The purpose of this Bill is to remove certain doubts which have arisen as to certain sections of the Conditions of Employment Act, 1936. There are three amendments to that Act proposed for clarification purposes. The first of these relates to the definition of industrial work. The Conditions of Employment Act, 1936, prescribes the conditions of employment that became enforceable by the passage of that Act into law for industrial workers. Industrial work was, however, not positively defined in the Act. It was defined in a negative way as work which was not agricultural or clerical, or domestic work, work in mining or transport, but in particular it covered various occupations which were set out in Section 3 of the Act.
Amongst the occupations therein set out was the killing of any animal or bird, and industrial work done in connection with the killing of any animal or bird was made subject to the provisions of the Act. I was subsequently advised that the term "animal" included fish and that it might be held by a court that fishing was brought within the scope of the Act. It is obvious that an occupation which is so dependent on conditions of tide and weather could not be subjected to the same regulations as industrial work normally might be. Consequently, it is proposed to give effect to an amendment of the section of the Act by excluding fishing, and making it clear that persons employed in fishing are not within the scope of the Act. In order to remove any possible misunderstanding I should explain that work done on shore in connection with the packing or curing of fish will remain subject to the scope of the Act.
The second amendment which it was desired to effect concerns the section which provides for payments in respect of overtime. One of the main provisions of the Act was that designed to limit employment in industrial occupations to a maximum of 48 hours a week. That limitation upon the hours of employment was made generally, but was not intended to apply to continuous process industries. There are certain industries which must be carried on day and night, Sunday as well as Monday, and in respect of these continuous process industries the Act was intended to provide for a maximum working week of 56 hours. There was, I think, no doubt that that was the intention of the Oireachtas when enacting the measure. Reference to the debates which occurred in the Dáil and the Seanad on the various sections makes it clear that nobody had any impression other than that the Act was to have that effect. Some time ago two gas works employees took proceedings against their employers for overtime in respect of hours worked over 48. One got a decision in his favour, a decision which was subsequently confirmed by a High Court judge on appeal, and the other worker also got a decision against him, which was also confirmed by a High Court judge.
It is quite clear that there is an element of doubt as to how the Act is to be interpreted, and it is proposed to amend the section so as to remove that doubt, and to make clear the original intention of the Oireachtas, which was that the maximum working week in continuous process industries would be 56 hours a week. It is intended to make that amendment retrospective in effect, safeguarding the rights of any worker who may have instituted proceedings for recovery of sums due to him. It is quite clear that if the original Act were to be finally interpreted as giving a right of recovery of overtime pay in respect of hours in excess of 48 a substantial number of workers would have a claim which it was never intended they should have, which they did not know they had, and employers of these workers would have very considerable liabilities to face. For that reason it is considered desirable to provide for the retrospective operation of the amendment.
Section 5 of the Bill which provides for the protection of proceedings already started is very widely drafted, and ensures that these proceedings shall not be invalidated and shall proceed as if this amendment had never been made. The effect of the amendment does not alter in any way the position of workers who by reason of agreements negotiated enjoy better terms than are provided by the 1936 Act. The 1936 Act was designed to establish and make legally enforceable minimum conditions of employment and, in a very large number of industries, conditions which have been created as a result of negotiations in past years are substantially better than those which the Act made legally enforceable. In no way will the position of the workers be worsened by the amendment.
The third amendment was inserted in the Dáil on the suggestion of some of the Labour members. Whether or not the original Act has the effect of confining to the Minister the right of prosecuting employers who do not comply with the requirements of the Act, in practice, since the Act was passed, all prosecutions for infringements have been at the suit of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. It was represented that in the case of offences against a worker it was desirable that the worker himself, or a trade union on his behalf, should be given the right to institute proceedings, and an amendment to that effect was accepted and inserted during the passage of the Bill through the Dáil. The right of instituting proceedings is given to workers or their trade unions only in respect of offences against the worker or workers concerned. There are certain other offences, such as failure to display the prescribed notices or to give the Departmental inspectors the necessary access to books and records, which will remain the concern of the Minister.
That is the full provision of this amending Bill. It is designed to effect these three amendments in the Conditions of Employment Act, 1936, so as to remove the doubts, which have arisen since, as to its interpretation.