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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 Jun 1978

Vol. 307 No. 9

Private Members' Business . - Industrial Relations (National Pay Agreement) Bill, 1978: Second Stage .

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

The Bill proposes to enable the Joint Labour Committee for Agricultural Workers, which was established under the Industrial Relations Act, 1976, together with other Joint Labour Committees to submit proposals to the Labour Court for the purposes of enabling the Labour Court to implement national pay agreements in an expeditious manner. The Bill, if enacted, would have the effect of suspending subsection (3) of section 42 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1946 while a national agreement is in operation.

According to the operation of national agreements since 1970, the date on which the 1978 national agreement would apply to agricultural workers, forestry workers, drainage workers and county council workers generally, is 1 March 1978. The Joint Labour Committee for Agricultural Workers is prohibited by the 1946 Act from submitting a proposal to the Labour Court to apply the floor increase of £3.50 until the end of July next. Employers and workers in agriculture must be given at least three weeks in which to make representations without making any provision for the time required to organise statutory meetings. It follows that the earliest date on which the £3.50 could be applied to agricultural workers would be very late September or early October. If the proposal is referred back to the joint labour committee by the court, arising from representations received by the court, further delays could occur and the 2nd phase would almost be due to be paid before the 1st phase would be implemented.

It has been the object of recent national agreements to close the time gap between the early and late starters. National agreements have tended to bring forward the late starters with a view to harmonising the operative date for the various grades of workers under the national agreements. Unfortunately, there is a restrictive rule in subsection (3) of section 42 in the Industrial Relations Act, 1946 which prevents the joint labour committee from making proposals to vary an Employment Regulation Order until the order has been made for at least six months. Related to conditions in agriculture, this rule prevents the joint labour committee, and the Labour Court, from implementing the agreement on the due date, and it contravenes the operative dates in the agreement.

The Joint Labour Committee for Agricultural Workers have, since their establishment, made considerable progress towards the implementation of national agreements not only in relation to pay but also in regard to hours of work and conditions of employment. However, the restrictive six months rule renders it very difficult to frame an appropriate Employment Regulation Order so that it applies in a sensible way in agricultural conditions. If the existing rule is not suspended the joint labour committee, at their next meeting, would have to agree to a package of proposals effecting the 1st and 2nd phases of the 1978 agreement together with proposals for a further reduction in hours of work to take effect early in 1979, otherwise the six month's rule would inhibit the committee from making an amending order on hours of work later this year. Agricultural employers are conservative by nature and while their representatives are now dealing with pay and conditions of employment in a much more realistic manner than formerly, nevertheless, the fact that the rules require them to agree to a massive package at one meeting makes orderly progress impossible. Common sense suggests that the inflexible six months' rule should be suspended where it inhibits the operation of national agreements.

National agreements provide not only for the payment of certain minimum weekly pay increases but also for changes in conditions of employment and hours of work, and for the implementation of the pay adjustments on the dates on which they become due. The existing Employment Regulation Order which was proposed towards the end of last year gives late effect to the basic pay adjustments of the 1977 agreement but does not give effect to the proper operative date. The next Employment Regulation Order will not give full effect to the 1978 agreement either because of the delay in implementation and the position in relation to operative dates can worsen unless a flexible procedure is authorised by the Oireachtas.

The anomaly which the Bill proposes to remove was identified when the Bill for the 1976 Act was in passage through the Oireachtas. The Department of Labour were adamant that the new legislation would work smoothly. Unfortunately for agricultural workers, the administrative processes within the Department of Labour did not work smoothly or expeditiously when the Bill was enacted. There was so much unreasonable delay within the Department of Labour in transferring the functions of the Agricultural Wages Board to the joint labour committee that the new board were facilitated in the making of a wages order in late 1976 which was known to be illegal, in part, when it was made and laid before Dáil Éireann. But for the administrative delays within the Department of Labour it is reasonable to assume that the seven months delay in applying the £3.50 1st phase of the national agreement, 1978, could have been reduced to three months. The loss to agricultural workers under the 1978 agreement will be of the order of £108, at least, and there was an earlier loss of similar magnitude under the 1977 agreement.

It would be possible for the Joint Labour Committee for Agricultural Workers in early August to make a proposal to the Labour Court providing for the inclusion of the 1st and 2nd phases of clause 3 pay increases of the 1978 agreement in an Employment Regulation Order, but with effect from a date in late September or October, 1978. The passage of this Bill would enable the joint labour committee to make proposals immediately to give effect to the floor increase of £3.50, and this would substantially reduce the delay in implementing the national agreement. The Bill does not propose to impose any additional burden on employers than that for which provision is made in the national agreement.

Dáil Éireann is urged to give an unopposed Second Reading to this Bill so that it may be enacted with the least possible delay in order that agricultural workers may benefit from the national agreement at the earliest possible date. Workers who accept the provisions of the national agreement should not be deprived of its benefits merely because of an obsolete rule in an Act of Parliament which was enacted over 32 years ago.

: It is surprising that in June 1978 we should be debating in this House a Bill sponsored by Deputies opposite which aims to overcome, in relation to joint labour committees, a problem which first came to light in 1975. One is entitled to ask why this belated interest by the Opposition in the problems of workers covered by these committees, especially workers in agriculture? Taking the Bill at its face value, it appears to stem from a concern to remove an anomaly in the situation that would place workers at a disadvantage in benefiting from the provisions of the national pay agreements. However, anyone familiar with the facts will accept this view of the Bill as at present before us. This problem and other problems of the law relating to joint labour committees first surfaced in 1975. One has to ask why the Government of the day, and in particular the former Minister for Labour, did not translate their apparent concern into legislative action.

Section 42 (3) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1946, provides that joint labour committees cannot consider proposals for amending or revoking employment regulation orders until these orders have been in force for a period of at least six months. This clause, it is fair to say, did not give rise to any problems in the early national wage agreements in 1970 and 1972, which were the ones associated with the previous term of the Government, because in those agreements typically the interval between phased pay increases was at least six months and frequently as long as a year. It was not until the 1975 national pay agreement—which provided for increases in pay at three-monthly intervals—that the significant anomaly arose in fixing minimum wage rates by employment regulation orders.

It is surprising, then, that the former Government did not make any effort to deal with the problem when it did arise in 1975. They have now chosen to raise it three years later when they are no longer in Government. I remind the House that in 1974 a subcommittee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions prepared a report on minimum wages which recommended that a statutory national minimum wage should not be introduced and that a review of the joint labour committee machinery should be undertaken to ensure that committees were made more effective instruments for protecting the interest of low-paid and weakly organised sectors of the labour force.

On 11 March 1975 the former Minister for Labour stated in reply to a parliamentary question put down for answer by the late Deputy Noel Lemass, and I quote from the Official Report, volume 279, column 153:

"I would like to see a situation wherein agricultural workers would receive increases in wages in line with those of industrial workers...."

and he indicated that it should be possible to have a joint labour committee established for agricultural workers in the near future. In the Dáil a year later, on 26 May 1976, speaking on the Department of Labour Estimate the former Minister said, and I quote from the Official Report, Volume 291, column 170:

"I have previously indicated my intention to introduce further legislation to improve the overall climate of industrial relations....

I have given considerable attention to the problems of lower paid workers and I have, in consultation with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Labour Court, under consideration proposals for improving the existing legislation dealing with the statutory regulation of wages.... The legislation affecting these committees could I feel, in the light of experience gained since 1946, be improved upon so as to improve the efficiency of operation of existing committees and make it easier to establish new committees."

In the light of these statements it is surprising that we have to have a motion to introduce a Bill of this nature at this stage from the opposite side of the House. The records in the Department show that in 1975 a memorandum was submitted to the then Minister containing detailed proposals for the improvement of the operation of these joint labour committees. Included among them was a proposal recommending that the six months waiting period that must elapse before new proposals may be made by a joint labour committee should be abolished on the grounds that the existing committees created difficulties in relation to the implementation of the national wage agreements. That memorandum also contained a number of other proposals aimed at eliminating other delays associated with the operation of these committees. In the event the then Minister for Labour did not act on the proposals put to him; instead he promoted legislation which confined itself to the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee for Agricultural Workers and which avoided rectifying the apparent deficiencies of the joint labour committee system as a whole.

On 30 May of this year my colleague, the Minister for Labour, answered a parliamentary question put down by Deputy Tully proposing the suspension of section 42 (3) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1946. In the course of supplementary questions Deputy Tully agreed that the proper time to have introduced amending legislation was when his then colleague in office was steering the 1976 Industrial Relations Act through the House. However, after admitting this mistake, Deputy Tully went on to blame the officials of the Department of Labour for the omission. He said, and I quote from the Official Report, Volume 307, column 15:

"... the advice we got from the Department then was that this legislation was not necessary. We considered it to be necessary and we were proved right and therefore the recommendation of the Department was incorrect."

I want to set on record that in making that statement Deputy Tully was not reporting the facts as I have established them. As I have pointed out, the Department did advise the then Minister about the six months waiting period and its problems and did recommend its abolition. Therefore, if any criticism is to be made that criticism should not be directed at the Department or the officials but at Deputy Tully's colleague, the former Minister for Labour. It was his decision which determined the contents of the Industrial Relations Act, 1976 and perpetuated the anomaly which is the subject of this Bill before the House. Deputies opposite may very well say. "All right, given that that Act appeared to be necessary three years ago, it was not until——

: Is the Minister going on to the Bill?


: I can advance three reasons. We are happily moving into a situation where the anomaly created by long intervals between the making of orders will not be as acute because happily we have got away from periods of severe inflation when three-monthly pay rises are necessary. We are now back into a more stable climate in which we can have the first phase of the current agreement running for 12 months, to be followed by a second phase. The relevance of that is that, even without any amending legislation going through this House, it would be possible for the joint labour committee to take action, by making its next order sometime within the next two months, which would cover both phases of the 1978 National Wage Agreement so that there would be no time lag from here on in. Action of that nature by the committee would be just as quick and effective as any action which could follow from amending legislation here.

While I agree with Deputies opposite that there was an anomaly and that it was regrettable that workers, particularly low paid workers, should have had to wait fairly long periods before receiving increases which were awarded to workers in general, the effect of that anomaly is now diminishing. It could be eliminated in the future by the joint labour committee taking action when making its next order. There is nothing in the rules of the committee, as I understand it, to prevent them from deciding to agree to implement both phases of the national wage agreement in one employment regulation order. As the House knows, the Commission on Industrial Relations has been established by the Minister for Labour and is now working. He has asked that commission to furnish him with an interim report on the operation of the Labour Court and its various services. That report could relate to matters such as that which is the subject matter of this Bill. Indeed, we could draw their attention to it to ensure that they would take it into consideration. I share the feeling of the Minister for Labour that it would be appropriate, having established that commission, to allow it to review the entire workings of the Labour Court and its various services and to make comprehensive proposals for legislative amendments.

For those reasons we, on this side of the House, feel that there is no need to proceed with this Bill at this time and I suggest that we formally oppose it.

: In listening to the Minister's statement I was struck by the fact that he did not advance a single argument against the Bill. About two-thirds of the Minister's speech was devoted to a laborious attempt to make a rather minor and unnecessary political point to the disadvantage of the former Minister for Labour. This sort of thing adds nothing to Private Members' Time which is for the discussion of legislative proposals such as this. I am surprised at the Minister for wasting so much of the time of the House in this lengthy statement as to whether or not this should have been done in 1974, 1975 or 1978. The Minister said that this Bill was not as necessary now because increases in wages did not come as frequently now as they did heretofore. That is not an argument against the Bill because we are making statute laws not for the situation of the moment but so that they will be applicable in the years ahead. There is no reason to assume that the circumstances which arose in the past in relation to the frequency of wage increases will not recur. If this Bill is not on the Statute Book what the Minister admitted was an anomaly will become a problem again. Yet the Minister sees fit to oppose the Bill.

The Minister also said that the matter could be dealt with by the joint labour committee. It need not necessarily be dealt with by them. Action by a body outside the direct control of the House is no excuse for this House not enacting legislation properly. If the Minister admits that there is an anomaly in the legislation which we are responsible for the fact that it can be remedied by somebody else is not a valid argument against making the necessary amendment now. The Minister said that a committee on industrial relations has been set up but it seems that the likelihood of it reporting fairly quickly or of speedy action being taken as a result of its report is not so great as to make it a waste of time for the House to pass legislation such as this. It is not as if the report of the committee in question is likely to arrive on the Minister's table next week, so that the Minister would be in here with amending legislation to deal with this problem on foot of the report, and that if we were to pass this Bill today it would be superseded during its passage by legislation arising from the report of the committee on industrial relations, which is the only logical reason one can deduce in support of the Minister's argument. This is not a valid argument. It is the old excuse always used, that one never does anything about one problem because there are four or five other problems which can all be considered together. That sort of an approach does not solve anything. If the Minister admits that a problem exists he should take action to solve it. The argument that four or five other problems can be solved as well at a later date will not be appreciated or accepted. As the Minister has used that argument I am interested to know when he expects this committee to report. Does the Minister expect it to report this year, next year or the year after? It seems to be relevant in this debate and if it is, perhaps the Minister would give us this information.

: I thought I had made a point that since the joint labour committee can make the simple order implementing the terms of this year's agreement that provides a period up to the end of approximately 1979 during which there would be no continuing anomaly that therefore gives an adequate time period for this committee of inquiry to bring in their interim report.

: I have got the information I wanted in so far as this is information at all. I take it from that that the Minister is saying that this committee on industrial relations will have reported by the end of 1979 and that the legislation necessary to implement it will be on the Statute Book before the end of 1979. Unless that is the case the Minister's argument against this Bill does not hold at all because this Bill will be necessary after that date. If this argument about the committee on industrial relations is a valid one, presumably the substitute legislation arising from it will have to be in effect before the end of 1979.

I would be interested to know if the Minister for Economic Planning and Development consulted his colleague, the Minister for Labour—whom I presume is in closer contact with this committee, although one does not know nowadays which Minister is responsible for what—as to whether this committee will have reported and its findings be on the Statute Book before the end of 1979. Frankly, I doubt it. Indeed, I wonder if the Minister for Economic Planning and Development is all that sanguine about the matter either.

If I may sum up my attitude to this Bill, it is that Deputy J. Ryan presented a reasonable case with reasonable arguments in a non-partisan fashion. The Minister for Economic Planning and Development has presented no case in a partisan fashion. The House will and can have no doubt about which way it will make its decision when it comes to vote.

: When I saw the Minister for Economic Planning and Development coming into the House this evening on this Bill I could not understand why he should be here. Of course, any Minister can come in on any Bill but, since he has spoken, I have discovered the reason—probably he is one of the few Minister in the Cabinet who knows absolutely nothing about agriculture and he was the ideal person to put up a smokescreen and that is what he tried to do.

First of all, let me make something very clear. When the question I put down to the Minister for Labour was being debated in this House there was no intention on my part to cast any slur on officials of the Department of Labour. I have never done it and I do not propose to do it now. I would hate anybody to get the impression from the suggestions made by the Minister present that that was my intention. The details as given by him do not coincide with the facts. I hold the then Minister and the present Minister responsible for actions in their Department. I am aware that letters were sent to the Department from the trade union of which I had the honour to be general secretary for 30 years, who deal with agricultural workers, pointing out the necessity for this action. I am aware of the replies received to those letters from the Department, I am aware of what the Minister for Labour said was the advice he got. That is as far as I can go on that point. The Minister present is quite correct when he talks about recommendations to have this dealt with—"Proposals for Employer-Trade Union National Agreement, 1976"—which were defeated by a mere nine votes but which, if they had been agreed then, would have contained, and I quote paragraph 5 subparagraph (iv):

"The Employer-Labour Conference agrees to make immediate representations to the Minister for Labour on the prompt enactment of amending legislation to the Industrial Relations Act, 1946 which would give the Minister for Labour power to reduce or eliminate the six months limit referred to in Section 42 (3) of the Act for the period covered by National Agreements."

That was not done; the recommendation was not accepted and was not included in subsequent agreements. The result is that we now have this mess. It would be rather amusing were it not so tragic to hear the Minister ask why, if we did not think it important in 1975 do we want to do something about it now. The reason that we did not do anything about it in 1975 and 1976 was that we were assured then by the Minister—and Ministers usually take the advice of their officials—that this was not necessary. We know now that it is necessary. Therefore, two wrongs do not make a right. If the Minister was wrong then—and I am not prepared to agree that he knew he was wrong —there is absolutely no reason why the present Minister or Government should attempt to perpetuate that wrong and to say that because it was not done then it will not be done now.

We are great people in this country for talking about our wonderful agricultural industry. Since I came into this House in 1954 time and again I have heard people refer to agriculture, the primary industry, and how important it was. Yet in every type of legislation going through here—from legislation on wages, on conditions of employment, even on the Poisons Act, and on accidents, holidays, everything —there were two types of worker referred to, agricultural and others. The agricultural worker was always the second-class citizen. They were the people who did not get that to which other workers were entitled. Throughout the years the State did this. Long after the five-and-a-half day week was granted by law to everybody else, the agricultural worker had a six-day week. I had the honour, on the trade union front, to negotiate the first five-and-a-half day week for agricultural workers. We found that even then the State was not terribly anxious to fall into line. As a matter of fact, on State farms the six-day week was nearly made mandatory while the five-and-a-half day week was in operation on private farms outside.

Now we come to the question of the payment of agricultural workers. The Agricultural Wages Board, when first set up in 1936, served a useful purpose. They put a floor under agricultural workers' wages. The wages first were 24 shillings a week and then 36 shillings, which was considered to be a reasonable amount at the time and bore quite a decent relation to that being paid to industrial workers. Throughout the years something happened which should not have been allowed happen, that was, that the Agricultural Wages Board were set up in such a way that they dealt with wages and hours of working in a way in which no other wage fixing machinery of the State would be allowed operate. First of all, the chairman of the board constituted a quorum for any meeting. I was a member of one of the sub-boards for a while and on every occasion of which I am aware the chairman voted with the employers' representative, chairman after chairman. I wonder was that a coincidence. The mere fact that he was appointed by the Minister for Agriculture seemed to show that there was that bias against the workers.

Therefore, instead of it being four against four it was five against four. For perhaps 20 to 25 years I campaigned against the continuance of the Agricultural Wages Board as a means of fixing wages and hours of working. I am glad that I was a member of the Government which eventually abolished the Agricultural Wages Board and replaced them by other wage fixing machinery. The last thing the Agricultural Wages Board did before they went out was to take an action—which turned out to be illegal and had to be rectified at the first meeting of the new board, a dying kick—in regard to equal pay. The extraordinary thing is that not alone did they want to, and did, prevent agricultural workers from getting the benefit of the national wage agreement as long as they existed, but they also took the necessary action to try to prevent female agricultural workers from getting equal pay.

The new board were set up. I do not want anybody to get the impression that I am saying that they have not done good work. They had a slow start. Their first meeting did not take place for a very much longer space of time than should have elapsed. The reason for that was that the employers did not appoint a representative to the board. I would imagine that that was a deliberate ploy in an attempt to hold back agricultural workers' wages. Even yet—and the Minister had to admit it—they are low paid workers, at the very bottom of the scale. When the board met and the decision was taken we thought it was plain sailing. Then we found that because of this specific regulation which we suggest should be amended, that is, section 42 (3) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1946, we have the situation that agricultural workers who are due an increase of £3.50 per week with effect from 1 March cannot be paid that increase until late September at the very earliest and, with a bit of fiddling around by the employers, may not be paid until October next.

The Minister has said that it does not matter and will not happen again. He talked about setting up a committee in a couple of years' time which would eventually make a report on industrial relations and this would make matters all right. He talked about a 12-month agreement which would not arise until 1979. An old man whom I knew in the country used to say. "God help his foolish with" and this can be applied to the Minister. If the Minister thinks that we are now in a situation where we are guaranteed a wage agreement of 12 months' duration every year he had better go back and have a look at his Green Paper and at the price increases announced during the past few weeks and those that will be announced during the coming months and see whether the existing wage agreement can stand up to the strain which will be put upon it.

There is no point whatever in attempting to give the impression, as this Government have been doing, that workers' wages must be kept to the minimum if the country is to prosper. Because of the low wages being paid to many workers, particularly those in agriculture, we have a situation in which those people will not be prepared to carry on in their jobs unless something is done for them. We hear so much talk about whether or not agriculture is doing well. If you are not a farmer, you think that farmers have become millionaires since we joined the EEC. If you are a farmer, you feel that farmers are only now beginning to catch up. I am not farmer-bashing. I was reared in the country and I know that over the years farmers had a very tough time, particularly the smaller type. I know that in recent years they have done very well and it saddens me to think that they are not prepared to share their wealth with those who are creating that wealth for them. It is too bad when we find that people who are working very hard on the land are being asked to continue at these ridiculously low wage rates.

The Minister may have looked at his brief; possibly it was handed to him before he came in here. In case he has not had the opportunity to look at it, I would point out that the current employment regulation order was made on 23 January 1978 and published as Statutory Instrument 17 1978. This order provides for a minimum wage of £42.50 in zone "B" or £1 per hour. If the people who are entitled to an increase of £3.50 per week with effect from 1 March do not get that increase until next October, does the Minister consider that these people are likely to agree with him when he says that it is all right and will not happen again? This should not have happened and we are asking that this Bill be accepted by the Government and at least put on the record to show that they are not entirely anti-worker. Very many of their activities since they came into office would give the impression that they are very much anti-worker.

It is clear that the current wages order relates to the 1977 agreement. This is something which obviously has been completely missed by the Minister for Labour and the other Ministers. It follows that the 1977 agreement has not been implemented in full by the Joint Labour Committee for Agricultural Workers. It is quite clear that no provision was made in the current wages order or in the previous order to respect the operative date of the phases in national agreements. The 1978 agreement was due to apply to agricultural workers on 1 March 1978. This is also the date on which the agreement was applied to forestry workers, county council road workers, agricultural workers employed by the Department of Agriculture, drainage workers and so on. It is clear beyond all doubt that there are two factors which prevented agricultural workers from obtaining their pay adjustment with effect from the due date. These factors include, first, the six months limit which the Bill would abolish and, secondly, the fact that the employers' representatives on the Joint Labour Committee, who are also represented on the Employer-Labour Conference, must have adopted a policy of refusing to implement fully the agreement and must be using the six months statutory rule as an excuse, otherwise there would have been provision in the existing order and in the previous order for a monetary compensatory amount in favour of agricultural workers. No such amount can be identified in either order.

As far as I can find from the last meeting of this new body, there is no intention on the part of the employers' representatives on that body to make any effort to try and hurry up the making of an order which would prevent this from happening again. They seem to be perfectly satisfied to sit back and delay things in order to prevent agricultural workers from getting a miserly increase as a result of the last national wage agreement. If this is the object of the agricultural representatives, I feel that the agricultural workers will have no option but to tell the agricultural employers through their trade union that they are no longer interested and are simply not accepting the terms. If the agricultural employers refuse to accept the terms of the national wage agreement and implement them, the workers will have no option but to do the same. There cannot be one law for one and another law for the other.

I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the EEC regulations. They issue enough of them on various matters. In Supplement 2/75. Stocktaking of the Common Agricultural Policy, they refer to the incomes of people in agriculture and to the provision of a fair standard of living. Paragraph 41 states:

"Article 39 (1) (b) of the EEC Treaty is worded as follows: `thus (i.e. by increasing agricultural productivity) to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, in particular by increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture'.

The Treaty does not define `a fair standard of living' but in Article 4 of Directive 72/159/EEC on modernising farms the Council has defined a comparable income in agriculture as `the average gross wage for a non-agricultural workers' in the region in question."

If the EEC are interested in ensuring that farmers are paid at least the rate comparable to that being paid to industrial workers, can the Minister give any good reason why the other group engaged in agricultural production, the farm workers, should not be entitled to the same amount?

The farmer has his farm and even though over the years he did not get a very good living he always has the farm to fall back on and to pass on to his family when he is leaving this world. What has the farm worker to pass on? He has the blisters on his hands for his work down through the years and whatever few shillings his wife may have been able to save as a result of trying to housekeep on an inadequate income. Very often there is barely enough to pay funeral expenses. Yet we find a group of clever people attempting to prevent those workers from getting a fair share of a booming industry. If the farmers representatives do not want to pay the increase, and do not want the workers to get the increase which is due to them, it follows that there is no option open to the workers but to say that the agreement has been broken and to take whatever action is necessary through the trade union movement to try to recover it. If that means going back to the EEC and telling them that the farmers who have been getting the increases and who are employing workers are not prepared to give those workers the share which is their just right, there is no option but to say that and ask the EEC to ensure that they will not be as flaithiúlach about fixing prices in the future.

The irony of the thing is that, while the agricultural worker has to pay the increase in the cost of food which has resulted from the increases given to the agricultural community, he cannot get the compensation normally sought and secured by other types of workers. So, we are quite serious about this Bill. It should have been accepted, even though the Minister for Labour told me a week or so ago that he was thinking of other amendments —he did not think of the commission which the Minister present has mentioned—which he would find it necessary to put into this Industrial Relations Act and that the whole lot would be put in together. That is all right for a Minister or a Deputy or anybody not engaged in agriculture depending on a week's wages, but it is not all right for the farm worker who has only what he gets at the end of the week.

I was born and reared in the country. I negotiated with farmers for many years. The one reason why the Agricultural Wages Board did not effect very much was because many farmers did not and still do not pay reasonable wages and take no account of what the wage is set at. But there are thousands of workers employed in agriculture who are paid what the farmer likes to call the standard wage. He does not refer to it as a minimum wage, but as the standard wage, that being the lowest amount which the law will allow him to pay the worst worker he employs. He expects the worker to be happy with that. Perhaps I am wrong and misrepresenting the employing farmers. Perhaps they will be anxious to have the necessary arrangements made to give the increase. If so, they should bring the matter to the notice of their representatives on this board, because as it stands at present their representatives are speaking with two tongues: while on the Employer-Labour Conference they make one case and they make an entirely different case before the joint labour committee which fixes agricultural workers wages.

It is quite evident that this increase must be granted and that can only be done by having this Bill become law. The farmers are guaranteed prices under the price fixing procedure of the common agricultural policy of the EEC under Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome. This is a mandatory transfer of income to farmers from other sections of the Community. This massive transfer of income was of the order of 48 per cent in 1975; 13 per cent in 1976 and 39 per cent in 1977, according to information furnished to the House by the Taoiseach on 31 May 1978 as reported in the Official Report at column 241. If the farmers were unable to pay the increase there might be some argument in favour of the Government refusing to accept the Bill but under no circumstances can farmers now say that they are unable to pay the increases which are the floor increases I mentioned. In fact, farm prices are fixed under the common agricultural policy at a level which would enable persons employed in agriculture to receive the industrial wage in the area concerned. Therefore, a function of the Agricultural Joint Labour Committee would be to fix wages at a level which would have the the effect of transferring to agricultural workers from farmers' incomes a sum of money equivalent to the yearly, weekly, or hourly industrial wage. The farmers are in no position to refuse to pay it while their prices are fixed so that an efficient farmer is deemed to be given an income through prices sufficient to enable his income to be of the same order as industrial wages after payment of expenses.

If farmers' representatives refuse to transfer to agricultural workers the money that has been awarded to them in the price fixing structure so that they could afford the industrial level of wages to employees, some other action will have to be taken. I should hate to see that happen, but the situation is very serious. It may not be known but there has been a sharp decline in the number of paid agricultural workers in recent years. Machinery is replacing men and women. When I hear people talk of full employment I wonder if they do not have their tongues in their cheeks because the more modern machinery is introduced the more people are left on the labour exchange. This is as true of agriculture as of anything else. In 1975 there were 21,100 permanent agricultural workers in the country; in 1976 the figure was 17,400. This information was furnished to the House by the Taoiseach on 13 June 1978.

In proposing this Bill we are not farmer-bashing. The object of the common agricultural policy is to enable persons engaged in agriculture to obtain an income comparable to the local industrial wage. In sponsoring this Bill we do not object to a farmer who works an efficient holding for 280 days or 2,380 hours in a year from receiving the industrial wage after payment of expenses. But an agricultural worker should also be paid the average industrial wage, and, if farmers through their representative organisations decide to confiscate the employee's share of the transferred farm income, steps will have to be taken to question the level of farm prices fixed for our farmers under the common agricultural policy. Agricultural employers must realise that they cannot be allowed to confiscate their employees' share of the massive increases in income transferred to agriculture under the mandatory price-fixing system. Incidentally, the word "farmer" does not appear in Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome.

The facts are as stated. A mistake was made when the Bill was going through the House. There is a difference of opinion as to whether the mistake was the responsibility of the people then in office or of the advice they got. That is a matter for which the Minister must take responsibility and I am sure he is prepared to do that. No matter who was at fault, whether a miscalculation occurred and people thought that certain things which did occur could not occur, I do not know; but the situation now is that, unless this Bill is passed, the second increase of the national wage agreement will be almost due and may in fact be due before the first increase is paid. That is a ridiculous situation. It would be terribly unfair if we allowed such a situation to continue.

Because of my long time in this House I know that Government dislike having to introduce short amendments to Acts that have been passed as recently as a few years back. In spite of that, this is a very important matter and therefore, to be fair to the agricultural workers, we should now agree to accept this Bill. But if the Minister is prepared to agree that a similar Bill will be introduced by the Government—I do not care who introduces it—I am prepared to accept that. You cannot get arrears of wages over a period; you cannot make an order fixing wages back six months for farm workers. It is not possible to operate in that way and because of that I ask that something be done now. If something concrete is offered by tomorrow evening, we on this side of the House would be perfectly satisfied to accept that. If that is not being done we shall insist that the Bill be put to a vote.

: I would like to lend my voice to asking the Government and the Minister to ensure that the lowest paid workers in our society get their just rights. I am very interested in this Labour Party Bill because I come from an area where there are many very large farmers and where agricultural workers have been working for these large farmers down through the years. Indeed, I myself worked as an agricultural worker and so I am very familiar with the problems of these workers. They have always been discriminated against. They have always been the lowest paid workers in our society.

A few years ago when the local authority implemented the Health Act the county manager told me he always picked the agricultural wage as the base for the issue of medical cards. Now I agree legislation has made some improvement in the lot of the agricultural worker; but, when anyone raises the question of the lot of the agricultural worker, the Minister asks: what should have been done? When the Minister was setting up the Joint Labour Committee for Agricultural Workers he spent all the time asking what should have been done. What is important now is what the Minister and his Government are going to do. Asking what would someone else do is no solution to the problem.

Most agricultural workers have large families and £40 a week is no just wage for a man with a large family. The previous Act was passed 32 years ago. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that the two orders can be made next September and the worker will get the benefit of both of them in October. To my way of thinking these men were due this increase in March last. They are literally working on starvation wages. How would Members feel if they were asked to work for £40 a week or wait until next October for an increase?

In the general election the Minister's party campaigned specifically on the ground that they were going to look after the lowest paid workers. Here is an opportunity now for the Minister and his Government to implement that promise by giving these workers an immediate increase to enable them to maintain their wives and families. It is argued that the wage is a minimum one and no farmer is paying it now. That may be so in some areas. In my area there is a fairly substantial employment of agricultural workers and they are all paid the standard wage. They get overtime in dairying. Industrial and other workers also get overtime. The Minister agrees agricultural workers are the lowest paid workers. He also agrees there is something wrong. What the last Minister did or did not do is not important. What is important is what the present Minister will do. Will he give the agricultural worker the increase to which he is entitled immediately? Next October will not do. The waiting time can be prolonged. Time has to be allowed for objections and variations. Arguments arise about different categories of workers. Officials in the Department of Labour and the Joint Labour Committee are well aware how long the process can be.

I am disappointed that the Minister cannot see his way to accept this Bill designed to remove an anomaly that persists. There is every ground for swift action. If he would prefer to introduce his own Bill, well and good, provided it achieves what we want it to achieve.

Agricultural workers are dedicated men. They are skilled workers. They operate very intricate machinery. They are worth a great deal more than they receive. It is said they have perquisites. I doubt if that is the case. I know in my area I see these workers buying bottled milk. I do not believe they have perquisities. I am not out to attack farmers or anybody else. I want to repeat what Deputy Tully said about the enormous increases we hear in regard to the green £ and so on. The effect of the green £on the agricultural worker is that he has to pay an extra 6½p on a pound of butter and an increase in the price of milk. That is the only benefit I see to farm workers from the EEC. It is about time we as a Legislature had a look at this.

I have always advocated a fair distribution among the agricultural community. I believe the farm worker is as necessary to agricultural structure as the farmer. He is doing a very good job but is precluded from any of the benefits which accrue to the farming community. The Minister may justify his case by saying this person did not do this or that, but that is not important. What is important to these people is what the Minister and the Government are prepared to do now. If they are not prepared to accept this Bill they should substitute one for it. I assume that this House will soon adjourn for the summer recess. If the Government do not accept this Bill a grave social injustice will be done to a minority, depressed section—the lowest paid workers in our community. That is something we should not be proud of. There are only a few days left to pass this Bill.

The Minister has admitted that this anomaly exists and that it can be got over by legislation. He mentioned a commission. Many years ago I heard of a British Prime Minister who, when he wanted to get a thing out of the way indefinitely, said he would set up a commission. That was the surest way of doing nothing for a number of years. I am more afraid of a commission —the word the Minister used—than a committee. This commission will investigate and try to bring together all the legislation in the Department of Labour. In my view that commission is the Minister's way of putting away a distasteful article, that is a way of saying something is being done when nothing is being done.

This case is urgent. If we do not do something we will be condemning the lowest paid workers in our society to wait until October, November or possibly December to get what they were due last March. If we do not pass this legislation we should let these workers know that we in this House have no interest in their welfare.

This is not a very big political issue. The number of farm workers is diminishing. We hear a lot about progress in agriculture. We talk about land structures and the many millions that have been spent over the years improving land. The small farmers, for whom I have great sympathy, do not employ labourers. The people who employ agricultural workers are substantial farmers who are making a good living and who are well off. I live in a grain growing area and that is my experience because the farmers there are fairly big. We have small farmers too but they do not employ labourers. They work the farms themselves with their families. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the people who employ agricultural workers are considered substantial earners and providers of capital. They can go to the bank managers to get plenty of money to buy more land. Some of these people pay their tax under a notional system but there is no notional system for the unfortunate low paid worker. He pays on the nail through PAYE.

If the Government do not accept this Bill we will be depriving these workers of the balance due since 1 March. I would have no more to say about this Bill if the Minister accepted it or if he agreed to introduce and pass all Stages of a similar Bill before the summer recess. That Bill would resolve all the problems that exist in this area. As I said, to stand here talking about an injustice to a small section of the community is not a political ploy. The Minister admitted that there are low paid workers and that there is an anomaly. I say to him, in the name of God put that right. Either accept this Bill or introduce a similar one.

: I am not satisfied with the reply given by the Minister in response to my opening remarks. He has not put forward any hope of this problem being resolved although he admits that there is a problem. I am not trying to lay the blame for the situation on any administration. It is poor consolation to the workers concerned to be told merely that this legislation has been in existence for the past 33 years. Deputy Tully spoke for all of us on this side when he said that the question of who would introduce the Bill to eradicate this anomaly was a matter of indifference, that all that mattered was that the situation should be put right. There is not a big job involved for the Minister in solving the problem. It is merely a matter of repealing a subsection of the Act concerned.

Deputy Tully referred to a recommendation from the EEC to the effect that in view of the changing circumstances in the agricultural industry, the role of the agricultural worker should be updated and given proper recognition. Agriculture is our prime industry. We accept fully the tremendous effect that membership of the EEC has had on our economy vis-á-vis that industry. We are very pleased that this has happened. In my constituency there are many small farmers who for years struggled to make a living and who at last are now enjoying the fruits of their work. It is accepted by the farming organisations that the agricultural worker has contributed in no small way to today's viable agricultural industry. But the day has gone when the farm worker had to milk large numbers of cows by hand and fodder cattle in the fields, working very long hours in the process. Today's farm worker is expected to know a fair deal about such items as the different types of fertiliser and so on. He must have some knowledge, too, of machinery. It is our duty as legislators to take every step possible to ensure that he is appreciated and that his worth is acknowledged.

Since the Minister admits that there exists the anomaly we are seeking to have removed. I cannot see any problem in his accepting the Bill or, alternatively, of bringing in a Bill himself to deal with the situation. He has not given a reason for not accepting the Bill. However, should he decide to bring in an appropriate Bill tomorrow evening we would welcome it.

The Minister referred to the question of a commission sitting on industrial relations. In this context "sitting" is the operative word. In my many years in public life, whether at local authority level or otherwise I have known how long such commissions can take to report. We are not doing justice to the farm worker by suggesting that the anomaly we are talking of should be a matter for referral to a commission, a commission which the Minister said might not report until 1979. I admire him for his honesty but early 1981 might be nearer the mark. Perhaps it could even be a subject for the Minister's next manifesto. We would hope not but it is adding insult to injury to suggest that this matter which should be dealt with without delay be referred to a commission.

Early this year the Government told us consistently of the need for a national pay agreement. At that time the Minister for Economic Planning and Development was given a good deal of time on television and in the press to advocate the need for such an agreement which, he told us, would be for the benefit of our economy and of our people as a whole.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 June 1978.