« ForrigeFortsett »
a whole, the act seems to have justified the statement of Chief Inspector Ord that it was "probably the most advanced Factories and Shops Act in the world." 1
3. Extension of the Wages Boards System and its
The framing of regulations and the preparation of electors' rolls from the lists of names supplied by manufacturers occupied nearly all of that portion of the year 1896 which remained after the passage of the Factories Act. It was not until November 2, 1896, that an Order in Council was issued for the election of the first boards. A board of ten members (exclusive of the chairman) was provided for each of the following trades: (1) boots and shoes; (2) articles of men's and boys' clothing; (3) shirts; (4) all articles of women's and girls' underclothing; (5) bread-making or baking.2
The board for the furniture trade was not provided for at this time because it was discovered that if the board members were to be elected "the Chinese could have elected the whole or a large majority of the representatives on such board." As such an outcome was not deemed desirable, Parliament was appealed to at the next session to amend the act so that the members of this board might be appointed by the Governor in Council. This change was accordingly made.
The Bread-making Board was the first to be organized and had no great difficulty in reaching a determination, inasmuch as it did not have to work out a schedule of piece-work rates. The minimum wage in
1 Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories, etc., for 1896, p. 3.
* Ibid., p. 7.
Report of Chief Factory Inspector for 1897, p. 5.
this occupation was fixed at 1 s. (24 cents) an hour and the determination became effective in April, 1897.1
The (Men's) Clothing Board met for the first time on January 26, 1897, and with peculiar fitness elected as its chairman Rev. A. R. Edgar, who had done so much to bring about this legislation. The work set for this board was an arduous one, for it had to fix not only time wages for men and women but to work out an elaborate schedule of piece rates. It was not until October 19, 1897, that the final determination was reached. It fixed 7 s. 6 d. ($1.80) per day as the minimum wage for adult males and 3 s. 4 d. (81 cents) per day for adult females, with a sliding scale for apprentices and improvers varying with age and experience. The piece-work rates numbered thousands of items and covered when printed thirty-five pages of closely printed fools-cap. They were fixed (1) for males on order work, (2) for females on order work, (3) for females on "slop work." 2
The Boot and Shoe Board was organized on February 11, 1897. For eight months the Board met at frequent intervals and on November 3d it fixed a minimum wage of 7 s. 6 d. ($1.82) per day for adult males and 3 s. 4 d. (81 cents) per day for females. When the determination was published the manufacturers lodged a protest against its enforcement, on the ground that the high minimum rates would disorganize industry, ruin the export trade and lead to wholesale dismissals. Parliament being in session, it was decided to insert a clause in the bill amending the Factories Act so as to give the Governor in Council power to suspend the determination of any Board for a period not to exceed six months.3
1 Report of Chief Factory Inspector for 1897, p. 5. Report of Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Factories and Shops Amendment Bill, 1897, pp. iii-iv.
The Government then suspended the determination in the boot trade and referred the matter once more to the Board. The Board thereupon reduced the minimum wage for males to 6 s. 8 d. ($1.62) for clickers and 6 s. ($1.46) for all others. The piece rates were not reduced, which meant that they would seldom be paid. This, thought the Chief Inspector, meant that the “safe-guard of the old and slow workers was removed."
The Board to fix the rates of pay for workers engaged in the manufacture of shirts, collars, cuffs, etc., met at intervals during the year 1897 but, owing to the difficulty of fixing piece-work prices, did not reach a determination until January, 1898. Much sweating was said to exist in this trade and the out-workers were eagerly awaiting the determination.1
In the Women's and Girls' Underclothing Board many difficulties arose in connection with the fixing of piece-work prices and dissensions appeared among the members, so that after more than a year's effort to come to an agreement the board resigned in May, 1898. Another board was appointed in August of that year and after nearly another year's delay reached a determination in June, 1899. "There is no trade," said Mr. Ord in his Report for 1898, "in which there is more sweating than in the manufacture of underclothing and the great delay which has through various circumstances occurred in making a determination has been a great misfortune."2 Miss Tate, one of the inspectors, reported that the price paid for making underclothes by one of the large city warehouses was 1 s. 6 d. (36 cents) per dozen pieces. A woman could make one dozen pieces in a day of nine hours and out of this pay of 9 s.
1 Report of Chief Inspector, 1897, p. 9.
Ibid., pp. 18-19.
($2.19) a week, she had to provide her own thread and pay for returning the goods to the warehouse.1
The Furniture Board, the only one not elected, did not meet until February, 1897, but was able to reach a determination by March 24th. Altho the law required that in this trade both time and piece-work rates be fixed "whenever practicable," the Board did not fix piece-work rates but established a minimum wage of 7 s. 6 d. ($1.82) for the important branches of the trade." This benefited the European workers, but proved impracticable in the Chinese factories and led to consequences which will be later described.
Postponing for the present the discussion of the results of the wage board legislation on the industrial and social life of the colony, we may say that three years of experience with the wages boards system had been sufficiently successful to warrant the Victorian Parliament in 1900 in not only continuing the experiment but in extending it to other trades. It would be far from true to state that the success of the experiment was generally admitted. To many employers it appeared to be a heavy load on industry and even to some of the workers (the old and infirm) it brought suffering rather than relief. But viewed in the light of present knowledge it would be fair to say that the following statement made by Mr. Ord in his annual report for 1898 presented an adequate summary of the results of the system during the first several years:
With a full knowledge of the significance of the statement, I say I believe the system has been successful. I do not for a moment claim that the system is perfect, and propose immediately to point out defects. That it has to a large extent prevented the worst evils of free competition appears to me beyond a doubt.❜
1 Report of Chiet Inspector for 1898, pp. 18-19.
The Factories Act of 1896 was to continue in force only until January 1, 1900, unless Parliament was in session, in which case it was to lapse at the end of the session unless re-enacted by Parliament. In October, 1899, Mr. Peacock introduced a bill to continue the act and extend its scope. This bill, after extended discussion and after being amended in several important particulars, became a law on February 20, 1900, to become effective on May 1st of that year.
The principal changes made in the wages boards legislation by the Act of 1900 were (1) the addition of the business of a "butcher or seller of meat" to the trades for which special boards were provided; (2) granting permission to the Government to provide a special board for any other trade " usually or frequently carried on in a factory or work-room" if either house of Parliament by resolution declared it to be expedient; (3) giving to the boards authority to fix " the maximum number of hours per week for which such lowest wages, price or rate, shall be payable" according to the nature or conditions of work; (4) giving the boards authority to fix rates of pay, higher than the minimum, for overtime; (5) providing that where a board fixed both time wages and piece-work rates in the same trade the piecework rates must be fixed on the basis of what a man of average ability could earn on time wages; (6) providing that the determination of a special board should be applicable to every city or town and might be extended by the Governor in Council to any borough or shire or part of a shire; (7) providing that whenever it was proved to the satisfaction of the Chief Inspector that any person by reason of age or infirmity was unable to earn the minimum wage fixed by the board, the Chief Inspector might grant him a license for twelve months to work at a less wage (named in the license) and might