Seanad Éireann - Volume 38 - 20 July, 1950
Agricultural Workers (Holidays) Bill, 1949—Second and Subsequent Stages.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Dillon) James M. Dillon
Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Dillon): 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.
Mr. Hawkins Mr. Hawkins
Mr. Hawkins: I welcome this Bill, in so far as it provides holidays for that section of our people who are most deserving and who gave such good service to the nation all the years down, particularly during the emergency. As the Minister has pointed out, the farm worker can be referred to as the right hand of the farmer. I regret to note the references, in connection with this Bill, to employer and employee. From my knowledge of rural Ireland, the farm labourer never looked on the farmer for whom he was working as his employer; rather did they associate themselves so closely in the working of the land that almost in every case the farm worker took as deep an interest in his work as the farmer.
The provisions of this Bill will affect only a very small number of farm workers, because Senators who know rural Ireland, and who know the conditions that exist as between the farmer and his worker, will realise quite well that practically all the farm workers, that is, those who are in permanent employment, have got not alone six days' holidays, but probably a fortnight. In most cases it depended on how the harvest turned out, but they did get holidays. That is why I suggest the Bill will affect only a very small group of what one would describe, for want of some better term, as the selfish farmers, who are not prepared to recognise the work of their workers and do not give them holidays.
Reading the Bill, one would be inclined to suggest that the definition  should be changed somewhat, that it should be changed to Agricultural Workers (Holiday Pay) Bill, or something of that nature, because, while there is one section of farmers providing holidays for farm workers, there would be more than one section prepared to pay, where an arrangement is come to, as between the farmer and his worker, to give an additional week's pay instead of allowing the worker to take his holidays. If this provision was in a Bill dealing with any other section of workers, probably I would not be anxious to support it, but I know the difficulties of agriculture, and particularly the difficulties in the most important part of the agricultural industry, the dairying section, where possibly it would be difficult in many cases to find a substitute to carry on the necessary farm work, milking the cows and attending to them generally, while the worker would be on holidays. I know it is not reasonable to expect, where the worker or the farmer would come to an arrangement, that the worker would be at a loss, and that provision is made in the Bill in such cases for the payment of a holiday allowance rather than the taking of the holidays.
When we make an arrangement to give holidays to any person, the whole purpose is that that person should have a period when he could relax and enjoy himself, rather than have a period made available and then have additional remuneration offered for staying on at work. But the difficulty in arranging holidays for farm workers is that farm work is not like industrial work. You cannot just close up on a Saturday night and put the key in your pocket and say you will resume your industry in a week or a fortnight. Farm work and attention to animals must be continued and, while it is a good thing to make provision of this kind, there is also the grave danger that, instead of leading to additional employment on the land, it may have the effect in a small number of cases of decreasing the number of workers. It is quite possible that farmers who, up to the  present, have given employment to one or two men, will now be induced to try to carry out their farm work either without the additional man or with their own families.
So far as the principle of the Bill is concerned, I agree with it. There is very little to be said about the Bill, because every other section of the community, every other worker, has for a long term of years enjoyed this State provision of annual holidays. In so far as the Minister drew the attention of the House to that extra straw on the camel's back and to the position of agriculture and our reliance on an export market, I think that could be more effectively dealt with on another occasion, when the whole position could be discussed, and not in connection with a Bill of this kind. Therefore, I do not wish at this stage to say much more beyond that I approve the principle of the Bill.
Dr. O'Connell Dr. O'Connell
Dr. O'Connell: I, too, would like to welcome this measure, but I am inclined to think the Minister rather over-stressed the burden it will place on agriculture. As Senator Hawkins pointed out, it has heretofore been the custom of farmers who employ men— and I think the relations of most good employing farmers with their men have been everything that was desirable—to give them holidays, and therefore, as the Senator pointed out, I think the number of employers who will be affected by this measure will not be as great as one might be led to expect. Farmers heretofore gave holidays to their men because they believed it paid them to do so. As a result, the men gave better services and production was increased. I think that will occur in cases where holidays become obligatory in the future. The men will give better services and production will be increased. Because of that, I do not think the burden on the farming industry will be as great as the Minister seems to think.
There is nothing to be said at this stage more than to welcome the Bill as a provision which is long overdue, and which is necessary in the case of these employers who, as was pointed  out, did not see their way in the past to give their workers holidays.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: As a farmer and as a resident in rural Ireland, I welcome the Bill for one reason, and that is that it will raise the status, if that is the way I should put it, of the farm worker. The man working on the land is more or less looked down upon by every other section of workers. I am proud to welcome this Bill. It has my wholehearted support. In congratulating the Minister on bringing it in, I hope the Minister will not take my congratulations as on a line with Senator Baxter's, because he uses that phrase as a preamble to every Bill that comes in. I do not. I believe the country will appreciate this measure, and I am sure there is no farmer who will begrudge giving his worker holidays, nearly the same number as would be enjoyed by every other rural employee.
Mr. Colgan Mr. Colgan
Mr. Colgan: As a Dublin man born and bred, I am very reluctant to speak on agricultural matters, but I must welcome this Bill and congratulate the Minister on introducing it. The agricultural labourers are the most depressed class, while they are the most important class. Everyone else's wages are a little above his and he must, of necessity—why, I do not know—have the lowest rate. It is a shame that that should be so. Although various employers may give holidays, human nature being what it is, there will always be some farmers—as there are some industrialists—who will not give concessions unless compelled to do so. This Bill places them all on the same level, and they all have to give holidays.
I feel critical of the section which allows payment in lieu of holidays. In the printing trade we have had holidays in Dublin since 1919 and we insisted that they must be taken between 1st April and 30th October. Under the Conditions of Employment Act, 1936, holidays could be given and taken at any time during the year, but there was no provision like this, and I think it is an offence for an employer or employee to engage in a conspiracy  to defeat the purpose of the Act by allowing payment in lieu of holidays. This is a retrograde step in this Bill. If we are giving the agricultural labourer holidays, he should be given holidays, not payment in lieu. He is in a different position from the majority of workers, in that he cannot take his holidays during the fine weather, but must of necessity wait until the harvest is in, as he cannot be spared during the summer time. It seems a pity that this Bill should be spoiled by that provision, which would allow the farmer to say: “I cannot give you any holidays, but I am giving you a week's pay in lieu”.
Mr. Baxter Mr. Baxter
Mr. Baxter: He cannot do that.
Mr. Colgan Mr. Colgan
Mr. Colgan: It says so in the Bill.
Mr. Baxter Mr. Baxter
Mr. Baxter: The worker must agree to it.
Mr. Colgan Mr. Colgan
Mr. Colgan: He is only the worker, and has little option when the employer tells him he will have to take payment as he cannot allow him off. Possibly he would be sacked. I am pointing out that there is danger that the employee may have to accept payment because the employer wants him to do so. Otherwise, I welcome the Bill, which is long overdue, though I feel that there is always a possibility of its being abused and the whole object of the Bill defeated.
Mr. S. O'Farrell Mr. S. O'Farrell
Mr. S. O'Farrell: I am sorry I was not here for the introduction of the Bill and the earlier speeches, but it was not my fault as we were on committee work. Everyone is in favour of the Bill, but there is another point of view on this question of money in lieu of holidays. I am generally in agreement with Senator Colgan on all labour matters, but there is another point of view on this. This Bill was necessary, but not nearly as necessary for the agricultural labourers as a Bill of another kind was for industrial workers. The agricultural workers in relation to their employers have more friendly contact than you ever have in an industry. Whether one likes to admit it or not, there always was, is and should be between  the farmer and his man a bond of friendliness and a sort of relationship that you very seldom get in ordinary industrial occupations. Although it was necessary to have a Bill to enforce holidays in industrial occupations, the farm labourers, without a Bill, get a great many holidays that the city worker would never get voluntarily in agreement with his employer. It was a good thing that that was so.
I think it was Senator Hawkins who said that very few farmers will have to be compelled to give these holidays, as most of them give them as a matter of grace and goodwill. They give more holidays probably than the Bill would ever insist on. While the Bill itself establishes a man's right to get holidays, even from a bad employer, it maintains his liberty to take them or not as suits him. I think that is a good point. If I were a farm labourer, I would not like to be restricted by the law in my work. I would like to retain as much liberty as possible and if it should suit me and my employer that I should work for the week and have a double week's pay, no law should prevent me from taking that pay. If I live in the country and work for a farmer who said I should take six days now, and if I had nothing to do but sit on the ditch, I would much prefer to be at work and have a double week's money.
Mr. Colgan Mr. Colgan
Mr. Colgan: You would not be getting holidays at all.
Mr. S. O'Farrell Mr. S. O'Farrell
Mr. S. O'Farrell: I would not be taking these particular holidays, as I would not want them. I would have the right to work if I chose to do so, if it facilitated the farmer and suited me. He might facilitate me later, if I wanted a day for the races or for the fair, and I would be more likely to get it for obliging him. The Bill as a whole will be welcome and whatever criticism there may be of that section, I think the defence can be made that even that section is a good one. I would be prepared to maintain any man's right, if he chose to work; and if the money were of more value to him than the six days' holidays it is a good thing to allow it under the Bill.  It might, however, be a very bad thing to put into a Bill for industrial workers. There are two points of view. The reason I welcome that particular section is that it maintains, as far as possible, a man's opportunity to defend his rights.
Mr. O'Dwyer Mr. O'Dwyer
Mr. O'Dwyer: I wish to support this Bill and think it is a very good one, for the reason given by my colleague, that it is a start for agricultural labourers. They are looked down upon by every other worker, and that has a bad effect on farming generally and increases the tendency to leave the land. There has been an objection raised to the section which allows payment in lieu of holidays. That section is quite justified in the present Bill. The situation of agricultural labourers is completely different from that of industrial workers in towns, who work indoors during the year and who need a short period of holidays in the open air. That does not apply to agricultural labourers, whose work is carried on completely in the open air. The other reason is that agricultural workers have too many holidays and broken time and they themselves probably would not care so much for additional holidays. This provision for payment is a very advantageous one, from the point of view of the worker, if he wishes to avail of it— and I think nearly all workers will avail of it. It will be to their advantage and to the advantage of the farmers themselves. The Bill will not put any great burden on the agricultural industry at present, but it is well to bear in mind, as the Minister pointed out, that anything in the nature of additional burdens on agriculture should be carefully watched, as they might have a grave effect on production generally.
This Bill improves the conditions of the agricultural workers very much. Their conditions, in general, are very poor in comparison with those of other classes, and every effort should be made to improve them. Employment on the land is and always will be limited, and agricultural workers must depend also on outside work, under local authorities, on the roads and so forth. The trouble is not so much the  rate of wages as the fact that these men have not permanent employment. Whatever the rate of wages, you could calculate that the annual income would be much less than the official rates, as they have not permanent work. That difficulty could be met by devising some means of providing regular employment and regular income for them. The readiest method would be the establishment of small industries in rural areas, which would be of great advantage to rural workers. Men working on farms all their lives would find employment then for their sons and daughters, and the increased income would raise the standard of living of the family. That should be borne in mind by the Government.
There should also be small industries on agricultural lines such as fowl-packing and pig-raising, for agricultural workers. There are means for farmers to improve production, but there are no facilities, as far as I can see, for agricultural labourers to be provided with a cow or pigs. That would be a great advantage to industrious workers.
Again, where land is being divided, cottiers should be entitled to obtain some portion of land, as even three or four acres would help to increase their income. It is only in that way that you can improve their position. Simply raising the rate of wages or giving them holidays will not improve their general conditions, since the more you increase wages the less the labourer will receive because the tendency will be to reduce employment.
The previous Government introduced a very good innovation at the time, that gave relief on the rates for agricultural employment, and I think the present Government would do well to continue that and, if possible, to improve it. That relief was given to farmers who employed agricultural workers in certain periods and the amount was fairly considerable. It made up the difference between the farmer who gave employment and the farmer who did not.
Any Government must realise that it is very easy to reduce employment on the land, especially on the basis of the type of land. It is doubtful if it  pays the farmer and whether it would not be better for him to resort to dry cattle, as some farmers are doing, and have a better income for themselves. The relief given for agricultural employment helped to put a good balance there. It should be increased, as it would be a means of getting over the increased wages for holidays and would have a tendency to stabilise employment. The Bill in general will be welcome and it will not do any harm. It will be received with general approval and will create no difficulty in agriculture.
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: I am very much obliged to the Seanad for the cordial reception tendered this modest measure and so gratifying have the Senators' observations been that it would be unbecoming on my part to embroider them.
Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take the remaining stages now.
Bill passed through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration, and passed.
Ordered: That the Bill be returned to the Dáil.
Business suspended at 1.10 p.m., and resumed at 2.15 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 38 Agricultural Workers (Holidays) Bill, 1949—Second and Subsequent Stages.