Dáil Éireann - Volume 291 - 24 June, 1976

Regulation of Banks (Remuneration and Conditions of Employment) (Temporary Provisions) Bill, 1976: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Briscoe: Before Questions I was expressing surprise that a former trade union official, the Minister for Labour, would be introducing a measure of this kind. However I understand that the Minister has no ambition to be a trade union official again at any time in the future and, perhaps, a trade union would not find him very attractive in the light of his supporting this sort of legislation. One cannot help wondering where stand some of those great defenders of [1715] workers' rights who in the past came into this House to defend the right of free collective bargaining. I refer to such Deputies as the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Local Government, who said on one occassion that he would fight tooth and nail to prevent the enactment of this sort of legislation. Also, the newly-elected Deputy for Dublin South-West, who represents a large working-class area. We have not heard from Deputy Halligan so far. One would have thought that he would take the opportunity of this occasion to make his maiden speech.

It is not my intention to delay the House very long because there are many members of my party who wish to speak to the measure. This morning both Deputies Fitzgerald and Colley appealed continuously to the Minister to indicate where in this legislation there is reference either to the Labour Court or to a national wage agreement. The Minister refused to comply with such requests but we will ensure that he will have adequate time to reply to the debate. I trust that when replying he will be able to indicate to us that this is not a statutory wage freeze. This legislation is brought forward at a time when further price increases are being announced. If my ears did not deceive me I heard on the news this morning that the present spate of increases has been sanctioned by the National Prices Commission. This is another case of the Government passing the buck. The NPC can only recommend: it is for the Government to sanction. This Government have been attempting deliberately to pass responsibility for price increases to bodies appointed by them.

The bank officials do not want a strike. At a time when their negotiations were at a very delicate stage the Minister for Finance made his intervention, thereby hardening the attitude of the officials.

The Minister for Finance has talked of the necessary for a new budget this year in certain circumstances. I would venture to say that we can expect a series of mini-budgets of the type we [1716] have had during the past few years. The first of these new mini-budgets for this year is represented in the sanctioning of an increase in ESB charges to the tune of a further £6 million. The ship of State is totally out of control. There is no leadership. In such circumstances is it any wonder that there is confusion and dissatisfaction among the people? I trust that by the time this debate has ended the Minister for Labour will understand the full implications of the Bill. From the denials which emanated from him this morning it would appear that he has no such understanding now.

No Fianna Fáil Government ever introduced legislation similar to that before us. The maximum we ever did was to control the amount of a wage increase. We never imposed a wage freeze. We merely restricted the limit beyond which wages could not be increased. Where is the so-called national partnership about which the Government love to speak? There is certainly no partnership in this legislation. I do not know how the Minister for Labour will look trade union members in the face after the introduction of this type of legislation. It is disgraceful because it is also discriminatory. He has singled out a section of the community. I would be interested to know whether this legislation is to be carried through to the rest of the community or does the Minister intend descending on one section only with this legislation?

Mr. Enright: I shall be brief in my comments on this Bill. I preface my remarks with a very strong appeal to each and every member of the Irish Bank Officials' Association to postpone the strike threatened to commence on Monday morning next. I make that urgent appeal because I believe it is vital that it should not take place. I know a lot of bank staff throughout the country and have friendly and cordial relations with a few hundred of them. As somebody who has a certain amount of dealings on a dayto-day basis with banking staffs throughout the country, I recognise that they are a very dedicated section of the community who work hard and [1717] are highly efficient. I make that appeal to them, recognising that they are conscientious people. If they decide to postpone their strike, I believe the Irish Bank Officials' Association will be giving a lead to the country, a lead in the right direction, and setting an example for other sections of the community. The precipitate action of a strike has widespread repercussions and a postponement can often be of immense value.

Ireland, like every other country throughout the world, is beginning to emerge from a recession. We have gone through a difficult number of years with the oil crisis and other serious problems. Just as we emerge from this recession, with the economy about to get moving again, the serious damage a bank strike could cause would be so horrible it is something we dislike contemplating.

I remember the results of the last bank strike here. I cashed a lot of cheques for a lot of people and was exceptionally lucky in that every person with whom I had business dealings had no difficulties whatsoever. But I do know many honest people who fell during the last bank strike, a lot of whom never succeeded in getting their businesses moving again. The last bank strike was serious and lasted a long time. I believe that the present dispute, if it leads to a strike, could be equally protracted. The damage it could do to our economy would take years and years to undo. It could lead to increased unemployment, job opportunities now becoming available being lost and small businesses and firms having to close down because they would be unable to continue. If the strike takes place it could and will mean that a lot of people who import goods will be forced out of business because the foreign firms from whom they buy would not accept cheques because of worldwide credit facilities being scarce and tight. For those reasons it is incumbent on us all to ensure that this strike does not come off.

This Bill does not interfere with the rights of negotiation. At this juncture negotiations are continuing and I hope they will lead to some [1718] satisfactory conclusion. This threatened bank strike—and it was threatened prior to the Minister for Finance's remarks—has led to a lot of money leaving the country. There are 144 Deputies in this House. All of us have a responsibility. For the sake of each person we represent it is sad to see so much money leaving the country at present. Such responsibility devolves on all of us, on the Irish Bank Officials' Association, the negotiating body and everybody else. If it is necessary that discussions take place between the Minister for Labour, the bank officials and the negotiating body on behalf of the banks, they should be undertaken as soon as possible.

I would appeal to the bank officials to show a spirit of goodwill and cooperation. I would go so far as to say that a spirit of patriotism is needed at this juncture in that the devastating effects of such a strike on our economy cannot be overlooked. I sincerely hope this strike does not take place on Monday next.

Mr. Dowling: I should like to add my voice to that of our spokesman, Deputy G. Fitzgerald, and other speakers from this side of the House who have already outlined clearly our party's position in relation to this Bill.

I want to sympathise with the Minister because I believe, that in presenting the Bill, he did not know what it was about. It is quite clear that this is a Richie Ryan Bill, that the Bill was prepared by——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy must not refer to Ministers except by their titles.

Mr. Dowling: —— by the Minister for Finance, merely handed to the Minister for Labour because, in our questioning of the Minister for Labour, he did not seem to understand what the Bill was about. He gave no indication whatever in his opening speech as to what the Bill was about, and no indication that it was imposed on him by another member of the Government or by the Government as a whole. One would have expected the [1719] Minister to be able clearly to tell us what the Bill was about and what it was designed to do. The Minister tells us the banks and their employees are not parties to the national wage agreement so the Bill does not deal with the national wage agreement. He goes on to say:

Most people who have considered the matter will, I think, agree that no pay settlement of a national character is without a follow-on effect. I would not maintain that an agreement by the banks and their employees must be a replica of any national agreement because, of course, the banking services have certain unique features.

Later in his speech he says:

The Bill in no way impedes continuation of negotiation between the banks and their employees for a new 1976 bank pay agreement.

If this is a Bill to correct a trend then a precedent is being established and every Minister will be able to bring in legislation to correct trends being set by some group or other. Is this a beginning? Is the Minister testing reaction by introducing a measure like this? He does not indicate that the Bill will be affected in any way by the national wage agreement. He says the Bill is similar to Bills introduced some time ago. This has been disproved by Deputy Colley. This Bill is completely different from those introduced in 1975. Admittedly it has some of the undesirable features, but it is not by any means similar. No explanatory memorandum accompanied this Bill. Such a memorandum is usual with Bills of a technical nature. To me this is an indication that those who compiled the Bill did not themselves understand it. It shows the confusion in the Government. It is clear this Bill was imposed on the Minister. He did not seem to be able to answer questions asked and he did not try to be in any way helpful when speakers on this side looked for additional information to enable them to debate the Bill fully and effectively.

There is no reference to the national wage agreement. Will the Bill come [1720] into effect if there is a national wage agreement? In that eventuality what action does the Minister propose to take? The Minister says the banks and their employees are not parties to the national wage agreement so that agreement is not a factor. What is the factor? Is the Bill designed to correct a trend? Will we have a repetition of this legislation? It is discriminatory legislation. Not knowing the real reason behind the Bill it is very difficult to discuss it.

This is not just a question of how much bank officials should be paid. A serious situation exists. I believe that if the Minister and his colleagues were more discreet in their approach to the problem we would not have the present parlous situation. The Minister is being saddled with the problem of another Minister but, of course, collective responsibility enters into the picture. This is a wage freeze, the first such wage freeze to come before this House for quite a long time in this particular form. There is no indication that, if a national wage agreement is reached, the Minister will repeal this measure. This is a very undesirable type of legislation. The Minister talks about follow-on effects. Everything that is done has a follow-on effect of some kind. Nobody wants industrial disruption anywhere at this critical stage in the life of the nation and every effort should be made at ensuring there are no stoppages of any kind. Irresponsible statements from some Ministers have not helped in this dispute as they have not helped in other disputes. Perhaps the Minister could give us a little more information so that speakers who follow will be able to discuss the Bill more effectively.

Is the Minister waiting to find out the reaction of our party? Is he making up his mind as he goes along? If that is the position then the Government have no predetermined policy on this. We have reached a low level when the Government are not able to give us the reason for the Bill. It is a discriminatory Bill. If the Minister is merely testing reaction he is taking a calculated risk which could have serious repercussions both for the economy and the Government. Bank officials are [1721] reasonable people, and like all representatives, they can discuss their problems frankly in a favourable climate. If we had that climate we would not have this undesirable situation.

This is a battering ram. The penalties are set out in section 4. Those who trangress will be fined. They will not be imprisoned. In default of payment of the fine property can be seized and the sheriff may dispose of the property seized at the appropriate rate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is aware that discussion of details is reserved for the Committee Stage.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central): This is an important section.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It may be important but details may be discussed only on Committee Stage.

Mr. Dowling: When one does not get an explanatory memorandum the only way one can get information then is by going through the Bill line by line and section by section.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: On the Committee Stage.

Mr. Dowling: Surely one should be able on Second Stage to deal in a general way with matters relating to the Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is well aware that the Second Stage deals with the principle of the Bill. On Committee Stage the Deputy can deal with the details of the Bill.

Mr. Dowling: There is nothing at all about the principles of the Bill in the Minister's Second Reading speech.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is just telling the Deputy what is involved in the Second Reading.

Mr. Dowling: Can the Chair indicate to me where I can get the necessary information that will allow me as well as other Members to discuss the principles of the Bill?

[1722] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy can raise the points of detail which he wishes to raise on Committee Stage.

Mr. Dowling: We are dealing with an incomptent Minister and an incompetent Government who cannot supply information to the Deputies by way of explanatory information.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair will not engage with the Deputy in this type of argument.

Mr. Dowling: Surely one can discuss aspects of the Bill? Certain sections have already been dealt with by other Members.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is asking the Deputy to leave details until Committee Stage.

Mr. Dowling: What can one speak about?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The general principles of the Bill on Second Reading.

Mr. Dowling: One of the principles in the Bill is the penalties imposed. I want to refer to the penalties in the Bill.

Mr. Connolly: A person cannot be jailed.

Mr. Dowling: A person cannot be jailed but they can take his house. If a person has a child they can take the pram, they can take his bed, they can seize all his goods, they can send in the sheriff but they will not put him in jail.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should not move away into detail again.

Mr. Dowling: If one had the information we required earlier on, one could deal with this in a way that most Second Stages are dealt with. There is no reference in the Minister's speech to the principles of the Bill. I am quite positive that in a Second Reading speech reference was made to various sections and the Minister explained what exactly he had in mind. The Minister did not do so in his speech today and he did not present [1723] an explanatory memorandum as was done on the two previous Bills. During the Minister's Second Reading speech on those other Bills he referred to particular sections and the effect they would have. If the Minister referred to sections in his Second Reading speech. I could refer to them. As he did not, as he does not know what he is talking about, as he has not come into the House and made the best effort he could in presenting the Bill and has not given us sufficient information, you cannot blame Members of the House for trying to obtain information and commenting on sections of the Bill. I do not want to have our spokesman put down a variety of amendments if this Bill is so important but I want to comment in a general way on the penalties which are the most important part of the Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: When the Deputy reaches the section on these on Committee Stage, he will be able to deal with them.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: On a point of order I did not think one could be prevented from commenting on any particular section of a Bill on Second Stage.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Committee Stage of a Bill is for the detail of all sections.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: I accept that but it does not really prevent Deputies from commenting on them on Second Stage.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: If every section was to be dealt with on Second Reading there would be no necessity at all for a Committee Stage of the Bill.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: I accept that but surely it does not prevent Deputies from commenting on the sections in general? I accept one cannot go through all the sections but if there is one particular section that a Deputy does not approve of surely he is entitled to comment on it on Second Stage?

[1724] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: All the Chair is saying to Deputies in general is that details in regard to sections should be kept for Committee Stage.

Mr. Dowling: So far as the sections of the Bill are concerned one cannot refer to them. What can one refer to? Can I refer to the stupidity of the Minister for bringing in legislation and not presenting us with effective information? Is that all I can refer to? That is the situation I find myself in. Other Members who have spoken have found themselves in the same situation. There has been a lack of information which is either by design or otherwise. If it is by design it is done to prevent Opposition Members from expressing their viewpoints fully and effectively. One needs to have knowledge to deal with this important matter in any depth.

I disagree with the section dealing with penalties. We have progressive improvements in employment in many sectors. Under this Bill the conditions of the people concerned cannot be improved even though they are necessary. If improved conditions are necessary and the employer wishes to provide them the threat of the sheriff is imposed on him. Section 3 (2) (b) states that the Minister may from time to time by order:

prohibit the making, implementing or continued implementing by the banks ... of any amendments ... or more favourable terms or conditions of employment for them other than any such amendments or variations agreed to by, or on behalf of, these banks and these employees on or before the 23rd day of June, 1976.

If there are necessary improvements which may be insisted on by a local authority, a health authority or some other authority they are debarred from granting them by the threat of the sheriff.

The penalties are applied to this section. If I agreed with the legislation and with the principles behind it, I certainly would not agree to this low down tactic. Our spokesman has clearly indicated our position in relation [1725] tion to the national pay agreement, this Bill and other legislation which has come before us on previous occasions, the line we took on previous occasions, the line we are taking on this occasion and the reasons why. This is a Bill of victimisation, one for which there was no explanation given and one about which the Minister knows little or nothing. I am sure by the time the debate closes he will have accumulated some information on which he can make a dart at replying to some of the matters raised.

Why has the Minister not been as forthright on this occasion as he was on previous occasions? Why has he not given the information to the Opposition? Tomorrow we will be told the Opposition did not know what they were talking about. This may well be when the Minister does not tell us what the real meaning behind the Bill is. I hope this will not be a trend in the House. I hope, when we get a Bill in the future, we will get some type of explanation the same as we got in the past. Is there a paper shortage? Can they not afford it at this stage? Is there some reason for it? This can be interpreted as a threat to the freedom of negotiations and if that is the case it is a serious matter. The Minister has stated that this measure is an effort to correct a follow-on effect but this is nonsense.

I am disappointed that more information has not been given. I want to express my complete and absolute disgust at the way this was treated by the Minister and the Government. I have great sympathy with our spokesman on Labour for having to deal with the Bill. It was crudely circulated yesterday without any explanation and the Minister did not offer any explanation in his speech today. We are not able to refer to sections in the Bill. The next thing that will happen is that we will be presented with a Bill, the Minister will make no statement and we will get no explanation but the Opposition will be expected to debate it.

If this Bill has done anything, I hope it has brought to the notice of the Government that we will root out what they are trying to conceal. We want an explanation about this matter. [1726] I am not going to deal with the other sections because I know that I would be ruled out of order. However, I shall deal with some of those matters at some length on Committee Stage.

The Minister has indicated that the bankers will not be jailed but, as was pointed out on a previous Bill, the doorman or the charwoman of the bank can be jailed. The Minister told us previously that the law will apply, for instance, to the charwoman and if it so dictates she can be jailed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is being ingenious now.

Mr. Dowling: The Minister said that the law will take its course. For instance, if the doorman does not allow the authorised officer——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure the Deputy will take an opportunity on Committee Stage to raise those points.

Mr. Dowling: There are aspects of the Bill where imprisonment can be applied to bank workers but not to bankers. Probably the sheriff would not be sent to collect from the charwoman because she would not have valuables or property. She would be put in jail. Apart from the other aspects of the Bill, this kind of discrimination and punishment is undesirable. On Committee Stage I will take some considerable time to let the Minister know what I think of his Bill.

Mr. Esmonde: This Bill has been produced here as a matter that might be called on to be made use of in a situation of emergency. I am not going to approach this Bill with the air levity that was attempted by the last speaker. This is a very serious matter.

All of us are aware of the fact that there is balloting on and consideration of a pending new national wage agreement. While the last speaker was not able to understand the principles of the Bill, it is well to look at the heading of the Bill which is entitled “An Act to provide, in the national interest, for the regulation, for a limited period,...”

[1727] We have got to be responsible people in this House. People outside the House have got to be responsible when it comes to wages, employment terms and negotiations. I have heard it freely said in the business world that if we do not have a national wage agreement our business worlds will have considerable difficulties not alone in maintaining their present trading relationships and honouring their contracts but it will be practically impossible to obtain new business. If we do not have a national wages agreement there is a likelihood of a free for all. I will show the relevance of that to this Bill.

Businessmen, if faced with a free for all or unknown terms with regard to a very important element in their costings, will not be able to quote terms for the supply of their goods. They will not be able to make forward arrangements for finance and they will be virtually hamstrung. Farmers and others will be disinclined to do business with Irish firms. Therefore, it is important that every Member of this House should approach this Bill in a very serious frame of mind and have full regard for the very serious consequences if the negotiations at present going on do not come to a satisfactory conclusion.

If the negotiations going on today do not come to a fruitful and satisfactory result, I should like to remind the participants that I do not think all negotiation procedures have as yet been exhausted. I am being very particular in the words I am choosing. I am also conscious of the fact that the negotiations between the IBAO and the banks were in being on 27th May, 1976, that the first offer was made by the banks on 14th June, 1976, that the offer was rejected, that notice was immediately given of strike action and that the rank and file of the IBAO had no time to consider the situation following on the offer or the terms of the offer. If we in this House and in this country subscribe to democratic principles, all I can say is they have been ignored in this case. It is unfortunate that such precipitate action has been taken. The right to strike is a [1728] very precious right. It is also a right that should not be abused or wantonly used. I am not naming any people or any group of people who may be responsible for the strike taking place on next Monday. All I will say is: he whom the cap fits may wear it. It is fairly obvious that mistakes have been made.

It is rather horrifying to me as a normal citizen to see a situation, arising as it has arisen in this case, in such a precipitate fashion. I do not think there is a single practising lawyer who, when he goes to negotiate with his opposite number before the case comes up in court, rejects it out of hand and goes in and fights the case without first going back and out of hand and goes in and fights the case without first going back and finally consulting his client. What I am saying—and I do not think it has been said yet in any single contribution—is that there is a very large body of opinion in all ranks of the IBOA who do not want this strike to take place, and do not want to be a party to the strike. That includes all ranks of workers and salaried people in the banking world here.

I have been informed recently that there was a meeting in a certain area at which 70 per cent were clearly against strike action. This bears out what I have already said. There has been a precipitate use of the strike weapon. I am making a final appeal to those who may take the trouble of reading my utterances in this House. All steps have not yet been exhausted. If the final negotiations break down, in all fairness, and in view of the fact that no ballot has as yet been taken of the rank and file members of the IBOA in relation to this situation, there should be a private postal ballot after the full facts are given to the members of the IBOA.

I have been informed on too many occasions since this trouble has arisen that the people who will be asked to go out on strike on Monday do not know the actual facts of the dispute. It is a very frightening prospect. Our banking institutions are going to be brought to a halt and people brought out on strike and these are all educated people. Indeed, [1729] many of them are a jolly sight better educated than some Members of this House. This evolution in circumstances like that, with no recognition of the fundamental principles of natural justice and democracy, is a bad evolution for this country.

I hope other speakers I see in the House will adopt a constructive, conciliatory and helpful approach to this subject, instead of trying to score points concerning the introduction of this Bill. Might I give the House one quotation which has often been quoted by Members on the other side of the House? It is a quotation from the annual report of the Central Bank. The quotation is: in the interests of fairness, incomes restraint must apply to all sections of the community; exemptions for some would serve only to make the burden heavier for others.

In his speech introducing this Bill the Minister said due regard will have to be had for certain facets concerning the position of bank employees and banks. This must be in the light of the national guidelines. Nobody is entitled to be a law unto himself. We are all members of the same State. We must all make the same sacrifices, if sacrifices have to be made. We are all members of the same State. We must all make the same sacrifices, if sacrifices have to be made. We must all recognise that, if we overburden the national cart others will suffer. I have always been a strong advocate of free collective bargaining. The dates I have given and the facts I have given, which were given to me, I am afraid to say, virtually make a mockery of collective bargaining if we are to have a strike on next Monday without a ballot being taken.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central): Deputy Esmonde made one statement with which I thoroughly agree. He said all negotiating procedures have not been exhausted. All negotiating procedures were not exhausted when the Minister for Finance made his irresponsible statement last Thursday. The final stages of any negotiations are always delicate and any hindrance or any statement can upset the balance and destroy weeks of work. I have had some experience of negotiating with trade unions. I know how damaging it can be for one person [1730] around the table to make an irresponsible statement. It can do untold damage. I am convinced—and bank officials and other members of our society have all stated the same thing —that the statement by the Minister for Finance last Thursday was completely uncalled for and could do nothing but damage. The banks were not due out on strike until next Monday. If the Minister for Labour wanted to reach some decision he had plenty of time to implement any legislation he required. As we know, only one day's debate is being permitted for this important legislation.

We are discussing this Bill as if it had something to do with prohibiting the strike. It will not prevent the strike in any way. It has nothing good, bad, or indifferent to do with the strike. Strike notice was given a week ago. We should know exactly where we stand. This Bill could encourage the strike and make militants out of moderates, of whom there were quite a number a week ago. I agree with Deputy Esmonde that a substantial number of bank employees were not keen to go on strike three or four weeks ago. The Minister's irresponsible statement has made militants out of some of them.

I am not sure what the purpose of the Bill is. We were not told the banks would breach the national norm. The bank officials had gone so far, and I do not know how much farther they would have gone. What negotiations had the Minister for Labour and his Department, or the Minister for Finance and his Department, with the banks' associations? What knowledge had the Minister for Labour before he introduced this legislation? My feeling now is that the strike will take place. There was every hope of a settlement being reached when the Minister for Finance made his statement last Thursday.

We on this side of the House are concerned about the national economy. On two occasions before, as Deputy Gene Fitzgerald and Deputy Colley pointed out this morning, we supported such legislation, but it was entirely different from this Bill. At that time there was a wage agreement and any group of people who were [1731] negotiating knew what the norm was. Now, as far as I can see, the bank officials are operating in a vacuum. It would be very difficult to know how far they could go.

I would much prefer if this Bill had never come into the House. There have been statements on both sides of the House expressing concern about the economy and asking the banks' association to withdraw their strike notice and pointing out the dangers that could be inflicted upon the economy. If we had that type of a debate here without this Bill, it would show everybody concerned that we were conscious of the state of the economy. Whether this is the Minister's Bill I am not sure, but I do not think he has helped the situation by introducing such legislation when it could have been avoided. I believe that many members of the association involved in this do not actually know what this Bill contains.

This Bill could very well be misrepresented. Many people are wondering if this is the first step towards a wage freeze. Very shortly people will be balloting on a national wage agreement, and I think it is the desire of everyone in this House that a national wage agreement should be accepted as soon as possible. If there is one thing damaging to the economy it is longdrawn-out negotiations in any agreement. Many of these agreements expired from three to five months ago and when eventually a national wage agreement is signed there will be retrospective payment. It is of vital importance to industries to know exactly where they stand. Everyone knows what effect that will have on costings, which have to be adjusted from time to time. Therefore, I would hope that agreement would be arrived at as soon as possible. Unfortunately this Bill contains sections which would lead many people throughout the country to wonder what is in the Minister's mind. There could be dangerous implications in it which may influence the decision of unions when they come to vote in a few weeks' time.

[1732] If a strike takes place it will have serious repercussions on many industries, tourism and various other activities. What we are considering here is whether this Bill will avert a strike. What is it doing to stave off the strike which is imminent? While we are delighted with the new appointment of the Minister for Labour and while it may have been necessary for him to be in Geneva, I believe the Minister should have been in this country over the past four or five days urging both sides to come to an agreement, pointing out the effect a strike would have on the economy. He should have been fully engaged in the affairs of his Department involving a national issue such as this. This is the most important national issue that has come before this House in the past few years. If the Minister had used his energies fully, this Bill would be unnecessary. I am convinced that you can never make people work by legislation. This legislation now before the House has, in my opinion, embittered many members of the banking fraternity. I would be the last to encourage a strike in any way, but there were many moderates among the bank officials over the past three or four weeks and I believe this Bill has hardened their attitude towards the whole situation.

If it is the aim of the Government to keep all sections within the norm of a national wage agreement—and there is nothing wrong with that—such legislation as this should be introduced when there is no dispute arising. Bringing it in when a particular group of people are involved creates a very difficult situation. Maybe the Minister for Labour should be updating our whole negotiating machinery and looking at the whole structure of wage negotiations, but what is attempted in this Bill is a dangerous procedure.

I am not sure if this procedure is necessary. I do not see at any time that the banks were exceeding the national norm. I do not believe they had done it up to three days ago. They certainly had not done it when the Minister for Finance made his statement. This Bill may have encouraged the bank officials to go on [1733] strike, but it is not necessary because the banks had exceeded the national norm where the Minister was concerned. Therefore what is the Bill doing? The Bill is making it more difficult to come to an agreement.

With proper negotiations on both sides I believe we would have arrived at a solution. But we get the Minister for Finance in Rathmines a few days ago preaching the virtues of people he criticised about four weeks ago. When people at the IMI conference in Killarney and other leading members of industry pointed out to the Minister the incompetent handling of the economy and what was necessary to rectify the situation, the Minister tagged them as profiteers, but he had no hesitation in putting forward their virtues and saying how right they were when he wanted to prove his case. That is downright hypocrisy.

Deputy Esmonde admitted the necessity of this Bill in view of the grave national economic situation we have today. This is a very sensitive area and we should be very careful to ensure that something is not read into this Bill which would jeopardise the whole trade union conference and the national wage agreement we are all hoping for. I sincerely hope that there is agreement this evening. We made a responsible statement saying that both the banks and the Government should withdraw their threats and get down to reasonable negotiations. I hope that can still be achieved. But I do not believe for one moment that you can legislate to get people working or to regulate them properly. That must be our last resort if we are to get proper trade and industrial relations.

I regret that we have to bring in this type of legislation, but I will regret far more if this country is plunged into a bank strike which will wreck our whole economic structure. After the last bank strike, a certain number of people exploited the situation, a number of small companies went bankrupt, and to a certain extent it fuelled inflation. This will all be repeated. A bank strike will also damage our tourist trade. Thousands of people in this country travel with travellers cheques and that would [1734] create a lot of problems. There are numerous other side effects which it will have on the economy.

I believe the situation was mishandled. I am convinced that the Minister for Finance should not have made his statement last Thursday. I also believe that the Minister for Labour should have engaged himself fulltime over the past four or five days in bringing the parties together and pointing out the consequences of their actions. That would have been more beneficial to the House and to the country than bringing in this Bill, which makes no effort to stop the strike.

There is confusion in regard to what the Bill contains. The reason that arose was because the Minister when introducing the Bill at no time referred to any section of the Bill, which is the normal procedure in relation to Bills. There was no explanatory memorandum. It was just given to us with a very brief statement from the Minister. It is a complex but very important Bill, which will affect the future of this country, particularly over the next 12 months. If a bank strike should occur I would lay the blame fairly and squarely on the Minister for Finance for making an irresponsible statement and on the Minister for Labour for not using all his energies in the past four days in trying to avoid this situation.

Mr. Connolly: We on this side of the House have made our case very clear. The position is that this Bill has been introduced in the middle of negotiations. That is a very bad way to transact any type of business, especially when negotiations are in progress. When we brought in a Bill of this nature we were opposed very bitterly by the Labour Party when they had no grounds at all for it. We feel that the Government should have waited at least another week to see how the negotiations would go in this matter. From speaking to a number of bank officials I know that they are very annoyed that the weight of legislation is now going to hang over them.

This Bill will not stop a strike. It is [1735] a Bill to curb incomes, but it does not say what amount of income. Next week, as far as I know, the ballot will be completed on the national wage agreement and the Government could have waited until that had taken place to see what the position would be. In fairness I think the negotiators on behalf of the officials did not handle this very well, because some of the officials I spoke to were not acquainted with all the facts. It seems —I do not know—that the executive committee of the Bank Officials Association were given a lot of power. As I see it, there is a lot of room for negotiation, and this should be explored before we are put into a situation where the economy would be in difficulties. I am alluding to the business community, the companies that are finding it very hard at the moment to keep their heads above water. Companies will have to depend on one another now in regard to honesty in trading, creditworthiness and so forth.

When the dispute took place some years ago I think it can be said that at that time the economy was not in so critical a situation as it is now. It then dragged on for months and we saw what happened afterwards. It took years to clear up the mess. Companies and individuals went to the wall as a result. Nobody wants to see this dispute take place but if it does take place the Government must bear a share of the blame especially the Minister for Finance who as usual acted outrageously. Earlier in the year he said that employees who would look for increases would crucify the country or something to that effect. Then, when he saw how things were working out he backpedalled. Now most employers and workers wonder what the Government want. They have not told the people what exactly is required. They did not stick to their policy. I hope that this dispute will not spread across the board and result in a free for all because that would put the finishing touches to the economy. It would affect all sections, in agriculture and industry and in all walks of life.

I trust the negotiations taking place [1736] today will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. I do not know if that is possible in view of the legislation before the House which has aggravated many of the bank officials. But these officials must also act in a responsible way. They have secure jobs in the banks while people in other employment do not enjoy the same security. The bank officials have a responsibility to the nation to ensure that they do nothing that would bring the economy to its knees. Responsibility lies in many places. I do not believe the Government handled the wage agreement, or even the negotiations with the banks, in a proper manner. If the strike comes off, the Government will have much to answer for because they have given no clear indication of what they want. They have bungled everything; one minute you are being crucified; the next you are not—where do you go? We must be realistic and know where we are going. The Government do not know where they are going. They are all the time waiting for something to happen. Either they rule the country or they do not.

Recently some of my colleagues attended the IMA meeting in Tralee where the Minister for Finance heard what was said about the economy. He had to agree with some things that were said whether he liked them or not: either you rule or you do not. If you make the policy, you should stick to it but the Government have not done this and that is why we are in the present position. I hope that the associated banks and the officials will at the last minute be able to hammer out some agreement. I hate to think of what will happen if the bank employees are called out next Monday. I do not believe that all avenues were explored in the negotiations and I hope a thorough exporation will now take place and that the legislation now before us will not have to come into operation.

Ruairí Brugha: The Minister need not worry. I shall not take very long and he will be given ample opportunity to reply. There are valid reasons why this legislation is not suitable at this time. First, it is being rushed [1737] through after there has been talk of strike and after the Minister for Finance blundered the other night. Also, this legislation contains no reference to any national wage agreement that may be reached. These considerations, I maintain, make this a potentially dangerous piece of legislation.

With other Deputies on all sides of the House, I sincerely hope that those involved will pause and consider the very serious possible consequences of precipitate action. We have had two bank strikes in our history so far but I should like to point to a significant difference between the present situation and the two previous banking disputes. The last one took place at a time of comparative economic stability and progress. That was, of course, under the last Administration. Since then we have had more than three years of what I would describe as the frittering away of our financial and material resources by the present Administration. Second, there are complexities in the banking system now that did not exist then. One of them is the computer age and another is the widespread number of banking accounts now compared with five or six years ago.

I would ask those involved to pause and think of the seriousness of the situation. Previously it was possible for industry and business at least to work their way through the difficulties, but now we know that because of the experiences of some business elements at the end of the last strike, it would be very difficult for anybody to carry on business if there is another bank strike because it will not be possible to cash cheques, to pay wages or, except with considerable difficulty, to provide money to purchase goods. I was told today of many people in the distributing end who have been informed that if this thing starts next week it will be a case of cash only for goods.

That makes the situation far more serious than on the previous occasion. The condition of the economy is an added factor. Therefore, I submit seriously to those who are contemplating bank closures or strike action [1738] that the economic situation here is far too serious to engage in the luxury of a dispute in a vital sector of the economy.

The situation has become overheated and I would put the principal blame for that on the Minister for Finance for his blundering remarks a few days ago at a time when delicate, sensitive negotiations were taking place. I understand that quite a few of the younger element in the IBOA were incensed by the Minister's remarks. I submit they were entitled to be, but in the circumstances I would recommend to them that they would ignore the Minister's insensitivity, not because the Minister does not deserve censure but in the interests of the welfare of the community.

I understand a serious situation has already developed, that many millions of pounds have already left the country. In these circumstances, in relation to this legislation and to any threatened closure, the Government, the banks and the officials should at least await the decision that will be taken on 3rd July.

It is my opinion, and I think it is shared by many who are engaged in the economic life of the country, that the present reported levels in the agreement to be arrived at in the new national pay agreement are far in excess of what our economy can bear if we are to remain an exporting nation. They are far beyond the agreement being reached in Britain. Unfortunately, in that situation the Minister for Finance and the Government are not the only but the main culprits in creating a situation where the rates of pay being discussed are far in excess of what the economy can bear. Because the taxation policy in budget after budget has increased the cost of living, one is naturally driven to ask how can any trade union leader call for restraint when the Minister for Finance has directly increased costs to the individual. In this area of the development and survival of our economy, I ask one simple question: whom do we think we are that we think we can afford to pay ourselves far beyond the rates agreed on in Britain, and we know [1739] Britain is in trouble? Why should we think we can get away with it when other countries are putting their economic and fiscal situations in order?

I repeat that I put the main part of the blame in this area on the shoulders of the Government. I know there are other circumstances which help to create inflation, but the Government are the main motivators because of lack of direction, of leadership and of determination on the part of the Minister for Finance and his colleagues. All these elements have created a situation where wage levels are being discussed which are outside our ability to pay if we are to remain in the export business.

We as a community will have to take a long hard look at ourselves because all around us we have examples of selfishness, of “mé féin-ism”. In many areas, particularly monopoly industries—I refer not only to banks but elsewhere in our economy—those involved must ask themselves about the morality of taking action not against the old style capitalist but rather against the community which sustains them in protected and secluded employment. The day has long gone when the strike weapon can affect the position of many employers, of executives or managements. Nowadays it affects ordinary people. They are the people whose livelihoods are affected by disputes over which they can have no influence.

I commend some of the remarks made by Deputy Esmonde who spoke simply and seriously. I support our opposition to this legislation which I do not think will help at this time. I ask for serious restraint and reconsideration by those who may become engaged in a dispute next week. I ask this in the interests of the ordinary people and the economy and future of the country.

Minister for Labour (Mr. M. O'Leary): We have had a long debate on this rather simple measure.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: Very important.

[1740] Mr. M. O'Leary: Important but simple to grasp and clear in its intent. The background necessity for this measure on the part of the Government has been to ensure that in any negotiations of a national character, even if they were outside the traditional ambit of the national agreement, the announced settlements should not be such as to further endanger the national consideration of the terms of the national agreement before most of the unions.

We did this, as Deputies pointed out, at a time when there is no national agreement in existence. That decision has yet to be made. In this period when there is no nationally accepted norm, and when the agreements between the banks and their employees is at an end and negotiations are proceeding, it is clear that if one were to stand aside from possible consequences in those negotiations for the national agreement, and for the favourable reception of its terms, any Government could justifiably be criticised very strongly for failure to act. As I said, we have acted in the simplest way possible, wishing our intentions and the consequences of the actions undertaken in this legislation to be as widely understood as possible. We said that an order would be necessary to carry this out and that on the passage of this measure through the Oireachtas, there would be the necessity to pass the complying order.

That having been done, if it is necessary—I have explained already that I hope it will not be necessary—the effect would be to impose a stay on bank salaries for the five-month period covered by the Bill. I would have full flexibility in terms of the period covered by that stay. That flexibility would permit me to impose it, or to remove it, for varying periods, depending on the emergence of an agreement at that level consonant with the possibility and the results coming from the national agreement ballot. That is the sole intent of this legislation. It is not very complicated and is very simple in its effect.

Deputies have said that there is no reference to the Labour Court in this legislation. That is true but reference [1741] to the Labour Court is not excluded here. I still have powers of reference to the Labour Court. They are not removed by anything in this legislation. Obviously, it does not need to be underlined that as soon as a norm emerges, and as soon as we can say that there is or is not a national agreement, it would be open to me to refer it to the Labour Court or another acceptable tribunal.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: If there is not a national agreement, what does the Minister contemplate doing?

Mr. M. O'Leary: Presumably we will have to look at the situation after the July meeting and see what appears to be the settlement situation of the incomes question at that time. The Deputy's question underlines the impossibility in being over-precise at this point on what would then constitute a national norm. Deputies are quite right in saying that in these technical senses there are differences between this and previous legislation in this area. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the principle of legal intervention, which we have seen twice in this House, is also incorporated in this measure.

We do not have reference to the Labour Court in this Bill and I have explained how that power still resides with us. We do not have reference specifically to a national agreement for the simple reason that one does not exist at this moment. Apart from these two respects, the legislation before us is consistent with previous legislation before the House which had the support of all Deputies.

It has been a disappointment to me to note the tenor of certain observations made in the course of this debate. I wished to ensure that this would not happen in this discussion. It has been the attempt of the Government side in the discussions today to ensure that our discussions would refrain from exacerbating an already difficult situation. The powers sought in this legislation are necessary as has been proved from experience of similar problems in this area. Deputy Colley will know what I mean when I say that the experiences of both he and [1742] the Minister for Labour from 1970 to 1973 underlined the necessity for the measure we had to take, and made it all the more difficult to understand——

Mr. Colley: We did not object to intervention. It was the Minister and his colleagues who objected.

Mr. M. O'Leary: The Deputy has spoken about intervention and the reactions of the Opposition to various measures produced by him in this House. There has been a great deal of carelessness in the examples cited by the Opposition to prove the inconsistencies of present Members of the Government.

The equation of the provisions of the Electricity (Special Provisions) Act with the powers of this legislation is extremely careless. These are totally different types of legislation and we know the different objectives which were sought under the Electricity (Special Provisions) Act. Yet we heard the Opposition spokesman for Labour, the man who apparently aspires to be a Member of a Government holding that position, apparently without understanding any of the differences between them, citing the remarks of Members of the then Opposition to that legislation. For his information—he was not in the House at the time—I will again, for the record—and I have to put it on record because great play was made of it today—that Act made it unlawful for any person to initiate, take part in or assist in a strike in the ESB. It sought to make it a legal necessity for people to remain at work. At that time our criticism, and it is still valid, was that we did not know of the existence of a law in a democracy that can force people to go to work. We do not believe in its efficacy, desirability nor are we aware of its success in any democracy in the western world. We know the result of that legislation: it was a complete failure. The strikers on picket were summoned, fined and imprisoned for refusing to pay the fines. As we know, the fines were paid by the ESB. It was a farcical situation. Yet that was quoted here today as [1743] though we were talking about the same kind of legislation.

In the same vein of supreme carelessness of what I can only designate as a deplorable descent in demagoguery by leading Members of the Opposition at a time of serious national difficulty, we had similar carelessness exercised when it came to talking about the attitudes of the then Opposition to the general incomes legislation prepared in 1970.

This was legislation of a general character seeking to hold down the income of every man and woman at work. Perhaps a party who had been in opposition for many years might be permitted the licence of a little carelessness and inaccuracy, but the attitude adopted here by a man who is a former Minister for Finance and by another who is aspiring to the portfolio of Labour in a Government of the future is an attitude of supreme carelessness. These are people who, only three or four weeks ago, were preparing for their advent into Government. How can we suggest adherence to a national pay agreement when no such agreement exists?

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Dublin Central): That is the problem.

Mr. M. O'Leary: In so far as the examples cited by the Opposition are concerned, there is no indication of consistency in their attitude today and their attitude in the very recent past. They have asserted that the Minister for Finance is the sole author of the present impasse in the bank situation.

Mr. Colley: We did not say he was the sole author of the situation.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: We said that his intervention was a major contributory factor to the impasse.

Mr. M. O'Leary: The Opposition neglected to note that the strike notice which is due to expire had already been served at the point at which the Minister made his remarks. Briefly, our position has been to permit negotiations to continue. It is my genuine desire that they would continue [1744] and to this extent I appealed this morning to both parties concerned to permit time for a review of the difficulties that have arisen in these negotiations. In the event of such a genuine review I would not see any necessity to utilise the authority being granted to me on foot of this legislation.

Action such as that proposed here has been proved necessary in the past. There are spokesmen opposite who know from personal experience what happened in the past when such legislation was lacking. In the period 1970 to 1973 the then Ministers for Finance and Labour, Deputies Colley and Brennan, had several fruitless meetings with the people concerned in this area. At one of those meetings Deputy Colley stated that if it came to a choice between maintaining the national wage agreement and the closure of the banks, the banks could close.

Mr. Colley: That is correct.

Mr. M. O'Leary: Where is the consistency between that attitude and the approach of the Opposition here today? When the debate has ended and Deputy Colley has had a chance of reviewing its consequences I am sure he will regret the stance adopted by his party at this serious time.

Mr. Colley: Fortunately, there is a Committee Stage to follow.

Mr. M. O'Leary: Members of the party opposite have done themselves a great deal of damage in their contributions to the debate. Their criticisms have been petulant and they are open to the charge of seeking to fish in very troubled waters for some kind of party advantage. They have always prided themselves on being a party which put the national welfare first but after today's discussions I do not see how they could lay claim to any such attitude.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: Would the Minister like to talk to the Bill?

An Ceann Comhairle: Order.

Mr. Moore: The Minister's heart bleeds for us.

[1745] Mr. M. O'Leary: Knowing that the discussions are now in progress we would propose to put this necessary measure through this House today and, hopefully, from that position consider how the negotiations are proceeding. Legislation of this kind has had a constructive result before now. It is possible, even at this late stage, that some kind of reasonable conclusion will be reached in the negotiations. The Opposition say that if the legislation had been tied to the national wage agreement it would have had their support, but how could this be possible when no such agreement exists? It would be unwise to spell out any such provision in the legislation. Those Deputies opposite who are acquainted with the negotiations will appreciate that our task must be to permit the maximum flexibility in present circumstances and to ensure by everything we do here that we avert the real possibility of a strike from Monday next. This factor must be prominent in our considerations in anything we do. While we must ensure that the results of the negotiations would not damage further the overall success of the national agreement ballot, we must realise that nothing we do would result in a more likely close-down of the banks.

If Deputies opposite appreciate these two objectives they will understand how every clause in this Bill has been selected to meet the needs of these objectives. Again I appeal to the Opposition to consider the national interest. To this extent I appeal in particular to those Deputies who have had many years in government and who from their own experience know the problems we are facing in this case, know the number of meetings that was necessary in the past in order to get agreement on this sort of contentious question, which arises in this instance because settlements in this area have been arrived at outside the ambit of the national agreement.

As I said this morning, I do not seek of the people concerned in these negotiations actual and absolute replicas [1746] of national agreements. We simply seek of them a desire that they should not depart too drastically from the criterion of what other people in our community accept.

I would repeat my call made this morning to the men and women in the banking service: certainly a close down of that important national service at this critical time cannot help the economy and I would seriously doubt that it can help their own wage claim, the case they feel they need to put in the banking service.

One last point: it has been repeated many times this morning that this was a mandatory wage freeze. This is a complete travesty of the facts. We have sought in this Bill simply to do one thing to ensure that whatever bargain would come forth from the discussions between the bank officials and the banks would merely conform to the increases sought and given to what everybody else in the community will get this year. In God's name how can anybody with any fidelity to the facts describe that as a mandatory wage freeze? I would ask the Opposition to come to their senses at this hour of very grave national peril.

Mr. Colley: Could the Minister tell us which section of the Bill enables him to make an order other than one freezing the pay of bank officials at their present level?

An Ceann Comhairle: I am putting the question.

Mr. Colley: Sorry, Sir, are we getting no answer? We want to know. The Minister has just made an impassioned plea to us.

Mr. M. O'Leary: I have made it quite clear that we have sought to hold bank wage levels at their present rate to ensure that we get a bargain, that we get a settlement in the banking service at the same level that other people will get a settlement when that emerges either on July the 3rd or late that month.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 70, Níl, 62.

Barry, Peter.

Barry, Richard.

[1747]Belton, Paddy.

Bermingham, Joseph.

Bruton, John.

Burke, Dick.

Burke, Joan T.

Burke, Liam.

Byrne, Hugh.

Clinton, Mark A.

Cluskey, Frank.

Collins, Edward.

Conlan, John F.

Coogan, Fintan.

Cooney, Patrick M.

Corish, Brendan.

Cosgrave, Liam.

Costello, Declan.

Coughlan, Stephen.

Creed, Donal.

Crotty, Kieran.

Cruise-O'Brien, Conor.

Desmond, Eileen.

Dockrell, Maurice.

Donegan, Patrick S.

Donnellan, John.

Enright, Thomas.

Esmonde, John G.

Finn, Martin.

FitzGerald, Garret.

Fitzpatrick, Tom (Cavan).

Flanagan, Oliver J.

Gilhawley, Eugene.

Governey, Desmond.

Griffin, Brendan.

Begley, Michael.

Belton, Luke.

[1748]Halligan, Brendan.

Harte, Patrick D.

Hegarty, Patrick.

Hogan O'Higgins, Brigid.

Jones, Denis F.

Kavanagh, Liam.

Keating, Justin.

Kelly, John.

Kenny, Enda.

Kyne, Thomas A.

L'Estrange, Gerald.

Lynch, Gerard.

McDonald, Charles B.

McLaughlin, Joseph.

McMahon, Larry.

Malone, Patrick.

Murphy, Michael P.

O'Brien, Fergus.

O'Connell, John.

O'Donnell, Tom.

O'Leary, Michael.

O'Sullivan, John L.

Pattison, Seamus.

Reynolds, Patrick J.

Ryan, John J.

Ryan, Richie.

Spring, Dan.

Staunton, Myles.

Taylor, Frank.

Timmins, Godfrey.

Toal, Brendan.

Tully, James.

White, James.


Allen, Lorcan.

Barrett, Sylvester.

Brady, Philip A.

Brennan, Joseph.

Briscoe, Ben.

Brosnan, Seán.

Browne, Seán.

Brugha, Ruairí.

Burke, Raphael P.

Callanan, John.

Calleary, Seán.

Carter, Frank.

Colley, George.

Connolly, Gerard.

Crinion, Brendan.

Cronin, Jerry.

Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.

de Valera, Vivion.

Dowling, Joe.

Fahey, Jackie.

Farrell, Joseph.

Faulkner, Pádraig.

Fitzgerald, Gene.

Fitzpatrick, Tom (Dublin Central).

Flanagan, Seán.

French, Seán.

Gallagher, Denis.

Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.

Gibbons, Hugh.

Gibbons, James.

Gogan, Richard P.

Haughey, Charles.

Healy, Augustine A.

Herbert, Michael.

Hussey, Thomas.

Kenneally, William.

Kitt, Michael P.

Lalor, Patrick J.

Leonard, James.

Loughnane, William.

Lynch, Celia.

Lynch, Jack.

McEllistrim, Thomas.

MacSharry, Ray.

Meaney, Tom.

Molloy, Robert.

Moore, Seán.

Murphy, Ciarán.

Nolan, Thomas.

Noonan, Michael.

O'Connor, Timothy.

O'Kennedy, Michael.

O'Leary, John.

O'Malley, Desmond.

Power, Patrick.

Smith, Patrick.

Timmons, Eugene.

Tunney, Jim.

Walsh, Seán.

Wilson, John P.

Wyse, Pearse.

Tellers:- Tá: Deputies Kelly and Pattison; Níl: Deputies Lalor and Browne.

Question declared carried.