Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 18 Apr 1945

Vol. 29 No. 24

Local Authorities (Cost of Living) (Amendment) Bill, 1945—Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

In July of 1940, the cost-of-living bonus of civil servants was stabilised at the figure then prevailing of 85. Simultaneously with that, the Oireachtas passed an Act stabilising also the bonus which was then payable to certain officers of local authorities. It happened, however, that the policy of stabilisation of remuneration was not in fact given full effect to until May, 1941, and on reconsideration of the position at the end of last year, the Government decided that in equity, civil servants should have their cost-of-living bonus calculated at the figure which obtained in May of 1941, when the general standstill policy came into operation.

Arising out of that, and consequent upon it, it has been necessary to consider the position of those officers of local authorities who were affected by the Act of 1940, and the purpose of this Bill is to put those officers in exactly the same position as civil servants have been put by the recent administrative action of the Government, that is to say, that officers who, in July, 1940, were paid on a basic salary, plus a cost-of-living bonus, which bonus in 1940 was calculated at the figure of 85, will now be remunerated on the basis of a cost-of-living bonus which is appropriate to a cost-of-living figure of 110.

I entirely approve of the Bill, and particularly since the Minister has made it clear that these officers of local authorities, and that includes teachers under vocational education committees, will be treated exactly the same as civil servants. I do not want to make a case for other people but it is a strange thing to anyone interested in education that secondary and primary teachers, for example, who, although not technically servants of the State, are, in effect, as much the servants of the people, should be treated on an entirely different basis.

I would like to say to the Minister that there seems to be no justification whatsoever for a position in which secondary teachers on a scale fixed more than 20 years ago, and fixed then at no high figure, should be denied any improvement in their position, and the same applies to primary teachers. Civil servants have, perhaps, not got sufficient, but they certainly got something. In this Bill, the employees of local bodies, including one class of teachers, have had their positions improved, but the great bulk of the teachers, primary and secondary, and indeed, University teachers, are in the position that they have received no improvement since 1939 of the position in which they found themselves in 1924. Considering that other people have been improved, I think that is a lamentable state of affairs, and, apart from the matter of justice and equity, it is very bad for the State itself.

It has been argued, and quite properly argued, that we cannot make any progress, unless we can adjust our educational system and ideals and hopes to the very difficult times in front of us. How we can do anything by keeping salaries in 1945 on a 1925 basis is more than difficult to see—it is really impossible to see. A great many people have made profits out of this war, and we are in the position of seeing people who have an honoured duty to perform, and who should be given a chance to devote themselves to learning and study, getting the hardest blows in this emergency.

I want to suggest to the Minister that the attitude taken up in the matter of teachers generally is, in the first place, defeated by this Bill. Vocational teachers, I am glad to see, are having their lot improved somewhat, but the attitude taken up in regard to teachers generally has no basis in justice, and it is one which is bound to cause injury to the State. I just make that point without arguing the matter further. For the rest, I welcome the Bill itself.

It is proposed in this Bill to give an increase in the bonus applicable to a certain group of employees of local authorities, but, as I judge, a section of employees of local authorities, unfortunately, does not include those receiving the smallest rate of remuneration. I would say that in the case of Dublin, the Bill will not cover more than 10 per cent. of the total of the employees of local authorities. The remainder are excluded. I mention in defence of that exclusion that they were also excluded from the Act which this Bill proposes to extend. That is true, but there were other arrangements in contemplation in 1940 and 1941 to cover the cases of those who were not excluded then, and those excluded from the present Act. There was an agreement proposed under which the employees to whom I refer would have received increases in pay or in remuneration subject, of course, to sanction.

But the difficulty about it is that sanction is not forthcoming. So far as I am aware, the maximum bonus which, let us say, the operatives—the general labourers—employed by the county council could receive will be 11/- a week. That 11/- also applied to the clerical section of the employees, that is the section now covered by this Bill, not that the Bill is making very much provision, of course, to recoup them, for the very substantial increase in the cost of living.

As I understand it, the Minister has said that the new bonus under the Bill will be related to a figure of 110. That is to compensate for an increase represented by a cost-of-living figure of 185, so that the employees of local authorities to whom this Bill applies, will, when it becomes law, receive approximately 70 per cent. of the increment necessary to meet the increase in the cost of living. In other words, 30 per cent. of the increase is not covered at all. It is true that their position will probably be as good as that of a considerable section of the workers generally, but that is a deplorable admission. It is an admission that it is the wage earners who have to carry all the risks arising out of the present emergency so far as the burden of taxation is concerned.

The average wage earner is prohibited—in one case by the Minister and in another case by Emergency Powers Orders—from receiving full compensation to meet the increase in the cost of living. The argument adduced originally in support of that policy is that inflation must be prevented at any cost. It has not prevented inflation, of course. Inflationary tendencies are there, and are there in spite of anything that can be done under this or any equivalent Act of the Oireachtas, so long, of course, as we are tied to the financial policy of Great Britain. The result of all this is expressed in the figures which are published from time to time and the statements made by authoritative people—doctors, for instance, regarding the condition of the health of the people. Tuberculosis, rickets and all the other evidence of poverty and destitution are an indication of the effect of Government policy in this matter. I do not suggest that the Minister can himself change Government policy and do something for local authorities' employees which is not being done in respect of wage-earning classes as a whole, but he is a member of the Government, and shares with the Government collective responsibility. Consequently, he must take his share of responsibility for the conditions of poverty which are prevalent to-day.

The last return showing the distribution of fuel in Dublin City was that 20,000 people were given relief in fuel by the local authorities. That return is some measure of the poverty that prevails. Here, an opportunity presented itself to set a headline, at least, in the improvement of the condition of a section of the wage earning public, if the Minister had included those who were excluded from the principal Act, and at the same time raised the figure to which the bonus was related to the corresponding figure of 195. He has not done that, and I think that while it would be utterly foolish to oppose the Bill, we should not let the opportunity pass to express dissatisfaction with the manner in which it is presented.

I would like to thank the Minister for having introduced this Bill, and attempting to do some little justice to the officers affected. Statements have been made by previous speakers which, I feel, require some little explanation. This Act which is being amended, originally covered particular classes of officers, mainly those employed by county vocational and urban committees. The Bill also affects officers in the employment of county committees of agriculture, and while I fully sympathise with the remarks made by Senator Hayes and Senator Duffy regarding the need for doing something to meet the claims of other teachers and officers, what we are doing at present is considering a proposal to place officers affected by the cost of living up to 1940, in a somewhat better position than they have been for some time.

Section 46 of the Local Government Act of 1925, gave statutory recognition to the payment of bonus and a memorandum issued by the Department of Education, in so far as the Bill affects technical instructors and vocational committees; also provides that salaries are made up in all cases by fixed amounts and variable rates of bonus. We merely get now a little instalment of something that we should have got years ago. The cost of living was stabilised at 185, and is at present 295. The House can see that there is a difference of 85 per cent. yet to be made good. If the cost of living begins to fall that may be all right, but if it continues at the present rate, or tends to increase, I am very much afraid that the Minister will hear more about this bonus, because the amount is entirely inadequate to meet the present enormous cost of living.

One suggestion I make to the Minister, and I should like him to consider it, concerns the question of the emergency bonus that is associated with the cost-of-living bonus. There are two bonuses paid to certain classes of officers. The emergency bonus applies to all officers of local authorities whose inclusive remuneration does not exceed £500. To my own knowledge, there is quite a large number of local officers whose total remuneration exceeds £500 and who have been, I should say, much more hard hit by the increase in the cost of living than some of the lower paid officers. Generally, those in the lower ranks, so far as salaries are concerned, are the younger people. The other people have incurred liabilities. They are married, and there is the education of children, and the question of payment for services, things which are not indicated in the cost-of-living index figure. While the cost of living in their case is very much greater than in the others, the higher class of officers are not getting any relief. The number of officers concerned in each local government area is comparatively small and the total amount that would be necessary to do some little justice to this class would not be very large. I appeal to the Minister to see whether it would be possible to remove this ceiling level altogether, in order to see that one class of officers would get some little bit of relief. I sympathise greatly with Senator Duffy's remarks about the cost of living. Influenced by similar considerations, I put an item on the Order Paper asking the Seanad to consider generally the cost of living. I was then informed that this Bill was being brought in, and it struck me that it would be as well to accept this little instalment and leave the whole question for discussion at a later stage. That is all I wish to say at the moment. I would like the House to remember generally that what is being given is simply a statutory right given by the 1925 Act, some little attempt to get back to the terms of the appointments which had been authorised by the county committee and county vocational committees.

I am sure the House will not expect me to wander into the very wide fields of speculation and surmise which were opened up by Senator Duffy's references to an assumed inflationary condition existing in this country. The Bill is very narrow in its object. It is merely to put those officers of local authorities whose remuneration is calculated on the basis of the cost-of-living bonus in exactly the same position as they would have been if the Act of July, 1940, had not been passed until May, 1941. It is very narrow. It is quite true that it does not apply to the general body of employees of local authorities, but then neither did the Act of July, 1940, and we do not propose to extend the ambit of that Act. Therefore, there is no reason why we should extend the scope of this measure. I do not deny that the impact of this war has caused a very great deal of hardship but I think that those who happen to be in permanent and secure employment, whether under the State or under the local authorities, are the section of the population who have the least cause for complaint.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining stages now.
The Seanad went into Committee.
Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 2 stand part of the Bill."

I am not quite clear on this point. The emergency bonus already paid to employees of vocational committees and agricultural committees was 10/-. Am I to assume that the committees will be empowered to continue paying the emergency bonus now as well as the bonus on the cost-of-living figure?

Up to the overriding limit of £500.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 3 agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Report Stage agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

The Minister says the impact of the war is bound to cause hardship to many people and that the people who deserve least sympathy are those who have secure positions. I am not so sure of that, because a great many people who have secure positions under the State had, at the beginning of the war very miserable salaries and were given those very miserable salaries because they had a secure position. The fact that a man has a very secure position is used to give him a very poor salary and the fact that he has a secure position is then used to keep the salary low. It is an unworthy kind of argument in which I have great difficulty in thinking the Minister himself believes. May I add one point? The teachers are also amongst those in secure positions, but a great many of the secondary teachers are very far from being in secure positions. The State insists upon very great qualifications in these people. The State is now in the position in the case of civil servants and officers of local bodies, that it has acknowledged that something must be done during the war period, but it insists on refusing to do anything for the teacher. That is a bad policy and a policy which is bound to have a very bad effect upon our national life and one which will have to be altered. There is no justification for it. As to the statement that because they are secure they must suffer by the inflationary rise in the cost of living without being given any assistance from the State, that is a very unsound argument.

Since this point has been raised I think it well to mention another class even worse off than the secure class which Senator Hayes mentioned. Not many people seem to think that there are thousands of taxpaying citizens in this State who are not in a secure position and whose security has been less since the emergency, but who have got no bonus and have been called upon to pay in taxation the costs incidental to giving bonuses to other more fortunate sections of the community.

Before the Bill passes I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to an anomaly which this Bill, when it becomes law, will increase, as between classes of servants of local authorities. Ordinarily, the class to which this Bill will not apply have received an emergency bonus of 8/- in the case of married men. The bonus payable to a person to whom this Bill will apply is 10/-. The emergency bonus will still continue, and as a result of the passing into law of this Bill the increase in the cost-of-living bonus will be about £27 or £28 a year. These classes will now get a further increase of about 10/- in the case of the lowest-paid officers. At present, there is a good deal of resentment at the fact that the clerical staff are only getting an emergency bonus of 8/- as compared with 10/- per week that is permitted to be paid to employees of vocational education committees and agricultural committees. I can well imagine that that resentment will be much greater when, as a result of the meeting of these bodies, it will become known that the difference will be increased further by approximately 10/- a week in the case of people in the lowest scale. In the case of people with a salary of £500, the increase will be about £75 a year. I think that in theory increases in salaries may be granted to employees by local authorities, but in actual practice, where such increases have been granted on the sanction of a Minister, they have been very much less than the increases which would be payable to employees of vocational committees and agricultural committees, to whom this Bill will now apply. I should like to impress on the Minister that he should bear in mind that this Bill will accentuate the resentment that there is between different classes of employees.

I would like the Minister to say something as to what is likely to be his future policy regarding the levels of remuneration generally in the case of local authorities. This Bill covers a very narrow section, as the Minister has pointed out. There are other sections not affected by the Bill. I have in mind cases in which a man may get an increase with the sanction of the Minister, but that sanction is usually withheld. There will in all probability be no need to withhold sanction, because the decision will be made by the county manager, and the county manager is not likely to make the proposal. The Minister should give some indication as to the real trend of policy in the Department, so far as remuneration generally is concerned, in the case of the local authorities. We are tied to the figure of 110 which is the figure for the cost-of-living index in 1941, four years ago. Is it likely that that is the maximum, or if not, perhaps the Minister would tell the House if the whole situation is under consideration, and what the tendency is likely to be. It would make it easier for everybody here if we knew where we were.

With regard to the remarks made by Senator Hearne, I should like to say that at the close of the last Great War or around that period, when the cost of living began to rise, there were meetings of various groups of officers employed by county councils and corporations and so on, and demands for increase in salaries and remuneration were submitted. In the case of the larger groups of officers the demands were granted in the form of a lump sum or permanent increase in salary. In the case of other classes of officers, that is, the class covered by this Bill, their increase took the form of a sliding scale, a bonus. So the parallel is not quite exact. You have had one class of officers who obtained a permanent increase in salary as far back as 1916 or 1917 and you have another class of officers whose basic salary remained as at that date and whose remuneration was increased by bonus. I think it is only fair to have that part of the matter cleared up, and that all Senators should know that there is no parallel between the two cases at all. I quite agree that the time has arrived when there must be a review of all these salaries because it is very unsatisfactory to have the different classes of officers paid at different rates. You have one class comparing salaries with another class. It is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. If the Minister could see his way, in cooperation with the other Ministers concerned, to arrange for a general review, it would be in the interest of public administration everywhere.

I should be the last to deny that this Bill will perhaps aggravate an anomaly which already exists but that entirely arises from the fact that the Bill is concerned with an anomalous position. The purpose of the cost-of-living bonus is to compensate those who are in receipt of it, for the fact that the cost of living has risen for the community in general. Accordingly, when public servants are in the enjoyment of such a system of payment it means this: that if the cost of living rises because, say, the Government, in order to carry out its programme, whatever it may be, of social amelioration or other purpose, has had to impose additional taxation, that they are to some extent compensated for the increase by the cost-of-living bonus.

I say that that is an anomaly. I am not concerned with the question of the remedy for that anomaly, but, because that anomaly exists, then we have those further anomalies to which Senator Hearne referred, created by the fact that a large section of officers of local authorities are paid as ordinary citizens are paid, in accordance with what the undertaking or the enterprise or the organisation by which they are employed can afford, and on the other hand, side by side with those people, there are officers who are compensated in the way I have mentioned.

I cannot see any way of dealing with that except by abolishing the cost-of-living bonus altogether, and putting everybody in the same position, so that if the cost of living goes up because social programmes have to be given effect to, everybody will be treated alike and some will not be compensated in the way that has prevailed hitherto. That is outside the range of practical politics, and I do not propose to deal with it except to try to impress on those who are in receipt of cost-of-living bonus that they are in a much better position than the great majority of the people. The same is true, too, of those who happen to be in public employment. Whether they are well remunerated, or whether they are not as well remunerated as they think they ought to be, the fact remains that they are safeguarded against the insecurity which is a matter of grave anxiety to most individuals in circumstances such as we are passing through now. There are many men in employment to-day whose continuance in employment depends upon the goodwill of their employers. That is not the position in which those who are servants of public authorities find themselves, and I think they ought to realise that if they ask for improved conditions for themselves those improved conditions can be given only at the expense of the less fortunate elements in the community.

Judged by the importance of the services of the teaching profession to the community, I am not prepared to argue that its members are as well paid as we should like to see them, but I say that, by comparison with the great bulk of their fellow-citizens, they at least are in enjoyment of this boon, that their services are not going to be terminated for any reason outside their control. There may be exceptions here and there, but the great mass of those employed in the teaching profession in Ireland to-day have that security for the future, and they have a secure pension to look forward to at the end of their days.

That is not the position of the general mass of the people, and I think those who speak for the teaching profession ought to face up to that fact and ought to give it the same consideration as those do who, like myself, as members of the Government, are charged with the protection of the interests of the common people of the country.

Senator Duffy asked if I would indicate the trend of policy in relation to the question of the remuneration of officers and employees of local authorities. All I can say is that, so far as the Minister for Local Government is concerned, his policy will be to keep in step and be in accord with the general policy of the Administration. That policy was first indicated early in 1940. It was given general effect, as I have mentioned, in May, 1941. I am satisfied that, when this emergency passes and normal conditions are restored, we shall find that as a result of that policy we shall have come out of this war with our economic strength much less impaired and our future much more secure than it would have been if we had not adopted that policy, which was in appearance likely to be very unpopular, and which I know was very unpopular, but which, because the people realised that it was a sensible policy and a rational one, they were prepared to accept.

With regard to future levels of remuneration, I must say quite frankly that I feel that, prior to the outbreak of the emergency, the remuneration which was paid by the local authorities in this country had got completely out of step with what the general economy of the country could afford. One of the things which I endeavoured to do, first, as Minister for Industry and Commerce and, secondly, as Minister for Local Government, was to try to find some norm to which the general remuneration and general standards of remuneration could be related. Bearing in mind that local authorities deal with the general mass of the people distributed over the country as a whole, I think the basic criterion of what local authorities should in justice be required to pay is the remuneration which the basic industry of this country can afford to pay to those who are engaged in it.

I quite frankly say that, so far as those who are engaged as manual workers under the local authorities are concerned, particularly in the rural areas, I think that the remuneration which they are paid should be related to that which agriculture can pay to those who labour in it. I think that is a very rational standard, because the agricultural wage rate here is settled by agreement. There is an Agricultural Wages Board, which is independent of the Minister to the extent that they can make recommendations. The Minister can approve or disapprove of those recommendations, but so far as I know he has not at any time failed to approve of them; I understand that, in general, those recommendations have been accepted. When you have men representing the basic industry of the country meeting together around a council table, and in frank discussion with one another agreeing——

The Minister is aware, of course, that there is no such thing as agreement arrived at.

I know this, that so far the machinery has worked, and worked very well. I say that when you get a wage rate determined in that way, it is the logical thing and the reasonable thing and the equitable thing to try to relate to that the remuneration of all those others who labour with their hands, as those men do, and who labour in the same districts as those men, because it is the agricultural worker and the large farmer and the small farmer who ultimately have to pay the remuneration of all the employees and officers of local authorities. Therefore, so far as I could determine the wage policy and the salary policy of the local authorities, that is the basis upon which I would build. It happened that, when this war broke out, and when we had to examine this problem very closely, there were a great many anomalies; but they have been brought into line, and the position nowadays is that road workers' wages are very closely related to the agricultural wage rate.

If the general agricultural wage rate goes up, the road workers' wage rate goes up also. I think the wages paid to the manual workers under the local authorities ought to be related to the general agricultural wage rate. Certain concessions have been given which have applied to a very much larger class than those engaged mainly in manual labour under the local authorities. I do think that, in these matters, we should commence at the lowest and build up. When we say that a man producing food for the people cannot get a higher wage than so many shillings a week, then I do not think that any other man engaged in much the same class of work should be paid at a higher rate than he is paid. That is the principle upon which, so far as I could so determine, scales of remuneration payable by the local authorities all over the country should be fixed. Of course, I am not the sole determinant. I have powers of sanction but I cannot compel local authorities to increase their wage-rates and I do not propose to do so. They are the best judges of the circumstances in their own localities. If they come along and propose increases which will not bring the wages of those who are to receive them beyond a certain overriding limit, those increases will be sanctioned. If they bring them beyond the limits fixed in the way I have indicated, it is my duty, in the interests of the community as a whole, to refuse to sanction them.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be returned to the Dáil.