Irish Labourers' Wages

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons on 10th November 1942.

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Photo of Sir James Henderson-Stewart Sir James Henderson-Stewart , Fife Eastern

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction caused to Scottish farm workers on account of the high wages paid to Irish labourers, who frequently obtain as much as £5 per week and some much more for pulling flax; that these labourers pay no Income Tax in this country but receive subsistence allowance in addition to their wages; and what arrangements have been made to control the wages and movements of these labourers, both those brought from Ireland under the wartime permit system and those who were in this country at the outbreak of war and have been moving about from place to place since then?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I am not aware of any such dissatisfaction nor have any representations on the subject been made or received by the Scottish farm workers' union. With the hon. Member's permission, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement of the arrangements applying to Irish workers on the other points raised in the Question.

Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and Western

Is it not most undesirable that when our own skilled farm workers are tied to their jobs in this country and cannot move in order to earn higher wages, workers coming from Ireland, a neutral country, should be allowed to exploit this position? Should not they have their wages fixed before they come from Ireland, in the same way as wages are fixed here?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

If we fixed wages in such a way that Irish labourers did not come over to pull the flax, the farmers would be dissatisfied.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Is it not the case that the Irish workers are not overpaid but that if anything is wrong, it is that our own workers are underpaid?

Photo of Professor Douglas Savory Professor Douglas Savory , Queen's University of Belfast

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is very important to make this distinction, that the labourers from Northern Ireland do pay Income Tax on returning, and, therefore, there is serious confusion in the Question?

Following is the statement:

In general, Irish agricultural workers who are accustomed to come over to Scotland for short-term seasonal employment work long hours, and consequently, when paid at hourly, piece or contract rates, they earn comparatively high wages. Wages for flax-pulling—a particularly heavy job—are fixed by the Ministry of Supply, for whom the crop is grown. The basis is a piece-rate of £6 10s. per acre for average conditions, and £7 per acre for poor conditions. If an Irishman is continuously resident in this country for more than six months of the Income Tax year, or, even if he is not continuously resident for that period, if he has regular annual residence, he becomes liable for payment of British Income Tax. Lodging allowances are paid by the Ministry of Labour and National Service to Irish workers with dependants, in the same way as to other transferred workers. Minimum rates of wages, applying equally to Irishmen and others, are laid down in the Orders of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board. Otherwise, in accordance with the general policy of the Government, wages are regarded as a matter for bargaining between employers and workers.

Recruitment of Irish workers for agriculture falls into two distinct categories: (1) Short-term casual workers for employment during busy seasons, e.g. harvest and potato lifting, and (2) Long-term workers for employment throughout the year. Under (1), recruitment is effected by contact between the employer and the worker either direct or through an agency. In this type of case, the rate of wages is a matter for agreement between parties (subject to there being no breach of the relative Wages Order). In the majority of cases falling under heading (2) the employers are the Scottish Agricultural Executive Committees and direct contact is made by a representative of the Committees in Eire with such Irish workers who have volunteered for agricultural work in Scotland at their local employment exchanges. The contract of employment in these cases provides for weekly engagement and wages at the minimum rates prescribed in the respective Orders of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board. Wherever possible, employment is arranged on a piece or contract basis at the rates usual in the district. There are no restrictions upon the movements of Irish agricultural workers as a class in this country, but those who arrived from Eire on or after 8th August, 1941 are required to register with the police of the district in which they are first employed, are prohibited from taking employment in other than agricultural work without the permission of the Departments concerned, and police consent is necessary for any stay in excess of three months.