Wednesday, 15 February 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
7. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment if he will give details of the special unit in his Department which was announced following the recent dispute in a company (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and the way in which he proposes that this unit will operate. [3345/95]
20. Mr. T. Kitt asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment the measures, if any, which have been taken by him to establish a special unit in his Department to assist the social partners in developing new ways of working, increasing labour management co-operation and strengthening economic and social partnership at enterprise level, as promised in the policy document A Government of Renewal. [3286/95]
Work is progressing in my Department on establishing the special unit signalled in the Programme for Government to assist the social partners in developing improved management-employer relationships at the level of enterprise. In line with the partnership approach, the social partners are being asked to supply a guiding input to the work of the unit.
An objective of the unit's work is to encourage greater management/labour co-operation in the management of change so that confrontation is avoided. Following the recent dispute mentioned by Deputy O'Rourke, ICTU made a suggestion for a mechanism to be put in place to identify companies at risk from competitive forces. An early warning process is in existence and is under constant review to ensure its effectiveness. However, I am in contact with both ICTU and IBEC, as well as with State agencies, about establishing a liaison group to advise on particular areas of industry where adjustment to competitive pressures and threats is required. This could be the most effective way of anticipating, in so far as can be done, what must be addressed in particular areas of business so as to adapt and prosper.
Mrs. O'Rourke: I specifically asked the Minister about the special unit to which, I think, there is a reference in the Programme for Government. I take it from what he said that advice is being sought from ICTU and IBEC. Will a unit be dedicated to carrying out this work within the Department; in other words, will people be given the function?
Mr. R. Bruton: A unit will be established to deal with new ways of working,  increasing labour/management co-operation and strengthening partnership at an enterprise level. Part of its task will be to foresee the changes needed to achieve world class manufacturing status etc., and to facilitate greater interchange of information and participation by workers generally. An advisory group, involving the social partners and the agencies, has been set up to liaise with the unit. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions was anxious that we would look specifically at companies which are facing competitive threats. Discussions are taking place with the social partners on the establishment of a liaison group to see how best we can involve the social partners in the process of anticipating particular difficulties which might arise in various sectors. While these are essentially two different tasks they clearly overlap to a considerable extent.
Mrs. O'Rourke: I take it from what the Minister said that there will be two groups — a loosely convened consultative group who will be on the look-out, so to speak, for signals from particular segments of industry which foresee potential storms and a dedicated unit within the Department which will carry out the same task on a regular rather than a sporadic basis. This is very laudable.When I was in the Department I was constantly referring to the need for such a unit but at that time it was noninterventionist.I wish the Minister and his Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte — I think the Minister's other colleague, Dame Eithne, is in Australia — every success in this regard. There is a need for industries to anticipate threats rather than wait for the storm to crash around them, as happened in the recent dispute to which I referred in my question.Instead of waiting for the danger signals the Department and the unit should anticipate threats long before they arise. I did not see any reference in the budget or the Estimates to dedicated funding for this unit. Obviously it will be funded out of the subhead for the Department. It would be good——
Mrs. O'Rourke: Will the Minister provide specific funding for this unit, thus giving it special recognition? This has been done in Sweden, Denmark and other countries where resource units are deemed a success.
Mr. R. Bruton: A budget is being provided to fund the work of this unit. I assure the Deputy that support will be provided under the industry operational programme to help industries under threat to foresee those threats and adapt to them. This area of job protection is of significant concern to my Department.
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