This Bill was introduced in the Dáil in April of this year, and has been under discussion there on many occasions since, with the result that the purpose of the Bill, and the manner in which it proposes to achieve that purpose, has received considerable publicity. On that account I think it is perhaps unnecessary at this stage of the discussion in the Seanad to go into any prolonged account of its provisions. The principle of the regulation of the conditions of employment has found general acceptance, not merely amongst workers, and those interested in improving the conditions of workers, but also amongst employers and employers' organisations. In modern industrial conditions the stress of competition is often very severe, and may induce employers in an industry to seek advantages over their rivals, by disimproving the conditions of employment of their employees, or by substituting one class of employees by another lower paid class. Such action if adopted by certain employers in an industry might have very widespread reactions, because other employers might find themselves in a position in which they were forced, either to follow suit or to sacrifice their trade and considerable dislocation of employment and a disimprovement of the conditions of employees in the industry might result.
The idea of fixing standard minimum conditions in respect to industry in general, or special conditions affecting only a particular industry, has been very generally accepted as a practical method of preventing the development of such abuses. It is, perhaps, desirable to emphasise that the purpose of the Bill is to enable standard minimum conditions of employment to be fixed. That fact has on occasion been lost sight of by persons discussing the Bill, who regard, or profess to regard, proposals in it as representing the Government's idea as to the actual conditions that should operate in particular industries. If Senators when discussing these provisions will bear in mind, that the general conditions of employment laid down by the Bill, are minimum conditions, and that the same will be true of any conditions enforced by regulations made under it, it will make it easier for them to understand its scope. The Bill has been modified considerably in the course of its passage through the Dáil, and a number of amendments were made which overcame difficulties contemplated by various organisations, or objections that emanated from many quarters. There is in fact very little effective opposition to any of the proposals in the Bill remaining as a result of the alterations effected during the two Committee Stages in the Dáil. It is true that some opposition to one section in the Bill is still being expressed by representatives of women workers' organisations. The opposition to that section has been very largely fostered by misrepresentation of its purpose. It has been represented that it is the intention of the Government under that section to prevent women from being employed in industrial occupations. The fears which exist in certain quarters are due to the belief that, under the operation of the section, a number of women who are now in employment will lose that employment. That is entirely contrary to facts. There is no intention, so far as the Government is concerned, of securing a general displacement of women from industry, nor is it believed that any such course would be practicable. There are large numbers of industries in which women are employed for which women are particularly suited.
In fact, a number of industries could not be carried on except with female employees, and there is no intention, nor would it be possible, in my opinion, to effect any alteration in that condition. If, however, it is agreed that it is desirable that any employer in an industry now employing adult male workers should be prevented from seeking an advantage over his rivals by substituting for these workers lower paid women workers, a section like that embodied in the Bill is necessary. The adoption of such tactics by employers has been known in the past and may be attempted in the future, and the effect of it would be to secure dislocation of employment in an undesirable manner.
It is true that the argument has been frequently advanced that the same aim should be achieved by adopting the principle which is known as "Equal pay for equal work." That phrase is a most dangerous one from the point of view of the workers. Any attempt to put into force the policy which appears to be embodied in it would, in my opinion, result in a general disimprovement of the conditions of employment of male workers. The "equal pay for equal work" would be women's pay. That is due to the fact that the great majority of women who are engaged in industrial occupations are unmarried. Most of them go into industry not with the idea that they are committed to following industrial avocations for the rest of their lives but only for the purpose of earning a subsistence until marriage. On the other hand, the great majority of male workers in industry are married and under present circumstances, in which there is no inconsiderable amount of unemployment, the legal enforcement of that principle would mean that the lower standard rate of wages—for women as a class are prepared to accept lower wages than it would be possible for married men to maintain themselves on—would become general. On that account I consider it necessary and desirable to resist the representations which have been made for the deletion of that section. I am glad that in doing so I have received the support of the Labour Party in the Dáil and of other organisations which speak for the interests of labour.
One of the provisions in the Bill which will cause considerable change from the conditions of employment practised in many industries is that which provides for an annual holiday. The Bill proposes that every worker who has been in continuous employment, as defined in the Bill, for a period of 12 months, will be entitled to one week's annual leave with pay. In some industries that is the practice at present, but there are very large numbers of industrial workers who do not get annual leave and who will become entitled to it for the first time when the Bill becomes law. Similarly, they are being made entitled to receive six public holidays with pay during the course of the year. The operation of these provisions will, of course, result in an increase in industrial costs in certain industries; but we consider that the principle is sound and that whatever the consequences of that increase in costs may be, they are worth facing because of the advantages of one kind or another which will result from the operation of that measure, and that point of view has, apparently, been endorsed by all Parties.
The Bill proposes that a statutory maximum 48-hour week will operate for all workers engaged on any form of work covered by the Bill. The provisions of the Bill in that regard are taken from the Washington 48-Hour Convention and although we have had to modify those provisions in some details because of conditions prevailing here, nevertheless, we are anxious to keep the Bill in as close accord with the Convention as possible, so that the possibility of ratifying the Convention can be considered at a later stage. Power is being taken, however, to make regulations for particular industries enforcing a shorter maximum week and, as Senators are no doubt aware, there are many industries in respect of which a shorter week operates at present. I wish to say that these provisions are not being put forward as a solution of the problems of unemployment. I know there are many people who contend that the problem of unemployment can be solved by a general reduction in working hours. That is not my view. I do not think that reduction in working hours, unaccompanied by other measures, will effect any appreciable change in the employment position. We think, however, that it will be possible to adopt some of the other measures to which I have referred and that operation of the provisions of the Bill will effect an alleviation in the unemployment position, but the main purpose is to ensure that workers will enjoy in increased leisure some of the benefits of the technical progress which has been accomplished in recent years and which may be accomplished in future.
One section of the Bill aroused considerable anxiety in the minds of labour organisations when first introduced, and was amended considerably during the course of the passage of the Bill through the Dáil. That is Section 50 which deals with the Wages Agreements Register. The Bill, as a whole, gives no power to regulate wages. Power is given under various sections to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, after consultation with interested parties to make regulations bearing upon hours of work, employment of various classes of workers, overtime, and similar matters, but there is no power to the Minister on his own initiative to take any action in relation to wages. We have, of course, under the Trade Boards Acts, at present, a direct control over the wages paid in certain industries for which trade boards have been established. The principle upon which that Act was framed is that boards should only operate where the unorganised condition of the industry and the absence of agreements as to rates of wages make them desirable. Most of the trade boards which have been established operate in respect of industries of that class. I say most, because some of them have become organised industries since the boards were constituted, but the boards have remained in existence. These boards recommend minimum rates of wages which, if approved of by the Minister, become legally enforceable, and it is an offence to pay less than the trade board rates. In industries in which trade boards do not exist it is, in my opinion, best that rates of wages should be fixed by agreement between the employers, or organisation representing the employers, and the trades unions concerned. Frequently we have come up against the difficulty that while a majority of the employers, and the union representing a majority of the workers in a particular industry, were prepared to agree on a certain rate of wages the fact that an individual stood out made it impossible for the majority to carry out their wishes. We are proposing, therefore, under Section 50, that where such an agreement is made between a trade union and an organisation of employers, on the application of one of the parties, that agreement can be registered, if accepted as suitable for registration by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and if such an agreement is registered, then the rate specified therein becomes legally enforceable by the worker. It becomes an offence for the employer to pay less to the worker and for the worker to accept less than the agreed rate, and, again, the central idea is to secure that it will not be possible for one or two employers in an industry to conduct their concerns in a manner which will lower the standard of employment throughout the industry as a whole. That section is the only section in the Bill which deals with rates of wages, apart from the sections which are designed to secure that where working hours are reduced, either automatically under the Bill, when passed, or as a result of regulations made after the Bill has become law, no reductions shall take place in the worker's weekly earnings. These sections are designed to secure that, where the working week is thus reduced, the piece rate or hourly rate or whatever rate of wage the worker may be receiving will be proportionately increased, so that his weekly earnings will remain unchanged. Other provisions are designed to deal with circumstances which will inevitably arise. These provisions give power to revise contracts where the operation of the measure makes it impossible for them to be adhered to and they make it possible for an employer or worker charged with an offence under the measure to put forward as a good defence the plea that the breach was made necessary by a condition of emergency.
This Bill is part of a general scheme. Originally it was our intention to have one Bill dealing not merely with conditions of employment, but with safety and health regulations. It was found, however, that to adhere to the idea of having one Bill, covering all matters relating to industrial employment, would have necessitated the delaying of this measure considerably, and so the original draft Bill was divided into two parts. This is the first part. The second part, which deals with the codification and amendment of the existing factories and workshops Acts and matters relating to health, sanitation, lighting, heating, and safety, is at present being prepared and will be introduced early next year. It is proposed to follow up these two measures by somewhat similar measures dealing with commercial employees and also to effect legislation on the same lines to cover certain classes of industrial workers which it was not possible to bring within the scope of this Bill—transport workers, those engaged in connection with docks and shipping, and those engaged in connection with mining. Because of the conditions under which those classes of work have to be carried on, they could not be fitted into the scheme of this Bill, but it is not intended that these workers should be left without protective legislation of this kind, although it may be some little time before legislation can be prepared and introduced to deal with them. Ultimately, we hope to have a general series of measures which will ensure that proper standards of employment will operate in all trades. The reason why we are particularly concerned to ensure that this Bill will be properly framed and adequate to effect the purposes we have in mind is because it will very largely be a standard on the basis of which the other Bills will be prepared.
I have been much gratified by the reception which the measure has received. It was very carefully considered by the Dáil and very considerably amended there. I assure the members of the Seanad that I have no desire to rush the measure through this House. I am anxious that it should get full consideration here, as in the Dáil. I promise that any practical suggestion bearing upon any of its provisions will be most carefully considered. The Bill is an innovation. It can, I think, be said that precisely similar legislation does not exist in any country. In so far as we are pioneers in the matter, we must exercise more care than would be the case if we had behind us the experience of other countries and their example to guide us. Because that experience and example are absent, we have to give very deep consideration to the various sections of the Bill to secure, in the first instance, that they will be workable, and, in the second instance, that they will operate to establish the conditions which we desire to see in industrial employment. I am sure that we shall have the active co-operation of all sections of the Seanad in that work. The Bill is not one which lends itself to prolonged discussion on Second Reading in so far as its principle has been generally accepted. Whatever time is required for Committee Stage will be afforded. I am anxious that the Bill should become law early next year, so that the benefit of the holiday provisions will commence to operate during the summer of that year. We cannot allow the holiday provisions to operate immediately the Bill becomes law, because a very large number of workers might become entitled to their holidays in the first week, and that would cause considerable dislocation. A period of three months is provided, and in order that that period of three months should expire during the proper holiday season it is desirable that the Bill should become law early next year.