Seanad Éireann - Volume 131 - 18 March, 1992
Private Business. - Dublin Port and Docks Industrial Dispute: Motion.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: I move:
That Seanad Éireann expresses its deep concern at the decision of Dublin Port and Docks Board to liquidate the Stevedoring Company, Dublin Cargo Handling and to privatise stevedoring in the Port and Docks; and calls on the Board and the Marine Port and General Workers Union to resolve their differences at the negotiating table so as to ensure that no jobs are lost, that the Port and Docks can operate to maximum efficiency and that the future of the Port and Docks is not in jeopardy.
I wish to share the time. I propose to take 15 minutes and to give ten minutes to  Senator Upton and five minutes to Senator Harte, if that is satisfactory.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey) Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey)
Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey): Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: First, I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his appointment. I regret that the Minister for the Marine is not present to deal with this very serious matter which will lead to the loss of some 219 jobs if the liquidation goes ahead as seems to be the intention. The Government have put down an amendment to the motion. I am totally opposed to the amendment which proposes to delete all reference to the proposed liquidation and privatisation of Dublin Cargo Handling Limited. This is not acceptable because, by implication, it means the Government are in favour of the liquidation and privatisation. They do not seem to be concerned that liquidation leads to a loss of jobs — once a company go to the wall jobs are lost. This unfortunate amendment calls for the “taking of whatever steps may be necessary”. That is a very bald statement when one considers that what we require is to protect people's employment and a guarantee for the future of their families and for the inner city of Dublin.
Today's happenings in the Dublin Port and Docks Board were unfortunate as was the decision taken to petition the High Court on Friday to appoint a liquidator because it is putting the gun to the head of the workers. There is absolutely no opportunity to have meaningful negotiations between now and Friday. As strike notice has already been served the only outcome I can see at present is that the strike will take place. The precipitated action that has now taken place is jeopardising the jobs and future of the port. The application to the High Court two days after the taking of the decision by the Dublin Port and Docks Board amounts to a fait accompli and makes industrial action inevitable.
I wish to give some background to the issue. It is ironic that Dublin Cargo Handling Limited were established to  eliminate what is now being proposed. They were set up to get rid of the myriad of smaller stevedoring firms that existed in the past and to consolidate them into a single body who would establish better structures and ensure that the port operated more efficiently. This fragmentation of private operations was rationalised into a single operation in a wholly owned subsidiary of Dublin Port and Docks Board with the intention of improving the services. It is now intended to put in a liquidator, sell off the licences and allow a number of private operations to take over, precisely what Dublin Cargo Handling were set up to abolish.
Dublin Cargo Handling Limited employ 215 people directly — dockers, checkers and administrative staff — while Dublin Port employ 500 people directly. Over 5,000 people are employed in the port and in port-related businesses. Thousands of others are employed in the wider arena of the business — haulage, goods and service, agency work, brokerage work, etc. It has been estimated by the Dublin Port and Docks Board that some 7,500 jobs are created for every 100,000 tonnes of exports dealt with through the port. Obviously they are a very important existing and potential employer both in the port area and in the broader ancillary services.
We export 70 per cent of our produce. As an island nation 99.8 per cent of our trade is dealt with through the nation's port Dublin. Therefore, our port and docks facilities are extremely important and the future of our premier port must be of concern to all of us.
Dublin Port and Docks Board put forward their rationalisation proposals on foot of the fact that Dublin Cargo Handling Limited have been loss-making for a period of time, almost since their inception in 1981. Various figures have been bandied around, from £16 million to £20 million and the figure that has been thrown out today, £22 million. Because of the present situation the Dublin Port and Docks Board wish to reduce the number of dockers by roughly a third — restructure the company and improve efficiency. The proposal is to reduce the  number of dockers from 129 to roughly 80; that work would take place at permanent identifiable locations which is not the case at present; that casual labour would be available for certain types of work; that there would be no compulsory redundancies — the package would allow for a flexible relationship; that all pensions would be protected; that those who remain would be employed for life and that there would be an £8,000 lump sum for those who stay in the company. This would create the environment for expansion of the port and ensure that the port is profit making. Overall, it was inevitable that, irrespective of whether this package of proposals in terms of rationalisation was accepted, privatisation of the port would take place. That does not seem to have been in question with the Port and Docks Board; irrespective of any agreement, the company will be privatised. That seems to be the thin end of the wedge in terms of their proposals.
Against that, Dublin Cargo Handling and the Marine Port and General Workers' Union have pointed out that the figure quoted — £20 million — is grossly misleading. Over £9 million went towards previous redundancies and approximately £3 million is involved in terms of the present rationalisation. An agreement between the union and the Port and Docks Board was negotiated in 1990 for a four year period. That agreement is being broken unilaterally by the Port and Docks Board despite the fact that only 18 months to two years have passed since the agreement was made. Stevedoring charges have not increased since 1988, while port and docks charges to the subsidiary have increased constantly. Therefore, it is not one-sided by any means. The Port and Docks Board are very generous when it comes to setting charges for the hire of their cranes, etc., to their subsidiary, but stevedoring charges have not increased over a number of years.
It is proposed to sell off Dublin Cargo Handling main asset — their licence which lasts for 70 years. That is why the process of liquidation is taking place. The board are flexible when it comes to work  practices in terms of casual labour, identifying work areas and so on. However, the crunch comes with the question of privatisation. The board are adamant that, irrespective of what negotiations are entered into and what the outcome of the negotiations may be, their precondition is that the work done at present by the subsidiary of the Port and Docks Board will in future be done by private firms. That is an unreal precondition because it is putting the gun to the head of the union and workers; it is an impossible starting point.
The union and the workers propose a reasonable compromise, that is a share equity scheme where, rather than have the present work practices or the extreme of privatisation, a compromise could be reached that would allow for involvement by the workers. In addition, the £8,000 lump sum could be translated into a share option so that they would automatically be participants in the company; they would have a vested interest in the company; they would have a say in the profits and obviously, in that context, they would have a major interest in the future development, prosperity and expansion of the Port and Docks Board. That seems to be a most reasonable proposal and that is the road the Minister should go down in responding to the two sides in the context of the impasse.
The implications are that job losses will be treated in the same way as those in UMP. Once the receiver is called in, the jobs go. We should remember that 90 per cent of the jobs in the deep sea docking area have been lost over the last 20 years. The people who work on the docks come from the inner city. If they lose their jobs their families will be devasted and the companies providing services in the area will lose out. We have seen how Sheriff Street, built in the forties and fifties to house dockers has been detenanted and is in a state of dereliction. Now the remaining dockers are going to lose their jobs increasing the already very high unemployment levels in the inner city.
Privatisation is not the solution. Vested interests, including people in the  Port and Docks Board, are already trying to get some of the licences and avail of the EC grants for building the infrastructure under the EC programme on peripherality. A strike is inevitable in the present circumstances and if that happens it is not likely to be limited to dockers. Because employees are members of other unions — the AEU and SIPTU — it would cripple the entire docks area and the future of the port would be at stake.
The Minister should ask the Dublin Port and Docks Board to allow breathing space for meaningful negotiations before the application for the liquidator is processed on Friday. A compromise should be considered in terms of bringing certain work practices more into line with those of our competitors. The dockers should be brought in from the cold eliminating the adversarial system that has operated up to now. There should be share equity which would allow for participation by workers in the company. The Minister for Labour and the Minister for the Marine should directly intervene to resolve this matter humanely. Having done that, they should consider the restructuring not only our premier port but our trade with other countries by ensuring that sufficient capital is provided for the development of the port structure. This happens in other countries.
Dr. Upton Dr. Upton
Dr. Upton: I welcome the Minister to the House. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well in his new position.
Any difficulties in the docks has to be a matter of major concern, particularly when it relates to the country's foremost port, namely, Dublin Port. By any standards, Ireland has a very great dependency on external trade. Within the European Community, Ireland has the third highest level of dependency on external trade and exports more than 70 per cent of the overall production. It is for such reasons that we particularly depend on the efficient and harmonious working of our ports.
Down the years Dublin Port has been at the receiving end of considerable neglect. Investment in infrastructure has  been very small compared to the level of infrastructural investment in the ports of our direct competitor countries.
The port is very important in the immediate docks area. About 500 people are employed there — 215 by Dublin Cargo Handling. Those people are now faced with the prospect of being forced to join the dole queues. The port has a wider contribution to employment. Five thousand people are directly employed in port related activities and many more are employed in ancillary and peripheral activities.
The port has enormous potential for development and has a central role to play in the economy. The present dispute has to be a matter for great concern because of the immediate effect it will have on those who work at the port and the manner in which it will inhibit the development of the potential of the port area. There is potential there for considerable expansion in tourism activities and for development of facilities to allow a greater number of car-driving tourists to enter the country. There is a potential for the development of water sports complexes and account should be taken of the interaction between the port and the proposed national sports complex. There is also the possibility of meat plants and provender milling in the area.
The kind of disputes that have gone on in the past few days, and particularly today, will militate very much against the development of the port and the achievement of its potential.
The industrial relations history of the port leaves a great deal to be desired. I see no value in tracing that history, or in trying to apportion blame or responsibility for the present position. We must begin to look to the future. We must try to find solutions and see what can be done to foster a climate in which harmonious industrial relations can develop. Such a climate will arise only by taking a negotiating approach to industrial relations problems.
For me it is a matter of considerable  regret that the Dublin Port and Docks Board have today decided to take precipitate action by announcing their intention to liquidate the Dublin Cargo Handling Company. Inevitably, such a step will only force people into further levels of entrenchment. People will be forced to develop attitudes that will make the resolution of the problems considerably more difficult than might have been the case had people been prepared to adopt a more conciliatory attitude to the problems at Dublin port.
There are a few points I particularly wish to draw to the attention of the House. Those points relate to my party's motion and to the amendment in the name of the Leader of the House, which is, I presume, on behalf of the Government.
It is worth noting some of the differences in the terminology used in both motions. Both begin by expressing concern — in our case “deep concern” and in the case of the Government “serious concern”. We would all agree that that difference is of no great significance. However, when one considers what is to be done in relation to the resolution of the problem, one realises that the original motion very clearly proposes that the resolution of the problem be based on negotiation between the Marine Port and General Workers' Union and the Dublin Port and Docks Board, but the Government, have seen fit to delete that ideal. I can only conclude that they are opposed to that objective because if they were in favour of the objective, there would be no reason not to include it in their amendment. It follows that the Government are not concerned about the proposal to privatise the stevedoring work carried out by Dublin Cargo Handling. Again, the Government have seen fit to omit that objective from their amendment.
There is an ominous ring, a menacing tone, to the term “whatever steps are necessary” in the amendment. Such terminology seems to be a coded way of saying that privatisation is on the cards,  let the battle cats of industrial relations loose, let the issue run its course. I very much regret the tone of such language. Ultimately, a solution will have to be found and language, which encourages entrenchment — language that is to some extent the coded language of war — is highly undesirable in this context. I ask Government speakers to spell out what precisely is meant by “whatever steps are necessary” and I ask them also to make clear what is excluded, in other words, what kind of measures will not be part of the implications of “whatever steps are necessary”?
Today has been a black day for employment in Ireland. There have been announcements of more than 1,000 job losses — albeit the Dublin Cargo Handling element of those job losses will be postponed. It is imperative that we seek agreement on this problem and that we move away from using such terminology as “whatever steps are necessary”.
I formally second the motion.
Mr. Harte Mr. Harte
Mr. Harte: I welcome the Minister to the Chamber.
My part will be putting the motion to the vote because the amendment excludes the provision to seek the assistance of the Minister to resolve a matter, which is not normal practice. Another reason is that we know that what is meant by “whatever steps are necessary” is “go ahead and privatise”. That is not the way the Government have operated on the issue of privatisation. Previously, the Government carried out a detailed and close examination of proposals for privatisation. In this instance the issue is being shoved through rather than being the subject of debate at any level of political importance. Consequently, we say that this is contrary to the Government's attitude to privatisation.
Dublin port has many features. It is Ireland's premium port and offers easy access. Because Ireland is an island economy, it is heavily dependent on imports  and exports. The port is an essential and integral part of the national economic infrastructure. With the coming of the Channel Tunnel in 1993, Ireland will be the most remote country from the trading centre of Europe, which will make it very difficult for us to take up trading opportunities in a market of 320 million people. The coming of the Channel Tunnel means that in 1993 Ireland will be the only country in the European Community without a land link to Europe. We will be almost totally dependent for trade on our shipping routes and ports. That makes the present very serious issue of national concern. Ireland's exporters, who are already faced with a difficult task, will have to strive very hard to capitalise on our links with the market of 320 million.
Figures for 1986, the most recent available, show that Dublin Port contributed £2,178 million to the Irish economy, in other words, 13 per cent of gross national product, generating some 174,231 jobs; Dublin port accounted for £715 million of Government income, Dublin port always financed their capital development and has not received subsidies or grants for such development, for example, they spent £80 million from their resources on capital development over 20 years. We must remember we are talking of an overall area of 260 hectares. It would be difficult to over-emphasise the importance of Dublin port to our economy. That is one side of the argument. But, when one hears of media claims that many abuses are occasioned by the labour force, and that they are generating problems, one is forced to ask how could the port authorities have achieved so much without the assistance and co-operation of their workers over the years? Here, I speak with the benefit of experience since I worked on the cross-channel side of the docks for 13 years, on Guinness boats, having worked on the ocean pier and deep sea end of the docks unloading and discharging hops. It is hard work, as is the case with most work on docks. Without  the co-operation of workers the achievement to which I referred would not have become a reality. Management alone cannot do so, they must enlist the co-operation and understanding of workers. Management have received assistance and co-operation, but they contend that the labour force are being awkward, that the company should be privatised, split into five in an attempt to tame the workforce, this seems to be the attitude, and it is not good enough. If the workforce were as disruptive as was claimed on the “Pat Kenny Show” this morning, or as the management of the Dublin Port and Docks Board have claimed, how could they have achieved the developments to which I have referred. Indeed, there is much more evidence that could be produced of workers contributions. This is not the way to treat them. The Minister for Labour has an obligation to intervene, to put them back to the negotiating table.
The Government amendment excludes the Minister being given that opportunity, detracting from the attitude the Government have adopted so far in privatisations where they took a special interest and they took their time about it.
Mr. E. Ryan Mr. E. Ryan
Mr. E. Ryan: I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “express” and substitute the following:
“its serious concern at the ongoing difficulties in the Deep Sea Section of Dublin Port and, in the interest of employment, trade and economic growth both in the Dublin region and the national economy generally, calls for the taking of whatever steps may be necessary to ensure that the Deep Sea Section will be in a position for the future to operate on a viable, competitive and sustainable basis and urges that all the parties involved work towards that objective.”
I agree with many of the points made by the three Senators who have contributed. It is a very sad day for the inner city of  Dublin whose port traditionally has been a great employer and supported many families over a very long period, the workers themselves having supported and developed the port. When the dockers meet tomorrow or Friday, I hope they will agree with the proposals — a very attractive package which will secure their futures — put to them by the Dublin Port and Docks Board.
I disagree with Senator Costello when he contended there had been no breathing space. There has been a great deal of breathing space in these negotiations. One could blame management as well as Dublin Cargo Handling, but the regrettable aspect is that there has not been one area of common ground between both sides. It is indeed sad that these negotiations have continued for so long, yet they could not find one common area within which they could agree any of the proposals. Unfortunately, the company is now going into liquidation and many people will lose their jobs.
It is not correct to contend that the circumstances are confrontational, or that there has been no breathing space. Everybody would agree that a huge amount of time was spent negotiating, with endless meetings with various areas of the port, in an endeavour to resolve this problem but they have not been successful. I hope the package to be put to the dockers this week will be accepted.
Among the Twelve, Ireland has the third highest dependency on external trade. The volume of our imports/exports exceeding GNP by twice as much as the United Kingdom and West Germany, and more than five times as much as Japan. We are an island economy, exporting 70 per cent of all our produce, relying on seaports for the movement of 99.8 per cent of our trade.
In recent years Ireland's peripherality has been referred to frequently within the context of our membership of the EC. Because we are at a great disadvantage, it is vital that our ports, particularly our main one, run in a smooth, efficient manner, so that people can come in and out of the port, and get their goods in  and out of the country, as the case may be. That is vital for the future stability of our economy. It is sad that such confrontation should take place. In other European countries huge amounts of money have been spent on ports' infrastructures. Senator Upton was correct in that assertion. For example, Belfast port, Dublin's main competitor, received generous grant aid for port development, as has Warrenpoint. We could rightly criticise many of our Governments on not investing as much as they should in Dublin port. However, that does not detract from the point that we cannot afford to run a port at a loss. We cannot afford to lose £16 million, £20 million or £22 million or whatever. The result of all this has been “excess capacity” in most ports of Northern Europe, including Belfast. Belfast has a well developed infrastructure and handling facility. Dublin must keep pace. The key words are “excess capacity” which mean that a port can avail of business at short notice. That cannot be lost, something Dublin port has not done over the years, for the reasons Senator Upton and I have mentioned. That was a grave mistake.
On the labour aspect rationalisation was legislatively imposed in the United Kingdom, resulting in a dramatic increase in productivity and an even more dramatic change in the commercial potential of the ports. That the Dublin Port and Docks Board and Dublin Cargo Handling reach agreement on labour rationalisation is crucial to the future profitability and development of Dublin port, employing more than 500 people, with an additional 250 employed in the board's wholly owned stevedoring subsidiary, Dublin Cargo Handling. In excess of 5,000 people are employed in the port area in port related business. A substantial number of people are employed outside the port in business related directly to the port and its activities. Therefore, growth in port activities will result in a spin-off growth in all these  other areas. Already inadequate port facilities and bad labour practices are seriously impeding growth.
An economic impact study of Dublin port carried out in 1988 defined precisely for the first time the economic importance of the port. Some of the findings of that study were that exports through the port generate 174,000 jobs and that every 100,000 tonnes of exports generate 750 jobs. Accordingly, a more cost competitive, efficient port with good infrastructure and handling facilities would facilitate and accelerate growth in exports leading to increased employment.
The Chamber of Commerce commissioned a report called The Corridor of Competitiveness, which estimated that the trade diverted to the Northern corridor represented a loss of £56 million to our economy. The advantage to employment growth of winning back that trade is self-evident. Furthermore, it was contended that if Northern trade could be attracted South, through improved port capacity and lower charges, employment could be further enhanced. Dublin port has an excellent deep water harbour, being ideally situated with central corridor lines to Liverpool and Holyhead and regular scheduled services to north European and Mediterranean ports.
In promoting industrial development the IDA stress the advantages of the Dublin region, industrial sites, water supply, energy, labour resources and transport facilities. The availability of a major deep water port is a significant attraction to industrialists. The IDA acknowledge its value as a selling point but they are also conscious of a number of basic weaknesses which need to be addressed including labour relations in the port.
Perhaps Senator Costello, who is a member of Dublin Corporation should look at the question of access to the port. Over the past number of years we have debated road infrastructure and the need for a port relief road to link up with the  eastern by-pass. Many people objected to the eastern by-pass and questioned it on environmental grounds. During the local elections the proposed eastern by-pass was put in abeyance and the city councillors decided to await the environmental impact study report before making a decision. One of the compromises the Labour Party proposed during the local elections was that there should be a designated truck route in the city because of the importance of access to the port for industry.
Recently I read in a newspaper — unfortunately I was not at the meeting to point this out — that the Labour Party councillors, including Senator Costello, voted against this compromise deal. I wonder how serious Senator Costello is about the future of the port when one considers the Labour Party voted against something as important as that. Everybody, even those who were opposed to the eastern by-pass, recognises the importance of access to the port but the Senator recently turned down a good proposal.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: The Senator was not at the meeting. What he said is wrong.
Mr. E. Ryan Mr. E. Ryan
Mr. E. Ryan: I know what the Senator said.
Mr. Harte Mr. Harte
Mr. Harte: What is the relevance of this for the people who will lose their jobs?
Mr. E. Ryan Mr. E. Ryan
Mr. E. Ryan: It is very relevant.
Mr. Harte Mr. Harte
Mr. Harte: What relevance has this when we are asking the Minister to intervene?
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: The question of a truck route is another issue which was debated in this House before and will be debated again.
Mr. E. Ryan Mr. E. Ryan
Mr. E. Ryan: This is relevant to the overall development and future viability  of the port. People have to be able to get in and out of the port as easily and efficiently as possible. There was a very good compromise put forward but the Senator opposed it. I question the sincerity of Senator Costello's concern about the future of Dublin port.
I do not believe Senator Upton's assertion that the language in the amendment is wrong. The Minister is leaving it over to the trade unions and the Dublin Port and Docks Board to try to resolve this dispute. The sad thing — and we all agree on this — is that a company like this is going into liquidation. This is a black day for Dublin's inner city. Nobody can say that enough time was not given to negotiation. Meeting after meeting has taken place. The most negative aspect of this is that they could not agree on even one area. That is a sad reflection on both sides.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. T. Kitt) Tom Kitt
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. T. Kitt): At the outset I thank Senators opposite for their remarks on my appointment. With regard to Senator Costello's comments about the absence of the Minister for the Marine, the Minister is on official Government business outside the country. That point has to be made.
The Minister for the Marine has been informed by the board of Dublin port of their decision today to present a petition to the high Court on Friday, 20 March 1992 for the liquidation and winding up of their wholly-owned subsidiary company, Dublin Cargo Handling Limited, this decision is primarily a matter for the board in accordance with their statutory duties.
The Minister for the Marine, however, fully supports the board in their efforts to develop a viable and competitive port service in the deep sea section of Dublin port. This is vital for the future of the port generally but it is also critical to the future economic development of the Dublin region and to the competitiveness of Irish trade and commerce.
 With the serious financial losses which have built up and with the major and growing diversion of trade to other ports, the existing position of the deep sea section of Dublin port is unsustainable. The issues involved must be faced sooner or later. These problems have evolved over a long period and it may be of help if I explain the background.
The importance of our commercial seaports to Ireland's economy cannot be over stated. The level of the State's total trade in both volume and value terms handled by Irish seaports, including Dublin port — 79 per cent and 64 per cent respectively — underlines the importance of ports to the economy and expansion of trade. Commercial ports handled almost £17 billion of our total trade of £26 billion in 1990 and over £9 billion of Ireland's total export trade of £14 billion in the same year. It is clear that ports must therefore operate as efficiently as possible and service their customers in a cost-effective and competitive manner.
Dublin port is of vital importance in terms of its throughput of trade and its contribution to freight traffic in the central corridor. In 1991 its trade throughput by all modes of freight was 7.7 million tonnes with the deep sea sector accounting for some 2.1 million tonnes. In value terms Dublin port accounted for £8,692 million or in percentage terms 64.3 per cent of the £16,753 million trade handled by Irish sea ports. The total port revenue for Dublin in 1991 amounted to £25.2 million with the deep sea sector accounting for some £6 million of that revenue.
Dublin port, and all other ports operating under the Harbours Act, 1946, are expected by the Government to operate efficiently, economically and competitively and provide the level of service demanded of modern ports today. I should, however, stress that port management and in particular industrial relations matters and the rationalisation of stevedoring services in Dublin port  and other national ports is primarily the responsibility of the port and docks board and harbour authorities and the companies and employees involved. In the case of Dublin port, I am advised that the board decided that it was absolutely essential that the operational structures, including those for the dock labour force, be streamlined so as to provide a modern competitively priced service.
The establishment of Dublin Cargo Handling Limited in 1982 was an initial attempt to rationalise labour in the deep sea sector because of a chaotic situation which had arisen with nine stevedoring companies operating independently of each other and their financial viability being quickly eroded by rigid labour practices. Dublin port held 50 per cent of the shareholding in Dublin Cargo Handling in 1982 with the remainder held by the then largest stevedoring company in Dublin port, Associated Port Terminals.
Dublin port was left with a 100 per cent shareholding in 1985 following the withdrawal of Associated Port Terminals in the face of heavy losses. Dublin Cargo Handling have continued since then to suffer heavy losses. From their establishment to end 1990, accumulated losses, together with redundancy payments of £7.6 million, reached a total of £16.2 million. Dublin Cargo Handling incurred losses of approximately £1.5 million in 1991.
In the face of these continuing losses the board and management of Dublin port and Dublin Cargo Handling took the view that the loss making situation in Dublin Cargo Handling was not sustainable. Dublin port considered that a quality service could not be provided for customers unless restrictive practices were eliminated and normal industrial working conditions introduced in the port. A major study was therefore commissioned by Dublin port in 1990 on the organisation of stevedoring in the port and was completed by Stokes Kennedy Crowley in May 1991. The study recommendations were adopted in principle by  the board including proposals on a labour rationalisation programme.
The Stokes Kennedy Crowley report concluded that the effect of Dublin Cargo Handling's losses limited the capacity of the port authority to fund capital development and discouraged the growth of trade through the port. I should mention that in order to deal with the financing requirements of its dock labour rationalisation programme, Dublin port has had to defer expenditure on its £8 million plus South Bank Quay Lo/Lo Terminal development project. The settlement of the rationalisation programme could facilitate an early resumption of the suspended capital works. The Stokes Kennedy Crowley report identified a range of problems including, overstaffing at all levels, high absenteeism/sickness, low average utilisation of dock labour, inefficiencies, poor labour allocation systems and no prospect of profitability. The lack of choice for ships which have to use Dublin Cargo Handling and the high cost of services were also highlighted.
The need for a more efficient port infrastructure was clearly identified in the recently published report of the industrial policy review group. As an island nation dependent on its ports, inefficiency puts all the nation's firms at a disadvantage. The competitiveness of Dublin port was a matter of serious concern to the review group with low frequency of services and short opening hours being particularly highlighted. The report cited the loss of business to ports in the Republic and pinpointed the considerable costs imposed on Irish industry, relative to what is clearly attainable if the efficiency of Larne could be replicated in Dublin.
The requirements of port users is also a key factor in any restructuring of stevedoring operations in the port. I understand that Dublin port had extensive discussions with representatives of all current Ro/Ro operators, with representatives of the Irish Ship Agents Association and with Dublin Chamber of  Commerce in order to fully understand their needs. These discussions highlighted port users' concerns on costs and service and disclosed a profound lack of confidence in the existing stevedoring structures. This lack of confidence on the part of port users is reflected, in the diversion of traffic from the central to the northern corridor and the benefits, estimated at £56 million in lost trade, accruing to northern ports such as Larne.
In view of the history of the port, the extent of losses incurred in the ports cargo handling operations since 1982, the deficiencies identified in the Stokes Kennedy Crowley study and reiterated by the industrial policy review group and the serious disruptions of trade, it is disappointing that recent discussions under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission have failed to yield progress.
There have, as is well known, been ongoing industrial relations difficulties at Dublin port for some considerable time. Both the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission have been actively involved on numerous occasions in resolving various industrial relations issues at the port. The more recent difficulties centre on the need to bring operations at the port into line with modern practices so as to ensure the future viability of the port in the face of stiff competition.
A six week unofficial strike took place at the port last December and January. Arising from intensive discussions between both sides, involving the Labour Relations Commission, a formula for a return to work on 20 January was agreed.
This return to work formula involved provisions for further discussions between the parties, with the help of the Labour Relations Commission, to bring about a negotiated settlement to the issues of increased flexibility, involving a restructuring of stevedoring operations. In view of the fact that little progress in these talks was being made, the Dublin Port and Docks Board decided on 19  February that Dublin Cargo Handling should be put in liquidation from 18 March unless the situation could be resolved. The Marine Port and General Workers Union has served strike notice on Dublin Cargo Handling in the event of the liquidation proceeding. As stated earlier, the Board of Dublin Port decided today that a petition will be presented to the High Court on Friday 20 March 1992 for the liquidation and winding up of Dublin Cargo Handling.
Further intensive discussions took place at the Labour Relations Commission between Dublin Cargo Handling management and the dockers union in recent days but no agreement has been reached to date. Even at this late stage and with the liquidation of Dublin Cargo Handling imminent I would urge the dock labour force and its union to think again. The port clearly cannot continue to suffer losses in its cargo handling operations and to ignore the drift away of freight traffic to more competitive and efficient ports including ports outside the State.
The issues involved are complex and historic but, having regard to all the implications, I would call on the parties to make further efforts, even at this late stage, to reach a settlement. In this regard, the services of the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court remain available to all parties.
Mr. Hourigan Mr. Hourigan
Mr. Hourigan: First I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, on his recent appointment and welcome him to the House. In the short time available to me I just want to cover the salient points. I would like to stress that the Republic is highly dependent on exports and consequently shipping and sea ports. For example, in 1990 Ireland imported 21.5 billion tonnes of goods, 82 per cent of which was transported through Irish sea ports. In turn we exported 9.1 billion tonnes of goods, 78 per cent of which went through Irish sea ports. In terms of  total value of trade in 1990 £17 billion out of a total of £26 billion of trade or 64 per cent of the total went through Irish sea ports. Similarly £9 billion out of £14 billion worth of exports utilised Irish sea ports. I make those points to highlight the importance of Dublin Port and all the other ports to us as an economy.
This island operates three principal shipping corridors. They comprise the northern corridor, the central corridor and the southern corridor. The Northern corridor involves shipping services from the posts of Larne, Warrenpoint and Belfast to ports in Scotland, Liverspool and Holyhead. The central corridor involves shipping services from the ports of Dún Laoghaire and Dublin, usually to Liverpool or Holyhead. The southern corridor involves port traffic from Rosslare, Waterford and Cork to Fish-guard or to Pembroke in Wales. Shipping services for freight and passengers operates from the central and southern corridors directly to the continent. I would like to stress that we are losing significantly on the northern corridor because we are not cost efficient and are not in a position to compete.
It is absolutely essential that four basic requirements are met vis-á-vis shipping: efficiency of operation, cost competitiveness, reliability of service and flexible service. Unfortunately, those conditions did not exist in the Dublin docks in times gone by. Nobody is to blame for that. A series of events have led to the existing situation but we must now look very quickly at what we have to do. As I see it there is a clear lack of an integrated transport policy involving road haulage, port operations and shipping services.
There is a lack of investment in ports resulting in inadequate facilities, under capacity and inefficiency. We are operating under outdated legislation, having failed to reform the Harbours Act, 1946, and the Pilotage Act, 1913. This restrains port management and leaves us with an integrated and outdated framework  within which ports must operate. Industrial relations issues are far from what they should have been in the various Irish ports over the years. I agree with those who have said that today has been a very sad day for Ireland and, indeed, for Dublin where we have this massive addition to our vast unemployment list. It is horrific to note that in excess of 300,000 people failed to get jobs in the past 12 months, that is, including those on the live register and those who have emigrated. I wish to make the point very forcefully that Dublin Cargo Handling Limited have a monopoly. However, I am not so sure that they have served Dublin port well. It has been argued by some that the practices and procedures adopted in some ports, such as Dublin, are more relevant to the forties than the nineties. However that is a matter for another debate.
Many questions have been raised. While reference has been made to levels of pay and abuses of the system I wish to ask some interesting and relevant questions. Am I correct in saying that it costs £400 to unload 2,000 tonnes of grain from a vessel during the weekend in Dundalk while the figure for Dublin is £4,200? Why have Dublin Cargo Handling Limited lost £16.5 million since 1982?
There are, unfortunately, many weaknesses. There has been a lack of rationalisation and planning and these lie at the root of many of our problems. If we are not cost-effective we cannot hope to compete with ports such as Larne and Warrenpoint. As everybody knows, Dublin port has lost a great deal of trade in recent years.
I have the greatest sympathy for those directly involved in Dublin port, particularly those facing unemployment, the dole queue and so on. It is regrettable that we have reached this situation. We must make sure, therefore, that there is greater planning, better management and arrangements to prevent a recurrence because one could not justify the differential in costs to which I have  referred. Indeed, there are several other figures I could give but time does not permit me to do so.
Unless we can ensure efficiency, can compete with the next person and are both reliable and flexible, we cannot guarantee the survival of any operation, let alone in Dublin port.
Like everyone else, I am sad about this development. I sincerely hope, therefore, that those directly affected will be accommodated and, even at this very late stage, that something can be done to alleviate the position for the workforce. In the final analysis it is all very fine for Members of this House, or the other House, to talk about this matter because it is those who are directly affected that will suffer the most.
Mr. Haughey Mr. Haughey
Mr. Haughey: First, I welcome the Minister of State to the House, congratulate him on his appointment and wish him every success. I thank him also for presenting the facts and the sobering realities in a very stark way in his address to the Seanad this evening.
It is essential that the Seanad discuss this very important issue this evening because the ongoing difficulties at Dublin port, which are there for everybody to see, are a source of concern for us all. Already we have had a six week unofficial strike at the port and, because of this, activities there are at a standstill. It is fair to say that the economic and commercial life of this city depends on the efficient operation of Dublin port.
I believe in the future of Dublin port and it is important that I say that. The port has a vital role to play in the commercial life of the city and of the country in general. It should be facilitated and encouraged in every way. However, not everyone believes this. Already experts have brought forward proposals to relocate the port no less in north County Dublin. This is utter nonsense. It is appalling to think that such ideas are being put forward, because such a move would lead to the manufacturing sector in the city  centre and indeed all types of industries being devastated.
It is important that I state that I am committed to Dublin port because others, by their actions, do not seem to be. Senator Eoin Ryan mentioned, as I will, the port access route. The reality is that goods cannot be transported to and from the port in an efficient way due to traffic chaos. We have, therefore, got to put our heads together to sort out this problem. It is important that goods can be transported quickly and efficiently to and from the port if it is to be competitive. While the question of access to the port is a matter for another day nevertheless it is relevant.
The Labour Party Senators this evening are calling on the Dublin Port and Docks Board and Dublin Cargo Handling management to resolve their differences with the Marine Port and General Workers Union at the negotiating table. That would be welcome. However, the fact is that intense negotiations have been taking place for the past four weeks at the labour relations committee. While the deadline is 18 March I understand little progress has been made. In fact, the parties concerned are nowhere near agreement despite the fact that the deadline of 18 March was set and despite the involvement of the labour relations committee. Therefore this issue did not just come out of the blue; it has been like a time bomb. Unfortunately, the difficulties and the differences have not been resolved.
While there is still time for negotiations I am not hopeful. It is very serious that 220 jobs are now at risk at Dublin port in Dublin Cargo Handling Limited. A petition will go before the High Court on Friday for liquidation. However there would still be a further ten days or so during which further negotiations could take place. I appeal to all the parties involved to get together, to negotiate and compromise to have this issue resolved. The Labour Party Senators have called  on the Minister to intervene. If that would help it should certainly be considered. However, this can be determined as the negotiations proceed.
The Fianna Fáil amendment calls for the operation of the deep sea section on a viable, competitive and sustainable basis. That is the key to our amendment. This is the core of the problem and many Senators have referred to it. Dublin port is now a high cost port; business is being diverted to other ports as a result. In this regard I refer particularly to the northern corridor, especially in Belfast. The port will have to become competitive if it is to survive. If Dublin port is ready for the completion of the Single European Market and European union, it must be asked if Ireland is ready for European union and all that involves. We are not ready.
Exports are vital to our economy. Many Senators have said that we are an island nation, dependent on foreign trade and on exports for our very survival as an economy. New concepts, new ideas and new technology in the management of the port are needed if we are to survive. Management have clearly stated that Dublin port is overmanned and that it cannot afford this. Dublin Cargo Handling Limited suffered losses of £22 million since their establishment 11 years ago and any negotiations must take these realities into account.
There was a reference today in the local media to so-called “ghost” and restrictive practices which are underway in the running and management of Dublin port. Quite frankly the general public cannot understand these so-called “ghost” practices. They do seem unbelievable to the lay person. including myself. I would have thought that paying people for jobs that simply are not being done cannot continue. I say that as a lay person. I do not understand the subtleties involved but these do-called “ghost” practices are difficult to comprehend. In any negotiations I understand that redundancies would be voluntary, which is  essential. There should be no question of compulsory redundancies. I hope that any proposed redundancies will be kept to an absolute minimum and there is scope for compromise on both sides. That is something which should be looked at very carefully.
I also gather that the whole question of the privatisation of Dublin Cargo Handling is now a fait accompli, that the five separate parts of the organisation will be sold. I understand that that is not under negotiation. I assume, therefore, that we have to accept that. I know that the Dublin Port and Docks Board are a democratic organisation. I know that there are representatives of the local authority, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and ministerial appointments on the board. I would have thought that, as far as companies go, the Dublin Port and Docks Board have a very democratic base, accountability to the public and elected representatives on the board. The board this morning took a decision by vote, I assume, to go ahead with the petition to the High Court on Friday. Presumably, therefore, the vote was taken, people were for or against it, others abstained and the vote was carried. That democratic input must stand for something.
I am concerned about jobs in Dublin. I am concerned about manufacturing jobs in the centre city areas. I am concerned about service employment, particularly in the inner city areas as well. In that regard therefore, I want to raise also the recent decision by Irish Continental Line to award a tender for the overhaul of the m.v. Leinster to an English company, Wright and Veyer, which was a disgraceful decision. I appeal to the Minister for the Marine to examine it and to take the issue up with Irish Continental Line to ensure that further ships are not sent abroad for servicing and overhaul. This is something that is crucial to the question of jobs in Dublin. The Cathaoirleach will know that I raised this issue in  the Seanad already on Wednesday, 26 February on the Adjournment.
I am very concerned about the future of the port. I believe in Dublin port and I am concerned about jobs and the economic and commercial life of this city. This matter must be sorted out and there should be compromise on all sides. Redundancies must be kept to an absolute minimum. There must no question of compulsion in relation to redundancies and, at all costs, a strike must be avoided. The last thing we need is for confidence to be undermined in Dublin port and in the commercial and economic life of this city. Again, I thank the Minister for his presentation. It makes for very stark reading and presents the issues in black and white. I appeal to all sides to try to get a solution to the problems of Dublin port.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: I thank Senators and the Minister for their contributions. I am glad Senator Haughey agrees that there should be ministerial intervention. It certainly was not apparent from the amendment to the motion or from the Minister's own remarks that they even considered that possibility. At least there is somebody on the other side of the House who feels that the Minister has a duty in this respect and should be available and willing to intervene.
Mrs. Honan Mrs. Honan
Mrs. Honan: We work as a party, Senator, do not worry.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: I had not noticed that because many contradictory things were said by the Minister and by Senator Ryan opposing the motion and now by Senator Haughey.
Mr. Haughey Mr. Haughey
Mr. Haughey: It is a new beginning.
Mr. Costello Mr. Costello
Mr. Costello: They are a party of independents who do not seem to make the same sort of statements.
I agree also with Senator Haughey. It was a shame that, having got hold of the company, B & I having been privatised  over Christmas, the very first action of the Irish Continental Line was to send the m.v. Leinster to Birkenhead for overhaul, a contract of about £500,000, when the work could have been done equally well here — and had been done here over the last six years on an annual basis in the marine dockyard. Clearly Senator Ryan has a brief only for the port and docks. Of course he is a member of the port and docks and that has come through clearly from his remarks. It was a one sided presentation. Indeed everything I have heard from the other side of the House was a one sided presentation which did not take the workers into consideration. They are the people who built up the port, who were exploited in the past, who have contributed blood, sweat and tears, generations of families have worked to build up the port to what it is today. That was not referred to or even taken into consideration.
The reference to the designed truckway of course was one proposed in terms of access to the port. It proposed to go up along the North Circular Road through Cabra, an area that is already chock-a-block with traffic. Even the Fianna Fáil members on the city council opposed it. Senator Ryan should get his facts right on that matter; it was not just the Labour members of the city council who opposed it, the members of the city council opposed it as a non-viable option.
I am glad that the Minister referred in his reply to the redundancy and rationalisation and the true cost, £16.2 million, of accumulated losses which includes £7.6 million in redundancy payments. Quite clearly, a lot of money has been spent on redundancy payments and rationalisation and now it is proposed to spend a lot of other money on redundancies costing approximately £3 million. We are talking about quite a valuable asset. It seems strange that the response should now be to privatise this asset which has been rationalised and is effective and efficient. The crunch issue here is privatisation; it  is at the heart of the problem. It has been said that both sides have nothing in common and that the workers were not prepared to go anyway to meet the Dublin Port and Docks case. That is not true. The stumbling block is the precondition of privatisation. If that precondition was removed, then negotiations would be successful. It is astonishing for a Senator to speak about a fait accompli. We have never discussed the matter. The public are not aware that a decision has been taken and approved by the Government.
Are we to take it now that the Government have unilaterally decided, without discussion and without bringing it before either House of the Oireachtas, to privatise Dublin Cargo Handling Limited? This is a very dangerous move because it seems to be privatisation by stealth.
There is a hidden agenda in this. I understand that members of the Dublin Port and Docks Board have already applied for licences. From what I have heard here already I understand that licences are to be issued in four or five different areas. Are the Government behind this privatisation proposal? Where is the initiative coming from? An offer is being made which cannot be accepted because the precondition of privatisation makes negotiation impossible. How in God's name can negotiations take place between now and Friday? Why can we not go along the road proposed by the union and the workers — that is, give the workers an equity share in the company — instead of handing over this valuable asset to the speculators out there? We have already seen what has happened in the case of Greencore. The speculators are waiting; they are circling around waiting for the opportunity to get at this company so that they can benefit from the financial rewards in terms of the grants and funding which will be made available from the EC in the years to come.
One presentation of the case is that there are bad practices, the working practices in the port have not been updated  and upgraded and the workers are the baddies; when there is a problem blame the workers. The solution to the problem is to restructure, but what are we getting? Restructuring is being equated with privatisation. They are not equivalent in my mind but it is what we are getting from the Dublin Port and Docks Board and the Government. Let us restructure the company and eliminate some of the practices that are in operation. Let us ensure that there is agreement on the work practices and that this is done with the participation of the workforce. The workforce should be given a stake in the company and in the future operation of the port. If the workforce are prevented or precluded from doing this, then inevitably there will be confrontation, the adversarial activity will continue and this confrontation will lead to strike action. Indeed strike notice has already been served. If we go down this road the port will be crippled, all sectors will suffer and the economy will suffer. This will not just affect workers in the deep sea docking area. As I said, members of the AEU and SIPTU will also be directly affected. Therefore, there could be an all-out strike in a very short space of time.
If the Government and the Dublin Port and Docks Board are really serious about the issue it behoves them to ensure that there is a real breathing space and that a gun is not put to the heads of the negotiators on either side. A decision should be taken not to go to the High Court for the petition on Friday. The issue should be left open for a brief period of time so as to allow the Minister for Labour, the Minister for the Marine, the Marine Port and General Workers' Union and the Dublin Port and Docks Board to sit down  and negotiate a compromise solution. In order to do this the compulsory precondition of privatisation must be lifted. Privatisation is not restructuring; it is an extraneous solution that has been imposed for different reasons.
As Senator Harte said earlier, the Government have always said that they will not privatise without consulting with the Oireachtas. This is a case in point where privatisation is deliberately taking place. We are told that the matter is a fait accompli, there is no opportunity to discuss it and there is no consultation. It is a unilateral decision which has been taken with the blessing of the Government or initiated by the Government. We on this side of the House believe the Government have not acted in good faith on this matter. The only way the Government can show that they are acting in good faith is to open up the negotiations, make themselves available to participate in those negotiations and lift the precondition which has already been imposed.
I ask the Minister to take into consideration what we have said here about the future of the port and docks, the need for investment by the Government in the port and docks, the need to protect jobs and the need to protect communities in the north and south inner city who have already been devastated by unemployment. We believe that the problem can be solved if the participants are given the opportunity of sitting down at the negotiating table without preconditions and if the Minister for the Marine and the Minister for Labour are prepared to participate positively in the negotiations.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 4.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Fitzgerald and E. Ryan; Níl, Senators Costello and Upton.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mr. Wright Mr. Wright
Mr. Wright: At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
Seanad Éireann 131 Private Business. Dublin Port and Docks Industrial Dispute: Motion.