There is no need for this Bill at all, and I am sure the Minister, having heard Deputy Corry and other Deputies from County Cork, realises that the simple course would have been to draw the attention of the farming community in other counties to the wonderful lead of Cork, where, apparently, the agricultural workers are living in a sort of paradise. Perhaps it might also be well for the Minister to draw the attention of other counties to the El Dorado of the West, as mentioned by Deputy Beegan. He stated that the agricultural workers are not alone the best paid in this country, but in the whole world. As a Corkman, naturally I would like to be able to agree with Deputy Corry, Deputy P.D. Lehane and also Deputy Moylan, who represents one of the Cork constituencies. Unfortunately, I can say from my experience that the grand picture painted by them is nothing but a picture painted by their own fertile imaginations. It is true, as we will find by looking up the Official Debates, that a previous Minister for Agriculture did say that the agricultural community in Cork were in the first three at the winning post in reducing the wage between 1931 and 1935.
It was refreshing to hear Deputy Corry telling us that the men were able to trot off to Mallow races and to Pigeon Hill races. He forgot apparently that Ballinrea races are held once a year, on St. Patrick's Day, which is both a Church and a national holiday. Great emphasis was laid on the fact that these men went away for the day, and even Deputy Smith was apparently worried lest the grand facilities given by some employers would be upset, that, if this Bill became law, some of these employers might say: "We will not give the facilities we gave in the past; we will give barely the minimum required." Looking at the matter from the point of view of facts and not from the point of view of fancy or making political capital, I can truthfully say that this picture is not a true picture of conditions in North Cork, spoken of by Deputy Moylan; in East Cork, spoken of by Deputy Corry, or in South Cork, spoken of by Deputy P.D. Lehane. There may be some employers who give an odd day off, and I give them full credit for it, but in the whole of County Cork I know from records kept that there are only two cases of employers giving a week's holiday. I am also aware that wages were reduced in respect of three hours spent by men who had to attend the funeral of a relative. It is only fair that all sides should be looked at and it is not fair to say: "Just set down what is being given in Cork and let the rest follow." It is a very good job for the rest of the country that the employers there are not following in the footsteps of some of the employers in Cork.
I personally agree with this Bill, which I regard as a step forward. There may be certain points in it which I would consider shortcomings, but as under it these workers are to get a week's holiday, it is to be welcomed. We have been told about the harmonious relations which exist between employers and workers. Deputy Corry took exception to a member of this House, Deputy Dunne, going around the country on Sundays after Mass. It may be well to remind Deputy Corry and other Deputies that when, four or five years ago, the farm workers in Cork offered full co-operation with the farmers and when they asked the farmers' representatives to meet them at a round table conference to discuss their difficulties, their offer was completely ignored. When Deputies talk about the harmonious relations which exist they seem to forget that the relationship which exists is the relationship between master and man. There have been, and still are, odd cases of an employer treating his worker differently, and for that we give them full credit, but when we are dealing with a large number of workers, roughly 85,000 permanent and 51,000 casual, it is no use for a Deputy to talk of upsetting the harmonious relations which exist between these workers and their employers by making this proposal part of the law for the protection of the worker. It has been done in the cities in the past and has not interfered with the relations existing there. I believe this Bill will have no ill effects on these relations, because it means that the worker will be placed in a more secure position than he is in at present and will not have to depend on the goodwill and charity of his employer. Because it does that, we support the Bill.
Some members were in favour of staggered holidays, but we cannot look with favour on any such suggestion because we know it can lead to abuse and we know also that the worker is not in a position to ask his employer, as man to man, for certain days suitable to himself. There may be odd cases, but we cannot legislate on the basis of these odd cases when dealing with 85,000 permanent and 51,000 casual workers. We must base our whole approach to the Bill on the fact that we are dealing with a large mass of workers and a large number of employers and it is only fair that all should be on a level footing.
One point raised by the Minister was the increase in the agricultural income from £78,622,000 in 1947 to roughly £100,000,000 in 1949. Great credit is due to the Minister for helping to bring about that increase. Certain members may have objected to the suggestions put forward by the Minister from time to time in connection with the possibility of improved production, but if we take into consideration the figures, we must admit that the Minister was right. The Minister also drew attention to the fact that, in that period, there was an increase of 20 per cent. in the agricultural worker's wage from £2 10s. 0d. to £3 0s. 0d., and when we take into consideration the fact that one week's wages in the year will mean about 1/2½d. a week to the employer, it is surely not too much to say: "Pass this Bill, and the sooner the better."
Many Deputies were rather noncommittal. They said they would vote for it, but it struck me in listening to the debate and reading over the debates which took place in the past that the same line was adopted when the Agricultural Wages Bill was introduced. They were all mad to give the wage, but they had not got it to give. When that Bill was introduced, some Deputies said there would be a terrible increase in unemployment. The reverse has proved the case. This time, again, you have Deputies saying something like that. Deputy Corry gave a figure of 21,000 agricultural workers who were leaping over the fences. If we say we will leave conditions as they are, in case there may be an increase in unemployment, it means we are failing in our responsibility. Whether the number employed is large or small, it is our duty here as Deputies to see that their conditions are something approaching the standard of Christian conditions. In the debate on the Agricultural Wages Bill, the present Minister used a good phrase when he said we should not have those workers living as coolies.
I heartily agree with Deputy McQuillan when he spoke of conditions in the west. I do not know the west a lot, but I know he spoke the truth. These things are true and it is here they should be brought up. Deputy Cowan, while Deputy Allen was speaking, asked more or less in the form of a question, if it were so that some agricultural workers were living over barns. In turn, Deputy Allen did not deny that these men were sleeping in such places, but his own words were, as reported in the Dáil Debates last week, that they were living in comfortable conditions. Apparently, it has come to the time of believing ourselves, and trying to make other people believe, that sleeping over a barn is in itself sleeping under comfortable conditions.
Other Deputies were worried about the dangers of regimentation. Believing in democracy, no one can agree with regimentation in the full sense of the word, but if you take into consideration that regimentation was introduced of necessity in the Agricultural Wages Bill, surely no Fianna Fáil Deputy can say it was unnecessary then, and if that is so, why say it is not necessary now? I want to agree with Deputy Larkin on the question that arose naturally about the possibility of a weekly half-day. Unfortunately—I have this again on the basis of the records—there are employers who can give it and have stated to us that they could give it, but, simply because their neighbours are not giving it, they are not doing so. That applies to employers holding various political views. In such a case, where they can give it—and we have instances where they are giving it, and we give them full credit—I fail to see why the agricultural worker is not entitled to a half-day the same as any other worker. Various methods might be adopted by various Deputies in objecting to it. In any democratic institution there are bound to be objections to any given course, and any Deputy may adopt any line which he thinks may suit his policy. I am basing my argument on the fact that it has been proved successful and is being given by one or two individuals whom I know. The rest are simply watching what their neighbours are going to do.
In conclusion, I think it is essential to mention again our view in connection with staggered holidays. We are definitely of opinion that six days, where a man is working for the full 12 months, should be given and that the man of necessity should take the holiday to which he is entitled. It should not be left open to the possibility of abuse, whereby a man may not get the week's holiday and may not even get the money, unfortunately, because in some areas he may have to act in a hush-hush manner even as regards wages. In this Bill the worker should be safeguarded by making sure that he gets the holidays and gets them in full consecutive order. When that has been done we may reach the possibility at a later stage of considering fully having included as well a few hours off as a half-day for the agricultural worker.