New Zealand Revisited
Chapter VI — The New Zealand Labour Laws
The New Zealand Labour Laws
No account of a visit to New Zealand would be complete without some description of the laws under which the industry of the country is enjoying a period of singular happiness to the workers and tranquillity to the employers; and of the system by which the land of the country is made available for increasing the wealth of the people. Of these Labour Laws the "Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act" is the most original and unique, and is that upon which the peace and prosperity of New Zealand industry appears mainly to depend. This law was designed by Mr. Pember Reeves, the present High Commissioner in London, and it was carried through the New Zealand Legislature in 1894 by the energetic parliamentary force of Mr. Seddon, the Prime Minister: it has many times been amended and added to, the last addition became law in 1905. "The necessity of continuous amendment," writes Mr. Tregear, the Secretary for Labour, "has been thrust upon the Legislature through the principle of industrial arbitration of a judicial character being entirely unique and without statutory precedent. The law on this subject has to be kept flexible in order to meet the continual necessities of change and growth. As difficulties, impossible to foresee, arise on the page 73untrodden ground, they have to be met by new efforts to cope with the new situation and with the knowledge which can only be born with experience."
The rapidity and vigour with which experiments in social reform are prosecuted in New Zealand presents an instructive contrast to the slowness and conservatism of the Mother Country. In 1890, as an outcome of the Berlin Labour Conference, there was appointed with much flourish of trumpets a great Royal Commission on Labour. After an exhaustive examination of witnesses it presented a majority and a minority report. The former recommended that the law of liability of trades unions for strikes should be altered and made that which the Taff Vale decision proved that it had in fact been all along, though unsuspected by the capitalists; the latter proposed Socialism as the only cure of existing evils. A third report was presented by me, proposing the establishment of Official Boards of Conciliation, with powers only of investigation into, and report upon, trades disputes, and without any legal means whereby its decisions could be enforced. But even to such a mild and perhaps ineffective measure of Government interference not one of my colleagues would consent; no notice was taken of my report, which has been long ago forgotten. Meanwhile New Zealand has established a working system for the regulation of industry, not by competition and strikes, but by judicial award, page 74which other British states have thought worthy of imitation and which the British Government itself is now officially investigating. Ignorant of the scope and operation of the New Zealand laws of arbitration, it has been the fashion in Great Britain, amongst journalists and politicians, to speak of these with profound contempt.
At the time of my visit, there had not been a strike since the law was first promulgated twelve years before. A strike did, however, occur among the slaughtermen, at some of the freezing factories, after my visit in March, 1907, which was seized upon with glee by most of the capitalists and journalists of this country as proof of the entire failure of the New Zealand Act, although the strike was of short duration, and hundreds of the ringleaders were find £ 5 each, of which the greater part has been paid. Capitalist newspapers have from first to last misrepresented the facts of the strike in order to show the law of arbitration to be a complete failure.
|1.||That Mr. William Scott, who represented the employers on the Arbitration Tribunal, declared that the great number of the employers did not desire the repeal of the Act.|
|2.||That the workers' unions were most eager to bring any case of dispute before the Court, and they had recently pressed for, and obtained, the appointment of a Judge as permanent head of the Court.|
|3.||That there had been no strike in New Zealand since the Act was passed, and that no industrial union had ever cancelled its registration, as submitting voluntarily to the provisions of the Act, in order to be at liberty to resort to "other methods."|
|4.||That awards had been enforced in the previous year by judicial process in 400 cases, and that trade disputes had been settled to the number of twenty-eight in 1900, twenty-seven in 1905, and fifty-six in 1906.|
|5.||That the Court was freely resorted to, by employers and employed, and that as soon as a page 76cause of dispute was filed, both parties began earnestly to try to bring about a settlement.|
|6.||That the parties were constantly called before the Court before hearing, and persuaded to meet and confer together, and that this practice had met with satisfactory results in the voluntary settling of disputes.|
The Arbitration Tribunal was at that time composed of three members, Judge Chapman, Mr. William Scott, who for eight years previously had represented the employers, and Mr. Slater, who had been the representative of the workers ever since the tribunal was established. I was introduced to them all, and with the first and last I had the advantage of long conversations.
It appeared from their communications that the Court now regulates industrial employment in New Zealand to quite as great an extent as the Land Law of Ireland regulates tenancy, but with much greater elasticity and expedition. Throughout the whole country almost every trade is now covered by an award in which the conditions under which the industry is to be carried on are specifically laid down, and the chief business of the Court is to decide whether any particular trade comes within any particular award.
The only occasion on which I got into the Court while sitting was at Masterton. A very interesting discussion was going on as to whether a man who kept a roadside smithy, and occasionally page 77mended broken-down carriages and waggons was a blacksmith or a coachbuilder. If he was the latter, he was employing more apprentices than the coachbuilders' award current in the district allowed. Witnesses were being examined as to the exact details of the business in question, amongst whom were some strapping youths who were apprentices. The decision of the Court was reserved, but the case illustrated the kind of questions with which the Judge had told me it was most generally concerned.
The original Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act was a permissive Act, and applied only to those industrial unions of workers, and employers, who thought fit to register themselves as submitting to the Act, and they were at liberty at any time after complying with certain formalities to cancel their registration, a liberty of which advantage has never been taken. New Zealand was divided into seven industrial districts. Any dispute between employers and employed might be brought, in the first instance, before the Board of Conciliation of the district and might either be dealt with by them or referred at once, at the instance of either party, to the Arbitration Tribunal. The Board, after hearing the parties and their witnesses, could make a recommendation, which if accepted was put into the form of an industrial agreement and had the force of law. If not accepted it was to be carried to the Court of Arbitration, against the awards of which there is page 78no appeal. An award could be limited to a specified area, otherwise it extended to the whole industrial district. The Court of Arbitration, which has jurisdiction over the whole of the Dominion of New Zealand, consists of three persons, a Judge of the Supreme Court, told off for the purpose of presiding, one person appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the industrial unions of employers, and one person appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the industrial unions of workers. The representative of the workers has never been changed since the original Act came into force, and the representative of the employers has held office for nine years. The Court holds sittings all over the Dominion of New Zealand.
The Act has been amended and extended, until it now in practice binds all the employers and all workers, so that now nearly every industry is practically carried on under an industrial award, made in many instances by consent, and in others by a judgment of the Court. The conditions imposed by the award vary of course from time to time, and also slightly from district to district, so as to conform to the special circumstances of each case. Every award is made for a term of years, usually two or three, but can be amended in the interval by order of the Court: after the expiration of the term for which the award is made, it can be prolonged by consent or by order of the Court, with or without amendment.page 79
The award in every case specifies the minimum of wages to be paid, and the maximum of hours to be worked. The minimum wage of men is usually in the case of unskilled workers 1s. an hour, and there are higher rates for the more skilled classes: and the maximum hours of work are usually eight hours a day, to be fixed between seven in the morning and five in the afternoon. Any work done out of specified hours is paid for at higher rates as "overtime." The usual increase for overtime is a quarter in time work and 25% in piece work, but it amounts to a half, and even to double pay, on certain occasions such as Sunday, Christmas Day, public holidays and night work. The proportion of apprentices to journeymen who may be employed in the trade is also specified, as well as the terms of apprenticeship, and the wages to be paid in each year. This provision, which is to be found in nearly every award, has revived the system of apprenticeship in New Zealand. No boy on leaving school seeks to earn wages in casual employment: he is at once apprenticed to the trade in which he expects to earn his living, or to acquire the capital necessary to enable him to settle on land of his own. There is also in nearly every award a provision for incompetent workmen, who may be paid less than the prescribed minimum, under certain specified conditions to be agreed upon between the employer and an official of the Workers' Union, or determined, in default of agreement, page 80by the Chairman of the Conciliation Board; but the proportion of such incompetent workers to the general body of journeymen is always restricted by the terms of the award, and the licence for their employment is for a limited time only, and has from time to time to be reconsidered and renewed. There is a case in the Reports of two aged workers who were allowed by the Court to be employed at wages as low as 2s. 6d. per diem; but there is a special note appended to the decision that the men were very old and were extremely anxious still to do such work as they were able to perform.
Most awards contain provisions for the comfort and health of the workers, and for any special conditions applicable to their trade. For instance, in that of tailoresses, homework is absolutely prohibited. Every article must be fashioned in the workshop: in some other trades piecework is entirely prohibited; in some industries, as for instance in cabinet-making, the production of goods for sale at home by journeymen engaged in the factories is prohibited. In trades in which piecework is allowed, as for example in that of tailoresses, elaborate provisions unintelligible to the lay mind are made for the payment to be made for the various articles of dress, so as to equalize as far as possible the pay of piecework to the pay of daywork. In the sheep-shearing business, which is an industry of great importance in New Zealand, the shearers are protected by regulations as to page 81the rations and living accommodation with which they are to be provided at the head stations of sheep-runs. Nearly every award contains provision that the workers who are members of industrial unions shall have a preference in the selection of workmen for employment; but to this is always added a condition that the union shall be open to every competent worker, that the entrance fee shall not exceed 5s., and that the subscription shall not exceed 6d. a week. A further stipulation is in most cases added that the unions in the district shall keep a register of all competent workmen, willing to be engaged in the trade, so that an employer desirous of hands can find them without difficulty. It is the settled policy of New Zealand law to promote the formation of industrial unions, both of capitalists and workers as conducive to the smooth working of industries, and experience seems to justify the wisdom of this policy.
Under these awards, the minimum wage of an unskilled labourer, a mere pick and shovel man, amounts to 44s. a week, Saturday being a half-holiday, and the minimum wage of women amounts to 25s. a week; of course skilled men and women get wages considerably higher than the minimum. The members of the Arbitration Court, in discussing the policy and provisions of the Acts, justified the fixing of a lower scale for women workers upon this ground: A man's wages should be sufficient to support himself and an page 82average family. Married women do not generally work in New Zealand at ordinary industries for the purpose of earning wages, and it was not considered desirable in the public interest that women should become the wage-earners of their families or that they should be tempted to leave their natural duty of keeping a home and educating their children for the purposes of gain. A woman worker was therefore to be regarded as earning only her own subsistence and as free from the obligation to maintain not only herself, but a dependent family as well. It was enough that her wages sufficed for her own individual support; if she had a family, it was the husband's duty to provide for them; if she was left a widow, that duty devolved upon the State; for this reason, the minimum wage of a woman was fixed at a lower scale than that of a man.
When I said to Mr. Justice Chapman and Mr. Slater, the workers' arbitrator, that the high rate of wages was calculated to drive trades out of the country, and that it was alleged in Great Britain that this had been the result, they both laughed, and said that was an old story to frighten people in the Mother Country: they well knew the particular factory to which the story referred, and were even able to point it out from the railway carriage in which the conversation took place. Its closing had nothing to do with the Arbitration Act, but was the result of family differences which had arisen amongst the proprietors.page 83
It seemed an anomaly, only to be accounted for by the wise provisions of New Zealand law, that identical work should be performed on the opposite sides of the world under such different conditions and at such different wages. The loading and unloading of frozen carcasses is identical labour performed in New Zealand and in London for the same employer. In the former place he receives 1s. 6d. an hour for a day of eight hours, and 2s. 6d. an hour if he works at night or on Sundays: in London he barely receives a living wage. Nor can this be accounted for by the common incorrect allegation that living is dearer in New Zealand than in London. It is not. Richer people who keep servants find living in New Zealand expensive, but not the workers. On August 25, 1906, in the New Zealand midwinter, the Government took a simultaneous list of prices of all the chief articles of subsistence at cities great and small all over the country; they printed the prices on large sheets and distributed them gratis at the International Exhibition at Christchurch. These sheets are too voluminous to produce here, but they prove conclusively that the articles on which a worker's wages are spent are much cheaper in New Zealand than at home. Rent is a little dearer than rent in country, not in town, districts at home; but that is partly because no New Zealand worker would live in such a home as the home worker is obliged to put up with.page 84
For twelve years after the passing of the original Arbitration Act there was no strike in New Zealand. During my visit a little disturbance took place in Auckland, which scarcely deserves the name of a strike. The authorities of the tramways had dismissed one or two of their employees, under circumstances which created general indignation in the tramway service. The men stopped working the trams until they were satisfied that justice would be done, and there was a great congestion of tram cars for some time in the streets of Auckland. It was no question of wages, or hours, and upon receiving satisfactory assurances from the manager that the dismissed employees would be equitably dealt with, all the men resumed work, and there was no repetition of the demonstration.
In March of the present year, the first strike which has taken place since the passing of the Arbitration Act occurred, as has already been mentioned.
The season in New Zealand and Australia in 1906-7 was a very dry one, pasturage began to fail and sheep were sent prematurely in to the slaughter yards of the freezing companies in unusually large numbers. Many of the slaughter-men in the New Zealand meat factories come from Australia for the job, and are not inhabitants of New Zealand. They had just had a successful strike in Australia, which raised the pay from 20s. to 25s. per hundred. The men were persuaded it page 85was a good opportunity for bringing about a similar increase of wages by means of a strike in New Zealand, though it would be a breach of the law. One factory in Wellington struck first; the strikers were prosecuted but they were acquitted because the award which regulated the trade in the Wellington district proved to be an informal one. It was an award made by consent, and in the registration of this award some necessary formalities had been omitted. The impunity of the first strikers induced the slaughtermen in about one-third of the factories throughout the country to strike also; they, however, were prosecuted, and as the awards regulating the trade in these districts proved to be perfectly in order, the strikers were adjudged to have broken the law, and fined £ 5 each. The Supreme Court in Christchurch decided that any of the strikers who refused to pay were liable to imprisonment, and therefore fines to the amount of £ 400 were actually paid. But the Judge of the Supreme Court in one of the other towns in which a strike had occurred differed, and held there was no liability to imprisonment. From this second judgment the Attorney-General of New Zealand appealed to the Court of Appeal, and judgment was delivered in the case on the 3rd September, 1907. It was thereby declared to be the law in New Zealand that workers who take part in a strike are violating the award of the Arbitration Court, and may be fined, and in case of page 86non-payment imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year. The strike very soon came to an end, the men obtained certain concessions, but not as much, according to general opinion, as they could have obtained by an application to the Court of Arbitration, although it is probable they obtained the concessions more expeditiously.
At the Annual Conference of Trades Unions in New Zealand it was resolved after debate to stand by the Act, and the work of registering fresh industrial unions, and applying for awards, has gone on since quite as briskly as before. It is proposed by the New Zealand Government to take measures for insuring a more rapid procedure under the Arbitration Act. The delay in obtaining an award is the only weak point in the system, and was probably the chief ground which induced the slaughtermen to strike.
No objection was made by anybody of consequence in New Zealand to the operation of the Arbitration Act in the past or present: the only discordant note in the chorus of praise was apprehension as to the future. Trade had been, it was said, very prosperous since the Act came into force: wages and prices had both been capable of being raised, and had been raised accordingly: but when bad times came and prices fell the Act might fail: employers might be unable any longer to keep up prices, and would the workers then submit to a reduction of wages or would the Arbitration Act then break down?page 87
The general prosperity of New Zealand and its people depends quite as much on the Land System as upon the regulations which govern its industries. The established principle is that the land of the State is to be used not to enable individuals to amass great fortunes, but to increase the wealth of the community as a whole, and give to every citizen the opportunity of living on the land, and rearing a strong and healthy family in the midst of salutary environment. The State, therefore, does not part now with the complete ownership of the soil, though it gives to the bona fide occupier such a security of tenure as secures to him and his family the full value of the improvements he makes and of the capital and labour which he expends upon his holding. Much of the Crown land is now let on 999 year leases at a rental based on the value of the land at the time of its letting and not liable to subsequent increase, public rights being secured by the covenants. The area of land which any one man may select is restricted by the Land Act to 640 acres of first-class land or 2,000 acres of second-class land. No single individual can under the New Zealand system appropriate large areas of land, either for speculative or commercial purposes, and exclude his less wealthy fellow-citizen from the occupation and cultivation thereof.
When land is thrown open for optional selection, there are three different tenures which the intending settler may choose.page 88
|1.||He may pay down one-fifth of the purchase money in cash, and the remainder in thirty days; and as soon as certain improvements have been made on the holding a final title is given. This method seems to be going into disuse.|
|2.||He may have a lease for twenty-five years with a purchasing clause, after ten years, at a rental of 5 per cent. on the estimated value of the land.|
|3.||He may have a lease in perpetuity at a rental of 4 per cent. on the estimated value.|
But all the tenants of Crown land are under certain obligations to reside and improve their holdings. Residence must
|1.||Commence on bush or swamp lands within four years and on open land within one year.|
|2.||Be continuous, in the former case for six, and in the latter for seven years if the land is occupied with the right to purchase.|
|3.||Be continuous for ten years on land leased in perpetuity.|
Improvements have to be made
1. On freeholds within seven years to the amount of £ 1 per acre on first-class and 10s. per acre on second-class land. 2. On leaseholds 10 per cent. within one, 10 per cent. more within two, and 10 per cent. more within six years.
These improvements comprise reclamation of swamps, clearing of bush, fencing, draining, page 89making roads, wells and sheep-dips, erecting buildings, etc., etc.
Several schemes for aiding the settlement of people on the land have been devised by the Government at various times and carried into effect with considerable success: special settlement associations and village settlements are encouraged by favourable provisions in the Land Act. Under the "improved-farm settlement" system, which appears to be superseding all others, considerable tracts of forest land have been set aside by the Commissioner of Crown Lands for occupation under this plan. Applicants are selected, preference being given to married men. The areas of farms vary from 10 to 200 acres. No man may have more than one farm. A contract is made with the settler to fell the forest timber, burn it, and sow with grass seed up to 100 acres; wages are paid to him for his work, according to the current rates of the district, and £ 10 may be advanced to a single, and £ 30 to a married man to help to build a house. The land is then leased to the settler for 999 years at a rental of 4 per cent. on the amount which represents the unimproved capital value of the land and the actual cost which the Government has incurred in the felling and grassing; but the settler is bound to reside for ten years and to make the improvements above specified as applicable to such a lease.
It is stated in the New Zealand Official Year Book page 90for 1906 that on March 31, 1906, 613 settlers had been allotted sections under this system, who together with their families, numbering 1,830 persons, were residing upon their lands. They had felled and grassed 34,900 acres. The average size of holdings was 116 acres.
For the settlement of bush and swamp lands still more favourable conditions were provided in an Act of 1902. The land opened under the Act was divided into three classes, and the selectors were entitled to exemptions from rent and rates for various periods according to the character of the land selected.
But the Government not only offered these liberal terms to induce the settlement and cultivation of the Crown lands, they also took steps to acquire for the people some portion of the land which in the early days of the colony had been improvidently alienated in large blocks to the primitive settlers. Nobody's land is confiscated under the advanced democracy of New Zealand. Such a process is unknown and unheard of. But the "Land for Settlements Act, 1892" authorized the Government to purchase by agreement from private individuals suitable properties for subdivision into farms. The land thus acquired is separated into small farms and leased in perpetuity at a rental representing 5 per cent. of the cost of purchase, survey, and administration. The Government acts only on the advice of a Board of Land Purchase Commissioners, and is limited in page 91its expenditure to half a million per annum. Land is also taken compulsorily for closer settlement in cases where the Governor in Council decides that it is expedient to do so, and where the Land Purchase Board has failed to come to an agreement with the owner as to price. The compensation payable to the owner is settled by a compensation Court, composed of a Judge of the Supreme Court and two Assessors, one appointed by the Government and one by the owner of the property. The system has proved useful in providing farms for men of small capital who shrink from the task of breaking up new and wild country and prefer homes nearer to settlement and civilization. Preference is given to landless people, and applicants have to satisfy the authorities as to their ability to stock and cultivate the farms and erect the necessary buildings.
Land may also be compulsorily taken for providing workmen's homes, within a borough of not less than 15,000 inhabitants or within a radius of fifteen miles therefrom, but not more than 100 acres can be so taken in any one year. The owner may retain an area of not more than ten acres in a borough, or fifty in the surrounding land. The worker's allotment is not to exceed five acres, and advances up to £ 50 are made by Government in aid of the cost of fencing and building dwelling-houses.
The history of the methods by which land has been purchased from the Maories, whose rights page 92to their lands have always been recognized since New Zealand first became a British Colony, is tedious and complicated. Purchases in the early days were made direct from the Maories. But by the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, while the right of the Maories to their lands was officially recognized, the sole right to purchase was conceded to the Crown. The whole of the Southern Island was bought before the Maori War and in round numbers 6,000,000 acres in the North Island. In 1862 the Crown relinquished its exclusive right of pre-emption, and Crown and private buying went on side by side until 1894. The best idea of the intricacies of Maori title is to be found in a description of a purchase direct from the Maories in a book called "Old New Zealand," which is here set forth:—
"I really cannot tell to the present day who I purchased the land from; for there were about fifty different claimants, every one of whom assured me that the other forty-nine were 'humbugs,' and had no right whatever. The nature of the different titles of the different claimants was various. One man said his ancestors had killed off the first owners; another declared his ancestors had driven off the second party; another man, who seemed to be listened to with more than ordinary respect, declared that his ancestor had been the first possessor of all, and had never been ousted, and that this ancestor was a huge lizard, that lived in a cave on the land many years ago, page 93and, sure enough, there was the cave to prove it. Besides the principal claims, there were an immense number of secondary ones, a sort of latent equities, which had lain dormant till it was known the Pakeha had his eye on the land. Some of them seemed to me at the time odd enough. One man required payment because his ancestors, as he affirmed, had exercised the right of catching rats on it, but which he (the claimant) had never done, for the best of reasons, i.e. there were no rats to catch, except, indeed, pakeha rats, which were plentiful enough; but this variety of rodent was not counted as game. Another claimed because his grandfather had been murdered on the land, and, as I am a veracious Pakeha, another claimed payment because his grandfather had committed the murder! Then half the country claimed payments of various value, from one fig of tobacco to a musket, on account of a certain 'wahi tapu' or ancient burying-ground, which was on the land, and in which almost every one had relations, or rather ancestors, buried, as they could clearly make out, in old times, though no one had been deposited in it for about two hundred years; and the bones of the others had been (as they said) removed to a 'torere' in the mountains. There was an old man who declared that he, and he alone, was the sole and rightful owner of the land; he seemed also to have 'a fixed idea' about certain barrels of gunpowder; but as he did not prove his claim to my satisfaction, and page 94as he had no one to back him, I of course gave him nothing: he nevertheless demanded the gunpowder about once a month for five-and-twenty years, till at last he died of old age. It took about three months' negotiation before the purchase of the land could be made; and indeed I at one time gave up the idea, as I found it quite impossible to decide who to pay. If I paid one party the others vowed I should never have possession, and to pay all seemed impossible, so at last I let all parties know I had made up my mind not to have the land. This, however, turned out to be the first step I had made in the right direction: for thereupon all the different claimants agreed amongst themselves to demand a certain quantity of goods, and divide them amongst themselves afterwards."
The war brought land purchase for the time being to a standstill, but extensive confiscations of native land took place in the Waikato district and elsewhere. Since the war about 8,000,000 more acres in the North Island have been acquired. The natives still hold about 5,000,000 acres of cultivable land. Laws have been passed in their interest to prevent them from pauperizing themselves by improvidently parting with the freehold of their lands and conferring powers of leasing through councils partly elected and partly nominated.
A great many laws have been passed from time to time by New Zealand parliaments for the benefit page 95and protection of the less wealthy classes; but time and space are wanting for a discussion of their laws on accident compensation, on accident insurance, on the control of the sale of alcoholic liquors, on Bank Holidays, on coal mines, on workmen's lien for wages, on factories, on inspection of machinery, on the establishment of a labour department, on masters and apprentices, on servants' registries, on shipping and seamen, on workers' dwellings, and on many other subjects, well deserving of the study and imitation of British statesmen. The parliaments of New Zealand have acted, while ours have only talked. The democracy of New Zealand is far too intelligent to tolerate the obstruction for party purposes of laws designed for their welfare, to which both political parties in the Mother Country are in turns addicted, and the result of active and instructed democratic pressure is a splendid record of social reform. There is in New Zealand no Labour party and at the present time there is not a single Labour member in the Legislature. Lawmaking, the workers say, is not "their job"; they choose persons, whose previous training fits them for the work, to do it for the people; and they watch the operations of their parliament, to see that the welfare of the whole body of the community is always treated as paramount.
But this book is not a political treatise; it is only the story of a pleasant journey and the reminiscences of the past which it evoked, and I must return to my travels.