Public Business. - Agricultural Wages Bill, 1936—Committee (Resumed).
(3) Whenever the chairman of the board is through ill-health or other sufficient cause temporarily incapacitated from performing the duties of his office the Minister may nominate from among the neutral members of the board a person to perform, during such incapacity, the duties of the chairman of the board and the person so appointed shall during such incapacity have all the powers of the chairman of the board and be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be the chairman of the board.
I move amendment No. 5:—
To add at the end of sub-section (3) the words "but shall during such incapacity be deemed, for the purposes of Section 13 of this Act, not to be an ordinary member."
As the Bill stands, it would be possible for an acting chairman to promote disagreement by voting against the unanimous decision of the other members of the board and, therefore, have an opportunity of deciding the issue for himself. This amendment is designed to prevent him from doing so—that when he is acting chairman he is not an ordinary member of the board. If the other members agree, the decision is unanimous and he cannot alter that decision.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 6, as amended, agreed to.
Section 7 agreed to.
(1) An ordinary member of the board may at any time resign his office as such member by a letter addressed and sent to the secretary of the board and every such resignation shall take effect at the commencement of the meeting of the board held next after the receipt of such letter by the secretary.
I move amendment No. 6:—
In sub-section (1), page 6, lines 14 and 15, to delete the words "at the commencement of the meeting of the board held next after" and substitute the word "upon".
This is similar to amendment No. 3.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 8, as amended, agreed to.
Section 9 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 10 stand part of the Bill."
Is it proposed to have these positions filled by the Public Appointments Commissioners or the Civil Service Commissioners?
They will be filled by the Civil Service Commissioners.
These will be civil servants then?
Yes, but perhaps not established. The positions will be filled by the Civil Service Commissioners.
Why not by the Public Appointments Commissioners? Do they only fill positions for local authorities?
Yes, for local authorities.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 11 and 12 agreed to.
The following provisions shall have effect in relation to the making of an order at a meeting of the board, that is to say:—
(a) if no ordinary members or only one ordinary member are or is present at such meeting the chairman of the board shall make such order and such order as so made by the chairman of the board shall be deemed for the purposes of this Act to have been duly made by the board at such meeting;
(b) if two or more ordinary members are present at such meeting, the following provisions shall have effect, that is to say:—
(i) in case all such ordinary members pass unanimously a resolution in favour of the making of such order in terms specified in such resolution, such order shall be deemed for the purposes of this Act to have been duly made in such terms by the board at such meeting, and
(ii) in any other case, the chairman of the board shall make such order, and such order as so made by the chairman of the board shall be deemed for the purposes of this Act to have been duly made by the board at such meeting.
I move amendment No. 7:—
In page 7, line 26, to insert after the words "in case" the words "such ordinary members include at least one employers' member and one workers' member and".
There was a certain objection to the Bill as it stands that there might be a unanimous decision of the board with perhaps only the employers' representatives or the employees' representatives present. This amendment is designed to ensure that the unanimous decision is not to be operative unless both employers and employees are represented at that particular meeting of the board.
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 7, lines 32 and 33 to delete the words "shall make such order, and" and substitute the words "may, as he thinks fit, either adjourn the making of such order to the next meeting of the board or make such order, and in the latter event".
As the Bill stands, it would appear, although I am not quite certain, that the chairman will have to give his decision forthwith if the decision were left to him. It might be conceivable that the chairman would like to have some time to consider the matter, or make some inquiries before giving a decision, and this gives him power to adjourn the meeting before giving his decision, which I think is useful.
That is in case no agreement is arrived at and it is up to the chairman to fix the wage?
Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 14 to 16, inclusive, agreed to.
(2) Any minimum rates fixed by the board in respect of a wages district may be so fixed as to apply universally to such district or to any special class of agricultural workers or to any special area in such district or to any special class in a special area, subject in each case to any exceptions which may be made for employment of any special character and so as to vary according as the employment is for a day, week, month, or other period, or according to the number of working hours or the conditions of the employment, or so as to provide for a differential rate in the case of overtime.
(3) Any order made by the board under this section may define the benefits or advantages (not being benefits or advantages prohibited by law) which may be reckoned as payment of wages in lieu of payment in cash and the value at which they are to be reckoned.
(4) Subject to the provisions of this section, the board may at any time by order amend or revoke an order made under this section.
I move amendment No. 9:—
Before sub-section (2) to insert a new sub-section as follows:—
Any order made by the board fixing minimum rates of wages in respect of any wages district shall also fix for that district a minimum fair rate of wages and a minimum economic rate of wages.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 hang together and are designed to remove what appears to me to be a fatal flaw in the Bill introduced under existing circumstances. I freely admit that, if we were living in normal times, the amendment which I put forward here might not be necessary. I do not think that in any circumstances it could be harmful but it may not be necessary. I have submitted that no legislation of this Oireachtas can extract water from a stone or blood from a turnip. To adopt the words of the Bishop of Ross, although wages for agricultural labourers at present in many parts of the country are wretched, wretched as they are, the farmers cannot afford to pay them much less increase them. I entirely adopt that view of the situation all over the country. I am solicitous to ensure that, when the machinery of this Bill begins to operate, we shall fix for the agricultural labourers a wage which will compare favourably with that obtained by the agricultural labourers in other countries, and the first comparison that is going to be made is with the agricultural wages that are fixed in Great Britain. We ought to have the same market as the British farmer and we ought to have on our land as good a standard of living as the British farmer has. If these facts obtain, we ought to be able to get for our agricultural labourers as good a wage as is being paid in Great Britain.
Most of our agricultural labourers are either themselves temporary emigrants, or else they are familiar with neighbours and friends who go to England from time to time, and they will expect to get a wage which approximates, in any case, to the wages that are being paid under similar conditions in Great Britain. On the Second Stage, I read out certain figures for agricultural wages paid at present in Great Britain. They vary in different parts of the country from about 29/- to 32/-. It has to be borne in mind that these wages are, in some cases, for an eight-hour day and are subject to substantial increase if the agricultural labourer is doing specialised work.
In Hereford, the minimum wage is 11d. In Warwick, it is 31/- for a 50 hour week, and 8½d. or 9d. per hour for overtime. These are two typical cases. I think that the rate is a little lower in Norfolk and some of the eastern counties, but in every case the wage is for a 50 or 52 hour week, and time over and above that has to be paid for. It is merely sticking our heads in the sand to imagine that the farmers of this country can pay wages like those or anything near them, and I think it will be a deplorable thing if we start our system by fixing wages about 10/- a week lower for agricultural labourers in this country than the rate that obtains in Great Britain. The present average wage in this country is about 21/6 per week. Certain Deputies have said that that rate of wages is going to be raised by these boards and that the process of raising them is going to be financed by the Government's fixing higher prices for the agricultural produce of the farmers. Any such fallacy is folly, because the Government cannot finance increased agricultural wages by fixing higher prices for agricultural produce. The Government is not in a position to fix prices for 50 per cent. of the produce of the land. If you look at the statistics of agricultural output, published in the September number of the "Trade Journal," you will find that, of the total produce of the agricultural industry in 1929-30—one of the last normal years we had—50 per cent. was exported. The value of the total produce was £64,850,000. Of that, the agricultural community themselves consumed £21,000,000 worth, and they sold to industrial workers and provided individuals other than those living on the land with £11,790,000 worth of stuff. The only agricultural produce the price of which can be artificially raised by the Government is that represented by the sum of £11,790,000. There would be no use in raising the price of the stuff which the farmer himself eats. They cannot raise the price of the stuff that is being exported to Great Britain. The best they can do is to maintain it by giving bounties to meet the tariffs on it. But they can, by fixing the price of certain products substantially higher than the economic price, affect the value of £11,790,000 worth of produce out of a total of £64,000,000 worth.
Certain Deputies on the opposite side will say that things have changed greatly since then, that a great deal more stuff is being consumed in Saorstát Eireann by the industrial worker now than was consumed in 1929. What are the facts? In 1934-35 the consumption of agricultural produce by persons other than farmers or farm labourers had dropped from £11,790,000 to £10,060,000. When Deputy Corry says that the right solution for this dilemma is to fix the price of agricultural produce at a higher level and compel the farmer to pay a higher wage, does he realise that in 1934-5, out of a total output of £40,000,000 worth, the Government could only raise the price of £10,000,000 worth, or a quarter of the entire output? No matter what price you raise agricultural products in this country to, it is going to do nothing to help the farmer substantially to increase the wages of his labourer, however willing he may be to do so, because it is not going substantially to alter the amount of profit he makes on his enterprise. Deputies will say that that is incredible, that beet and wheat at the prices at which they at present stand—27/6 in the case of wheat and 37/6 in the case of beet—must give the farmer a fair profit. I do not think that either of them does. Assuming for the moment that they do, let us take the case of Wexford. Wexford is a county in which you had an increase of 17,112 acres of cereal crops between the years 1931 and 1935. In that county, the average of the agricultural labourer's wages fell by 3/6 over that period. The Minister for Agriculture knows Wexford well. Does he allege that his own neighbours from Wexford are sweaters? Does Deputy Corish allege that all the farmers of Wexford are sweating their men, grinding them down and withholding from them the wages to which they are entitled?
A few of them would not mind doing it.
Deputy Corry contends that those farmers who have increased their cereal production by 17,000 acres in these years must be making money. He says that these prices are fixed on a remunerative level, that he can make plenty of money by growing wheat and beet and, presumably, the farmers of Wexford can do so, too. Yet, their wages have dropped by 3/6 per week. Take the case of Kildare, which was held up to public odium as the home of the ranchers. Kildare fell in with the new policy. Kildare increased its output of cereals by about 30 per cent. In Kildare the wages have fallen by 6/-per week. Take any county in which the output of cereal crops has materially increased and, in each one of them, you will find that agricultural wages have fallen heavily over the very period during which the increase in cereal production was going on. You cannot escape from this dilemma: either the farmers are grinding down their labourers and are sweating their employees, or else they are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances, and cannot afford to pay more.
You have reduced, during the last five years, the exports of agricultural produce from £28,000,000 to £12,000,000. You have reduced the sales of agricultural produce as a whole, if you include the produce which is consumed by the agricultural community itself, from £64,000,000 to £40,000,000, but in order to get a true perspective of that situation we ought to make a fair allowance for the fall in world prices of agricultural goods over that same period if we are going to get a fair picture of what the Government of this country has done to the farmer over and above what world trends have done to him.
On a point of order. Is the Deputy in order in making the same speech on every amendment that he made last week on the Second Reading of the Bill?
The Deputy's last statement was an effort to show in perspective what the Government has done to the farmers here. To do that certain figures, going back presumably some years, should be gone into. I suggest that that is not relevant to the amendment.
Very well. It is necessary, in justice, to see what the true reduction is in this country as compared with Great Britain. I have quoted certain figures. They are subject to correction. In any case, another occasion for the elaboration of them will arise, but the net result of the situation is that the farmers had £64,000,000 out of which to feed themselves and to get a profit to pay their labourers five years ago. Now, they have got £40,000,000. You have got to ask yourselves, how you are going to deal with that element in the situation. You have got to bear in mind at the same time, that the cost of living, taking all the items which go to make up that cost of living, has declined, but, if you extract from that figure the foodstuffs only, you will find that the cost of living in regard to foodstuffs only has declined much more steeply. That means that the cost of clothing and of the other items which the farmer has to buy, and which are included in the general cost of living index figure, has not declined at all, but has gone up. Therefore, the farmer with £20,000,000 less than he had has to pay much more proportionately for his clothes, boots and so forth, and at the same time we are now going to legislate requiring him by law to pay more to his labourer. It cannot be done, and it cannot be done because he has not got it.
I do not want to recapitulate the figures that the Minister gave us, but he showed that the average income of the individual farmer in this country was reduced from approximately £96 to £55, or £65 if you accept his calculation, so that even on that basis the individual farmer's income is down by £30 per annum. Now, if we cannot get out of the farmer's pocket what appears to us to be a reasonable wage for his agricultural labourer, what alternative is left to us but to step in between the two parties and make up the difference? My amendment cannot propose that course.
And I think the Deputy was allowed to debate that fully on the Money Resolution.
I got the opportunity to debate that proposal fully on the Money Resolution. Here is the machinery by which that proposal can be carried into effect. I ask that when the board goes to fix a wage for any district that they would first fix a fair rate of wages and an economic rate of wages. I define the expression "minimum fair rate of wages for any district" as "that rate of wages for agricultural wages in that district which in the opinion of the board is a living wage, taking into account the current cost of living for agricultural workers obtaining in that district for the time being." I submit that no statutory board in this country can fix a wage for agricultural labourers lower than the figure stipulated in that part of my amendment. No statutory board in this country can fix a rate of wages which they have got to go out and say is not a living wage. You cannot, by law, condemn the entire community of agricultural labourers in this country to semi-starvation, and that is what it means if you deny them a living wage.
You have got in this age accurate figures from scientists like Sir John Orr in England on what a living wage is. When I speak of a living wage I do not mean a luxurious wage. When you fix such things by statute you fix a minimum on the clear understanding that, in prosperous times, it should be the duty of every employer to give as much over that minimum as he can afford. When you fix a minimum by statute it has to be fixed at the lowest figure, and in defining a living minimum wage, fixed on the lowest figure, it has to be such that it will keep a man, his wife and family in a normal state of health. I say that you cannot fix any rate of wages for agricultural labourers by statute if you are not in a position to say that it is a living wage. Therefore, there can be no objection to that part of my amendment.
Now, as to the second part, it is nothing but the greatest hypocrisy if we fix a minimum living wage for labourers by statute for any district if we know that the result of doing that is to put half the labourers in the area on the dole. Suppose we fix 30/- as the minimum living wage for agricultural labourers in the County Wexford, and that there is a farmer there who employs three labourers. At the present time the average wage that is being paid to agricultural labourers in the County Wexford is 19/- a week. The County Wexford farmer who is employing three labourers at the present time is paying out in wages £2 17s. 0d. a week. We come in and tell him that, from this day forth, he must pay to these three labourers a total of £4 10s. 0d. a week. The farmer replies that his entire weekly income is £3 16s. 0d. He says there is 19/- for each of the three labourers and 19/ for himself. He says that all he has got is £3 16s. 0d., and that we are asking him by this legislation to pay out £4 10s. a week. He says it cannot be done, and the only result of this legislation is that he has to let one of the men go. I say that, far from conferring a boon on agricultural labourers by this legislation, we are doing them a material injury. I say, further, that unless we face that possibility we are hypocritically closing our eyes to the facts. We are deliberately legislating in the knowledge that we are not facing the facts: that we are trying to assuage public opinion and, at the same time, consciously knocking men out of a job.
I put it to Deputy Allen and to the Minister for Agriculture, both of whom are Wexford men, that the figure I have quoted is the average wage paid to agricultural labourers by farmers in County Wexford. Will Deputy Allen get up and say that, to his own knowledge, his neighbours in the County Wexford are sweating their men, or does he think that his neighbours are paying their men as much as they can afford? He ought to be able to tell us. The Minister ought to be able to tell us. If, as I believe, these farmers are paying their men as much as they can afford to pay them, what is going to happen if we fix wages at 30/-? It can have only one result. There is no use in Deputies saying: "You are telling men to put their employees out of work." Let us be clear on this. Let no farmer put a man out of work in order to induce any Government in this country to abandon the principle of this Bill, a Fianna Fáil Government, a Fine Gael Government or a Labour Government; the Bill is going to be the law of this land, and no matter what happens, the wages of agricultural labourers are, from this time forward, going to be fixed by machinery analogous to that set out in the Bill, no matter what Government is in office, and it is not going to alter that fact in the slightest degree no matter what an individual farmer may do in Wexford, Cork, Cavan or Mayo. I venture to say that all Deputies will join in administering that caution. Who, a Deputy might think, would be induced to victimise a labourer in order to prove the impossibility of working this Bill? This Bill is going to be worked, no matter what the difficulties are. I want the Minister to tell us how they are going to make the Bill work if their general policy is going to be maintained.
That would amount to a Second Reading speech.
Or else let him explain how the Bill will work in existing circumstances without my amendment. There is my amendment and I say that the case I make renders it absolutely essential that an economic wage be fixed by these boards in order that the country may know, firstly, what the labourer ought to get and, secondly, what the farmers are in a position to pay. It is hypocrisy for any Deputy to say that you can fix a wage without reference to what the farmer is in a position to pay, because if you do you will be simply putting men out of a job.
All I ask is that, when the wage is fixed for the area, it should be a wage on which the labourer can live, and it should be a wage that the farmer can afford to pay. I also ask that the chairman or the board should give the public the reason for arriving at their conclusions. Unless that is done, this Bill cannot work properly, or if it is worked it will result in grave suffering for the people or else in a grave injury to the good name of this country through the world. The rates the farmers can afford at the present time are a public scandal. In the words of the Bishop of Ross, they are wretched in the extreme. The rates to which the workers are entitled should be as good as those they are able to get in Great Britain. Bridge the gap between those two. You have to do it before this Bill will work satisfactorily.
I think the Deputy is inclined to pre-judge the work of the wages board and the committees. When putting down this amendment he is acting on the assumption that the board will not exercise the functions which it has a right to exercise and that it would not use its common-sense or good judgment. Listening to the Deputy, a person would be inclined to come to the conclusion that the committees would not take into consideration existing local conditions when they would be arriving at the minimum rate of wages to be struck for any particular area. Of course, we have different rates of wages in different counties. We will have different rates-in different areas.
I think an outstanding example would be County Dublin. We will have a higher rate in County Dublin than in County Wexford, and the board will take notice of the existing conditions in Dublin when striking the minimum rate there. In County Dublin the farmer gets a higher price for his agricultural produce as compared with County Wexford. In County Dublin the rate must, of necessity, be higher because the cost of living in Dublin is higher than in Wexford. Here I might state that the purchasing power of the lower rate of wage paid in the other county will be equal to the purchasing power of the higher rate in County Dublin. That is quite evident. I am quite confident that the committees will take all these things into consideration.
What rate do they pay in Meath?
Under the last régime, when your Party were in power, you could not describe them as agricultural workers. Those men were roaming the road looking across the hedges into the grass-lands.
And they are roaming across the water now.
In Meath at the present time they are entitled to the term agricultural workers.
At 20/- a week. At a great price bought we this freedom!
If this amendment were to be adopted we would have a position somewhat like this. Let us take a farmer who would be growing wheat and who would be depending upon wheat-growing for a few years as his means of livelihood. One year he might meet with inclement weather, such as this, and he would have an inferior return. In another year he would have a good season and he would have an excellent return.
It is not high treason to say that you may have inclement weather one year and a good season the next year.
It is high treason to say that the wheat crop was not a great success.
I am not saying this year's wheat crop was not a complete success. I say that the weather was rather inclement. Supposing a farmer meets with a bad season in any particular year, apart altogether from wheat, if you like, you will have the position that the workman in that particular year, if this amendment is accepted, would not be entitled to a living wage. That is quite evident.
The farmer one year would have a surplus and the next year he might meet with reverses, but he would be maintaining a steady average. If this amendment were accepted you would have the worker one year receiving a decent wage and the next year he would be in a state of semi-starvation.
Perhaps the Deputy did not hear the discussion on the Financial Resolution. The rules of order forbade my referring to the finances of this proposal on the Committee Stage, but by leave of the Chair I discussed the finances of this amendment on the Financial Resolution.
The Deputy has not been granted permission to repeat it.
Deputy Dillon tells us that we should fill the gap between the agricultural wage paid in England and the wage paid here.
The Deputy is on the wrong track.
Deputy Dillon quoted figures. I will be content to refer to my practical experience. Some workers who went over on a holiday to England a couple of years ago did some beet pulling. They did not go during the last year or so by reason of the fact that they were unable to obtain an economic wage pulling beet there.
The wage was so low that they would not continue going there, even though they were having a holiday in the summer time.
The rates are definitely lower than they were two years ago.
Tell us what the wage was.
Perhaps you have it in your statistics there. I merely mention that so that Deputy Dillon can investigate all those matters when he is making a case in favour of his amendment. I think the amendment would not be advantageous at this stage. I believe it would lead to endless confusion and might also lead to bitterness between employers and employees, because if the employees at any time thought they were not getting a living wage, the employers would be blamed, and, consequently, we would have the peculiar position in which employers and employees were set against each other.
It does seem as if Deputy Kelly did not grasp the points Deputy Dillon was endeavouring to make, and which, I think, he made quite clearly. Certainly the amendment as set out does not at all mean the things which Deputy Kelly thinks it means, and there is no reason whatever to imagine that if it were adopted it would interfere with the rates of pay in one area as against another. The farmer's prosperous year or lean year has nothing whatever to do with it. As a matter of fact, the meaning of the amendment is that Deputy Dillon wants to get a true picture of the situation in the country. He simply asks that when the board goes around to fix a wage they will determine what wage the labourer ought to get in order to have a decent living for himself and his family, and, as against that, they should find out what wage the farmers are able to pay in their existing circumstances. How Deputy Kelly can interpret that as he has interpreted it, I do not know, but those are the facts and that is the meaning of the amendment. I am sure that Deputy Kelly, the Minister and everybody else, if they are in earnest about this Bill, want to get a true picture of what is happening in the country to-day.
Deputy Dillon has made the case with regard to the drop in agricultural produce, and, notwithstanding the fact that there have been certain increases in wheat and beet, which are infinitesimal so far as the main agricultural output is concerned, Deputy Kelly and everybody else knows that the value of agricultural output, in other words, the farmers' income, has been considerably depressed and if Deputy Kelly thinks that that is the time for a board to fix a wage as a fair wage, being the amount which the farmer can pay to-day, it will provide a national exhibition of poverty which will not be any help to this country. The amendment, I think, is very fair. It is not going to tax the capacity of the board beyond what it is their business to do—to find the facts of the situation. We are convinced on this side and, no doubt, Fianna Fáil is as convinced as we are, that farmers, at the moment, are not able to pay the wages that a labourer ought to get in order to have a decent living. We want that illustrated by the board and that is all we ask. I think that is very fair.
Deputy Dillon's amendment means something altogether different. It is brought in here for the very same purpose and with the very same object as the proposals issued by Deputy Dillon's organisation, when it was the Centre Party, after the General Election in Cork—to reduce the workers wages and make the beggars pay for putting out Cumann na nGaedheal. Deputy Dillon's instructions to the board, if this amendment is carried, are: "You can fix it as high as you like, gentlemen, and you can say that the labourers in my district are entitled to £2 10s. a week," and then come along afterwards and say: "That is a fair wage, but that is all we poor farmers can give." He talks of wages in England, and Deputy Kelly alluded to labourers in Meath pulling beet. I wonder what fair wage would the English farmer pay for pulling beet at 35/- a ton, which is the price in England at present, with no pulp, and what that wage would be compared with the wage the Irish farmer pays for pulling beet at 42/- a ton, which is the price here. I think that is a fair comparison for Deputy Dillon to make before he goes any further. That is the difference in price in England and here. In England it is 35/- a ton, and here 37/6, with free pulp. Let Deputy Dillon make that up.
I made inquiries as to where these figures of wages for the different counties came from and as to who made them up, because I was rather surprised. I admit that there are farmers here and there who would take advantage, and did take advantage, of low wages, and, in my parish to-day, there are men who, immediately after the instructions issued by the Party opposite, reduced their labourers' wages by 5/- or 6/- a week; who, where they had three men employed, put two off, and who were glad six months afterwards to take back those men at the old rate, and in a great many cases were unable to get them at that rate. I am rather surprised at the attitude of Deputies opposite. Three shillings a week is the difference, according to these famous figures, which figures I do not frankly believe. I have been assured that these wages figures are made up by Civic Guards in the different districts, and anybody who has any knowledge of the way in which they make up returns of all descriptions knows what that means. I frankly do not believe one iota of those figures. I know that wages generally in my district at present are 14/ and board for agricultural labourers, and it is hard to get them at that rate in view of the other opportunities they have.
What are the other opportunities?
The agricultural labourer is a man very anxiously sought after by builders. He is a good hard worker and a man who will do better work than a city reared man. He is eagerly sought after by builders in towns at present as a builders' labourer and we find it rather difficult to keep our men on that account. What I am amazed at is that, seeing the woeful position of the agricultural labourers when they had only 3/- a week more in the days of prosperity—if you want to call it that—when Cumann na nGaedheal were in office, some Minister for Agriculture of that Party did not dream of setting up a wages board and seeing that the labourers got the benefit of the land flowing with milk and honey under the Cumann na nGaedheal régime. The argument of Deputy Dillon is that wages were reduced by 3/6 per week. Is that the difference between prosperity and hunger in agricultural labour? If not, and if the farmers were so prosperous in the days before this terrible Government came in, it is rather surprising that some good-natured Deputy opposite, with the welfare of the ordinary poor agricultural labourer at heart, did not bring in an Agricultural Wages Bill and make the farmers pay something better out of their wealth in those days.
Deputy Dillon has brought in an amendment with which Deputy Corry must deal if he desires to continue.
I am dealing very strictly with the amendment.
Not in the opinion of the Chair.
And I am giving the reasons for it. Deputy Dillon says that there were 17,000 acres of increased tillage in Wexford. I know that there are several thousand acres of increased tillage in Cork. That means that the labourers, who in other days were walking around the roads looking over the fences at the green grass growing and bullocks fattening, are getting some employment at any rate. The men that were idle in those days are being employed now. In fact some neighbours of mine in East Cork, who in the days of the Fine Gael régime were employing only two or three men, are now employing nine and ten, and cannot get enough of them.
But employment on the land is falling.
I remember saying at one time—I do not like to repeat it as the Ceann Comhairle might not like it—that there were three classes of lies in this country—lies, damn lies, and statistics.
The Deputy does not believe these statistics either.
Deputy Dillon has succeeded in turning himself into a common nuisance in this House. He will always be a nuisance while he is here and I am afraid we shall have to wait for the general election to rid us of the nuisance. That is the definite object of Deputy Dillon's amendment —to show a way out to the farmer members of the board, to show them a loophole by which they can say "Oh, agricultural wages should be so and so; the real living wage on which an agricultural labourer can live is 50/-or 55/- a week but unfortunately our poor farmers can only afford to give them so much. Let us see if we can bring them up to that." That is the object of Deputy Dillon's amendment. Deputy Dillon is camouflaging it in a very nice way, but Deputy Dillon's camouflage is so well known that it will not be accepted anywhere. Deputy Dillon talks about the Wexford farmers and about how poverty stricken they are. Deputy Dillon seems to have forgotten one fact and that is that within the past three months he went down to Wexford and told all this to the farmers and labourers of County Wexford, and a lot more I am sure, when he had full liberty on the public platform. The farmers and labourers of County Wexford, who, as Deputy Dillon has told us very often, only want to be left alone to do what they think right themselves, told him by the ballot box what they considered was right and sent Deputy Allen to represent them in this House. Deputy Dillon had great hopes when he was removed from the unfortunate mess he was making in County Galway and went down to Wexford. He had great hopes that the particular type of stuff he was going to give out would take better there but I think Deputy Allen should be forever grateful to Deputy Dillon.
If the Deputy has nothing relevant to say on the amendment, he will have to resume his seat.
I do not wish to speak further on the amendment. I have given the reasons why Deputy Dillon is proposing it, and I think these reasons are apparent to everybody.
The Deputy who has just sat down may be accused of many things but he certainly cannot be accused of being consistent. The Deputy is against the amendment. The Deputy is against showing the workers of this country the wages they should get and the wages they can get. Deputy Kelly showed the true mind of the Party opposite when he let the cat out of the bag. He was afraid that if the agricultural workers of this country were shown the wages which they should be in receipt of, but which they cannot receive, even according to his own words, because of present conditions, it might set the labourer against the farmer.
That is what the Deputy said when he was concluding. Deputy Corry is against any suggestion that the gap between the wage which the farmers can afford to pay and the actual wage should be made up, but Deputy Corry boasts of the fact that he himself is making money on the very same principle. How much wheat would the Deputy have grown in the last three or four years if the gap were not bridged by the State?
The gap is not bridged by the State.
Of course it is bridged by the State.
And bridged by the consumer.
If the Deputy would allow me——
The Deputy was on his feet for a considerable time and never spoke to the amendment. The Deputy is going to listen to the truth now and he is going to be shown his inconsistency. He is going to be shown that while he is prepared to support a principle that puts something into his own pocket, he will not support that principle when it is going to put something into the pockets of the agricultural labourers. How much would the Deputy grow if the gap were not bridged by the State? The principle is all right when applied to the Deputy and his colleagues, but it is all wrong when it is applied to the agricultural labourers. The Deputy cannot get away from the fact that that is what is in this amendment and nothing else. The Deputy, not that it matters very much, talked of instructions having been issued by the members of this Party to farmers to reduce the wages of the labourers.
He talked about lies, damned lies and statistics, but I need not go so far as statistics to characterise that statement of the Deputy. It was quite clear, of course, that Deputy Kelly had no idea at all of what the amendment aimed at. I can only conclude that the Deputy did not read the amendment, because if he read the amendment I cannot believe that he would have so misunderstood it. We had it from Deputy Corry that the Irish farmers are now making so much profit out of beet-growing that they can afford to pay a much higher wage than the English farmers can afford to pay to their labourers. We had the Deputy, however, denouncing the price paid for beet as being inadequate at a time when the price was much higher than it is now. I said before in this House that Deputy Corry had one voice here and another voice as a member of the Beet Growers' Association. I remember the Deputy on one occasion using a very apt phrase to describe the increase in the price of beet which the Minister offered.
When did the Minister offer a price for beet?
The Deputy knows quite well. Why did the Deputy go on a deputation to the Minister and to the Sugar Board?
It was not in connection with this amendment.
I agree, Sir, that I am wandering slightly from the amendment, but with all respect I would have to go a long distance before I would have gone as far as Deputy Corry went. However, I want to assure you, Sir, that I have no intention whatever of trying to follow the Deputy any further. I do say to Deputy Corry that if the principle, which gave him an economic price for his wheat and beet, was good enough then for the Deputy and other members of his Party, it ought to be good enough for them now when it is proposed to apply it to the agricultural labourers of this country. Deputy Corry should not take up the attitude here that he is prepared to stand for a principle if it is going to put money into his own pocket but that he is against the same principle if it is going to put money into the pockets of the worst paid workers in the country.
I only wish to say one word. Deputy Morrissey has alluded to subsidised crops. Is it wrong to subsidise crops? I know I could not be exactly sure how the Deputy voted on that particular matter, but I know that his Party on one occasion voted here that 1½d. a gallon was enough for the farmer to get for his milk. Wheat is not a subsidised crop; neither is beet a subsidised crop.
No—neither the one nor the other. As a matter of fact, this year on account of the inclement weather, and on account of the shortage in yield of wheat, we were able to go to the millers and demand a higher price, and we got it on the principle that the imported wheat had gone up so much in price——
If this is relevant I propose to expose the truth of that transaction, and show that the millers were blackmailed by the Minister into giving that price.
The Deputy does not know the facts.
I know them well, and I will take an opportunity of showing them to the House.
It will be quite relevant on the next Bill.
Those are facts which neither Deputy Morrissey nor Deputy Dillon likes. Neither does Deputy Morrissey like any allusion to the low price of beet in England as compared with here.
I do not like the low price here.
They are able to buy the sugar for 2d. a lb.
And Deputy O'Leary is making well out of milk now, and he does not think of the consumer at all.
You forced me to rob the poor.
It is 4d. a gallon now, and there is not a word about it. He was forced to rob them!
The Deputy was doing quite well out of milk himself.
Deputies' private business should not be made the subject of debate in this House.
He should keep to the amendment, and the matter would not be raised at all.
Over and over again in this House I have heard reference made to the private business of Deputies. That is a thing which should be put down hard and fast. It is unwanted and uncalled for.
With regard to this amendment, Deputy Dillon seeks to have three rates of wages fixed by this board—a minimum rate of wages, a minimum fair rate of wages, and a minimum economic rate of wages. As we know, under the machinery of this Bill in coming to a decision on the fixing of the rate of wages we try, in the first place, to get unanimity amongst the members of the board, especially amongst the representatives of the farmers and the representatives of the agricultural labourers. If we can get unanimity between those parties, then the chairman need not intervene except as it were to make it a rule of court. If they do not agree, then the chairman has to decide. It is very difficult to imagine that the board would agree to a minimum fair rate, except, of course, as Deputy Corry says, that the people knowing the greater amount would eventually come out of the Exchequer, it would not be anybody's business, as it were, to argue against a high rate. You might get a certain amount of agreement. In the same way, when we talk about an economic rate, the farmer's representatives would naturally be inclined to put that rate as low as possible, because that is all he would have to pay, presumably, under Deputy Dillon's arrangement. There again it would not be to anybody's interest, as it were, to argue against the farmer, and again, therefore, he would possibly get away with a rather low rate.
The position we would have if we were to agree to Deputy Dillon's amendment would be something like this: The agricultural labourer would get a very high wage, the farmer would pay a very low wage, probably much lower than at present, and the State would pay the remainder. I think that would be the inevitable result. We are not setting up that sort of board. We are setting up an arbitration board for one purpose. If we were setting up a board for the purpose of trying to fix the proper economic rate that the farmer could pay, or to fix the proper rate that the labourer should get in order to live, then we would probably have a very different type of board— a board that would be qualified to judge those particular questions, and to come to an intelligent conclusion on them. However, I am not going to argue against Deputy Dillon on that, because he would naturally say to me that if he carried his amendment he would perhaps also amend the constitution of the board so as to get those things right. Leaving that aside, I do not see what the practical gain is to be. If the board is compelled to say: "Here is the economic rate; here is the fair wages rate, and here is the minimum rate we think the farmers should pay," and all that is published, it only gives rise to a further inevitable controversy.
It is very difficult for a trained scientist to make out what should be the proper standard of living for an agricultural labourer, or what is the wage that the farmer can afford to pay. I am sure it is one of the most difficult things for a trained economist to attempt, but it is the easiest thing in the world for the untrained person to criticise, and we will have everybody in the country criticising the figure when it is once published. I am sure you will have all the farmers saying that the board has put the economic rate too high. You will have all the labourers and their sympathisers saying that they put the fair-living wage too low. The only result we would have is an interminable controversy over those figures, that is, of course, as the amendment stands, if the figures are just published, in order, as Deputy Brennan, Deputy Morrissey and others have said, to show the labourer what he should get, even though he is not going to get it, and to show the farmer what he should pay, even though he is paying more, under this Bill. There is not very much to be gained by doing that. If we decide that the Government cannot bridge the gap, there is absolutely no use in going on with this amendment and having those figures published for the sake of some theoretical figure which Deputy Dillon, Deputy Morrissey and others have in mind as the amount that the labourer should get or the farmer should pay. I do not want to go further into that question. I could give other reasons which I gave here yesterday, but I do not want to go into them again. I am assuming, for the sake of argument, that Deputy Dillon is honest in this amendment——
It is perhaps a very wide assumption, but I am going to assume it, anyway. I myself believe that when we are setting up a board like this we want them to maintain confidence. I want Deputies opposite to take a sane view of this matter, and to try to make the board a success. If they do want to make this board a success, let us give them a position in which they can maintain the confidence both of the farmers and of the agricultural labourers. They cannot possibly maintain that confidence if they are compelled to say: "This is what the farmer should pay; this is what the labourer should get; we are taking a middle course, and we say that this is going to be the wage." There you have three targets to be attacked. Let us make it one target—the minimum wage—and let them be attacked on that if anybody wants to attack them, but let it be that alone, and do not leave them open to attack on other counts. Before I leave that point, I think it is rather an old saying that the wise judge gives his verdict but he does not give his reasons. If the board we set up is going to be a wise board they will give their verdict, but as far as possible they should not be asked to give their reasons for determining what they consider a living wage, an economic wage, and all that sort of thing.
Deputy Dillon said that we can only influence, in the way of increasing prices here at home, about 25 per cent. of our output. In discussing this Bill, I have not claimed at any time that we were going to increase prices. If we do improve the lot of the farmer, then all to the good, but whether we do improve his lot or not we think that this Bill is necessary. As a matter of fact, I stated on the Second Reading that for the last two or three years we had improved the lot of the farmer by about £10,000,000 a year, and I further said that we were optimistic enough to think that that improvement was going to go on and that, if it were to go on, we wished to give the lowly-paid agricultural labourer a share in the farmer's prosperity.
His increasing prosperity?
Yes, his increasing prosperity. As I was saying, Deputy Dillon talked about 25 per cent., but if he wanted to give the Dáil and the country a proper picture, he might have mentioned that our total exports are not much more than 25 per cent. They are 31 per cent. After all, there is not much difference between 25 per cent. and 31 per cent., but one would imagine that our exports were enormous compared with what we were selling to our own towns and villages.
Perhaps the Minister would permit me to interrupt for a moment. Is it not a fact that in 1926-7 the amount consumed by others than the agricultural community here was over £11,000,000—that is, consumed at home in our towns and villages; that in 1929-30, it was over £11,000,000, and that our exports were £31,000,000 —nearly three times as much?
In 1929-30 the food consumed in towns and villages was £11,790,000, and what was exported was £31,830,000, whereas now the position is that we consume the same amount at home and only export £10,000,000.
Quite right, and that is why I asked the Deputy why he gave those figures.
Well, we are not eating more at home and we are exporting less.
It is hard to make the Deputy understand. I have to go back to fundamentals with the Deputy. If he knew a little about these things, we might be able to instruct him, but I am afraid he does not. In former years we were importing a great deal of goods such as, for instance, wheat and sugar and other commodities, which everybody knows we are now growing or producing here.
You are actually eating less of your own production than you used to eat.
May I remind the Minister that, on his own figures, the community here consumed £33,000,000 worth of stuff in 1929, and in 1934 it consumed only £27,000,000—£6,000,000 less.
Yes, in value, but that is the reverse of what the Minister was saying a few moments ago.
I suppose I shall have to be patient with the Deputy. "In value," as the Deputy said, very decently, but I think it must be admitted that we should take general world conditions into account in such matters as this and that this Government should not be blamed for all the catastrophes. One must remember the way in which general world prices went down and the way in which internal prices went down also, and if the quantities are taken into account, which the Deputy can ascertain by looking at the other page, I think he will find that we did consume as much, if not more, of all these commodities such as sugar, bread and so on; very much more meat and butter and eggs and other such items, but the value may have been less on account of the world fall in prices. I say that we were consuming more here, therefore, as far as the ordinary person is concerned and that our standard of living was better because we were consuming more. On the other hand, in value, what we consumed was less in 1934 than in 1931, but taking that compared with exports, what we consumed was better.
That is true. You cut down the exports by 60 per cent.
Yes, and the imports had practically disappeared.
If the Minister is proud of that achievement, God knows I do not know what statecraft is.
Well, we are proud of it.
Of reducing our exports by 60 per cent.?
Of producing for our own consumption here, and cutting down our imports to that extent. Take one item of which I am very proud. We imported about £1,300,000 worth of bacon in 1931—rotten bacon—from other countries, and for that we substituted our own good bacon, produced here.
And wiped out practically the entire pig population.
No, the pig population is higher than it was, and we are giving our people good bacon now, and not that stuff that came across from other countries. Now, another thing that is unfair about the speeches from the benches opposite is what has been said rather definitely by some of the members opposite, and that is that if this economic war were to disappear, the farmers would pay good wages always and there would be no difficulty at all. I have said, over and over again here, that before the economic war started in 1931 there were many farmers who would not pay more than 17/- a week in wages, and some of them were paying less. These are the men we want to get at and to see that they pay more. I do not know if Deputy Morrissey or Deputy Dillon, who are so much in favour of subsidies in this case, would argue that if we were back to the 1931 conditions we should subsidise the man that was paying less than 17/- a week and enable him, by means of that subsidy, to pay more. I think that that is a ridiculous proposition and that no Deputy would stand for it for a moment except in order to get out of a political dilemma. Many farmers are paying more than 25/-, and the majority are paying over 21/-, but even so there are some farmers paying less than 17/-. Is it the contention of the Deputies opposite that the farmer who has been paying all the time, say, 27/- should get a subsidy, and that the farmer who is only paying 17/- should get a subsidy of 10/- to make up the difference between 17/- and 27/-?
Are you going to give a flat rate?
No. Let us take one county, for example, or let us take a parish, if the Deputy likes, and make a flat rate for one parish. In many parishes you will have the position of one farmer paying 27/- and another farmer paying 17/-. The Deputies opposite want to say to the man who is paying 27/-: "We know that you cannot pay that and we will give you a subsidy to help you out"; and to say to the man who is only paying 17/- that they will give him another 10/- in order to make him pay more.
The Minister is rambling now.
All I can say is that I cannot follow the Deputy's ramblings. However, I shall do my best to follow his plan. Deputy Dillon says that this board, inevitably, will have to condemn agricultural labourers to starvation on the present basis of agriculture—that it will have to condemn them to a starvation wage. Again, I want to know what would be the Deputy's position in 1931, when there was no economic war, or in two or three years' time, if conditions are changed? Would there still be a starvation wage? When the Deputy asks us do we believe that the farmers are paying sweated wages, I say: "Yes"—certain farmers are paying sweated wages and have always paid sweated wages. After all, when you had a position, such as you had in 1931, of some farmers paying 25/- and others paying only 17/-, there must have been sweating there.
Does the Minister say that the 19/- average in Wexford represents, generally, sweating by the farmers in Wexford?
Those who are bringing down that average are certainly sweating.
Well, 19/- is the average there.
There may be some who are trying to bring down the average, but the majority are not.
Well, then, they are paying sweated wages.
Well, if so, I suppose they are.
I should like to hear Deputy Allen on that.
Another thing the Deputy says is that if we fix this wage at a higher level than the average at present paid, it will inevitably lead to unemployment, and he says that that is hypocrisy. These are the Deputy's own words. He says that if we put up a Bill of this kind to improve the lot of the agricultural wage earner, and as a result we cause unemployment amongst the agricultural wage earners that that is hypocrisy. The Deputy's contention is this, that if we increase the price of the agricultural wage by 50 per cent. all round, we will have a decrease of 33 and one-third per cent. in employment. The very same arguments could be used in the case of industrial employment, because I am absolutely sure we could go to some given industry and we could say to that industrialist: "If you reduce the wages of your employees by 50 per cent. you could do a big export business and employ more people." If doing the one thing is hypocrisy the Deputy would not admit that doing the other was hypocrisy. If the Minister for Industry and Commerce brought in a Bill here reducing the wages of our woollen mill workers—I say compulsorily reducing them by 50 per cent. in order to build up a big export business and employ twice as many people, the Deputy would say that is hypocrisy.
But you cannot destroy the land. What else have the people to live on?
It is hypocrisy in the one case but not in the other. What we are doing in this case is to employ the same means as are employed in industry. In industry the labourers are organised and they have a wage. It is because the agricultural labourers are unorganised that they are paid the present low wage.
If what the Minister is saying is true, then how does it happen that the leader of the Labour Party described some of these factories as "sweated shops"?
The Deputy can ask him. Why should I do the asking for the Deputy?
The statement made by the leader of the Labour Party is distinct at any rate.
When talking about the wages of agricultural labourers in England we ought to be very clear about the position there. We should be clear with regard to the conditions of local labour compared with the conditions here and should examine the conditions with regard to rents, whether the labourers have plots of land allocated to them, and so on. Naturally, these things should be taken into account, if the board here is endeavouring to put our agricultural labourers in as good a position as the agricultural labourers in England.
Would the Minister say whether there is not wholesale evasion of the Agricultural Wages Act in England?
I do not know. It is certainly so stated in the agricultural papers, but I do not know whether that is true or not. Deputy Dillon will be able to make his own speech without any hints. He talks long enough at any rate.
I do not know if it is in order to discuss the financial idea behind this amendment, but if the Deputy considers the matter he will find that it would be impossible to carry out the ideas in the amendment even if the Dáil had £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 to carry them out.
The Minister said in Blessington, before the general election, that they had plenty of money.
So we have—more than ever the Deputy thought we would have. What is more, the people of Blessington believed me.
If the Minister has plenty of money why does he not give it to the farmers now to help them?
This gap spoken of by the Deputy between an economic rate of wages and a living rate of wages is purely imaginary. I do not know of any gap between the two.
What is the Minister's objection to the amendment then?
That it is camouflage and nothing else. That is my objection. I say that there is no gap. The point made by Deputy Morrissey as an argument for a subsidy, that we have already given a subsidy for beet and wheat, is in fact more an argument against it. It is an argument against why there cannot be a gap here because by these subsidies to beet and wheat we are improving the condition of the farmers.
Does that apply to the whole of the Free State?
I do not say it does. But I say that the farmers growing beet and wheat should be able to bridge this gap themselves. Beet and wheat are claimed to be subsidised crops, as in fact is everything else. You could not produce anything in this country at the moment in open competition with the world, because some country or other would beat us in some commodity or other, whether it was wheat or bacon or butter. Everything has to be subsidised.
My objection to the amendment is that the Deputy knows quite clearly on the Money Resolution before the Committee Stage that the money is not forthcoming to do this thing. Then it is argued by Deputy Morrissey that the farmers and labourers could ascertain what the one is able to pay and what the other is to get. What I say is this, that if this Bill is to work smoothly and if it is to be a success let them fix the wage that the farmer has to pay and that the labourer will accept. It will be a fair wage, at any rate. This thing is not going to improve it.
The Minister has just said in two successive breaths that there is no gap between the economic wage and the fair wage, and in the next breath he says that the gap between these two is going to cost £4,000,000. Now, which of them is it to be? Is there a gap, and will it take £4,000,000 to fill that gap or is there no gap?
Did I not speak for an hour explaining the whole matter to the House and to the Deputy?
Yes, the Minister spoke at great length but it is with his last two sentences that I am concerned. The Minister could speak, I am sure, for an hour and a half more to explain away and to reconcile these two sentences and he would fail to do so.
I said at the beginning of my speech that the board would make a gap between the 17/- and the 30/- a week but there is no necessity for it.
The position is this: the Minister appoints his own chairman— the man he is going to appoint. This chairman is going down the country. There are three independent members of the board and there are the labourers' representatives and the farmers' representatives. The three independent members are going to enter into a conspiracy with the farmer representatives and labour representatives, in order to completely upset the Minister's system of scheme. Unless the three independent members enter into a conspiracy to create this false and fraudulent gap, the fixation of the wages rates falls into the hands of the Minister's nominee, the chairman of the board; and the Minister, in face of that, comes to this House and says: "My chairman who is going to hold office at my pleasure, the man I am going to put into this position, is going down the country to create an artificial gap, the existence of which I do not admit, and the creation of that gap is to cost the State £4,000,000 a year." He will be the queerest appointee ever made in this country, and that is saying a lot. That cock will not fight, and the Minister knows it. Of course there will be a gap, under present circumstances, between the living wage and the economic wage. The Minister knows that it will be no artificial gap. It is ludicrous folly to waste the time of the House making absurd contentions of that kind. Another contribution from the Minister, in the course of the discussion, was that there is no use telling people the reason for any decisions when the situation is that labourers are not going to get what they ought to get, and that farmers will be made pay more than they ought pay. These are the Minister's own words, that there is no use giving the labourers reasons as to what they should get, when they are not going to get it, or giving reasons to farmers as to what they should pay, if they have to pay more than they can. The Minister plainly tells us that he believes the boards have to give the labourers less than they are entitled to get and, at the same time to make the employers pay more than they are able to afford.
The Minister said there was no use telling the farmers the reasons why they are being made pay more than they should pay. If the Minister's test is going to deprive the agricultural labourers of a fair wage and, at the same time, bankrupt the industry, the real service that is going to be done by this Bill is very difficult to evaluate. Of course, the ideal way would be to put the industry on such a basis that when you fix the economic wage and the living wage, you would get the same figure. What I would like to see, and what I believe could be achieved in this country, would be that after you had reached the stage when the figure would be the same, the economic wage would begin to creep above the living wage and we could fix the economic wage higher than the bare living minimum for agriculture. Why not? If we can make agriculture prosperous as a whole, why should not the agricultural labourer be entitled to as wide a margin over a bare living wage as the industrial worker is getting? Out of that industry everything in this country is paid for. It would not be relevant to go into that now. Far from saying that I anticipate that there would be a gap between the economic and the living wage, I look forward to the day when the economic wage will be higher than the living wage. I do not think we should rest content until we have that.
Deputy Moore, for whose judgment I have a perennial and ever-growing respect, should remember that the Minister says that there is going to be a gap, and that it will take £4,000,000 sterling to bridge it. That is a long way from the day when the economic wage will be higher than the living wage. I wonder would Deputy Moore spend the rest of the afternoon asking himself what has reduced agricultural labourers to such a level, that they are £4,000,000 per annum below the ideal that we ought to have set for ourselves. Lastly, the Minister said that there was no analogy between agriculture and industry. There is the futility of the present Government Party. They do not realise that we are all living out of the land; that it is all we have got. You can build a factory or you can abstain from building it, or you can embark on an industrial venture, or put your capital into something else, but the land is there always. It is all we have got, and unless we can devise ways and means of working it profitably we will all go to the wall. There is no use talking about or comparing the condition of the agricultural workers and industrial workers. We have not the option of closing up the land. If we come to the conclusion that an industry cannot pay its way without imposing slave conditions of labour, we can close it down, cut the loss, and put the men working at some other business. We cannot get out of the land. It is all we have got, and if we cannot make a living out of it we have all to cut our standard of living to what the land will allow. The peasants of Central Europe did that after trying a variety of crops and they are now going around in sheep skins and pampooties. Do you imagine that they would wear sheep skin hats if they were in a position to buy hats in Bond Street? They wear them because they cannot afford anything else, and they are glad to have them. I would be long sorry to see Deputy Moore driving through the streets of Bray in a sheep skin.
I can imagine the Deputy in one.
Deputy Corry would not surprise me in caveman's skins, but the dignified figure of Deputy Moore, with nothing else to cover him would distress me. I suggest that Robinson Crusoe looked romantic with a sheep skin around his person, but that garb was not of his choosing; it was imposed on him by economic necessity.
I had not the benefit of hearing Deputy Dillon's opening statement, but from what I heard of his speech I notice that he repeated the figure of £4,000,000 again and again. There was that colossal difference, he said, between the economic and the living wage.
That is the Minister's figure.
It is not. I protest against that misrepresentation.
It would not be surprising if Deputy Dillon had some such figure in mind. It is his tendency to exaggerate.
I should have said from £3,000,000 to £4,000,000.
The Minister did not say that.
The £4,000,000 reminds one of a figure of £5,000,000 that has been so much debated in this House. If Deputy Dillon had such anxiety about the future of agriculture, such a desire to see it more prosperous, he had a great opportunity to show his sincerity during the past few years in a practical way, in relation to that £5,000,000.
Tell us about the £5,000,000?
The £5,000,000 was very useful for making speeches about, and similarly the low wages of agricultural labourers are useful for making speeches about. I do not believe the amendment was ever seriously intended; Deputy Dillon is the last man who would propose seriously to entrust a wages board with the task of finding out what is an economic wage. Can the Deputy quote any country in which there has been an inquiry as to what is an economic wage in any industry? How much more difficult would it be to find out what would be an economic wage in agriculture, or what would be a fair living wage? What standard is to be taken? Who is to fix the standard— the labourers themselves or some other class? Would we have the curious anomaly of a class other than the labourers themselves imposing a standard on the labouring class? That would be hardly consistent with the anxiety for democratic liberty.
How can you fix a fair wage then?
I do not think this amendment was ever seriously intended and, as far as the debate has gone, I heard no argument in favour of it. I think it should be rejected.
What does Deputy Moore mean by an economic wage?
I was asking who is to determine what was an economic wage, and where our standard for a living wage was to come from.
The Deputy seemed to me to be using it in the sense of a living wage.
I have no doubt the committees that are to be appointed to investigate this matter will try to come to some arrangement with regard to a fair wage for working men. They will have a problem to decide. What you might call a fair living wage for agricultural workers is fixed at a certain figure by this board, having taken everything into consideration. The same thing will apply on the other side when they come to consider the employers' side and come to a decision as to what is considered to be a wage that the farmer can afford to pay. The Minister seemed to think that it will be easy to bridge the difference between the two. I do not think it will. I think it will be a big problem because, to my mind, it is a big difference. The Minister stated some farmers were paying about 17/- a week. That may be so in a few cases, but I do not believe it occurs in many cases, because I know the farmers are prepared to pay the best wages they can afford to their workers. The people who might, perhaps, try to get sweated labour are very few in the farming community.
There is sure to be a difference between the people who will represent the farmers and those who represent the workers, and how that difference is going to be bridged I do not know. The Minister says he is not going to take the responsibility by giving any help or assistance to bridge that difference. The wages board is not going to improve the position of agricultural workers if the farmer has not sufficient to meet what is considered a fair wage, and I think that they are practically as well-off at the moment, with the exception of some people whom the Minister referred to with 17/- or 18/-per week, as they will be after the board do their best to settle this matter. Any wage that will be fixed by the board will have to be fixed on the basis of what the farmer can afford as a wage that he can make out of his industry. On the other side, there is the question of what will be a fair living wage for the worker. As it stands at the moment, there is a difference there. The average wage of 21/-per week is not a fair one for agricultural workers if it were possible to give them a higher wage. As I say, the people who might take advantage of being able to employ labour at 17/- are very few.
Here is a problem that they will have to consider also. What difference would there be in the work that labourers do every week, one man compared with another? How is that problem going to be solved or got over? You have a number of good workers who are prepared to do a fair day's work every day, who are capable and good, and they are entitled to a decent wage as far as we can afford to pay it. On the other hand, you have a class of people—perhaps they are in the minority—who are careless and do not care how they put in their day, or whether they give a good return or not. Some of the Labour members may resent that statement, but I do not make it to ridicule or run down the labourers in any way. They know it is a fact. There is a big difference between the class of workers we have to deal with. Some are good and some are only very middling. It you put all these people into one category and fix one wage for them, to my mind it will lead to a certain amount of unemployment. If the wage is fixed at a higher rate than farmers can afford to pay, that will also lead to unemployment. I should like to pay my men a better wage if I could afford it. How you are to bridge that difference I cannot understand. If the Minister is not prepared to help in the matter, I do not think the board, no matter how energetically it may work, can do any good.
As to the £4,000,000 which was mentioned, I made an appeal to Deputies opposite to treat this thing in the best possible way so that we might have a workable scheme. I suppose I was foolish in making that appeal and, as it were, putting all my cards on the table, and that I should have played the political game they are playing. It is ridiculous to say that I stated it would take £4,000,000 to bridge the gap. I said that some farmers were paying 17/- per week, and that to bring that up to 30/- would take £4,000,000. No one would accuse me, if they want to be fair, of saying that the economic wage is 17/- and the living wage is 30/-. I gave that as an example of what it would cost.
Does the Minister think that a wage materially below 30/- is a living wage?
I do not know. It may be higher. I am not going to judge. That is the difficulty.
All through the various stages of the Bill Deputy Dillon has left us in the position that we really do not know whether he is for or against the Bill. We propose to vote against this amendment and I want to explain why. As far as I can see, this amendment enables Deputy Dillon to face both ways. The Minister told him yesterday during the discussion on the Money Resolution that that is what he has been doing during the progress of the Bill through the House. I think this is evidence of that fact. If this amendment were passed it would appear to me that it would be prompting the wages board to fix a certain wage, the idea at the back of their minds being that the Minister is going to make up some difference or another. I suggest that it is a very wrong principle to put an amendment of that kind into a Bill to prompt people to fix a certain wage.
Deputy Dillon tells us that he is in favour of the agricultural labourer getting a living wage. It strikes me that the only reason he says that is because he thinks, deep down in his mind, that the farmer is unable to pay a living wage. He says that when this Bill is put into operation, if the wages board decide upon a certain wage which the farmer thinks he is unable to pay, the farmer who has three labourers will probably turn away one in order to enable him to pay the other two. I think everybody will admit that there is no farmer keeping a labourer for the sake of keeping him or for love of him, but because he wants a labourer to do certain work and because he cannot do without him. We also know that there is no employer in this country, farmer or industrialist, paying the maximum amount he would be able to pay to any worker. We all know the difficulties that trade unions have in endeavouring to secure a living wage in any industry in this country, agricultural or industrial. For the reason I have already stated, that we believe this amendment would prompt a certain action on the part of the wages board, and prejudice the position of the board, and the labourer and the State, we are going to vote against it. We believe it would be injudicious to put an amendment of this kind into the Bill. As Deputy Kelly already stated, it would prejudge the case.
Deputy Corish is going to vote against this amendment because he has been told to vote against it.
Deputy Corish and his Party have been the tin can at the tail of Fianna Fáil for the past four years and they are going to be whipped into the lobby to-day with them. He says that we are prompting the wages board to fix wages. The wages board consists, in its three independent members, of nominees of the Minister himself, and if they believe that any undue prompting has been done by any ulterior circumstances, they can throw the whole decision back into the hands of the Minister's own nominee—the chairman.
Can he do that with this amendment?
All these determinations can be made by the Minister's own nominee. What objection can the Labour Party have to establishing before the country what wage the farmer can pay and what wage the labourer ought to get? What objection can the Labour Party have to that?
The farmers always had an objection to it.
The farmers would have no objection to it. The Labour Party knows that you cannot take water out of a stone. The Labour Party's suggestion would appear to be that a wage beyond the farmer's capacity to pay should be fixed. That will help nobody.
This proposal will help nobody.
It will create a situation in which the labourer will get a fair wage and the farmer will pay a fair amount.
This is mere pretence that you are out for fair wages. You do not want to see wages regulated.
The ultimate effect of this amendment is that the Minister's nominee will say what amount the farmer can pay and he can then fix the wage, having regard to the cost of living in the area. It is for the Minister to bridge the gap, if there is a gap, and I say there is. There can be no valid objection to letting the public see what the amount of a living wage is and what the wage is that the farmer can afford to pay, assuming that he is paying less than the Minister's nominee thinks it possible to extract from him.
I am tempted to say a few words in reply to Deputy Dillon's gyrations in connection with this whole Agricultural Wages Bill. The Deputy pretends that this amendment is designed to improve the Bill and assist the agricultural worker, and the agricultural employer. Anybody who has any recollection of the antics of the Fine Gael Party in respect of agricultural wages knows that this amendment by Deputy Dillon has one purpose and one purpose only—to deprive the Bill of certain advantages at present contained in it. We submitted a motion a short time ago calling on the Government to establish a board to regulate wages in the agricultural industry. Members of Deputy Dillon's Party submitted an amendment to that motion. The amendment was not to have an agricultural wages board set up with greater speed than we desired. It was not to make the board more effective than we desired. Instead, the whole purpose of the amendment was to set up a commission to enable Deputy Dillon and his followers to carry on the same old cant and humbug about the economic war. The mentality of the Party opposite regarding agricultural wages was revealed when they submitted an amendment having for its object the shelving of our motion and the concentration of the attention of this House on that old war horse—the economic war.
Deputy Dillon's Party has in the past ranted around the country about high rates, and the farmer's inability to pay the rates. When that proved to be a damp squib, the Party chased the question of land annuities and the inability of the farmers to pay the annuities. Then they thought that votes might be gained by inviting the farmers not to pay their annuities. Some members of the Party opposite advised them not to pay. The rates racket is dead. There are no more political tricks in that for the Fine Gael Party. There are very few political tricks left in the land annuities. Now, Deputy Dillon wants to have this fair rate of wages and this economic rate of wages introduced. If the Minister were to accept this amendment I would lay a bet with any other Deputy that within a week of this date Deputy Dillon would be found parading the country talking about the bridging of the difference between the fair rate and the economic rate. The Deputy merely wants another stunt with which he can perambulate the country. That is the whole object of the Deputy's amendment.
In the Bill, as drawn, the Minister is making as reasonable an effort as possible to regulate wages in the agricultural industry. No matter how low the wages are, they should be regulated. The position that exists in agriculture in regard to unregulated wages existed at one time in industry generally. In industry generally, there was a time when employers paid any rate of wages they liked. Industrial conditions and trade union organisation have changed that mentality very considerably and very effectively, and now we have the Conditions of Employment Act, which makes the unorganised industrial employer pay the same rate of wages as the organised and fair-minded industrial employer. Why should we not have the same state of affairs in respect of agriculture? It will not be easy to get it. It may be a long and difficult process. We shall probably have to overcome the same obstacles which had to be overcome before wages in industry generally were regulated. I believe that, with a Bill creating regulatory machinery of this kind, we can ultimately get to the point at which wages in agriculture can be regulated in a manner comparable with wages in industry.
I sympathise with Deputy Holohan's point of view, as expressed in this House. I think that there is a thousand times more sincerity in Deputy Holohan's point of view than in the point of view expressed by Deputy Dillon. I think that Deputy Holohan will admit that there would be very little use in fixing a rate of wages which would be considered to be a fair rate and fixing an economic rate which would, apparently, be much lower than the theoretical fair rate. Every farmer who wants to extend to his worker the best possible conditions is concerned only with the fixation of one wage— the wage it is possible for him to pay, as judged by a fair-minded tribunal set up to adjudicate in disputes between the agricultural employer, on the one hand, and the agricultural employee, on the other.
And the wage must depend on the farmer's income.
If that proves to be a low wage, having regard to the income of the farmer, why are you prepared to vote against this amendment?
This humbugging amendment is designed to wreck the Bill. It is part and parcel of Deputy Dillon's mentality in respect of agricultural wages. The Deputy's Party have shown that they do not desire to have an agricultural wages board established. So far as my recollection serves, Deputy Dillon actually spoke against the introduction of this Bill.
Deal with the amendment on the paper.
There is very little use in doing that, because the Deputy will not listen to what I say.
Yes, for the agricultural worker.
I do not know about that.
I shall do very much better when I see this amendment defeated. Deputy Holohan says there is no use in fixing a rate of wages the farmer cannot pay. Nobody wants to fix a rate of wages the farming industry cannot pay. If that problem arises, what must be done is: endeavour to put the farmer in a position in which it will be possible for him to pay a rate of wages which every fair-minded person in the country and the agricultural wages board consider a just rate. I think steps have already been taken to enable the farmer to organise his economy on that basis. Deputy Dillon would tell us that the most prosperous years this country ever experienced were the ten years from 1922 to 1932—that the only people who have ever seen prosperity were the population living here under the Cumann na nGaedheal Administration. Even in the prosperous days from 1922 to 1932, the Deputy's Party did nothing whatever to fix agricultural wages or to establish an agricultural wages board.
They had no intention whatever of establishing an agricultural wages board, even in those so-called prosperous years, to regulate the wages of agricultural workers. If Deputy Dillon cares to look up the statistics published by the last Government, by the Party of which he is now a member, he will find that during those years of so-called prosperity the rate of wages for agricultural workers, as officially returned by the Department of Industry and Commerce, was extremely low, having regard to the so-called prosperity which the Fine Gael Party says existed from 1922 to 1932. If Deputy Dillon takes the trouble to look up the official statistics he will find that from 1922 to 1932 the rate of wages in the agricultural industry was falling, notwithstanding all the prosperity of which the Deputy now talks.
All of which is quite irrelevant to this amendment.
It may be in one respect, but I submit that I am entitled to show the House——
Why this amendment should pass or should not pass.
——if it is not already obvious to every intelligent Deputy, that this amendment by Deputy Dillon is just a little scheme by him to enable him to have something to rant about in the country during the next few months. That is the whole purpose of the amendment. There is no intention whatever in the amendment to assist the agricultural worker. All that the Deputy wants to do is to try to find something else to talk about, now that the other efforts to raise scares on various issues have fallen, politically, dead, so far as the Party opposite is concerned. I think that so far as the farmers in the country are concerned, and particularly the farmers who want to pay a decent rate of wages so far as it is possible for them to pay it, the kind of agricultural wages board which they want is one which will consist of fair-minded, independent men, living in a world of reality, who, knowing the position of both the agricultural worker and the agricultural employer, will say, having regard to this set of circumstances, that a certain rate of wages ought to be fixed and observed in the entire industry.
We all wish, of course, that our agricultural industry was more prosperous than it is, but the agricultural industry in every country in the world is passing through a period of unparalleled depression. Here, some effort has been made to overcome that depression by the regulation of prices, but I think that further efforts will have to be made in the way of regulating prices, even by the fixation of higher prices, because it is quite impossible to imagine that you can have prosperity in the agricultural industry, or in any other industry, when people are producing commodities and are not able to get for them a price which pays them for their expenditure of capital and of energy. So far as we are concerned, we have always advocated the fixation of fair prices for agricultural produce. I think that a combination of the fixation of fair prices for agricultural produce and the establishment of a fair-minded arbitration board would help, in a large measure, to bring contentment to the agricultural industry and more prosperity for the two elements—labourer and employer —engaged in it. Deputy Dillon's amendment is not designed to achieve that objective. It is a wrecking amendment. It is part and parcel of the mentality which the Deputy displayed recently when opposing the establishment of an agricultural wages board. For that reason I think the House ought to reject the amendment.
It appears to me that Deputy Norton and the Labour Party have allowed themselves to be mesmerised by a very extraordinary interest in the mental state of Deputy Dillon. Really what we are concerned with is not the mental state of Deputy Dillon or his motives. What we are concerned with is the effect of his amendment and not the purpose of it. Now, I supported this Bill from the outset, and I would support the Labour resolution with regard to agricultural wages as against the Fine Gael amendment to it if we had come to a discussion of that resolution. I support this Bill. I would oppose this amendment if I regarded it as an amendment which would have the effect of wrecking the Bill, but I cannot see for the life of me that it would have that effect. The amendment does not provide for any subsidy, large or small, from the Government. It provides just for getting additional information which it seems to me would be of value. For that reason, I intend to support the amendment, although I am entirely in good faith in my support of this Bill, and would support the Bill if this amendment had not been introduced.
Amendment No. 9 put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 48; Níl, 61.
- Alton, Ernest Henry.
- Anthony, Richard.
- Beckett, James Walter.
- Bourke, Séamus.
- Brennan, Michael.
- Brodrick, Seán.
- Cosgrave, William T.
- Costello, John Aloysius.
- Curran, Richard.
- Daly, Patrick.
- Desmond, William.
- Dillon, James M.
- Dockrell, Henry Morgan.
- Dolan, James Nicholas.
- Doyle, Peadar S.
- Fagan, Charles.
- Finlay, John.
- Fitzgerald, Desmond.
- Fitzgerald-Kenney, James.
- Haslett, Alexander.
- Holohan, Richard.
- Lavery, Cecil.
- Lynch, Finian.
- MacDermot, Frank.
- McFadden, Michael Og.
- McGilligan, Patrick.
- McGovern, Patrick.
- McGuire, James Ivan.
- McMenamin, Daniel.
- Minch, Sydney B.
- Morrisroe, James.
- Morrissey, Daniel.
- Mulcahy, Richard.
- Murphy, James Edward.
- Nally, Martin.
- O'Higgins, Thomas Francis.
- O'Leary, Daniel.
- O'Mahony, The.
- O'Neill, Eamonn.
- O'Reilly, John Joseph.
- O'Sullivan, Gearóid.
- O'Sullivan, John Marcus.
- Redmond, Bridget Mary.
- Reidy, James.
- Rice, Vincent.
- Roddy, Martin.
- Rogers, Patrick James.
- Wall, Nicholas.
- Aiken, Frank.
- Allen, Denis.
- Bartley, Gerald.
- Beegan, Patrick.
- Blaney, Neal.
- Boland, Gerald.
- Bourke, Daniel.
- Brady, Seán.
- Breathnach, Cormac.
- Concannon, Helena.
- Cooney, Eamonn.
- Corbett, Edmond.
- Corish, Richard.
- Corkery, Daniel.
- Corry, Martin John.
- Crowley, Timothy.
- Daly, Denis.
- Derrig, Thomas.
- Doherty, Hugh.
- Everett, James.
- Flynn, John.
- Fogarty, Andrew.
- Geoghegan, James.
- Gibbons, Seán.
- Goulding, John.
- Hales, Thomas.
- Harris, Thomas.
- Hayes, Seán.
- Houlihan, Patrick.
- Jordan, Stephen.
- Keely, Séamus P.
- Kehoe, Patrick.
- Kelly, James Patrick.
- Kennedy, Michael Joseph.
- Keyes, Michael.
- Kilroy, Michael.
- Kissane, Eamonn.
- Lemass, Seán F.
- Little, Patrick John.
- Maguire, Ben.
- Moore, Séamus.
- Moylan, Seán.
- Murphy, Patrick Stephen.
- Neilan, Martin.
- Norton, William.
- O Briain, Donnchadh.
- O Ceallaigh, Seán T.
- O'Dowd, Patrick.
- Pattison, James P.
- Pearse, Margaret Mary.
- Rice, Edward.
- Ruttledge, Patrick Joseph.
- Ryan, James.
- Ryan, Martin.
- Ryan, Robert.
- Sheridan, Michael.
- Smith, Patrick.
- Traynor, Oscar.
- Victory, James.
- Walsh, Richard.
- Ward, Francis C.
Tellers:—Tá: Deputies Doyle and O'Leary; Níl: Deputies Little and Smith.
Amendment declared lost.
With regard to amendment No. 10, I gave the Chair to understand that we would discuss amendments Nos. 9 and 10 together, and I am prepared to accept the decision on amendment No. 9 as the decision on amendment No. 10.
Amendment No. 10 not moved.
I move amendment No. 11:—
In sub-section (2), page 8, line 11, to delete the words "area in" and substitute the words "part of"; and in line 12 to delete the word "area" and substitute the word "part".
This is a drafting amendment, because the word "area" has a specialised meaning in another part of the Bill. This is merely to change the word "area."
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 12:—
To add at the end of sub-section (4) the words "including this sub-section".
This is to make it perfectly clear that an order made under sub-section (4) can be amended. It is merely to make that clear.
Amendment agreed to.
I move amendment No. 13:—
At the end of the section to add a new sub-section as follows:—
Every order made under this section shall be laid before Dáil Eireann as soon as may be after it is made, and, if a resolution annulling such order is passed by Dáil Eireann within the next subsequent twenty-one days on which Dáil Eireann has sat after such order is so laid before it, such order shall be annulled accordingly, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done under such order.
This is the usual amendment for the laying of orders on the Table for discussion, if necessary.
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 17, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
Sub-section (2) provides that any minimum rates of wages fixed by the board in respect of a wages district may be so fixed as to apply universally to such district or to any special class of agricultural workers, or to any special area in such district. Has the Minister's attention been directed to the situation which has arisen in Kildare, for instance, where, although there has been a very substantial increase in the cultivation of the subsidised crops for which he is responsible, wages have fallen by 6/-? Is it proposed to make a special area of that kind within the general area, or has the Minister any observation to make which would explain the extraordinary fall in wages in the constituency represented by Deputy Norton?
Where your Blue Shirt friends cut the wages.
Has the Minister any observation to make?
I have no observation to make on that situation at all. Generally speaking, each county would be a district, and a number of counties would make an area. The board would have power to fix a different rate of wages for part of a county, even though the county is a district. They could fix different wages for South Kildare and North Kildare, if they so wished.
Question agreed to.
I move amendment No. 14:—
Before Section 18 to insert a new section as follows:—
If any person, employed or desiring to be employed as an agricultural worker on time work or otherwise to which a minimum rate fixed under the Act is applicable, makes application to the board for exemption from the provisions of the Act, the board shall grant such exemption, and it shall not be obligatory on the applicant to give any reason to the board.
With the Minister's object in Section 18, I am in entire agreement, but I do not believe that that section will achieve his object, for the simple reason that anybody knowing the nature of the Irish worker knows very well that if they are suffering from any defects, mental, physical, moral or otherwise, no matter what inducement is held out to them, they will not be tempted to proclaim that they are suffering from these defects. The section lays down the particular types of individuals to whom it will apply. I do not believe that 1 per cent. of the people suffering from any affliction will apply for exemption, and the result will be that they will hold themselves out to be people qualified to receive the minimum rates. The consequences will be that they will be registered as unemployed, and will draw the unemployment dole.
I think that must have occurred to the Minister, who, I am sure, can find a more suitable wording than that in the Bill. I think the amendment I suggest would meet the object the Minister has in view. There is no reason why unfortunate people who, through no fault of their own, happen to suffer from some affliction or some defect of one sort or another, should be asked to do this, and, so far as I know, there is no precedent for anything of the sort, unless we go back a couple of thousand years to the time when the lepers proclaimed themselves unclean. That is not a principle which would commend itself to anybody in 1936, especially in Ireland, and to a class of people so sensitive as Irish workers. I think the Minister will agree that the section needs to be amended, and I think my amendment should meet the Minister's object and make the section workable. There is no use in putting something into a section which is not going to work, and I believe this section will not work.
I have every sympathy with the object which Deputy McGovern has in view, which is, clearly, to spare the feelings of persons who find themselves so circumstanced that they have to make application for exemption under the terms of Section 18. I think every Deputy will share Deputy McGovern's feelings in that regard, and I see that the circumstances envisaged create a somewhat difficult situation, because occasions will arise when it will be the cause of embarrassment and distress to individuals, who have to make this application, to come before a board and reveal the intimate personal circumstances which induced them to seek exemption. I am quite satisfied, however, that the terms of Deputy McGovern's and Deputy O'Donovan's amendment would be very much too wide, because it would permit of any man who was competent to get employment entering into a conspiracy with an unscrupulous employer to get himself exempted from the terms of the Act, and to accept work at a rate of wages lower than that fixed as the minimum for that particular district or area. If that were permitted, the whole Bill would collapse and would not work at all.
I strongly commend to the Minister the matter which Deputy McGovern has mentioned, and if any scheme could be devised whereby these exemption certificates could be provided for disabled persons without publicity, such as requiring them to come and state to a board the nature of their disablement, I should be very glad to know of it. Personally, I have not been able to think of a plan, but if the presentation of a general certificate from a qualified physician that a labourer was disabled generally, without specifying the nature of his disablement, would meet the situation, I think the Minister might consider it. Perhaps the Minister could think of a plan himself to meet the very legitimate point Deputy McGovern has raised. I think Deputy McGovern will agree that his amendment, in the form in which it appears on the Paper, is much too wide and would be open to abuse which he certainly would not care to sponsor, and which, I am quite satisfied, he will agree with me should be provided against.
I wonder what Deputy McGovern and Deputy O'Donovan had at the back of their minds in putting forward this amendment. If there was anything calculated to wipe out the Bill it is this amendment. I could imagine some of the advertisements that would appear in the public Press if the amendment were carried. They would run something like this: "Wanted, a general farm labourer; must be prepared to rise early and work late; and must be prepared to apply for exemption under the McGovern clause of the Agricultural Wages Act." I think that would be the position if the amendment were carried. I would not agree with the suggestion as to a certificate from a medical doctor. I do not know whether the Minister can meet the matter in any other way, but I cannot see any great objection to any labourer coming before the wages board and stating his reasons for exemption. If you meet it in any way outside the section, it will undoubtedly be open to abuse. Deputy McGovern's amendment is, on the face of it, ridiculous. It would only mean advertisements of the type I have suggested. As I say, I do not see what objection any labourer would have. I can understand the necessity for exemption——
Not 5 per cent. would apply.
I believe that the case of a man who found himself, by reason of infirmity, old age or any other cause, unable to cope with the ordinary agricultural labourer's work, and who would want to get a smaller job on a farm, would be met very fairly by the wages board. After all, the wages board is going to be a body of hardheaded, fair-minded men, who will understand agricultural conditions, and who will be prepared, I am sure, to meet such a situation fairly. I am afraid that any other way of meeting the situation is going to leave the Bill open to abuse and that is what we must avoid.
I am quite sure that Deputy McGovern was actuated by the motives to which he gave expression in moving his amendment on behalf of a certain section of agricultural workers who, because of some disability, would be unable to qualify for, and be entitled to earn the minimum wages fixed, but he evidently failed to visualise, as pointed out by Deputy Dillon and Deputy Corry, the danger of the amendment. I believe that the passing of the amendment would mean the absolute wrecking of the Act. The majority of the agricultural workers of the country do not suffer from any great physical disabilities that prevent them following their ordinary avocation. The number of people so affected will, I think, be a very small proportion of the entire agricultural workers. It is suggested in this amendment that they are to apply to the board for exemption without stating the reasons, but the reasons are already obvious because the worker makes the application by reason of the fact that, owing to a particular disability, he is unable to earn the minimum wage. What is to prevent such a man, in common with the rest of his fellows, availing of the provisions of Section 18? If there happens to be a man who works for a farmer and who through some physical infirmity is not able to do quite as much as other workers, it will be found in practice, I believe, that the employer, because of associations with the worker which have lasted over a long time, will be satisfied to pay him just as much as he would pay to other workers. I do not think there will be many cases of this sort coming before the board for adjudication. Beyond the fact, as suggested by Deputy McGovern, that a person would not have to go before the board to disclose his complaint, the amendment would confer no real advantage and certainly would not compensate for wrecking the Bill completely. You would have all kinds of conspiracies if the amendment were adopted, such as has been suggested by Deputy Dillon, to wreck the minimum wage.
We find that even in trades in which the workers are much better organised than agricultural workers, there is a tendency amongst some workers to accept a lower wage than that generally recognised and unscrupulous employers have been able to utilise that weakness and human frailty to take into their employment men who are physically capable of earning just as much as their fellows. If that happens amongst organised workers, I can visualise what will happen amongst a comparatively disorganised body such as agricultural labourers. I would suggest to Deputy McGovern, in view of all that has been said, that he should withdraw his amendment and allow the matter to be dealt with by the provisions of Section 18. I do not think that there will be any hardship inflicted on anybody by that section.
I would be quite prepared to suggest an alternative and I hope to have the support of Deputy Keyes for it. He has referred to individuals who are called upon to disclose their complaints. He has stated that there should be some inducement rather than a desire to allow them to work for rates under the minimum wages. That is no inducement for anybody to disclose his disability but, in order to give them an inducement, I would suggest that the Minister should pay the difference between what the man was actually capable of earning and the minimum wage. That is only just and fair.
There would be a plague of "crocks" if that happened.
It would enable the Minister to get over the difficulty.
The disadvantages of the amendment have been pointed out by previous speakers but I just want to allay any fears that Deputy McGovern may have. I do not think this investigation is going to take place in public in the degrading way which he bad in mind. The section first of all says "If, on application." That means, of course, that a person who does not realise his infirmity himself is not going to make application. A person of deficient mind does not realise that he has that deficiency and the application would be accepted from his father, mother, sister or brother or even his employer. If the application comes in, it is not necessary, either, as far as I see from the section, and I do not believe the board would insist on it, that the worker should appear before the board.
The inspector will call and I suppose we can rely upon inspectors being discreet and not making too much fuss about the matter. The inspector can call round in the ordinary way, just have a chat with the person concerned and make up his mind as to whether the exemption is justified. If the board decides on exemption I think the form the certificate will take is: "Exempted under Section 18." There is no reason why they should state what a person is suffering from, and I think, therefore, that all these things that Deputy McGovern was so much afraid of are not likely to happen. There is no reason why a person should be ashamed, because the person himself may not come into it at all. If a person is suffering from a physical deformity he is not usually ashamed of it. If it is a case of mental deficiency, the person does not know, and probably never will realise, that he has got this exemption.
Would the Minister be prepared to bridge the difference between the wage which he is capable of earning and the minimum wage?
That would lead to great difficulties.
Is the amendment withdrawn?
I think the Minister ought to consider altering the wording in some way to make it more workable.
Amendment by leave withdrawn.
Section 18 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 19 stand part of the Bill."
Sub-section (4) of this section seems to be drafted in a form that we have not seen before. It states:—
"In any proceedings against a person under this section the court may, whether there is a conviction or not, if satisfied that such person has failed in relation to any other person employed by him as an agricultural worker to comply with sub-section (1) of this section, order such person to pay to such other person such sum as may be found by the court to represent the difference between the amount which ought at the minimum rate to have been paid to such agricultural worker and the amount actually paid."
Is it not a new principle to put a man on his defence in regard to one particular charge and then proceed to investigate and find a verdict in respect to an entirely separate offence?
I believe it does not mean that. As a matter of fact, that is what I read into it myself. "Other person" means really the labourer in question. What the section means is that even though the court does not convict of the offence, it may order the employer to pay up the wages due. They may acquit of any offence, but they may order him to pay up.
I have no objection to the section in that form as interpreted by the Minister but it does not read like that.
I admit that I read it in the same way as the Deputy did.
Is it not possible to get a simpler form of words, the meaning of which would be obvious to a layman? It was not obvious to Deputy Dillon and he is not a layman.
I am assured it means what I have stated.
It seems strange that "other person" means the same person.
"Such person" is the employer and "other person" is the employee.
Section agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 20 stand part of the Bill."
This section gives an officer power to demand and inspect wages sheets or other records of wages paid to agricultural workers. There is nothing in the Bill requiring an employer to keep records.
Supposing he does not keep any records?
He cannot show them then.
It cannot be read into the section that there is an obligation to keep records?
Section agreed to.
The board and the committee for each agricultural wages area shall make to the Minister as soon as may be after the expiration of each calendar year a report of their proceedings under this Act, and the Minister shall lay a copy of every such report so made to him before Dáil Eireann.
I move amendment No. 15:—
In page 11, lines 4 and 5, to delete the words "and the committee for each agricultural wages area."
These committees are merely advisory committees and I do not think there would be any use in keeping a provision in the Bill that they should send in an account of their proceedings. I think by getting an annual report from the board we will have covered all the activities of the board and the committees.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 21, as amended, agreed.
Sections 22 and 23 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 24 stand part of the Bill."
When does the Minister propose to bring the Act into operation?
I think we shall have it by 1st May or 1st June next.
Not operative. We will have the boards appointed two months before that.
When is the Minister going to bring it into operation? Sub-section (2) says: "This Act shall come into operation on such day as may be fixed therefor by order of the Minister."
That is the date of bringing into operation. I expect it will be either 1st May or 1st June.
How can you appoint the boards?
The boards are appointed before it comes into operation. They will have to be there two months before it comes into operation.
You have no power to appoint the boards.
I think if the Deputy goes back and examines the Bill he will find that.
The Act has no force of law at all until you bring it into operation by order. Section 24 does not refer to any particular part of the Act. It says: "This Act shall come into operation on such day as may be fixed therefor by order of the Minister."
Perhaps I have not been correct in what I said. The boards are appointed before the Act comes into operation, but they will have to be there two months before the wages come into force.
How can you appoint the boards before the Act comes into operation? You have no power.
It is actually stated in Section 7 "The Minister shall before the commencement of this Act nominate eleven persons."
Section 24 governs the whole Act. No section that we have enacted here to-day has force of law until, as stated in sub-section (2) of Section 24, the Minister appoints the day for the Act to come into force.
Can the Minister do anything under any preceding section of this Act until he has done the thing which is stipulated for in sub-section (2)?
Before the commencement of the Act he nominates the board. Of course the board does not act until the Act comes into operation.
Section 24 says "The Act shall come into operation on such day as may be fixed therefor by order of the Minister". I submit that the Minister cannot take any action under any section preceding Section 24 until he has brought the Act into operation. However, I do not want to puzzle the Minister on a point of that kind. Does the Minister want the Report Stage of this Bill to-night?
That was the understanding.
I have no objection unless this point creates difficulties.
I think under the arrangement made between the different Parties it would be better if we had the Report Stage to-night.
I have no objection other than the point I have raised.
I might inform Deputy Dillon that under the Interpretation Act anything necessary to bring an Act into operation may be done before the Act becomes operative.
It is only getting the machinery ready.
I have never before seen this paragraph in a Bill if it did not mean that the Minister was powerless to incur any expense or impose any statutory obligation until by order he brought the Act into operation.
There will be no expense; that is very definite. I know that on a previous occasion, when I appointed a board, there was no salary until the Act came into operation.
I suppose between this and to-morrow you can draft an amending Bill if you are advised this evening that you are hung up?
I think we are all right on that point.
There is one point which I should like to put to the Minister. I wonder if he could fix the date on which this Act would come into operation as some time before 25th March next?
The Deputy means the date on which the wages come into operation?
Yes. It is well known throughout the country that the general time for employing agricultural labourers is 25th March to 25th March.
It varies all over the country.
I do not know that it varies so much; perhaps other Deputies will be wiser on that matter. I know that in Cork County at any rate, and in adjoining counties also, it is 25th March to 25th March. It would make things awkward, I think, to bring the Act into operation in the middle of a year. Is there anything to prevent the Minister from bringing it into operation on that date? Why wait until May or June?
Can the Minister give us a rough idea as to what he proposes to do when the Act is passed?
When the Act is passed we must notify whoever we think will be representative of farmers and labourers to put up a panel of names. As I explained here on the Second Reading, I think the county committees of agriculture could be asked to suggest the names of farmers for those committees and the board. As regards agricultural labourers, I said I did not think there was any organised body which could be said to represent them. I suggested that at least the T.D.s of all Parties might suggest the names, and preferably that the T.D.s of all Parties should agree to names from a given county. At any rate we have to get the names together. That will take a little time. The county committees meet every month, so it might possibly be a month before we have all the names in. We can then constitute the committees and the board. The chairman of the board having been appointed, and the board having met to make an order saying they were going to fix the minimum wage, it would then take two months before they could make that operative, because they must give two months to the committees to consider it.
Before the T.D.s send in a list would it not be possible to let them know what the areas are?
They may take the districts to be counties. If an area comprises, say, four counties, I should like as far as possible to have on the committee in that area a farmers' representative and a labourers' representative from each county. It really means that we want, if possible, to get a farmers' representative and a labourers' representative from each county. That may be taken as being about the representation that will be wanted. At the very quickest, therefore, even if we were to get away to-morrow with this job, it will take over three months before the wages can be fixed. There is always a little delay, and that is why I am giving a month extra. There is also the staff to be got from the Civil Service Commissioners. Those inspectors must be got, and that will take a few months also.
What about the cattle inspectors?
Are they gone? They are rambling around doing nothing.
At any rate they were recruited for a special job. The Civil Service Commissioners may not think them suitable for this job.
Are they not still engaged and paid by the State?
Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.