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Of the 51 large communes requiring a minimum wage rate in contracts, all but nine fix this rate. The others require the contractor to himself submit a bid with the wages he expects to pay in each trade. A maximum work-day is fixed by 17 of the communes and 9 provide for a day of rest. Sweating, by means of sub-contracting is prohibited.

The results of the operation of these laws have been very satis , factory. In only two of the communes has any complaint been made by the contractors and the workmen, and in only a single case has the communal works been made more expensive.



One of the prinrary, and probably the most important, causes of the consideration of the working conditions of government laborers was the report of the Sweating Committee* of the House of Lords published in 1890. The final report of the committee contained the following recommendation:

" We are of opinion that it is incumbent on all departments of the government and on municipal and other public bodies, to take care that in placing their contracts they are satisfied that the workmen by whom the contract is to be worked out, are paid proper wages.

We recommend this course not only in the interest of the workmen, but also in the belief that it will ensure to the public a corresponding advantage in the excellence of the work. This recommendation may be effected by requiring the contractor to show the scale of wages which he proposes to pay, and, supposing such scale to be satisfactory; by having copies served on the workmen, or otherwise making known to them the rate of wages to be paid." +

It appeared in the evidence that government contract work was carried on to a considerable extent under the sweating system to the detriment of the workers and the quality of the goods supplied to the government. In the War Oflice especially, there had been inserted in the contracts a Factory Clause imposing a penalty of £100 upon any contractor who allowed any work given by the War Ollice to be done outside his premises. But, in spite of this clause, “ Mr. Nepean acknowledged that the evidence before the Committee showed that the War Oflice contracts had been some years used as a vehicle for sweating' and that the work had been handed down from contractor to gang-master, and that the gang-masters had prices given them by the contractors, of which we knew nothing, and which necessitated the grant of low wages to the actual worker, and the whole of the sweating business has been carried out almost under the protection of the War Oflice.'"

On the workingmen's side the congress of trades-unions held at Dundee in 1889 brought forward and discussed the theory that the state should by precept and example be il model employer. As a result of their discussion the congress adopted the following resolution, as embodying their ideas:

· The Congress insists on the necessity of all trades-unions using their influence on muicipalities and other public administrations, to obtain the


*Fifth Report from the select committee of the House of Lords on the Sweating System,

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insertion in all public works contracts of the following clause: “The prevailing rate of wages in each trade shall be paid to all workmen employed.'

The next year (February 13, 1891), the House of Commons, following the lines suggested in the report of the Sweating Committee, adopted what is known as the “Fair Wages Resolution,” the final draft of which reads as follows: “ That in the opinion of this House it is the duty of the Government in all government contracts to make provision against the evils recently disclosed before the Sweating Committee, to insert such conditions as may prevent the abuse arising from sub-letting, and to make every effort to secure the payment of such wages as are generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen.

In February, 1896, the House of Commons appointed a select committee “to inquire whether the present system of issuing invitations for tenders and of making contracts for government printing and binding sufficiently secures compliance with the terms and spirit of the resolution of the House of Commons of the 13th day of February, 1891, and whether any, and, if so, what improvements of the system are called for.” Numerous witnesses, including representatives of both workmen and contractors, testified before the committee, every opportunity being given to any who wished to make complaint. At the time of the investigation 49 contracts involving an annual payment of approximately a million and a half dollars were in existence.

Several complaints were investigated concerning sweating and nearly all were well founded; but circumstances existed, however, which partially relieved the authorities from blame. Regarding sub-letting, the Committee found that the terms of the resolution had been fairly complied with. The house of Eyre & Spottiswoode of London, which does 35 per cent of the government printing, was charged with paying less than the London scale, which was recognized by 90 per cent of the employers, in one of their shops. The firm answered this by stating that a large amount of tabular work was done and that the scale was disregarded on this work in order to equalize the rate of wages. Moreover, evidence was introduced tending to prove that under the firm's scale wages were higher than the London scale. Whether or not this was true the Committee was unable to determine. On the question of overtime there was also some disagreement. On this point, however, the Committee were of the opinion that the workmen were attempting to quibble and concluded “ that the firm were generous employers. Refusal to adopt the union scale, however, places them outside the resolution of the House of Commons which says, “That Government work shall be given

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In summing up the improvements necessary the Committee made the following recommendations:

" While approving generally of the action of the controller in regard to contracts, your Committee beg to report that, in their judgment, so far as their reference is concerned, the terms and spirit of the resolution of the 13th February, 1891, will be sufficiently secured if

" (1) Tenders be invited upon schedules of work made to conform as precisely as possible to the work to be done;

' (2) The names of contractors and subjects of contract be made quickly and generally accessible to inquiry;

' (3) The resolution of the 13th February, 1891, be printed on all invitations for tenders, and express covenants be inserted in every contract binding the contractor to observe the terms of the resolution with respect to sweating, sub-letting, and payment of wages; the controller reserving to himself the right to terminate a contract in the case of failure to observe any of such covenants, and to recover damages from the contractor when a contract is terminated from such a cause;

" (4) Any steps that are necessary be taken to prevent the uncertainty with regard to what is included in government work which has arisen in Dublin and elsewhere;

“ (5) The various groups of printing be so distributed as to ensure healthy competition.”


In the same year a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the operation of the Fair Wages resolution which had then been in operation five years, and the report of the Committee was presented in two volumes, one published in 1896 and the final volume in the following year.* In the report Mr. Sydney Buxton, a member of the Committee, defined the spirit of the resolution as follows:

“ The State, it was argued, as an employer of labor, should set a good example to other employers of labor, and should see that the conditions which prevailed in regard to the labor employed on its behalf were satisfactory. The State, as the largest employer of labor, cannot fail to have a considerable influence on the labor market; and this influence should be favorable, and not adverse to the recognition and maintenance of standard rates of wages.

“ The then existing system of government contracts acted, it was contended, adversely to these two principles. The lowest tender, and the lowest tender alone (subject merely to the competency of the contractor), was accepted, no regard being had to the wages paid nor to the conditions of employment prevailing under the contract.

“The employer who paid a fair rate of wages was put at a disadvantage in competing for government contracts; for his competitor, paying a lesser labor bill, could, with equal profit to himself, tender at a lower rate and secure the contract. Further, the contractor, having cut down his tender

*Government Contracts (Fair Wages Resolution), 1897.

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to the lowest point in order to obtain the contract, would, after securing it, have every inducement, in order to secure a profit, still further to reduce his wage bill. Thus, an unduly low rate of wages, or even ‘sweating,' might not only prevail, but was actually encouraged under government contracts.

• But if, on the other hand, the State insisted that, under every government contract, not less than the rate of wages paid by fair employers and recog. nized as just by competent workmen, should prevail, the evils of the old plan would disappear, and all contractors would be placed on equal terms in competing for government contracts.

Further, the disability under which trade unionists to a large extent lay in regard to government contracts would be removed. For the essence of a trade union being that a man shall not undersell his fellow-workmen nor work at other than the recognized fair wage, trade unionists were to a large extent debarred from employment under government contracts.

“It was not, however, proposed nor desired that the State should, in any sense of the term, fix the rate of wages; but merely that it should cease to throw its weight into the scale of lower wages and worse conditions of employment; and should recognize and uphold the minimum current rate of wages that might prevail in different trades or districts.”

The resolution being merely an expression of opinion and having no penalty attached for non-compliance was found to have been carried out in some cases rather loosely. On the whole, however, the Committee expressed satisfaction with the operation of the resolution as follows:

“ The number of complaints has diminished; and your Committee do not therefore consider that the dilliculties alluded to were any other in amount and character than are inherent in the introduction of a new system. Most of the cases brought before your committee were not of recent date, nor were they of a serious character as respects the number of men affected.

None of the witnesses from public departments have, however, expressed other than satisfaction at the principle contained in the resolution, but have stated their desire to administer it both in spirit and letter. And, broadly peaking, your Committee have come to the conclusion that the departments, as a whole, have loyally endeavored to interpret and carry out its provisions.

" To obey the spirit of the resolution the departments were called upon to ilssume new obligations which, in comparison with the former system of non-responsibility after contracts were placed was found to be arduous. As to the effect, it was claimed that the co:t of contract work was much greater than in the case of unqualified contracting. Evidence seemed to show that this was true in the case of buildings contracted for by the Office of Works, in the Irishi Oflice of Works, and in the Metropolitan Police contracts, but, on the other hand, in the case of army contracts and post-otlice contracts, the operation has been satisfactory."

In the administration of the resolution questions of policy of considerable importance alose. What is the current rate of a district How is it district limited? How shall the employment of women, boys and apprentices be treated? Is sub-contracting permissible? And it thousand and one details of em

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