Thursday, 16 November 2006
Industrial Development Bill 2006: Second Stage
Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
I agree with the Deputy's point regarding balanced regional development. I also echo the sentiment that if one were to pick an example of good industrial development on the entire western coastline, one would select Shannon. However, it is important not to give the impression that all spending takes place on the east coast and none on the west coast. One finds the highest pupil-teacher ratios, lowest proportion of gardaí to population and similar pressure points on the east coast. One should differentiate between capital expenditure and day to day expenditure on services. It is important to note that a negative imbalance applies to the east coast in this regard because this has a bearing on quality of life. Companies, particularly those from outside the country that are considering whether to set up here, often state that high quality public services are an issue of concern to them.
As for the Bill before the House, I endorse the idea that the employees should be protected. However, I wish to draw attention to another group of workers who were given a similar endorsement ten years ago, although it may not have been statutorily based. The workers in question were obliged to go to the Supreme Court this year to press home their entitlements and still have not received them. I refer to those Aer Lingus employees who were seconded to TEAM Aer Lingus. I have the parliamentary debates from 1997 to hand. The former Minister, Senator O'Rourke, was categoric in her statements to the effect that a letter of guarantee or comfort was a letter of employment and that people would continue to be employed by Aer Lingus. I wish to focus on this issue because it matters that two sets of employees, both of which are State or semi-State employees, are being treated entirely differently. This raises issues of fairness.
In 2006, the Supreme Court found against Aer Lingus when it rejected the airline's contention that the Aer Lingus workers were transferred to TEAM Aer Lingus in 1991. The Supreme Court found that the Aer Lingus workers in question were seconded to TEAM Aer Lingus and were Aer Lingus employees at all times. The then Minister for Transport endorsed the letters of comfort given to Aer Lingus workers who were seconded to TEAM in 1990 to convert their guarantees concerning their position as Aer Lingus employees into an irrevocably legally binding form, such as if TEAM did not exist. This is highly significant. The contract was accepted by the Aer Lingus employees on the basis of such ministerial assurances and endorsements. A comparison can be made in this regard.
As for the Bill before the House, I again stress that I agree entirely that employees should be given guarantees that their pay, conditions, service and pension arrangements shall be in no way diminished by virtue of the proposed transfer.
In respect of the aforementioned Supreme Court judgment, this matter has been brought back to the courts to press home the point for a small number of employees. In a debate during the summer, Members from the Government benches from north Dublin stated they would be taken care of in the context of the sale of Aer Lingus. However, they are back before the courts and such unfairness is dishonourable. The Supreme Court found that the ministerial endorsement formed part of the heads of agreement reached between the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Aer Lingus and is enforceable under Irish law.
Essentially, much of the debate that took place in 1997, when Senator O'Rourke was the Minister responsible, is similar to the debate in respect of the current Bill, in which guarantees are being given. However, when one can cite an example such as that of the TEAM Aer Lingus employees, seeing such guarantees in legislation does not reassure people that it will actually happen. The Government has an obligation to finalise this matter and not have such a situation, in which people have been extremely unfairly treated persist. Both the High and Supreme Courts have endorsed their case and have dismissed the case put forward by Aer Lingus. The courts found in favour of the employees. The endorsements were provided by both Aer Lingus and Ministers.
I ask the Minister of State to accept there is an outstanding issue to be addressed in this regard. I raise this matter in the context of this Bill because of the degree of similarity between the proposals. However, the proposals worked out very differently for the TEAM Aer Lingus employees who are still suffering its consequences.