: During last night's discussion on this Bill the message came loud and clear from the Minister's reply to my opening statement that a lack of concern and a disinterest in the welfare of this section of the workers is displayed in the 1946 Act. The situation is very unsatisfactory. The Minister and the Government admit that there is an outdated anomaly in the Act debarring this type of worker from the benefits of the 1978 National Wage Agreement, but the Minister is not prepared to take immediate action to resolve the problem. Rather than do that he is putting the matter on the long finger by referring it to the commission he mentioned last night who, on his own admission, may report by late 1979. As I have said, when one hears of commissions one thinks in terms not of months but of years and late 1979 could mean late 1981. Despite the promises, this attitude shows very little interest in the plight of these workers, and it is admitted by all that very many of them are badly paid. There is an admission by the Minister of an anomaly which is depriving the worker of his rights under the national wage agreement. Therefore, one must ask whether there is some pressure on the Minister not to give these workers certain concessions which have been granted to workers in other sections of our industry who together, following the plea of the Minister for Economic Planning and Development, agreed on a national wage agreement over a 14-month period.
This amounts to discrimination against this body of workers and it reminds me of the Safety in Industry Bill, introduced some months ago by the Minister for Labour, which again ignored completely this section of workers and excluded them from its benefits. It was necessary therefore for me to submit approximately 65 amendments to this Bill to ensure that those workers are included in the safety precautions.
The onus is on the Government and the Minister concerned, not to resist this Bill, but to tackle the problem and either accept our Bill or produce a Bill themselves which will ensure that those workers are brought on a par with other workers in regard to the wage agreement. The Minister's attitude and concern are in keeping with the predictions in the recently published Green Paper in which the Government admitted that in the years ahead 4,000 people will leave agriculture and the land. We all want to keep people in rural Ireland, and one must accept that among that 4,000 people will be agricultural workers. The exodus has already commenced. In my own area because of the situation and the imbalance very many workers despite their contribution to agricultural industry, have left the land against their will. Any person who has started to earn his livelihood from agriculture wants to stay on the land. Due to economic circumstances these people have been forced to leave it and to go to industry in the towns. This is a tremendous loss to the farmers concerned who on many occasions find themselves in the position that they cannot get replacements for those workers. Thus the Green Paper's prediction is en route already.
If this Bill is voted on those who vote against it will be voting to deprive these workers of around £100 this year in their salaries. If the anomaly is not excluded from the Act, which is 32 years old and completely outdated regarding the needs of agricultural industry, the workers will be deprived of money due to them between now and October or later.
I appeal again to the Minister and the Government to reconsider this situation of a body of workers who down through the years have given great service to the country. If the Minister does not accept our Bill I ask him to introduce in the very near future some measure which will exclude this anomaly and encourage the farm worker to be proud of his work and to be accorded pay in line with that of workers in our industrial sector. The commission is not and cannot be the answer. It means that the Minister is saying, "Let us wait another ten years and then we will give the agricultural worker his due".
As I pointed out last night, we welcomed the benefits of our entry to the EEC. We welcomed the additional revenue to the country. We welcomed the improvements in farmers' incomes, but the man working on the land helping the farmer is entitled to some of the profits accruing from our entry. Unfortunately, at the moment many of them are benefiting only from the increased food prices. From reading to-day's paper one can appreciate their feelings at the discrimination implicit in this Act of 1946. A wage agreement was reached in March 1978 on the basis of the cost of living rising by a certain percentage. Surely if the cost of living is going to rise in the coming months these workers, their families and dependants are entitled to the same increase in wages to ensure that their living standards are not impaired.