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.