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materially the wages board determination which reduced the working hours from 54 to 48 per week. A strike in the Chinese branch of the furniture industry 1 in 1897 occurred because the wages board on which the Chinese had no representation fixed the minimum wage so high that it caused wholesale dismissals of Chinese workmen. The Chinese workers had a strong union which required those at work to support those not employed. With the large number thrown out of work this burden on those who remained at work became too heavy, and the workers went on a strike, demanding the establishment of a system of piecework rates. The result was that the Chinese employers connived with their employees to evade the law, and, as already remarked, they have continued to do this ever since in spite of determined efforts on the part of the inspectors to secure evidence to this effect. Another strike occurred in the Chinese furniture trade in 1903, which involved 27 factories and lasted twelve weeks. It resulted in a 10 per cent increase in wages. The strike was of course in no way due to the work of the wages boards since the Chinese were not complying with its determination. In 1906 in the stone-cutting industry, the letter-cutters, about twenty in number, went on a strike because they were dissatisfied with the board's determination.3
In his report for 1907 Mr. Ord, in reviewing the work of the Bread Board, had this to say:
For the first time in over ten years a strike of some importance took place in a trade under a Special Board. It is a remarkable thing, however, that the strike was not against the determination of the Bread Board, but in consequence of the Court of Industrial Appeals altering a decision of the Board. . . . The Court after hearing evidence reduced the wages from £2, 14s. [per week] to £2, 10s., from the 15th of September, 1907. . .
1 Report of Chief Inspector, 1897, pp. 10, 11. 2 Ibid., 1903, p. 17.
Ibid., 1906, p. 36.
From the 5th of August to the 14th of September the men had been receiving the increased wages allowed by the board. This fact no doubt had a good deal to do with the action of the union later on, as men do not willingly submit to a reduction of wages no matter how obtained, and in this case it had been granted by a tribunal appointed by Parliament for the purpose of fixing wages. .. The strike commenced on the 29th of September. It was not of long duration. On the 2d of October the majority of the employers concerned granted the demands of the union, and the strike was over.1
The last of the six strikes to which reference is made in the Chief Inspector's report was that of the timber stackers and sorters which occurred in March, 1910, as a result of a determination of the Wood Workers' Board which had fixed the wages of the stackers at 1s. less than the rates which had been paid. The stackers felt that they had not been satisfactorily represented on the board and engaged in a strike which lasted seven weeks. It was finally ended by the Minister, who called together a new board which adopted a new schedule of rates more satisfactory to the stackers and sorters."
The above record of strikes and lockouts in the wages board trades, which has been gleaned from the reports of the Chief Factory Inspector's office in Victoria is possibly not complete; altho I have no reason to think that any industrial disturbance of any consequence has been omitted. Mr. Ord, in the various reports which he made up to the time of his death in 1910, always referred to the strike in the bakeries as the only one of any consequence which had taken place in an industry subject to a wages board determination. This is certainly a remarkable showing for the wages boards as a means of securing industrial peace. In the neighboring colony of New South Wales, with employers and employees subject to the severe penalties of the Industrial Arbitration Acts, there were between July 1, 1907,
1 Report of Chief Inspector, 1907, pp. 18, 19.
Ibid., 1910, p. 71.
and March 31, 1913, no fewer than 447 "industrial dislocations." 1 Even in New Zealand, which has made a much better showing under its compulsory arbitration acts, there were between January 1, 1906, and March 31, 1912, thirty strikes coming within the scope of the arbitration act, and some of them were affairs of considerable magnitude. In making this comparison between Victoria and other states it must of course be remembered that until very recently wages boards have not been found in industries (like coal mining and the transport industries) in which strikes are most frequent. Nevertheless, after making all due allowance for varying conditions, Victorian experience goes far towards justifying the assertion that it is the provision of means whereby the important differences between employers and employees may be adjusted in a friendly and equitable manner, rather than the element of compulsion, which leads to a diminution of strikes.
The Factories and Shops Act of Victoria contains no prohibition of strikes or lockouts nor are any penalties provided for those who take part in such industrial disturbances. Nevertheless, there is a very strong public sentiment in Victoria in opposition to strikes or lockouts in any trade or industry for which a wages board has made a determination. Mr. Ord undoubtedly reflected public feeling in regard to the matter when in his annual report for 1906 he had this to say apropos the strike which had taken place in the stone-cutting trade:
It does not seem fair that men should obtain all the legal advantage of a minimum wage and then seek by a strike to secure an advance on the legal wage. If such a policy were adopted the em
1 New South Wales Industrial Gazette, April, 1913, pp. 18-36.
2 Twenty-First Annual Report of the (New Zealand) Department of Labor, 1912, p. 11.
Pp. 39, 40.
ployers would be in the position of having to pay the rates fixed by boards plus such an amount as might be secured by a strike or the dread of a strike.
It is not that any one expects all employees to accept the lowest wage fixed by a board to which exception is taken; it is the united action of the trade seeking to secure for all employees a higher rate than that fixed by the board.
If the majority of the employees in a trade refuse to accept the wage fixed by a board and stop work till all are given the higher rate claimed, I think the determination of the board, so far as it relates to matters in dispute should be suspended so that both sides might be free to fight the case on its merits.
The strike in the bread-baking industry the following year led Parliament to follow the suggestion made by Mr. Ord and to incorporate in the Shops and Factories Act the following section:
Where the Minister is satisfied that an organized strike or industrial dispute is about to take place or has actually taken place in connexion with any process, trade, business or employment as to any matter which is the subject of a Determination of a Special Board or the Court of Industrial Appeals, the Governor in Council may by order published in the Government Gazette suspend for any period not exceeding twelve months the whole or any part or parts of such Determination so far as it relates to the matter in reference to which such organized strike or industrial dispute is about to take place or has taken place, and such suspension may at any time by an Order published in the Government Gazette be removed by the Governor in Council or altered or amended in such manner as he thinks fit.1
Altho this power to suspend a determination has never been exercised in Victoria and, if the record of the Chief Inspector is complete, only one occasion 2 has arisen since 1907 where the power to suspend a determination because of a strike could have been exercised, there can be no doubt that this section is a valuable preventive against strikes in wages board trades. What the laboring classes have gained by most deter
1 Factories and Shops Act of Victoria, Sec. 173.
2 The strike of the timber sorters and stackers in 1910.
minations is too important to be sacrificed by a strike which, without public opinion to support it, would have little chance of success. Of course when an era of falling wages and prices comes, strikes against determinations which call for a reduction of wages may become more frequent, but even then it is probable that labor leaders with good judgment will see that a strike under such circumstances has little chance of
In the other states which are or have been under the régime of wages boards without the adjunct of an arbitration court, the record concerning strikes appears to be lacking. In South Australia, only one strike is reported to have occurred in a trade governed by a wages board prior to the adoption of compulsory arbitration. This was called by the carters and drivers. Inasmuch as the South Australian Factories Act forbade strikes and lockouts "on account of any matter in respect of which a board has made a determination" and provided for heavy penalties for violation of this provision,1 the Chief Factory Inspector, Mr. Bannigan, considered it his duty to collect evidence in regard to the strike, which might be used in case the Minister decided to prosecute the strikers. With this end in view, Mr. Bannigan went to the Trades Hall to seek information. For doing so he was called before the Ministry, the Labor party being then in power, and was severely reprimanded for having taken steps which might endanger a peaceable settlement of the dispute and he was furthermore suspended from office for several days. This seems to give partial confirmation to the view that the power to suspend a determination is fully as effective as the threat of fines to prevent strikes in wages board trades.
1 South Australia Factories Act of 1907, Secs. 159, 160.