Conditions of Employment Act of 1936

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Conditions of Employment Act of 1936

The 1936 Conditions of Employment Act was a landmark piece of legislation that determined the working conditions in Irish industry for many decades. The act incorporated the directives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) into Irish law; the Irish Free State was an active member of the ILO. This legislation provided for a 48-hour week, with stringent controls on overtime, shift work, and night work, and a ban on outworking could be imposed by ministerial order. Workers were entitled to six public holidays every year, and a one-week vacation, and they were protected against wage reductions consequent on reduced working hours. Wage agreements between a representative group of employers and workers could be registered and made legally enforceable. Employment of persons under fourteen was forbidden, and a maximum 40-hour week was set for those under eighteen years; there was also provision for a ban to be imposed on the employment of young persons in a particular industry, following consultation between employers and workers. The legislation is evidence of the Fianna Fáil government's wish to placate trade union demands, provided that they did not conflict with other objectives.

When the act was introduced, criticism was expressed at the fact that workers were entitled to six public holidays, but not to the church holidays that were traditionally celebrated in rural Ireland. The most controversial clauses were those relating to women. The act enabled the minister for industry and commerce to ban women from working in a particular industry and gave him the right to set a quota for female employment. These clauses reflected criticism of women's ability to corner the majority of the new jobs that had been created in manufacturing industry. This was contrary to the idea of the male as the primary breadwinner, a view widely endorsed by government ministers, trade unions, and the Catholic Church. Women university graduates were the only group who opposed these clauses; female trade union leaders remained silent, and some even supported the measure. There is no evidence that these clauses were ever enforced; the minister for industry and commerce rejected a number of requests to implement them in specific industries. Nevertheless, they were not repealed until the mid-1970s when they were seen to conflict with European Economic Community equality directives. They signaled that the Irish state did not favor female factory employment, and this undoubtedly had an influence on the types of new industries that were established during the 1960s and 1970s.

SEE ALSO Clarke, Kathleen; Equal Economic Rights for Women in Independent Ireland; Irish Women Workers' Union; Trade Unions; Women and Work since the Mid-Nineteenth Century


Daly, Mary E. Industrial Development and Irish National Identity, 1922–1939. 1992.

Jones, Mary. These Obstreporous Lassies: A History of the Irish Women Workers' Union. 1988.

Mary E. Daly

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Conditions of Employment Act of 1936

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