Thursday, 16 November 2006
Industrial Development Bill 2006: Second Stage
Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
I thank the Chair for this opportunity to speak to the Industrial Development Bill 2006. I welcome the debate. It is important we have an informed debate on industrial development in this country and the direction in which it has gone over the past number of years, particularly with our strong economy. I want to put an alternative view to some of the mainstream economic issues being debated. I welcome any sensible legislation on industrial development in the State. It is an opportunity to open our minds to creative and clean investment. This is important.
The purpose of today's legislation is "to amend the Industrial Development Act 1993 to provide legislative authority for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to designate the transfer of staff from Shannon Development to Forfás and to provide a statutory guarantee to the staff that their pay, conditions of service and pension arrangements shall be in no way diminished by virtue of the transfer".
This is important in light of what has happened in the past 24 hours. Yesterday, there was a serious industrial dispute between the Bank of Ireland and Amicus workers. I support the Amicus workers who took a brave and strong decision to fight to defend their pensions. All Members of the Oireachtas should stand up and be counted in favour of them. It is important to respect and support Amicus when it takes a stand against the fat cats in senior management in the Bank of Ireland who want to wipe away the terms and conditions they had. I challenge those who spoke about the Amicus workers on the national airwaves. To them I say, "hands off destroying their pensions". It is up to legislators and Ministers to keep a close eye on these issues. We cannot have a situation in which a company like Bank of Ireland, which has extensive resources, fails to deal with the issue and look after its staff pensions. It is important we nail our colours to the mast on this issue.
Recently, certain sections of society, particularly the well-off, have constantly undermined the power of trade unions. This is worrying. They seem to think that because it is an employers' market, one can ride roughshod over workers throughout the country. Let us remind them that the workers built the Celtic tiger and the strong economy. It is important when we discuss industrial development that we have a special respect and treatment for trade union members. Many new industries are hostile to trade unions and this is a sad day for the country. The problem lies with those who feel threatened by people who want to improve their pension rights, not with the trade union members. This must be mentioned in this debate and incorporated into the debate on efficiency. Any sensible person in human resource management knows that if one treats people with respect and dignity, one will get more productivity from them. If constantly puts the boot in and erodes their power and pensions, one will undervalue them, reduce their self-esteem and get nowhere. This is evident in examples from other industries that have collapsed, but also in successful companies.
According to the explanatory memorandum of the Bill:
Section 1 of this Bill contains a definition of the Industrial Development Act 1993.
Section 2 amends the Industrial Development Act 1993 by inserting a new section 21A into the Act.
Subsection 1 of section 21A defines the term "Company", "recognised trade union or staff association concerned" and "transfer date" for the purpose of the new section. [Any terminology with which the Bill refers to staff organisations is good enough for me as long as people are treated with respect and dignity.]
Subsection (2) of Section 21A contains an enabling provision that provides legislative authority for the Minister to designate the transfer of staff from Shannon Development to Forfás. Forfás is the legal employer of staff of the agencies established under the Industrial Development Acts, i.e. Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.
From this we have all learned the importance of planning for the future regarding the teaching and development of science education. Sensible planning of education and targeting of science and information technology has given a tremendous boost to the economy. It is important we use the talents that exist. It is essential that these people are recognised properly.
The explanatory memorandum continues:
Subsection (3) of section 21A provides that a staff designated for transfer by the Minister will be appointed to the staff of Forfás. Paragraph 2 (2) of the second Schedule to the Industrial Development Act 1993 gives Forfás the power to second staff to the agencies.
It is important that the staff are brought with them and treated fairly and with respect.
This raises the issue of decentralisation. Most sensible people agree that decentralisation is important, strong and sensible, but let us do it by working closely with people, in a planned and phased way and with people's consent. There is no point trying to force out of Dublin people who have elderly parents or whose children are at school there and moving them to different parts of the country without giving them a choice. If one plans decentralisation properly, one can have staff support. However, there seems to be misguided direction on this aspect.
The issue of the Cadbury factory in Coolock has arisen in my constituency over the past few weeks. Cadbury has long been a major employer on the north side of Dublin, has been a good employer and has recognised and supported trade unions. However, a rationalisation plan has been put in place and most sensible people understand and accept that one must change and adapt in the modern economic climate. It appears that the 450 job cuts will be voluntary redundancies. This is essential because many people who have come towards the end of their working lives might be interested in this package. I am concerned that the day the change was announced, the management spoke about putting €100 million into the development of the Coolock plant. However, they are forgetting to tell the voters that of the €100 million, €30 million to €40 million is being put into pensions and the same amount into the redundancy package. Therefore, the development investment could amount to only €20 million.
I raised this aspect with the Minister this week in a written parliamentary question. It is important the Minister monitors this issue. I urge caution. We must have planned negotiations with the trade unions. The Coolock staff will hold a large meeting next Saturday. I urge the Cadbury management, having been a good employer to many people on the north side for many years, to be careful on this issue. We must ensure everybody is protected in a proper and caring way.
Some say that due to the Celtic tiger we are in a different, modern society that has replaced the caring society. We cannot allow this; we can have both. We have the financial resources and we must use them sensibly and distribute them fairly. It is essential that the Government targets the extra resources available in the budget at the most needy. I welcome the hints on the Estimates today that there will be a strong emphasis in the budget on health, education and disability. It is a focus we must have. There is no contradiction between the Celtic tiger and a caring society, despite the contrary line which certain Members and right-wing economists outside the House constantly sell. They contend that this is a modern, macho society in which everyone should try to get rich before walking on the weak. I put down a marker to the effect that there is no need for that view. We should face up to reality.
Education has a vital place in the debate on economic and industrial development. It is time to take serious action in this area. OECD education indicators demonstrate that countries which invest in education and skills benefit economically and socially. If one puts one's money into education, one will benefit from it in future, as we have already proved in Ireland with our highly skilled workforce. However, warning signs indicate that Ireland is falling behind its competitors in educational investment, which is a serious issue not only for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, but also for the Minister for Education and Science. At each stage of education, Irish spending per student is below the OECD average, especially at primary and second levels. Ireland's expenditure on education, whether expressed as a percentage of GDP or GNP, fell in the period 1995 to 2003.
Despite the fact that Ireland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, our paltry expenditure on education of 5.2% of GNP in 2005 leaves us languishing among the bottom half dozen OECD countries. We are placed 24th out of 30 countries. We have a great deal to do in the education sphere. The OECD country mean for the ratio of students to teaching staff is 16:6 compared to Ireland's 19:5. It is important to focus on education in the context of the Bill. Those who take a cynical view should wake up and smell the coffee. We have demonstrated clearly through investment in IT and science that jobs develop when educated personnel become available.
Spending on initiatives to combat educational disadvantage must be refocused to benefit children when they are young. Most people accept that educational disadvantage must be tackled early rather than when a child is 12 or 13 years of age. Resources should be provided at pre-school level to break the cycle of disadvantage. Government reports emphasise the importance of early intervention to tackle disadvantage, but initiatives are not funded on that basis. Only a fraction of spending to combat disadvantage benefits primary school children — €60 million compared to more than €300 million at third level — which is often forgotten. The result of this policy is that many children experience failure and drop out early due to the Government's refusal to provide adequate support when it is most needed.
I challenge those private, fee-paying schools whose representatives have been making a great fuss lately, but who have kept young children with disabilities out of the system. I commend the schools which are radical, creative and brave enough to take on the poorest children in society as well as those with special educational needs. Certain other schools, however, many of which are fee-paying, have behaved disgracefully by taking the cream while excluding people from broader society. They then tell the world they top the league tables for secondary education. It is time for those schools to be told that society is bigger than that. Elitist schools should be challenged to ensure they include children with disabilities, especially at second level. Some of them have been operating a form of apartheid as the Minister for Education and Science is well aware. She knows the schools involved and I hope she does something about them.
Ireland ranks 29th of 30 countries in its investment in each second level student relative to its GNP per capita. Any increases in staffing have been to mainstream special educational needs education and cater for international students. There has been no increase in the ratio according to which teachers are appointed to second level schools since 1999, which means classes of 30 teenagers, including special needs and international pupils, are common. While I call on the Government to focus on primary level, it must not forget the children in second level education.
Education is increasingly important to economic performance. Research has demonstrated that high levels of investment in education lead to personal and social benefits, including increased social inclusion, lower crime rates, reduced welfare dependence and improved health. The old notion that to educate is to liberate is true. If a person is educated, no matter where he or she comes from, it represents a significant step towards preventing crime, reducing welfare dependence and improving health. We miss out on the contributions of many creative children because of weaknesses in the education sector, which is a problem we must address. There are many people who dropped out of education early and did well economically. We should not be afraid to recognise good practice in the case of those people too. These are important issues in the context of a debate on an Industrial Development Bill and is essential that we deal with them.
As an island nation, air and marine transport represent a strategic question of great importance. The national carrier, Aer Lingus, and Dublin Port are essential to the development of the economy. We require choice and quality in air services and proper investment in the development of the island as an economic unit through a sensible all-Ireland approach. In Dublin Bay, scandalous attempts to fill in 52 acres continue. Dublin Port Company claims it requires more capacity and space but a visit to the docklands reveals numerous empty sites, some of which the company is trying to sell.
Nevertheless, the company claims to the people of Clontarf, Fairview, Killester and Raheny that they want to fill in 52 acres of the bay without giving the matter sensible thought. I record my opposition to the plan and ask those involved to consider the proposals to develop Bremore Port further up the coast. We must forget the notion of blocking up the city centre as a result of a congested port. We must adopt a creative approach, move up the coast and consider the development of a proper port at Bremore as an economic base.
A number of Members across party lines are open to the idea and even the Taoiseach indicated in a recent interview that he is interested in it. I push the idea strongly. Seán Dublin Bay Loftus, who used to be the Independent Deputy for Dublin North-Central and who represented the people in my constituency very well for many years, put forward the idea that the bay should be kept for our citizens. We should not interfere with the natural operation of the tides and local sea levels by creating land which is out of balance with the environment. We must consider the naturally advantageous Bremore Port and be unafraid to invest in a creative and radical plan. Fresh, important ideas like these are relevant to the debate on this legislation.
The Bill's proposed amendment to section 21 of the 1963 Act provides that Shannon Development staff who are transferred to Forfás may not receive a lesser scale of pay or be made subject to less favourable conditions of service than they are entitled to in the original body. The provision is important to maintain pay rates. We must ensure that all staff are supported strongly in this context. It is a question of rewarding labour and good practice. While there are a number of industries in the State which have created great wealth, the issue of low pay must be tackled.
Trade union officials and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment must ensure the question of low pay is put to bed once and for all. I will not accept the drift to the right by right-wing economists and Senators concerning economic investment. We must listen to the voice of workers, who created the Celtic tiger and who are entitled to an equal distribution of resources.