Thursday, 20 December 1923
Seanad Éireann Debate
“That with the object of avoiding industrial friction throughout the Saorstát between employers and employees, the Seanad earnestly requests the Government to devise means whereby Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration might be constituted immediately, of which the decisions would be final and which would command the confidence of the public generally.”
In proposing this resolution I shall be as brief as possible. The President of the Free State and the Prime Minister of Great Britain have both remarked that there is no question more pressing and urgent, affecting the people of these islands, at the present time, than the question of unemployment. I believe unemployment has been largely brought about through unfortunate misunderstandings arising from time to time between employers and employed. The present state of this country, as regards unemployment, is deplorable. Thousands of men are out of employment; people who were once in affluent circumstances are reduced to comparative pauperism, and that is apparent throughout the country. Speaking as an employer, and as a member of an employers' association, I believe I voice the feelings of many employers when I say that we would place far more value upon stabilisation of wages than on reduction accruing again and again in pay and salaries. If we had some definite basis to go upon, in looking forward to the future, we could base our costs on these figures, and, in this enlightened age, I think it is really absurd and deplorable with capital and labour which are so interdependent one upon the other, that both sides should plan, and arrange, to starve  each other out in order to see which would prove victorious in the struggle. Here in Dublin bitter experiences have been gone through by both employers and employees. The port of Dublin has been held up. In the Midlands and the West, and in Dublin itself, enormous cost has been incurred in despatching goods through the Six Counties and the North generally into England. Thousands of pounds have been lost. In the South of Ireland we have passed through a state of things never experienced before. I have reason to know that in the three months, in which the South of Ireland has been held up, over a quarter of a million of money has been lost. The loss in wages and salary and in ships turned away from the port of Cork and otherwise has amounted to £250,000 or £300,000 at a small estimate. Such being the case, I believe that over one million, of money has been lost to Ireland in the last few months. We have been talking about our expenses here, and enlarging upon that, which is very proper, no doubt, but what are they? A mere bagatelle, a negligible quantity. In one week a sum greater than the whole cost of the upkeep of this country for a year has been lost, owing to differences of views between employers and employees in the Saorstát.
I, therefore, submit the sentiments contained in the motion for the consideration of the Seanad, and I sincerely hope the Government will be encouraged in the near future to follow the example set by the Governments of Australia and of Canada, and that is to set up Conciliation and Arbitration Courts. I hope, too, that such difficulties as may arise and come before these Courts, will be adjudicated upon by, preferably, a Judge of the High Court. I was glad to see, when reading the debates in the Dáil, that the respected leader of the Labour Party in that House made a proposal, similar to that which I have indicated in my motion, during the consideration of the Judiciary Bill. His suggestion was submitted in the form of an amendment, but it was ruled out of order, as that was not considered the proper time to bring the subject before the Dáil. The leader of  the Farmers' Party in the Dáil also supported the idea. I now venture to bring the matter before the Seanad, because I believe the country is ripe for a step in this direction. In doing so, I believe the Seanad, if it adopts my motion, will be assisting to lay the foundations of an era of peace and prosperity, and of many other advantages for our native land. I beg to move the resolution.
Mr. GUINNESS: I beg to second the resolution and to support the suggestion that these Courts of Conciliation and of Arbitration should be constituted. As to what the result will be, it is difficult to forecast. I notice that, in his motion, the Senator suggests that the decision would be final. That, also, is a very difficult matter. In the case of these Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration which have been established elsewhere, the difficulty always has been that the decisions should be regarded as final, but at the same time there is no reason why we should not have some hope in that direction. We may hope, at least, that by their establishment peace will result as between capital and labour.
Mr. BENNETT: In supporting the motion, I desire to say it is my view that, when people really come together for the discussion of their differences, good results are produced. In regard to the unfortunate dispute between capital and labour in this country, I feel sure that the responsible leaders on both sides must feel convinced that if such conferences as are suggested in this motion could have taken place, that good would have resulted. I think, at the same time, that when agreements are arrived at between capital and labour, it will be necessary for the Government to devise machinery to give effect to such agreements. If the machinery provided by the Government were backed up by the responsible representatives of capital and labour, then, I think, the parties to these unfortunate disputes would soon fall into line, and we would soon have peaceful conditions in the country. I do not think there would be much difficulty in bringing together the representatives of industry in the country, but to make  their decisions effective, in the case of disputes, I think it will be agreed that the support of the Government will be essential. In Australia, decisions arrived at by Conciliation and Arbitration Courts are made effective by penal enactments, and I think no good result will come about until you have some such provision in this country, if the Courts proposed in this motion are to be set up. I would respectfully suggest to the earnest consideration of the Government the study of the best means devised elsewhere, particularly in Australia, for the settlement of disputes of the kind we have in mind. I feel quite sure that members representing Labour in this Seanad would cordially join in any movement which would lead to peace, to the peace which it is suggested could be made possible by the establishment of the Courts referred to in the motion.
Sir THOMAS ESMONDE: It is not possible, I think, to discuss a question of such great importance as this is at the fag end of a meeting. We can only deal with it in a scrappy way, and I would have preferred if we could have deferred it until after the Christmas recess when it could be dealt with adequately. The Senator who has moved this motion deserves, in my opinion, the thanks of the Seanad and of the public. We are coming to a stage in our development when we must begin to take thought, and when we must, in the interests of a community as a whole, do something or devise some schemes whereby we can bring about industrial peace. One does not like to take sides on a question of this kind, and it should be possible to discuss the matter without taking sides, and to look upon it from the broader standpoint of the general well-being of the community. I believe that if the question were approached in that spirit that a great deal of good could be done. At all events, Australia has shown us how to go about it. The Australian experiment, however, has not been a complete success, but then nothing is completely successful in this world of ours. It is the intention really that matters, and, unquestionably, the Australian attempt has been of some use, and has done some good  in bringing about conditions under which industry can be carried on under more satisfactory auspices. One could speak at length upon the subject. There are a great many questions involved. There is the question of the standard wage and other questions of that kind, but we have no use at this hour of the evening, in attempting to go into them. I am glad that the Senator has raised the matter, because his action will set us thinking about these things. We are now going to develop the country, and under the constitutional position we enjoy we can do something to promote high moral purposes. There is no reason why we should not begin to think about these questions, or why they should not be discussed by the public at large. I think the more we discuss these questions, and the more we go into them in the spirit of attempting to find a fair, honest and honourable solution of them, the more chance there is that progress will be made in coming to satisfactory settlements.
Mr. O'DEA: I agree with the suggestion made by the last Senator. I think when we come back here after the Christmas recess, that we will be  in a better position than we are this evening to deal with this very important question.
Mr. O'FARRELL: Before the motion to adjourn, I would like to clear a misapprehension which might arise as a result of the statement of the mover of the motion. He stated Mr. Johnson, the leader of the Labour Party, favoured what amounts to compulsory arbitration, or the intervention of a judge, in industrial disputes. That is not the fact. What he did advocate was that in ordinary litigation—legal disputes, not industrial—the Judge might have power to interview both parties and try and arrive at an amicable agreement, thereby saving a good deal of expense. It had nothing to do with industrial disputes as we understand them.
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