Tuesday, 6 December 2005
Last week I met the management of Irish Ferries and representatives of SIPTU and the ICTU to convey to them the Government's concerns as to the gravity of the situation and the wider implications of the ongoing dispute. I urged all sides to engage in the Labour Relations Commission process with a view to achieving a resolution to the issues in dispute.
On 4 December 2005 the national implementation body made a series of recommendations to the social partners and the Government regarding the maintenance and protection of employment standards in the labour market. The national implementation body also made the following recommendations in respect of the dispute at Irish Ferries. Irish Ferries should suspend its application to re-register its vessels on the register of Cyprus. The efforts to arrive at an agreement on the terms and conditions of employees who wish to remain in the employment of Irish Ferries should continue and be brought to a conclusion not later than 7 December. The terms and conditions of employees who are recruited to work on these Irish Ferries vessels in future should reflect, inter alia, Irish minimum wage arrangements in the context of the unique nature of the contracts of employment which typically operate in the maritime sector and the competitive pressures faced by the company. In the event that the outcome of this process is that these vessels are not maintained on the Irish register, the terms of any agreement with regard to existing employees and the standards which would apply to employees recruited to work on these Irish Ferries vessels in future should be reflected in an agreement of binding character which would not be vitiated by any subsequent change in the country of registration. The NIB urged the parties, without prejudice to their respective positions, to engage fully with the Labour Relations Commission over the period ending on 7 December with a view to finalising an agreement.
The situation at Irish Ferries has been addressed by all the industrial relations bodies. It is significant that the interested parties are in negotiations facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission. I welcome this development. The work already undertaken by and with the national implementation body, the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission provides a firm basis for resolution. I hope the parties in this process succeed in resolving this dispute quickly and without further disruption to ferry services.
Overall, industrial relations in Ireland are still quite stable. During the first half of this year 1,463 days were lost to industrial disputes, involving just six disputes. In 2004, a total of 20,784 days were lost to industrial disputes, involving 11 disputes during the year — the smallest number of disputes and days lost to strikes in a single year since records began. This downward trend in disputes has resulted in a very stable industrial relations climate.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Obviously he has very little to report to us arising from the past 48 hours of talks at the Labour Relations Commission. I hope some progress will be made by tomorrow. This is imperative in the interests of partnership and industrial relations. I do not think a national day of protest is the way to go as it drags other sectors into the dispute and discommodes commuters and other sectors that have not been the cause of the problem.
Even though the Government was aware this problem was coming down the tracks for a considerable period, in 2004 it opposed the manning directive to give clear pay and conditions for all workers in the maritime sector. The Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Gallagher, tried his best to get this issue put back on the agenda this week. Will the Minister indicate how the Government will proceed to get this matter on the agenda and to reverse engines in its policy on this issue?
Will the Minister also indicate if there are any plans to establish a bilateral agreement with Cyprus, the country that has facilitated Irish Ferries in regard to flagging, and if we will be able to get a common position between Ireland, Cyprus, other EU states and third countries on proper pay and conditions for workers?
We must be very clear about this. As the Deputy is aware, the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, has been negotiating in Brussels on the manning directive. A number of other countries also took issue with aspects of the directive at that time. It is not fair to say there was a direct relationship between any of those issues and the action and behaviour of Irish Ferries, nor has the company advanced this as a basic cause for the action it has taken. It has advanced the view that the ultimate motivation for its action is to be found in what it perceives to be its current competitive disadvantage vis-À-vis the international maritime sector. The Government is already on record as not being in agreement with Irish Ferries on its view and in condemning the manner in which it took that action.
We must be careful we do not use other issues as excuses for the kind of fundamental departure that was made in attempting to replace one set of workers with another on a lower scale. I do not wish to say anything that would undermine the talks process within the Labour Relations Commission. The Government is open to taking whatever measures are necessary to facilitate a resolution of this dispute. It will take whatever constructive approach is necessary on a range of issues pertaining to the maritime sector to facilitate a resolution of the dispute. In essence, however, it is a matter for both parties.
Last week I met Irish Ferries, the ICTU and SIPTU on behalf of the Government to convey to them the gravity in which the Government views the situation in terms of not just the Irish Ferries dispute but the wider implications for social partnership and the need and imperative to get back into talks and utilise to the maximum potential the existing industrial relations machinery of the State. We will not be found wanting in terms of assisting that process of resolution.
The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, will meet the Cypriot Minister for labour and social and affairs next Thursday to discuss issues which the Deputy raised. We are obviously concerned about the impact on exports generally in terms of any reduction in capacity. There are no quick fix solutions to this issue but we are keeping the matter under review.