Proposal that strikers be forced to maintain essential services rejected by Bruton

Minister says those involved in critical utilities carry a huge responsibility

Richard Bruton said that introducing mandatory obligations into a system developed over many years was not the correct route to go

Richard Bruton said that introducing mandatory obligations into a system developed over many years was not the correct route to go

Thu, Dec 12, 2013, 07:58

Private member’s legislation requiring those involved in industrial disputes to provide a minimum level of cover to maintain essential services was rejected by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton in the Seanad last night.

He said that introducing mandatory obligations into a system developed over many years was not the correct route to go. “I think we need to build on a model that has served us well but not be complacent and pretend that it is perfect,’’ he added. “I think we always need to improve it.’’

He said those involved in industrial relations in critical utilities had to know they carried a huge responsibility and that the voluntarist industrial relations code of practice continued to develop and handle any challenges.


Joint obligation
The code, he said, recognised there was a joint obligation to have in place agreed contingency plans and other arrangements to deal with any emergency which might arise during an industrial dispute. It was a guide to the way in which industrial relations needed to be developed in critical areas.

Mr Bruton was responding to the Critical Utilities (Security of Supply) Bill moved by Independent senator Feargal Quinn. Mr Quinn said, historically, the trade union movement had made a valuable contribution to the improvement of the rights and conditions of workers. The role of trade unions was recognised in the Constitution and by the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which protected the freedom of association.

“This Bill does not seek to extinguish or modify those rights,’’ he added.

Mr Quinn said the right to strike was an important part of the armoury of trade unions and it could be a very effective tool.

“However, in the context of basic services, such as water and electricity supplies, it can be a very blunt tool,’’ he added.

Impact on public
“I say this because when workers in electricity or water supply companies down tools and go on strike, their actions do not just upset their employers but can have a direct and dramatic impact on the everyday lives of people and businesses across the country.’’

As legislators, said Mr Quinn, they should seek to balance the right of workers to strike in a disruptive manner as against the right of individuals to a supply of water and electricity.

The Bill’s aim was to strike that balance in a proportionate and minimal way.

Mr Quinn said the Bill would make it an offence for a person to induce another to cause an interruption to the supply of a critical utility and to engage in industrial action which caused an interruption to the supply.

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