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renew the license from time to time; (8) continuing the statutory minimum wage of 2 s. 6 d. for apprentices and improvers and making it a punishable offense to evade the provision by the exaction of a premium or bonus either directly or indirectly for engaging a female apprentice or improver in making articles of clothing or millinery.
These were important amendments and they did much to give stability to the new mode of wage regulation. They were not adopted, however, without a struggle on the part of employers, especially those represented in the Chamber of Manufactures. Representations made by this body were to the effect that the factory acts were in many ways injurious to the trade and industry of the colony; that they were causing a scarcity of labor, were reducing the export trade of the colony and were not causing the increases of wages which had been claimed.1
The same objections were repeated in the debates on the bill in the Legislative Council. Very little evidence was submitted in support of the claims of the manufacturers, and on the whole there was very little criticism of the effects of the previous legislation. Many members who were doubtful as to the advisability of extending the wages boards legislation to other trades were willing to admit that beneficial results had followed the 1896 act, and that sweating had been done away with, altho there were others who claimed that this latter result was incidental to a return of prosperity and was not due to the regulation of wages.
On the whole the most thoughtful speech on the bill was that made by Sir Henry Wrixon, who said apropos the proposal to have a Royal Commission investigate the workings of the act:
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 93, p. 3004.
The real operation of the factory laws their far-reaching effects, the way in which they will influence industry, the effects they may have on exertion, how far they may divert the energies of the people from a useful course all these are things which you will not find out in two or three years, nor perhaps in ten or twenty years. The whole thing must be left to experience and no inquiry you can hold now will give you the real lessons which only time and experience can teach with regard to factory legislation. . . . The real operations, the real effect of the State taking on itself to direct the industry of the people and to control their action in the minute manner in which this has been attempted, is a matter the result of which may not be seen, perhaps, in this generation. It will gradually wear itself out whether we like it or whether we do not. Whatever we may think, or whatever we may wish, certain results will follow, and those results can only be proved by experience. . . . The only thing we can do is to try the experiment fairly, and as time goes on the results will be made clear gradually and then the community will be able to learn the lesson that experience has taught.'
The objection most strongly urged against the amendments was that they proposed to extend the methods of regulation by wages boards to trades "in which there has not been a single complaint with regard to sweating." 2 Fear was expressed that there was danger of introducing the theory of a minimum wage in industry which it was said was merely "a return to the legislation of the Middle Ages." 3
The Government, however, was able to show that in asking for an extension of the wages boards system to other trades than those named in the 1896 act it had acted in response to requests not only from workingmen but from employers, some of them employing a considerable number of workingmen. Thus in the cigar-making trade, eight out of nine manufacturers with £50 licenses and 29 having £5 licenses had asked for a special board to fix a minimum wage for their trade. Seventeen employers in the harness and saddlery trade had signed a petition in favor of a board on
Parl. Debates, vol. 93, p. 3011.
2 Ibid., p. 3012.
Ibid., p. 3007.
account of the disorganized condition of the trade. Thirty-four employers in the marble masons' trade alleged that sweating existed in their trades and asked for a special board. Eighteen of the largest firms in the printing trade and thirteen employers in the tanning trade had asked for boards for their trades. On the side of the employees there was a petition from 269 men employed in saw-mills asking that a board might be appointed to consider their case.1
Sir Frederick Sargood, who still led the Opposition in the Legislative Council and who, it will be remembered, derided the wages board idea in 1895 as impracticable, tho still very critical of the new legislation, acknowledged that a "considerable amount of good has arisen " from the Act of 1896 and said that there were many employers who were asking for boards for their trades. He said:
It is within my own knowledge, apart from the information that the Solicitor-General has read, that there are a large number of trades that, rightly or wrongly, believe that it would be to their interest - and I am speaking now more of the employers than the employees to come under the Factories and Shops Act. At present they are at sixes and sevens; they believe that it will be fairer if all, large and small, are put on the same footing."
The Act of 1900 carrying the amendments above described was enacted for a further period of two years. Parliament insisted, however, in coupling these amendments with another one which provided for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the operation of the Factories Act and to report to Parliament. The Victorian Chamber of Manufactures had asked that such an investigation be made before the factory laws were re-enacted.
Parliament acted quickly in response to the powers given by the act of 1900 and provided during that year
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 93, p. 2992.
boards for 21 trades in addition to those already covered by the Act of 1896. As many of these, such as the carriage, printing, engraving and jewelry trades, could not be suspected of being sweated trades, it was obvious that a great change in the principle of wage regulation had been introduced by the Act of 1900.
The Royal Commission to inquire into the operation of the Factories and Shops Act was appointed by the Governor in Council on June 18, 1900. It was composed of twelve members, headed by the Hon. Alexander Peacock and having as one of the members Sir Frederick Sargood. Before it had accomplished any important work the elections of 1900 occurred. Sir Frederick Sargood and four other members were not returned to Parliament and therefore ceased to be members of the Commission. Mr. Peacock and one other member resigned from the Commission, which was reconstituted in 1901 with Hon. A. R. Outtrim as President.1 The Commission took voluminous evidence during the years 1901 and 1902 and visited other colonies to investigate the workings of compulsory arbitration and early-closing acts. Its report was not ready when Parliament met in May, 1902, and the Government, then headed by Sir Alexander Peacock, was preparing to submit a motion to continue the Factories and Shops Act for a further period of time in order to permit the Royal Commission to complete and submit its report. Before this could be done, however, a vote of no confidence had been taken and passed in the Legislative Assembly. The Ministers thereupon resigned and a new Government was created under the leadership of Mr. W. H. Irvine.
1 Report of Royal Commission appointed to Investigate and Report on the Operation of the Factories and Shops Law of Victoria, 1903. (Introductory letters.)
Parl. Debates, vol. 100, pp. 3-4.
The year 1902 marks a crisis in the history of the wages boards in Victoria. The country was experiencing a business depression, in part at least the consequence of a drought. There was much unemployment and complaints were made that the fixing of high minimum wages was responsible for the unemployment. The country districts were concerned lest the principles of a minimum wage and of a reduction of hours should be applied to the rural industries.1 Industrial disturbances caused by the awards of the wages boards in the fell-mongering and brush industries had also caused hostile criticism of the wages boards.
The Fell-Mongers Board which had been authorized by a resolution of Parliament dated October 11, 1900, was duly elected on March 19, 1901. Shortly after the board meetings began, the employers' representatives resigned in a body because a resolution had been carried in the board meeting fixing the usual hours of work at 48 per week. It was pointed out to the employers that it was impossible to say what effect this would have on the trade until the wages had been determined. The chosen representatives would not recede from their position; neither would other employers come forward to take the places of those who had resigned. Under the circumstances the Governor in Council on June 11, 1901, appointed five persons from outside the trade to represent the employers. The board thus constituted reached a determination which came into force on August 2, 1901. The employers in the trade took strong objections to the determination reached in this way and appealed to a Supreme Court Judge for a rule nisi to quash the determination on the following grounds: (1) That the persons who purported to have been appointed, without election, by the
1 Parl. Debates, vol. 100, pp. 13-14, and elsewhere.