PUBLIC BUSINESS. - RIGHTS OF AGRICULTURAL WORKERS—GENEVA CONFERENCE RECOMMENDATIONS.

I move the following motion—

That Seanad Eireann recommend the Executive Council to ratify in respect of Saorstát Eireann the Convention concerning "The Rights of Association and Combination of Agricultural Workers" and "Workmen's Compensation in Agriculture" adopted by the Labour Conference at Geneva on the 12th November, 1921, the terms of which are set out in the schedules hereto.

There is no need to go into detail on this matter. The Treaty of Versailles set up a Labour Organisation of the nations of the world for the purpose of regulating, as far as possible, the labour conditions in the various countries. Representatives of all these countries meet and consider certain aspects of questions dealing with industrial matters. When the Convention decides a question, it has to be referred back to the respective nations, who are part and parcel of the League of Nations for the purpose of confirming the decision arrived at. In this particular case, the decision deals with the rights of agricultural workers to association and combination, and it proposes that all such workers should have rights, same as they have already got in this country. It makes no material change here, because we have already got the conditions sought, in this country, but it is essential that we should ratify the findings of the Convention. The idea underlying the Labour Organisation attached to the League of Nations is to level up, as it were, the industrial conditions in countries that are not well organised. As a matter of fact, it will help the countries that are not well organised and in which something approaching humane conditions govern the employment of the workers. It will serve to lift up those countries where there has not been very much progress regarding factory legislation. As I have said, we have in this country the right of association for agricultural workers, but it is essential that we, as a self-governing State, represented in the League of Nations, should ratify on behalf of this State the findings of the Labour Convention.

I beg to second the motion.

Now that the motion has been seconded, I presume that we will get the views of the Government on the subject before we proceed to vote. It is the first time that anything of this description has come before the Seanad. As it is of considerable importance, we ought to know a little more about it.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

The Minister will probably be able to supply the information. But you will remember that what Senator Farren has stated is strictly accurate, that everything this motion seeks to enforce is already in force in this country, and it is only the rules of the League of Nations which require that it should be formally adopted here. It does not introduce anything new into our administration, but sanction is simply required from the nations which constitute the League of Nations.

Is this the outcome of some of the conferences which have been held at Geneva?

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Yes.

May I ask if Senator Farren is strictly accurate in saying that this motion makes no change in the conditions in this country? It does seem to me that it proposes a change. He is quite right in saying that agricultural labourers have the right to combination in this country. But, under Article 1, if this country ever found it desirable to introduce legislation to control that right, they are prevented doing so, because it says that for ten years no change can be made. You would have to give notice before any change could be made.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

That is Article 8, not Article 1.

I would like to know a little more about this recommendation before I vote for it. It proposes to deal with those engaged in agriculture, and to place them in the same position as industrial workers as regards association and rights of combination, and also in respect of compensation for injury from accidents in the course of their work. At the present time there is a very great inequality as between the agricultural and the industrial worker, inasmuch as the agricultural worker is called upon to provide his proportion of a vote of £200,000 a year to supply unemployment pay to the industrial worker. He has to do that, although he has no right whatever to share in that grant. It appears to me very strange that those who represented the Irish Free State at this Conference overlooked the fact that there was this inequality. I can only account for that by the fact that there was no representative of those engaged in agriculture in attendance at that Conference. It appears to me that this Convention is the only outcome of our membership of the League of Nations— a membership which is costing us £9,100 a year. This Convention, which proposes to give us what we have already, is a very bad result for the expenditure of £9,000 a year. I think the sooner we take into consideration the question of ceasing membership of this League the better for the taxpayers of this country.

I think the last Senator's speech hardly brings us any further towards the point on which we are going to vote. It seems to me that Senator Farren put the case quite clearly when he pointed out that there was going to be no alteration in this country by voting for this motion here to-day. I think really and truly the Labour section have been very wise, indeed, in trying to force up labour conditions in other countries, because one of the worst difficulties that we are up against in this country is that every one of us has to compete in business against the products of countries who work upon sweated labour of every description, and who have no liability for accidents. We have arranged here fair conditions of livelihood. The employers have reasonable liability to the worker for accidents. That is fair, but it puts up the cost to us, and it is quite right that labour should do what it can to secure that the same conditions shall be established in other countries. Then very probably we will not have things dumped here as the products of sweated labour. So far as I can see, this is a resolution we should vote for.

I am glad Senator Jameson made the point he has made. This Convention represents international co-operation between employers and employed, and I think there is no doubt whatever that co-operation of that kind is going to make possible the general raising of the standard of living without unduly penalising those who may be a little less advanced than others. Personally, I think there is little doubt that whether we were members of the League or not it would be desirable that we should take part in the International Labour Conference. I think I am correct in saying that the United States of America, by special arrangement, sent representatives or delegates to take part in the Conference, although they are not members of the League. It would be extremely foolish if we were to refuse to ratify this Convention because it was not fully up to the standard we have reached when we know it is a very considerable advance on conditions in many other countries of Europe.

Most of the remarks I was about to make have been covered by Senator Jameson. It happens that in respect of labour legislation we would count as an advanced country. Being an advanced country, we would be bound to be at a slight disadvantage as compared with other countries, where the workers are in a much worse condition than in this country. There is, naturally, competition amongst the various countries, and in that competition the country which gives good conditions to its workers has to meet the competition either by reducing the condition of its workers or alternatively, other countries which are backward, and where the workers are not well treated, must be brought up to the level of the good countries. This does not propose any change in legislation in Ireland, because we count amongst the more enlightened countries. The effect of this International Labour Bureau resolution is to bring the weight of public opinion to bear upon those countries in which the conditions of workers are not so good as in Ireland. The effect is that we recommend other countries really to do what we have already done here. In that you may say we are putting ourselves at the service of the ideal, and incidentally we are endeavouring to improve our own position by removing unfair competition and unfair conditions. That really is the purport of this Convention. There is no change whatever proposed in the legislation of this country. We are only saying that as we have been very virtuous so far we recommend people who have not been so virtuous to do as we have done.

The Minister has not dealt with my point. I will call attention again to Article 7, which says: "A member which has ratified this Convention may denounce it after the expiration of ten years from the date on which the Convention first came into force, by an act communicated to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations for registration. Such denunciation shall not take effect until one year after the date on which it is registered with the Secretariat." Now, it does seem to me that this alters the position of affairs here. I may say I am quite in favour of the passing of the Resolution, and quite realise what Senator Jameson has said. But I am very doubtful as to the desirability of tying ourselves down for ten years without any possibility of meeting whatever set of circumstances may arise.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

That does not seem to me to be a quite accurate description. If the Senator will look at Article 8 he will see that provision is made for a meeting at least once in every ten years. "The governing body of the International Labour Office shall present ... a report on the working of this Convention and shall consider the desirability of placing on the Agenda of the Conference the question of its revision or modification." That is to say, it is incumbent on them to do that at least once in every ten years, so that, I think, would afford a remedy for the evil which the Senator suggests.

I do not know how.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

These must be done at least once in ten years. Article 7 and Article 8 deal with two different things. Article 7 deals with an individual member, and he can only denounce—that is the peculiar expression they use—it once in ten years, but the governing body are compelled at least once in every ten years to consider the question of the revision or modification. They can do it as often as they like, but they must do it once in ten years.

Are you not bound by Article 7 to membership for ten years?

AN CATHAOIRLEACH

Of course, but Senator Barrington is not talking of membership; he was talking about the power of revision.

This is, I think, the first International Convention, and if there were to be no limit of ten years, or some other period, the value of the Convention would be almost nil. We would be keeping it, without any guarantee that in three months' time other nations, who had signed, might not break it. The only change, as far as I can see, is that we are agreeing that we will keep our present standard for ten years. There is nothing to prevent us improving on it, if we think it convenient. Surely that is a thing which, in the interests of the general improvement of the countries of Europe, we are prepared to do. Ten years in the life of a nation is a very short period, and this is very little to ask.

I think a great deal of the discussion is beside the point, and more or less futile. The majority of Senators who have spoken seem to think that this confers a right on agricultural workers, not otherwise enjoyed by them. I would like to point out that it can at some future time deprive them of the rights of association. I would also like to point out that Article 9 of our Constitution secures the right of any agricultural worker to join any association which he thinks fit for his own protection. Senator Linehan referred to the agricultural workers sharing in a grant of £200,000. There has been no such grant voted towards the relief of unemployment in which the agricultural worker shares.

The £200,000 is the contribution of the State to the Unemployment Grant. It will be found in the Estimates for 1924-25.

In what way will the agricultural workers share in that?

There seems to be a misunderstanding about this matter. As a matter of fact, this decision of the League of Nations Labour Conference was arrived at in 1921, before the Free State was established. For the purpose of putting the matter in order, the decisions arrived at by that Conference, which was composed of representatives of employers and labour in all the countries who are members of the League, have to be ratified by the nations represented. So that we are only approving of decisions arrived at by the Conference. It does not affect us in the slightest iota, because everything in this Convention is already in force in this country and guaranteed by the Constitution.

Question put and declared carried.