Destructive Insects and Pests (Consolidation) Bill, 1957. - Office Premises Bill, 1957—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Bill is to provide for office workers protection similar in character to that provided for industrial workers by the Factories Act in regard to such matters as cleanliness, temperature, lighting and general safety of the places where they work. As the title suggests, the Bill concerns itself with the physical conditions in offices, and places on occupiers an obligation to provide safe and healthy offices for their workers. It also gives the Minister for Industry and Commerce power to go beyond that general obligation by making regulations which will prescribe in a detailed way the standards to be observed in particular instances. In making these regulations the Minister will have the assistance of a representative advisory council to be set up under the legislation and in fact he will be obliged to consult the advisory council before making any such regulations.

When the Factories Act was being framed, we could draw on our long experience of the operation of legislation relating to factories. We were able to turn for guidance to the legislation of other countries and approach the whole task of framing the Bill in the realisation that we could make a fairly good job of it. The preparation of legislation for office workers was an entirely different matter. So far as can be ascertained, there is no similar legislation elsewhere and there is no I.L.O. Convention on the subject. I should add that we have sought the advice of a number of interested bodies. In some cases there was a notable lack of comment, but in other cases some useful proposals have been made, a number of which were incorporated in the Bill during its passage through Dáil Éireann.

With the text of the Bill an explanatory memorandum was circulated, but there are one or two points I should like to underline at this stage. The Bill will apply to offices in which there are more than five clerical workers employed. We are, so to speak, feeling our way on this initial attempt to legislate for office workers and the obligations imposed by the Bill may involve expenditure by occupiers and owners in many cases. While that expenditure will, perhaps, press fairly lightly on the larger and more solvent concerns, there is a danger that if the Bill were to be applied to smaller concerns some of them might decide to disemploy one or two workers rather than to face up to expenditure on improvements and to the prospect of inspection.

The second point which I wish to make is about enforcement. It is not proposed to set up for the purpose of this Bill a new and separate inspectorate for its enforcement. Offices in factories and Government offices will be inspected by officers attached to the existing factory inspectorate in the Department of Industry and Commerce. In the case of all other offices the Bill proposes to place responsibility for enforcement on the various sanitary authorities throughout the country. On the whole, this is the best arrangement to make, and, in any event, it is desirable to avoid amendments which will involve additional administrative costs.

The Bill was welcomed generally in the Dáil and can be regarded as an agreed measure. The text is similar to that which was circulated in February last by the previous Government. The amendments, which were relatively few in number, were, for the most part, incorporated so as to give effect to suggestions made by Chambers of Commerce and other interested parties.

I think we should approach this first piece of legislation for office workers with the aim of having a practicable, workable and reasonable measure rather than that we should strive towards some theoretical ideal which may be unattainable in practice, or try to draft a code to regulate in every detail the working conditions of office staffs. If we can secure an effective measure which will deal in a reasonable way with matters of health, safety and welfare for office workers, we will have done all that is practicable in present circumstances, and hence it is that I recommend the Bill to the Seanad.

I welcome this Bill and I am glad that the Minister took up the measure which had got its First Reading under the previous Government. I am glad that at last steps are being taken to regulate conditions in offices. I cannot agree, I am afraid, with the Parliamentary Secretary in his hesitant approach to this problem and in what I thought was a plea that we should not improve or amend this Bill. As a Bill, it is a good Bill, but I think that it can be considerably improved in Committee Stage. I have spoken about a hesitant approach and it seems to me that in drawing up the Bill there was that hesitant approach—a rather negative attitude to problems instead of laying down, where necessary and proper, definite standards.

I remember, when speaking on the Factories Bill in this House in 1955, making a very strong plea that it should be extended to Government offices. I listed the items that were provided for in that Bill and said that they could quite easily be applied to offices as well. As always, the Chair was kind to me, even though, when I think of it now, I am sure I was quite out of order in talking about offices when dealing with that Factories Bill. It comes to my mind now that we might take a useful lesson from what is in the Factories Act. In that piece of legislation, very firm provisions are laid down. I think we could examine the Office Premises Bill side by side with the existing legislation in regard to factories.

All of us will agree that what is regarded as good and proper for the manual worker in the factory should be equally given to his colleague working in the office. Putting those two pieces of legislation side by side, we can considerably improve the Bill now before us. Obviously, I do not want to enter into detailed criticism of the Bill because I think it is a measure which would properly be dealt with on Committee, taking the various sections one after another; but there is one major criticism I must make. It is the fact that this Bill will apply only to offices employing a minimum of six.

All of us will appreciate and know from experience that in quite a large number of factories—unfortunately we have not a great number of large establishments—no more than four or five clerical workers are employed. It is proposed here that the legislation shall not apply to such offices. The factory in the same building is covered by the Factories Act, but the office will be excluded. I have experience of dealing with conditions in offices, and it has been my experience that it is easier to deal with conditions where there is a big body of clerical staff employed. You generally find that conditions in such offices are fairly good. I am not talking of Government offices. Where the office is a small one, employing two or three clerks, then you find that conditions are bad. There is no adequate heating, the windows do not open—if you can see them with the dirt—and offices like those are generally regarded as not being important.

I had hoped that the legislation, when it would eventually be introduced, would help the people employed in such small offices. Instead, we now find a line being drawn. They are excluded and I am making the point that from my experience—and I think it would be the experience of other Senators, too—that it is those small offices which are most in need of protection by legislation.

I have said that this Bill needs improvement and I do not wish to weary the House by making the arguments which I hope to make in Committee in regard to the various provisions; but I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that an appeal that this measure should go through, that it is experimental, will fall on deaf ears, I am afraid, certainly with me. It is not that much of an experiment at all. We have data on which to go. There is the Gowers Committee Report in Britain; there are various publications by the I.L.O.; and we have the experience of the Factories Acts. If a minimum temperature is laid down for a factory, there is no reason why the same minimum temperature should not be laid down for the office attached to that factory. That sort of comparison and argument can be carried right through this Bill.

I had not intended to speak but I should like to make a few remarks. First of all, I understand that one of our Senators has in mind an amendment or two, but he is absent to-day owing to illness.

This Bill was prepared by the previous Government. I can assure Senator Murphy that this question of excluding certain offices, and where the exclusion would start, under this Bill, was given prolonged consideration. Many moderately-sized shops employ two or three clerical workers. Are those shops to be involved in considerable expense—if we take the grocery business, it is not too profitable a business at present, I think we all agree—or are they to be put to extra expense for two or three clerical workers, where very often the facilities are available privately in the house, or something like that?

I do not agree with Senator Murphy, I regret to say, in regard to the big offices, that they are necessarily very suitably provisioned in this respect. Naturally, one does not wish to give definite instances, but I must say that I was extremely shocked on one occasion recently by the manner in which the workers were crowded into a very big office. Therefore, it is not quite correct to say that the big offices are invariably good in this regard.

On the whole, we welcome the Bill. As the Parliamentary Secretary has said, it is initial legislation in this country, unlike the Factories Acts, which go back more than 100 years. I understand one of our Senators will put down an amendment or two.

In welcoming this Bill, designed to safeguard the health of office workers, it gives me great pleasure that Ireland should make the first move in introducing legislation so necessary for a class of worker who hitherto has been overlooked in occupational reforms. Office workers, as is well known, are a class of persons who have suffered gravely from serious ill-health because until now the law has offered no protection to them in such essential things as sanitary accommodation, heating, ventilation, lighting, structural safety and so on.

The Bill now before us is no doubt a beginning, but it suffers from the very serious defect to which Senator Murphy has referred, that it does not apply unless there are more than five employees in an office. It is well known that, even in the very heart of Dublin, there are offices of the most unsuitable kind, in which the health and safety of employees are entirely disregarded and in some cases where there is no sanitary accommodation even within the building itself. There are no washing facilities there, and no regard to heating, ventilation, lighting or even to ordinary cleanliness. Quite prosperous businesses are being carried on in and from such offices and simply because there was no law covering them, the proprietors did not think it worth their while to expend a little money in providing facilities which the law did not demand from them.

In the main, these offices have one, two or maybe three persons and as the Bill stands, no change whatever in their conditions will take place. They are entirely excluded from the Bill. To my mind, this is a very serious exclusion, because it leaves out the very premises where the gravest abuses take place. Offices such as I have described are generally of the type where the employees have no protection by way of trade unions and they run a serious risk of dismissal, if they so much as put in the slightest complaint about such matters.

As has been said already in the Dáil, the large offices employing large staffs are generally run in a quite satisfactory manner and so far as they are concerned, this Bill makes no difference to them. I would, therefore, press on the Minister, through his Parliamentary Secretary, to make the Bill applicable to all offices employing any number of persons on clerical work. I can see no merit whatever in passing this Bill as it stands at the moment, on a sort of promise that some time in the future we might widen it to cover offices employing a lesser number of persons. Too many persons are liable to lose their health in the interval.

The necessity for paragraph (e), sub-section (2) of Section 3 rather puzzled me. I should like the Minister to say in what circumstances he might desire to exclude "a premises or class of premises" other than those mentioned, from the scope of the Act.

I am glad to note that the Bill applies to offices in the occupancy of the State; but Section 4 gives power to the Minister to exempt from the provisions of the Bill, in case of a public emergency, any office where work is being done on behalf of the State. I should like to know what kind of an emergency is visualised. In recent times, what we came to know as an "emergency" covered a period of about six years. I do not think it would be fair that civil servants should be expected to work under bad conditions, likely to injure their health, for such a long period. If such a provision is felt necessary in the Bill, there should be some limit to the time during which, even in an emergency, civil servants would be expected to work under bad conditions.

Most of us are aware of the frequent complaints from civil servants working in crowded rooms, in what might be called reconditioned rooms in houses never intended to be used as offices, where there is poor lighting and where the ventilation and heating leave very much to be desired. It would be right to say there have been over the years complaints from Civil Service organisations directing attention to the high incidence of ill-health, especially among young civil servants, attributable to such unsatisfactory conditions in buildings. Dublin Castle, which houses a good number of civil servants, is described not only as entirely unsuitable for offices, but in fact in many ways it is completely dangerous.

To my mind, the most important thing necessary to make this Bill a really effective measure for the protection of the large number of persons working in offices, particularly those working under unsuitable conditions, is that it should be made to apply to all offices irrespective of the number of employees. I ask the Minister, through the Parliamentary Secretary, if he will look into the provisions again from the point of view of the health of the employees and not from the point of view of the cost or inconvenience of the people who own the offices.

I was rather surprised at Senator Murphy's effort to throw cold water, more or less, on this Bill, and at some of the statements which were made by Senator Miss Davidson. I welcome the Bill and regard it as an excellent piece of progressive legislation, adding another rung to the ladder of our social code for the protection of workers. We must remember, despite what Senator Murphy said, that it is a piece of pioneering and experimental legislalation. One would imagine that no thought had been given to the Bill, or that the fact that it did not apply to certain offices with a certain minimum number of staff meant that it was not fully considered.

I have the recollection that this Bill has been on the way and under discussion since last February, when it was first introduced and circulated by the previous Government. The Second Stage of the Bill was taken in the Dáil early in May. There has been quite a lot of discussion in political and labour circles on the various sections of the Bill since then. Any organisations affected were asked for their views, and the time in which the Bill was under consideration was considerably extended to enable any organisation interested to present its views. Many of them did so and I cannot understand Senator Murphy's innocence in regard to that aspect of the question.

He lamented the hesitant and negative attitude of the Minister in drawing up the Bill. It is a serious and praiseworthy attempt to give to office workers, a much neglected class, the same type of protection as is afforded to factory workers. The fact that it applies only to premises housing five and more persons is something that must be taken at a valuation, having regard to the fact that it is experimental legislation and that there was nothing to use as a guide before it was drawn up.

There is no reason in the world why, any more than in regard to any other enactment in our social code, when experience has shown how it is working and the difficulties which have to be surmounted, the Act, as we hope it will then be, will not be made to apply to the type of office which Senator Murphy and Senator Miss Davidson have in mind. I certainly should like to congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on having introduced this Bill and I hope the Seanad will give every assistance in expediting its passage into law and in helping to do long delayed justice to a section of workers whose interests have been sadly neglected in the past.

As a member of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, I should like to say that we welcome this Bill. We see little in it to which any employer would object. In fact it struck me, while some of the Senators were addressing the House and praising the introduction of social legislation of this sort, that many employers to-day feel these things are not really necessary. People who manage their businesses well and who like to get efficiency know that, in their own interests, good conditions for office workers and industrial workers run parallel with good output and good products. In fact most employers to-day study the type of conditions in which office workers and others will have to pass their employment. Not alone do they study such things as are provided in this Bill, elementary sanitary accommodation and so forth, but they study the colour schemes to be used in offices and factories to promote better work and give a better environment, so that we, as a people, will be able to produce goods and services efficiently and compete in the world markets. If we are not able to complete in these markets we will not be able to enjoy the standards of living that the people want.

It is in a way, if you like, rather an anomaly that labour representatives and others to-day are interested in social legislation and the employers see some of the things the classical communists saw in the past, the withering away of the State. They see the lack of necessity for these things because they have gone further ahead in their approach to these problems. When the Factories Act was first introduced, the Minister said that everything in the Act had been anticipated and put into effect years before by progressive employers. The same thing applies to this type of Bill.

With regard to the smaller offices where three, four or five persons are working, I think that when they see the benefits arising from the good conditions laid down in this Bill for the larger offices, there will not be any need to introduce regulations for them. It would be a great thing to see, in regard to the many pieces of legislation, progressive or otherwise, which we have passed, year by year, fewer officials necessary, because employers and workers who are sharing in helping to give us prosperity, would see it was in their own interests to have these conditions which are for the benefit of all the people, rather than that such conditions should have to be prescribed by Order or Acts of Parliament.

I should like to support this Bill also. Any criticisms I have to make of it will be solely on the question of its scope being somewhat limited by certain sections. I think it is obvious that we all welcome the general principles of the Bill and the fact that the Government has seen fit to introduce it. It is, therefore, on the question that has been mentioned by several Senators—how far this Bill ought to extend its protection and over how many workers—that I should like to say something.

Senator O'Donovan, speaking in relation to Section 3, which excludes from the provisions of this Bill any office with five or less clerical staff, made the point that this, perhaps, would apply to small shops which might not be able to go to the expense of supplying the various safeguards required. The various things required are that the workers shall not be overcrowded, shall have enough air to breathe, shall have sufficient sanitary accommodation, washing facilities and so on. It seems to me an odd argument to say that we must deprive certain workers of these things because their employers could not afford to give them to them. In other words, in order to keep certain employers in business, you have got constantly to sacrifice the health of their workers. I wonder is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that that is what was intended. I feel it would be a dangerous principle to admit.

I feel that if the small businessman is not in the way of ensuring decent, human conditions for his workers such as are provided for in this Bill, then he should not be in that business. It is sometimes claimed, I think wrongly, in relation to the grocery shops that Senator O'Donovan mentioned, that certain cut price establishments exploit the workers, underpay them and so on. Usually this is hotly denied on the other side. I feel that Senator O'Donovan's speech has tended to condone that type of exploitation whether it now exists or not. I should be very emphatically on the side of Senators Murphy and Miss Davidson on the point that this excluding sub-section (2) of Section 3 should not be there at all. I think we ought to be able to extend reasonable safeguards, minimum provisions, under this Bill, to all clerical workers, however they are employed, whether there are two, three, four, five or six in an office.

I can think of only one provision in this Bill which might be regarded as unreasonable in the case of small offices, and that is Section 23 which provides for facilities for "preparing and taking meals." All the other provisions seem to me to be quite reasonable to be required for a staff of one, two, three, four or five. It is not only in the offices of factories that you might have office conditions obtaining which ought to be deplored. Senator Miss Davidson has pointed out that there are a great number of small offices in Dublin where the conditions are not such as might be desired. I think perhaps Senator Mullins misunderstood Senator Murphy who made the point that it is precisely to the workers in the smaller offices that protection should be given. His point was that those workers are, on the average, less well organised and less well able to defend themselves than the workers in the bigger offices. I do not think he suggested that all big offices are properly run, but that the workers in bigger offices tend to be better organised on the average.

When Senator Mullins spoke of the text of this Bill being widely discussed and widely circulated to the organisations affected, it seemed to me that even some of the workers' organisations might not be quite as concerned about the workers in the smaller offices where they might not be organised. I find myself unmoved, furthermore, by being told in this House that this matter has already been thrashed out in other places, and that therefore we need not think that we can amend it. This is the place where we can amend legislation if it requires amending, no matter who has been consulted.

I did not suggest that the Bill could not be amended, and I did not hear anybody else suggest that. I have listened to the debate and have not heard that suggestion.

I regret if I misunderstood the Senator. He expresses surprise at "the innocence" of Senator Murphy in rising now to suggest certain things when these had not previously been suggested.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is the explanation underlying certain clauses, before reaching a decision regarding amendments. In Section 3, sub-section (3), I notice that the Act will not apply, according to paragraph (a), to premises occupied by the Defence Forces. I should like to know if these conditions, in such offices adjoining barracks and so on, are already legislated for by other legislation, or whether it is that we do not care what becomes of clerical staff in barracks? We are concerned with other Government offices, and I should like to know we are not concerned with the Defence Forces. There may be some very good answer to these points.

Paragraph (b) says that this Act shall not apply "to premises used substantially as a private residence or for private domestic purposes". I should like the House to remember that, in any event, this Bill, as at present drawn, applies only to places with offices of a clerical staff of six or more people. Even where there are six or more people, the Act will not apply to those six or more working in "premises which are substantially a private residence". Six or more people working in any office should not be protected, apparently, because "the premises are used substantially as a private residence or for private domestic purposes". I should like to hear some comment from the Parliamentary Secretary on what necessity he sees for removing the protection of this Bill from such people.

Lastly, in relation to that sub-section, the point made by Senator Miss Davidson was that she noted that some "premises or classes of premises", according to paragraph (e), may be "exempted" from the provisions of this Act by the Minister. I see a danger here. I am afraid of granting such powers of exemption without any standards or provisions being laid down, of simply giving a blank cheque to the Minister to allow exemption of certain classes of premises. I have a feeling that a lot of the Act falls to pieces if, having drafted it carefully and showing what it will apply to, we include this clause. Even though it may appear to apply to certain firms, we give the Minister power to exempt any particular premises, and any class of premises which he feels like exempting. I do not know what other Senators feel about this blank cheque being asked for, but I for one would like to hear along what lines the Minister is thinking, when he asks for that odd sort of power.

Similarly in regard to Section 9, which deals with overcrowding in offices, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what kind of standards he has in mind in relation to sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section. We are told that the Minister may prescribe regulations as to the minimum space standards and so on. I do not know whether the Minister would care to give us now the amount of cubic space provided in other Acts, what kind of standards he has in mind, and how he will arrive at the kind of standards which are to be laid down in the regulations under Section 9?

Section 13 deals with the provision of suitable sanitary conveniences for people employed in offices. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to state for us why, when asking for power to insist that such conveniences be provided for office workers, there shall be no such protection in offices where there are less than six office workers. That seems to me not to be a legitimate "restriction" of the Act. I think it is a mistaken exemption.

I feel the same way about Section 20 which deals with the provision of washing facilities. Whether there are one, two, three, four or five people in an office they all need to wash, and the fact that washing facilities need not be provided, apparently, in offices where there are less than six workers does not seem to me to be reasonable.

I think we should welcome the provision in Section 23, sub-section (2) paragraph (c) relating to facilities for the "preparing and taking of meals". I have already referred to this and it seems to me to be yet another portion of the Bill which is most reasonable.

I do not want to say much more about the Bill but I should like for the sake of guidance, when we come to the Committee Stage, to get the Parliamentary Secretary's attitude to the questions I have put to him. I cannot help concluding with the thought that I should very much like to see legislation of this kind for the provision of proper sanitary conditions, washing facilities, and "facilities for the preparation of meals" being brought before us in relation to our primary schools, 800 of which are in a most obsolete condition.

With what Senator Sheehy Skeffington has said, I agree very much. However, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to clarify Section 26 which gives power to grant exemption certificates in certain cases. I do not quite see the significance of that section and I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could explain what underlies it.

There is one query I should like to make about Part V of the Bill, under which the chairman and ordinary members of the advisory council are appointed by the Minister. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that he had consulted various bodies with regard to this Bill and with regard to what should be in it. Would he not consider that members of these various bodies should get representation on this advisory council? I have in mind members of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and the trade unions. Surely we have gone far enough in this country to allow outside bodies to be represented on these advisory councils. We have no guarantee that the persons who will be appointed by the Minister, or the people whom he will be advised to appoint, will differ in any way in mind from the people who appoint them. I should like to see bodies such as I have mentioned represented on advisory councils of this sort.

The introduction of this legislation is not to be taken as evidence of a belief on the part of the Legislature that employers of clerical workers generally have imposed conditions of work less than what might be considered reasonably good, but I think that that type of remark could be applied to almost any other piece of social legislation. I have no adverse comment to make on the criticism levelled at this measure. I agree with the Senators who said that the Bill is not good enough, that it is a piece of legislation which cannot be tested as against any previous legislation, here or in other countries.

I want to emphasise what Senator Miss Davidson has said, that Ireland is the first country to embark on such legislation. We are one of the young nations and this is not the only piece of social legislation in which Ireland has pioneered. We are aware that there are some provisions in the Bill which are not as good as the critics would wish to have them. There is hardly anybody on either side of either House but would wish to have the Bill improved, if that is possible, and I think it would be more satisfactory for all concerned if we were to take the details of the Bill on Committee Stage when we will be in a better position to give all the explanations we have been asked for.

However, there are one or two points that should be referred to here and now. The principal one is the provision that the Act will not apply to offices employing fewer than six people. It has been stated by the Minister, and it was repeated in my introductory speech, that that is so for one reason: that there was a danger that the employer who employs small numbers might disemploy one or two members of his staff so that he might avoid the obligations which this measure imposes. I know that that type of fear can be scouted and reasons can be advanced for the scouting of it. We think, however, quite apart from that apprehension—and we consider it a very real one, seeing that this is a piece of pioneering legislation—we ought to give the smaller employers all over the country an opportunity of adapting themselves to the requirements of this piece of legislation. We anticipate that in the course of time and with growing experience they too will eventually be roped in by an amendment of this legislation.

This is a very reasonable approach. It gives fair warning to all concerned that the good conditions which this Bill will ensure in those offices employing more than six will in time have to be made available in the smaller offices. It is not possible for me to satisfy those who have strong feelings on this question of denying these facilities to the smaller numbers. In one respect at any rate, namely overcrowding, there is less danger in the smaller offices than there is in the larger ones. With regard to sanitary accommodation, temperature, safety of structure and so forth, these apply equally to smaller offices and to the big.

I have been asked some specific questions and I think I ought to reply to the one raised with regard to exemptions. Senator Sheehy Skeffington asked me to say why certain premises are being exempted. He mentioned premises occupied by the Defence Forces. I understand it is inadvisable, if not entirely prohibited, to have civil inspection of military premises and that is the reason why the exclusion is made.

With regard to premises used substantially as a private residence or for private domestic purposes, I visualise premises used for the combined purpose of residence and business. It is possible that the element of private residence accounts for this exclusion. If, however, the Senator leaves the matter until the next stage, I shall try to get more precise information for him.

With regard to shops having offices, such offices are adequately covered by the Shops (Conditions of Employment) Act.

I do not think I ought to go in any detail into the various points raised at this stage, I take it the principle of the measure is acceptable. That, in fact, has been stated by a number of Senators. The Second Stage is really for the purpose of putting the issue of acceptance of the principle of the measure to the House. I will undertake to have as much information as possible available for Senators on Committee Stage. In the meantime, I ask that the measure as it stands be given its formal Second Reading. Any amendments which Senators may wish to put down will be very carefully considered and, if not accepted, I hope to be in a position to give very good reasons for their nonacceptance.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 4th December.