Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Economic Growth: Motion
“That Seanad Éireann:- welcomes official and other forecasts of continued economic growth and falling unemployment;
- believes that a growing economy should sustain well paid jobs, through which more citizens share in economic prosperity, and asserts that economic recovery must therefore translate into better working conditions and improved pay;
- notes that workers, aided by their trade unions, will continue to advance claims about pay and conditions and supports enterprise level and sectoral negotiation between workers and employers on pay and conditions of employment, through collective bargaining and agreement;
- notes that employer-labour bodies tasked with intervention in industrial relations disputes ceased to function with the collapse of national pay agreements;
- recognises the need for a new body representative of employers and employees to oversee the attainment and maintenance of industrial peace and stability and call on the Government to take steps with the social partners for the establishment of such a body, with the specific function of intervening in protracted industrial relations disputes to guide them towards a managed resolution;
- calls in particular for the intervention of such a body in the ongoing Dublin Bus dispute with a view to resolving the matter before greater disruption is suffered by commuters and greater economic damage is suffered by both parties to the dispute; and
- noting the level of subvention of public transport services in all comparable European cities, calls for a roadmap towards restoration of the public subsidy of Dublin Bus to pre-crisis levels.”
I am pleased to move the motion on behalf of the Labour Party. The motion seeks to provide a route map towards the satisfactory resolution of the Dublin Bus dispute. It also seeks the introduction of a new mechanism, designed to complement and support the work of the Government and our excellent industrial relations institutions, to promote and sustain fairness in the workplace and attain industrial peace. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and making political capital from a complex industrial dispute, we in the Labour Party wish to be constructive and helpful. No worker withdraws his or her labour if he or she feels there is a better alternative. Nobody wants to see businesses and jobs damaged as a result of disputes that, if alternative approaches and responses were considered, might have ultimately been avoided.
I am pleased to see the trade unions and Dublin Bus management engaged again on a formal basis at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and we are all hopeful that a resolution can be reached. For a host of reasons, the Labour Party supports the Dublin Bus workers and we support their right to seek better pay and conditions by collectively bargaining with their employer. This is at the core of what we believe in. That is why during my own short term as Minister of State with responsibility for employment, I was pleased to have introduced new collective bargaining legislation and frameworks for the creation of registered employment agreements and new sectoral employment orders.
The new system is working well. It is working in the longer term interests of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann workers. Last Monday week, a new registered employment agreement, REA, was registered with the Labour Court and signed by Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, SIPTU, the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU, the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, TSSA and Unite. The new agreement, the terms of which are legally binding, states that in the event that contracts are awarded to another operator as a result of a tendering process, no current employee would have to compulsorily transfer to the new operator. It also guarantees, in that context, that in the eventuality that a transfer were to take place, the current terms and conditions enjoyed by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann staff would not be negatively affected as a result of the tendering of any services that might occur.
This important development for the long-term security of bus workers would not have been possible without the legislative action taken by the Labour Party in government. We deal with the reality of the world as we find it, and not just how we would like it to be. While the circus performers, as I have often described them, on the populist left see industrial disputes and the fomenting of angst and discontent as an end in itself, the Labour Party and the vast bulk of the trade union movement are in the business of providing solutions to the complex problems confronting our society and economy.
Regrettably, the prospect of a winter of discontent is coming down the tracks. This chilling vista appears to be coming into view partly because of the incapacity on the part of the Government to make even the most basic decisions. Nobody expects the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to intervene directly in an industrial dispute. It would be unwise and would set a bad precedent. We have sophisticated and respected industrial relations, IR, institutions and this machinery is available to everybody to address difficult IR issues in a professional and expert fashion. The WRC and the Labour Court have served, and continue to serve, the State extremely well.
Sometimes, industrial disputes are about much more than pay and terms and conditions. Rumbling in the background of this dispute is a fear that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, is at best unsympathetic and at worst downright ideologically hostile to the idea that we should have commercial semi-State companies providing public transport in the first place. Five months into his job, the Minister has still not outlined his priorities for his Department or his personal priorities. Given his performance to date, we can only conclude that public transport is not one of his priorities.
In order to stem the crisis of confidence regarding support for our public transport sector, the Minister must develop a roadmap for the restoration of the Dublin Bus subvention to pre-crisis levels and ensure Government support for our public transport providers is at a level that is at least comparable with analogous cities across Europe. A decent public transport system that is well managed is vital for the economy of our capital and for social cohesion. Collectively, every Member of the House wants it.
The Labour Party believes good, accountable, value-for-money public services are worth paying for. We call on the Government to set out a sustainable funding model for Dublin Bus in order to allow it plan for the future with confidence. This is one key contribution the Minister, Deputy Ross, can make towards a sustainable resolution to the Dublin Bus dispute. Given the dysfunctionality that, unfortunately, characterises the Government, it needs all the help it can get to manage the complex social and economic problems that face the country. To that end, the motion also calls for the establishment by the Government, with the social partners, of an employer-labour conference. Would the Dublin Bus dispute have escalated to this point if such a body had been in existence in recent months? I sincerely doubt it.
I reiterate my hope that the Dublin Bus action can be resolved at the WRC. I wish colleagues who are in the trenches addressing those issues well. We are all proud of the valuable work done by the WRC and the Labour Court on a daily basis. All too often, the State's IR machinery is mobilised in crisis situations when the gulf between the actors is so large as to be unbridgeable. This kind of body is more necessary now than ever before.We are in a period of political flux and uncertainty. The space available for wise heads to prevail has diminished considerably in recent times. Such bodies, comprising experts from both sides of industry, namely, trade unions and employer bodies, are a permanent and important feature of the industrial relations and economic and social development landscape in a number of progressive northern European countries that we sometimes aspire to be like, for example, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland. Like Ireland, they are small, open market economies that trade with the world day in, day out and are consequently more open to shocks and tremors than many other countries.
The employer-labour conference model would work by forging a consensus around the major policy challenges facing this country and would support and complement the work of the WRC and the Labour Court. It would assist, not hamper, the work of a Government that is sadly in office but not in power. An employer-labour conference could be deployed to deal with major policy questions such as Brexit, the impending pensions crisis and the question of how we fund our critical public services such as transport. This model was in place in the 1970s and 1980s before it was subsumed into social partnership, with its last iteration a few short years ago being the National Implementation Body. The creation of this type of body would help to attain industrial peace and have a utility beyond public transport disputes. We are all hopeful that the current Dublin Bus dispute can be settled at the WRC in everyone's interests.
I rise today in support of the Labour Party motion and endorse the comments made by Senator Nash. I commend his sterling work and achievements in recent years regarding workers' rights.
I have visited the Dublin Bus drivers' picket line twice in recent months at the Clontarf depot. It is clear from my discussions with them that they want a number of things. Their pay claim has been well aired, but it is clear to everyone that a mechanism must first be found to hold discussions around the table. Thankfully, there have been movements in this regard recently. Second, the future security of the company and the Government's relationship with the company must clarified. In this context, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has been found lacking in using any imagination to help resolve the dispute. In the motion, we are calling for what the Minister should have been working on for the past four months. It took him more than four months just to sit down with Dublin Bus management, despite the fact that the strike was known to be coming down the tracks.
The Minister is a fast learner but, possibly a little like Donald Trump, he is learning that mouthing off is not an option when one has responsibility. One cannot leak a titbit of information to a former colleague in a national newspaper to garner some positive coverage in future. One cannot talk up a showdown at the O.K. Corral only to pick up one's dignity on the way out. One cannot send a tweet along the lines of, "Shellshock here at the Stepaside bus stop." The Independent Alliance must realise that being in government means one has to do something.
Perhaps this is the perfect storm for the Minister, as two of the forces that he hates most in life - trade unions and semi-States - form two sides of his Bermuda Triangle. This is the Minister who previously called trade unions the "arch-insiders of the Celtic Tiger", "big, bearded bosses at SIPTU" and the "ayatollahs of social partnership". He has described pay claims as "Liberty Hall's latest smash-and-grab raid on the Exchequer" and, colourfully, the "social partners had their snouts buried firmly in the national trough". This what he has said of CIE: "CIE has in recent years been exposed as a swamp of waste and skulduggery"; "Quangos like CIE and its three subsidiaries - Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and larnród Éireann - are in dire need of efficiencies. There is plenty of fat hidden in the darker corners of these bloated bodies"; and "There is 'something of the dark' about CIE. Or at least a very thick fog embracing the murky company."
The Labour Party believes it is time for Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance to come clean. What is their vision for public transport? As a Deputy and Minister of State in the previous Government, I know that if the Labour Party had not stood up and entered into government, Dublin Bus would have been privatised and the Minister, Deputy Ross, would probably have been one of the loudest cheerleaders. The current Government should set out its vision. As Senator Nash outlined, we can adopt an industrial relations model from other northern European countries. We want the Government to set out its vision for the re-instatement over the coming years of the pre-crash subvention to Dublin Bus.
I commend the motion to the House.
I welcome the Minister to the House and wish her well in her portfolio.
This motion has several parts to it and I agree with the first paragraph. I welcome the official figures, according to which there are now more than 2 million people employed for the first time since 2009. That is an annual increase of 56,000. The forecasts are that this increase is set to continue. My constituency of Dublin Fingal has thousands of students and one of the youngest and fastest growing populations in Europe. This is also likely to continue, but they will all need jobs. The area will need many jobs in the coming years. I was pleased to welcome the Minister to the constituency last week when she announced a further 80 jobs in Balbriggan. Fingal has had some success. Its unemployment rate has dropped by 32.25% since Fine Gael took office in 2011 in coalition with the Labour Party. The improvement continues.
We must protect workers and their rights. We must ensure that unscrupulous businesses that deprive workers of their rights are punished. We must ensure that every worker gets a fair wage. By growing our economy, we can provide good jobs for people that pay well, enable them to live without depending on State support and enable parents to raise their children without the fear of getting behind in their mortgage or bill payments. Jobs bring independence for individuals and certainty and better futures for their families.
More than this must be done to ensure that workers are treated well. We must provide good and affordable child care, as it is a great burden on working families and prevents many others from working. We are, as a Government, examining how to encourage people to return home, particularly those with expertise that we badly need, but there is also a large cohort, mainly of women, who are at home and are highly skilled but who cannot afford to go to work because of the cost of child care. We must afford them the opportunity to return to the workforce. We need to reduce taxes for working people so that they take home more of their wages in disposable income. This is opposed to increasing wages, which would make us uncompetitive in a highly competitive international market.
I agree with the motion's second paragraph. The purpose of growing the economy is not just for the economy's sake itself, but to ensure a better quality of life for all of our people. A growing economy will create and sustain well-paid jobs and will translate into better working conditions and improved pay while retaining our competitiveness.We need to examine the other areas which affect people’s ability to work. We need more housing and better health care, along with more schools and education facilities, to ensure our young people are well able to compete for jobs both in this economy and elsewhere.
The motion addresses the need for unions. I fully subscribe to this and believe unions have a useful role in protecting workers and that every worker has a right to join one. Paragraphs Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, of the motion are problematic, however. Paragraphs Nos. 4 and 5 state employer-labour bodies tasked with intervention in industrial disputes no longer exist and call on the Government to create a new body with the specific function of intervening in protracted industrial relation disputes. What then are the functions of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court? The WRC and the Labour Court do good work, resolving hundreds of disputes every year without the need for strike action. They both have highly skilled and able individuals who are respected by both sides. It would be irresponsible to say these bodies are unfit for purpose because of the Luas and Dublin Bus strikes. As has been acknowledged by the proposers of this motion, in the past few days strike action at Dublin Bus has been suspended as both sides went back into talks this morning at the WRC. We do not need a new body to intervene in industrial disputes. Changing it would be a knee-jerk reaction to current events in a single company.
Paragraph No. 7 of the motion is also highly problematic. It calls for a restoration of the public subsidy for Dublin Bus to its pre-crisis level. This is not the approach we should take for several reasons. First, Dublin Bus's total revenue base is only 1% lower than it was in 2008. The company now makes a good profit of roughly €10 million when the public subsidy is included. Second, we should base the public subsidy to Dublin Bus based on what it needs now, not on what it needed eight years ago. Any money we give to Dublin Bus should represent good value for the taxpayer and the passenger. This means we should assess the public subsidy by reference to service improvements and efficiency.
The paragraph also refers to the amount of public subsidies to public transport services in other EU cities. Subventions vary significantly within the EU, making it difficult to adequately benchmark subvention funding across EU member states due to the different structures and funding sources used in public transport provision across the EU. However, the ratio of public service obligation subsidy in Ireland would tend to be closer to UK levels, rather than the more generous subvention ratios in some other EU countries. We should be examining funding for public transport as it is the way forward. Dublin and other large cities cannot cope with more cars. We need investment in our public transport infrastructure and its subsidies. The Government has already laid out plans for the electrification of the DART line to Balbriggan and for metro. The priority, however, in subventing public transport services must be to ensure the taxpayer and passengers receive value for money from the significant Exchequer assistance provided each year. The provision of any additional subsidy should include measurable and improved service delivery and efficiency. The Department has tabled proposals for increased subvention in 2017 in line with this approach. I am delighted Dublin Bus management and unions are back in the WRC and wish them well in settling this dispute.
It is important the jobs created are good and well-paid and that workers’ rights are protected. I do not believe there is anything between us on the motion’s proposals in that regard. However, I do not support the creation of a new industrial relations entity.
I thank the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor, for attending the House. She is busy coming to the House regularly. It is great to see the summer break was not wasted on some of our politicians. Many of them were busy dusting down their clichés and working hard on them during the recess.
Fianna Fáil supports the general principles of the Labour Party’s motion. However, there are elements to it which are void now. For example, the circumstances around the Dublin Bus strike have changed since last weekend. While it seems to be active in Opposition, it is disappointing that when Labour was in power for the previous five years, it did not take the initiative to bring forward the proposals set out in this motion for a new industrial relations body comprising employers and unions.
While Fianna Fáil supports the general principles of this idea, as do the main social partners, we have also signed up to the current public pay process as provided under the confidence and supply arrangement and the establishment of a public service pay commission. This was a key demand of Fianna Fáil in our discussions on an arrangement to facilitate the formation of a minority Government. This process was part-started by Fianna Fáil as part of the larger Croke Park agreement. There is a clear need to link future arrangements and agreements with ongoing reform and improvement of public service delivery.
We welcome any job creation. However, employment under the previous Fine Gael-Labour Government was heavily concentrated in a small area. Up to 43% of the economy’s’ gross domestic product is generated in Dublin. This concentration in one small area is disproportionate. In London, the same figure is about 20%. While the total number of people on the live register fell by 42,000 over the past year, there are still 60,000 people on activation schemes. Ireland is also one of the toughest places to find work with 115,000 people underemployed. Bringing clarity to work hours is essential to creating decent jobs, as increasingly the rate a worker is paid means they can become vulnerable and reliant on welfare. In the framework for confidence and supply arrangement, a policy commitment was reached to tackle this problem caused by the increased casualisation of work which prevents workers from being able to save and have any job security.
Dublin Bus workers have played a positive role in delivering public transport services in recent years. These improvements have been delivered with fewer resources under difficult circumstances. It is important management recognises the sacrifices made by workers and strike a fair proportionate pay deal with them. However, the sustainability of Dublin Bus must also be secured. It is essential that all parties are aware of the severe disruption which has been already caused to commuters, as well the further disruption should a prolonged strike continue. The approach of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to date has enabled the dispute to escalate. A real change in approach by the Minister is needed in this matter. It appears the parties are not that far apart. There is still time to resolve this dispute through negotiation and prevent a damaging strike from taking place, bringing our capital to its knees.
I welcome this motion. There are some aspects of it which I find favourable and others with which I do not agree. I come from an employer background. At one stage, I employed over 30 people. While we were not totally familiar with the unions or their workings, if my employees wanted to join one, they were more than welcome to do so.I told them to ensure I was aware, as an employer, of their entitlements. At various times, they brought it to my notice that they were entitled to holidays and days off. We approached these issues collectively. I lived up to my responsibilities as an employer and they lived up to their responsibilities as employees by bringing to my notice exactly what was due to them. I would like to think that this happens in most small businesses around the country. Unfortunately, many small businesses have gone to the wall. A new mechanism needs to be put in place. Most of my employees were hard-working, diligent and honest. I would like to think they got their redundancy entitlements when those businesses went to the ground. I want to point out that because most businesspeople were self-employed, they were left without any safety net despite working 80, 90 or 100 hours a week. These people, like many farmers, used all their savings to try to save their small businesses and retail businesses. Maybe some of their businesses were not fit for purpose. Some small retailers could not compete with Tesco, Lidl and Aldi. Senator Butler referred to the core areas in which many jobs were lost. I will not call this cohort of people "the new poor" because they are probably better off without such a label. As someone who formerly employed more than 30 people in the retail trade and in the bar and restaurant sector, I believe there is a tendency to overlook this aspect of the matter.
I absolutely agree with the first three paragraphs of the motion that has been proposed by the Labour Party. Some 175,000 jobs have been created since the establishment of the first Action Plan for Jobs in 2012. The rate of unemployment has fallen to 8.3% from a peak of 15.1% in 2011. The economy is now bigger than it was before the crash. Ireland was the fastest growing economy in Europe in 2014 and 2015. I think the good work has started in earnest. I congratulate the Labour Party which, along with Fine Gael, protected workers' rights in the last Government. It was not thanked for the hard work it did in this regard. I come from a different ethos, as I have said, so it was a great education for me and my Fine Gael colleagues to be able to work with the Labour Party. Even though each of the two parties has its own ethos, both parties are the same in many ways. The same approach is taken by many people in Fine Gael, the Labour Party and many other parties. For example, we agreed to exempt 450,000 low-income workers from the universal social charge, to increase the minimum wage by 20% from €7.65 to €9.15 and to protect core social welfare rates. People might argue with some of the things that were done in very difficult times.
The Minister is very welcome. I am so happy to see the economy now driving ahead. If it continues to drive ahead, we will be able to protect vulnerable people in our society. That is what it is all about. I would like to speak about the importance of creating jobs and enabling people to go out to work. I am absolutely delighted every time I hear the Minister on the radio in the morning. She is working to create jobs and get people back to work, thereby improving their self-esteem. The economic benefits of job creation allow us to allocate more money to services that protect the vulnerable and give the unemployed a chance to get back to work. Employment levels have increased in all eight regions since the establishment of the first Action Plan for Jobs in 2012. The recovery started on the east coast and is slowly getting to the west coast and to rural areas. We need more of that. I would like to see this happening much more quickly. While I understand the argument that if Dublin does not take off we are wasting our time in the country, but I suggest that Dublin has taken off.
I would like to repeat a point I have made previously regarding the need for jobs. The European Medicines Agency is going to leave the UK because of Brexit. I understand the Government is fighting hard to get the 900 jobs at the agency into this country. It might be assumed that they would be located in Dublin, but what about the west of Ireland? One thousand jobs could be located at the old MBNA office in Carrick-on-Shannon. We need to think outside the box by locating these jobs in a region where 1,000 jobs have the same value as 15,000 or 20,000 jobs elsewhere. People in Mullingar who currently have to travel to Dublin could get to Carrick-on-Shannon in not much more than 40 minutes. People in Boyle and Sligo would have shorter journeys. People in Castlebar could travel to Carrick-on-Shannon in approximately an hour. This is one aspect of the new way in which we need to do business.
I welcome this motion. I am delighted to speak on it. As I have said, we all come from different sides of the coin. Over the last five years, I was taught a lot about the collective way in which unions negotiate. My eyes were opened to it. I am prepared to work with everybody in this House and this Parliament to try to ensure we continue the growth and continue to ensure the money that is collected is well spent and is not thrown away.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That Seanad Éireann:" and insert the following:"- believes that workers in Ireland deserve a pay increase;
- believes that under-employment is out of control;
- encourages workers to organise themselves within trade unions;
- accepts that trade unions need access to their members in the workplace for purposes related to the employment of their members for purposes related to the union’s business or both and that this access requires a statutory footing;
- believes that public procurement contracts should have a trade union recognition clause;
- will work to ensure that legislation is provided for banded-hour contracts, effectively ending zero-hour contracts;
- believes Government should ensure sufficient funding for vital public services so that disputes do not occur; and
- notes the level of subvention of public transport services in all comparable European cities and calls for a roadmap towards achieving a public subsidy of Dublin Bus to comparable European city levels."
I welcome the Minister to the House. I was interested to hear Senator Reilly speaking about the importance of child care and recognising the importance of unions. Perhaps the Senator or the Minister might chat to their colleague, the Minister, Deputy Zappone, who has excluded trade unions from the new child care committee. It seems to be a shame. When we talk about child care, we might think about the wages of child care workers.
I accept that the motion before the House is well intentioned. Sinn Féin has drafted an amendment to the motion because it has certain concerns about it. I will go through the motion paragraph by paragraph to explain the concerns we have. The first paragraph of the motion "welcomes official and other forecasts of continued economic growth". We are a little surprised that the Labour Party would begin by welcoming official statistics that have been the subject of such controversy at home and across the world. We are familiar with the phrase "leprechaun economics" and with what Bloomberg had to say. Therefore, it is surprising that the opening line of a Labour Party motion would praise what the rest of the world has been ridiculing. Perhaps the Labour Party should look at the statistics regarding under-employment. Figures from Europe's statistical agency, EUROSTAT, show that approximately 111,000 people, or just over a quarter of those who were working part time last year, were classed as being under-employed. Although it is improving, Ireland's rate of under-employment as a percentage of the workforce is one of the highest in the EU. Many people who do not receive enough hours of work each week live in a perpetual state of economic insecurity.
The second paragraph of the motion contends "that a growing economy should sustain well paid jobs, through which more citizens share in economic prosperity". This is essentially a statement of good intentions. Many things that should happen do not happen because those in power choose to do nothing about them. Unfortunately, that is the legacy of the last Government. It is widely accepted that the Labour Party made serious mistakes when it was in power. Cuts in young people's welfare rates forced many of them to emigrate. The benefits of working mothers and working families were also cut. Significant parts of the social welfare system were privatised by Deputy Joan Burton. Indeed, an effort was made to provide for the privatisation of bus routes in Dublin. It is unfortunate that the previous Government stood by while workers lost their pensions and their jobs. Workers were forced to occupy workplaces to try to get access to their entitlements. Our point is that we need more than good intentions.
We are in total agreement with the third paragraph of the motion which "notes that workers, aided by their trade unions, will continue to advance claims about pay and conditions". The fourth paragraph "notes that employer/labour bodies tasked with intervention in industrial relations disputes ceased to function with the collapse of national pay agreements". This is where we get to the crux of the matter. It looks as though our colleagues in the Labour Party want to take steps to reintroduce social partnership in the form of national pay agreements. That seems to be what this motion could be about. As someone who worked as a trade union official for ten years, I accept that there are various views on this topic, but I have to say I do not believe a return to social partnership at this point would be in the interests of working people or the trade union movement.I want to explain why. When the crisis hit, we had 20 years of social partnership and a key consequence of this was a lack of bargaining and worker activism at local workplace level. It is unfortunate but true that in many workplaces, active workplace committees and shop stewards no longer functioned in the way they should. There was also a growing perception that national pay deals were gifts from the Government rather than hard-fought deals won by an organised trade union movement. In hindsight, there was too much emphasis on tax breaks rather than pay increases during those years of social partnership.
I know my union, SIPTU, is currently doing amazing work developing a new generation of shop stewards and workplace leaders, building an organised and empowered union. The last thing trade unions need as they build on this new organising agenda is a return to centralised bargaining. The future must be empowered, organised workers, negotiating at sectoral and local level. We do not need the process policed by an overarching social partnership body.
Paragraph 5 recognises the need for a new body of representative employers and employees to oversee the attainment and maintenance of industrial peace and stability. Does the motion call for the superseding of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court? Does the Labour Party want a voluntarist appeals process to compensate for problems that arise in another voluntarist appeals process? In the absence of an overall social partnership deal, it does not make sense. As I have stated, we should not have a return to centralised bargaining at national level.
We need to give real legislative status to our cause for workplace justice and equality, and that is why Sinn Féin has been drafting and moving Bills with this expressed intention. Paragraph 6 calls in particular for the intervention of such a body in the ongoing Dublin Bus dispute. We welcome this part of the motion but we do not need a new social partnership body to do this. We just need the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to do his job. There was a film from the Coen brothers a few years ago called "The Man Who Wasn't There" and whenever I think of the Minister, I always think of that film. We need Deputies and Senators to stand up and say what should be said, namely, that Dublin Bus drivers need and deserve a pay rise, the Labour Party recommendation in this instance is not sufficient, more investment is needed and the Minister must act now. I was proud to stand on the picket line with Dublin Bus workers last week and I will stand with them again if the talks do not succeed. At this point I pay tribute to the union leaders who have done an excellent job in communicating the case of Dublin Bus workers. In particular I will single out my former colleague, Mr. Owen Reidy, of SIPTU, and we should also acknowledge the tremendous support of so many of the travelling public for the Dublin Bus workers. I hope the talks currently under way reach a successful conclusion.
The last paragraph calls for the restoration of funding to pre-crisis levels for Dublin Bus. The language used is significant and points to a lack of ambition. Sinn Féin does not want to see subvention restored to pre-crisis levels as what we need is subvention at levels of comparable European cities. I accept the motion is well-intentioned but we need more than good intentions; we need good legislation. Our party does not accept that a social partnership type of body should be convened to oversee industrial relations. We are happy to work with others on the left in drafting legislation on improving worker rights and we were happy to receive support from the Labour Party for our banded hours Bill in the Dáil, although it was blocked by Fianna Fáil. We are happy to support the Labour Party's Bill in the Seanad on bargaining rights for workers in the arts. The question I have for my colleagues in the Labour Party is whether they want to return to government at the first opportunity and prop up another right-wing Government or do they want to work with us and build a real left alternative to the Apple tax alliance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I urge them to choose the latter path and that is what trade unions across the country want to see.
I assure the Cathaoirleach I will not take very long. I support the Labour Party motion and congratulate the party Members for bringing it forward. A time has come for some form of social partnership again. It served us well through the years, albeit, as mentioned by Senator Gavan, with some downsides, including the lost ability to negotiate in a tough way at local level. Whatever way we go forward, we must try to find the best of both worlds.
I condemn the management of these semi-State bodies who put Ministers on the line playing the game. That is exactly what has gone on here. I am not going to stand here and criticise the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or anybody else. The line Minister in charge, when these issues arise, should tell the managing bodies to get in and stay in until a solution is found rather than expecting the Minister to bring a solution. That is the one message that failed to come across. I did not want to see the Minister riding in on a white horse with a cheque book but I wanted to see the shareholders saying to the company that its representatives should negotiate until they found a solution.
Workers in this country have given a huge amount to save the country. We have watched them suffering at all levels. People have not had pay rises in more than eight years and it is a pity we are bringing Dublin Bus into the debate as industrial relations issues should be left in the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. However, I must support the motion being brought forward by the Labour Party because I agree with what it is trying to achieve. I will not take any more of the Minister's time and I will just say that we really must get back to dealing with workers and ensuring they have decent jobs. This notion of part-time work in the form of zero-hours contracts has found its way into public service jobs as well as the private sector and it must be completely and utterly ruled out in the near future. I commend the Labour Party for bringing forward its motion. I regret I cannot support the amendment by the Sinn Féin Party on this occasion.
I speak in support of the motion put forward by the Labour Party group and specifically my colleagues, Senators Nash and Ó Ríordáin. I commend them for their effort and specifically Senator Nash on his time as Minister of State dealing with industrial relations and innovation. I am delighted and thank Senator Craughwell and others, including Senator Feighan, for their support. We all accept the need for a restoration of public subsidy to Dublin Bus, and this is a core part of the Labour Party motion. We all hope there will be a successful outcome to the Workplace Relations Commission talks under way. As my colleagues have said, the Labour Party supports the Dublin Bus workers. Those are all a given and I am disappointed to hear Sinn Féin Members speaking against the motion. I do not really see the point of their amendment.
We need to work together to tackle a number of different issues that have come to the fore as a result of the Dublin Bus and other disputes. These are issues around enforced flexibility, as the recent Think-tank for Action on Social Change, TASC, report calls it. It indicates we are looking at an increasing precariat or group of workers with very little employment security and who often work very uncertain hours. It is with this in mind that we brought forward legislation like the Competition (Amendment) Bill, which has seen support from all sides of the House. I should have welcomed the Minister to the House and I am delighted she is supporting that Bill. We look forward to getting her amendments very shortly; I hope they will come in the next two weeks so we can move forward and ensure collective bargaining rights for freelance workers in the arts. As the Minister is aware, Senator Nash will present a Bill we published on uncertain hours to the Seanad very shortly. Again, we seek to ensure greater employment security for workers through that Bill. It is in the spirit of these progressive reforms that we are bringing forward this motion.
The model being brought forward is an employer-labour conference that will complement rather than supplant the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. We are all conscious that the WRC intervenes in disputes, meaning it is firefighting and trying to resolve industrial disputes as they arise. The model we are putting forward, as Senator Nash has explained, is at the core of industrial relations models in progressive countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland. It is a different and more long-standing model that would seek to address bigger industrial relations issues in context. These include Brexit, the pensions crisis and so on, as they will affect workers at all levels.
I am conscious I may have gone over my time so I will hand over to Senator Landy. I urge colleagues to support the Labour Party motion.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the views of all Members. Our group's motion is an attempt to deal with a specific ongoing issue but it also looks beyond that to the longer range view of how we deal with industrial relations in this country. I will debunk a number of myths that have been mentioned in this debate.I wish to make clear that none of my party colleagues who has spoken said anything about the current system - be it the Labour Court or the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC - being unfit for purpose. That is language that was introduced here; it is not ours. An earlier speaker gave the impression of responding to my colleagues, but let us be clear on this - we are satisfied with the work the WRC and the Labour Court do. We are seeking to put in place a provision that will not allow two cars to crash into each other, which is a strike. We want both sides, employers and unions, to examine where labour relations are going and where problems may arise. In that way, unions, management and employers can come together in unison for the betterment of society and of employer-employee relations.
What we propose is quite clearly not a reintroduction of social partnership. It is, therefore, incorrect for Sinn Féin to brand the motion as a backdoor for the reintroduction of social partnership. The premise of the amendment is incorrect, so it should be withdrawn. In that regard, I am surprised by the stance of my colleague, Senator Gavan, who is a SIPTU official and lets us know it. I commend him on that. I was also a branch secretary of a union, on a voluntary basis, for 13 years so I have some knowledge of the area. Nobody in this Chamber would dispute the credentials of Mr. David Begg as a trade union official and activist. In today's edition of The Irish Times, Mr. Begg put forward the concept contained in this motion. Senior SIPTU members, with whom we have discussed this matter, are in favour of another tier being put in place. Senator Gavan may be on a solo run, I am not sure, but he is certainly not talking on behalf of SIPTU.
Much has been said about Labour in government and what we failed to do. I would like to bring to the attention of the House the relevant subvention figures, starting with Bus Éireann, the subvention for which in 2013 was €34 million. The Bus Éireann subvention during the peak of the boom in 2006 - under Fianna Fáil - was €26 million. The subvention for Dublin Bus in 2013, when we were in government and defended it, was €74 million. Under Fianna Fáil at the peak of the boom, the subvention for Dublin Bus was €69 million. It is, therefore, folly to argue that Labour did not stand up for the PSO system and public transport when it was in government. I would appreciate it if, in future, people making such allegations against my party would do better research.
This is not just a Dublin Bus issue. Like many other Senators, I come from a rural area. I take issue with what Senator Reilly said, namely, that we cannot measure a benchmark subsidisation across Europe. In fact, this has already been done. The subvention level in Ireland is the second or third lowest in Europe. I recently visited France, where it costs €1 to travel 50 miles on the metro and €28 to travel six miles by taxi. It is clear that Government policy in France favours public transport, which is what we are seeking to do here. It is not a question of being against anybody. Rather, it is about being in favour of public transport. The only way to do that in a country such as ours, which is predominantly rural, is to provide a proper subvention. The only way to get from my town of Carrick-on-Suir to Dublin is by getting a rural link bus 14 miles to pick up a Bus Éireann service. If we continue down that road, we will further isolate rural areas and we will never rectify the problems arising from the new Government's efforts to downgrade Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus.
I used taxis during the bus strike days in Dublin. Taxi drivers and 99% of the public support Dublin Bus workers in the context of the work they do. I got onto a bus this morning and was unsure of which stop to get off at but the driver took the time to explain the route and destination. That is the public service we want to defend. We are confident we can defend it with motions such as that before the House.
I am broadly supportive of this motion and the sentiments contained therein. I want to address a couple of the points that have been made during the debate. We need to understand clearly that a growing economy does not, in itself, create employment or quality employment. We have seen our counterparts in the United States acknowledging that there is no trickle-down effect. Making decent work part of a growing economy is a something that requires clear policies and mechanisms. It is part of our remit within the political spectrum to champion and promote decent work, decent pay and an economy that benefits everybody. One of the key ways the State can do so is by valuing its public employees and ensuring that those who work for the public in every capacity, both in providing direct public services and for semi-State bodies, are valued and can plan progressive careers. The eight-year freeze that many of them have endured should be recognised. There is now an idea that one can serve the public while planning a career and family for the years ahead, knowing that one is valued and will be meaningfully remunerated for important work.
The Labour Party's proposal is a valuable one. I do not think it is in any sense a replacement for the Labour Court, the Workplace Relations Commission or the joint labour committees, which had fallen off the agenda but which are now, finally, moving back. They need to be strongly supported by this House. As I understand it, the proposal is that structures such as those which prevailed in the 1980s, prior to social partnership, will allow us a space in which to examine issues that move beyond individual disputes. We could thereby move beyond the question of pay and conditions for individual workers and deal with patterns we have identified across society. For example, there is the pattern as we move towards more precarious work, including the undervaluing of younger workers in many sectors.
The proposal is for a valuable body which could examine such matters. As Sinn Féin colleagues said, it should not be regarded as a centralised bargaining space. It is, rather, a space to ensure that we have some vision within society to address not just current crises but potential future ones also. For example, it could ensure that in negotiations across many sectors, future workers and service users would not be disadvantaged. We are not simply talking about workers, we are also discussing the fact that in future people will be able to work in the public service with pride.
Having said that, I have certain concerns about the proposed body. If it is to be further developed, we will need to consider such concerns. I understand that Mr. David Begg has put this idea forward, and that it also exists in Denmark and other countries. Questions arise, however, as to how such a body would be structured. In terms of employee representation, it makes sense to have representative bodies, including unions. Those unions should be in a position to talk about public policy in a wider space, rather than simply negotiating on behalf of their members on an individual or specific dispute. That would be a valuable contribution.
As regards the employer membership, there are questions as to what extent those employers might be public or private and how that representation might be divided up or broken down. That needs to be examined.
What about the community voice? It seems that none of us wants to recreate social partnership, but it is worth remembering that when we did have social partnership there were also environmental and community pillars. I was happy to serve on one of the latter at one point. Community and environmental voices should be considered because we need to ensure that this does not simply become a bargaining point, as was mentioned earlier. The proposal, therefore, requires further development.
Some extraordinarily valuable points are made in the Sinn Féin amendment. I agree with the premise and would like to support such proposals if they are forthcoming from Sinn Féin in future.The question of trade union access to members in the workplace is important. The question of a trade union recognition clause in public procurement is something I favour. I would like to see legislation come through this House dealing with that clause and other clauses within our public procurement contracts worth €6 billion every year, a significant area of spending in which the State could show it values workers and workers' representatives. However, all of us in the House who are passionate about workers' rights and moving forward the workers' rights agenda maybe need to look to how we can work more constructively together because there are many Members in the House who feel strongly on this issue. I would love if we could try to work in a way that we are coming behind each other on motions and amendments in this area.
I would note one other point. Both proposals pointed to the question of subvention. Sinn Féin's proposal was a little more ambitious but Labour's proposal does not preclude that. Labour has looked for an increase in subvention to pre-crisis levels, which I support. I recognise that Sinn Féin has a more ambitious target of moving to a European average and that is something which could be added subsequently.
In terms of subvention and the question of public subsidy, I support all groups which look for the idea of a roadmap towards public subsidy which is appropriate. Ireland is woefully behind the rest of Europe in valuing public transport and investing in it. We invest 28% in public subvention compared with 47% in France and 60% in both Italy and the Netherlands. We are, as one previous speaker mentioned, closer to UK levels. In fact, only the subventions of the UK and Luxembourg are lower than that of Ireland. Ireland is an outlier in terms of the low spend on and investment in public transport. The UK model, which we may be closer to, is a highly fractured and privatised model which would be a serious warning to us in Ireland rather than any kind of model which we must consider if we are to have a credible public transport system.
In terms of subsidies and subvention, we need to look to a different language. This is public investment. When we spend on public transport and subsidise it, we are not propping up some semi-State company. We are investing in the significant value that is given and which is recognised worldwide of a formidable, useful, effective public transport system. It gives extraordinary returns in terms of the environment, participation in society, the individual benefit it gives to all those who are able to work and move in our cities, the life it brings to many areas which would otherwise be isolated, and its meaning for business. It is notable that business complains when the strikes take place. That is because a public transport system is invaluable to a healthy economy. We need to increase massively our investment in this area. We must recognise public transport needs to be part of planning and our vision for the city and the country, and that needs to be a public vision with public accountability.
While I will not address the issue of Bus Éireann, it is part of that public transport vision. Dublin Bus is one of the most inclusive employers in the country. It has led the way in its support for diversity in its employment and it is a tool of inclusion within the city. It is the mechanism which supports all those within the city areas, no matter how isolated and no matter how much the deprivation, to ensure they can be part of the life of the city. We need to recognise that work. We need to ensure those who work with Dublin Bus are recognised, that they can plan their career with pride and they can be assured of appropriate remuneration and recognition in the years ahead. I wish the talks every success and I commend the drivers on having put this issue strongly and appropriately on the public agenda.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion. There is much in it which the Government can support but also elements the Government cannot support. I pay tribute to the former Minister of State and Deputy, Senator Ged Nash, for the good work that did in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on industrial relations and also on his stellar work with small businesses. I can understand why the Senators would consider making some of the points contained in the motion. I also accept that the motion is intended to be constructive as opposed to just playing mere politics, and I thank the Members for affording me the opportunity to speak to it.
We can all welcome the forecasts for continued economic growth and falling unemployment, and it is my number one goal as Minister to see this continue. The country has witnessed a significant improvement in the economy over recent years but there is still a lot to do. With more than 2 million people in employment for the first time since 2009, there was an annual increase of 56,000 in employment in 2015. The Government believes that a growing economy should sustain well-paid jobs through which more citizens share in economic prosperity, and I stress the Government's support for a social economy model which delivers a strong economy and a fair society. This Government recognises that economic and social progress go hand in hand. In my view, it is the economy that serves society, not the other way around. A strong economy is needed to support people at work and to pay for the services needed to create a fair society.
We have seen sustained job creation and reducing unemployment, and we are focused on full employment and people having good sustainable jobs. I have spent a major part of the summer travelling throughout Ireland, through the regions and rural areas, listening, learning and speaking to implementation groups of action plans for jobs. I have announced thousands of jobs and I can honestly say that the jobs were well-paying one, the effects of which will trickle down into the community to help retail and hospitality, such as restaurants, in towns and villages. Full employment in sustainable jobs is what will make possible all other plans for better services, higher living standards and, ultimately, better lives for people living in Ireland. The measures agreed by Government in the Action Plan for Jobs and the regional action plans will promote job creation and employment growth in all parts of the country. I am determined that good jobs come to rural and regional areas. These measures are being delivered on. The Government will use the benefits of a strong economy to ensure we have a fair society.
The Labour Party motion calls for a new body representative of employers and employees to intervene in protracted industrial disputes. I consider the creation of such a permanent new body unnecessary as it runs the risk of undermining the role of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court. I can understand why high-profile disputes such as those at the Luas and Dublin Bus lead to such calls, but we must remember that hundreds of other disputes each year are resolved by the WRC and the Labour Court without strike action. Parties to many of these disputes would feel they had not exhausted the industrial relations, IR, process or done the utmost for their members if they did not have the matter considered in some way by a higher body. Thus, the everyday work of the WRC and the Labour Court would be undermined.
The Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court have been shown to be effective dispute settling industrial relations institutions within our voluntary system of industrial relations. The Workplace Relations Commission has a suite of services to assist employees and employers maintain harmonious industrial relations. The Workplace Relations Commission advisory service promotes good practice in the workplace by assisting and advising organisations in all aspects of industrial relations.Its mediation service encourages the discussion and resolution of disputes in the workplace at local level. Mediation provides an opportunity for those involved to address issues locally and reach workable solutions. If mediation is not appropriate, the Workplace Relations Commission offers a conciliation service to parties that find themselves in dispute. The conciliation service helps employers and their employees to resolve disputes when they have failed to reach agreement during their previous negotiations. The substantial majority of cases referred to conciliation are settled. The conciliation service's handling of industrial relations disputes is becoming increasingly important as levels of actual or threatened industrial action increase. The number of referrals to the conciliation service was 513 over the first six months of 2016. If conciliation does not produce an agreement, a dispute may be referred to the Labour Court. A total of 26 disputes have been referred to the Labour Court since the beginning of the year. In the context of many of these referrals, significant progress was made at the conciliation stage in terms of narrowing the differences between the parties and this led to the number of issues requiring definitive Labour Court recommendations being reduced.
The programme for a partnership Government states that the Government will respect the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court as the proper forums for State intervention in industrial relations disputes. I reiterate that the creation of an additional higher body in the State to intervene in protracted industrial relations disputes is unnecessary. I welcome the establishment of the new Labour Employer Economic Forum. This is a formal tripartite structure designed to facilitate enhanced dialogue. The first meeting of the labour-employer economic forum, with An Taoiseach chairing, will take place next week.
I acknowledge, as I must, the progress made in recent years in reforming the workplace relations bodies. It is important for us to reflect on the progress made in recent years to improve the industrial relations institutions of the State and the industrial relations legislation used by workers and employers. In the course of the workplace relations reforms, five bodies were merged into two, namely, the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. These changes provide a better service at lower cost to employees and employers. This represents the most significant reform of the State's employment rights and industrial relations machinery in 70 years. The average waiting time for a hearing before the Workplace Relations Commission is now between three and four months. Waiting times to hear legacy Employment Appeals Tribunal cases are down from 128 weeks at the start of 2015 to 53 weeks. Labour Court waiting times have fallen from ten to six weeks. Cases awaiting hearing by the Employment Appeals Tribunal had fallen from 3,000 to 868 by the end of the second quarter of this year. Waiting times are between 32 and 49 weeks and falling rapidly. The joint labour committee system has also been restored. Employers and their representatives can again come together voluntarily and negotiate the terms and conditions of workers in their respective sectors.
Welcome reforms have been made to our collective bargaining laws through the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015, which commenced in August last year. The legislation provides for a clear and balanced mechanism by which the fairness of the total employment conditions of workers can be assessed by the Labour Court where collective bargaining does not take place. These changes bring clarity and certainty for employers in terms of managing their workplaces. There have been other developments in recent years including in relation to wage-setting mechanisms. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 provides for a revised legislative framework to replace the registered employment agreement framework. That Act sets out a replacement framework for registered employment agreements in individual enterprises and includes a new mechanism whereby pay, pension and sick pay provisions in a particular sector can be established, agreed and enforced by way of a sectoral employment order. Ireland's comprehensive suite of employment rights legislation sets out protections for all workers.
I emphasise that throughout the crisis, the Government was committed to maintaining employment rights, particularly those designed to protect the most vulnerable workers in society. If anything, the changes that were made and the new legislation have improved protections. I welcome the commitment in the programme for Government to tackle the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious work. To this end, I am committed to considering an appropriate policy response to the report of the University of Limerick, UL, on zero-hour and low-hour contracts in the Irish economy. In response to the report, my Department sought submissions from interested parties by way of a public consultation process. A large number of submissions were received by the closing date and the responses contained a variety of views for and against the findings and recommendations made by UL. The responses require and are being given careful consideration by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The study and the responses to it will be considered by Government with a view to agreeing the actions that should be taken. I would like to secure broad agreement on the proposals and, as such, I have asked the Department to engage with employer and employee representatives in the coming weeks to achieve this aim.
I condemn in very strong terms the way the Clerys workers were treated. It is my firm intention to amend the law, as necessary, to ensure that nobody will be left in that situation again. My predecessors in the Department initiated the Duffy-Cahill report as part of the response to the closure. The report sets out a number of recommendations for changes to employment law. My Department has initiated a public consultation and quite divergent views have been received on the recommendations. The Company Law Review Group has also been asked to examine ways to amend company law to better protect employees and unsecured creditors. It will report in the coming months. The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and I are committed to bringing proposals to Government seeking agreement to make the necessary changes in response to the Duffy-Cahill report. However, as this will involve technical and complex legal issues, it is important to take legal advice to ensure that any changes are correct. The reason this process is taking time is because of the need to get it right legally. It is not because of any lack of commitment on my part or that of the Minister of State.
In the context of the Dublin Bus dispute, I acknowledge the considerable disruption suffered by commuters and the financial impact on business in the city. There is no doubt that retail businesses suffer when people do not have access to transport. The Labour Party motion calls, inter alia, for the restoration of the public subsidy to Dublin Bus to pre-crisis levels. The Exchequer provides substantial recurring financial assistance to Dublin Bus in the form of the subvention funding provided in return for the provision of public service obligation services. It also provides capital funding, principally for the purposes of bus fleet renewal and expansion.Over the period 2008 to 2015, this financial assistance totalled €772 million. The key priority in supporting public transport services in the future should be to secure service improvements in public transport. The priority for additions to public transport subvention should be based on the proposed impact of improved services to the public. Access to public transport is an extremely important social issue, especially for those who are mobility impaired. While I support efforts to improve the public transport offering, it should be done based on detailed analysis by the National Transport Authority and considered in the context of the budget.
I welcome the ongoing discussions taking place at the WRC between all parties to the Dublin Bus dispute and I am sure we can all join together in hoping progress can be made. I assure the House of the Government's commitment to continuing the momentum made in reforming the workplace relations bodies, industrial relations and employment rights legislation. These measures are aimed at protecting workers' rights, particularly our most vulnerable workers, and at promoting a stable industrial relations environment. I look forward to working in a constructive and positive manner with colleagues across all sides of the House. I thank the Senators for this opportunity and I look forward to hearing their views during the rest of the debate.
I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the motion, which is poignant given the ongoing dispute with Dublin Bus and its workers. As issues have developed and emerged, the motion has been superseded by negotiations taking place this week, and we hope they prove fruitful. Much has been said during the debate, and I do not want to repeat it.
Public sector workers are among the best in the world and they provide exceptional service sometimes under difficult conditions across the public sector in local authorities and across the public services that are provided on a daily basis. Those posts are all funded by the public sector income which is provided predominantly by the taxpayer. As such, there is an obligation on all of us to act responsibly when this money is being divided. We cannot argue economically for tax reductions or increases on the one hand and increases or reductions to pay on the other. Complicated economic analyses have been done here and across the OECD on models of rewarding pay and performance.
I was listening to some of the debate on Dublin Bus. The first question I always ask about a public service obligation is whether it can be provided by the private sector or if the taxpayer has to subvent a private company to provide it. For example, reference was made to the revenue stream of Dublin Bus. I examined the revenue stream of Dublin Bus over recent years. During recent weeks, some of the trade unions have been economical with the truth regarding the subvention being paid by the taxpayer, not by us, to Dublin Bus. The PSO, which was referred to today, is only one element of the funding the taxpayer provides to Dublin Bus. In addition to this subsidy, which was €57 million last year, the National Transport Authority, NTA, provided a capital subvention of €39 million, bringing the total State subvention to €96 million. Figures for other years are available.
When we compare like with like, we must acknowledge that the taxpayer is paying for the new buses that are on the streets of Dublin. They are not paying for the new buses on the streets of Galway, Cork, Letterkenny or other cities. They are paying for the new buses on the streets of Dublin and the PSO is being provided, given that the service is deemed to be financially unviable but socially desirable. The question must be asked as to why the taxpayer is subventing only Dublin Bus. If we want to get into the argument about pay and conditions, perhaps we should compare some of the other bus operators in the country. In my county, a private company, John McGinley Coaches, is providing a first class daily service from Donegal to Dublin and receives no State subvention, apart from pensioners' fares. Should the State intervene? The Labour Party motion indicates, if it does not state, that the State should intervene by propping up Dublin Bus to sort out the terms and conditions being requested by the workers.
It should not happen. There is no economic justification for it. There are questions Dublin Bus management must answer, and it has not done so. An economic analysis carried out by the NTA in 2015 on Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann found satisfactory results. I am not sure what "satisfactory" means. If we are providing €100 million of taxpayers' money to Dublin Bus and the economic audits are only "satisfactory", questions are to be asked of the management. If there are to be pay increases, the taxpayer should not foot the bill. It would be wrong and would send us down a cul-de-sac from which there is no coming back.
There are issues around the future economic viability of Dublin Bus. This morning, I heard on the radio that it would be in a deficit situation by the end of the year. If this is the case, there is a need for an updated economic analysis of the company. The manner in which it deals with its employees will, hopefully, be resolved through the machinery of the State. When we talk about public sector pay, we also need to discuss performance and reward. The two are not mutually exclusive. If we are going to increase public sector pay, we must also ensure performance is closely linked to it. The performance factors which were built into Haddington Road, Croke Park and some of the other agreements have worked. Public servants are working and providing an excellent service and we must ensure they are rewarded for it.
We must change the mentality in the public sector that pay increases come but workers are not being rewarded for the extra they give. Public servants give extra every day of the week and they must be rewarded for it. We must build a system that acknowledges and recognises it. This is why my party supports the Government initiatives and we have made it a precondition of supporting the supply and confidence arrangement that a public sector pay commission would be established. It is absolutely crucial that it is done and that there is a filtration of rewarding performance across the public sector.
As politicians, we cannot seek support for constituents who are trying to get services from the State on the one hand and, on the other, try to reward poor performance. There must be some correlation between the two. The only way we can do it is by establishing a form of commission, not a rewarding body that would examine only one side. A much bigger picture must be examined. The Government, like any national government, does not have an infinite supply of resources given that the taxpayer must be penalised through taxation to provide those resources.
I agree with some of the motion and disagree with other elements of the Labour Party motion and, moreover, the Sinn Féin motion, given that I struggled to make sense of some of the Sinn Féin motion.
There is a baffling line that might be explained. It is "believes Government should ensure sufficient funding for vital public services so that disputes do not occur". What happens if that is awarded but there is another dispute? Should it use more taxpayers' money? That line does not make any sense from any quarter. It baffles me that the line would be in a motion as it is counter-intuitive to it and undermines its credibility. I would be glad to argue the point with the Senator at a later date.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and, in particular, to argue in favour of Sinn Féin's amended motion. Our amended motion reflects the experience of workers under the last Government. I recall the workers in Lagan Brick, Vita Cortex, TalkTalk, La Senza, Clerys, Dunnes Stores and many more companies who were denied basic rights and had to engage in sit-in protests. Ireland had the dubious distinction of having the second highest number of low-paid workers in the OECD. On top of this, we must add the decimation of key public services such as health, the provision of social housing and public transport.
In the Ireland of 2016, people go to work and live in emergency accommodation. Workers cannot afford to go to the doctor and their children languish on waiting lists for services that are available on demand in other European countries. We agree that there is economic growth taking place and we are thankful unemployment is falling. We are deeply concerned that this growth in economic activity and in employment is fundamentally imbalanced. The major cities of Dublin and Cork are moving forward while many other communities across this State, no more so than my own county of Donegal, are being left behind and are yet to see consistent growth or an adequate recovery in jobs. This type of recovery is symptomatic of the failed policies of the past that delivered totally imbalanced growth and allowed very bad decisions to be made. We all know the consequences of those policies.
We in Sinn Féin certainly believe a growing economy should sustain decently paid jobs. We also believe that all citizens should share in economic prosperity and that it must translate into better working conditions and improved pay. Trade unions are needed more now than at any point in recent times in order to restore the damage that has been done to workers over the past eight years. What has happened to workers in Ireland is not unique and the same has happened to workers in the United States and other European countries. We are seeing the rise of neoliberal economics, with bible touting privatisation, deregulation and driving down workers' pay and conditions. It is about attacking public services and undermining public confidence in our ability to grow public services. It is a shared right-wing ideology held not just in this country as we have seen from tonight's contributions but, unfortunately, across Europe and into America. Those of us on the left have a duty to coalesce. We will not reach agreement tonight but perhaps the point made by Senator Higgins could be taken on board. Perhaps in future we could co-operate better on these motions and try to reach some degree of consensus in order to demonstrate to the people following these matters at home - or the many more who are understandably disillusioned with debates in these Houses - that there is a better alternative to what they have seen and which has destroyed so many people's lives.
We welcome the acknowledgement by the Labour Party that the subvention to Dublin Bus, as with other public bodies, is not comparable with other European cities. We call on the Government to ensure funding for vital public services to prevent disputes occurring in the first place. Restoration of funding to rebuild the current services and add more must come about and a roadmap should be developed that can bring us to that point. There is a need to strengthen workers' rights. Our party has brought forward many Bills over recent years that sought to protect and enhance workers' rights but they were rejected by the previous Government, of which the Labour Party was a part. We have an ongoing position whereby many trade union officials are being denied the right to access places of work to engage with their members. This is happening in many retail outlets throughout the State. The issue of right to access was not dealt with by the previous Government. We have prepared legislation on this matter and hope to bring it before the Dáil in the near future.
As we speak, negotiations are ongoing to settle the Dublin Bus dispute. I wish the unions and Dublin Bus workers well in their negotiations and regret that management allowed it to get to this point in the first place. I would also like to put on record that the behaviour of the Minister, Deputy Ross, in this dispute has been far from helpful. Sinn Féin will vote against the Labour Party motion and I ask Senators to support our amended motion. Although we cannot reach agreement tonight, I hope we will be able to do so in both Houses in the lifetime of this Dáil and Seanad, allowing us to put together a shared vision from the left.
It should indicate how we can have strong public services paid for by fair general taxation, offering a coherent alternative to the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael conservatism that has failed so many people in our country and their brothers in other countries.
I came to the House with no great intention to speak because my colleagues argued the point very clearly. I have been sitting here frustrated as I listened to thinly veiled attacks not just on Dublin Bus but also on Dublin from Fianna Fáil. I was totally dismayed by that. There is a subvention for all public transport throughout the country and not just to Dublin Bus. Dublin Bus has a catchment of over 1.3 million people, with millions of journeys carried out. The thinly veiled attack on Dublin Bus, its workers and the citizens of the capital city has dismayed and disgusted me.
We need to invest in our public transport. It is a constant theme since the last general election that there is attack after attack by Senators or Deputies - whether from Donegal or elsewhere - on Dublin city and the workers there. We are part of Ireland as well and we contribute more in taxation than many other regions. We are entitled to a good service. The people providing that service should be paid a proper wage. I am sick of the constant attacks on those services. I did not mean to speak when I arrived here so I have been brief.
I support the comments of my colleague, Senator Humphreys. I am not really surprised by Senator Ó Domhnaill's comments as it seems Fianna Fáil, the party only too happy to support a public bailout of the banks, is being peculiar in not being prepared to envisage a position where there may be additional subsidies to vital public services that make our economy work and provide so much in terms of social cohesion in the capital city. It is no wonder Fianna Fáil has a Dublin problem and will continue to have a problem if that is the type of rhetoric we continue to hear from it.I am disappointed that my colleague, Senator Reilly, and others decided to deliberately confuse the issue of the proposal of an employer-labour conference with the functioning of the very important institutions that are the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court. I value the work of both institutions that have served this country extremely well. I know more than most about the Workplace Relations Commission for it was the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and I who set it up, and I resent any accusations that might be made that we do not support the work of the WRC or the Labour Court. Nobody should hide behind that as an excuse not to support this motion. They are entirely different animals and they seek to do entirely different things. I have said it before and I will say it again. The employer-labour Conference serves an entirely different purpose. It predates the social partnership model and it worked very effectively in a number of instances in the 1970s and 1980s in terms of attaining industrial peace when that seemed like a distant ambition for people caught up in protracted, or potentially protracted, disputes in that very difficult period for our country. The employer-labour conference can grapple with major policy questions that a Government may be incapable of facing because of numbers and other challenges. I am intrigued by the proposition that clearly came from Government this week, perhaps in response to this motion, that a form of labour-employer economic forum would be established. I would be interested to learn more about that and what that innovation seeks to achieve.
Unlike Senator Gavan, I am not particularly concerned about official economic development figures. We all accept that the GDP figures published recently leave a lot to be desired, but the proof is there in that people are getting back to work, the real economy is growing rapidly, and the economic recovery is spreading evenly across the country, despite what some people would say because it serves their interests to say that is not the case. It is the case.
This is not about centralising decision making or collective bargaining in some national body and bypassing the important work of shop stewards on the shop floor and trade union officials. The reality is that in the absence of the Labour Party's presence in government and an initiative like the employer-labour conference, there would be no formal role for trade unions in decision making in this country.
I support what my colleague, Senator Alice Mary Higgins, said. I welcome the points she made on the joint labour committee system that we were proud to reconstitute just a few short years ago. With regard to the joint labour committees, far from falling off the agenda, it is hoped that the Minister will shortly sign the second employment regulation order for the security industry that will ensure a living wage for 12,500 security contract workers across this State in a very vulnerable sector. The joint labour committee system is up and running. We would like to see Government policy being initiated and respected by employers with regard to hospitality and retail. That is not the case currently, and there is work to be done on that.
I also welcome Senator Higgins's eloquent defence of public services. Perhaps we should move away from the characterisation of providing citizens' resources to public sector bodies and public services as some kind of subvention or subsidy when it would be more appropriately referred to as public investment in services we all use and need.
I am very interested in the development the Minister has announced on the economic forum. We need to hear more about that. I appeal to Government to have the confidence to accept this innovation because we cannot simply stand still and expect that the economic recovery will continue or, as some people famously said, let us keep the recovery going. We need to innovate constantly and be smart about the institutional responses we make as a Government and as an Oireachtas, to the key policy challenges we face.
I hope to be proven wrong in the coming period but I suggest we may well be back here at some point in the next few months as many of the industrial relations challenges we believe we will face come down the tracks. They may be intractable and difficult to resolve, and we may need an intervention of this nature to deal with some of the big policy questions this country will face. I appeal to colleagues across the floor to support the motion.
- Rose Conway Walsh
- Maire Devine
- Paul Gavan
- Pádraig MacLochlainn
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Niall Ó Donnghaile
- Fintan Warfield
- Ivana Bacik
- Colm Burke
- Paddy Burke
- Ray Butler
- Jerry Buttimer
- Maria Byrne
- Paudie Coffey
- Paul Coghlan
- Gerard Craughwell
- Frank Feighan
- Alice Mary Higgins
- Maura Hopkins
- Kevin Humphreys
- Denis Landy
- Billy Lawless
- Tim Lombard
- Michelle Mulherin
- Gerald Nash
- Catherine Noone
- Kieran O'Donnell
- Joe O'Reilly
- Grace O'Sullivan
- Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
- James Reilly
- Neale Richmond
- Lynn Ruane