Committee on Finance. - Agricultural Wages Bill, 1936—Committee.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.

I do not desire to move my amendment in the form in which it appears on the Order Paper but perhaps, Sir, you would permit me to raise the point on the section at this stage. Under the definition section of the Bill it is provided that "the expression `agricultural worker' means a person employed under a contract of service or apprenticeship whose work under such contract is or includes work in agriculture, but does not include a person, whose work under any such contract is or includes domestic service." I take strong exception to the last portion of that section, because it seems to me to provide a very convenient way out of the provisions of this Bill for persons who might be unscrupulous enough to avail of the loophole provided by the Minister in this very wide definition which he has drawn. I can concede, of course, that it is not the intention to bring a domestic servant within the scope of the section, or to bring a domestic servant's standard of remuneration within the scope of a Bill designed primarily to regulate the conditions of agricultural workers. But it seems to me that under this section, as drafted, it is possible for an agricultural employer to plead, in support of his contention that an employee is outside the scope of the Bill, and that his wages, consequently, may not be regulated by the provisions of the Bill, that the person concerned performs domestic service. If, therefore, it can be shown by such agricultural employer that any particular employee performs domestic service, that person seems to me to go outside the scope of the Bill. It may, therefore, be advantageous for agricultural employers to employ their workers, indoor, perhaps, or even outdoor for some portion of their time on domestic work and in that way evade completely the provisions of the Bill.

I hardly imagine that the Minister contemplates leaving so wide a loophole for evasion under the Bill. I should like to suggest to him that that definition section should be tightened in such a way as to make it impossible for any person to ride completely outside the scope of the Bill by resorting to a subterfuge of that kind. I suggest to the Minister that the section might be amended to make clear that it does not include "a female person whose work under any such contract is or includes domestic service," but it seems to be contrary to the whole spirit of the Bill that, if you employ a person on domestic work, you can, by reason of the fact, have that person excluded from the regulatory provisions of the Bill.

On the point that Deputy Norton has raised, I suggest to the Minister that there is very grave doubt as to what exactly an agricultural labourer is. I have been told by a friend who recently had dealings with a national health insurance inspector who was checking over his national health insurance cards, that this inspector told him that if you employed a man for draining, ditching or, I think, growing vegetables in a market garden, this work did not come within the definition of "agricultural labour." If that be the case for the purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, presumably whatever definition is accepted there will be accepted here. In my own experience, I never had any difficulty of that kind at all. I have never stamped an unemployment insurance card for a man working exclusively on my farm.

Dr. Ryan

Is the Deputy referring to unemployment insurance or national health insurance?

Unemployment insurance. As the Minister knows, the national health insurance inspector very often gives advice on unemployment insurance, although it is not his primary duty. I have never stamped an unemployment insurance card for a man working exclusively on the farm. If he had to do jobs of another kind he would, of course, get his unemployment insurance card stamped but not while working on the farm. I have had men digging drains and ditching and I have never stamped an unemployment card for them and have never heard it suggested that I should. I mention the matter now because whatever definition is accepted for the purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Acts is certain to be extended to this Act. Therefore, I suggest that a very close examination should be made of the definition of "agricultural labourer" in respect of national health insurance and unemployment insurance and, if any obscurity exists, a fresh definition should be incorporated in this section which would expressly deal with any obscurity that has arisen in respect of the other two bodies of legislation.

I should like to support the point made by Deputy Norton. I do not know that the Deputy's suggestion to insert the words "female worker" would fully cover the point. I agree with him that the sub-section, as drafted, is rather loose. I should also like to point out that there are scattered throughout the country a number of farmers—bachelors, childless widowers and others—who employ agricultural labourers and do not employ any female labour. In these cases, a certain amount of the domestic work, if not all, is done by the agricultural labourer. If a farmer of that type wanted to evade this section he could easily do so. I can see the difficulty of providing against that, but I think the Minister should look into the matter because there are many farms on which the domestic work is done by male labour.

Dr. Ryan

I was going to suggest an amendment to be brought up on Report Stage. On account of the order of business, we may have to take the Report Stage to-morrow. I agree with Deputy Norton and Deputy Morrissey that the Bill might be evaded—and evaded with the connivance of the employee. There is always a danger in Bills of this kind, that an employee desirous of getting work may agree to take a shilling or two less than the sum fixed. In this case, he might connive at being regarded as a domestic servant merely because he does some small duty in the house, such as lighting the fire in the morning. I had intended, in order to get over that difficulty, to change the two words "or includes" in line 19 to "mainly". The provision would then read: "agricultural worker... does not include a person whose work under any such contract is mainly domestic service". The board would have to be satisfied——

Is it not the Minister who decides whether a man is an agricultural labourer or not?

Dr. Ryan

Yes. You are quite right in that. The Minister would have to be satisfied that the class of people being excluded were mainly engaged in domestic service. The type of person who would be excluded would be the girl doing most of the domestic work but who might milk cows, in addition, or do small jobs outside. I think the amendment I have suggested would cover that case and make evasion in the other case, in the manner I described, impossible. With regard to what Deputy Dillon said, I am not sure what exactly was the difficulty. Perhaps it was National Health Insurance that caused the difficulty. Under this Bill, we shall have, so far as we can, to define farmers and farm labourers and, for all practical purposes, the labourer working for the farmer will be a farm labourer under the Bill. I do not think there will be any difficulty, whether these men are ditching or shoring. If they are carpenters or masons, it will, of course, be a different matter. But if they are doing work peculiar to a farm, such as making ditches or draining, they will be regarded as farm labourers.

Unless there is already a decision that they came within the Unemployment Insurance Acts. If they come within these Acts, they are not farm labourers.

Dr. Ryan

I think the others will be more inclined to follow the ruling under this Bill in future.

Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4.
(2) After the commencement of this Act the Minister may, in any calendar year, by Order, made not later than the 30th day of September in such calendar year, do the following things:—
(b) declare, in respect of the committee to be established under this section for such one new agricultural wages area or, where more than one new agricultural wages area is constituted by such Order, for each such new agricultural wages area, that the number of ordinary members of such committee shall be the number (not being less than two for each wages district included in such area) specified in such Order.
(9) A member of the committee for an agricultural wages area may resign his office as such member by letter addressed and sent to the secretary of such committee and every such resignation shall take effect at the commencement of the meeting of such committee held next after the receipt of such letter by the secretary.
(12) The Minister may by regulations made by him under this Act regulate the procedure and business of committees for agricultural wages areas.

Dr. Ryan

I move amendment No. 2:—

In sub-section (2) (a), page 3, to delete all words from and including the word "the" in line 14 to the word "of" in line 16 and substitute the words "any two or more wages districts into such and so many".

This may be regarded as a drafting amendment. As the sub-section stood, there was a peculiar situation. In order to rearrange an area, we should have to take two areas, shuffle them up and make two new areas. If we had thought it necessary to divide an area into two areas, we could not do so under the original wording. We shall be able to do so, however, under the new wording.

Amendment agreed to.

Dr. Ryan

I move amendment No. 3:—

In sub-section (9), page 4, lines 54 and 55, to delete the words "at the commencement of the meeting of such committee held next after" and substitute the word "upon".

Meetings of this board will not be held frequently. As the sub-section stood, we should have to wait for a meeting in order to accept a member's resignation and the acceptance would not become effective until the commencement of the next meeting, so that we should virtually have to wait for two meetings before the vacancy could be filled. If meetings were held only at intervals of three or four months, that would be a long time to wait. Under the new wording, the resignation will become effective when it reaches the secretary and the vacant place can be filled, if necessary, before the next meeting.

Amendment agreed to.

Dr. Ryan

I move amendment No. 4:—

In sub-section (12), page 4, line 63, to delete the words "and business".

It was never intended that we should regulate the business of the board. It was intended only that we should regulate the procedure.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.

Dr. Ryan

I move to report Progress.

Progress reported; the Committee to sit again to-morrow.