Friday, October 19, 2007
ENGINEERING WAGES 1945
Communist Party Memorandum
An eminent legal gentleman recently declared that " the wages structure in the engineering industry is nothing short of crazy." If that is the reaction of an able lawyer, then how much worry and frustration must be caused amongst the thousands of men and women, boys and girls, engaged in the industry, who are quite' unable to work out how much is really due to them..
In-fact the structure of wages payment throughout the whole of the engineering industry is extremely complicated. Ever since the introduction of "war bonuses" during the 1914-18 war, it has become more involved and confusing. From District to National Agreements Wages in engineering have grown up on a district scale. Prior to, 1914, and indeed until 1919, wages, hours and conditions varied from district to district.
Although engineers were paid by the hour, the number of hours worked each week a different factories even within, a district varied so much that the amount of wages per week was the determining factor. The usual working week in those days was 54 hours, but man factories worked less than 54 hours - Nevertheless the weekly wage, the district rate, was not reduced as a consequence.
This weekly wage was divided by the number of hours per-week for the purpose of arriving at the rate per hour, so that lost time and overtime payments could be calculated. Premium payments for overtime, nightshift, Sundays and holidays also varied district by district. Even so the worker knew where he stood. IIf he obtained employment where the District rate was 38/- and the working week 54 hours, he knew that he would receive 38/- for 54 hours' work, and that his hourly rate on which lost time or overtime would be calculated was 38/- divided by 54. During the 1914-18 war period district' rates were slightly improved. War increases were applied nationally. '
They took the form of a war bonus that was added to the district rate. These war bonuses, while being separate from the district rate, were taken into account for the purpose of overtime payments, but not for piece rates- Thus the formula " basic rate, plus national bonus" was first introduced. By this method the employers did not advance any more to pieceworkers than employers did not advance any more to pieceworkers than to timeworkers. So the employers arranged to peg down piecework prices to the basic district rate.
This principle still applies. Piecework prices and all systems of payment by results are related to the basic rates, as for example the national agreement providing that systems of payment by results should be priced so that the workman of average ability should be able to earn a minimum of 27 and a half per cent over the base rate. At that time there were very few national agreements, such as demarcation, trial trips for ships, etc. There were not even national agreements for particular employers or industries covering payments by results, overtime payments, holidays with pay, shift rates. There were not even national agreements with particular employers or industries, such as Imperial Chemical Industries, Flour Millers, and so on.
The only really general national agreement was the " Procedure for the Avoidance of Disputes" (York Memo) and this did not apply to all the Engineering unions. The point to be clearly understood is that up to 1918 the fundamental basis of wages and working conditions was the district agreement- Immediately after the end of the last war a national agreement was reached, on November 19, 1918, establishing a National 47-hour working week without reducing the weekly time rates
An important provision in this agreement was that all the Unions would become parties to the " Procedure for the Avoidance of Disputes." Thereby two important issues became the subject of national agreements. In that post-war period right up to the lock-out of 1922, all districts entered into agreements with the parallel Local Associations of Employers establishing minimum district base rates for skilled workers. In most cases these marked a slight advance on the pre-war and wartime basic rates. After the slashing attacks made on wages by the employers during 1921 and before and after the lock-out of 1922, district rates ranged from 41/- to 51/- a week of 47 hours.
To this was added 10/- war bonus, title—national bonus). It is generally agreed and accepted that at this particular time the average rate for skilled engineers throughout Great Britain was 46/- plus 10/- war bonus. As regards unskilled workers, some districts had reached agreements with local employers on district rates for the un-skilled, but this was not general. Of course, the national war bonus of 10/- was paid. On a rough calculation, the difference between the skilled man's basic rate and that of a labourer was approximately 17/- per week, so the national average rate for labourers would be 29/- for a 47-hour week, plus 10/- of bonus. Unskilled rates were shockingly low.
Before 1914 unskilled men were often paid as little as 16/- for a week of 54 hours. During the war of 1914 -18, certain districts were able to improve their district rates by odd shillings, slowly and painfully trying to establish some degree of uniformity with adjoining or similar districts. The progress made by the unskilled was as slow and difficult as that of the skilled men during those years. The highest level was reached in London, where the rate was 8id. an hour, or 33/4 for a week of 47 hours.
At the same time districts were endeavoring to secure differentials for certain classes of skilled men such as toolmakers, patternmakers, millwrights, etc. The variations throughout the country in these differentials were even more pronounced than in the case of their basic rates. There are certain districts where there is still no toolmakers' differential. The " Semi-Skilled" There are only two recognised district rates, the skilled and the unskilled, even today, despite rapid technical changes and the variation in degrees of skill, responsibility and effort implied in differentials and lieu rates-
What of the semi-skilled, that is to say male workers over the age of 21 years, engaged upon work which the employers refuse to recognise as skilled work, and which, by the same token, workers will not allow to be classed as unskilled ? The semi-skilled have always been and still are paid at rates related to the labourers' rate. Notwithstanding their specialised skill, their high productivity, and the fact that they usually displace craftsmen, the rates of such workers are related to the unskilled rates according to what the employers define as the "three-fold criterion," that is, the type of machine, the nature of the skill required on the job, and the skill, ability or dexterity of the operator on the machine.
With this " criterion " there is not only a wide disparity between district and district and between factory and factory within a district, but also between shops in a factory, and between individuals inside one shop.' In certain districts -there exists what is commonly termed the " machinists' rate " for work such as milling, planing, slotting, shaping, etc. To qualify for this " machinists' rate " a worker serves an apprenticeship not quite as long as that of a skilled fitter, turner, boilermaker, patternmaker, blacksmith, etc., and then receives a rate lower than the craftsman.
The Wages Structure Today (1945) The position, of the adult male worker today may be summarised as follows:—
1. Skilled fitters, turners, blacksmiths, etc., having served a five apprenticeship, are paid district 'rates, varying from district to district, plus national bonus.
2. Some, but not all, toolmakers receive additional differentials, varying up to a maximum in certain districts of 10/- a week.
3. There is a national agreement for a minimum differential of 8/- a week for certain classes of skilled men engaged as setters, maintenance men, inspectors, and markers-off. This agreement in itself is full of " provisos" and in essence is a peculiar and particular form of lieu rate-
4. Labourers' are paid at the unskilled district rate, varying in amount throughout the country, plus the uniform national
5. is a large and growing proportion of workers designated-as neither skilled nor unskilled falling in the category of semi-skilled workers.
Today, the national average basic rate for skilled timeworkers is 66/- for a 47-hour week. The national bonus is 25/6. For skilled workers engaged upon systems of payment by results, the basic rate averages 66/- and the national bonus is 17/6.
Women's Wages Only recently have women's basic wages become the subject of trade union negotiation.
Formerly women's wages were based on what is termed the "Women's Schedule"; this meant that the employers' organisation fixed a national minimum rate and all the individual employers applied it. The unions, however, negotiated war increases which were all added to the national, bonus and eventually a comprehensive agreement was reached by arbitration and negotiation. This agreement admirably demonstrates the complicated character of wage rates in the engineering industry, On the whole it marked a big step forward in women's wages, but plainly reveals the. snags and difficulties encountered every-where in the present structure. In practice problems of definition arise quite sharply.
For instance when is a women a time-worker and when is she a piece-worker? Is she in receipt of a merit rate or a merit rate commonly applied? Is she entitled to demand a price which will enable her to earn 27and a half per cent over the base rate of 37/- (Clause 2) notwithstanding the fact that her piecework price is based on 25/- (Clause I)? In addition to these problems of definition the individual has still to calculate overtime at time and a third, or time and a half, on the inclusive timeworkers' rate, of 56/- if she is timeworking, and on the basis of 51/- if she" is a pieceworker, and pro rata if she does periods of pieceworking and timeworking during one week.
Thus for both men and women the engineering wages structure is now immensely involved, illogical and complicated.