Friday, 17 May 1935
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Lemass): I move that this Bill be now read a Second Time. In doing so, I think it desirable that the Dáil should understand that this Bill is one of a number which will be introduced for the purpose of regulating the conditions of employment in various occupations. It was originally intended to introduce a measure relating to employment in factories and workshops which would not merely cover conditions of employment but also effect a codification and improvement of the existing Factories and Workshops Code. It was found, however, that the preparation of such a measure would take a considerable  time, and I considered it desirable to proceed at once with that portion of the proposals which is dealt with in this Bill and to leave until later the portion dealing with the codification of the Factories and Workshops Code. That second Bill, I think, will be ready in time for introduction during the present session of the Dáil, although it is not possible to say that definitely, having regard to the very complicated nature of the Bill and the possibility of difficulties in drafting arising.
Furthermore, Bills are being prepared to effect, in relation to persons employed in commercial occupations— that is, in shops and so forth—provisions similar to those which are proposed to be enacted by this Bill in relation to persons employed in factories and workshops. Arising out of the report of the Commission on the Registration of Shops, certain legislative proposals for the regulation of retail trading are also under consideration. As I informed the Dáil, in answer to a Parliamentary Question this week, a Bill, which it was originally intended should be part of the first measure to be introduced but which, for legal reasons, has to be introduced separately, for bringing the law of this State into conformity with the International Convention for the abolition of night work in bakeries, has also been prepared and will be introduced shortly.
This Bill does not cover employment in mines, because, in the existing code of laws, mines have been dealt with separately from factories and workshops and, for legal reasons, whatever provisions it is desirable to introduce in respect of employment in mines, must also be dealt with in a separate Bill. A decision on a legislative provision of that kind, which can be introduced, has been deferred pending a meeting of the International Labour Convention at Geneva next month, when the Convention concerning employment in coal mines is being brought forward for revision. We will have to take into account the decision made there in considering the introduction of legislation here.
The whole purpose of the series of  measures which we propose is to institute in relation to all occupations, where undesirable exploitation of labour might occur, machinery for the regulation of working conditions, which will prevent abuses, and which will enable the State to exercise a general supervision over these conditions of employment. It is recognised in all countries at the present time that it is necessary to have such legislation, and that the State must exercise the function of maintaining supervision over conditions in which its citizens are employed. There are very few countries which have yet adopted legislation of the nature now under consideration here, although progress in that direction has been made in various European Parliaments. I do not know whether any Deputy will seriously question the necessity for legislation of this kind. It is now generally agreed that, in modern conditions, the employment of workers and their remuneration cannot be left to be determined solely by the laws of supply in demand. The great development in industrial employment that has taken place in the past 50 years throughout the world, and that is now taking place here, is bound to produce certain undesirable conditions, if State action is not taken to prevent them.
Neither do I think it possible to contemplate conditions of employment and the remuneration of labour being regulated solely by trade union action. The effectiveness of trade unions to deal properly with these matters is limited, and that is particularly so in this country at present, where we have in relation to many classes of workers, rival unions seeking these workers as members; where, I think, it is the general experience of all trade unions that where rival unions operate in relation to any class of workers, trade union organisation deteriorates, the number of workers which belongs to neither union increases considerably, and the power of the trade union movement to secure improvement in working conditions in agreement with employers is naturally lessened. That situation exists here as well as in  other countries, and it is of such a nature for us, and it exists to such an extent, that we could not possibly contemplate leaving conditions of employment in workshops and factories unregulated by the State or not subject to State supervision, in the hope that in time the abuses would be eliminated by trade union action only. There are in this country, and in every country, employers who will seek to secure competitive advantages over their rivals by employing workers for longer hours, less wages, or in less satisfactory conditions than others. The effect of such action by any one employer in an industry is generally to reduce the working conditions of all branches of that industry, because in modern life, with the considerable competition for markets which exists between employers in all competitive trades, no employer can for a long time succeed if he maintains a higher standard of working conditions, a higher rate of wages, or shorter hours than other employers with whom he is in competition. The fact is therefore beyond question, that the worst employer very nearly set the standard of employment in the industry in which he is engaged. That is another reason why it is necessary that the State should be in a position to intervene to prevent any progressive deterioration in working conditions in any industry, in consequence of the desire of a particular employer to secure a greater share of the market at the expense of his competitors and workers.
The main provisions of the Bill are few in number, and can be easily understood by any Deputy who has read them. It is proposed to fix in relation to the class of workers covered by the Bill as maximum hours of work those set out in the Washington Hours Convention. It is true that for the great majority of workers in industry here that part of the measure is not going to make any change. The 48 hours week is generally recognised in industry, and other provisions of the Washington Hours Convention are, in fact, in operation amongst all good employers in all parts of the country.  There are certain trades which have not yet adopted the 48 hours week as provided for in the Washington Hours Convention, and, in so far as these trades are concerned, the Bill will automatically operate to produce a reduction in working hours. The Washington Hours Convention provides for the maximum 48 hours per week in industries which are worked in the day time only, and for the maximum 56 hours per week in continuous process industries; that is, industries which must be operated continuously and in respect to which the shift system operates.
We go further than the Washington Hours Convention in the automatic fixation of maximum hours of work, in providing that for juveniles the maximum working week will be one of 40 hours. I will deal with that at more length later. I merely draw attention to it now in order to make it clear that, whereas the main body of the Bill is based on the Washington Hours Convention, in that one respect we propose to go further than was proposed in that convention. However, in order to prevent misunderstanding it is necessary to make it clear that in fixing these maximum hours of work for industry we are not, at the same time, expressing the opinion that for all industries these maximum hours are suitable. It is necessary that Deputies should clearly understand that, in that respect, the Bill is fixing what we regard to be the minimum conditions, and it is proposed to take power in relation to any particular industry to make regulations providing for a shorter working week, after consultation with those who are engaged in that industry, whether as employers or employees. There are, in fact, some industries at the present time where the normal working week is less than 48 hours. A recent agreement made between the wholesale clothing manufacturers and the trade unions catering for their workers provided for a normal week of 44 hours.
A 44-hour week has been instituted in other industries by agreement between employers and employees already. There is no necessity to  amend these agreements in consequence of the passing of this measure. In fact, it is not improbable that immediately upon the passage of this measure arrangements will be made to bring into consultation in accordance with the Bill the representatives of workers and employers in a number of industries with a view to having arrangements made for the enactment of regulations prescribing a shorter week than 48 hours in respect of these industries. Certain people who have expressed their views in the press upon this Bill have urged that the Bill should provide automatically in general for a shorter working week than a 48-hour week. I do not think anybody could possibly contemplate the introduction of a shorter week than a 48-hour week for a general application, without first having a full and complete examination of the effect of the change upon particular industries. The effect may be serious upon some industries; it may be negligible upon others. The procedure, therefore, proposed in the Bill is to provide for the examination of conditions of each industry by representatives of the Department of Industry and Commerce in consultation with representatives of employers and employees before any regulations are made so that the temporary or permanent circumstances of each industry may be fully considered before any change in working hours is proposed. I refer to temporary as well as permanent circumstances because there are obviously factors operating at the present time in relation to certain industries which may make it undesirable, if not impracticable, to effect a reduction of working hours. If there is an industry which is protected by Customs duty or Quota Orders, but which is not quite able to supply the full requirements of the country in the goods produced by it even when operated to the full limit of its existing productive capacity, then it is clear that any reduction in working hours would only have the result of increasing the importation of  such goods until new equipment had been installed or until new workers had been trained. That shows in some cases what may be the effect of the reduction in normal working hours. Similarly there are other industries in respect of which that precise set of circumstances might not operate but where other circumstances such as a deficiency in the number of skilled workers and temporary difficulties on the part of employers in finding the capital involved for the purchase of new equipment, would suggest to us to institute any change in the working hours gradually rather than in a drastic manner. We would also have to consider the effect of a change in working hours in one industry upon another industry in such cases where the product of one industry was the raw material of another.
The International Labour Conference in Geneva met last year to consider the adoption of a 40-hours working week as a solution of the unemployment problem. I would like to make it clear that in putting forward proposals for a reduction of working hours I am not doing so primarily because of its effect on unemployment, but because it is desirable. It is a desirable social change which modern circumstances permit us to effect. It has not been fully established in relation to industries that a general reduction in the working week would increase employment. There are many factors which might operate in a contrary direction. One very well known firm of manufacturing druggists and chemists in Great Britain instituted a 40-hour week for their employees some time ago. They at the same time carried out a rationalisation scheme and made changes in their method of production. After a time the results were examined by a committee of experts. I had an opportunity of reading a report of the persons who examined the conditions and the results. They found that the reduction in working hours plus the rationalisation scheme operated so as to increase the output per individual worker so that they were able to maintain  a much higher output on shorter hours than previously when working in longer hours with the same number of workers. If the market for that firm's goods had not expanded so as to absorb the increased production, the reduction of working hours might well have resulted in a reduction in the number of persons employed. When one considers the matter from a general view-point it appears that a reduction in hours not accompanied by a reduction in individual earnings need not necessarily increase the general consumption of goods. Unless there is an increase in the general consumption of goods there will not be any substantial effect upon the volume of employment consequent on the reduction of working hours. The Americans have been experimenting on this matter for some time past. From the reports to the International Labour Office at Geneva as to the operation of the industrial codes brought into effect it appears that while they secured an increase in the employment in the industries subject to these codes and an increase in payrolls they have not succeeded in securing an increase in production. These increases took place while production was decreasing.
The conclusion which one might draw from that fact was that the operation of the codes has not had the effect upon the general prosperity of the nation which was at first anticipated because the case for the reduction of working hours was that by increasing employment and consequently increasing the purchasing power of the workers there would be a general stimulation of trade and that more purchases would take place and that this would be reflected in the production of the factories and the employment in the general industries.
It is, however, unwise to draw any general conclusion from facts of that kind, because other factors were operating which may have had effects upon the general prosperity and the total consumption of goods of which we are not aware, and of which no single individual could attempt to give a precise account. In any event I am quite  satisfied that in proceeding towards a reduction of working hours on the lines proposed in this Bill, we are proceeding along the best lines and, incidentally, the lines along which the International Labour Conference at Geneva now appears inclined to move. The draft convention proposed at Geneva last year provided for a general reduction of working hours, but it did not get the necessary majority there to enable it to be brought forward to another stage. In fact, only eight or nine Governments, including the Free State Government, supported the adoption of such a convention. Even amongst these Governments I do not think there was complete unanimity as to whether a reduction of working hours should take place without a reduction in individual earnings or with a reduction in individual earnings. But this year, it seems clear that the drive at Geneva will be in the direction of having an international agreement made to effect a reduction of working hours, not over industry generally, but over named particular industries, the facts of which are fairly well known, and are common to all countries.
A general reduction of working hours accompanied by other measures will, of course, in due course produce an improvement in the employment situation. But I want to make it clear that I am not banking upon any such policy as a solution of our unemployment problem. It will help us towards a solution of that problem, but it will not by itself solve it. The main argument in support of that reduction is that it will improve the working conditions of persons employed in industry. It will enable them to share in the benefit of technical improvements. It will prevent the full benefit from any technical development going to the employers in an industry. It will permit us to secure that the workers will also share by a reduction of their hours of labour and an increase in their leisure. In doing that, we will, of course, be able to secure to some extent that future technical developments will not be immediately accompanied by a reduction in employment, as they have been in the past. In that respect, it  does also help us to deal with our unemployment situation.
The Bill proposes that where any reduction in working hours takes place, either in consequence of the general provisions of the measure, which apply automatically to all industries, or because of special regulations made to govern working conditions in a particular industry, there shall not be any reduction in the weekly earnings of the workers concerned. That is a somewhat difficult provision to frame in a form which will be watertight.
Mr. Lemass: Yes. It can be done obviously without much difficulty when making special regulations. In that case, you have the representatives of the workers and the representatives of the employers together and you frame your regulations in consultation with them, and, consequently, you can make, under these regulations, or under another section in the Bill, the necessary arrangements which will give effect to the intention of preventing any reduction in individual earnings. It is where the automatic provisions of the Bill may involve a reduction of working hours that difficulties may arise. We think we have got over those difficulties in the relevant section, but if that should prove not to be the case, it will obviously be desirable that the Department should have an alternative method of approach, and that is provided for in the section dealing with the registration of agreements. The clear intention is that any reduction in the number of hours worked by any worker in consequence of the Bill should not result in a reduction in the amount of money received by that worker for a week's work.
In so far as this Bill, therefore, relates to working hours, and is designed to effect a reduction in working hours, it does so by two methods: (1) instituting as a general maximum for all classes of workers covered by the Bill the hours permitted by the Washington Hours Convention of 48 per week in day industries and 56 in  continuous process industries, with a maximum of 40 hours per week for juvenile workers; and (2) by giving power to make, in relation to any particular industry, in consultation with those engaged in it on each side as employers and employees, special regulations providing for shorter hours than the maximum permitted by the Bill.
Mr. Lemass: Yes. The Washington Convention permits of 56 hours work for workers engaged in continuous process industries where three shifts are working. It is clear why 56 hours is arrived at there. If you take the number of hours in a week and divide them by three, you arrive at the maximum hours which one person upon any one shift may work. But there are various regulations in the Bill designed to ease that position, such as the regulation which requires that he must have one completely free day in the week, and that certain rest periods will operate, etc. That is the general practice at the present time in all these industries. It is the practice which is permitted by the Washington Forty-eight Hours Week Convention.
Mr. Lemass: Quite. It will continue to operate in these industries, unless and until, as a result of consultation with the parties concerned, special regulations providing for a shorter week are brought into force, as might well happen, in fact, in a number of these industries. In other countries, where special circumstances operate, they have sometimes instituted four shifts instead of three in the day and, consequently, got a much shorter working week than anything provided in this Bill. The general tendency of the Bill is to discourage the working of shifts except where the industry is of such a nature that shift work is obviously necessary. Flour milling is a case in point. Another one would be, say, a glass works, where once the glass is melted in the tank the work must go on continuously day and night while that glass is there. There are quite a  number of other industries in respect of which it is obvious that you could not have an interruption of work and resume next day.
Mr. Lemass: I do not agree. We intend to bring in a Bill to prohibit night work in bakeries. Until quite recently there was no night work being done in bakeries here. The general practice which arose from trade union action in the past, and which still operates in Dublin and the major cities of the Saorstát, has been to abandon night-work in bakeries altogether, but in consequence of the development of the bakery business in the Northern Counties, consequent on the tariff on bread from Northern Ireland, and the inability of the bakers there working one shift to supply the full requirements of the countrysides concerned, night-work was resumed. But the Department gave due notice at that time to everybody engaged in the business that it was intended to ratify the Convention.
Mr. Lemass: Quite: I said that there are only three main provisions in the Bill. The first is restriction of working hours; the second is registration of agreements; and the third is restriction of the employment of juveniles and women. The provision in the Bill for the registration and legal enforcement of agreements made between employers and employees is a new one. Again, I think the necessity for that provision is fairly obvious. It has frequently occurred in the past that the majority of employers and the majority of employees in a particular industry were prepared to make an agreement providing for certain rates of wages, certain hours of work, and other conditions, but could not make that agreement effective because a small number of employers refused to conform to it, and were able to get workers to work  at rates of wages less than those provided for in the agreement. Consequently, the fact that a minority of employers held out, and operated lower rates of wages or imposed worse working conditions, made it impossible for the majority of employers to institute the conditions which they desired, because by doing so they would place themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage as compared with the others.
The argument might be advanced that that is a situation which could be left to be dealt with by trade union action, but against that I contend that we have had evidence in the past that trade unions are not always capable of giving effect to those agreements in all cases, and that in any event the ability of individual employers here and there to stand out from a general agreement has meant a deterioration rather than a continuing improvement in working conditions in their industry. I was rather surprised to see a statement in the Press from the Secretary to the Irish Trade Union Congress in relation to this provision of the Bill, the meaning of which statement, however, I hope I misunderstood. Mr. Eamonn Lynch, in a statement published in the Irish Press of the 10th of this month said that, by registration, large sections of workers would have legal enforceability of wages which would render trade union activity unnecessary, and that their experience has shown in this regard, both under the Agricultural Wages Board when it was in existence, and other modern trade boards, that such legal sanction militated against active trade unionism. If I interpreted that correctly to mean that the Irish Trade Union Congress, or its National Executive, are opposed to this section providing for the registration of agreements because it is going to secure for workers the conditions which trade unions want to secure, without the necessity for trade union activity, then I think that the National Executive of the Trade Union Congress should reconsider its position very seriously. It is obviously in the interests of workers that they should be able easily to secure the enforcement of the conditions  agreed upon by their trade unions in negotiation with their employers, and that they should not have to resort to strike action or other action of that kind, even if it does mean that there will be less work for the officials of those unions to do.
Mr. Lemass: However, there is no use in pursuing that line, except to make it clear that in proposing that that legal enforceability of agreements should be enacted in this measure I am not aiming at interfering in any way with the effectiveness of the trade union movement. I am aiming at securing for workers, without difficulty and with the support of the law, conditions which the trade unions themselves desire to see in each industry. I think that that provision is one which trade unionists should welcome, as it represents a decision on the part of the State to co-operate with them in improving the conditions of workers in all industries.
Mr. Lemass: I do not think that that is so. The proposal is that wherever there has been an agreement made between persons who appear to the Minister for Industry and  Commerce to be substantially representative of the employers on the one hand, and the employees on the other, in any industry, he may register that agreement in a special register to be kept in his department, and when that agreement is registered it becomes legally enforceable by either party. Of course there is not and never will be an objection to an employer paying more to his workers than the trade union standard rate of wages.
Mr. Lemass: Those circumstances have arisen very often. I do not think circumstances will ever arise in which an employer will resort to the legal power conferred on him by this section to enforce an agreement of that kind. He himself will be required to conform to that agreement, and it will be of his own volition if at any time he decides to give a higher rate of wages or to concede better working conditions. The effective use of this section will be in the hands of the workers, particularly the workers in perhaps some individual factory, where the standard rates of wages and the standard conditions are not being observed. They are given the right to recover from the employer, as a simple contract debt, the amount of any underpayments of wages. I am quite satisfied that the great majority of employers will welcome that section. The majority of employers have no desire to pay low wages, or to impose bad conditions on their workers. Even some of those who are doing so are only doing so because they are being forced to do so—if they wish to maintain their positions in their industries—by the activities of other firms which have set a lower standard. In quite a number of cases the employers have, in fact, come to the Department of Industry and Commerce asking that some means should be found by which the conditions of employment which they have agreed to with their men, and which they are putting into operation, should be enforced upon other employers in the same trade.
 References have often been made here to the rather unsatisfactory conditions which have arisen in the furniture industry, where a very large number of small concerns has come into existence, frequently in defiance of the existing factories code, and are operating under conditions which nobody would consider reasonable, the result of their activities being to decrease employment and lessen the effectiveness of the properly organised and properly conducted factories. Under the existing law we have found considerable difficulty in securing the enforcement of the very limited regulations which have been made, principally because district justices can very rarely be induced to impose what most people would regard as a reasonable fine for offences under these Acts. It is usual to read of an offender being let off with a caution, given the benefit of the First Offenders Act, or dealt with in some way which imposed no penalty on himself and he goes back and continues as before, very frequently operating unprotected machinery to the danger of the lives and limbs of his employees. That is something that we will deal with in the Factories and Workshops Bill which is to follow this one, but it can be mentioned, in so far as it is desirable, in relation to these industries particularly, that we should be in a position to enforce standard conditions of employment so as to prevent good employers and properly organised concerns being damaged in their trade by the activities of undesirable institutions.
The third main provision of this Bill deals with the restrictions upon the employment of juveniles and women. I want to make it quite clear what the Government's attitude is in respect to the employment of juveniles. By juveniles I mean persons over 14 and under 18 years of age. Such persons must be employed. It is not contrary either to Christian civilisation or good economic organisation that such persons should be employed. In my opinion it would be very unsocial legislation if we were to introduce a Bill to prevent such juveniles being employed in industry. They must be employed somewhere and it is eminently  desirable, if they are going to make their living in industry, that they should come in at an early age so as to get the industrial training which will enable them to succeed. The one thing which we must take care to prevent is the possible development of blind-alley occupations; that is, the establishment of industries upon the basis of employing juveniles only. Where a juvenile goes into an industry in which he is going to remain all his life, passing from one grade of employment to another until he is an adult and getting an adult man's wage for skilled work, there can be no objection to juvenile employment; but where a particular industry is established on the basis of employing children of 14 years and dismissing them when they become 16 or 18 years——
Mr. Lemass: Yes, when they become insurable. That is an undesirable development which we should aim at preventing. We must be clear in doing so that we are going to provide for the substitution of these people by other people in employment. It is possible there are some industries which have been established on the basis of an organisation which sells goods at a low cost and which would disappear if the cost of those goods had to be increased. In relation to these industries we have to consider whether or not they are worth having. We may decide they are not worth having and deliberately wipe them out of existence. But in the majority of cases it will be found the industries are desirable and they may only require internal organisation and a change in the public attitude in order to get decent conditions established.
The Bill provides for a maximum working week of 40 hours for juveniles. That is an important change. These young persons are not capable of standing the strain of modern working conditions the same as adults, and a maximum week of 40 hours is something which I am sure will receive the support of all Deputies who are aware of the working conditions of a modern  factory. It is generally very monotonous, very tiring work, and it imposes a considerable strain on the nerves of those engaged in it, and young persons should not be asked to stand that strain for longer than 40 hours until they become inured to it. It is quite possible if we were not to proceed on that line, if we were to permit existing conditions to continue indefinitely, the effect upon the stamina and the morale of the whole population would in due course become apparent. We are providing for longer hours for juveniles who are employed in a factory where they are, in a sense, learning their trade, where they are engaged in an occupation which offers opening for them in future life, where they are engaged as assistants to adult workers, adult workers whose places they hope to take when they themselves become adults.
That particular section was criticised from some angles as offering, I think the phrase was, a means by which the Government might avoid having to put a general 40-hour week regulation into operation. I would like to give the exact phrase, but I have not got it at the moment. It is quite clear that in certain cases it is absolutely essential that we should have that power, because in some industries it may be that unless juveniles were available as helpers and assistants to adult workers the work could not proceed. Where that is so we can authorise the working up to 48 hours of these juveniles, subject to whatever conditions the Minister for Industry and Commerce thinks fit to impose in order to safeguard the general intention of this legislation. The power to restrict or prohibit the employment of juveniles in any industrial pursuit is one which must be exercised in consultation with the representatives of the employers and employees and it is a power which, I think, should be there so as to enable some authority to be in a position to say that a certain class of work is of a nature which should not be performed by juveniles in the interests of the juveniles themselves and in the interests of good industrial conditions generally.
 The same is true in respect of the employment of women. That particular portion of the Bill has been rather violently attacked by the representatives of the Irish Women Workers' Union and others who obviously misunderstood the intention of it. The statement on behalf of the Irish Women Workers' Union that any attempt to restrict or limit the employment of women was an infringement of the rights of women, who had been given equal rights by our Constitution is, I think, one which will not stand examination.
Many years ago a British Minister of Labour introduced, and got passed in the British House of Parliament, a Bill prohibiting the employment of women underground in coal mines. I do not know that anybody would suggest that that Bill should be repealed here now or would regard it as progress if we were to repeal the Bill. The particular Minister was so pleased with his measure that he went to South Wales to inspect the coal mines, after the women had been removed from them, and he barely escaped with his life, because the women who had lost their employment pelted him with stones and mobbed him everywhere he went. I hope that is not going to be my fate, but, in any case, there is a precedent for it.
There is no doubt that there are certain classes of work on which it is undesirable that women should be employed and for which they are not suited. Certain Deputies from Limerick made representations to me only quite recently with regard to an institution in Limerick in which a woman is employed stoking a boiler. I do not think women should be employed stoking boilers, but, at the present time, there is no power anywhere to prevent women being employed on work of that kind and the purpose of this section of the Bill is to give the Department of Industry and Commerce power to make regulations preventing the employment of women on any class of work on which it is undesirable that women should be engaged.
Mr. Lemass: After consultation with the interested parties. Miss Louie Bennett, Secretary of the Irish Women Workers' Union, in a letter to the Irish Press on 14th of this month—with which I am in complete agreement and I hope that by announcing my agreement, I will convey more definitely than might be possible otherwise exactly how it is intended that the powers under this Bill in relation to women should be exercised—said:—
“Machinery has taken over in the factory work that used to be done in the home. Women have followed their home work into the factory and they are not superfluous workers. They are required. There are many industries for which women are better adapted than men—textiles, sugar, confectionery and tobacco, for example. There are also many mechanical processes so monotonous that men find them intolerable. Women endure such monotony with less evil effect upon their nervous system.”
With a lot of that, I am in agreement. There are certain processes in all the industries to which she refers which are at present carried on by men and, in my opinion, should continue to be carried on by men. The provisions of this Bill, however, are not intended as a device to secure employment for men who are now unemployed at the expense of women who are now employed, but, generally to have machinery established by which industrial employment can be regulated and to arrest any tendency which may develop in future to substitute female for male labour in consequence of alterations in the mechanical methods of production in any industry.
It is true that, to some extent, large scale employment of women in industry, which has taken place over the past decade or so, has represented the transfer of work that was formerly done in the homes to factories and that women have foldowed their work from the homes to the factories, but that is not the whole truth. It is very definitely the case that processes which were done by men, and could only be done by men, can now be carried on by women, because  these processes have been mechanised. I think the most recent case, in which we had a strike on that account, was in connection with the clothing trade. In the old days, the pressing of suits of clothes was done by pressers with irons. They ran a heavy iron over the suits of clothes and put the creases into the trousers and generally smoothed out wrinkles. A very large number of men were employed in Dublin and elsewhere until our friend, Mr. Hoffman, invented the Hoffman Press which, in the majority of factories at present, is operated by women and which presses clothes much more effectively and quickly than was possible with the old hand-pressers. The institution of these presses has meant the disemployment of a number of these hand-pressers in factories.
The aim of the Government in such a case would be to continue, if possible, the employment of these men who had been previously engaged in that work, or, in some other way, to secure continued employment in that industry for the men who had been previously engaged in it. In fact, a number of employers who share that view, to a considerable extent, have endeavoured to fulfil that policy on their own. Some of them are, in fact, employing men upon their Hoffman presses and paying the recognised rates of wages for male pressers in the industry—the women workers are, of course, working for less than the standard scale for male pressers —and others have endeavoured to use the men who are disemployed in consequence of the installation of these presses for other classes of work in their factories. That tendency to transfer employment from men to women in consequence of mechanical development may take place in any industry at any time, and it is desirable that we should not get altogether into the position in which, I am told, the city of Derry is, where the great bulk of the men stay at home minding the children and the women go out to earn the daily bread. I remember reading the comments of a newspaper correspondent who had visited Derry, where the shirt factories  and textile factories are the mainstay of the city's prosperity, and all of which employ practically no other persons but women. There is very little work for the men except to mind the children and look after the households.
Mr. Lemass: And look after the shirts which their wives make in the factories. I do not think anybody will agree that that is a desirable situation. If there is need for less work to be done; if, because of mechanical development and improvements in the technique of industry, we can get more production of goods with less expenditure of human labour, it is obviously desirable that only those should be called on to expend labour who are best fitted to do it and we should endeavour to take out of the employment market those who, for any reasons, should not be there—those who are too old, those who are too young, the physically unfit—and if it comes to a choice between men and women, I would say: “Keep the men working and allow the women the benefit of the leisure which comes from these technical improvements.” That, however, is entirely different from saying: “Disemploy the woman and allow her to draw unemployment assistance in order to give herself a livelihood.”
We have to consider all these problems as they arise and endeavour to work out a solution for each industry in consultation with the persons engaged in that industry. We cannot apply whatever solution is ultimately decided upon in respect of any industry unless we have the powers set out in the Bill—the power to prohibit or restrict the employment of women and juveniles as well as power to limit hours, regulate overtime and effect the other purposes for which the Bill provides. I have read carefully and preserved all the statements about the Bill which have appeared in any of the newspapers. Various employers spoke; various representatives of the Labour Party and Labour interests spoke; and individuals not attached to either side have expressed their views in print.  Some have praised the measure and some have condemned it, but I did not see, in any one case, a valid argument against its introduction or a proposal for its amendment which was not in some way based upon a misunderstanding of the purposes of the measure.
I was also interested to note the comments which have appeared in various newspapers. A number have been interested in the measure which represents an innovation in legislation. It represents, according to the Manchester Guardian, a piece of industrial legislation much more advanced than any British Government has dared to attempt and it wishes us success in its enactment and enforcement in the hope that the British Government may be induced to follow suit. Other foreign papers have also taken considerable interest in this measure because it is, so far as I know, the first time a Government that is still a democratic Government, dependent entirely upon a Parliamentary institution for its power, has endeavoured to make the progress in industrial organisation which this Bill is attempting. Dictatorships can do things which democratic Government cannot attempt but I think the need for this measure is so great, and the common opinion amongst all classes as to its desirability is so pronounced, that we will not be prevented from moving along these lines because of any weakness that may be inherent in our democratic institutions. We are particularly fortunate, I think, in that respect—more fortunate than other countries—inasmuch as the general level of public opinion in relation to these matters is much higher and we have not got the pronounced anti-labour mentality, which is not merely evident in other countries, but also very vocal and influential, and, consequently, we can attempt changes of this kind more easily than might be possible elsewhere, particularly as a very large number of persons who are on the employers' side and are themselves large employees of labour are amongst the foremost advocates of this legislation and have publicly welcomed this measure as a move in the right direction.
 I recommend the Bill to the Dáil. I recognise it will require careful consideration from all Parties. I do not propose to rush it through the House, although I am anxious to get it into operation at an early date. The only ground upon which the Bill could be criticised is the form it takes. We propose to effect these changes by regulation, and many Deputies have a constitutional objection to that, but in regard to this problem there is no other door open. The problems and difficulties involved must be examined carefully and separately, and unless we were to have a whole series of Bills, each dealing with a separate industry, there is no alternative except what we propose here.
Mr. MacDermot: This is a highly-important and interesting measure, perhaps the most important and interesting that the Government has introduced. On this side of the House we recognise the need for a measure of this kind, and approve of its principle and motive. We shall have no hesitation in supporting the Second Reading, although we may have some amendments to move on the Committee Stage. The Minister has well said there is no anti-Labour mentality in this country. That is true, and we ought to be very glad. No anti-Labour mentality is ever likely to arise in this country unless mischievous persons succeed in promoting an atmosphere of class warfare. I hope that day is far off. Unfortunately, one sees such efforts being made, but up to the present, I do not believe they have really succeeded except in so far as some people manage to mix them up with political and international questions. Therefore, I congratulate the Minister on bringing in this Bill and, as I have said, we shall have no hesitation in supporting the Second Reading. At the same time I feel, though I say it in no carping or cavilling spirit, that we should preserve our sense of proportion, and remember that the number of those that will be affected by this Bill, and come within its scope, is only a fraction of the workers of this country. Unfortunately, the general policy of the Government, though they  are attempting to provide in this fatherly way for employees in industrial occupations, has resulted in producing continuous and disastrous deterioration in the conditions of those employed in agriculture, which is so much the most important factor in the country's economy.
Mr. Anthony: I have read this Bill over at least four times and as a result of a fairly careful analysis of the measure I have come to the conclusion that it marks a very definite step forward in the direction of social legislation in this country. There are here and there in the Bill some sections which may require, and which I feel do require, amendment. But the amendments I have in my mind's eye will not in any material way affect the good points scattered here and there throughout the measure. I feel that some of the sections, notably in Part III of the Bill, will affect in a very large measure bad employers as well as good employers. They will militate against bad employers and help good employers. They will tend to level up matters and permit good employers to observe conditions arranged between members of the various trades unions and such employers, and will enable them to compete on equal terms with persons employing labour which is underpaid.
In Part III of the Bill which, as I say, I regard as the most important, Section 24 allows the short day now fixed being substituted by some other day. That change may be made after conversation or interview with the Minister. In that respect I take it the Minister must have had in view the local conditions or the conditions obtaining in Dublin where Saturday might suit as the short day while it might not suit so well in other places.
Mr. Anthony: No; but what I say is that the Minister might have such change in view. In some cities and towns Saturday might suit as the short day, while it might not suit so well in other places. The provision that I regard as most important of all is the one for the registration of agreements.  I cannot conceive of any objection from any section of the House in that respect, particularly from any member of the Labour Party. I do not suggest for a moment that they are going to make any objection. I would not refer to this at all except for the extracts read by the Minister from letters appearing in the Irish Press. It has always been the ambition of Labour representatives to see industrial activity safeguarded in some way by legislative action. In my view the Minister has gone a long way to meet the express wishes of some of the best trades unionists in this country. There are other matters to which I should like to refer but, as my time is up, I shall formally move the adjournment of the debate until Tuesday next.
Mr. MacDermot: It would be very much to the convenience of the Opposition to know if the Budget debate will be resumed on Tuesday next. It was thought that it would be continued to-day and that it was not was a matter of considerable inconvenience to Deputies on this side.
|Last Updated: 17/05/2011 13:24:12||Page of 7|