Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 5 Jul 1962

Vol. 196 No. 10

Committee on Finance. - Vote 8—Office of Public Works (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
"That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration."—(Deputies Donnellan and T. Lynch.)

When the Parliamentary Secretary moved this Estimate on 17th May, nearly seven weeks ago today, he referred in detail to a number of the subheads under which the money was being spent. He referred in particular to the fact that the increase in Vote 9 of £1,331,000 over last year's provision "was mainly due to an expansion of activities and, to some extent, to wage increases." At column 1065 of the Official Report of 17th of May, 1962, volume 195, No. 8, he says:

Vote 8 covers the salaries and incidental expenses of the various staffs needed to deal with the services for which provision is made in Vote 9. I may mention that a certain amount of reorganisation of staff has recently been carried out with a view to increasing efficiency. The increase of £79,200 over last year's provision is due almost entirely to the pay increases recently granted to all classes of civil servants.

That is a statement of fact and I certainly have no quarrel with the Parliamentary Secretary for asking that the money be provided to pay for that. But I do quarrel with him when he comes to deal with other types of employees of the Office of Public Works, who may not be civil servants but who are still employees of the Office of Public Works. For some extraordinary reason, the Office of Public Works are not prepared to deal with them in the same way as they have dealt with others. The wage increases granted to some of them were very small and others got no increase at all. In fact, the ordinary trade union negotiations carried on between employer and employee seem to be completely ignored by the OPW when dealing with these people.

Let me refer to the people employed on arterial drainage. A demand for increased wages and improved conditions was served on the OPW in the normal way. Negotiations by letter took place, and in regard to the Broadmeadow, there were direct discussions between the trade unions and the officials. The trade unions were informed by letter that the Office of Public Works had decided to give the current increase which was granted to other types of machine operatives, gangers and foremen. That was all right. It was expected that the people on the Broadmeadow would get an increase of 10/-. They got an increase of 10/- and then 10/- again.

The question of a 45-hour, five-day week and sick pay was being considered by the Office of Public Works. Despite the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary in answer to me in the House gave me the information that these matters had been turned down, the Office of Public Works did not have the courtesy to notify the trade union representatives concerned, by letter or otherwise, that that was the case. To this day, no reply has been sent from the Office of Public Works as to whether or not the matter has been decided one way or the other. The Office of Public Works may consider that those employed on arterial drainage are beneath contempt. The civil servants and people in bigger jobs had got the increase and everything was grand.

I should like to clarify that by saying that I am well aware that the Parliamentary Secretary is not directly responsible for that situation. I am sure he would not have allowed it to continue if he knew what was happening. The position is that these people and their trade union representatives are being treated with contempt. No attempt at direct negotiations in the matter was made by the Office of Public Works. These are the people who actually do the work. There is no doubt that the people who carry out the work of arterial drainage are the men with the spades and shovels who have to work in the mud. Their rate of pay, with the exception of the men working on the Broadmeadow, is £6 10s. a week. There is only one class of worker I know of who are paid a lower rate, and they are the unfortunate agricultural labourers.

I believe a grave injustice is being done to these people. The reason the Parliamentary Secretary gave me for refusing to reduce the hours of work to what is now accepted as the norm by industrialists in the cities and in rural Ireland, was that I should be aware that most of the work done on arterial drainage is done during the summer time, and that therefore it would be unreasonable to reduce the hours of work or give a five-day week. Of course, that exposes the kernel of the trouble. In fact what the Parliamentary Secretary meant was that those people work six days of the week. They work from 8 o'clock in the morning, not till 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock, but as long as there is light. The reason they can be forced to do that is that the wages they receive are so small that in order to get any decent living at all they must work hour after hour on over-time.

In order to prevent any change in that position the Office of Public Works are prepared to refuse to grant to them what has been granted to practically every other type of comparable worker. I am not blaming the Parliamentary Secretary. I am quite sure that when he has the position explained to him, as I propose to explain it, he will take immediate action to remedy it. No Parliamentary Secretary would be proud of the fact that his Department were doing that in 1962 to the men with the spades and shovels.

I was not a fortnight in my job when I announced over the radio, with the permission of the Minister for Finance, an increase of 10/- per week.

I am well aware of that but that 10/- brought them only slightly over the rate of an agricultural labourer. That 10/- still left them very much under what is being paid generally in rural Ireland. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary is aware that practically every local authority worker has now a five-day, 45-hour week for nine months of the year. Practically every local authority in Ireland is paying a minimum of not less than £7 1s. These people working for the Office of Public Works are working a 48-hour, 5½-day week and they are paid £6 10s.

I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would be the first to agree that that situation should not be allowed to continue any longer. If it were just a question of people being paid this rate for a short period that would be bad enough, but they are paid it over the whole year and over the whole country. They do not get dirt money or any extra consideration even though they have to go to their hips in mud in the rivers, as everyone who has seen one of these schemes in operation is aware.

As I said, they are paid the second lowest rate in Ireland. The agricultural worker has the doubtful honour of being the lowest paid. I would appreciate it if the Parliamentary Secretary took another step forward in the line he has started. The 10/- was very much appreciated. The 10/- which has already been granted to the Broadmeadow people should be granted to the men employed on all the other jobs. We all know why that was granted. It was granted because of a shortage of labour there, and because the men working there intimated that they were not prepared to continue working for £6 10. Now we have reached the stage where the other men have also intimated that they are not prepared to continue working and that unless the Office of Public Works will pay them at least £7 a week, they will take the matter into their own hands. I certainly would be the last to blame them and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would not blame them either.

In the position the Deputy occupies, he has the same responsibility as I will have when replying to point out clearly what the position is. This rate is tied to the agricultural rate—not tied—but there is a relationship between them.

So far as I am aware, that relationship has not existed for years. I am talking about the minimum agricultural rate which is not paid to all agricultural workers. In my constituency they may receive very much over £7 per week, although since 4th June the minimum rate there is only £6 7s. A decent farmer does not pay the lowest rate he can get away with. If he has a man to do the work and if he can afford it—and most of them can— he pays more than the minimum rate, even though he is paying it out of his own pocket.

The Office of Public Works—a Government body—are employing people all over the country and they are paying the second lowest rate and, as a matter of fact, the lowest in many cases. There is no justification for that, particularly when you remember that the people at the top, the engineers employed in the Office of Public Works, the machine operatives and everyone else, are paid what is considered to be the local rate. It is not the local rate when it comes to the men with the spades and shovels. They must struggle along on the rate to which I have referred. I do not think that is right and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would not try to justify that action.

I should be very grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would use his good offices in his Department to get a reply from the office to the trade union representatives. The only reply we have got is the one the Parliamentary Secretary gave to me in this House but nothing has been put down in writing, good, bad or indifferent, by the people who are supposed to be interested in it in the Office of Public Works. Most of the people concerned are employed in arterial drainage.

The question of the 45-hour, five-day week arises for the civilian employees of the Office of Public Works in the various barracks all over the country. While the people on the top have a five-day week, those who are the lowest paid are again being refused permission for a 45-hour, five-day week. I think someone is trying to put the Parliamentary Secretary in an awkward position, and it is not I. I should be glad if he would look into the matter as quickly as possible and I should be very grateful if he will communicate with me as soon as he can.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.