There can be little doubt that some action was needed in regard to night work in bakeries. First of all, we should consider the genesis of the existing Act. Back in the 1920s or 1930s there was an international labour convention in regard to this matter and the Irish delegation had a large influence in regard to it. The convention was ultimately approved by the International Labour Organisation and it was signed by us in the 1930s. I am surprised the Minister did not refer to the history of legislation in this area, or that he did not refer to the perceived need for such legislation almost 50 years ago. There was and is a need for it. To that extent it is a matter of regret that this Bill backpedals on the provisions of the 1936 Act. Therefore I regret that this Bill has had to be introduced. But the Minister has faced a very difficult situation. This Bill is ingenious. The Minister is to some extent side stepping or maybe he is waiting to cross bridges as they arise. Perhaps that is sensible.
Another area which was not referred to by the Minister, and ought to have been referred to, is the whole area of health and safety. It is a well-established and accepted fact that night work is anti-social and injurious to health. We had a long debate on this subject when discussing the Safety in Industry Bill. It is therefore a matter of great sadness to me that we have to bring in a Bill — and I accept the Minister has to bring it in — which leaves the option open to facilitate night work. Why is the Minister doing this? He is doing it because the 1936 Act is breached as much as it is observed. I have discussed this question with many people. Would it not be better to enforce the 1936 Act, to go after those bakers who are breaking the existing law by working at night? I have to admit that after long discussion I have come to the same conclusion as the Minister obviously has, that the enforcement of present legislation is difficult if not impossible. It is the realisation of that fact that prompts the bringing of this Bill before the House.
If I had the choice I would retain the present Bill and enforce it, because it is a pity to take a step backwards in this area of night work where it could be avoided. But I have to accept that it is unavoidable. Having said that, I feel that we should not let this Bill pass without being severely critical of those bakers who have flouted the law by baking at night. They are breaking the law and getting away with it. Because of this they are able to deliver, as they say in one of their slogans, today's bread today. That, of course, constitutes unfair competition with the established and unionised bakers who meet all their commitments under social and employment legislation. The result of this breach of the law is to endanger the needs and the livelihood of other people engaged in the baking industry Indeed, there is a very serious threat of a closure in Kilcock, County Kildare, with the loss of 190 jobs. If this happens Kilcock will be a ghost town. This breaking of the law has already forced and now, with the enactment of this Bill, will force many bakers to work at night, upsetting a well-established pattern without regard to the effect it will have on their health, on their own attitudes and on their family life. If I were a baker threatened with this I would be very worried and very angry indeed, and I know many are. We have to be severely critical of those bakers who have broken the law and forced the Minister to bring in this legislation.
I have to say the Minister has done a good job in a very difficult situation. This problem has arisen since 1965 when the bakers' union agreed to a five day week and, for the first time, the established bakers decided not to deliver bread on Mondays but would deliver it on five days, Tuesday to Saturday inclusive. That was the opening for the fly-by-night or, as somebody said, the bake-by-night bakers. They decided that they would deliver bread on Monday and that gave them an opening into the market which has developed ever since. I do not blame anybody taking advantage of the market situation, but I do blame them for doing it in an illegal way and I blame them for forcing upon many hundreds of bakers the threat of night work which should be avoided if possible. There is also a grave suspicion in some cases that many bakeries — of course not all bakeries should be tainted — acting illegally have been able to increase their market share by what is called discounts to the retailer. Very often they are able to give to the retailers a discount three times greater than that given by established bakers. Many of these bakers give a 33 per cent discount to retailers. The established bakers can only given an 11 per cent discount. Shopkeepers will, naturally, take supplies from the baker who offers the most profit. When you add to that the possibility of somewhat fresher bread, it is certainly unfair competition.
How do these bake-by-night bakeries give massively bigger discounts? One would presume when they are baking at night that they have to pay shift and night premiums. If they were doing things properly, labour costs would be higher. I would like the Minister to instigate a new public inquiry — I would like him to comment on this in his reply — into the whole bakery industry. I understand the last inquiry was in 1972. The inquiry should establish if any or all of these bake-by-night bakeries, who have been acting illegally, are paying all the PRSI and PAYE they should be paying, if any of their employees are also drawing social benefits and if there are any other irregularities. It has been put to me — I do not know if it is true, but I have a suspicion that it is correct — that some of these bakeries are flouting more than the Night Work (Bakeries) Act, 1936. If that is so, it is very annoying to think that they are breaking many of the Acts dealing with taxation and social insurance also, together with the Night Work (Bakeries) Act, and that the effect of their breaches of the law is to have won through and forced an amendment. If this suspicion is correct — I emphasise it is only a suspicion — I want the Minister to set up a public inquiry into it. If it is true that bigger discount has been made possible by breaches of the law, is it also true that these same bakeries have been getting the same subsidy from the Government which the established bakers have been getting?
It is an outrageously sad situation if firms breaking the law dealing with conditions of employment, tax and social welfare are also receiving subsidies from the State. Why do they need subsidies if they are able to give the retailers three times the discount that other bakeries give? These are matters which are properly the subject of an inquiry, and the introduction of this Bill by the Minister is a suitable occasion to raise this matter. It is very important because, as the Minister rightly said, it has threatened hundreds of established jobs by good employers. It looks as if it constitutes severely unfair competition.
The Minister is proposing to take to himself powers to issue regulations in individual cases from time to time and also power to revoke those regulations should the need arise. He proposes to do that after consultation with employers and trade unions concerned, which is all very correct. I would ask the Minister to go a little bit further and extend the right of objection to the public before such licences are granted under the regulations. It should be advertised in the papers and the public should be asked to comment and given the right to object.
It is important also that the issuing of licences under these regulations should be as confined as possible. There is a body of opinion which says that licences should be granted only to those who are threatened by competitors outside the jurisdiction — in other words, bakeries in Northern Ireland. That was a serious factor also in creating illegal night work in the Republic, because the United Kingdom, unlike us, is not a signatory of the ILO Convention. Because of the EMS I understand the situation may now have changed dramatically in relation to the flow of bread across the Border, although I am not certain about that.
It is also important that the conditions of such regulations should not permit a situation where a licensee would gain an unfair advantage over competitors in the Republic who have not got such a licence. it is very important that the Minister should include, as conditions of any licence, provisions which do not put bakers who are not working at night at a disadvantage. It is important before any licence is issued that those applying for a licence should satisfy the Minister as to their suitability to carry on a business, to the likelihood of their observing legislation dealing with health and safety, conditions of employment and so on. They should be able to show that all their workers are registered for PRSI and PAYE.
It is also important that any licence issued under the regulations should cover the number of weeks in any one year that a worker can be required to work. I understand that in the UK there is a maximum of 26 weeks in the year. I advocate strongly to the Minister that a similar maximum number of years should be included in regulations made under this Bill.
That takes us to the area of penalties. The penalties provided for in the Bill are derisory. The Minister proposes a maximum penalty under section 2 (6) of £200. The section says:
(6) A person who fails to comply with the provisions of subsection (1) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.
Suppose he pays the £200 and continues to commit an offence under this Bill. In the first place £200 is not a deterrent to any baker of any size today, and there is also no provision for a recurring offence which I think is an omission from the Bill and I propose on Committee Stage to table amendments in that area. I hope the Minister will himself consider increasing the penalties and making provision for penalties for recurring offences. There are penalties already but they are of no use if legislation is not put into effect, and this Bill is before the House because the 1936 Act simply has not been effective.
I note in this Bill that the Minister is proposing to change responsibility for enforcement from the Garda Síochána to the industrial inspectorate. I am worried about that because the factory inspectorate are already grossly under-manned. Somebody calculated recently that with the current number of inspectors and the current number of places of employment the frequency of visits from the factory inspectorate to any one place of employment could not be more than two in a year. Clearly there is a major problem in the factory inspectorate — I presume that it is the factory inspectorate the Minister means when he talks about the industrial inspectorate. I have no faith that the factory inspectorate will have the manpower sufficient to enforce the provisions of this Bill, and it is vitally important if we are enacting legislation in this House that we enact legislation which will be enforced, otherwise we are bringing the law into disrepute. I will have something to say in that regard also on Committee Stage. I wonder if the Minister would consider appointing a special bakery inspector whose appointment would be the subject of discussion with the bakers' union in advance so as to ensure that a suitably qualified person is appointed. I ask the Minister to consider that.
To get back to breaches of the law that have forced this Bill upon the House, I want to quote from the Irish Independent of 17 March last in which there was a report of a case heard by the Employment Appeals Tribunal. The report says:
A young bakery worker, when 17 years old, worked sometimes at night for eight or nine hours before getting a 15-minute break it was alleged at an unfair dismissals hearing before an Employment Appeals Tribunal in Dublin yesterday.
At Christmas 1979 he was told he would have to work at weekends from 11 p.m. on Sunday to 7 a.m. on Monday, and from 12 midnight on Friday to 8 a.m. on Saturday.
I am leaving out the gentleman's name as required. He
told the Tribunal he did not want to do that, but agreed to do it for the Christmas period.
Later he was told he would have to do the late night work from then on. Only two "slicers" worked in this section at night, he said. One of the bakers would come down when he saw they were getting drowsy.
Later he was told he would have to work a 12-hour shift from 7 p.m. on Sunday to 7 a.m. on Monday and started doing that around June last year.
I think I have read enough of that report to highlight the outrageous breach of the law in that case, presuming the facts as stated were correct.