Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Harbours Act 1996 and the Harbours Act 2015 with regard to the maximum term of office allowed to certain directors of harbours and to provide for connected matters.
When introducing the Harbours Act 2015 the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, included a provision to restrict to ten years the period of service directors can serve on port company boards. This restriction makes sense for appointed directors but very little in the case of employee or worker directors who are elected by their colleagues. There are many Members of this Dáil who were elected by the people and who have served in excess of ten years. This begs the question as to why Government deemed it appropriate to intrude on the internal democracy of harbour companies. This Bill corrects this anomaly and recognises the distinct position of elected worker or employee directors.
Employees should be able to vote for the candidate of their choice. Shannon-Foynes staff elected a colleague earlier this year as a worker director but he is excluded from the board due to this arbitrary ten-year rule. That makes absolutely no sense and it is most unfair. I would like to put on record that I have sought a meeting with the current Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on a number of occasions to discuss this legislative anomaly but to no avail. I believe it has been remiss of the Minister not to engage on this issue.
Employee directors play a valuable role on semi-State company boards but their numbers have diminished. A TASC report in 2012 noted that the reorganisation and privatisation of the commercial semi-State companies has led to a slow erosion of the prevalence of worker directors. In other countries, employee directors are the norm in both the public and private sectors. In northern European countries employees have board representation in the private sector and in Sweden, for example, employees are represented on the boards of almost all companies with more than 25 employees, while in Norway employee representation at board level starts with companies having 30 employees.
Diversity in the boardroom is widely acknowledged as essential to the healthy functioning of an organisation. It is my strong view that the State must lead from the front, setting the bar on delivering such diversity of board membership. However this Government, like the ones that have gone before it, does not have a great track record in this regard. Gender balance on State boards still varies across Government Departments, with just over half of boards under the remit of Government Departments failing to meet the existing 40% gender quota. The Public Appointments Service board has just 33% female representation and this body has a significant role in preparing lists of candidates for State board appointments. Diversity of State board membership, including gender parity and employee directors, must become the new norm in the interest of good governance. We need to see boards with more worker directors not fewer and employees should be enabled to re-elect women and men who have served them well in the past.
I urge the Government and its partners in Fianna Fáil to support the progress of this Bill through the House.