This Bill, which I ask the Seanad to approve, is a Bill to make provision for the allowance of holidays to agricultural workers in the shape of six consecutive days' holiday in any given working year of continuous employment, with proportionately reduced numbers of days where continuous employment does not extend over the full 12 months. The general administration of the Bill is committed to the care of the Agricultural Wages Board, which already has in operation the kind of machinery which is adaptable for the enforcement of legislation of this kind.
The Seanad will recall that the Government made it clear at an early stage that, as the agricultural industry as a whole attained to a greater measure of prosperity, the Government would expect—and they have not been disappointed in that expectation—that the farm labourer would get his full share of any increase in prosperity that the industry as a whole enjoyed.
The Taoiseach, speaking in Dáil Eireann — column 1760 — furnished recent statistics as to the national income. It was estimated in 1949 to be £352,000,000, as compared with £338,000,000 in 1948, £323,000,000 in 1947 and £156,000,000 in 1938. At column 1762, he stated that in 1949 the income from agriculture and fishing amounted to £100,000,000 compared with £35,000,000 in 1948. In column 1799, he mentioned that the net volume output of the agricultural industry showed a gain of 2.2 per cent. over the volume output of 1938-39. It is in the light of these facts that it was thought right at this stage to ask the agricultural industry to accept what is unquestionably a burden on its gross income by way of the provision of further and better amenity for the workers employed by it.
In commending this Bill to the Seanad, I wish to add this word: I do not often find myself in agreement with my predecessor, Deputy Dr. Ryan, but, speaking last Thursday, he directed the attention of the country to the fact that it was unthinkable that the agricultural industry should be called upon to bear all the burdens while industrial activity and other branches of remunerative occupation in our society were insulated from competition. I want to say that I entirely agree with the sentiments then expressed by my predecessor. I want to direct the attention of the Seanad to this fact. The gross income of the agricultural industry may be regarded for statistical purposes as a circle which can be divided into segments, part of which will be the cost of raw materials, part of which will be standing expenses, part of which will be depreciation, part of which will be wages and part of which will be profit. You cannot enlarge one segment of that circle without reducing proportionately some other segment. If we increase efficiency we shall reduce the charge for overhead expenses, and we must do our best. If we increase the value of the total output then the value of each segment will be proportionately increased and especially that segment represented by the profit enjoyed by the farmer. But if we continue to increase that segment of circle which represents a farmer's overhead expenses, some other segment will have to contract proportionately. A farmer does not control the cost of his raw materials. A farmer's rent or annuity is a contract he has entered into and which he intends to honour. A farmer's rates are no longer under his control. They are under the control of the local authority elected by universal suffrage and he must meet them when the demand is made. But, all the time, the farmers of this country must sell their surplus production in an open, unprotected market where they must accept the best price they can get. If there is any fundamental law of economics it is that, in the last analysis, the price realised for a surplus will ultimately control the price receivable on the home market— ultimately.
Therefore, I submit to the Seanad that while this charge I now ask them to approve is justifiable, the time is overdue for Oireachtas Eireann to bend its mind to the question so aptly raised by Deputy Dr. Ryan, speaking last Thursday: how far is it legitimate to add to the costs of production to farmers if farmers have to sell their end product in a market which this Government has no power to protect? I want to suggest to the Seanad that it would take under deliberation at its convenience the question of in how far the profit fund of agriculture, which is the source of a benefit such as is outlined in this Bill, may properly be charged with the burden imposed on the raw materials of the agricultural industry by fiscal protection accorded to these raw materials within our own community while we are unable to secure for farmers who sell their end product similar protection in the markets where they have to trade. I am glad to be able to report that, so far, agriculture is able to carry the burden it has so valiantly carried up to date. I am glad to be able to report to the Seanad that agriculture, despite those burdens, has been able to pin down the cost of living in this country by absorbing in the reduction in the price of food the very substantial increases that have taken place in the cost of clothing, boots, rent and rates—all of which impinge heavily on the cost-of-living figure.
I am glad to be able to tell the Seanad that, up to last month, agriculture has been able to absorb all these increases and compensate for them so that the cost of living figure did not pass 100. The last figure is 102. I think agriculture is going to catch up with the slack again and carry that, as it has carried everything else. But the doughtiest camel that ever walked the desert has some limit beyond which you may not with safety put straws upon its back, and I invite the Seanad, in their own time, to deliberate this matter and determine at what point are we to declare that that is the last straw Oireachtas Eireann intends to put on the camel's back for the benefit of people in our community who are not themselves engaged in the agricultural industry. The benefit I ask the Seanad to-day to sanction is for a section of our people, without whom the agricultural industry could not carry on at all. They are the farmers' right hand in making the land of this country pay. I do not scruple to ask the Seanad to sanction the benefit for them, but it is the straws blowing on the breeze, and that ultimately take up permanent residence on the camel's back that I am talking about. I hope they will be enumerated soon and that a firm limit is set to their multiplication.
I do not think there are any matters of detail which arise in connection with this Bill on which I would need to comment and, accordingly, I commend it to the Seanad and I hold myself at the disposal of Senators for any further information they may require.