Apprenticeship Bill, 1930—Second Stage.

Question proposed:—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


The Minister in charge of this Bill is answering a question in the other House. He will be here almost immediately. Perhaps some Senator would like to inaugurate the debate.

The Bill as presented originally was welcomed by the Labour Party and by the trade unions as being a measure which was likely to improve generally the position in regard to the learning of trades and it was believed that apprenticeship, in so far as it affects the skilled trades, would probably be put on a safer and better basis than it has been in recent times. My own view is that the portion of the Bill which deals with learners in factories and industries which are not skilled industries would probably be still more generally beneficial. I do not propose at this time to enter upon any discussion of the merits of the Bill or to deal with any of the points that I think will later require amendment. I will merely say that whatever we may have thought of the Bill as presented and as it passed through Committee in the Dáil, the inclusion on the Report Stage of Section 22 makes the Bill unacceptable because it seems to destroy any chance of co-operation or collaboration by the trade unions in the working of the Bill.

The feature of the Bill which the Minister has emphasised from the beginning is that it was based upon the assumption that there would be co-operation and collaboration and something like agreement in putting the various sections of the Bill into effect, and upon securing agreement within any group of trades upon the designated list. It is undoubtedly true that in the minds of the trade unions, and in my own mind, Section 22, which was introduced almost at the last moment, is calculated—and I use that word in the literal sense—to penalise trade unions. Instead of being termed as on the margin here, "Interference with Employers," it should be designated "strike breaking clause." The circumstance of its introduction, the arguments used in favour of it and the terms of the section itself clearly show the intention to be that this shall be used to make it impossible for a trade union to conduct a strike, if such were found necessary, in any trade or industry where apprentices are employed in any large numbers or where the question of apprenticeship might arise. We know very well how the number of apprentices in establishments can be used for the purpose of strikebreaking.

In our opinion, and in the quite deliberate and carefully thought-out opinion of the Dublin trade unions and the Trade Union Congress, representing trade unions throughout the country, while this section remains in the Bill it will be impossible for the trade unions to collaborate in the successful carrying out of the Bill. I do not know whether it is possible to amend the section in a way which would make it less objectionable, but unless it is amended I can say on behalf of the trade unions that they will not be able to collaborate or assist in the working of this Bill.

I think most of us would welcome the regulation and the control of apprentices, but in so far as I have analysed this Bill it seems to me that there will be very grave difficulties in getting the committees to operate. I am not clear as to whether the Minister will reserve to himself any right to establish committees where the local bodies, representatives of the employers and employees, refuse to meet and refuse to form committees. It seems to me that this legislation counts on voluntary co-operation by both bodies and I would be glad to know if, in the event of the representatives of the working people or the representatives of the employers refusing to meet, there is any alternative machinery available.

Section 8 sets out that every apprenticeship committee shall make certain rules and sub-section (2) of the same section says that "Every apprenticeship committee may make all or any of the following rules." That would seem to suggest that there will be compulsory rules and there will be optional rules. I think in some of these cases it might be found that the optional rules might be in direct conflict with the compulsory rules. The important thing is to know whether any machinery will be available in the event of the local groups not operating together.

There is one other aspect of the case that I think requires very careful thought on the part of the Seanad, and that is the elimination of any legislation governing premiums which may be paid on behalf of young people apprenticed to a particular trade. I have a reasonably long experience of industry and of apprentices and, frankly, I look upon the premiums paid in most cases—I will say in 80 per cent. of the cases—as being pure graft. There is in some cases dishonesty in the methods adopted and premiums on the whole are not at all helpful to the youths employed as apprentices. Let is take certain specific trades like the electrical trade or the motor trade and even our own trade, the furniture trade. We know that premiums are being paid for boys who are taken in. In many cases the very fact of a premium being paid means that there is lack of control over the youth once he is employed. A regular business is often carried on by unscrupulous employers on this question of premiums. I suggest the Seanad should take this opportunity of eliminating any such things as premiums in the manufacturing industries.

There is another side to it. A premium, whether it be £15, £25 or £50, is a decided barrier, a handicap, to the person who is not in a position to pay such a premium for his child in order to have him apprenticed. In many cases it acts detrimentally to the trade. Because his parents pay the premium, a youth may be apprenticed and he may take up a position which would otherwise, perhaps, be filled by a keen, intelligent young boy whose parents might not be able to pay the premium. Reviewing the position with regard to premiums being paid for apprentices to trades, I think the weight of evidence is against any premiums being tolerated. I would like to see the premium system abolished. I know many employers who exploit this system unscrupulously. There are, unfortunately, parents who feel when they have paid a £50 premium to an employer and their son is apprenticed to a trade, that their consciences are eased with regard to responsibility for the youth. It is a fact that lots of boys who are apprenticed are merely glorified messenger boys. Their parents sometimes have considerable difficulty in paying premiums to employers. I think the system should be done away with.

The main thing in connection with the Bill that worries me is whether there is going to be some method whereby the measure can be made operative if the situation arises that the two parties do not come together to form a committee in regard to a designated trade. I would like to have the view of the Minister and we could afterwards have the opinions of Senators as to what should be done in that respect.

Most of us who are engaged in what may be termed craft trades are of opinion that there ought to be some method of dealing with this question of apprenticeship. We have recognised for a number of years that there was necessity for legislation to deal with the whole question of apprenticeship. As far as the craft trades are concerned they have been all along anxious to help as far as they could in that direction. From our experience we know that there is a great necessity for the introduction of a measure such as this. A whole lot of questions are involved in the matter of apprenticeship, but I need not go into them to-day. There are such things as the proper training of apprentices and so on. All these things would have to be considered, not on a Second Reading debate or during the Committee Stage of the measure, but by committees such as this Bill proposes to set up, dealing with various industries.

I would like to say, in support of what Senator Connolly has said, that there is one blot in the Bill that ought to be removed. Senator Connolly dealt with the question of premiums, or apprenticeship fees as they are called. When this measure was going through the Dáil, the Minister put down an amendment to deal with the question of the payment of fees for apprentices. On a very narrow vote the Minister's own suggestion was rejected. We propose to put in a similar amendment on the Committee Stage, and we hope the House will accept it in the interest of the Bill itself. I do not want to go into detail with regard to the abuse of this premium system. I will give an example of the difficulties that confront the people who are expected to train apprentices in the workshop. Take a craftsman in any particular industry. He is unable to get his own son apprenticed to be a craftsman, because he is not in the position to pay a hefty fee to the employer. In reality it works out like this. The employer accepts a fee in order to teach a boy a trade. The employer is not himself a craftsman, and he cannot impart any knowledge that he has not got. He must depend upon one of the craftsmen in his employment to teach and train the boy who is apprenticed. The boy is placed in the hands of a man who cannot get his own son in as an apprentice because of the heavy fee. This man is expected to teach another man's son his trade. I think that is one blot in the Bill.

Apart from the point of view of the craftsman, I want to make an appeal on behalf of small farmers. It is a notorious fact that small farmers all over Ireland have been bled white paying fees to small houses in towns for the purpose of getting their boys and girls apprenticed to particular trades. Some people have actually made a business of taking premiums. They accept apprentices at a £20 or £40 fee for a period of two or three years. At the end of that period these apprentices are thrown out and the employers take in other apprentices. It has been proved to be a money-making business on the part of some unscrupulous employers. I suggest that in the interest of the Bill the House should agree on the Committee Stage to insert an amendment to inflict penalties on people who accept fees for apprentices.

Another blot in the Bill has been referred to by Senator Johnson. Section 22 was not in the original draft, and it was not contained in the proposals submitted by the committee that was set up to consider this whole question. Section 22 was put in with the deliberate intention, I believe, of wrecking this Bill. I go so far as to say that if Section 22 remains in its present form, the Bill will become inoperative. Section 22 is most dangerous as far as the trade unions are concerned; it is the most serious section that I have seen in any Bill that has come before the Oireachtas. The Seanad may take it from me that all the trade unions will refuse to co-operate in connection with this Bill if the present Section 22 remains. The section has been put in at the request of the Employers' Association by one of their spokesmen. In our opinion, Section 22 will be most harmful to the trade unions, it will be the cause of considerable friction, it will lead to endless disputes and will wreck the purpose for which the Bill was introduced. I hope, on the Committee Stage, the House will accept an amendment to delete the section.

I will state definitely and seriously that as far as the trade unions are concerned they will refuse to co-operate so long as Section 22 remains in the Bill. The whole question of apprentices, particularly in non-craft trades, is one that has to be considered very carefully. People have to understand the technicalities of the trade and the difficulties of the trade. So long as a section like that remains in force you may take it from me that the craft trades, at any rate, will refuse to co-operate in the operation of this Bill. On the Committee Stage we will move amendments to deal with all these points.

I would like the Minister to consider an amendment which I consider it would be desirable to make in the definitions. I am quite sure it was never intended that this Bill should apply to what are more generally known as professions. After all, when you try to lay down an absolute definition between a profession and a trade, it is difficult to do so. I do not think it was ever intended that the Bill should apply to professions. I speak of my own profession as an instance. It has been the custom in our profession for a young fellow, after he leaves college or after he has received a scientific education, to be apprenticed. That is the word that was used formerly, but latterly it has been referred to as becoming the pupil of an engineer in order that the young man may acquire some practical knowledge of the manner in which the actual work of the profession is carried out. I think the same applies in other professions. It applies in the case of solicitors—they have what are called solicitors' apprentices—and it applies in the case of stockbrokers, and in a number of other cases. I would like the Minister to consider the question of amending the definitions so that that matter will be made quite clear. It is necessary, I think, to amend the definitions in such a way that the professions are excluded.

I would like if the Senators who have been speaking against the premium system would give some explanation of what is going to happen if the premiums are done away with. It is quite easy to see that there may be trades in connection with which an education is worth paying for. If you do away with premiums altogether you leave it entirely in the hands of individuals carrying on a trade to say whether or not they will have apprentices. I would like some Senators who understand this subject far better than I do to explain what will happen if we follow Senator Connolly's advice and do away with premiums altogether. Of course, we need not debate Section 22 if that policy is adopted; there will be no premiums if Section 22 goes. When we are discussing this Bill in Committee we would like to hear what is really going to happen if the premium system is abolished.

I do not know whether trade unions rule all trades or whether there are some trades that carry on under their own individual rules without interference from the genuine trade unions. I believe that there are trades where the apprenticeship system is confined to the relatives of the people who are already engaged in the particular trades. Therefore, the number of people who enter these trades is kept quite small. I have not heard of any trade unions discussing the situation with the operatives in these trades or insisting on arrangements by which apprentices outside the social circle of the individuals in the trades could be taken on. I would like to know from the Minister if he is aware that such trades exist and whether, if so, this Bill is going to open things up for general apprentices. I believe that there are certain trades that are closed to apprentices outside the particular families interested and I would like to know the position they occupy under this Bill. I am sure Senators would like to hear from the Minister whether there are trades at present in the country in which the number of apprentices is kept down and in which the operatives select apprentices only from their own families. If there are such cases I think it is to the interest of everybody in the country that apprentices should be allowed a free entrance if they want to enter a trade.

From my experience in this country and in another country I think the payment of premiums as well as what Senator Connolly said about that might be looked into. If a young fellow goes to work in a trade he ought to be able to pay his way well enough to make it worth his employer's while to give him work. Senator Connolly spoke of young fellows who paid fees and who had been neglected; that employers had looked for others to take their places if they went away. That is an abuse and if it can be put down without doing damage it ought to be. I have not heard those who have dealt with the subject say what is going to be the result of taking off premiums. I would like to know from the Minister if he is aware of any trade such as I have referred to, trades that limit the number of apprentices and that are not subject to any trade union regulation. I would like to know from him if the Bill makes provision whereby apprenticeship to such trades will be opened up to the youth of the country.

There have been three objections taken to the Bill. The first was on the question of premiums, the second on a matter of detail arising out of section 22, and the third on the voluntary principle of the Bill. The Bill is founded on the voluntary acceptance of certain conditions by both employers and employees or potential employees in any trade in which apprenticeship regulations are to be enforced. As far as section 22 is concerned we had better discuss that in more detail on the Committee Stage. As the clause is drafted it would undoubtedly hinder, to my mind, the co-operation which I think is essential for the proper working of any apprenticeship system in the country at present. Consequently any amendment which would limit the scope of section 22 is certainly one which I would consider very carefully indeed. I would not care to have any amendment which would go to the point of completely eliminating section 22. A number of sections which precede section 22 impose penalties on employers if employers do not obey the conditions that are laid down under certain rules, rules which under the Bill will be made by Committees composed of equal representatives of employers and employees and only established—because that is the principle of the Bill—when both employers and employees are in agreement that an Apprenticeship Committee should be set up. If there are going to be regulations imposing penalties on employers for disregarding the rules then similarly I think a counter-balancing clause is required to impose penalties on employees who distinctly and directly impede or obstruct the carrying out of particular rules to which they have been an essential party. The clause as drafted would penalise such obstruction or impeding of the regulations as might arise incidentally from a trade dispute. It is not incident to a trade dispute but the direct obstruction or impeding of the rules that the Clause is aimed against. If there are strike conditions then clearly the arrangements entered into under the Bill cannot be fulfilled in such a matter as keeping up a certain standard of instruction for the apprentices. I think that possibly the clause should be limited or modified but that it should be eliminated I do not agree at all. The question of premiums is one I think that we had better discuss on concrete amendments put down on the Committee Stage. On the Report Stage of the Bill in the Dáil I brought in an amendment myself but without any great desire to have it incorporated in the Bill. It was introduced by me simply to meet the desire expressed by a certain number of Deputies that the premium system should be attended to in this Bill. Objection was taken to the amendment I introduced and after discussion it was defeated. I think that if an amendment were introduced here proposing to do away with the pre-premium system altogether, when Senators saw the effect of that on any progress likely to be made under the Bill they would agree that they would rather have the Bill without the amendment. The House can only deal with premiums in so far as premiums are paid in trades that are likely to be designated trades. If there are trades in which the payment of premiums is part of the system at the moment, and that when you abolish premiums in these trades there is disagreement between the parties, then you prevent that trade ever becoming designated under the Bill. For under the Bill you cannot designate a trade unless there is agreement between the employers and employees. Consequently, I think the House will find itself in the dilemma that it has to choose between the complete abolition of the premium system and the Bill itself. I suggest to the House that they should let the Bill have a trial and leave it to the growth of understanding on the part of employers and employees in specified trades as to what their attitude will be on the premium system. If that course is followed, the time may come when employers in designated trades will agree to have the payment of premiums made illegal.

The third matter arises on compulsion versus the voluntary system. The Bill is based on the principle of getting agreement between employers and employees. If you are going to have the element of compulsion introduced into the framework of the present Bill, and rules made as to the question of the number of people who are to be taken on as apprentices in relation to the number of other work-people employed, what is to be the situation if you try to enforce the designation of a trade and the making of such rules upon bodies of employers who want less apprentices to be trained, or upon a body of employees who want a smaller proportion of apprentices amongst the work-people? The introduction of such compulsion in the Bill would seem to be putting trouble in the way of its progress. We are very keen on the voluntary principle, but this is a matter which can be more fully discussed on concrete amendments when they are put down.

No one will put down these amendments; no one wants compulsion.

I understand objection has been taken to the voluntary principle, and the question raised that under the Bill as it stands there may be difficulty in getting committees to work. The question has been asked what am I going to do if local bodies refuse to co-operate. My answer is, "Nothing." The retort to that is that I should do something, and if I am to do something in such circumstances, then it is going to be done by compulsion. I take it that was the line of reasoning that was followed.

As to the smaller point that was raised by Senator Barrington, I would like first to see his definition. In the beginning the Bill was not intended to take within its scope the professions as distinct from trades. But the scope of the Bill was rather widened on the Committee Stage. What harm will result if, for instance, under the Bill a certain group of employers, say solicitors, and a certain group of would-be solicitors agree to have that profession designated? If they agree there will be an Apprenticeship Committee under the Bill, but if they do not agree there will not be. I do not see any great harm done unless Senators think it is objectionable to have a mixture of what are called trades, and what by contrast are called professions, but we can discuss that on the Committee Stage if the Senator wishes to put down an amendment.

It was because of the difficulty that I saw in the matter that I wanted the Minister to take on the job.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 18th November.