There is one class of person not referred to in this Bill and not engaged in mining, although possibly engaged in some form of transport. I refer to the workers in the Post Office service. At present many of those workers are working 48 hours a week, which is the new maximum prescribed by this Bill. The Government, however, apparently, hopes that it will be able to negotiate agreements for working a week of less than 48 hours, because in his speech on the Second Reading the Minister said: "A 44-hour week has been instituted in other industries by agreements between employers and employees. There is no necessity to amend those agreements in consequence of the passing of this measure; in fact it is not improbable that immediately upon the passage of this measure arrangements will be made to bring into consultation in accordance with the Bill the representatives of workers and employers in particular industries, with a view to having arrangements made for the enactment of regulations prescribing a shorter week than 48 hours in respect of those industries."
I assume that the initiative in that matter is going to be taken by the Minister's Department. I suggest to him that his representative at a conference of that kind will feel in a rather invidious position if, when he is urging employers to reduce their hours from a 48-hour week, he is open to the rebuff that he himself, as a member of the Executive Council, continues to employ persons for 48 hours per week. I am sure the Minister is sympathetic towards putting his own house in order. I am sure that in respect of those particular Post Office employees he is anxious that whatever general social legislation benefits workers generally should be made applicable to them. I hope, before the Minister's representative meets those employers and workers, he will be able to assure his representative that he is in the happy position of knowing that no counter-attack can be made on the Government in respect of the hours per week which it requires its own employees to work. If the Minister does that, I think he can enter a conference of that kind assured, at all events, of the good will of the Labour Party and of the good will of the workers who would be represented at a conference of that kind.
I should prefer if this Bill were being discussed in this House with the other Bills which I understand are to come. I gathered from previous statements made by the Minister that it is intended to introduce a Bill dealing with the position of shop workers; that it is intended to introduce a separate Bill dealing with the transport service; that it is intended to introduce a Bill dealing with mines, and probably with hours of night work in bakeries; but one of the difficulties which confront members of the House on this subject is that in seeking to move amendments on the Committee Stage of this Bill they may be moving amendments to matters which may be contained and automatically remedied in the other Bills which are likely to be introduced. I should like, further, if the Minister could give the House any assurance that those other Bills will be ready at an early date, or that they will be circulated before the Committee Stage of this Bill is reached. If we could have that assurance I think we would be able to see this Bill in the proper perspective, and be able to co-relate its provisions to the provisions of the other Bills which are to be introduced.
One of the provisions of this Bill, on which I heartily congratulate the Minister, is the provision by which the hours of young workers will be reduced to a maximum of 40 per week. However, there is a provision in the Bill which enables the Minister to extend the hours of young workers beyond 40 per week if it can be shown that the conditions in the industry would require the continuance at work of those young people. I dislike that section intensely, because I think the Minister will be bombarded with requests from all kinds of industrialists to the effect that it is imperative that their young workers should work 48 hours per week. I am sorry that the Minister did not set his face hard on the subject of reduction of working hours to a maximum of 40 per week, and deprive himself of the powers to extend the employment of any persons beyond 40 hours per week. I can, for instance, imagine clothing manufacturers coming to the Minister and saying that it is impossible for a clothing manufacturer to continue in operation after the young workers have left, and that consequently they must have an extension of the young workers' hours of employment. I can also imagine hosiery manufacturers coming along and saying that they would be seriously inconvenienced if their young workers were to work a maximum of only 40 hours per week, and that their whole business would be disorganised. I can imagine perhaps sweets and jam manufacturers and confectioners making an equally feasible plea to the Minister, showing that they would be seriously inconvenienced if their workers were required to cease work after working a week of 40 hours. I think all that clamour would not be healthy, and I hope the Minister will give the House an assurance that while this provision is inserted in the Bill it is to be used only in very exceptional circumstances and that we are not to understand from the Bill that a mere application from the employers concerned will automatically ensure a permit to employ young workers for a period in excess of 40 hours per week.
Here again I think I must raise the case of the Post Office classes. There are in the Post Office quite a number of persons employed for 48 hours per week. They are persons under 18 years of age. I should like to know from the Minister whether those people are to be treated in the same way as any workers employed in an outside industry. I should like, for instance, to know whether a boy messenger in the Post Office, or a store boy employed in the Post Office factory or for work in connection with the Post Office factory, is to be treated in the same way as a person similarly graded in outside employment. It would seem to be an obvious anomaly if the State were to employ persons under 18 years of age for 48 hours per week, while at the same time the Minister was engaged in a kind of social crusade, asking employers to agree not to employ their workers for more than 40 hours per week. That is a matter which I should like the Minister to look into. I hope we can have some assurance from him that in this respect the State is going to lead by good example and by showing employers generally that it is above the reproach of lagging behind in the matter of conditions of employment.
This Bill makes provisions for holidays for all workers. It also makes provision for payment for Bank Holidays to all workers affected by the Bill. In some respects that will be a considerable advantage to many sections of workers. Of course, as the Minister knows, the workers in many of the industries referred to in this Bill are already allowed holidays, but there are many employers who do not concede holidays to their workers. There are many industries where no holidays are allowed to workers, and there are of course many employers in the country who think that holidays are the privilege of the employer and the well-to-do classes, and that it is evidence of the insubordination and indiscipline of the age if the workers dream of asking for holidays so that they might recuperate from a year of industrial toil. I am sorry that the Minister has not fixed a higher period of holidays than is provided in the Bill. Six days holidays are, of course, much better than no holidays, but the Minister will hardly contend that six days holidays, after 51 weeks of grinding industrial toil, are sufficient to enable workers to recuperate from that strenuous ordeal.
There is, however, a more enlightened view nowadays on the value of holidays. Most good employers and the State itself recognise that holidays are advantageous from a health point of view, that they are advantageous from a national point of view in giving us a healthier population. Broad-minded employers realise that the granting of holidays to their workers with pay has the effect of producing more efficient and more contented workers, and to that extent, an employer himself shares in the general benefit which accrues to the workers as a result of obtaining holidays with pay. I hope the Minister will not resist an amendment on the Committee Stage to increase holidays substantially above the figure specified in the Bill. If the Minister is agreeable he will find that most good employers will assent to the proposition and even those who might not be converted to the value of holidays at the moment would, I think, in a very short time realise that there were obvious advantages from a national and an industrial standpoint in conceding workers holidays for the purposes of recuperation from toil, so that they might become even more efficient workers.
The section of this Bill which is most important is Section 42, which deals with the wages agreements register. I read very closely the speech which was made by the Minister when he was introducing the Bill. If this section is to be used in the way indicated then by the Minister, I think it is a good section, but when the Act is in operation it will not be the Minister who will be interpreting its provisions; it will be the courts that will be interpreting the provisions and the Minister's intention on the Second Reading will be of little avail if any flaw is subsequently discovered. This section, in my opinion, will need very careful consideration. I have observed in the Press that there is a controversy on this section raging between the Minister, speaking here, and the Traders Union Congress, speaking outside. I think the Minister would have been wise if he had consulted the Trades Union Congress in connection with this particular section. Indeed, I think he would have been wise if he had consulted them in connection with the whole Bill. It is said—I have no evidence of the truth of the statement—that the Federation of Saorstát Manufacturers were consulted during the preparation of this Bill. I do not know whether that statement is true. I find it difficult to believe that the Minister would consult the employers and not the trade unionists. I mention the matter for the purpose of giving the Minister an opportunity of denying a statement which has secured widespread circulation. I think, on the whole, the Minister would have been wise if he had consulted the Trades Union Congress and then one would not object if he consulted the employers. I think it would have been an advantage to the Minister if he had consulted both sides.
In respect to Section 42, I think the Minister has committed a serious error of judgment in not consulting the Trades Union Congress. Reading the section, one can see clearly that it is intended to provide for a situation where the employers and the workers come together and negotiate an agreement for a minimum period of 12 months. That agreement can be subsequently registered in the wages agreements register which is to be kept by the Minister in the future. Once the Minister is satisfied that the workers and the employers are substantially representative of the industry in the particular part of the country concerned, or in the whole country, that agreement thereupon becomes binding on the employers generally. I have considerable sympathy with the viewpoint expressed by the Minister when he said that one often find cases where 80 per cent. of the employers and 80 per cent. of the workers are prepared to negotiate an agreement providing for the payment of certain wages and the observance of certain conditions of labour; but the continuity of that agreement is imperilled by 20 per cent. of the employers representing, perhaps, a very small minority of the article in production saying they are not prepared to observe the agreement and consequently they enter into a fierce cut-throat competition with other employers who are prepared to pay better rates.
If this section enables an agreement to be made between the workers and the employers, both substantially representative of the industry, and that agreement is to be binding on the remainder of the industry, one can understand the obvious advantages of an arrangement of that kind. The fear expressed by the Trades Union Congress is that this particular section, as drawn, is intended to anchor the workers to fixed conditions and is intended to put into the hands of the employers a weapon by which the existing rates of wages will be legally enforceable, and where the power of the courts may be invoked to prevent a worker withdrawing his labour in certain circumstances. I would like to know from the Minister what meaning he attaches to this section. Is this section intended to be an instrument by which, once a wage agreement is in operation in a particular industry, the employer can go to the courts? Let us say a strike is threatened in that industry because, in the opinion of the union or the workers, the employer has offended in some respect, or let us say a strike takes place because of sympathetic action by the workers in that industry with the workers in another industry. I would like to know from the Minister if it is within the power of the employer to go to the courts and say that there is an agreement in operation which had not been terminated and consequently any attempt by the workers to withdraw their labour while that agreement was in operation was something which was an offence under the section?
Will the Minister say whether this section, in his opinion, can be construed as compelling the workers to work in this industry, once the rates of wages referred to in the agreement are paid? That is a very important consideration, because the trade union movement in this country is naturally anxious to ensure that nothing will be done by any side-wind to invade the natural rights of the workers to withdraw their labour. The right to strike has always been conceded to be a natural right. Theological and ecclesiastical authorities have always conceded the undeniable right of the worker to withdraw his labour if he feels he is not securing a just reward for his efforts.