Dáil Éireann - Volume 488 - 11 March, 1998

Ceisteanna—Questions. - National Centre for Partnership.

1. Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the work which has been undertaken in 1998 by the National Centre for Partnership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6354/98]

The Taoiseach: In my previous replies to the House on the work of the National Centre for Partnership I outlined the aims and work programme of the centre.

The joint directors of the centre have been actively implementing this work programme since their appointment in 1997. The focus of the centre's work is, at present, on promotion of partnership. The approach taken has been to consult extensively with management and unions in both the private and public sectors to identify the level of partnership already in existence at workplace level, to encourage management and unions to adopt successful models of partnership practice and to spread and share information which will lead towards increased knowledge and a wider use of partnership.

With this in mind, the centre assisted in the publication of the Management, Science and Finance Union's guide on employee participation in the workplace and further involvement in relevant publications is envisaged. In addition, in conjunction with the Irish Productivity Centre, the centre organised a conference which took place last Thursday, 5 March, on partnership in the public service. I had the pleasure to address this conference and I am arranging for copies of my address to be circulated to the House.

In addition, the centre intends to hold further conferences, seminars and workshops during the year and has also been active in addressing relevant conferences and seminars such as those recently organised by the Industrial Relations News and the Irish Management Institute. The centre is also commencing active marketing of the partnership concept and approach in the private sector, initially targeted at senior management.

The centre has commissioned research on partnership at workplace level. Its findings, along with studies undertaken by IBEC, ICTU and the Labour Relations Commission, will be distilled into an information database which will allow for monitoring and benchmarking of progress.

The centre is particularly conscious of the important role training and development can play in promoting partnership. In conjunction with the Irish Productivity Centre and the centre for management and organisation development in the Department of Finance, the centre has been engaged in drafting partnership training and development modules for the Civil Service and these will be of benefit to the wider public service as well.

It is expected that training materials will be completed within the next two months. Also, the [956] centre will be actively involved in assisting the ADAPT programme, which is the EU assisted joint IBEC and ICTU programme to develop partnership between management and unions in the private sector.

The centre has a very important role to play in facilitating and developing partnership. I am particularly happy with its progress to date and it will continue to have my support and encouragement in its endeavours to foster partnership.

Mr. M. Higgins: Has the consideration of the National Centre for Partnership included any reflection on the recent events at Ryanair?

In so far as the centre's work programme sets out to implement and deepen Partnership 2000, has there been any consideration of including the matters raised by the unemployed in the preparation for Partnership 2000? I am referring to the kind of agenda CORI has outlined at its conference. Does that figure within the centre's work programme?

The Taoiseach: In relation to the Deputy's first question, I am sure the partnership board and its liaison group, which covers all the social partners in the widest sense, will be involved in any industrial relations matters.

In reply to the second question, the work programme at this stage is certainly inclusive. However, the centre is working on the models of people at work. It is trying to develop the best practice. It is drawing from its own experience, knowledge, database and best practices operated in many companies, both in the public and private sectors. The centre hopes to make those best practices models for success in the development of partnership arrangements not just at national level but at workplace level also.

Whatever happens in future, the social partners believe that at national level the model has been very successful. It is important for it to filter down to local level and that the good concepts that exist in some companies are widely practised. That is something I would like to see as it avoids difficulties and unnecessary disputes. Many practices exist, both in multinationals and small indigenous companies, that could be successfully implemented with the help of the National Centre for Partnership.

Mr. M. Higgins: I am as supportive as the Taoiseach of best practice in management and of having a joint approach between partners in the workplace. The National Centre for Partnership was quite clearly established on the basis of addressing the full social agenda. In other words, it, like other mechanisms that were suggested, purported to narrow the gap between those at work who are benefiting from the increased productivity of the economy and those seeking to leave the ranks of the unemployed through training mechanisms.

Would it not be a serious imbalance if the first phase of the work was reported but did not [957] appear to address the issue of those who are outside the circle of IBEC, Congress and those at work?

The Taoiseach: The National Economic and Social Forum is involved in many of the things the Deputy mentioned. In its formulation the partnership itself was dealing with those in work. Its own terms of reference — and those of the organisations of which it is made up — try to build the relationship with people in employment. That is what they are focused on but that is not to say that the best practices will not indirectly help the unemployed. They are, however, centred on helping people in work.

IBEC, ICTU, the Labour Relations Commission, the National Productivity Centre, the UCD centre for Business Research, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and the Department of Finance are all working together in a consultative role to achieve that. Their aim is not to deal with those outside the workforce.

Mr. M. Higgins: Would it not be somewhat dangerous if a dual approach emerged in which the National Centre for Partnership ceased to be a national centre addressing a national issue and became instead the centre for partnership and productivity in the workplace, while on the other side the NESF was dealing with all the categories I mentioned? Would there be significant merit in seeking to integrate the work programmes of both bodies to not give the impression that one senior body created out of social consensus and consultation dealt with those who were drawing benefit from the workplace while another group dealt with the agenda of those who did not? The difficulty is that one would be regarded as the hard mechanism of consultation and the other the soft mechanism carrying the social agenda.

The Taoiseach: In time there may be some merit in that but the remit of the National Centre for Partnership, under Partnership 2000, deals with work related issues. It will endeavour to take the best practice operating in various workforces and managements and introduce that to other people in the workplace. That remit was given to the centre by everyone involved in social partnership. That is not to say that some of the centre's work and the work done by the liaison group will not be of direct benefit. The main focus of the centre is to help work related issues.

Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach agree that one of the major problems in industry is that employers do not invest enough in the training and education of their own employees? Will he agree further that one of the reasons employers do not do this is that they are afraid the employee will move on to another employer carrying with him or her all the benefits of any investment the employer might have made in the first instance thereby losing the benefit to the original firm [958] which paid for the training and education? Has the National Centre for Partnership given any thought to the problem as to how training contracts might be drawn up between employers and employees to ensure there would be a reciprocal relationship between employer and employee on the basis of which much more substantial investment in training and education by employers might take place, particularly in light of the finding of the OECD study on literacy which showed that many employees in Ireland are losing literacy skills during their working life simply by lack of use?

The Taoiseach: The liaison group of the National Centre for Partnership is conscious that there should be resources for the acquisition and dissemination of information and expertise on partnership and training for people in the workplace. Deputy Bruton is correct in that many companies in the private sector do not put sufficient resources into training on the factory floor, in the office, the environment or at management level. A decade ago the Galvin report, which was the last substantive study carried out in this area, indicated that Irish management spent more money on newspapers than on management training. That has changed substantially in many sectors but the various EU and OECD reports, as well as studies carried out by Irish universities, indicate that management training and training of the workforce always benefits the enterprise. People should not fear spending resources on management training or training of any kind because it is an additional benefit. It is true that once people receive more training and expertise they move on, but I do not accept that is a valid reason for enterprises not training their employees. That would be a short-sighted approach. In recent times more attention has been given to this area and I commend organisations such as the Irish Productivity Centre and others which are convincing workers to undertake more training. We should do that also.

Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach agree, however much he might deplore it, that the employer's fear of employees being poached by competitors is real? To ignore that and pretend that employers, simply by being preached at, will spend more on training regardless of that fear, is to bury one's head in the sand. Accepting reality rather than ideals, will the Taoiseach agree that the National Centre for Partnership should examine how a contract could be entered into between employers and employees which would make it attractive for more conservative employers to invest in training? Will he not agree that the national centre should be asked to do something about this as distinct from simply giving sermons about it?

The Taoiseach: The partnership centre will display the success of best practice operated in model firms where money is being spent on training [959] and management. I am not aware that a large number of firms have their heads in the sand on this issue and do not realise the benefit of training. The existing training organisations operate because companies are making investments. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, individual unions and management organisations are now spending money on training, which is welcome. I agree the National Centre for Partnership should continue its endeavours to convince people to spend more on training. We must not be naive about this. People will try to poach good employees from the organisations that spend the most on management training. Denying employees access to good management training will not keep them in the workforce. I would argue that the opposite is the case.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach is being a bit idealistic about the real world.

The Taoiseach: I do not think so.

Mr. Rabbitte: Will the Taoiseach agree that the weakness of social partnership is the failure to translate what is happening at national level to the workplace? Will he agree also that considerable progress has been made at national level but that is replicated in too few places in the workplace? Is the centre focusing on that point, and does it intend to publish occasional reports on different aspects of this phenomenon?

The Taoiseach: The answer to the question is “yes”. The two people fronting the partnership company have many years of experience. One is a senior person from ICTU and the other is from IBEC. They will endeavour to take the best practice from their respective organisations and develop models that transcend the various sectors in Irish business. There are excellent industrial relations and training models, as well as staff related organisations, and through seminars, publications, conferences and road shows they will encourage people to actively participate in training locally through the various organisations. With the co-operation of the Irish Productivity Centre, the Labour Relations Commission and others I believe the centre, which is only in existence a year, will make a great deal of progress in the next five years.

Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Taoiseach agree there would be a serious danger to the concept of social partnership if workers in their place of work regard it as merely a mechanism to control wages? If companies benefiting from the business environment created by social partnership do not implement the concept in the workplace, there is a risk to the concept. How would the Taoiseach enforce the approach he has outlined in the case of, for example, the dispute to which Deputy Higgins referred? That is a repudiation of the concept of social partnership. It is bad faith by the [960] Ryanair employer. It is a repudiation of the environment——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a supplementary question rather than make a statement.

Mr. Rabbitte: Is it the case that it is a demonstration of bad faith on the part of Ryanair? Is it the case that Ryanair has grown and profited in an environment created by social partnership and is it repudiating the notion of social partnership? How does the Taoiseach view intrusion of the concepts he has advocated, with which I agree, in such a hostile environment?

The Taoiseach: In any individual case the National Partnership Centre must take account of bad experiences. There are always bad experiences. In some cases people will not go to third parties. Sometimes management is involved and other times, trade unions. At present there are examples of both, although in most cases the focus is on one. For different reasons people take different sides. I hope the centre uses whatever mechanisms it develops to convince management and unions of best models. Deputy Rabbitte is right that if a workforce believes it is working only in the interests of profit and that there are no beneficial effects for them, there will be disillusionment and resentment and ultimately partnerships and national agreements break down.

It concerns me that some companies that have gained most from the ten or 11 years of national partnership, high economic growth, low interest rates and excellent export markets, believe they achieved those things on their own. It is a matter of irritation to me when I am lectured by people who believe that those achievements resulted from the free market rather than from sacrifice, consensus and so on. Some people in senior management believe that they have been responsible for the achievements of the past ten years, but that is not the case. They have been made because people from all sectors worked together and contributed to bringing them about.

Many of the benefits that have accrued over the years — the 1987-90 period saw the start of those benefits — have been as a result of the sacrifice of workers. Most managers and people involved in partnership, however, realise the benefits of sharing their achievements. In terms of the benefit of national partnership, Deputy Rabbitte will be aware of how innovative companies have become in rewarding their workforce for their success. Rather than adopt a centralist attitude, it is important the achievements are shared.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): The Taoiseach does not seem to realise that for hundreds of thousands of workers——

[961] An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a supplementary question. Statements are not in order.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I had only started my question. I am usually quite succinct in my questions and I will be on this occasion. Is the Taoiseach aware that for hundreds of thousands of workers talk of partnership is hollow rhetoric? Given the 1913 mentality of Ryanair, the opposition by most employers to a £5 per hour minimum wage and the huge disparity between increased profits and wage increases in the past ten years, as far as employers are concerned what is needed is not a centre for partnership but a partnership kindergarten where the basics will be learned. Is it the case that a glorified wage restraint agreement has benefited employers to the detriment of the workers — for example, Waterford Crystal's massive profits, announced today, at a huge sacrifice to the workers? What is the Taoiseach's comment on that?

The Taoiseach: I am not sure if the 1913 analogy would have applied to last weekend's dispute. As I spent the weekend, particularly Sunday, in my office working on the dispute it struck me as strange that half the travelling public were in a hurry to change their tickets from one airline to the airline at the centre of the dispute. That would not have happened in 1913.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): The Taoiseach was dealing with a company which he spoiled in the past ten years.

The Taoiseach: The position now is different from that in 1913. The Deputy mentioned Waterford Crystal. That is a good example of a company that experienced market difficulties some years ago and sought to reduce its workforce in a strong remunerative way, which I condemned because I believed an excessive amount was paid to close down jobs. The company, however, put vast amounts of money into training people and those workers who used traditional methods now have the most sophisticated technological ways of working. It is unfair, therefore, to accuse companies such as that.

The National Partnership Board should take examples of good practices at Waterford Crystal and other companies to convince others that this is the way to move into the 21st century. The days of telling people how to work are gone; that is not an effective mechanism. People in partnership must work on best practice and build models to ensure the company is successful. The diktat no longer works.