I understand that this Bill has been pretty generally accepted by the House, as far as the meagre amount of principle in it is concerned, and that it has been agreed that it is mainly a machinery measure which can be more appropriately discussed on the next stage. I welcome any approach to this matter. In 1941, after the Government had decided to steamroll the employees of this country by forcing a trade union measure through the House, I made an appeal to the Minister that he might forgo that particular scheme and take an example from the many bits of machinery of different types in their application to various countries throughout the world in relation to the settlement of disputes. At that time I referred to an article by a prominent ecclesiastic in this country recommending the modification of certain machinery which he had, in the course of his studies, discovered to be in operation elsewhere and which he thought could be adapted for use in this country. He did say that no machinery was worth anything unless from its very inception the whole matter was taken up, not merely with a sort of guarded hostility, not even with something approaching lukewarm support but with something amounting to enthusiasm by the various groups of people concerned, employers and employees. Now in 1946 we get this measure brought before us.
In so far as the Bill before us indicates any very effective way of dealing with industrial disputes, I think it is to be condemned for what it omits. As far as I can see there is nothing in the Bill to give the court any real power except in relation to the investigation of trade dispute and the passing of a recommendation in regard to it. As far as anything else is concerned, the court has to move in a particular way and one or other of the two contesting parties by failing to agree to the court can stop it operations.
That however does not apply to the situation which is described in the later part of the Bill where it appears the court will have power to inflict penalties on trade unions or on employers who promote or assist in the maintenance of a dispute in a trade which has been the subject of a registered agreement. Except in the matters referred to in these circumstances, generally with regard to making recommendations about a trade dispute the court has no power unless a trade union of employers or a body of workers makes a movement before it.
I wonder why the Bill is introduced at this stage or why it was not introduced in 1940 or 1939? One can understand, in so far as it is introduced now, that it is the Government's surrender to the repercussions of the situation that they themselves have created by allowing the cost of living to rise to the point to which it has risen, by preventing wages from rising and by dealing in a rather indifferent manner with the other weight in the balance, that is to say the question of profits. I assume the Minister here, in shelving responsibility for the situation which he himself has created, is really attempting through this court to prevent the workers getting the immediate all-round increase in wages to which they would seem to be entitled on any consideration of the facts. I think it is not going to be denied at this stage of the country's history that prices have here doubled. The Budget statement of 1945 stated that in comparison with the year 1938 retail prices showed a figure of increase which was some small pointage short of being doubled—something in the region of 99 per cent. That meant that unless some sort of bonus orders had been granted, wages would simply have lost half their purchasing power. Some little alleviation has been given by bonus orders granted but the effect is very small and I think it is true to say, in regard to industrial workers and the salaried classes, that they are in the position that they are getting paid in pounds, so many pounds per week, and that each pound is now purchasing only about 10/- worth of what it purchased before the war.
That situation has occurred in other countries but it has been met by granting at intervals all round percentage increases. The latest one I think was in England. In France the other day before taking office the new Prime Minister had to agree to grant an increase of 25 per cent. in wages. In America quite recently they have granted very heavy increases. They base their calculations on so many cents per hour, but there has been a very definite increase granted to workers generally. There have been at least four of these increases governing the main group of workers in America since the war ended. In England the situation revealed in the last Budget was that the earnings of workers were 80 per cent. above what they were getting in 1939, and the cost of living in England advanced by somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent. So great was the disparity between earnings and the cost of living as compared with pre-war, that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1945 indicated as his policy that he was going to allow the cost of living to increase so as to bring about some better balance between wages earned and the cost of living. When I say that wages earned had increased by 80 per cent. I am speaking of wages earned under all conditions, including those paid on highly specialised work and those earned on a piece-rate basis, but wage rates on the average had advanced about 50 per cent. at a time when the cost of living had shown only an advance of 25 per cent.
The situation we have is that while the cost of living has advanced to the point to which it has been allowed to go, workers' wages are down on the whole by just half. One would have thought that the Minister on this measure would have announced some definite policy which he would inaugurate before he tried to get the workers to accept the sort of machinery that is in this Bill. I would have thought that we would, at least, have come to the point where the Government would make up its mind as what was the likely point in advance of 1939 at which prices might be expected to settle here in a year or two. I noticed that in the calculation the Minister made in regard to the cost of rural electrification he takes the simple method of relating that to prices in the year 1939.
It looks to me that when the Minister made a calculation of that sort he accepted the position that prices were not going to settle at anything like the 1939 figure, or anything even approaching it. The best calculation made in England was that prices would settle somewhere between 33? and 50 per cent. up, and calculations are now varying between 50 per cent. and 60 per cent. of an increase on prewar prices. Have we any conception in this country, through the Government or Governmental agencies' statistical department of what is the likelihood of the point at which prices will settle and stabilise themselves in the post-war period?
Nobody is foolish enough to believe that we will ever get back to the 1939 rates. Remember that wages of workers in this country, and certainly the salaries paid most of the salaried classes, have been stabilised more or less on the 1939 figure. It is with that as the background that workers are entitled to walk out into the freer period which will occur after the 1st September of this year and invited to take their stand in the queue before the labour court in order to have their conditions and wages rectified. The Minister must be aware of what his colleague, a former Minister for Finance, said in the Seanad a couple of years ago when challenged with regard to the other side of prices, as to the profits being earned. He said that millions had been tucked away by Irish industrialists and business people. He was challenged by a member of the Seanad as to whether he believed that, and his answer was that he not merely believed it but knew it to be true from figures put before him by the Revenue Commissioners.
The position, therefore, is that if we are to take official statements made in the haphazard way in which they have been made, the Minister opposite believes that costs compared with 1939 will be up by two, that they will be doubled. The Minister for Finance, in connection with profits made during the war, said that the employing section had made millions, and that he knew that was the situation, because he saw it from their accounts. So far as the workers are concerned they have had their wages based as nearly as possible—although there have been alleviations here and there—on the 1939 rates, and that on account of the increase in the cost of living gives them a purchasing power about half what it was.
I wonder will it be accepted that if wages are to be taken as some fixed percentage of the final price of any particular commodity, and if the price of that particular commodity is doubled, you have not made any effect upon the new price by labour costs until labour costs have also doubled? If the labour cost is some fraction of the final price charged consumers, and if we take other constituents, the cost of materials and overheads generally, say, in manufacture, transport or distribution, and add the fourth constituent, profits, and if wage rates are down in relation to the new price by half, some of the constituents must be getting an inordinate share of the final price. The former Minister for Finance appears to believe that profits were certainly getting an inordinate share.
One of the most prominent American economists recently said, when the question was discussed as to whether increased labour costs necessarily meant an increase in prices, that it could not possibly have that effect until the increase in the cost paid employees had gone beyond the point represented by the increased cost of living. It is clear that our wage costs have not got to anything like that point. The Minister, when introducing the Bill, would have generated some enthusiasm for its acceptance if he had announced a wages policy prior to introducing the measure. It is said that at a particular date the disappearance of the standstill Order is in contemplation and that an all-round increase of such and such a percentage on wages at present being paid would be regarded as normal, and that other increases could be sought through some of the organisations he might set up. He has not indicated, as I understand, that he appreciates the position we are in—except to say that there is the impact of the standstill Order and once the standstill Order goes he expects a fair amount of industrial strife unless employers do what I suggest he should ask them to do.
As far as the measure itself is concerned, I see that only in regard to a trade dispute is there any place in which the court will have any power of its own. Possibly it is the best thing in present circumstances that that should be the situation. One cannot feel that it is very helpful machinery, if it is the best that the Minister's discussions with employers' and workers' representatives can bring. I think Part VI is a Part which could be moved by the court itself, and in that connection I object to one feature. The court has to investigate any labour dispute at the request of a person concerned. Later, we come to the point that the court after hearing the evidence may
"make a recommendation setting forth its opinion on the merits of the dispute and the terms on which, in the public interest and with a view to promoting industrial peace, it should be settled, due regard being had to the fairness of the said terms to parties concerned, and the prospects of the said terms being acceptable to them."
I presume that being a decision of the court only one opinion can be pronounced, and it will not be lawful, say, for the workers' representative at the court, to disclose that the disagrees. If that is intended to be the law, that law will be derided right from the start. I cannot imagine that in regard to any recommendation this court makes in connection with a trade dispute, where there are varying opinions by employers' and employees' representatives, they will consider themselves bound to observe secrecy, even with regard to the simple point that there was a divergence of view with regard to the opinion of the court. Yet the Minister asks us to accept that a recommendation will be made and, I presume, he hopes that recommendation will be accepted.
I suggest that if it is a matter of only one opinion being expressed, and if it is to be illegal to disclose that another exists, you will have two bad precedents. A precedent was established with regard to the Constitution and a precedent in connection with a criminal appeal. There are two bodies of opinion. With regard to the constitutional development, it would be enriched and helped by the publication of a varying view. There is not the same point with regard to criminal matters. One knows, when it comes to the Court of Criminal Appeal, that the Government have exercised the prerogative of mercy, having considered whether there is a conflict in the court, and very often have given it effect. There, definitely, their decision is based largely on the fact that the court was not unanimous, that there was a divergence of views. I suggest that this is a wrong thing to bring into this matter, that it is a point upon which publicity should not be feared.
Let us consider the other situation which might arise. A trade dispute occurs and the court is called on to investigate. The court eventually promulgates a recommendation with a statement of its opinions on the merits of the dispute and the terms and conditions on which it thinks, in the public interest, it should be settled.
Is there any harm in letting it be known that the two representatives—let there be three viewpoints and let it be taken all the time for granted that the chairman's view is the view of the court, as will be the case under this legislation—have their varying points of view, in letting them state them, in letting them put on record the terms which they think should be accepted by the parties and which they think are fair? I do not see what is the necessity for attempting to cloak what everybody will realise to be a bit of a sham and a mockery, for the pretence that there is only one view, and here it is, when, on a great number of occasions, it will be the opinion of the chairman of the court, as will always be the situation when the other two parties are not able to agree.
The only other occasion—I am open to correction in this connection—on which the court can move on its own is in relation to Section 68, where there is no trade union of workers promoting or assisting the dispute. In these circumstances, we swing it over to the very exceptional results referred to in Section 69, and this is a matter which we shall have to discuss much more definitely on Committee Stage. Is the court again to specify by a majority opinion or by the single opinion of its chairman that there is no trade union of workers promoting or assisting? What are the matters which will be brought under analysis in order to come to that determination, because, only when such a determination is made, can the court move on its own and make an award, which award will thereafter become one which has to be obeyed under the stress of law?
So far as Part VII is concerned, we shall have to await its outcome, but I doubt if any of these wage Orders and bonus Orders will be registered. I cannot understand why anybody should ask any group of employees to register any such Orders. There is a bait on the hook and the hook is quite obviously protruding through. Once orders are recorded, no variation may be made in them, unless the court, so to speak, agrees to it. The threat in the background of this is that, unless a bonus Order is registered, it is not compulsory on an employer to pay it.
Does anybody think that in these days any employer will refuse to pay the wages Orders and bonus Orders granted during the emergency, everybody knowing that these bonus Orders made only a very slight contribution to helping workers to get back to their old-time wages? Does the Minister think that any group of sane employers would dream of disputing these wage Orders and bonus Orders which have been made? Yet, so far as I can make out, the only inducement to workers to register them is that, if they do not do so, it is not compulsory on an employer to pay them and he may deduct the bonus or may refuse to pay it. That is a threat which can be awaited with equanimity because, in present conditions, I fail to see how any employer would try to go back on these Orders which have been got in such a meagre way after so many years and with such difficulty.
The other matters which will be the subject of dispute in Committee have been dealt with to such an extent that it is not necessary to express a very definite opinion on them, except in a summary way. I understand that objection has been taken—and I certainly will take objection to them on Committee Stage—to these exclusions made in Section 4. Why, when we are taking this first step towards the establishment of some sort of court for the resolving of industrial disputes, we should decide that we will not allow anybody employed by or under the State to go before it, that we will not allow any teacher in a secondary or national school, anybody employed by a local authority and, finally, agricultural workers, to go before it, I fail to understand.
The Minister must have statistics. In the end, will this Bill, if fully accepted and fully worked by all the people who are not excluded, apply to any more than 40 per cent. of those who are described in statistical returns as gainfully occupied? I doubt if it will have even as wide an application as that. Will the Minister try to establish the point of principle upon which we say that we will have courts for the settlement of industrial disputes ordinarily in this country, but that we will not allow civil servants or teachers to bring their disputes before it? There must be some point of principle upon which that discrimination is made. I should like to hear it.
The matter to which Deputy Larkin referred with regard to the verdict of the court, which may often be that of the chairman, is one which I am leaving for the moment. Deputy Larkin, however, made the comment that he would rather not see lawyers interested in this court, in the sense of being members of it. Yet he questions whether a witness who wishes to claim privilege can properly claim privilege before a lay court. That is one of the difficulties which he may resolve for us at a later stage. It seems to me to point to the desirability, if not the necessity, of having somebody of legal capacity on the court, if only to rule on such a question.
I do not understand the effect of Section 23. The court is to be asked to consider any matter which the Minister may refer to it, and we solemnly work up to the violent conclusion that, when they have done that, "the Minister shall consider any report and recommendation so made." What is he to do when he has considered it? Is it just something which remains in his head as an addition to the sum of knowledge he has with regard to a particular dispute or does he take any action? Does he promulgate the recommendation? What is the intention of that section?
I want to finish on the matter of the court in Section 19. There are many types of machinery, as I have said, arranged with regard to the settlement of disputes as between workers and employers in different countries. I do not know—certainly it is not common—that there is elsewhere any court, or whatever the appropriate tribunal may be called, so limited in numbers as this court of three. Certainly the majority of the tribunals which one finds elsewhere are built on much bigger and more spacious lines. We are to have a court of three, composed of a chairman and one person roughly representing workers and one person roughly representing employers. There are no conditions and no qualifications, and there is no statement made by the Minister as to what he thinks are the proper qualifications in respect of the chairman. He is simply to be somebody appointed by the Minister who will hold office on such terms as shall be fixed by the Minister when appointing him.
So far as the others are concerned, there is what may be the valuable point that the person appointed gets his sanction, so to speak, from the appropriate body and that he cannot be removed during the term for which he was originally appointed, unless with the sanction of the organisation from which he got his nomination or by which he was nominated.
If the organisation through which that appointment is made, or with whose approval the appointment is made, be the appropriate organisation, well and good, but, if it is not, it may be an obstacle, and I suggest to the Minister that he should do as is done in other countries, that is, enlarge the court and make it a much more responsible and a much more representative body.
One of the courts I had under consideration recently was the court they have in Sweden, which consists of seven people, three of whom are nominated, not entirely at the discretion of but by the Government. The other four are so divided that two are representative of employers and two representative of employees. But of the three nominated by the Government, one of whom has to be the chairman, it is stated specifically that the other two are not to be chosen because they are representative either of employees or of employers, but are representative of something else. One finds that a lot of these industrial courts are built up without the necessary attention to the personnel of the courts. It is absolutely essential that proper representation should be given both to employers as such and to employees as such. Generally speaking, right through these industrial relations tribunals the chairman, who is appointed by the Government, has to have some legal training; but there are generally two or three others whose function it is to represent the other interests involved. I suggest that in this country we should at least have a couple of others. I would like to see on these tribunals somebody who could not be regarded primarily as representing either an employer, or an employing class, or employees, but somebody who could be regarded primarily as representing the consuming public—that is, those people who should have and who will have an important say in all these matters.
With regard to another appointment, could we not get a modern viewpoint and could we not make some effort to become at least Christian in this matter? A good deal of lip-service is paid in this country to Papal Encyclicals and to the standards of social justice which are therein laid down. In the Constitution we have a specific reference in relation to private property, and to the principles and standards of social justice. The full principle of the ownership of external goods is limited and has to be limited, according to the Constitution, by the principles of social justice. Are there such principles discoverable?
Is there anybody in this country who can be regarded as knowledgeable with regard to these principles? Is it not time, if we can discover these principles, that we should at least give life to one phrase from the Constitution and allow representation on this board by somebody who has a special knowledge of these matters and who will be capable and competent of dealing with such principles of social justice, and who will be allowed to throw his weight of opinion into the scales in order to bring about the essential balance? If you have a body with a chairman, a representative of employers, a representative of employees and two others, who might bring to bear some more modern and up-to-date ideas with regard to a just wage, there will be only one voice in five. Is the Minister afraid to permit one voice in five to be heard on this board, even behind the scenes and before the board approaches a final decision, or before the promulgation of the chairman's views? Would it not be much better to allow the chairman to be influenced before he comes to forming his own viewpoint by hearing the modern view as to a just wage and whether that wage, which is to be paid to various groups throughout the country, should be related to something more than the weight of the bargaining power, or the pressure, that either the employing section, or the employees' section, may bring to bear in respect of their representations at a particular time?
I suggest that we should now make some attempt to enliven our Constitution and we should try to bring into our legislation some of those very attractive principles of social policy which are embodied in the Constitution and which would be carefully protected by the cognisance of the court. Let us at least have recognition of one person who will be competent to lead the chairman in coming to a decision. If you enlarge the court, even more widely still than I have suggested, then the difficulty to which Deputy Larkin referred—but which at the moment is not capable of solution through any suggestion of his—might not be so serious. This difficulty is bound to exist if you have a court constituted of three persons, with a chairman appointed by the Minister and who may have a special point of view, together with one representative of employers with a distinctive point of view and one representative of employees with his particular and special point of view.
In that event what determination can be arrived at? If it is to be a unanimous decision the court will never be in a position to make such a decision. If it is going to be a majority decision, then from the workers' angle the employers' representative and the Minister's appointee can rule the roost; from the employers' angle, the Minister's appointee and the workers' representative can rule the roost. I presume that position would not be accepted. You cannot have unanimity in such a court; apparently, neither can you have a two to one majority. The Minister solved the difficulty by saying that if two can agree then their views will be upheld. As that will hardly ever happen then, in the main, the determining voice will be the voice of the chairman appointed by the Minister.
On the other hand, if the court were built up to seven one could have a majority decision of not less than so many; and if by that decision could not be procured, then possibly, in the last resort, you might have to have recourse to the voice of the Minister's representative, namely, the man who will act as chairman. I suggest that on the composition of this board, on its powers, and on the qualifications of the people and the knowledge they possess to enable them to reach a decision, together with the different viewpoints that they will bring to bear on the matters brought before them for decision, the whole value of this Bill depends. This is the first step. Nobody believes that it is going to be the last step in this type of legislation. It is rather a faltering step. It is one that should have been taken many years ago. Even now it lacks two essential fundamentals which are vital in order to preside enthusiastically at its delayed birth. One essential that it lacks is that it lays down no decent liberal policy in regard to wages. Secondly, as the Bill now stands, most people will take the view that it is the Minister's appointee—the chairman— who will be the dominating factor. Until we know who the chairman is going to be and until we have some knowledge of his qualifications nobody can approve of what is now set before us in this Bill. There are two or three changes which might make the Bill more welcome. I trust the Minister will consider these and that they will be considered without Party affiliations controlling the matter, and that we shall have in this House, at the instigation of the Minister, the freest possible voting with no Party discipline enforced upon anybody as to how he shall vote on any particular section of the Bill.