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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 25 Feb 1976

Vol. 288 No. 5

Industrial Relations Bill, 1975: Second Stage.

I move "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill aims to set up a joint labour committee under the aegis of the Labour Court to regulate the rates of pay and conditions of employment of agricultural workers of whom there are 20.000 in full-time employment and 14,000 in part-time employment.

The Bill represents the first significant legislative measure to be introduced by a government for the improvement of the general conditions of farm workers for more than 40 years; the implementation of its provisions will result in the replacement of the Agricultural Wages Board, established under the Agricultural Wages Act 1936, by a joint labour committee which in its representation will permit farmers and their workers to determine together the future conditions of employment in this important industry.

The joint labour committee system of negotiating the working conditions of an industry already operates in respect of 42,000 industrial workers through the medium of 21 joint labour committees. I am confident that future agreements arrived at by utilising the procedures of this Bill will lead to the elimination of the conditions differential that has been allowed to develop down through the years resulting in a growing gap between the work conditions of the farm workers and those of other industrial employees.

The improvement of his working conditions is naturally in the interest of the agricultural worker. I believe, however, that such improvement is also in the interest of the agricultural industry itself. The changing pattern of economic activity from a rural agricultural base to one in which industries, other than agriculture, account for more than three-quarters of the work force, entails a change in the composition of our manpower. Such a change in the pattern of economic activity of the work force is observable in most of the European countries as the normal accompaniment of economic development. The figures of those leaving employment based in agriculture during the past ten years suggest, however, that we are now at a point where the agriculture industry's demand for skilled manpower in the future would be affected should this drain of skilled manpower continue unabated over the next decade.

Clearly, the remuneration and conditions of agricultural workers must be brought into line with those obtaining in the industrial sector. The mistaken social attitudes of the past relegated farm workers to a low place in the esteem of our society and have no relevance today because now, increasingly, the importance of each job is measured by its contribution to the development of the national economy. The increasing mechanisation of the industry means that the role of farm workers, always a skilled job, now requires even higher standards.

Agricultural workers have in the past been generally excluded from the scope of the Industrial Relations Acts which provide the legal framework under which the terms and conditions of certain industrial workers are determined. As a result, agricultural workers have been excluded from access to the Labour Court except in the event of a trade dispute. This Bill rectifies that imbalance and provides that in future agricultural workers will have full access to the machinery of the Labour Court for the negotiation of their working conditions.

As I have stated already, the Bill utilises the structure of the joint labour committee and I should like to outline what this involves. A joint labour committee comprises a chairman and two independent members appointed by the Minister for Labour. It also has an equal number of members nominated by the two sides of industry. The chairman has a casting vote in the event of deadlock. It is on the basis of proposals for settling the statutory minimum wages and conditions of employment that the orders regulating employment in the industry are based. The rates of pay and other conditions finally agreed upon by both sides and adopted as an employment regulation order are enforceable legally.

I have just referred to the normal composition of a joint labour committee. Having regard to the reservations expressed by the farming organisations in regard to the joint labour committee system I have agreed, following discussions with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, to certain modifications of the normal manner of appointment of members to a joint labour committee in the case of the proposed committee for agricultural workers. I have agreed and the Bill so provides, that the chairman and independent members of the joint labour committee for agricultural workers will be appointed by me only after consultation with, and with the agreement of, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. I have agreed further that two panels for the selection of employer and worker members of the committee shall be prepared following consultation with the relevant employer/ worker interests and these shall be subject to consultation with, and the agreement of, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. I believe that a joint labour committee system so modified will allay any fears that the farming organisations may have.

The Bill makes special provision for the immediate establishment of a joint labour committee for agricultural workers, thus dispensing, in the interests of urgency, with the time-consuming consultations normally involved prior to the making of an establishment order. In addition, agricultural workers will in future also be enabled to be parties to registered agreements relating to wages and conditions of employment and will be included among the classes of workers in respect of which joint industrial councils may be registered with the Labour Court.

As the joint labour committee for agricultural workers will take over all the duties performed up to now by the Agricultural Wages Board, the Bill provides for the abolition of the board. The Agricultural Wages Act of 1936 which set up the board shall cease to have effect on and from the making of the first employment regulation order for agricultural workers following proposals by the joint labour committee. The general inspectorate of the Department of Labour will be charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of employment regulation orders emerging from the committee.

The Agricultural Wages Board has hitherto been responsible for enforcing the holiday entitlements of agricultural workers which are provided for under a number of Agricultural Workers (Holidays) Acts. Sections 2 and 14 of the Holidays (Employees) Act, 1973, which governs the holiday entitlements of other workers provide that agricultural workers may be brought within its scope by regulation. It is my intention that simultaneously with the proposed abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, and following consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, this power will be utilised.

The widening range of worker protection legislation imposes a heavier work-load on the Labour Court. The court at present operates in three divisions and it is my intention to take power to appoint additional divisions by order to enable it to deal with this increasing work-load. I will be introducing an amendment to this effect at Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

This Bill is a logical step in the changing face of agriculture and the changing structure of employment in agriculture which we regard as being our primary industry. If we look at the pattern which developed in our industrial growth from 1960 to 1974 we find that between part-time and full-time agricultural workers we now have 34,000 compared with 88,000 in 1960. This covers the period of our major industrial development when so many workers were absorbed into industry and when the flight from the land got the headlines. There has been a change in the working lives of the agricultural workers. We all realise their importance in the community. There is a necessity for greater expertise. There is a higher standard in the production of our stock, and crops, and so on. Mechanisation has meant that an agricultural worker has become a man of many parts who has to carry out many duties.

The Bill proposes to set up a joint labour committee. We should look at it on a broader basis. This Government have dabbled in agriculture. They go so far, but they do not go far enough. With our high unemployment figure, an effort should be made to create further employment in agriculture. The premium employment Bill introduced by the Minister last year, after pressure from this side of the House, was extended to include agriculture. The number of jobs created in agriculture under that Bill was disappointing. At this stage agriculture is wide open for expansion of employment. The worth of our cattle population is approximately £106 million less than it was last year. Our cattle population is down by 500,000 head. This could have a very serious effect on employment generally and, in particular, in the meat and milk processing industries. Government policy should be directed towards that area to allay any fears there may be about unemployment.

At a time like this, efforts should be made to encourage more tillage in which there is a potentially greater employment content. In 1960, we had 176,000 or slightly more, working horses. By 1970 that figure had been reduced to 85,000, or slightly less than half. The tractor population, if I may call it that, had gone from 43,000 to 84,000. Those figures must be examined to see what effects they had on the agricultural worker because they placed a greater onus, more responsibility, and more burdens on him. There should be encouragement, particularly in the smaller farming units, of greater co-operation in the utilisation of mechanised equipment. There is always a danger that tractors may be purchased by farmers who will not work them to full capacity. They are a burden on our balance of payments because they are imported for the most part. We could have more utilisation of them if a spirit of co-operation was encouraged among local groups of farmers.

As I said, we should encourage farmers towards more tillage to try to create further employment in the agricultural industry. In addition to the falling figures of agricultural workers, we have a very substantial reduction in the numbers engaged in agriculture, such as families, and so on. If we look at the size of our agricultural exports and the contribution they are making to the economy, at a time like this the Government should make every effort to expand employment within the industry and in the allied fields. The Government's policy at the moment does not indicate that this is the case and, in fact, we are worried that the opposite will prevail.

As I said, this Bill is a logical step along the road to setting up a joint labour committee for this section of our community. I should like to ask about some omissions from the Bill. The rates relief for farmers employing agricultural workers is being removed. While agreeing with the sentiments expressed that the level of £17 is hardly relevant at this stage, I understand that the original intention was that it would cover the stamp. An increase in that £17 would have been an inducement to the creation of employment in that field and would have encouraged farmers to absorb more people in employment on the land. I wonder has the Minister any intention of changing the price of the agricultural stamp.

There are a number of questions I should like to ask about section 2. Understandably, the Minister is changing the age limit to 15 years, and the Bill now covers those over 15 years. That poses a question about a Bill we had here a little over a year ago dealing with the protection of the employment of young persons and which is now with the Seanad. What is happening to that Bill? We are entering into another summer. There are demands to have that Bill passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Perhaps the Minister will explain his silence on this when he is replying to this debate.

The amendment to the Principal Act omits, understandably, the section dealing with the agricultural worker. I should like to know from the Minister the position regarding the agricultural worker who may be excluded under section 2 (a), "a person who is employed by or under the State". I should like to know if an officer serving with a county committee of agriculture, even though he is an agricultural worker, is excluded under this Bill.

The Minister has made a major change in section 5 and it seems to be in line with the Minister's handling of the Labour Court. It seems to be an effort by him to weaken the powers of the Labour Court. During the past year we saw the Minister making appointments and reappointments, dismissals and reinstatements to that court. For this reason one wonders whether there is bad industrial relations between the Minister and the Labour Court and whether this is a deliberate attempt by the Minister to weaken and undermine the powers of the Labour Court. On Committee Stage I propose submitting a number of amendments to this section. The Minister's constitution of the joint labour committee is a retrograde step. The 1946 Act proposed the setting up of joint labour committees with the Minister having his appointees and the Labour Court appointing representatives on the employer and employee side, but now the Minister will intervene. He will be incorporating some of the powers of the 1936 Act. Instead of going forward from 1946 we are going back to 1936.

I support the idea of the Labour Court having consultations with the organisations concerned but I see serious defects in this section otherwise Paragraph (a) of section 5 states:

the chairman and not more than two independent members of the committee shall be appointed by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries;

I should like to know the need for "Fisheries" there. In my view it should be, "Minister for Agriculture". It appears that the Government have decided that "Fisheries" will indefinitely remain with "Agriculture". Such a statement in the Bill should merely refer to the Minister for Agriculture. I have grave reservations about the thinking behind the section. It appears that the Ministers for Labour and Agriculture and Fisheries will hand out the appointments indiscriminately, as they have been doing, to card-carrying members of their parties. That is the only reason I can see for the inclusion of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in this section.

Can I be blamed for questioning the right of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries to be consulted in this case when we saw the wholesale sacking of Bord na gCapall, a body that contributed substantially to our horse breeding industry?

That seems to be a separate matter.

How can we charge the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, the person responsible for what happened to that board, with being fair in his appointments under this Bill?

Fresh thinking is being brought to bear on the matter.

Provided those appointed support the powers that be in the constituencies and otherwise.

No one in my constituency was appointed on any board.

Obviously the Deputy does not have the influence other Members have. Section 5 also states that employers members of the committee shall be appointed by the court from a panel prepared and presented to the court by the Minister after consultation with such organisation or organisations representative of agricultural employers——

The Deputy knows that is the manner set down since the 1946 Act.

The 1946 Act, as the Minister is aware, is different.

There is no departure.

I am sorry to have to differ with the Minister but it is obvious he was not listening to my last comments. The Minister is referring to section 5 (a) but I had moved on to paragraph (b). There is a distinct departure because in the Industrial Relations Act, 1946 the Second Schedule (2) (i) states:

such number, as the Court thinks fit, of persons (in this Schedule referred to as representative (employers) members) who, in the opinion of the Court, represent employers in relation to whom the committee is to operate, and

(ii) an equal number of persons (in this Schedule referred to as representative (workers) members)—

There is no reference in either of those to the Minister's involvement or the Minister's interference.

I will clear the matter up when I come to reply but the Deputy can be assured that there is no departure from the 1946 Act.

I submit that there is a definite departure from the 1946 Act in that now the Minister shall submit a panel to the Labour Court and if the person is not suitable for one reason or another to the Minister, or if the Minister feels he should not be on it, he will not be on the panel submitted. In addition, there will be the consultation with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and the same difficulty may arise there.

That is a change and I remarked on that earlier.

I find it hard to understand where the Minister has power in the 1946 Act regarding the worker or employer representatives. The Minister has incorporated some of the 1936 Act. Instead of being forward looking he is taking a backward step which does not conform with the powers in the 1946 Act in relation to the setting up of joint labour committees. A different structure is now proposed. The Minister for Labour has more involvement and he can knock any man's head from that panel if he wishes. He must also consult with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. I have no objection to consultation with the employer or the worker organisations but I will be submitting amendments on Committee Stage seeking to take this power from the Minister. I am concerned about how the Government will use that power. I look forward to the Minister's explanation. When he says there is no departure from the 1946 Act I say there is. We will have an amendment on Committee Stage.

The Bill deals with a very important section of our community, a section whose numbers we should make every effort to increase. Under sound Fianna Fáil Government we had for many years seen industry absorbing many workers from the agricultural community. This has stopped, and unfortunately the trend now is the other way. There are very many job losses in industry, and we have a high unemployment figure. We must encourage more and more employment in agriculture, give it every incentive we can, and expand and promote the spin-off and allied industries.

I believe our agricultural workers are some of the finest people any country has produced. I think it was Liam O'Flaherty who, in his writings, compared them with their English counterparts. O'Flaherty was one of our great novelists. He described them as being one of the finest bodies of men, bearing no relation whatsoever, in no way comparable to similar workers across the water. Ours were far superior in every respect, with their loyalty, interest, and capacity to be general factotums in many fields, prepared to do any function they are faced with, because agriculture is a wide-ranging industry, and with its increased mechanisation it does create further tasks that were not heard of 20 or 30 years ago.

I support the Bill. On Committee Stage there will be a number of amendments, mainly pointing out the dangers that would face us, particularly with a Government such as this one, with the appointments to the joint labour committee.

I welcome this Bill, as indeed I do any Bill designed to assist the agricultural community in agricultural production. This is also an opportunity to make a few comments on agricultural workers as I know them. I hope the Minister and the Department will have special regard to the very diverse types of individuals that form the general body of agricultural workers. I very much regret that their numbers are dwindling, and I hope the Government have in their minds the desirability of increasing the numbers of people engaged in agricultural industry.

I join with Deputy Fitzgerald in the tribute he has paid to the agricultural workers throughout the country. What he says is very true, but I hope that the new committee will have regard to the fact that there are engaged in farming and employed on farms throughout the country a certain number of people who could probably be described loosely as being in sheltered employment, who are throw-backs from a previous era and generation and who could possibly be classified as retainers. I do not say that with any disrespect. These people are permanently of a by-gone generation, and I hope nothing will force them of necessity to be put into institutions or homes. I mention that so that the Department will realise that these people exist and how happy they are. Their usefulness in highly modernised farms is doubtful. Nevertheless, they have given very good service over the years and they become part of a household. If some farmers were forced to pay them a top class wage they might be tempted to let these people go. That would be regrettable. I hope the new committee will recognise the position of people who could be described as being in sheltered employment.

The importance of the agricultural industry cannot be over-emphasised. That there are too few people engaged in the industry is highly regrettable. It is fine to say and to accept that the production of beef is something that this country is ideally suited to, but that is not too entirely labour-intensive. When we consider that in the Community the EEC is certainly not self-sufficient in grains, and consider also the growing importance of agricultural power, a slight shift of emphasis being placed on tillage and grains would be not only in the interest of the national economy but in the interest of the Community economy. We should, perhaps, advocate something in this line. Year by year agriculture becomes more and more complex. I would like to see the agricultural advisory service endeavouring to cater more for agricultural workers. I accept that under the Agricultural Wages Board the top rates for agricultural wages were not on a par with those obtaining in industry, even in rural parts, even though it was generally recognised men working on the land in the main had longer hours and heavier work than workers in other industries. Up to recently the agricultural industry has not been so designed, or the prices obtaining in agricultural production have not been so good as to enable farmers to pay a proper wage, but it is generally accepted that of the 20,000 people employed full-time in agriculture, many of them are receiving wages which are a great deal in excess of the top recommended wage laid down by the Agricultural Wages Board. It is necessary to pay these bonuses in order to keep top class men.

I would like to see agricultural committees being asked to provide and place emphasis on more lectures and educational facilities for agricultural workers. There must be many centres throughout the country where it should be possible during the winter months to have special block type courses laid on for farm workers. We know farm schools are going well, but 90 per cent of the people attending those are farmers themselves. It is quite obvious there must be a need for courses in the various husbandries for farm workers, and a certain amount of management, not only crop management, but of feed for pigs and cattle. Certainly there is need for a course on machinery maintenance. There was an agricultural machinery instruction course each year, to my knowledge, certainly in the midlands.

Nothing specific has been done to assist the farm workers to qualify themselves in these various fields. This is regrettable, and a start should be made on it. If the Department could organise such a scheme whereby a farm labourer would qualify for some type of increment after the successful completion of a course, this would be an inducement and an encouragement. The time has gone when we can be content just to roll along in Irish agriculture. We must at all times aim for the very top results. The same applies to pig management. This type of husbandry is changing to the intensive unit. The people engaged in this certainly opt for it. I could not imagine people working in a pig unit who would enjoy the work or who would want to be in it. Nevertheless, there ought to be an opportunity for the people working there to sharpen their knowledge and be up to date with the latest modern trends and with the most up-to-date treatment of ailments which the ordinary pig operative has to be familiar with.

Another thing that the new committee ought to remember is that the vast majority of farmer-owners, the farmers themselves, presently in occupation of Irish farms, are people who were reared in the thirties and forties, or even back in the twenties, and these people are, in the main, appalled by the rising overheads. In their formative years they remembered the bailiff and the sheriff, and they are certainly very apprehensive about expenses which increased their overheads. Perhaps this is dying out with the younger generation, but nevertheless there is an element of it there.

I was quite disappointed when the rate relief, even though it was only £17, was removed.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy, but he seems to be straying from the subject matter of this Bill, which deals specifically with the wages and conditions of agricultural workers and the establishment of a joint labour committee in lieu of the present agricultural wages board.

I am sorry to have to say it, but I think everything Mr. McDonald has said is relevant.

Deputy Callanan, the Chair must be the judge of such matters.

He is talking about the payment of wages.

The education of agricultural workers and such matters would be more appropriate for the general estimate.

On a point of order, I think Deputy McDonald was referring to the £17 scheme at the time he was interrupted.

That was discussed recently on another Bill.

He is talking about agricultural wages.

The Deputy will be afforded an opportunity of speaking. In the meantime he may not obstruct the Chair. The Chair will be the judge of such matters.

I certainly welcome this Bill. I also welcome the opportunity of putting on record a few thoughts on my own experience as a farmer. I cannot claim to be a practising farmer because I sleep only a few nights on the farm nowadays, but I still consider myself a farmer. Now that this desirable change has been brought about in the machinery to review farm labour incomes it is an opportunity to mention to the Minister a few points which I genuinely think ought to be taken into account. Great progress has been made over the years in the industrial wage structure and it is a pity that agriculture was not brought along on the same basis. Had we been able to do that when the industrial drive was undertaken, it would have forced the economy to bring with it the agricultural economy to enable them to pay proper levels of wage scales for agricultural work.

Another very important point, one that we need to have foremost in our minds, is the fact that agricultural incomes are based on a family farm income, and this is quite all right. But when the farmer happens to be a widow, then she is at a great disadvantage as she depends very much on farm labour when her family is young. The unfortunate thing about it is that it is very difficult to have it regulated. There must be room for greater employment here. There is under-employment in agriculture. One has only to drive through the countryside to see the amount of work that is there in every second field. When one drives through Holland or Denmark there seems to be greater farm maintenance. It is not possible to spend that kind of money at present on an Irish farm. The income is not sufficient to hire the labour necessary to do that. I think the £17 rate relief should have been increased. I do not want to get back to that but——

That was decided recently in this House, Deputy. It is not the responsibility of the Minister for Labour.

I think that is unfair. I do not want to argue with the Chair, but I fail to see how something so closely related to the employment of agricultural workers——

That was a matter discussed by this House quite recently, and it is a matter for the Minister for Local Government and not for the Minister in possession of this House.

I hold the view that our Departments need to be completely re-organised to fall in line with the respective responsibilities emanating from the community. We need to modernise our grouping of responsibilities so that we can be in line with our counterparts in other countries.

There should be a register of farm workers compiled by the agricultural advisory service with a view to encouraging farm workers to attend lectures and block relief courses under the social directives, where these could be funded or grant aided from the EEC. Farm work has changed in many respects. Many dangerous sprays and chemicals are in regular use and expensive machinery is involved. Even if there were only a few courses of lectures per annum those who attended them would learn to take the necessary precautions in their own interest. This would be highly desirable. A start must be made in this direction. It is not enough to leave it to farmers to ask their employees to attend or to release them for that purpose. The majority of them might not readily agree. There are funds available through the social fund which could be used to make attendance at such courses attractive. The only way such courses can be organised is by the compilation of a register of farm workers whom the advisory services can contact and encourage to attend.

There is another point that I should like to put on record. In most areas of outdoor work there are provisions for wet time and short time. This is a concept that is not applicable to agriculture. If cows have to be attended to in time of heavy rain the farm worker cannot wait until the sun comes out the next day to attend to them. The assessment of remuneration in the case of farm workers must remain different from that in other employments. There are minus factors and there are plus factors.

I hope the new joint labour committee will comprise persons who know the very specific problems in regard to agriculture and that they will at all times encourage the employment of farm workers. If it is found necessary to introduce grants or funds in order to encourage farmers to employ more workers, the possibility of doing that should be very seriously examined.

I would compliment the Minister on introducing this Bill. I sincerely hope the industry will be placed in the position of being able to pay a higher level of remuneration to farm workers and that there will be realistic training schemes for farm workers that will be to the benefit of the industry as a whole.

This is an interesting piece of legislation. It is a natural evolution as a result of the changing role of the agricultural labourer and the change in the methods of agriculture during the past decade or so. Each farm is now an industry in itself and in its own right. Account must be taken of the value of the machinery contained on a farm and the amount of electricity consumed on the average farm where an agricultural worker is employed.

The role of the agricultural worker has changed dramatically during the past decade. There has been increased mechanisation and improved methods of farming and variations in farming. The agricultural worker is increasingly becoming a specialist. He no longer works under supervision, as was the case in former years.

This type of employment is not very attractive, for numerous reasons. It is, generally speaking, a seven-day-a-week job. Sunday work is unattractive in most spheres of employment and it is particularly so in the case of agriculture, especially in dairy farming.

On the other hand, farm work is a very healthy life and the worker is employed in the best possible environment. However, the number of agricultural workers has dropped substantially during the past few years and in particular during the past year. Many large landowners who employed a number of agricultural workers and provided homes for them on their estates have found it necessary to sell out as a result of the decision of the Government to introduce a wealth tax. This means that there will be fewer agricultural workers employed as the years go by. According as the larger estates are taken over for division by the Land Commission there will be fewer persons employed as agricultural workers. I agree entirely with the previous speaker in his suggestion that there should be a training scheme for farm workers. They should be trained at an early age—I would say immediately after leaving primary school.

The agricultural worker who has proved himself to be skilled and interested in farming should qualify for land from the Land Commission. It is only right and fair that a good agricultural worker who is capable of managing and operating a farm should get land when the Land Commission divide an estate. The Land Commission should take an interest in this matter.

The Deputy appreciates that the Minister for Labour is not responsible for the administration of the Land Commission.

I agree. May I just mention that should this happen it would make the future for agricultural workers brighter? As far as I know, there is nothing in legislation to prevent a landless man from getting land from the Land Commission. I believe that the funds of the Agricultural Credit Corporation should be made available to agricultural workers who are prepared to buy land and have saved up deposits. It should be the aim of this House to make the role of the agricultural worker more attractive and to ensure that there is a future for him in society. The Minister should make every effort to cut out the differential in wages as between different areas. I could never understand why there was a difference in the rate of pay as between one region and another. The agricultural worker does the same work and works the same hours in all regions and there should not be any differentiation.

Educational facilities should be provided for agricultural workers during the first few years of employment. I would not even suggest that an agricultural worker should be on an incremental scale of pay but a scheme of education in farming methods and management should be provided.

The Minister should ensure that as far as possible there is continuity of employment for the agricultural worker. Seasonal employment should be minimised. It must be very hard on a worker to be employed for nine or ten months of the year and to have to draw unemployment benefit for the other two or three months.

I am glad that the agricultural workers will now have access to the Labour Court and that under this Bill there will be a joint committee which will permit farmers and their workers to determine together future conditions of employment.

I would like to welcome this Bill very much indeed. I speak on it with some authority because I have worked as an agricultural worker and I know what it means. The Bill is a step forward. Down through the years agricultural workers were separated in every way from the rest of society. Nowadays there is a lot of talk about equality of pay. Up to the present the agricultural workers have been a depressed section of the community. This Bill is not the be-all and end-all but it is a major step forward. Under legislation and under the Agricultural Wages Board agricultural workers were deprived of several rounds of the national wage agreement. I am delighted that the Agricultural Wages Board is being abolished.

Agricultural workers in modern times are skilled people who have to turn their hands to many trades in the course of their day's work. They are using large machines such as combine harvesters and indeed servicing them. To be a good agricultural worker now one would almost need to be a qualified mechanic. There are many such people. They love the work they do and their remuneration and conditions of employment are a disgrace to our society. There are agricultural labourers driving large lorries to take beet to sugar factories. Very soon we will be told by the Agricultural Wages Board that the agricultural workers will go back to a 50 hour week. Provision should be made before this Bill becomes law for the committee to meet and fix proper hours of work for those people. Everyone knows that the day of the 50 hours a week is gone but it is still a fact for the agricultural worker in the summer period.

It is time we got our priorities right and considered those people who are in depressed conditions and working hours in excess of those worked by any other workers. When we do this I will believe in the sincerity of the people who talk about equal conditions and equal pay in other spheres where conditions are good and wages pretty high. One hears people talking about conditions in the public service and elsewhere where there is not equality, and I agree that there should be equality in every sphere of life. Agricultural workers are doing the most important work and are in the most important industry in this country.

No man should be expected to work a normal week of 50 hours. We are getting our priorities a little mixed up. We brought in legislation for idustrial workers, to give them a certain amount of holidays, a certain amount of free time and a certain number of working hours after which they would get overtime. Agricultural workers down through the years were deliberately excluded from this legislation. They were regarded as second class citizens.

The Minister knows my views in regard to agricultural workers. I have pestered him day in and day out to introduce this legislation. Agricultural workers will be able, by Ministerial order, to come under legislation for other workers and any progressive legislation which may be introduced will also apply to people in this category. Employers should be in a position to pay decent wages. I speak of an area where the farms are pretty big and where people who are classed as agricultural workers are looking after animals valued at thousands of pounds. They even travel across the channel with them to sales but they are receiving depressed wages and working long hours. I speak of farmers with 200, 300 and up to 1,000 acres of land who are well able to pay better rates than they are paying. Those people should, by legislation, have to do the same as their industrial neighbours.

I worked as an agricultural worker and I am proud of that fact. Agricultural workers are the finest body of people one could find any place. When legislation was brought in to cover industrial workers very few people protested that agricultural workers were excluded. Farm incomes have improved and we hope they will improve even further. Farmers in my area employ a large number of people. They have invested a lot of money in their farms. Their workers are entitled to a good living. Every Government have a duty to ensure that people in the lower paid jobs are properly paid. I hope that the Minister, in consultation with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, will be able to ensure that before this Bill comes into effect we will not drift back to the 50 hours a week, the normal summer working hours for farm workers. People should not have to work a normal working week of 50 hours. Something will have to be done to ensure that farm workers work only the same hours as industrial workers.

I want to refer to the joint labour committees which are being set up for the agricultural industry. The Minister should ensure that membership of those committees is spread all over the country. In most areas agricultural workers are not organised into trade unions. In some cases perhaps only one person is employed and he becomes rather isolated. There is provision for consultation with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in relation to the appointment of the joint labour committees. It is important that all regions have representation on those committees. It is a different ball game in different areas. In my area there are big farmers but in many other areas they are small. Each region should have representation on the joint labour committees.

Certain trade unions are organising farm workers and taking an interest in them. They should have representation on the joint labour committees. There should also be representation from areas where the farm workers are not in trade unions. They would then be able to make known the difficulties of the employers and the workers in their areas. As far as I can see the hours of work under this Bill can be fixed by Ministerial order. The wages board was supposed to be a democratic board with representatives from both sides and an independent chairman. I sometimes challenge the independence of people who are supposed to be independent. Sometimes the wages board came out with wages recommendations which did not take into account the national wage agreement. There may have been people prejudiced one way and some prejudiced the other way on that board. There were people who should have been independent in their thinking but we later found they were not. If there are to be independent representatives on the joint labour committees the Minister for Labour, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries or whoever appoints those people should ensure that they are independent.

I welcome this Bill, which is a major step forward as far as agricultural workers are concerned.

Mr. Kitt

This is a very interesting piece of legislation. First of all, I welcome any move towards the higher remuneration of agricultural workers. It is regrettable that there are not more people employed in agriculture generally. As has been pointed out already it is our major industry. We see from the Minister's statement that there are only 20,000 agricultural workers in full time employment and 14,000 in part time employment. There is great potential for employment in agriculture and we should encourage every step to create that employment. While I welcome the higher remuneration, it is not just a question of more money; there is the matter of conditions also. People engaged in agriculture work very long hours. I hope this is being taken into consideration by the Minister. I hope I am not offending any other profession; sometimes public representatives work very long hours. Agricultural workers undertake a variety of work and we should be concerned about their conditions and rates of overtime.

We should also be concerned to have training schemes introduced so that the situation would be improved for agricultural workers. In-training schemes and special courses should be made available. Colleges in my constituency have short courses for people engaged in agriculture, and I would hope that these would be developed so that agricultural workers would benefit from them. There is need in agriculture more and more for specialist skills just as in education. We should be concerned about the education of farmers and workers. I urge that money be made available, perhaps from the EEC, so that these training schemes could be provided. On this side of the House we have always supported steps to encourage employment in agriculture such as the employment premium scheme, and I hope this Bill will go some way towards improving the lot of agricultural workers and encouraging more people to engage in agriculture even though as has been said it is not the be-all and end-all.

I also welcome the Bill and see the necessity for it. This tidying up operation was long overdue because in most cases rates actually being paid were much higher than the official rates—they had to be.

As regards the whole agricultural worker situation I should like to dwell briefly on one point that has been mentioned, and that is the training. This aspect has been neglected, and more and more in future we will need qualified people. We are talking of some 20,000 people, and that is a miserably small figure. If agriculture were really moving here 100,000 people could and should be absorbed in agriculture alone. When we really get moving, with the benefits of EEC prices and conditions and with agriculture properly developed, this should be our target. While we welcome new industries and so on we have this potential within ourselves because actual production in agriculture is nothing like what it should be and the industry is grossly understaffed.

Education is a very important aspect of the matter, and there is not much point in talking of paying people more if the people and the employment are not there. We must put that situation right. Long ago in this House I suggested that a start should be made in the vocational schools with special training for agriculture and a diploma, similar to that given in other industries, given to people qualifying to operate as farm workers. This would get rid of the stigma mentioned by Deputy Bermingham of being second class citizens. Farm workers now have many skills, and top workers could take their place in a garage or anywhere. They must be skilled to be of any use on farms. This legislation is long overdue and is welcomed by the farming community. Good men are treated well. The only problem is that, as yet, we have far too many unskilled people. This is no fault of theirs because educationally they were not prepared for this very difficult and demanding vocation. Nowadays I think one must break it down into specialised skills as regards pigs, tillage, dairying and so on, and farm workers must specialise in one or other of those branches if they are to be fully effective. There is no such thing as a jack-of-all trades in reality. We have been making do with that situation, but in future we will need more specialised people to get the best out of agriculture.

I should like to commend the loyalty and dedication of farm workers down the years. They kept this very valuable industry going through thick and thin, often while very badly paid because the finance was not there. That, thank God, is changing rapidly, and not before time. The Minister for Labour in conjunction with the Minister for Local Government might also consider the proper housing of employees and provide something similar to the old schemes but with better housing facilities in rural areas so as to encourage people back to rural Ireland and encourage young men to go into farming. That would be doing a great social service.

I think I would agree with Deputy Bermingham in regard to the 50-hour week. Proper hours must be introduced. This would be for the betterment not only of the personnel but of the industry itself. I also agree that agriculture must be put into the situation where we can afford to have and to pay skilled full-time employees. Most farms at present are grossly understaffed. Perhaps the price for produce is such that it does not justify more employees. The EEC have a big responsibility in this regard. Prices should improve all around and there should be more emphasis on tillage crops and crops that involve more employees. To a greater degree, we should emphasise the desirability of a larger cross section of crops. This is something for which I blame the EEC. We were almost forced into thinking that dairying and beef were the in things. Anybody looking at the Irish scene will realise that we have a long standing tradition in tillage. There is a far higher labour content in specialised crops, such as horticulture, than there is in the dairy and beef industries. The EEC gave no help, or made no effort to help, the difficult areas, such as Erin Foods, Batchelors and similar firms, who made trojan efforts to break into the European market.

The farm modernisation scheme is geared to the dairy and beef industries. The horticultural industry should be expanded. All the east coast, most of the south coast and parts of the midlands are eminently suitable for this type of operation, and nothing is being done and no encouragement is being given. There are five food factories in this country and none of them is expanding. On the day East Cork Foods Limited was founded a similar firm started in Holland. We still employ a few hundred people while the firm in Holland employ 4,500. They got every encouragement and every help. If we are serious about our sons and daughters staying at home, we must think of them working on farms and in industries related to farming.

Deputy Fitzgerald mentioned the swing from horses to tractors and co-operation in the issue of equipment. I would be a bit sceptical of this type of co-operation. The use of specialised equipment in agriculture means that we must have somebody in charge of this equipment, which might be worth £20,000 or more. That is a very big responsibility. In my view, the more responsibility a person carries, the more he should be paid. That brings us back again to skills. There are skills in agriculture, very often natural skills, but that is not good enough. This problem must be tackled now. I appeal to the Minister and his colleagues to arrange a proper educational course for young people to prepare them to take their place in agriculture.

I am quite happy with the structure of the board. I agree with Deputy Bermingham's point on regionalisation. There is a danger that we might have all Dublin people. Therefore the Minister should ensure that there is representation from all over the country. Winter classes are not much use. It is very difficult to get people to attend them. It might be possible to work in something of a temporary nature through the vocational schools to help the existing work force. This problem must be tackled from the ground up, that is, get the youths interested in agriculture. The only way people are interested in anything is to mention money. If you pay the right rate you get the right skilled people.

In my opinion there is no future in agriculture for anybody unless he has skills in one or other of the agricultural fields—tillage, dairying or pigs. He does not need to be a master of all trades, all he has to do is specialise. The opportunities will be there. We in this Parliament, must ensure that people will be properly trained and equipped for this employment.

There is nothing in the EEC regulations which says that the good agricultural employee should not get land. As a matter of fact, he should be given every encouragement to own property. He should be given the same facilities as everybody else and that applies to farmers' sons as well.

The Chair does not wish the debate to be opened too wide.

I welcome this very necessary legislation. Agricultural workers have given fantastic service not only to the farming community but to the nation as a whole. Even if the weather is bad, crops must be gathered. People from food factories help to harvest crops. Farm workers are very dedicated people. Crops have never been unharvested because of industrial disputes. There has always been a wonderful relationship between farmers and their workers.

If this country is to pull out of her difficulties, we will all have to be dedicated. As has been said, you do not buy your way out of a depression, you work your way out of it. The Irish farm workers have always given a lead in this regard. They have never let the side down. They have not been complimented or rewarded enough for their service over the years. Belatedly, they are getting their rightful share of the national take. I hope that in future many more people will be employed in this very valuable industry and will be given an opportunity to live, earn their livings and rear their families in their natural environment. This is vitally important. We, as a Parliament, have responsibility to provide that employment.

I welcome any Bill which will improve the lot of any group of workers. Therefore I welcome this Bill. I would like to set down the point of view of the farmer and the farm worker. I am not talking about the workers Deputy Bermingham mentioned. In my constituency nobody has 1,000 acres. I always held the view that that should never exist in a country when land is scarce. In my area we have 50- and 60-acre farms. The majority of these farmers do not employ anybody outside their families. If a man is in tillage and has 50 or 60 acres, he employs somebody. In the ordinary way the farmer and the worker work together like brothers. I want to emphasise that because it is very important. It is nothing like industrial work where one works for a man one hardly ever sees. Therefore, I do not agree with the suggestion that there should be separate courses for farmers and farm workers. In our county committee of agriculture we put on courses for farmers under Directive 161, the one directive from Brussels that I do agree with. There is no class distinction; farmers and farm workers go to the lectures together. I agree with Deputy Hegarty that when they have completed such a course there should be some diploma or other acknowledgment that they have done so.

This distinction between the worker and the boss is inherited from the old days. I was chairman of the committee that set up the Farm Apprenticeship Board. We did away with this distinction altogether. In the training of apprentices the relationship between the farmer and the apprentice was that of student and teacher and not servant and boss. There may be snobbery in thousand-acre establishments where you do not see the boss but, generally speaking, the situation has changed.

There is no use in blaming the Agricultural Wages Board for keeping down wages. They set the minimum rate. In my area no one will work for the minimum rate. The older workers might not know much about modern machinery, but they are all paid very highly. I would like to see a regional line on this, because there is no comparison between the type of worker that Deputy Bermingham represents and that I represent. I would not like to see an eastern-dominated board settling wages for the west of Ireland. In my area the employer and the employees usually have their meals together. While they would not have breakfast together, they would have lunch or dinner plus a cup of tea brought out to them in the evening and I do not think that is the case with the type of employer that Deputy Bermingham is talking about. The people who are on this board must understand these farming conditions. A man will bring home the tractor in the evening because he has a bit of land of his own; he gets potatoes and various other things from the farm. Both employer and employee work together, and this has to be taken into consideration when considering wages. I entirely agree that there should be a proper wage, but my point is that farming in one part of the country is different from that in another part.

As regards hours of work, I would like to see the 50 hour week abolished, and for the farmer as well. However, this is where the farm worker is in a different situation from other workers. Take the summertime when there may be four or five acres of hay to be dealt with. The morning is wet and the farmer and the worker will play cards. If it clears up at four o'clock in the evening they will often work at the hay until eight o'clock at night. The industrial worker is not affected by the weather and, having done his day's work, he can leave at the normal hour. These are the things I would like to emphasise in respect of the operations of the new board.

The question has been raised as to the best way of increasing the number of farm workers. I agree with Deputy Hegarty that the EEC policy on dairying and beef has caused a complete switch over from tillage. On my small farm I did a good deal of tillage until I was elected to this House. It did not pay to till in this country and everybody got out of it. However, tillage is the best means of providing employment on the land. Therefore, there should be a fund which would ensure that when tillage would not pay there would be an acreage payment for employing people. This would increase employment on land. Years ago industry was taking workers away from the land. Now there is a surplus of industrial workers and they should be encouraged to go back to the land.

As I have said, the minimum wage for agricultural workers was irrelevant, certainly in my area as far as the skilled work was concerned, and I would not like the Agricultural Wages Board to be castigated as a body trying to keep down wages. Many of its members were more interested in the worker than in the employer. Nor would I like to think that boards would be abolished just for the purpose of changing the personnel of those boards for any reason, and I will not go any further than that.

It would be impossible to regulate the 50 hours by taking off an hour in the morning or the evening. We must realise every farmer has a seven-day week. Every farm worker now works on Sundays. Nobody likes to work on a Sunday, particularly when he sees his fellow industrial worker enjoying the day off, but cows have to be milked and looked after. In computing the 50 hours I suggest that the time should be tied to some time during the day and not in the morning or the evening.

I hope the Minister will bear these points in mind. In the west he will be dealing with a set of workers different not only from industrial workers but also from the farming system in Kildare and in the east generally. The only benefit the £17 allowance had was to ensure that workers would be kept on all the year round, and that is why during the debate on the recent Bill we suggested that the £17 be increased.

The Deputy will appreciate that matter has already been discussed and decided on and that we cannot go back on it.

Earlier on this Bill Deputies were allowed to stray—the wealth tax and other matters were discussed. I will conclude by asking the Minister to be very careful about the appointment of this board to ensure that they will not be orientated towards the eastern part of the country, but that special consideration will be given to the farming system in the west. The Minister should also realise the need to have farmers and workers treated with distinction in the matter of education. They should all be educated together without any segretation. As I have already indicated, I welcome the Bill in so far as it narrows the gap between agricultural and industrial workers. The latter have done an excellent job during the years on minimum wages.

I rise to extend a particular welcome to the Bill. Agricultural workers have been the particular concern of the Labour Party for many years at all levels, branch, constituency and parliamentary. We have been laying particular stress on a very obvious social injustice, the treatment of this section of our workers vis-à-vis industrial workers. We are, therefore, very glad this Bill has come before the House.

All of us realise that in the not too distant past the workers for whom we are legislating now were in a position not for removed from slavery and I wish to pay a tribute to the Federation of Rural Workers for the fight they made to improve the lot of agricultural workers. However, despite all their efforts the lot of the agricultural worker was still inferior. As the Minister and other speakers have said, the terms of national wage agreements did not apply to them and there were other anomalies as well. I presume the main reason for this was inability of employers to pay, but this can no longer be the position.

There is another anomaly in regard to farm workers. They have no stake in the land, only their ability to work. Like other workers, they are entitled to some sort of stake in return for the exercise of the many skills they possess. Now, when the measuring and the levelling up has been done by the new board, the wages of agricultural workers comparatively will be at a very high rate. As well as that, they will have the leverage facility of access to the Labour Court.

References were made to the desirability of providing incentives for such workers, such as training courses and the prospect of land ownership. This is not relevant to this debate but it is a matter that should be given consideration very quickly. Farm workers are entitled to expect that they will be able to own land at some stage. They have had a raw deal and while the farm worker was a slave, his wife was the slave of a slave. Women farm workers had a bad time, although it is admitted that there are not a lot of women working on the land. However, the position of women land workers will have to receive special concern from the joint labour committee so that very obvious injustices will be eliminated. We look forward, within the terms of this Bill, to a better deal for the workers and for agriculture generally.

I welcome this Bill and I congratulate the Minister on its introduction.

It can be said that in Ireland we are all only about one generation removed from the land. None of us can be unaware of the situation with which agricultural workers were faced down through the years. My father was an agricultural worker as far back as 1913. He worked in Deputy Fitzgerald's constituency. My father told me many times that in those days, at the age of 14, the only free time he was allowed was time to attend Christian doctrine classes in Millstreet Church in preparation for Confirmation. He had to work on Sundays as well as weekdays. However, like many others, he had enough sense to go into some form of agriculture-based industrial work and he moved to a city where he worked for seed merchants. The workers in those days knew what it was to be exploited so we should not understress unduly the importance of what was the situation then. This Bill is a tribute to those members of the House who fought strenuously for it. In the mid-fifties the House refused to support Deputies like, for instance, the late Seán Dunne who spoke eloquently on behalf of farmers or the late James Larkin and his brother Denis, each of whom on many occasions spoke in the House on behalf of this category of workers.

And, also, Deputy Pattison's father.

Yes, he spoke here many times in favour of a change in legislation in this matter. There were many others, too, including the present Ceann Comhairle. There was a historic debate on this subject in 1962 when the now Minister for Local Government introduced a Private Member's Bill. On that occasion both Deputies Tully and Treacy, who were associated closely with the Federation of Rural Workers, spoke emphatically on the need for change. There is a tendency for us to forget that it is about 15 years since the last major effort was made to have the lot of agricultural workers improved. Time goes very quickly so far as parliamentary life is concerned, but it would be remiss of us to fail to put on record our tribute to those parliamentarians who at that time tried very hard to bring about a change in the conditions of agricultural workers.

It is no cause of regret to me that the Agricultural Wages Board is being abolished. I do not say that in any sense of recrimination or bitterness. The board cannot be said to have been the most progressive industrial relations legislation that we have had. Successive Ministers for Agriculture, notably Deputy Smith, refused to accept any suggestion of change. I expect that Deputy Smith was sincere in his views. He is a man of absolute integrity but at the time he was reflecting the economic and social attitudes towards the fixing of wages for industrial and agricultural workers. As the then Minister for Agriculture he reflected, too, the attitude of the Government of the day. It is interesting to read the Dáil debate on the Second Stage of the Bill that was introduced in 1962. On 5th December of that year Deputy Smith mirrored the then political view when he said that he recommended a rejection of the Bill on two main grounds: first, that the existing machinery for fixing agricultural wages had proved adequate, had stood the test of time and had benefited very considerably the agricultural worker. Because, he said, it was fair to both sides, it was acceptable to both employer and employee. He went on to say that the existing Act had effectively put a floor on agricultural wages and that new legislation of the kind proposed in the Bill would have the effect of leaving in a better position the genuine agricultural worker.

Attitudes have changed since then. They have changed as a result of sustained pressure. It has been always the position in this country that the possession of land, regardless of whether it was as little as six acres, gave the peculiar feeling of power, respectability and superiority in the situation of the rabid class consciousness which still exists in Ireland, much as we may deny this to be so. This attitude, particularly for those who did not possess land and who, consequently, were forced to earn a living by working on land owned by others, has always been a source of much divisiveness. Those who worked in that situation were patronised more than a little down through the years.

It is fitting that the Agricultural Wages Board should be abolished at this point in time because in relation to the national wage agreements during the past three or four years this board has been totally reactionary. In saying that I am very conscious of there being representative groups on that board. Notwithstanding the tremendous improvement in farm incomes in 1972-73 when there was a unique improvement in farming— admittedly there was a downturn in 1974-75 but there was a substantial improvement in the latter half of 1975 —nobody, either in conscience or in terms of economic viability, could have maintained that employers of agricultural workers would not be in a position to comply with the terms of the national wage agreements. It is largely because of the scandalous attitude adopted by the Board that agricultural workers were allowed fall behind in terms of remuneration. It was the persistent failure of the board to live up to its responsibilities that has brought well-merited justice in its abolition and in the setting up of a joint labour committee.

It might be said that some groups have dragged their heels. For instance, it was a pity that the IFA and the ICMSA did not take the initiative on this matter and ensure that the Agricultural Wages Board was abolished. However, they have adopted a commendable attitude now on the "vets" dispute. The same can be said of their attitude to other agricultural employees in the professional groupings, but they should have displayed the same degree of concern down through the years in relation to the wages paid to agricultural workers. An organisation which claims to be national and representative must be seen to be doing these things, even though they may cut across what some people might call the best interests of some of the better off members of their own organisation.

I welcome the setting up of the joint labour committee. I say publicly to the Minister that I hope the compromise—and it is a sensible enough compromise between himself and the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries whereby there will be joint consultation on the appointment of the employer and trade union or worker representatives—will in no way inhibit or delay the setting up of the JLC. With due respect to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, in the context of their reaction over the years to the setting up of the joint labour committee, I do not think they have been particularly expeditious.

I have not spoken personally to the Minister about the background to this. I have no brief from the Minister. I have no authority to discuss the matter with the Minister. It would not surprise me in the least to learn that there was some queer arm twisting over the past three years. Remember, it has taken this Government three years to do what we wanted to do in the first six months. It must have taken some unique arm twisting by the Minister for Labour on the Department, and particularly on the senior departmental officials responsible for this policy issue, to get them to change their minds.

They did change their minds. It is to the credit of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries that he has cojoined with the Minister for Labour on it. I would be perturbed lest, when it comes to the appointment of the employer members—there should be no difficulty on the workers' side—we should find the farming organisations once again saying to the Minister that they have no names to offer. Now that the Agricultural Wages Board is abolished, they could drag their heels in the setting up of the JLC. I hope that will not happen.

I support the concept outlined by Deputy Callanan. I regret I was not here for all of his speech. He said farmers and farm workers should be educated together and should work together on the land. There is a popular assumption that because one happens to be an urban Deputy from an urban area one knows sweet damn all and cares even less about the future of Irish agriculture. This is a myth which is fostered largely by those who, for other purposes, want to create an urban-rural division in Irish society so that they might not have to face the horrors of urban taxation or the horrors of urban rateable valuation and, therefore, the further they keep this artificial division alive the happier they will be.

I hope that in relation to agricultural education, training and apprenticeship, farmers and farm workers will be educated together. As Deputy Callanan remarked, many of them share at Macra na Feirme level and Macra na Tuaithe level. I know some outstanding young men, some extremely progressive men, who are farm workers and who have a deep and abiding interest in the future development of agriculture. The Labour Party in this House have a particular interest in this Bill and it is not a narrow interest. We want to see Irish agriculture prosper and develop in a progressive mixed economy.

I have no doubt whatever that, by eliminating the class discrimination which existed in relation to agricultural workers, this Bill will make a significant contribution. The employer organisations and the farming organisations should welcome this Bill as removing a source of conflict and a source of discrimination over the years. They can be assured that the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party in an inter-Party Government will work in a constructive manner to ensure that that kind of development occurs. I know the Minister for Labour has taken many a brickbat——

From all sides. From yourself.

——from all sides in relation to other legislation.

It is the nature of the job.

It is the nature of the person.

When the Minister introduces legislation which I particularly support and agree with and am particularly proud of, it is only appropriate that I should welcome it. It gives me the greatest pleasure to do so and to urge that the Bill should pass through all stages as quickly as possible.

When the Labour Party introduced a private members' motion in December, 1962, almost in line with the provisions of this Bill I spoke strongly in favour of it. Now over 14 years later I welcome the introduction of this legislation. I said at that time that it was very necessary. Agriculture as a whole has suffered as a result of the absence of legislation such as this. At the time it was a vote of no confidence in the agricultural industry that that motion was not accepted. Since then the agricultural industry has lost some of its best workers, workers who had a vocation to work in agriculture. They have been lost to the industry, and it will be extremely difficult to attract into agricultural employment again the type of people who were lost to it and who are needed at present and for the future.

Other speakers referred to the status of the agricultural worker. I want to support everything they said in that regard. This is the most important industry from our own point of view at home and from the EEC point of view. It is by far the most important industry, and yet the people who work and are employed in the industry have been treated in a very bad way. Recently we heard a lot about anti-discrimination. Many of those discussions were heated and feelings ran high about discrimination. I cannot recall any speaker in those discussions bringing to light the discrimination this Bill now proposes to do away with, the discrimination which debarred those working in agriculture from having the same facilities in the Labour Court as every other employee.

That legislation set a minimum wage rate and in most cases workers in the agricultural industry only receive the minimum. There were cases where workers received over the minimum rate, but some of them received over the rate because of the supply and demand position of workers in recent years. Because of that position it was necessary to keep as many as possible working in the industry.

We must remember that the minimum wage rate was fixed having regard to the ability of the small farmer to pay. The theory was that the farmers with big holdings would pay more to the agricultural workers than those with small holdings but, unfortunately, in practice that did not always happen. The question of working hours has been mentioned by many speakers. It should be remembered that practically all our labour force are on a 40-hour week but agricultural workers must, in accordance with their agreement for 1976, face a 50-hour week in a few weeks' time. I should like the Minister to arrange for the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries to insist that the Agricultural Wages Board make one memorable and worthy order before they go out of existence, to reduce the number of hours to be worked by agricultural workers within the next few weeks.

I hope this appeal will be listened to by the Agricultural Wages Board. It is in order that I should put on record the change in outlook of this House in regard to this legislation. When I spoke on a similar Bill, almost 14 years ago, very few outside the Labour Party supported such a measure. At that time a Private Members' Bill which proposed measures similar to those contained in this Bill was defeated by 68 votes to 13. I welcome the change in attitude, and I am glad to see that the Bill is receiving almost unanimous support.

I hope that under the joint labour committee it will be possible for the agricultural workers to negotiate not alone for rates of pay and working conditions similar to industrial workers but also to negotiate for profit sharing, bonus payments and other things described as fringe benefits which are now part and parcel of the industrial relations scene. I congratulate the Minister on bringing in this important piece of social legislation which was long overdue and necessary. The people it is intended to benefit deserve it because of the important part they played in our economy. I hope that as a result of this legislation there will be a significant raising of the status of these workers, and of the educational and training facilities necessary for them.

The formation of a recognised apprenticeship is necessary for farm workers. An agricultural worker as well as being an expert on agricultural matters, must also be very familiar with and have a good knowledge of electrical and mechanical work. He must also have a good knowledge of the various chemicals he has to handle. For these reasons it is necessary that he have a reasonable scientific training. The introduction of a recognised apprenticeship scheme would help this important industry in the long run. The Minister is deserving of great praise for introducing this measure. Since his announcement that the measure would be introduced he has not received the credit he deserves. In my view this is a major turning point. It is a significant piece of social legislation and I hope it will be given a speedy passage through this House.

This Bill proposes to replace the Agricultural Wages Board established under the Agricultural Wages Act, 1936. This has a lot to do with the agricultural worker, a man who is employed full time on the land and who has been a great help in the past to rural Ireland. It is sad to say that many people have left the land and that many agricultural workers have left farms for the brighter lights of our cities. The Minister seems to be making a lot of hay out of the Bill and telling us that everything will be bright in the future. I accept that it is a new Bill but I doubt if the promises made will come about as fast as the Minister says.

The Bill is being introduced at a time when there will be unemployment in other spheres, the milk and meat processing industries. The fact that the number of cattle on the land has been reduced will affect the position of farm workers. I would have liked had the Minister done something positive to help out the people who decide to work for farmers. In my view there is nothing in the Bill to help such people. He has left it to the new board to sort that matter out.

We live in an age where everybody is talking about taking decisions in these matters of appointments from Ministers. There was a Planning Bill which was before the Dáil a long time, and there was a lot of hay made by the Minister and his colleagues that there should be planning appeals. Regarding this Bill under discussion we find that the Minister is going to make appointments to this board. That is something that will have to be opposed. There is nothing wrong in selecting a board, in giving it powers, but there should be men from the employers' side and from the employees' side. These last are union workers and should be well able to do their job.

Section 5 states:

(a) the chairman and not more than two independent members of the committee shall be appointed by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.

That is taking away power from the board, and that means that the chairman cannot be a person who will attend the first meeting of the delegated members and they could appoint a chairman of their choice. If this Bill goes through that chairman will be a person forced on them by the Minister. We know what has happened in the last three years. People have been drafted into ministerial positions from all walks of life. They are public relations officers, the eyes of the Minister, so to speak, and have no real function. Who will be the chairman? Is he going to be another one of that set who has helped in some election, has been a good subscriber to some party, a good friend of the Minister's? The choice of chairman should be left to the first meeting of the board or committee, call it what you like, that they should be in the position to elect the chairman. However, the section says quite clearly that the chairman and not more than two members of the Committee shall be appointed by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. No matter how good the members may be in labour relations, if they are not of a certain political persuasion they are not going to be one of those three members. There is nothing wrong with the Minister, and I would like to see somebody from his Department on the board.

The section also says

(b) the representative (employers) members of the committee shall be appointed by the Court from a panel prepared and presented to the Court by the Minister after consultation with such organisation or organisations representative of agricultural employers as the Minister thinks fit and with the consent of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.

Here again you have the screening. As time goes on the Minister is getting tremendous power.

The Chair deprecates——

There is something obnoxious in all this, the Minister taking a lot of power on himself. There is the setting up of the board, and discussion is very limited in it, but the Minister says the Bill represents a fair measure to be introduced by the Government. The Minister has stated that it is going to improve the general condition of farm workers. They will have access to the Labour Court, to other things. Is that going to improve their lot?

Will the Minister tell us how the agricultural sector have qualified for the premium? The Minister should broaden the scope of that and include farm labourers to encourage farmers to employ more on the land. There is a certain category of farmer who wants financial assistance to enable him to pay a proper wage to a farm worker. There are others who, because of their large holdings and the way they are running them, are able to pay employees. But it is the man in between who really wants a little help. Help in that direction would be well directed. In agriculture fewer and fewer people are being employed each year. The future for this year is very bad indeed, and this Bill as it stands is not going to bring people back into agriculture. A person needs money in order to be able to pay out, and the Minister will have to give a little help.

Section 1 of the Bill states:

"agricultural employer" means a person who carries on the trade or business of agriculture and who employs other persons as agricultural workers for the purposes of that trade or business;

Since that came in agriculture and the approach to it have changed in many ways. When the Minister comes to this part of the Bill will he be able to say that the agricultural employer is employing in a particular unit or will he be able to say that they are still agricultural employees? He could also say they are employed in a business, but I would like him to define what heading these people come under. When the Agricultural Wages Board was set up that was the situation. If the Bill goes through, many things will be considered while the Government will be trying to make a lot of play out of this. They are talking about 1981 and 1982, but unless the Minister takes other steps in 1976 he is not going to better the lot of the agricultural worker. I would prefer that he would say he is going to pay the employment premium to a certain category of farmers.

There was no mention in the Bill of farmers' sons at home on the land. There are farmers who would love to keep their sons and daughters on the land but who have not enough to give them an adequate sum at the end of each week.

The farmer and his wife are milking say, 20 or 25 cows. That is not a great number of cattle, and some farmers have only 15 or 16 cows. They would like their son to succeed them. I would like to see continuity of ownership of the land from father to son. On a middle sized farm as we know it today, if a son leaves home and goes to work in a factory he will not come back to the land. If we could help him under this Bill and try to define some aid for the farmer which the farmer would pay direct to the son on the farm, the medium sized or small farm, I see nothing wrong in that. The son could be classed as an agricultural worker under many headings.

We had a lot of talk on all sides of the House as to what is the best course in this Bill to improve the lot of agricultural workers in 1976. I am sorry that the Minister has taken so much power to himself as regards employment of personnel on the new board. I think that is going to react, and in time it will have very bad effect. If you had a Coalition Government one year, Fianna Fáil another year, Fine Gael another year, the Minister of the day would be able to change it. These things are bad for Irish politics. When the board meets the members should be able to appoint their own chairman and go about doing their own business without the interference from the Minister of the day.

When the Minister has the monopoly on any board, people question it. They will say to themselves. "We got nothing from that board. We had a different political colour". They will say that no matter who is in power. I understood that there was an end to that, but I see that it is to be continued. That is one section I would like to see changed by the Minister. I am not going to say I am satisfied until I see the lot of the person it affects improved. There is no sign in this Bill that the lot of the agricultural worker is going to be improved one way or the other. I would ask the Minister to think deeply about the type of farmer—and there are thousands of them in Ireland— who would employ somebody if he got help from the State. These farmers would love to keep their own son or daughter at home on the land to make sure there was succession to the family farm, and is that not what we really want? It is very sad to see the old couple at home with the door shut and the son and daughter employed in industry. Let us help those people. Even if money has to be raised from central funds, I have no doubt that the Minister will get the consent of the House to do that.

I first want to thank those Deputies who have spoken in support of this Bill, its task being one of bringing about arrangements whereby agricultural workers and their conditions can relate more closely than heretofore with those of the rates and conditions of work of industrial workers generally. That is the sole intent of this Bill, and I thank those Deputies who support that intent. I especially thank the members of my own Party, the Labour Party. As Deputy Eileen Desmond, Deputy Séamus Pattison, Deputy Barry Desmond and Deputy Joe Bermingham said, it has been a long-term objective of our Party when in opposition to establish a joint labour committee for agricultural workers in place of the old Agricultural Wages Board. We had not succeeded in the past when in opposition in getting that done, and I am glad I have had the opportunity of meeting that Labour Party objective when in Government.

During this debate, Deputies on all sides have spoken of the skilled nature of the work of agricultural employees. Its skilled status has not been acknowledged sufficiently in the past and is not acknowledged at present. Deputy Bermingham made the point that when you consider the cost of the machinery the agricultural worker deals with in the course of his job you begin to see the kind of responsibility he discharges. If you look at the cost of the machinery he is supposed to both understand and to work with—to some extent he is even expected to deal with routine breakdowns in such expensive machinery—you will appreciate that these are the tools of his job in an increasingly mechanised agricultural system and begin to get a truer appreciation of the skilled nature of his calling at present, and would hopefully come to the conclusion that there is no longer any good reason why, in 1976, there should be this separation in the kind of framework under which he operates and that under which industrial workers operate in the State.

Various queries were raised during the discussion, some relating to the Bill, others not having a direct bearing on it. Understandably, Deputies used the opportunity to talk about more general topics, such as the state of agriculture and the state of industry generally—an interesting topic but not quite on the terms of the measure before us. There was reference to the subsidy of £17 for farmers who employ agricultural workers. That does not relate directly to this discussion, but that reduction, of course, was abolished in the budget. It was described as a saving at that time and, I think, a worthwhile saving, but that topic does not relate to the Bill we have under discussion. It could be said in general that, whilst agriculture is undergoing, like other sectors of our industry, certain difficulties, the future is bright for agriculture and that our marketing position within Europe gives ground for optimism in the future.

Certainly the state of agriculture now could not be compared with what obtained in that industry years ago. It is a different situation entirely. Whatever difficulties are faced this year or next year, there is no one who would deny that the future for our agriculture within the European Community, commanding better prices and a more secure future, is totally different than what it was traditionally in this country.

Deputy Meaney complained about the method of appointment of the chairman and independent members. That of course is a continuation of the procedures already laid down under the 1946 Act for the appointment of such people to joint labour committees. The chairman and the two independent members have always been appointed under that legislation by the respective Ministers. As I explained, the only change in this measure is that there is consultation with the Minister for Agriculture before any such appointments are made. A little reflection will show why this is necessary in the formation of this joint labour committee.

Explain why there is no departure from the 1946 Act.

I will explain all the legitimate queries that are put. The reason why we departed from the normal procedure——

The Minister admits there is a departure.

If the Deputy had read my opening speech he would have seen that that point is clarified in it. The departure in the formation of this joint committee is that the appointment of the chairman and the two independent members is made in this instance after consultation with the Minister for Agriculture. I think most Deputies will agree that this was necessary when you consider that it deals mainly with employees in the agricultural industry, that agricultural organisations had some reservations about the wisdom of establishing a joint labour committee. There was a good deal of opinion in the industry which was more or less satisfied with the old agricultural board that we knew, which is now to be abolished in this piece of legislation. In the best interests of the industry and in the best interests of progress under the new arrangement, and to allay any fears there might be that the good of the industry was not our concern, because it has been our concern, I thought that such appointments should be made only after consultation with the Minister for Agriculture. That is the departure which I pointed out this morning.

Now the other points relating to the two sides of the industry, the employers' side and the workers' side. The nominees coming from both sides who would sit on the joint labour committee will be formally appointed by the Labour Court. It is clear in the 1946 legislation that it is the court that will make such nominations.

There is a departure there. They can be selected by you. That is the difference.

No. The formal appointments are made by the court.

But they will be only your friends.

The Minister must be allowed to make his statement.

The formal appointments are made by the court. That is the point I am making to the Deputy. I would counsel the Deputy that quoting the procedures of his party when in power has no relevance or bearing on the manner in which this Government carry out the duty of appointing persons to boards. The Deputy may rest assured that the same concern as we displayed in setting up a joint labour committee for the agricultural industry, which most people will agree is in the interests of the industry and its employees, will be carried through in ensuring that when we receive the panels after consultation with both farmers' and workers' organisations, the people from them will be formally appointed by the court and we will ensure that only persons of repute and interest in this area will find themselves on both sides of this joint labour committee. The Deputy need not worry about our sense of integrity in that matter.

This is an area of worry.

The Deputy may ask a question when the Minister has concluded.

I want to ask questions because the Minister interrupted me when I was speaking on that very point.

The Deputy must wait until the Minister has finished.

I have clarified how the court, in fact, makes the formal appointment. That is the position as laid down in the 1946 Act.

May I ask the Minister to explain how he had stated to me that there was no departure from the 1946 Act? There is a major departure.

The Deputy must wait until the Minister has finished.

Deputy Fitzgerald asked why people employed by the State and engaged on agricultural work are excluded. They are excluded because their wages and conditions are negotiated by their own joint industrial council and they have in fact benefited practically to the same extent as industrial workers.

Deputy Fitzgerald made the point that we should encourage more employment in agriculture. There has been a very serious exodus from work on the land in our economy. One manner in which this exodus can be stemmed is by ensuring that the remuneration of skilled manpower in that industry is brought into close relationship as soon as possible with that obtaining in industry. I would hope that this Bill, when both sides get to work it, will help in arresting that decline of skilled manpower in the industry. If the industry does not retain such manpower its future prosperity will be seriously endangered. Agricultural workers have, of course, been brought in under the premium employment programme. There was a question asked about that.

Deputy Bermingham raised the very important point about the working hours under the wages board. He asked whether we should make arrangements whereby the joint labour committee will take over the powers of the board as soon as possible and ensure more tolerable working conditions are provided as soon as possible. I have already explained that we have overleaped the usual time procedure that goes into the making of a joint labour committee. We departed from the usual manner of establishing a joint labour committee in that we have cut down the time usually consumed in its establishment and set the committee up right away.

There is this problem that I am aware of and that Deputy Bermingham is aware of. I certainly will look at the question, and I have looked at the question, he raised in company with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, that is, the question of hours and so on that have been drawn up by the board which is still in being until this Bill is passed by the Oireachtas. I would hope that when the Bill is passed and comes into operation and the joint labour committee sits down to discuss conditions, major anomalies in conditions between agricultural workers and industrial workers can be cleared up as speedily as possible. It is in the interest of the industry itself that this should be done as much as it is in the interest of the individuals concerned.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 4th March, 1976.