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.