SEANAD IN COMMITTEE. - UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE BILL, 1924—THIRD STAGE.

Sections 1 to 6, inclusive, were agreed to and added to the Bill.
SECTION 7.
(1) The Minister for Finance may out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof, advance any sums required for the purpose of discharging the liabilities of the Unemployment Fund under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, 1920 to 1923, as amended by this Act, and for the purpose of providing the sums to be so advanced the Minister for Finance may borrow money in such manner as he may think proper.
(2) Any sums advanced under the foregoing sub-section, together with interest thereon (if any) at such rate as may be fixed by the Minister for Finance, shall be charged on and be repayable out of the Unemployment Fund.
(3) The principal and interest of any securities issued by the Minister for Finance for the purpose of borrowing under this section and the expenses incurred in connection with the issue of such securities shall be charged on the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof.

I beg to move the following amendment:—

Immediately before Section 7 to insert a new Section 7 as follows—

7.—Paragraph (c) of the proviso to sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the Principal Act (which relates to failure to fulfil the statutory conditions for the receipt of unemployment benefit) shall be amended by the addition at the end thereof of the words—"or at a rate of wage which, having regard to the duration of the employment offered and the cost and inconvenience of travelling or removal to the district, would not constitute a reasonable recompense."

The object of the amendment is this: In the principal Act men in receipt of unemployment benefit here who were offered employment in another district and refused to accept employment in another district were disqualified from receiving benefits. This amendment is not put forward in the interests of people not prepared to work. The amendment is put forward to protect the ordinary worker who is unemployed through no fault of his own from being disqualified from benefit for refusing to accept work in places where it would not be worth his while to do so. The point is this: a person unemployed and in receipt of unemployment benefit when his claim is accepted might be offered employment in another district at wages that would not pay the worker to go there. I will admit that for years there was an unwritten law or procedure acted on by the officials who administered the Unemployment Insurance Act that, generally speaking, married men with families were not disqualified from benefits because of their refusal to travel to employment which they were offered elsewhere, and that portion of the Act was fairly well administered without prejudice to the workers. A new departure was created some months ago when members of the building trade in Dublin were offered employment in another district at rates much below rates which were paid in Dublin. The men would have to pay their own train fares, and they had no guarantee that the employment would be of any duration. They refused to accept such employment, and their claims for benefit were disallowed and they were disqualified.

With regard to that particular incident the employment that was offered was in Dundalk, where the rate of wages was at least 12s. less than the rates that had been paid here. In addition, the men were expected to pay their own fares going there, and they would have to pay their fares back again when the job was finished. The position in regard to unemployed men travelling to these districts made it pretty awkward. In the first place men having families in Dublin and keeping houses in Dublin, could not bring their families to the place of their work. The usual procedure in the case of men sent by contractors to country districts to work is, that they are paid the Dublin rates of wages, plus an additional allowance for country money to meet their lodging expenses. Their train fares are paid when sent to a job and when returning, but in this case, where employment is offered through the Labour Exchange, it was made known that the men would have to go at a wage lower than Dublin, and would have to pay their own fares to the district. These men would have to keep their homes in Dublin and their families in Dublin, and consequently the thing was not worth while. They would have to make two divisions of their reduced wages, and it is not fair to expect them to accept employment under these conditions. The object of my amendment is that the principal Act would be amended so that men would not be compelled to go to jobs under these conditions, and that if they refused to do so, they should not be disqualified from receiving benefit.

I would like to know the difference between the employment allowance and the rate of wages offered in the case referred to by the Senator. I would like to know what the men get?

15s. per week, plus an allowance for children.

What were the lowest wages the men might have to take if they accepted the work offered in another district?

It varies in certain districts. In some districts the wages are 25s. below the Dublin rate, and the point is when a man pays his board, which cannot be got for less than 30s. a week nowadays, it is not worth his while to go. He has not sufficient left to give anything to his family.

On this amendment possibly I may be able to satisfy Senator Mrs. Wyse Power without going into the detailed figures which she has asked for. This amendment was before the Dáil in the Committee Stage of this Bill, and was there rejected, but was to be brought on on Report Stage if sufficient examples were provided me by Deputy Johnson, who raised the point, to show that there was considerable hardship in the actual working out of the Unemployment Insurance Act. When the matter was raised again on Report Stage, I myself called attention to the fact that no amendment had been introduced, and I pointed out that I was up to that period without any example showing hardships, and Deputy Johnson said that before the Bill came to the Seanad he would provide me with cases of hardship, and these cases I am still without.

As the amendment was proposed in the Dáil it was argued in this way; that there was a clause in the main Act which seemed fair upon the face of it and which had been fairly worked up to recently—I think this is the contention—but that for some time past it is worked in a particular way, and the result of that working was that men were offered employment which it would be quite profitless for them to take. They are then considered to have refused suitable employment, and they are precluded from the benefit of the Unemployment Insurance Act— that is the contention. My advice is quite to the contrary, that the Act has been so far worked that the majority of the cases decided by an umpire and referee are in accordance with what is now moved. It is not considered advisable to accept this amendment for two reasons. First, that it would do away with a reasonable amount of elasticity, which we think should be left to those who administer the Act, particularly when the final court of appeal is an individual who is apart from the employer, employees or the Ministry; there is an independent arbitrator. And the second thing is that, apart from the case urged, there does seem to me to lurk in this amendment a definite enlargement of the right to benefit, and it was not considered that such enlargement to the right to benefit should take place in a Bill which is admittedly a very provisional and temporary one, drawn up simply to tide over the exceptional circumstances in the present time. If there is going to be an enlargement of the right to benefit, that right to so enlarge can be argued when a more permanent measure takes the place of this admittedly temporary one.

Senator Mrs. Wyse Power asked with regard to the conditions. Section 7 of the Principal Act of 1920, lays down the conditions, and this amendment is to proviso (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 7. Section 7 lays down generally the statutory conditions for the receipt of unemployment benefit by an insured person. There are five conditions. Twelve contributions shall have to be paid for him, but that disappears under the present Act. The applicant for benefit must apply in the prescribed manner; he must prove that he is capable of and available for work, but unable to obtain suitable employment; there is a provision that he has not exhausted his right to unemployment benefit; and there is a further provision that if he has been required to attend at a course of instruction that he duly attended in accordance with the requirement. The main thing is that he is "capable of and available for work, but unable to obtain suitable employment." There is, however, a limitation of that:

A person shall not be deemed to have failed to fulfil the statutory condition by reason only that he has declined—

(a) an offer of employment in a situation vacant in consequence of a stoppage of work due to a trade dispute; or

(b) an offer of employment in the district where he was last ordinarily employed at a rate of wage lower, or on conditions less favourable than those which he habitually obtained in his usual employment in that district, or would have obtained had he continued to be so employed; or

(c) an offer of employment in any other district at a rate of wage lower or on conditions less favourable than those generally observed in that district by agreement between associations of employers and of employees or, failing any such agreement than those generally recongnised in that district by good employers.

Now, it is sought to amend that third item that I have spoken of by adding the words "or at a rate which, having regard to the duration of the employment offered and the cost and inconvenience of travelling or removal to the district, would not constitute a reasonable recompense." My answer to that amendment is that it simply states the practice. For instance, if a man were offered employment for, say, two weeks in a town 50 miles from his own town, and at a rate of wages which would barely give him anything over and above the cost of his expenses to and from that place, that obviously would not be profitable employment for him, and his refusal of such employment would not be considered unreasonable, and would not preclude him from the benefits of the Unemployment Insurance Act. I do hold that the decisions of the Umpire and of the Court of Referees are definitely along these lines, and I have got no evidence of cases where hardship is proved to make me change my mind on this particular point. The amendment does seem to imply that the condition has been interpreted and worked in an unreasonable fashion, but I am informed that that is not the rule of the Department working it. Remember that the Department's regulations and the Department's working of it are subject to revision by the referees first, and by a final independent arbitrator. I submit that the provision there is an ample provision, and that the rights of the employees are secured.

The rule is, I am told, that where a claimant is offered and refuses work a district, not the one in which he resides, at "a wage not lower than on conditions less favourable," his benefit will be stopped unless three exceptional set of circumstances arise. The first is, that there are domestic conditions which would make it difficult for him to leave home; his own state of health, for instance, or the state of health of his family would be taken into consideration, and have been taken into consideration, when deciding whether or not the benefit should be stopped where employment has been refused on wages not lower than or on conditions not less favourable than those obtaining in the district where he ordinarily resides. The second item that is taken into consideration is the type of work offered.

The type of work offered in another district might not suit the claimant's physical condition, and it might be such as to prevent him from taking it up. A man, for instance, ordinarily employed on clerical work might be offered employment on roads, and obviously his refusal to take up work of that type would not preclude him from the right to insurance benefit. The third condition is where the post offered is likely to be of such short duration that, having regard to the amount of wages he could earn at the standard rate, the cost of travelling, and the cost of living in the district where the employment was offered, the transaction would not be a profitable one for him. The decisions on that third condition in the set of circumstances I have referred to are definitely so favourable to the worker that I see no necessity for this amendment at all. These things are all taken into consideration, the probable duration of the post offered, the cost of travelling to and from the place, and the cost of living in the place where the employment is offered, and when these things are all taken into consideration and a decision come to, that decision is subject to revision by two bodies, the final body being an independent arbitrator, who is quite apart from the employer, the employee, or the Ministry.

On two grounds I would urge against this amendment. The first is that if it means what it appears to mean on the surface, that is to say, that it seeks to amend an unjust and harsh interpretation of the working out of the clause in the Principal Act, then I say it is unnecessary, because of the way the Act has been interpreted and that there is provision for an independent arbitrator. If, on the other hand, it means —and I think there is some indication that it may mean that—that there is a definite attempt to enlarge the rights to benefit, then that is not a proper contention on an admittedly temporary Bill. This whole question of unemployment insurance will have to be reconsidered and adjusted quite soon. This was an Act brought in for a highly industrialised country, England, and it was applied here. The whole question of unemployment insurance and the conditions under which unemployment insurance benefit should be given will have to be revised in this country when we reach more normal conditions. At that time an enlarged right to benefit may properly be argued, but it should not be argued now on what is admittedly a temporary Bill. The whole object of this Bill is to revive artificially contributions which have been exhausted. That is a considerable amount of justice. It is only justice, however, to the unemployed, but it is considerable justice. It is not right, I suggest, to attempt to amend in a temporary Act the permanent provisions of the main Act, and I accordingly urge against the amendment on both grounds.

I must say that I cannot follow the logic of the Minister's statement. The Minister read out a clause in the original Act which stated definitely that A could be disqualified for benefit for refusing to accept employment in another district where a lower rate of wages was being paid. He stated that no hardships have been inflicted. I am prepared to give him cases in support of my contention. In the month of April this year members of the Dublin Operative Builders' Society, the Operative Plumbers' Society, and Amalgamated Society of Wood Workers who were in receipt of unemployment benefit were offered employment in Dundalk at a rate of wages at least 12/- a week less than the rate they were in receipt of when working in Dublin. They would have to pay their train fare to their employment in Dundalk, and when finished they would have to pay their train fare back, and no guarantee was given beyond a few weeks' employment. Because of their refusal to accept employment under these conditions, they were disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit. Their case was brought before the Court of Referees, and the Court of Referees decided in accordance with the Act, that there was no alternative but to disqualify the men. The Minister need not tell us about the independent arbitrator, because the umpire and the Court of Referees must administer the law, and the law, according to this Act of Parliament read by the Minister himself, gives room to disqualify a worker who refuses to accept employment in another district where the rate of wages is lower. There is no use in the Minister saying there is an attempt to increase benefit. The object of this amendment is to prevent a recurrence of what happened in April when men in the case I have pointed out were disqualified. It is in order to prevent a repetition of such a thing that the amendment is brought forward.

This is the first time I have had any examples given me, though Deputy Johnson said to me in the Dáil that if this Bill had not been introduced there would be a request for me to receive a deputation from the Executive of the Trade Union and the members of the Cork Workers' Council. On this specific question Mr. Johnson, speaking, said: `We had conferences to discuss this matter, and I had complaints time and again from many parts of the country, and amongst those complaints this is one of the most insistent." I drew his attention to that. If there had been any numerous complaints they certainly would have come to the officials of my Department in the first instance. The proceedings would have to start with them, but there has been no body of complaint. There may be cases. I presume the case referred to by Senator Farren has reference to more than one man.

A number of men.

Now that is the first set of cases that I have any definite information about, and in answer to the Senator, I may say that this Court of Referees and the Umpire have not merely to administer that Act which I read out, but they have to administer it taking it in conjunction with other decisions.

With all respect to the Minister, he was never before a Court of Referees, and I was several times before them. I know the procedure better than the Minister.

I admit that Senator Farren possibly has more experience than I have, but that is the regulation. The regulation is that the Act, plus the decisions, has to be taken. If there are any individual cases of hardship brought to the Department's notice, then we will do what we can before the Referee. We cannot have anything to do with the final court arbitrator, because he is entirely apart from us. I do not say that this was an attempt to enlarge benefit. There is no attempt to enlarge the pay, but there is an attempt, I believe, to enlarge the right to benefit. I do say this is an attempt to prevent workers being moved from one district where skilled labour is being paid a high rate of wages.

That is not the intention of the amendment.

Well, it would operate in that way, and that is the reason why I do not accept this clause. I argue that there is no hardship against any worker by not accepting this clause, because I hold, despite what Senator Farren says, that the practice is in accordance with the amendment. There may be individual cases, but it would be a mistake to bring in this clause, which could be interpreted in the way I described, and prevent the movement of labour from a district where wages are high to a district where wages are low. That would not be a desirable practice. I do not think Labour Senators will urge that there is any attempt to lower wages by movement of skilled labour in this way. Senators would admit that it is better to have men temporarily removed from a district where wages are high to a district where wages are low, rather than to have them drawing a still lower rate by unemployment benefit.

In view of the statement made by the Minister, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment. I do admit that this Bill is a very generous Bill, generous but necessary. As I said in the opening, we had not much fault to find with the officials of the Ministry of Labour in connection with this particular matter until April of this year, when these glaring cases came up. It was with the object of trying to prevent that occuring again that I put down this amendment. In view of the Minister's assurance that if any cases of hardship occur he would look into them, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question—"That Clauses 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and the Title stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.