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instituting proceedings in most of the cases of injuries, () the legal department of the Women's Trade Union League took up several of the cases and, in two instances, obtained compensation for the loss of fingers, the firm preferring to settle rather than suffer the notoriety incident to lawsuits based on the disregard of the Workmen's Compensation Act in such a precarious trade as theirs.
Among the workers in certain ammunition factories, too, there was found to exist at the time of the organization of the women workers absolute ignorance of the interpretation of the compensation act, and representatives of the Women's Trade Union League have since successfully conducted legal proceedings for them when necessary.
The National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen, and Clerks has a legal department of its own, and its effective operation demonstrates some benefits that union affiliations can bring to the woman worker.
Following is a summary of the cases dealt with by the legal department of this union as shown by the report of the union covering the
CASES DEALT WITH BY THE LEGAL DEPARTMENT OF THE NATIONAL AMALGA
MATED UNION OF SHOP ASSISTANTS, WAREHOUSEMEN, AND CLERKS, 1907.
In 1902, by parliamentary pressure and popular agitation, the Shop Assistants' Union secured the passage of the Shop Seats Act.
Proceedings for the recovery under this act of compensation for an injury shall not be maintainable unless notice of the accident has been given as soon as practicable after the happening thereof and before the workman has voluntarily left the employment in which he was injured, and unless the claim for compensation with respect to such accident has been made within six months from the occurrence of the accident causing the injury, or, in case of death, within six months from the time of death.–British Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906, section 2.
It is estimated that by the provision of relief from constant standing on the part of sales clerks thus obtained the forms of ailment which are greatly aggravated by such work as shop assistants have to do have been lessened one-third.
In 1904 the union drew up and presented through its parliamentary representative the shop hours bill, which provided for a 72-hour maximum of weekly labor for all shop assistants. This bill also contained provisions regarding the Sunday closing of shops, the prohibition of employing children under 14 years of age, sanitary conditions, ventilation, and sanitary conveniences, and was in short designed to give to persons in shops some of the protection which existing laws had thrown about persons employed in factories and workshops.
The act, which is known as the Shop Assistants' Charter, became a law, but the hours clause has been found defective in operation, since the nature of the distributive trade is such that there is no economic advantage to the employer in opening the shop earlier than 8 a. m. or 8.30 a. m., and therefore the closing hour was pushed further and further along until without really violating the weekly limit of hours of labor the employer was keeping his shop assistants at work late into the night. The union leaders again appealed to Parliament for more stringent regulation of the closing hours for shops, and on May 1, 1907, the labor member representing them submitted the following notice in the House of Commons: “That in the opinion of this House, more drastic legislation with regard to the closing of shops and the hours of shop assistants is required; and the home secretary, in his reply to this motion, stated that “a case had been made out for an amending bill.” This bill is drawn on the same general lines as the Shop Hours Act of 1904, except for two corrective principles :
1. The first of these principles is the demand for a 60-hour maximum. The reasonableness of this demand is evident in a glance of comparison with the regulation of the working week under the factory acts. The period of employment for young persons and women in nontextile factories and workshops is limited by the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901, to the hours between 6 a. m. and 6 p. m., or 7 a. m. and 7 p. m., or 8 a. m. and 8 p. m. In textile factories 2 hours must be allowed for meals (one of them before 3 p. m.), and work must not be carried on for more than 41 hours without an interval of one-half hour for meals. In nontextile factories and workshops 11 hours must be allowed for meals (one of them before 3 p. m.), and work must not be carried on for more than 5 hours without an interval of one-half hour for meals. In textile factories, when the period of employment begins on Saturday at 6 a. m., that period
must cease at 12 m. as regards employment in any manufacturing process if not less than 1 hour is allowed for meals and at 12.30 p. m. as regards employment for any purpose whatever. If less than 1 hour is allowed, manufacturing processes must cease at 11.30 a. m. and employment for any purpose at 12 m. When work begins at 7 a. m. manufacturing processes must cease at 12.30 p. m. and employment for any purpose whatever at 1 p. m. In nontextile factories and workshops the hours of employment on Saturday may be between 6 a. m. and 2 p. m., or 7 a. m. and 3 p. m., or 8 a. m. and 4 p. m. In every case an interval of not less than one-half hour must be allowed for meals. The maximum is 551 hours per week for textile and 60 hours for nontextile factories.
2. The second corrective principle is the determination of the latest closing hours for each day, although the local authority is left free to distribute the particular closing hours over the different days of the week.
This bill was given a second reading in May, 1908, and the home secretary pledged the Government to introduce legislation in 1909.
Public sentiment, awakened through the efforts of the Shop Assistants' Union, has already taken up the battle and helped the union to specific success on behalf of the female shop assistant.
It is interesting to note that in the cases of two adjacent drapery houses in London, one closing from 6 to 6.30 p. m. and the other keeping open until 8 p. m. and after, when the assistants in the lateclosing shops were out on strike, the employers conceded a uniform early closing for all the days in the week and explained that they were forced to the concession by the attitude of their customers,
who affected by the undue excitement over shop legislation,” would go elsewhere and buy rather than accept service maintained for “ their convenience during the evening hours.”
CRUSADE AGAINST LIVING-IN AND TRUCK SYSTEMS.
The crusade conducted by the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen, and Clerks against the living-in system is so important to the cause of the female worker that a brief explanation of the Truck Act, which deals with this feature of shop life, may be permissible.
Prior to 1831 payment in “truck”-i. e., goods—instead of in money was commonly practiced by employers of labor in Great Britain, and the “ tonny shop” or wage-trading exchange was an adjunct of the factory or mill. The abuses to which this system of payment was open are obvious. The employer might pay in inferior goods or in goods overcharged or supply goods in excess of wages
due and so run the worker into debt. The worker handed over the control of his purchasing power and had no check on his earnings. The worker discovered these abuses by bitter experiences, and after a period of agitation the act was passed in 1831. This made the payment of “truck" illegal and insured that the worker should not be compelled to spend his earnings in any particular shop. It also regulated fines and deductions.
The act of 1887 made more explicit the application of the law in regard to deductions an employer might make from the wages of a workman, and adopted the definition as given in the Employers' and Workmen Act, 1875, as follows: “ The expression 'workman' does not include a domestic or menial servant, but, save as aforesaid, means any person who, being a laborer, servant in husbandry, journeyman, artificer, handicraftsman, miner, or otherwise engaged in manual labor, whether under the age of 21 years or above that age, has entered into or works under a contract with an employer, whether the contract be
express or implied, oral, or in writing.” It will be seen that the occupation of shop assistants can not be construed so as to come under these categories, and, as a consequence, the employers of shop labor were able to continue their form of “ truck” payment, the so-called “living-in” system, whereby the clerks of an establishment are housed under one roof and a deduction for “rent, victuals, fuel, etc.," made in a lump sum from their wages without, as the Truck Amendment Act stipulates, the agreement for such deductions being in writing and signed by the workman. On the subject of “living-in” an official of the Shop Assistants' Union has written:
Apart from its demoralizing effect on wages, the living-in system has many disadvantages which well-meaning people, who believe it provides a home where the young people are guarded from evil, fail to take into account. Assistants living-in are frequently many miles from home, and dismissal means also immediate loss of shelter; they have very little cash in hand when settling-up day comes, certainly not enough to keep them in lodgings for any length of time; and yet to go home, if they have sufficient money to take them there, is to go probably to some country district where they will have great difficulty in getting situations.
The thought of dismissal brings with it a terror which the poorest worker, who owns a shelter independently of her employer, knows not at all. The sleeping rooms, from the hygienic standpoint, are sadly deficient. The air space varies from 500 to 700 cubic feet per person, but the fireplaces are invariably blocked, the windows at night are either closed entirely or open only an inch or so, and there is no other kind of ventilation.
The atmosphere of such rooms by morning can be better imagined than described.
The washing accommodations are very limited, and there is no privacy in the bedrooms. Except in the best houses no bathroom is provided, and the assistants, too frequently, are content with a weekly washdown in a small hand basin, the daily ablution being confined to face, neck, and hands. (a)
The primary cause of consumption among female shop assistants is attributed to “industrial dust," with which the atmosphere of the shops becomes thick toward evening from the continual tramp of feet, the trailing skirts, and the fine particles detached from the goods that are being continually tossed about, but the spread of the disease is largely traced to the living-in system.
As regards the food included in truck payment under the living-in system, much depends in quantity and quality upon the ability and good will of the steward or the housekeeper employed by the firm.
The following is a menu for the week in an average business house in London where the amount allowed for the cost of boarding and lodging the employees is 6s. ($1.46) per head, per week:
Bread and butter or dripping, tea or coffee.
Monday.-Hot roast mutton, potatoes, bread, ale
Bread and butter, tea.
Bread, cheese, butter, and (twice each week) fried or baked pudding, ale.
Yet in one house where practically this menu was in operation the only protest was that it was monotonous. But the assistants ate their meals heartily and spent only from 6d. to 1s. 6d. (12 to 37 cents) per week in extras for breakfast and supper. In other houses it was claimed that the food was neither good nor well cooked; assistants frequently left the dinner untouched and it was necessary for them to spend from 3s. to 5s. (73 cents to $1.22) per week to satisfy hunger. However, in either case there was no alternative to accepting the diet as part payment of their nominal wages except unemployment.
In 1895 the union leaders made a strong case against deductions from wages and a plea for the inclusion of shop assistants under the
a Miss Margaret C. Bonfield, in a paper on “The effect on health of women employment in shops,” read before the Royal Sanitary Institute Congress at Glasgow, 1904.