I welcome the Minister and thank Senator Costello for raising this matter. I welcome the Bill but, in this particular case, I find myself almost acting in a manner which is against all my normal traditions. I, like Senator Cox, come from a family business and, therefore, I value greatly the benefits of the family business. It was mentioned yesterday that the growth in and the success story of the United States is the result of small, mainly family businesses. Therefore, we should do everything we can to encourage family businesses.
This morning I read what the Minister said on Report Stage in the Dáil and realised that this matter was debated there. I find myself on the side of the support there from the Socialist Party who made this same case. I make the case, however, from a different point of view and make two cases. I would like to see this Bill, when enacted, as solid good legislation. I am concerned about any legislation that goes through the Houses which perhaps has gaps. I would not be surprised if there were gaps in this legislation and if there was an objection to it in the future from the point of view of fairness.
I gave an example on Second Stage of a bachelor running a business, a pub, shop, etc., in competition with a large family business. The bachelor suddenly finds the minimum wage legislation applies to him. I was stunned when I read the range of people to whom it does not apply – I think I counted 17. It includes the spouse, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, stepfather, stepmother, son, daughter, stepson, step daughter, grandson, grand-daughter, brother, sister, half brother and half sister. The list seemed to go on and on. I would not be surprised if there was a case to be made to the Competition Authority by that bachelor who could say it is unfair in business terms. That, however, is not the main point I wish to make.
The fundamental flaw in this goes back to making an exception for such a wide range of employees who are members of the family. It goes back to the old concept which existed until the 1800s whereby people could own other people. I thought that when Abraham Lincoln, Wilberforce and the others got rid of slavery they got rid of that concept and that it would not come back. In recent years our eyes have been opened to what goes on in families, including physical and sexual abuse. We also know there has been exploitation in the past. While Senator Cox rightly made the case that family members may be underpaid because they have an investment in the future, I doubt if that stands up.
In the majority of cases where family members are underpaid it is because it is cheap labour and they are bullied into this situation perhaps with promises that they will benefit at a future stage when the owner of the business passes on. When one looks at the range of people involved, one realises that this concept of someone owning someone else almost implies that because they own them, they can use them in their business and, therefore, they do not have to pay them even the minimum wage. The term I used yesterday in regard to spouses was "chattels", a lovely old word. It treats people as things and that one can own things. This outdated idea of slavery that one can own people as well will almost be enforced in the legislation.
The Minister should look again at this section even at this late stage when the Bill has gone through the other House and is at a late stage in this House and cannot be easily to changed. We must put down a marker and say this is bad law and is not one we should enact. I imagine that a youngster, who is probably only 14 years of age now, may take this legislation to the High Court and say it is wrong and unfair and is almost akin to slavery. On that basis, I would not like to see a law being passed which will not stand up in the long term. I urge the Minister to rethink this section, recognise that it is too all embracing and find another method to overcome the problem of the family business which wants help in this area.