Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 13 Mar 1946

Vol. 99 No. 19

Private Deputies' Business. - Holidays (Employees) (Amendment) Bill, 1946—Second Stage.

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

As the House will have seen, the principal object of this Bill is to amend Section 2 of the Holidays (Employees) Act of 1939. It may be desirable, therefore, at this stage to say briefly, that it was designed to provide two advantages, which were hitherto enjoyed by industrial workers and commercial workers, for a large body of workers who are not covered by the Conditions of Employment Act, or by the Shops Act. These two advantages were, that it provided payment for seven days' annual leave and provided payment for six public holidays or for substituted Catholic holidays. But, while the Act of 1939 made provision for the grant of holidays in the form of annual leave and provided for the payment for public holidays or substituted church holidays for a very large number of workers—including domestic workers—it made no provision whatever for payment for annual leave or for public holidays or Church holydays so far as agricultural workers were concerned. They were definitely excluded from the provisions of the Bill. It was then believed that the main reason for their exclusion was an intention to introduce a special Bill which would extend to agricultural workers at a later date and that an effort would be made to provide for agricultural workers some of the protection at least which had up to then been provided for urban and city workers. However, although efforts have since been made to direct the Government's attention to the necessity for levelling up to urban standards the wages and conditions of agricultural workers, no tangible evidence is forthcoming of any intention on the part of the Government to do that, and we have seen efforts to induce the Agricultural Wages Board to direct its functions towards the provision of holidays for agricultural workers fail to achieve their objective.

I think we have now got to say, unless we are satisfied to condemn the agricultural worker to a positively inferior position in relation to the urban worker, that the time has come to extend to the agricultural worker in respect of holidays the same type of privileges as we extend to urban workers and to domestic workers, whether they are urban or rural workers. The Act of 1939 provides holidays—and rightly so—for domestic employees, although it provides no holidays whatever so far as the producing agricultural worker is concerned. This Bill, therefore, seeks to remedy what I can only describe as an unfair discrimination against agricultural workers in respect of the denial to them of paid annual holidays and payment for public holidays or substituted Catholic holidays.

The main section of the Bill is Section 4, which seeks to make amendments in Section 2 of the Holidays (Employees) Act of 1939. The effect of the proposed amendment is to extend to agricultural workers the same privileges in respect of payment for holidays as was granted to other classes of workers in the 1939 Act, and to industrial and commercial employees in the Conditions of Employment Act and the Shop Acts of earlier years. It is only in respect of Section 4 of this. Bill that the provisions of the Holidays Act, 1939, are affected. The remaining sections of this Bill are purely formal in character, and are usually associated with amending Bills. I think I should say at this stage that, making as close an estimate as I can, I have ascertained that approximately 130,000 agricultural workers are likely to be affected by the Bill, but not all of them would be affected in respect of payment for public holidays or substituted Church holidays, because many agricultural workers already enjoy, in accordance with local custom, payment for Church holidays or payment for bank holidays. Not all of them enjoy these benefits, but in so far as they do enjoy them, the Bill simply gives legal form to a long-standing custom, and its enactment would mean that those farmers who unreasonably withheld payment to an agricultural worker in respect of Church holidays would be obliged to conform to the better standard set by his more generous neighbour.

The main purpose of the Bill, of course, is that it seeks to give to agricultural workers benefits which have too long been denied to this very neglected class. While it is true that probably 130,000 workers would be affected by the Bill it is equally true, I think, that a very substantial proportion of these workers will not be able to benefit even by the Amending Bill because of the conditions which apply to the grant of holidays under the Act of 1939, namely, a worker must be in continuous employment for a certain period—150 hours in a month or 1,800 hours in a year—but these are blemishes inherent in the parent Bill. It is unfortunate that they should be carried in equal measure into this Bill but if we could establish at this stage the principle of extending to agricultural workers the holiday privileges which are enjoyed by other workers, whether in urban areas or rural areas, in non-agricultural employment, we would be going a good distance towards meeting a long felt want so far as recognising the merits of agricultural employment in this country. I calculate—and the calculation is at best a rather rough and unscientific one—that approximately 80,000 agricultural workers would enjoy paid annual holidays if this Bill were enacted and that the cost of conceding these holidays would be approximately £160,000 per annum. In some respects, that estimate may be high, because it has to be remembered that not all the workers who will get paid holidays under the Bill will have to be substituted in their employment on the farm. So far as the employer is concerned, he may find ways and means by which the holidays can be given at times which will not involve expenditure in the employment of a substitute for his regular agricultural worker who is on holidays. At all events, we can perhaps get even a closer approximation of what the grant of paid annual holidays would mean so far as the agricultural industry is concerned if we look at the problem from the point of view of the agricultural worker's annual income and the percentage increase in paying that income involved by granting him a week's annual holidays with pay.

If, for instance, an agricultural worker—as most of them have to-day under the Agricultural Wages Board minimum wages regulation—has a weekly wage of, let us say, £104 per year, or £2 per week, and if you are going to give to the agricultural worker one week's holidays with pay, then at the most it can be said that you are imposing on agriculture a gross charge of an additional 2 per cent. in respect of expenditure on the workers engaged in the industry. When you consider the volume, whether it is the gross volume or the net volume of agricultural production in this country, especially from 1938 to date, I think everybody will recognise that an increased expenditure on wages of not more than 2 per cent., or a total expenditure of not more than £160,000, represents a trifling proportion of the agricultural output in this country to-day.

Many urban workers, by means of collective bargaining, have secured for themselves very much better conditions than are enjoyed by agricultural workers to-day. They have been able, through trade union action and the corollary of collective bargaining, to have their working hours reduced from about 48 down to that level and, in most instances, down to 44 per week. They have long established the principle of payment for overtime. In many instances, they enjoy holidays much longer than we are asking for agricultural workers in this Bill and, generally, they have been able to establish a certain constancy of employment and their recognition as an indispensable factor in industry. So far as the agricultural worker is concerned, unfortunately he has not yet had the sense to embrace trade union organisation and to display the enthusiasm and the intelligence which have marked the industrial and urban workers' approach to that problem. Until the agricultural worker has sense enough to realise that he has an enormous potential strength by the organisation of one agricultural worker with another, so long will he be compelled to tolerate the low standard of living he is compelled to tolerate to-day.

In view of the number of Bills which we have had to provide holidays for the protection of all other classes of workers, I should like to ask what is wrong with the agricultural workers' occupation or with the agricultural worker that, practically alone amongst the workers of this country, the Legislature says: "You will not get holidays"? Is it because we think agricultural employment is inferior employment? Is it because we think agricultural work is not as good or as important as domestic work? Is it because there is a definite policy of allowing the standard of living in agriculture to deteriorate progressively that we decline to give to underpaid agricultural workers the same protection in respect of holidays as we give to the urban worker who, by means of trade union action, has been able to compel attention to his grievances which the unorganised worker has not been able to do so far? Is it any wonder that agricultural workers leave the rural areas and drift into factories in the cities and towns where they can enjoy the paid holidays denied to them on the land, where they can get a rate of wages which trade unions can negotiate for them under threat of strike action, and where they can get that measure of protection which, as a result of long struggles, has been built up for the urban worker? If we are to keep the worker on the land and if we are to ensure that he will have a dignity in his vocation on the land, then we have to plan progressively to extend to him conditions which are in no sense less favourable than the conditions which the urban worker enjoys to-day and which he has been able to secure by means of organised action.

I think the figures which I have given as to the cost to this measure show clearly that it is not imposing on agriculture an impost which agriculture is incapable of bearing. According to the new volume of National Income and Expenditure 1938-1944, the position in respect to agricultural output is that the net value, at current prices, of agricultural output in 1938 was approximately £41,000,000 and that in 1944 the net value of agricultural output was £90,000,000. Therefore, with a net agricultural output of £90,000,000, this Bill imposes a charge on the agricultural industry of approximately £160,000.

What is the Deputy quoting from?

The publication released by the Department of Finance to-day, entitled National Income and Expenditure, 1938-1944, page 37. While you can see from the figures which I have just quoted that the net value of agricultural output has increased from £41,000,000 to £90,000,000, the wages in the agricultural industry have increased only by 47 per cent. The net value of agricultural output has increased by approximately 95 per cent. The percentage increase of agricultural wages is only 47 per cent. The additional charge which the grant of paid holidays to agricultural workers would impose would be the equivalent of raising their wages by as little as 2 per cent., and, certainly, in no case could it exceed 4 per cent.; that is on the assumption that farmers do not in every case pay workers in respect of Church holidays or public holidays. I think the value and the volume of agricultural output—because not only has value gone up, but the net volume related to 1938 prices has risen from £41,000,000 in 1938 to £43,000,000 in 1944—show again that both in volume and in value agriculture has improved and that it certainly is not being asked to carry any heavy impost by extending to agricultural workers, who have made that increased volume possible, the moderate annual leave allowance provided for in this amending Bill.

But, even if one had not got these incontrovertible official figures about the ability of agriculture to pay the small increase in expenditure which will be involved by the passage of the Bill, we have a number of quotations from members of the Government, all indicating how well-off they think agriculture is and how capable they think agriculture is of paying. Speaking in the Dáil last year, the Minister for Industry and Commerce said, in volume 95, column 2217:

"One section of the community is undoubtedly better off as a result of the war—the farmers. The real income of the farmers ... has increased since 1939. It has increased by approximately 50 per cent.... the only section of the community which is better off in a real sense—in the sense that they can buy more than they could buy previously—are the agriculturists."

The Taoiseach, in volume 94, column 1471, said:

"...while the cost of living has gone up 70 or 71 per cent., agricultural prices have gone up by something like 97 per cent. That is a clear indication that, taking it all in all, the farmers have been able not only to compensate themselves for the increased cost of living, but to improve their position relatively."

When he was Minister for Finance, as he was last year, Mr. Seán T. O'Kelly, now the President, stated in volume 96, column 1326:

"The farmers were never better off in their history than they are to-day."

Some time earlier, speaking on the Vote on Account in volume 92, column 2526, he said:

"The agricultural index figure has practically doubled since 1939. The cost of some things has more than doubled. In 1939, over the 12 months, milk was 5.3d. sold to creameries; at present it is 1/-. Farmers' butter in 1939 was 1/0½ per lb., now it is 2/4 retail.... The average per barrel for wheat was 29/7d; it is now 48/6, plus a credit voucher of 2/6 for fertilisers. Oats was 12/8 and is now 35/-; sugar beet was 46/6 and is now 80/-. The agricultural price index of 100 in 1939 was practically 200 in December last."

Those are tributes by members of the Government, all responsible persons, indicating that they regard agriculture as being in a prosperous position. Each has testified to the fact that, in their opinion, agriculture is better off than ever it was. One of the speakers, then Minister for Finance, and responsible for checking national income and expenditure and seeing to its allocation and distribution generally, went so far as to say that the farmers were never better off in their history than they are to-day. If that is the position, it is not unreasonable to ask the agricultural industry to extend to agricultural workers—it is a mere modicum of gratitude for what we owe the agricultural workers for their services during the past six years—the same facilities in respect of the grant of paid annual holidays as are extended to other classes of workers.

It is with knowledge based on these quotations from official publications, speeches by Ministers indicating the prosperous condition of agriculture and a sense of justice of the claim that, when we are granting paid holidays to other workers, we ought not to deny them to agricultural workers, that I ask the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill. It will be a gesture, a long-overdue gesture, to agricultural workers who, so far as this House is concerned, have not got much from it in the form of protective legislation designed to raise their wages or their conditions of employment.

It is well that Deputies, and particularly Deputies on the Government Benches, should realise the trend of legislation which this Bill is intended to fit into. If we go back to the period of 1936 when we had presented by this Government the first major piece of legislation dealing with conditions of employment, we will recall that at that time attention was given to the position of agricultural workers, but, for some reason which still seems to require explanation, the actual legislation passed and made law dealt, in effect, with those sections of workers who were not in the most immediate need of this protective legislation, because the earliest Bill which became law, the Conditions of Employment Act, 1936, gave to industrial workers certain protection, including the provision of paid annual holidays and payment for public holidays, which in a very large number of cases they already enjoyed.

Therefore, what this Bill proposes to do is to remedy a defect in our labour legislation since 1936 and to give proper priority in the order of the conditions of their employment to that section of wage earners who, by the nature of their employment, their contribution to the country's economy and in particular the services they have rendered within the past six years, are entitled to that improvement in their labouring conditions before any other section of wage earners.

It would have been in a way more fitting if it had been possible for this Bill to come from the Government Benches, in the first instance, because they had set their hand to the task of bringing forward this Labour legislation over a period of years, and it was accepted they were pursuing a particular policy in relation to different aspects of the matter, and that, in the course of time, this section of the agricultural workers would receive the attention to which they are entitled. It is only because it has become clear, from continuous questioning and pressure on responsible Ministers, that there is apparently a lack of appreciation of the urgency of this aspect of Labour legislation, and not only because of a recognition of the innate claims of these men and women who are covered by the Bill, but also because we feel that this House owes to this section of workers a debt which now must be paid, and this defect in our legislation remedied, that this Party has brought forward this Bill.

It is, I think, particularly fitting that the Bill is brought forward by a Party which, in the main, is regarded as representing industrial workers, and in presenting the Bill to the House, those of us who speak for industrial workers accept that agricultural workers have a prior and a stronger claim for these improved conditions of employment over that of any other section of wage-earners. From that point of view, I feel that we should proceed to examine the claims of the Bill now before us. In the course of legislation dealing with the granting of paid holidays, we started at a particular point in 1936, when we granted paid holidays to industrial workers. We then found there were certain gaps, and we remedied those in the 1939 Act. One of the most peculiar anomalies of the 1939 Act is that in it we provide paid holidays to the extent of 14 days in the year to a domestic worker employed in a farmhouse, but we do not provide any holidays to the agricultural worker on the farm itself. In other words, the man, or possibly the woman, who is working on the farm, with long hours, heavy, laborious work, exposed to all the elements and vagaries of the weather, was not granted this like privilege of an annual rest and cessation from labour by the very Act which gave it to the worker engaged on the same farm and by the same employer, working within the house and sheltered from the elements, and very possibly working a lesser number of hours per week, and certainly not engaged in such strenuous labour. Surely, the logic of the situation recommends a rectification of that position to-day?

In dealing with the arguments presented by Deputy Norton in support of the Bill, it appears to me that, from any viewpoint, there could be only one sustainable argument as to why this Bill should not receive general support in this House to-night. That is the mention he made of the cost of implementation, in so far as the agricultural industry is concerned. We might regard that from two points of view, firstly from the viewpoint of the national economy, that we have the basic economy of the country to consider and we are dealing with a section of people who are giving particular and valuable service to the national economy in the course of their work in agriculture. We might relate their scheme for paid holidays to the conditions under which they work. We might have regard, in the first instance, to the fact that, according to official statistics, the average rate of wages for the whole of the Twenty-Six Counties is a sum of 40s. per week, for which sum they are required to perform up to 54 hours' work in every working week. We have not even gone so far as to prescribe maximum working hours per week, as we do in trade boards dealing with industrial workers. We merely state that the hours of work in excess of 54 shall be paid for at overtime rates. So we have the position of 130,000 persons, both male and female, giving service up to 54 hours in the week for a return of 40s. That in itself should be the strongest recommendation for the Bill. Here we are dealing with a body of workers whose recognition for the labour they provide for this industry is not in any way on a generous basis. It may be argued that industry can provide a more generous return. It may be argued that the hours are essential to the industry. Surely, if that is the position and it can be shown that we can give some slight recognition, privilege or improvement to the workers, and will not place any intolerable burden on the industry itself, in all fairness the claim should be recognised?

We are dealing here with an industry which has undergone a very rapid expansion in the emergency years. The actual cost that could be placed on the industry by granting the provision in the Bill to these workers is not in any way a very significant percentage increase on the total output of that industry. It is necessary to examine the position a little more closely. Those of us who are familiar with the operation of the Holidays (Employees) Act, 1939, will be quite well aware that, although we speak of 130,000 agricultural workers being covered by the provisions of this Bill and though we might say that, to find the cost of granting holidays to those workers, we must take a multiplication of 130,000, in the first place, by £2 each for the annual holidays and, secondly, by a further sum of £2 to cover public holidays and Church holidays, in actual fact no such multiplication will take place. First of all, we have to realise that, of these 130,000, quite a large percentage are temporary or casual workers. From my own experience, I would say that from 30 to 50 per cent. of the total engaged in agriculture is composed of casual workers, engaged on a temporary basis, who cannot qualify for the full seven days' annual holidays, but only for partial holidays in the year, based upon their capacity and their opportunity to work consecutive periods of two months in which they will perform 300 hours in a particular period and, in relation to each particular period of two months, they will be allowed one day. They will also be allowed public holidays or Church holidays, where they work for five weeks continuously and 150 hours in those weeks. Even in the mild conditions, amended even by the Act of 1936, many of those temporary or casual workers will find it impossible to qualify for these partial payments in respect of annual leave or public holidays. Even granting that they do qualify in full, the sum to be met is still small in comparison with the industry concerned.

We are still left with the permanent agricultural workers and I suggest to Deputies, especially those connected with farming operations, that by dealing with this matter on a practical basis, they will discover that the actual additional cost will be little or none. We have in industries in cities certain practices and rules, established through organisation and custom, whereby men going on holidays are replaced by others employed. Therefore, because of the annual holiday for a week or a fortnight there is an additional cost to the employer.

In a great many industries, however, especially in commercial pursuits, and I take it for granted in agriculture, the case will be that where the constant man has qualified for the full seven days, he will be granted that holiday, at the particular period of the year, at the discretion of his employer, which suits the employer. It will not be granted at the busy period and, therefore, it is almost certain that no worker will be employed to replace that man, that the work will be left over until he comes back, or be performed by the farmer or his family or by other workers on the farm. That means there will be no additional financial cost form that point of view. The total cost which may have to be met by implementing the provisions of this Bill will be very small, in comparison with the total value of the output coming from the industry to the labour of those individual farmers and agricultural workers.

I trust that this measure will be dealt with by Deputies, irrespective of their Party affiliations and that there will be Deputies of all Parties who have connection in one way or another with agriculture, ready to show their appreciation of the men and women engaged in this industry. I am asking that that appreciation should come in the first place from them rather than from the industrial workers.

Many of the statements we have heard here and on public platforms, paying tribute to the services rendered by the agricultural community during the past six years, should now be given effect to in practice by members of all Parties. That is what is proposed in this measure. Many of us, who take a different view of conditions in agriculture from those who speak for the farmers, might have much more extravagant ideas to put forward for agricultural workers, but we are dealing here with a practical proposition, granting to some 130,000 men and women recognition which is extended to practically every other worker in the State, from the highly industrialised worker to the worker in the factory, the domestic worker and those engaged in transport. We recognise that, by our existing legislation, we provide a paid holiday for the clerical employee, engaged for 36 hours per week under ideal conditions and very often for very remunerative rates of pay, and still deny it to the agricultural worker, working 54 hours a week in strenuous forms of labour, exposed to the elements, for a return of a wage of £2 per week. Surely, in justice and equity, we cannot continue that position any further?

I will close by asking Deputies to pass this Bill for the sake of the agricultural workers. I hope that the representatives of the farming community will give vent to a spirit of generosity and appreciation of the part played by those who have been associated with them during the past six years in carrying through the effort on behalf of the country, by supporting this measure, regardless of which bench they may sit on in this House. I hope they will show that they intend not only to give recognition to these workers but, more important still, that they will take upon themselves part of the responsibility of making conditions in agriculture such as will not only make it possible to attract and retain the members of the farming community and their families, but also attract to agriculture something equally essential, men and women prepared to engage in agriculture for a weekly wage.

If agriculture is to be the basic form of industry in this country, then it must have adequate assistance in the way of labour. In the House the other day we listened to Deputies referring to the shortage of labour in certain of our rural areas. We heard complaints that the Minister for Industry and Commerce was not sufficiently alive to what was going on and was not enforcing certain powers given to him by the House in order to ensure that there would be a sufficient supply of labour in the rural areas. From the rural areas, we were told, young men and women were departing not only to our towns and cities, but out of the country. Surely, if we are to have any hope of maintaining in the rural areas that blood and sinew and mental ability which are the foundation of our economic progress, sooner or later we must make a start in making agriculture attractive to the young men and women engaged in it.

I suggest to farmer Deputies, and particularly to Deputies on the Government Benches, that they should make a favourable decision on this issue. I would point out to them that to take a wrong decision at this time would be bad, not only from the point of view of the immediate situation facing the country but, more important still, it would be bad from the point of view of giving to our people any impression that we are not going to make improvements in this basic industry. I urge that we should now make an effort to rectify the defects that have existed in our labour legislation since 1936 when, instead of starting with the most important section of our wealth producers, we started at the top with those who had attained a privileged position. We should give now to the agricultural labourers what is long overdue—what should have been given to them 12 years ago.

Deputy Norton, in recommending this Bill to the House, based his main argument on the idea that the same type of privileges, by way of holidays, which are enjoyed by factory workers, should be extended to agricultural workers. While we all may readily acknowledge the general principles of holidays with pay for agricultural workers, I am sure the Deputy realises, although he did not specifically refer to the matter, that because of the natural rotation of seasons— not affecting most industries—there is no common denominator in which the conditions of employment can be measured and compared.

From many years' residence amongst the members of the agricultural community, appreciating their work and wondering at times at the successful economy of their homes under the limitations of their incomes and general resources, I, and I am sure every Deputy, must admire their spirit and the way in which they have carried on at a fair standard. A close scrutiny of the whole matter shows the very complex nature of the problem. We all realise that an ordinary factory can be closed down regardless of the season of the year. It can close down in the summer and give to its workers at the most desirable time the holidays that they deserve and desire. It is not so with the agricultural workers. The time most fitting for holidays is the very busiest for the farming community, and it is a very vital time for the country in general.

The whole question has to be examined in a way that will get us down to some fundamental idea where we can meet the problem and grant the concession without, at the same time, interfering with the general economy. Most of us know that at certain seasons of the year when the agricultural worker who is industrious wants to till his own little plot and grow something for his own family, the farmer in many districts will give him a day or two off, give him his horses and his machinery, and allow him to till that plot to his own advantage. We all know also that when the products of these plots are ripe for harvesting and when the farmer himself is threshing, he allows his worker to come along in the evening or in the afternoon and bring whatever little wheat or oats or other products he has grown to the farm and thresh it there, with the help of the farmer and his other workers, without additional cost to the worker himself.

These things happen every year. There is a certain tradition of cooperation between the farmer and his worker, particularly in cases to which reference has been made here—cases where the workers continue in the service of the same farmers over a long number of years. When a farmer gets good and suitable workers he is anxious to keep them. He grants them all these facilities and they are enjoying them without any loss or anything else of that nature. Simply by custom and agreement many workers get the privileges which are incorporated in this measure. Deputy Norton has said that the passing of this Bill will cover all of what he calls the blemishes of Section 4 of the Act of 1939. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned accordingly.