This Bill does not, I think, lend itself to the type of discussion that ordinarily takes place on the Second Reading of a measure. It is a Bill to amend and codify the existing law relating to workmen's compensation. It does not introduce any new principle. The principle of the measure, that any workman injured in the course of his employment is entitled to get compensation for that injury, or his dependants are entitled to get compensation in the case of death, from his employer, has been enshrined in legislation here for almost half a century, and is in fact enshrined in the legislation of all countries. This Bill is designed to give effect to certain changes in the machinery for the implementation of that principle, based either upon the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Committee which met and reported on the matter in 1926, or upon the experience which has since been derived from the operation of similar legislation in other countries. We do not stick entirely throughout the Bill to the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Committee. They were departed from in a few not unimportant particulars, but, in the main, the Bill is their product.
It will, perhaps, best serve the purpose of the Seanad if, at this stage, I merely give a brief indication of the changes in the existing law which it is proposed to effect by this measure. Taking these in the order in which they appear in the Bill, the first change made is in the definition of "workman." At the present time the existing Act applies only to persons engaged by manual labour whose remuneration does not exceed £250 a year. That limit is being increased to £350, and certain additional classes of casual workers are being brought within its scope, more particularly those who are employed in connection with games or recreation through a club and those employed in or about the residence of an employer. Both these two classes were heretofore excluded from the scope of the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Bill also affects certain other classes such as share fishermen and crews on certain ships. The term "accident" is given an extended meaning so as to cover cases where, for instance, a workman acted without his employer's orders or contrary to statutory regulations. Senators who are familiar with the matter are aware that in the past injustice was occasionally done by the limitations upon the term "accident" which appeared in the original measure and which are now being removed, consequent on the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Committee. The changes that we are making in this measure are in conformity with those that have since been made in other countries.
The amount of compensation payable in fatal cases is being increased from a maximum of £300 to £600. The original limit of £300 was fixed in the year 1906, and although in 1917 increases in the amount payable in cases of total or partial incapacity were made, no change was made in the amount payable in fatal cases, which is still subject to the maximum of £300 as it was in the year 1906. The Inter-Departmental Committee recommended that the amount should be increased to £600. They made various recommendations as to the allocation of that sum between the different classes of dependants.
We have not followed completely the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Committee which did not prove to be quite suitable in all respects, but the provision in the Bill does stick fairly closely to what they recommended. The maximum sum of £600 is divided into two lump sums; one called an adults' lump sum, and the other, a children's lump sum. If there are no dependants at all, the claimant merely gets the amount required to cover medical expenses and burial. Under the existing law the maximum payable is £10. That is being increased under this Bill to £15. Where there are adult dependants, an adults' lump sum is also payable, and where there are children dependants, a children's lump sum is also payable. The adults' lump sum is a minimum of £200 and a maximum of £300. Subject to these limits, it is 156 times the average weekly earning of the deceased worker for three years. It will be distributed among the adult dependants of the deceased in such manner as the court may determine. The amount of the children's lump sum will depend upon the number of children and the ages of the children. It will not, in any case, be less than £200. In the Schedule of the Bill the manner of calculating it is set out. The Schedule provides that the employer shall pay, in respect of each child under 15 years of age, a certain sum, varying with the number of children, for every month that each child has to live until it attains the age of 15 years. Any compensation paid to the workman, in the interval between the injury and the date of his death, will be deducted from the compensation paid to his dependants after his death subject, of course, to the minimum payment in each case. Where the adults' lump sum and the children's lump sum together exceed £600, the Bill provides for a pro rata reduction of each sum so that in no case can the maximum payment exceed £600. Compensation awardable to persons partially dependent upon the earnings of the deceased workman will be proportionate to the compensation payable as if they had been wholly dependent, and that will be determined by the court.
Partial dependency, as now defined in the sub-section of the Bill, much to my surprise, caused considerable controversy in the Dáil. Under the existing law the position is somewhat anomalous. In the original Workmen's Compensation Act a phrase was used designed to secure that dependency would be interpreted as being dependent on the deceased for the necessaries of life. At first the term in the Act was interpreted in that manner by the British courts. In 1900 a case was heard in the House of Lords in which the judgment was given by the late Lord Halsbury who gave to the phrase "dependency" an entirely different significance. That particular judgment has been frequently the subject of criticism. It was based on a statement that no adequate definition of dependency had been produced, or was possible, and on that account the judgment stated that compensation should be payable in respect of the pecuniary loss suffered by persons on the death of the workman. While that was the law in Great Britain, account was not taken as to the extent to which a person was dependent for support on the deceased worker, but only of the actual pecuniary loss he suffered by his death. I said that that judgment was based upon a statement that no adequate definition of dependency was possible. That statement is incorrect, in view of the fact that there is in this Bill a definition of dependency which is admitted by everybody to work very satisfactorily. In fact, the satisfactory nature of the definition has been frequently the subject of comment in British judicial decisions. The change was made in Great Britain in 1923 when, following upon the report of the Departmental Committee, a Bill to amend the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906, was introduced into the British Parliament. The phrase originated in the State of Massachusetts and was copied from there into the British statute.
The Inter-Departmental Committee that met in 1925 was representative of all different opinions, and recommended that the same phrase should be introduced here, so that the law, in that respect, should be brought into conformity with the law in Great Britain. In 1929 when a private Deputy introduced a Bill into the Dáil, and when that Bill went to a select committee, an amendment was proposed on behalf of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, which introduced the definition, which is now introduced into this Bill. That was carried unanimously and with the support of all Deputies present. It was, therefore, with some surprise that I found when this Bill came before the Dáil that the suitability of that definition was criticised from different parts of the House.
The criticism, in so far as directed to the merits of the measure, was based upon a misunderstanding, first as to the actual significance of the term used, and secondly the manner in which it had been interpreted in the British courts where it has now been the subject of legal interpretation and decision for over ten years. In every case in Great Britain in which that particular section of the British Act was involved the interpretation put upon it was one favourable to the workmen. The significance attached to the working of the section was that which was designed to attach to it in order to secure that compensation would not be paid merely on the ground of providing for the necessaries of life. Compensation has been paid in Great Britain in consequence of the decisions under that section on the basis which provides the necessaries of life corresponding to those enjoyed by the deceased workman's dependants before his death. In only one case was that particular definition held to be a limiting definition, and that was in respect of payments made by the head of a family in respect to insurance upon his life, which payments were held not to be in any sense a necessary of life, and consequently if one of the family was killed in an industrial accident, although that member of the family was contributing to the family fund, no compensation was payable in respect to the amount that the family expended upon insurance. Though this may have been a correct interpretation of the statute, having been made, it became clear that the phrase should be amended. If the head of a family provides a weekly or monthly or quarterly premium in order to ensure that upon his death a certain sum will be payable to his dependants, and thus to limit the possibility of their being involved in hardship, and if the continuance of that insurance was only possible because of the contribution received by the head of the family from the working members of the family, then if one of those working members is killed in an industrial accident such payment should be made to come in under this Act.
On that account I indicated in the Dáil that I would have prepared, with a view to insertion here, an amendment that would bring within the scope of the sub-section insurance payments of that kind. Whether it will be possible to get a satisfactory amendment, I am not able to say. I do not feel that I am under any obligation to produce such an amendment because, having made the offer, the amendment that had been moved was not withdrawn, but was made the subject of a division and, therefore, my obligation to produce an amendment here obviously fell. However, I am anxious that the Bill should be made as satisfactory as possible and, if a suitable amendment on the lines I suggested can be produced, I trust it will be considered here on Report Stage.
In non-fatal cases the position of the law has been that since 1926 the workman who was totally incapacitated was entitled to get 50 per cent. of his pay, subject to a maximum payment of £1. There were certain other provisions in respect of persons earning less than £1 or less than ten shillings but, for the purpose of noting the changes proposed to be made, we can confine ourselves to the general run of cases. That continued from 1906 to 1917 when, in consequence of the rapid increase in prices which had taken place in that year and the preceding year, a temporary Act was introduced in the British Parliament to permit of increases in the amount of compensation in non-fatal cases to the extent of 75 per cent. After that Act was passed, therefore, the payments of workmen's compensation in non-fatal cases were calculated on the basis of 50 per cent. on the pre-accident earnings increased by 75 per cent. That raised the maximum to 35/-. That temporary Act, known as the War Addition Act, which was designed, I think, to have a very limited life, was continued in 1919 and up to the date on which the Free State was established. It continued to be the law in Great Britain as well as in this country. In Great Britain, however, the law was changed in 1923 when the temporary Act was repealed and the original Act amended by increasing the maximum amount of compensation payable from £1 to 30/-.
Since 1923, therefore, the position in Great Britain has been that a workman totally incapacitated has been entitled to get compensation on a 50 per cent. basis of calculation subject to a limitation of 30/-. Here, however, the temporary Act was continued from year to year under the Expiring Laws Bill and is still in force. It is only now that we are effecting the changes in the law which would correspond to the changes effected in Great Britain in 1923. We are proposing to insert a maximum payment similar to the British maximum of 30/- but, instead of calculating the amount of compensation on the basis of 50 per cent. of the pre-accident earnings, we propose to do it on the basis of 75 per cent. of the pre-accident earnings. In certain cases, of course, the compensation will be 80 per cent. where the pre-accident earnings do not exceed £1; but in all other cases 75 per cent. It will be clear, therefore, that the amount of compensation in the vast majority of cases will be in future in the country substantially higher than in Great Britain. In the case of workers earning 60/- a week and upwards before the accident the compensation here will be the same as in Great Britain. In all other cases it will be higher except in one case where the two curves meet and where the worker was earning 25/- a week before the accident, in which case the compensation here is the same as in Great Britain. The worker who is earning £2 15s. 0d. per week—and I take it that of all the workers who are at present employed in the Saorstát, the vast majority of them would be at £2 15s. 0d. a week or below that figure—will, in the case of an accident involving total incapacity, get 30/-. In Great Britain he would get 27/6. At 50/- he is still on the maximum here, but only gets 25/- in Great Britain. If he were earning 40/- a week before the accident he would still get the maximum here of 30/- whereas in Great Britain he would get 22/6 and so on down the scale. The practice in other countries appears to be in all cases to pay compensation subject to a maximum at the rate of 66? of the pre-accident earnings. It varies from country to country. The 50 per cent. prevailing in Great Britain is low. It is a lower percentage payment than appears to be the practice in other countries. There is, however, no country, except one, paying more than 70 per cent. In future we will be paying 75 per cent. In Spain 100 per cent. of the pre-accident earnings is paid, but not in the form of a continuing payment as is proposed in this Bill. It is paid in the form of a lump sum for two years only, so that there is no comparison between the two countries. In some of these countries they have sliding scales. Sixty-six two-third per cent. of the pre-accident earnings is paid up to a certain proportion of the earnings and, over and above that, 22 2-9ths or some other percentage is paid; but in any case where I have been able to make a comparison between the law in other countries and the law proposed to be established here, the law here appears to be much more definitely in favour of the workman than elsewhere.
In the case of partial incapacity the amount of the compensation is calculated on the basis of the difference between the post-accident and pre-accident earnings. The same percentages operate. Where that difference is less than £1, an 80 per cent. payment is made. Where the difference is more than £1, 75 per cent. is paid. Under the existing law, if the incapacity lasts less than seven days, no compensation is payable. That period has been reduced to four days under this Bill.
Provision is also made for the making of conventions with other States providing for reciprocity in the matter of payments, and the recovery of compensation. Another change is that we abandon the principle of arbitration, and it is provided that the Circuit Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all claims for compensation arising out of the Act, with an appeal on questions of law from any decision of the Circuit Court to the Supreme Court, but subject to such appeal the decision of the Circuit Court shall be final and conclusive. Up to the present there was an alternative to the Circuit Court of an Arbitration Tribunal but, in fact, that alternative has not been availed of in this country, and it is not necessary to continue it. The Bill provides for the registration in a register to be kept by the county registrar of the actual agreement in the payment of compensation, and not the memorandum of agreement. It also provides that if the registrar, for any reason that occurs to him, thinks it desirable, he can refer the agreement for consideration to the Circuit Court judge before registering. The idea of that provision is to protect the workman against being tricked into the making of an agreement detrimental to his interests.
The six or seven industrial diseases scheduled in the Act are also scheduled in the Bill. There is, of course, power to add by order from time to time other diseases or other processes, but as to the 24 diseases which are covered by existing orders the industrial processes through which they arise have not yet been undertaken in this country.
These are the principal changes. I think a discussion on them might be more conveniently left to the Committee Stage, when each section can be taken separately, because it is really a matter of discussing the sections one by one, rather than raising particular points in the course of a debate such as should take place at this stage. If any particular points relating to separate sections are raised, I feel disposed to leave anything I have to say on them until the Committee Stage, when they can be given more effective consideration, and a more lucid explanation of the various considerations which enter into the matter.