It is worthy of note that this is the first occasion, as Senator Hayes has stated, since the reconstitution of this House in 1938, that we have a Private Member's Bill. We now have two of them on the same day. The Bill before us now is entitled "an Act to provide for the allowance of weekly half-holidays to agricultural workers and for certain matters connected therewith." It is a simple Bill, but it is one of very great interest to the agricultural industry and to all engaged in agriculture in this country. Agriculture is our main industry. It is essential, in my opinion, if we are to maintain the supply of labour in that industry which is necessary to keep agricultural production at its maximum, that we should endeavour to make the conditions in that industry as nearly identical as it is possible and advisable with the condition which prevail in other, and, may I say, less essential industries in the country. It is obvious that the main, if not the sole, reason for this is that other industries and other countries offer greater remuneration for their services and better working conditions. Workers engaged in practically every other industry in the country have this privilege of the weekly half-holiday for a long number of years. It is statutory in most cases and one wonders why, after almost 30 years of our own Government, and in view of the importance we have always attached to the agricultural industry, it should be left to private members to introduce this very necessary measure at this late stage.
As we have seen since the introduction of this measure, there have been objections of various kinds to the proposal that a half-holiday be granted. I do not think anybody has said that the agricultural worker does not deserve a weekly half-holiday as well as workers in other industries. The objections are made on other grounds, but, in my opinion, when these objections are examined, it will be found that there is no substance in them and that in many cases they are unreal. No one has said, either, that the agricultural industry, the farmers, could not afford this, and, after the reports we have seen in the papers this morning, nobody will say it in the course of this debate. It seems to me that, in the main, the objections advanced centre around the inconvenience if I may put it that way, to the individual farmer and no doubt it may result in a certain amount of inconvenience, but, at the same time, that is not and should not be an insuperable objection.
It seems to be taken for granted that this half-holiday, when granted to the agricultural workers, will always be the Saturday half-holiday, that, at 12 o'clock on Saturday, the agricultural worker, no matter what job he is engaged on, will down tools and will not appear again until Monday morning. One of the speakers against the Bill in the other House asked: What is going to become of the cows from 12 o'clock on Saturday until 6 o'clock on Monday morning? I might ask what now becomes of the cows from 6 o'clock on Saturday evening until 6 o'clock on Monday morning. This Bill deals only with a period of four hours. The Bill does not provide that the half-holiday must be taken on Saturday— it can be taken on any other day of the week that may be arranged between the farmer and his workers. It has nothing to do with Sunday work or what may happen the cows between 6 o'clock on Saturday evening and 6 o'clock on Monday morning.
Everything is supposed to happen on Saturday. That is the day on which the hay has to be made up and the day on which the harvest will be lost, if it is not attended to. It is assumed that, in the midst of haymaking, the worker or workers will down tools and disappear until Monday. There is nothing in this measure which suggests any such thing. Let me say, first, that the normal relations which exist between the farmer and his worker or workers would prevent any such catastrophe happening. The worker, as a general rule, in 99 per cent. of cases, will not simply leave a crop unsaved, if it is in his power to help to save it on a particular day. There is no reason why he should and this Bill does not give him any authority to do so.
The farmer, at such a time as harvest time, has two alternatives. First, he can arrange that the worker will not have his half-holiday in the particular week, so long as he gets the double half-holiday the following week. That is provided for in Section 2. The second alternative is that he can pay him an overtime rate for the four hours he works on that day. It is an overtime rate inasmuch as it is a rate over and above his ordinary wage—I am not attaching any particular definition to overtime. It is an extra payment, if you like, if the man stays on voluntarily to finish his day's work when he should be taking his half-holiday. It is at the option of the farmer to give him an extra half-holiday the following week, or to pay him an extra amount, which, at the present rate of wages for agricultural labourers, would not amount to more than 4/- or 5/-
There will undoubtedly be inconvenience in particular cases, but it is a matter of arrangement. Surely a farmer, if he has a number of men employed, can arrange that there will be a rota and that there will always be somebody available to do the necessary work.
It is often urged, too, that this will not work out in practice. It has been in practice on most of the farms in County Dublin for a number of years. Quite a number of the men working on these farms have the weekly half-holiday and we have heard no great complaint of loss by the farmer. As a matter of fact, it is quite the other way about—it has been found, in practice and after the arrangement has been working for some time, that there are generally better relations between the farmer and his worker than previously existed.
Another objection that was made in the other House was that if this Bill came into operation the farmer would give up tillage and go back to ranching. Might I say that farmers, and I include myself among them, are not philanthropists? We do what we think is going to pay us best. The farmer does not employ men just for the love of giving them work, but because he thinks it is to his own advantage to employ them. If ranching is going to pay better there is nothing at the present time to prevent the farmer from going back to ranching. Some of the farmers, I regret to say, are inclined in that direction but if tillage pays better even by employing men and giving them a half day then the farmers will go in for tillage. Farmers are reasonable people and always do what in the long run pays them best.
This Bill and its history in the other House is somewhat similar to the Meath Hospital Bill. It was introduced by a private member and got its Second Reading, I think, unanimously, and was then referred to a committee which made certain amendments in it. The Bill as amended and passed by the Dáil is now a better measure and was passed on the Final Stage in the Dáil by an overwhelming majority. Many of those who voted for it are farmers while at least a third of those who opposed it have no connection whatever with farming.
It is a measure the purpose of which is obvious and it does not require any long arguments to recommend it to the House. It is one that is long overdue and I believe it will help considerably to keep people on the land and that is something which we in this House and the country generally are anxious to secure. I recommend it with confidence to the House.