framework, [1476] I hope to introduce proposals for improving this legislation by the end of this year.

An effective programme of positive action in education, training and in the workplace is also essential. In the training area, I recently launched a new two-year positive action programme in favour of women for FÁS. In the workplace, positive action is also required. Some companies are already operating such programmes and in order to give them some public recognition I launched a new company award scheme in May called “Equality Focus”.

Turning now to occupational safety and health, the progression from the limited scope of earlier health and safety legislation to the point where all workers are comprehensively covered will be difficult and can only be achieved on a phased basis over a number of years.

I am satisfied that the three-year programme of the National Authority for Occupational Safety and Health, and in particular its planned activities for 1990, will make a significant contribution towards the creation by employers, in co-operation with their workers, of a safe and healthy environment in all our workplaces.

For labour legislation in general, it is my intention to bring the amending legislation on unfair dismissals and payment of wages before the Oireachtas by the end of the year.

The House will also be aware that I have carried out a review of the issues of part-time working. I expect to put my final proposals for legislative change before the Government in the near future. I hope to bring forward a Bill later in the year which will significantly improve the level of protection afforded under labour law to regular part-time employees.

My Department also enforces the 14 Employment Regulation Orders made under the Industrial Relations Acts. These orders give important protection on minimum pay and conditions in traditionally low-paid or unorganised areas of employment. I have made provision in the Industrial Relations Bill for this system to be improved and strengthened.

[1477] In conclusion I would like to highlight the overall improvement in economic life as illustrated by patterns of emigration. As a result of the upturn in the economy, all the indicators are now showing a rapid decrease in outward migration. The annual rate of net emigration this year is forecast to be about 25,000 compared with about 45,000 for 1989.

The Government are committed to accelerating the pace of job creation to the point where no-one should feel obliged to emigrate out of economic necessity. I will continue to direct my Department's activities towards measures supporting and assisting this resurgence in employment in every way open to me.

I commend this Vote to the House.

Let me conclude by saying that we hope to have various papers in relation to a second programme for national and social progress during the summer months. Much of this work has already been done. We will be looking at the economy and at the share we hope people will obtain from the relative wealth that we have succeeded in maintaining under the Programme for National Recovery. I am adamant that in this and in any programme, at least a share of the benefits must be passed on to workers and their families. The rewards of the stability we have had in the economy as a result of the Programme for National Recovery will be passed on in whatever way possible.

I look forward to a wide discussion of the trade union movement and employment to find out the areas where we can deliver back some of these rewards. Some I have mentioned. There are many more that I would like to speak about. I would like to go more into the subject of worker participation during the year. I also want to thank the House, since it is Estimate time, for their help and co-operation in regard to the safety Bill before Christmas and the Industrial Relations Bill since.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  I thank the spokespersons for the other parties who did not remind me that the Minister [1478] had taken two minutes of somebody else's time, but the House seems to be happy about it. I now call on Deputy Monica Barnes, who has ten minutes.

Mrs. Barnes: Information on Monica Barnes  Zoom on Monica Barnes  I share the Minister's sense of urgency with which he introduced his comment on the Estimate because it is a vast subject. I would like to think this House will devote much of the next session to completing some of the long-awaited legislation that is so necessary. There is still outstanding legislation on part-time workers. We still have to come to grips with low pay which must be one of our biggest concerns. There is still a very high number of workers in our country being exploited at very low wages and with very little protection of their working conditions, creating a marginalised section of people who can be used as a cheap labour force, maybe, on the integration of the European market. I will be saying a little about that later.

It would be cyncial and dishonest of us to claim that we have achieved a sound economy when the levels of unemployment and emigration remain at such an unacceptable level and that the outdated and redundant structures that did not include all those who wanted to work, and never put an end to the haemorrhage of emigration, will be replaced by creative and effective training and job creation programmes to cater for the needs of our young people and those who wish to return to the workforce, including two hidden groups, the long-term unemployed and those working in the home.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  In the brief few moments available to me, I wish to discuss the Estimate for the Department of Labour which amounts to £128,750,000 compared with last year's Estimate of £117,000,000.

First, I wish to put on record my thanks to the Minister for the many hours of assistance he has given me in my constituency in dealing with very difficult situations and in settling many disputes, and particularly for his help in saving [1479] jobs in Barlo's of Clonmel. My colleague, Alderman Seán Lyons, the Mayor of Clonmel would also like to join in that vote of thanks and also to say that we appreciated the Minister's intervention and assistance in settling the dispute. Likewise, my colleague Deputy Brian O'Shea appreciates the efforts the Minister has made in the tragic strike at Waterford Glass, which will lead to redundancies, but we welcome the settlement that has been reached.

We wish the Minister luck in the negotiations at the Irish Press Group and we feel the situation requires the Minister's personal attention.

Having concluded with the niceties — I know the Minister deserves our appreciation — I have to look at the overall performance of the Department of Labour in the area of job creation and unemployment. In the document, Economic Background to The Budget 1990, the main features of the economic prospects for the year were outlined as follows:

—Growth in domestic output of about 4½ per cent,

—An increase in private consumption approaching 4 per cent,

—Continuing strong expansion in investment,

—Continued progress in industrial output and exports,

Growth in non-agricultural employment of about 16,000,

—A reduction of about 10,000 in the number on the Live Register.

We must ask how that economic outlook relates to present conditions? I am stating what Deputy Spring, the Leader of the Labour Party would have said if he had the opportunity to say it during the Private Members' time, but other debacles precluded the debate.

Our current level of unemployment is socially unacceptable. A recent European Commission study referred, in particular, to the acute problem of joblessness in Ireland, stating that the problem of long-term unemployment [1480] seems to have become entrenched in the eighties. The recent alarming increase in the number out of work illustrates blatantly the Government's inability — indeed failure — to deal with this major problem. The Government's economic policy must be viewed as inexcusably weak and ad hoc in its approach to our entrenched unemployment crisis.

This problem is interlinked with the continued economic extradition of our people. There are signs that the total number who will emigrate this year will be much lower than last year's record levels. While that may be true it is still unacceptable that so many people have to emigrate. The latest ERSI mediumterm review, for instance, forecast emigration this year of 36,000 people, and this figure is not contradicted by the last quarterly bulletin from the same body despite the forecast of economic growth in the Minister's speech.

Emigration at this level represents a major failure of this Government's economic policy. We wonder whether the Government are prepared to continue playing the role of the nation's bookkeeper at the expense of the human dimension of the Minister for Labour's portfolio. Is the Minister prepared to face up to the fact that the Government's economic policies, despite the figures, have failed to address and conquer the problem of high unemployment? The time has come for the Minister to actively pursue radical policies which will bring home to the people of Ireland the economic pluses in real terms that he repeatedly quotes. This raises the question of the numbers unemployed or in low paid employment. Why did the Minister, within the context of the EC Social Charter, reject a proposal for a statutory minimum wage? This affects not just a handful of workers but over 75,000 people, mostly young men and women workers. In rejecting this proposal, the Minister has sold short the vulnerable and weakest sections of the labour force, favouring those employers who wish to continue to use these workers as a pool of cheap labour.

In objecting to the introduction of a [1481] statutory minimum wage, which is the only means of removing slave labour in any society, the Government also rejected proposals to deal with the abuse of working hours and the conditions of employment of temporary and part-time workers. There are thousands of service sector workers who are not protected by minimum rates. The EC Social Charter in its undiluted form would have provided an opportunity to tackle the endemic problem of low pay in member states. With such Victorian attitudes still prevalent in our society how can the Government claim in this House that all is going well with their economic policies?

Condemnation of the Government's policies is not confined to the political arena because other bodies, such as the Combat Poverty Agency have highlighted the effects of Government policy. The Combat Poverty Agency highlighted their findings in the presence of the Minister for Social Welfare a few days ago and I will quote from their account of child and family poverty on page 11 of their 1989 Third Annual Report:

Closely related to the issue of unemployment is the growth during the 1980s of child and family poverty. With over 300,000 adult and child dependants of people registered as unemployed, this is scarcely surprising. Households with children have a particularly high risk of poverty — between two and three times as great as for those with no children. Furthermore, the risk of poverty increases as the number of children in a household increases. The combination of research reports and first hand evidence from voluntary and community organisations, local women's groups and family centres emphasise how serious the situation is.

Poverty is intrinsically linked to high levels of unemployment. The report also deals with low pay and poverty and it states:

During the past year the relationship between low pay and poverty has come [1482] increasingly to the fore. The conference on the issue organised by the Agency and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in December 1989 drew further attention to the fact that work is not always an escape from poverty.

Low paid work is linked directly to poverty. Even though social employment schemes are excellent, there have been hiccups expecially with team work schemes as they apply to the mentally handicapped and the case of the mentally handicapped. There also have been some problems with the appointment of caretakers under the scheme — and I had hoped to raise the question of an anomaly that has arisen over the employment of caretakers resulting from a dispute about making ordinary caretakers redundant. Normal schools like Powerstown national school, Clonmel, which cannot fund the cost of a caretaker are now placed in a dilemma.

In the remaining minute let me say that the Government are putting their stock on a new programme for national recovery. There are groups outside this House who will have a major input into the preparation of that programme. Given the insulting manner in which the Government have treated the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in recent weeks in relation to the Broadcasting Bill, in particular, with its implications for major job losses, one wonders if Congress can expect to be treated favourably by the Government when they enter negotiations. This is a huge challenge and in this regard we must have creative, original and, above all, adaptable and flexible structures. Many of us are concerned that, particularly in an economy such as ours, small enterprises and businesses may not create a great number of jobs. Collectively these businesses could provide a sound economic base for job creation. People have the motivation and commitment to set up such small enterprises and busineses. Women in particular have a great sense of motivation and entrepreneurial spirit in this regard.

One thing that concerns me — and I am sure it is of concern to all the other [1483] Members of the House — is that our large funding structures do not seem to have changed fast enough to accommodate these businesses. Small businesses in this country have an unacceptably high failure rate, not through lack of expertise or indeed energy or motivation on behalf of those who set them up but because of the obstacles that are placed in their way such as VAT, high overheads and so on. The lack of small business units is a cause of great concern. Financial support during the first months or years of these businesses is very important and we must take another look at the funding of these enterprises.

The amount of money involved in this Estimate is considerable and we have to consider how best to use it. If real jobs are to be created, the IDA must concentrate on the service and technology industries. A recent survey has shown that by the year 2000 the manufacturing industry will account for only 8 per cent of employment. Ireland is well placed to set up businesses with our young trained and skilled people — many of whom have to emigrate. Our workforce are well trained and have the intelligence to compete in the service and the technology industries but the whole funding arrangements must be radically changed to ensure money is directed to those areas rather than focusing on very large multinational industries at huge costs. I believe we have the potential and the resources to create jobs at reduced costs but support and information should be provided and, when the businesses are set up, they should be monitored. I would ask the Minister and the Government to consider setting up a task force with expertise to monitor, supervise and fund this type of activity. If we are to create jobs, this kind of support is necessary.

We are talking here about employment and jobs, an area which overlaps with the work of other Government Departments. There are opportunities for job creation in agri-business. The very definition of agri-business does not appeal to many enterpreneurs and people in rural communities. They cannot see [1484] themselves as part of this large and rather threatening business. Perhaps we could set up agencies that would attract people to this area and create jobs in business to replace these that are being lost in agriculture and the more traditional industries, which were the backbone of many towns. Those industries have to be replaced quickly and that can be done by improving our skills and maintaining high standards and excellent services.

The Minister mentioned FÁS and the central role they must play in the next ten years or so. Perhaps FÁS might branch into non-industrial areas such as equestrian training. They should leave themselves open to the kind of training that tourism and agri-business demand rather than get caught up in traditional apprenticeship training. I am not in any way taking from their work. They have to adapt quickly to the changing times.

I am disappointed we are finishing this session without an opportunity of considering equality legislation. When this legislation is being prepared, provision should be made for affirmative action. We should give full attention, not just here but in Europe, to drawing up directives on child care, family leave and part-time workers. At all the Council of Ministers meetings, Ireland should be to the forefront in ensuring that we push for these directives and no country should be allowed delay them.

Not alone should changes be made as regards training but our whole second level education system should be improved. We should ensure that our young people have a greater sense of enterprise and they should be given encouragement and information. On the question of funding, particularly having regard to the Structural Fund and the European Social Fund, we should be guided by the needs and priorities of the unemployed. Direct funding should be provided for these people rather than letting agencies decide their priorities. These people should be included rather than excluded, and if that means changing eligibility clauses and standards, let us do that. At present, many of our mainstream programmes exclude people who [1485] are in greater need of training than some of those who take part in them. I would ask that, when the social partners meet, the poverty stricken and the long-term unemployed should be considered.

I appeal to those involved in the negotiations for a new programme to ensure that proper respect and concern is shown to the one million people living below the poverty line, the many low paid workers caught in the poverty trap, the 30,000 persons on local authority housing lists, the thousands waiting for medical treatment, to whom Deputy Howlin referred in his contribution on the previous Estimate, and the many thousands in our society who are alienated and marginalised by the monstrous policies of this Coalition Government.

The Government may be interested in pleasing their financial masters in the short-term but they are neglecting their responsibilities to those at risk, for example, the unemployed and their families. This problem cannot be addressed by increasing the number of people on the social employment scheme. In spite of the Minister's hopeful economic outlook and the statements made by the Minister for Finance in last night's debate there has been a continuing rise in the number of people who are unemployed.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  The matter referred to in the Minister's introductory comment concerning his successful piloting through of the Industrial Relations Bill is his major achievement. I should like to join in the congratulations which have been offered to him on that achievement. As a trade unionist I opposed some sections of the Bill and continued to do so right up to the very end of the debate because I believe they will shift the balance of power in favour of employers. Nonetheless, I recognise the achievement that after all the years of talk the Bill has passed all stages in this House and is now before the Seanad.

I also want to be associated with the congratulatory remarks to the Minister concerning his intervention in the very difficult and important dispute at Waterford Crystal. I welcome the inclusion in [1486] the Minister's introductury remarks of his commitment to introduce a Bill for the protection of part-time workers, hopefully before the end of the year. The Workers' Party introduced such a Bill in Private Members' time, which unfortunately the Government voted down, but which secured that commitment from the Minister, which I am glad he has repeated.

The Department of Labour is one of the major economic Departments and perhaps the Minister was the midwife of the Programme for National Recovery which is a cornerstone of the Government's economic policy. I will refer to that point later. I cannot associate myself with the Minister's self-congratulations on his period as President of the Social Ministers and specifically the achievements in respect of the Social Charter which I believe has been diluted to the point that it is virtually meaningless. I greatly regret this.

The Programme for National Recovery is unquestionably the major matter on the agenda of the Department of Labour. I believe it would be folly for the Government to expect the voluntary sacrifices made by workers and their families over the past three years to be repeated. The Programme for National Recovery was negotiated against a background of economic crisis. It is true that a great deal of progress has been made on the backs of the workers who have made the sacrifices but who have not shared in the benefits.

The very concept of a programme for national recovery is dead and what is now required is a development programme which will set clear and specific priorities which are capable of being rigorously monitored, will provide the necessary mechanisms for the translation of some of that prosperity into the creation of actual jobs and will allow direct negotiation at plant level so that workers can share in the benefits of technological advances and the fantastic increase in productivity we have seen. I believe many successful employers used the Programme for National Recovery as a shield from doing business directly with their workers in terms of allowing them to [1487] participate in the benefits accruing from the constraints in the programme. The frustration of workers in that situation has been exacerbated by a fact acknowledged by the Minister himself, that is that the pay restraint has not led, in the case of many of our leading companies, to the creation of jobs. The Minister has stated this quite clearly. I believe the analysis is correct and it is the big defect in the Programme for National Recovery.

The trade union leadership currently acknowledge that there is a growing feeling on the shop floor that the people who contributed most to tackling the economic crisis benefited least and those who made the least sacrifices benefited most. It has been a period of extraordinary success for the barons of industry but it has been a period of hardship and uncertainty for a third of our population, including the 228,700 people in the workforce whose families are living on a pay threshold of £130 or less per week. While Ireland remains a low pay economy it will never generate the wealth and dynamism necessary if the Minister's aspiration to put all our people back to work is to be realised.

Is beag de bhiseach atá le feiceáil. Má bhíonn clár náisiúnta eile ann, caithfear na buntáistí a roinnt níos leithne ná mar a deineadh go dtí seo. Cá bhfuil na jabanna? Cá bhfuil cuid na ngnáthdhaoine? Níl sé le feiceáil. Chonaic daoine i gCluain Dolcáin, i dTamhlacht agus gach áit eile na ranganna móra sna scoileanna, na scuainí ag na hospidéil agus mar sin de.

I do not believe that this recovery that Governments continue to trot out is evident in this two-thirds-one-third society we have created. It may have been a very good period for those in the two-thirds group but there is very little evidence of national recovery for those who are living in poverty, those who are trying to make ends meet and stay out of the grasp of moneylenders, those who had to take the boat during 1989, the period of highest emigration since the low point of 1955, and those people coming on to the job market. Notwithstanding the job creation performance the Minister spoke [1488] about, they still fall a long way short of creating sufficient jobs to cater for the additional input into the labour force.

It was remarkable to hear the Minister for Finance once again last night as the Government tend to do, take refuge in the nebulous statistics and make-believe world of economic miracle that the Government would have us believe exists. That is not the reality in the economy outside. Perhaps all the indicators are coming right, but unemployment is not coming right. We still have a crisis in unemployment — there were 6.500 more people on the live register last Friday, the biggest increase for a number of years. That is the real economy. With high emigration, unemployment, poverty and low pay and with 28 per cent of the workforce having to live on less than £130 per week, I do not think the economic crisis has been turned around. We have had tax improvements but we do not have tax reform.

It is very difficult to expect the Minister for Labour to deliver a new social and economic programme against the background of the failure of our industrial policy to put our people back to work. You cannot generate prosperity in this economy while there is such a large dependent sector and so many unemployed and old people. It has been a failure of our industrial strategy to generate those jobs. The Workers' Party attempted recently to address that question by publishing a new strategy for industrial development. I regret that the House will rise for the summer recess without our having had the opportunity to look at the publication on the triennial assessment of industrial performance which the Minister for Industry and Commerce promised to bring before the House a couple of months ago. It is very difficult to expect the Minister for Labour to deliver a new consensus against the background of the costly failure of existing industrial strategy. It should be the priority of this House to address that matter at the beginning of the next session because, unless we get our industrial policy right, we will not tackle some of [1489] the problems which are endemic in society.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for his successful intervention in the Waterford dispute and I join Deputy Ferris in seeking his personal intervention in the case of the Irish Press. I was very disappointed yesterday that the Minister for Education, acting in loco for the Minister for Labour, made a statement to the House which effectively could have been drafted by the management of the Irish Press. Such a partisan assessment of that dispute is not helpful and nothing but the personal intervention of the Minister can avert disaster. The conditions being imposed by the new owners of the Irish Press must make us all gloomy in regard to the continued success of those three reputable newspapers and for the 700 jobs involved. I ask the Minister to personally involve himself in ensuring that the deadline draws no closer before a formula is worked out which will save that enterprise.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Labour Estimate. I agree with Deputy Rabbitte's words of commendation and praise to Minister Ahern for the invariable fair-mindedness and common sense which he brings to bear on industrial relations disputes. He has been singularly successful in intervening at crucial times in key industrial issues. I should like to pay a substantial tribute to him for his successful intervention and for keeping his finger on the pulse throughout the Waterford Glass saga. It would have been an enormous tragedy if Waterford Glass had gone to the wall or if the work had been transferred elsewhere and was lost to the economy.

I also wish the Minister well in relation to his ongoing talks and interventions in the Irish Press dispute. I have never claimed to be a great admirer — or an avid reader — of the Irish Press although from time to time it has deviated from its so called aim, the truth in the news. The late James Dillon said that one would read more truth on the back of Pravda[1490] than in the Irish Press. Perhaps that was an exaggeration. The newspaper has given a lot to Irish life and it has been part and parcel of what we are. Indeed, in latter years, it managed to steer a middle course and to get away from its original political origins. I hope that the dispute is resolved and that the newspaper will be preserved, continue to thrive and to be part and parcel of the Irish journalistic world.

I make a special plea to the Minister to intervene in the area of apprenticeships. I remember a time when vast numbers of people were trained by the semi-State organisations; I remember the days when CIE, for example, took on several hundred young people for coach building and mechanical engineering and taught them the various skills which were part of CIE before they were broken up into Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail.

We have come a long way from the days when the ESB took on a huge number of people from vocational and secondary schools to train them in the whole area of electrical engineering. The Air Corps used to take in dozens of young people every year to teach them aircraft maintenance. A system also operated on the bogs where Bord na Móna trained young people in all aspects of technology relating to their activities. Telecom Éireann — when they were the Department of Posts and Telegraphs — trained a huge number of people as technicians. Last, but not least, Aer Lingus trained many people in aircraft technology, workshop theory and practice. Unfortunately, AnCO — and latterly FÁS — have made it virtually impossible for young people to get direct training. You cannot get into a FÁS workshop, except in very limited circumstances, unless you are sponsored by an employer. Unemployment levels have made it impossible for employers to sponsor young people because the whole scheme is so bogged down by bureaucracy, red tape and difficulties in regard to retrospective and delayed payments, that there is no inducement. The result is that we are not training people in anything like the numbers heretofore or in anything like the numbers in which people deserve to [1491] be trained if they want to go abroad and ply their wares else where. In the past we prided ourselves on having a high level of apprenticeship training. These people could go abroad with the same kind of confidence as someone who had a degree from one of the national universities and confidently expect to get jobs elsewhere. Apprenticeship training is virtually at a standstill and I appeal to the Minister to intervene with the semi-State organisations and make it mandatory for them to take on a stated number of people to train in basic skills. They have the resources and the manpower; most of them make substantial profits and there is no reason for them not to discharge their obligation to the national labour pool by training young people.

One of the basic problems is that we never seem to gel what we have with what we need. There are 215,000 people out of work although there is a huge amount of work to be done. However, we have not managed to marry the twain. One of the major problems facing the Minister Deputy Ahern in relation to reducing the ever present dole queue on the first Friday of every month when the unemployment figures are announced is how to put together some kind of formula, scheme or work practice to relieve unemployment. If the Minister can do that — I am not saying it requires the skill of Houdini to do it — he will be well on the way to becoming leader of the party and the Government one day.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on James C. Tunney  Zoom on James C. Tunney  It is hard to draw the analogy with apprenticeship until the Deputy has served his time.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  The Minister is an excellent apprentice leader and if he can carry out the formula I prescribed I have no doubt he will continue to sit, with eminence, in that Chair one day.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I will refer to some of the points raised. Deputy Barnes referred to enterprise and job creation. We are endeavouring to move into the enterprise area and to trying [1492] to assist, through employment incentive schemes, as many people as possible. We have given incentives and allowances to employers which should help in this area. Small and medium size firms tend to create jobs in the enterprise area. At the end of last September we made a number of changes to our incentive and allowance schemes to try to assist in that.

I had the pleasure yesterday of attending a FÁS incentive scheme in Drogheda which also involved the handicapped, so we had enterprise for workers entailing keeping up to the quota of handicapped people. The scheme started only in 1987. It operates on grants with some assistance from the chamber of commerce and now has 60 jobs in Drogheda to its credit. Deputy Barnes is right, that is the way to go. You will get failures and wastage but that is inevitable. You can get those in multinational companies, too.

We have about 54,000 people between training and job places involved in FÁS schemes. In good times a higher proportion of them in Youthreach schemes or with employable skills or whatever have the opportunity to get jobs and in bad times they do not. There has been a good run in that recently. As Deputy Ferris and Deputy Barnes said, it is important that training be flexible. We have made every change possible in FÁS schemes to allow for that, almost to the stage that sometimes we are accused of having schemes which will lead nowwhere. Not long ago I approved a small scheme, I believe in Deputy Barnes's constituency or not too far from it, to give encouragement to people who can cut out a career.

Regarding the ESF, there was a great deal of talk in this House prior to the negotiation of the Structural Funds sugesting that the Social Funds would lose out badly. Speakers in this House said we could not avert this but we have got £1 billion for human resources and it is important that we spend that properly. I cannot put my hand on my heart and say every penny of it is spent properly but there is a permanent battle to ensure it is used. One of the fundamental changes made by our European colleagues is that [1493] any money we spend now has to be used with employment as an end product. The social end, contrary to the name, is not as social as it used to be. You have to verify the value for money and the fact that it leads to employment.

On industrial development Deputy Rabbitte and I have probably not too many disagreements. I might not agree altogether with his policy documents but neither would I agree with some of the criticisms of them. I can see the sense in many points in those documents. I will not have time to argue the detail. Unfortunately, one of the disadvantages of being Minister for Labour is that you have the Labour problems but you have not control of the employment agencies that generate the jobs. Only the other day I spoke about some of my disappointments in the employment areas and I would ask the employer organisations in the autumn to look at the statistics. During this session we have not disagreed on that matter. I do not want to be hypocritical, but our exports have increased by 50 per cent since 1986, our inflation is one of the lowest in western Europe and our interest rate is still far lower than those of our competitors. We have been lectured for years at various business lunches up and down the country about that magic word “competitiveness”. Take all those factors into account and I still have to defend my position on how many jobs will be created. Yes it is an increase, it is an improvement, we have achieved what was in the Programme for National Recovery, but when it is thrown into the computer the figure should be higher. Not only employers are to blame for that. One thing that galls me — and it takes a good deal to do that — is that both workers and management will jointly do everything but take on more people. They will increase the productivity bonuses, switch around the Saturday and Sunday bonuses and treble the bank holiday payments. The latest I heard recently is that you can get four days' pay for a bank holiday. It is difficult enough for some people to get one day's pay.

Other things come to me as Minister [1494] for Labour such as pay in 1990 in Ireland and how employers get around the tax net in collusion with the workforce. That is great if you have a job. It is not just employers. It is difficult to convince people who are working and doing well — not to mention many notable groups I have dealt with in this session in the Dáil — that they are not doing too badly. I concur with Deputy Rabbitte and others that employers are part of that but there is a work element in it as well and we see it as we head towards the national programme.

People who are doing well, the groups who should be saying they are prepared to sacrifice a little, are the very groups — workers in this case — with some help from their employer organisations — who are saying they must get the maximum out of the Programme for National Recovery, they should not be bound by restrictions, they should have productivity and flexibility. If they get all the freedom, productivity and flexibility, who will suffer? It will be their brothers and sisters in the trade union movement who are not in employment. Deputy Rabbitte will probably agree with me on that.

On the Social Charter, whatever arguments took place on what was in or out of it took place before the Irish Presidency. In the Presidency we pushed hard to get on with the timetable. The dossiers and documents that will come forward in the next six months in the Italian Presidency will be important.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  The Minister must leave matters of land and labour and let us set out to sea now when we will deal with matters of the Marine. We are obligated to transfer to the Estimate for the Department of the Marine at 10.45 p.m.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Thank you, Sir, for the time, and I thank my colleagues, particularly the spokesmen on Labour, for their co-operation during the session that is just completed and for their kind remarks which will be on the record to night.


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