Night Work (Bakeries) (Amendment) Bill, 1981: Second Stage.

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

For some years now employers and trade unions in the bakery industry have been complaining about the operation of the Night Work (Bakeries) Act, 1936. This legislation was enacted to give effect to ILO convention No. 20 which prohibits the baking of bread and flour confectionery at night.

The ban on night work applies to the baking operation only. Other ancillary operations such as slicing, wrapping, packing orders, loading vans and so on can be legally carried out at night. In addition, regulations have been made under the Act which allow flour blending, dough making, sponge making and clearing of ovens to be carried out at night. The 1936 Act, therefore, applies only to the bakers who comprise a minority of bakery workers.

A consultative document which set out various options in regard to the Act was issued to all interested parties in February 1980. The options were briefly as follows: (a) to change the legal starting and finishing times for baking to 4 a.m. and 9 p.m.; (b) to introduce a licensing system authorising bakeries to work at night; (c) to allow night baking on a partial basis (for example for 26 weeks per year as in Britain and Northern Ireland, or on a particular day or days of the week); (d) to introduce more effective enforcement procedures; (e) to increase the penalties for breaches of the Act.

Discussions on these options were held with both sides of the industry and resulted in agreement that action needed to be taken if employment in the industry was to be maintained.

Towards the end of the year the national delegate conference of the Bakery and Food Workers' Amalgamated Union passed a motion noting with concern the growing threat to security of employment of the union's members and calling for acceptable amendments which would make the Act more effective or, alternatively, the repeal of the 1936 Act.

The employers for their part wanted greater flexibility of operation to enable them to supply fresh bread to meet the decline in bread consumption.

Late last summer a number of bakeries indicated that they would have to close unless they were allowed to operate more flexibly, in particular having permission to bake at night. Such closures would have involved large-scale unemployment. These developments made it a matter of urgency that a solution be found quickly. Last October the Labour Court heard a claim on behalf of a bakery that the unions should agree to alterations in working conditions including the introduction of night work on a rotation basis. The court ruled that it did not seem that a case had been established for the continuing prohibition of all night work and if night shifts were included in a rotational shift pattern the court felt that the legislation should be amended to allow this to take place where unions and employers agree.

Having studied the views of all sides I feel the best way to tackle the problems which exist in the industry is by way of amending the Act to allow a licensing system as well as improving enforcement and increasing penalties. This is what is contained in the Bill before the House. What is proposed is a system of licensing which will allow baking throughout the night where it is shown that circumstances warrant it. Before licences are issued, it is provided that the representatives of employers and workers concerned will be consulted. Apart from this, I have taken the opportunity to pass the enforcement of the Act to the industrial inspectorate of my Department and penalties have also been increased for breaches of the legislation.

It is my earnest hope that the enactment of this legislation will augur better times ahead for the bakery industry and its employment. I recommend the Bill to the House.

We have no objection to this Bill being speedily passed through the House. I believe that it has come about by reason of the fact that the 1936 Act has been flouted in certain instances by a small number of bakers. This has been to the detriment of other bakers who have complied with the 1936 Act, especially city bakers. If so, if it is to remedy any defects in the operation of the 1936 Act, we would agree with and support this Bill. It just prompts me to ask why there was the ban on night time baking, in the first instance, under the 1936 Act? I do not know why the ban is there; perhaps the Minister would explain that to me. If this amendment is for the reason I have suggested we are in agreement that this Bill should be passed.

The reason I think was that conditions in the industry were not as favourable as they are now and at the time the legislation was needed. I thank the Seanad for the speedy passage given to the Second Stage.

But is the reason as I suggested, that the 1936 Act had been flouted in certain instances?

The reason is as I outlined in my speech. We have had some prosecutions under the Act, but it has not been totally flouted.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.