Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4
Wellington, 20 January, 1890
My prognostication set forth in the closing portion of my last letter, in re the discontent which existed in the Government Printing Office has been fulfilled sooner than I expected. I stated that if the matters causing the dissatisfaction were not promptly attended to, some outside influence would be set to work which would cause the necessary reform. Early last month eight of the time-hands were discharged. The number was reduced to six by one being appointed as « grass » for Mr Davis of the Stamp Printing Department, and another as printing warder at Lyttelton Gaol. The six waited upon the Government Printer with their grievance. Several of them had been in his service for five years, and he had retained on his staff several men who had not been in the service that time. His sole reply was: « I have made my arrangements, and they cannot be altered. » When asked what the outlook was, he said that he had no work in, he was rather slack, and did not think there would be any work before February next. Getting no satisfaction, they waited upon the head of the department, the Colonial Secretary. Dr Newman introduced them, and they had a most courteous reception from one whom they rather feared, as they had imagined that an aristocratic squatter, like Captain Russell, would not deal with them very well. But the deputation was agreeably surprised to find every point well weighed and discussed. The ground gone over was that described in « the grumbles » in my last, with the addition of illustrations to the points raised. After setting forth the individual claims of those who had been discharged while others of shorter service were retained, the speakers urged strongly the adoption of some system whereby length of service would secure permanency. The Government Printing Office of New South Wales was quoted as being worked upon a fair and equitable system. It was a hard matter for the Captain to grasp the technique, such as stab, piece, turns, fat, &c, but when instances were quoted, his lay mind could grasp the position. There was one case of a petitioner coming up from the West Coast to the Government Printing Office in the early days, and working for some time, when he got an offer from the Evening Post of a frame. He showed the offer to his superior, who told him not to take it, as his place was secure. He sent a substitute along to the Post, who is still employed there, although the time was ten years ago, while the petitioner was discharged by the Government Printer three months afterwards, owing to slack times. This man has been several times taken on and discharged. The Colonial Secretary expressed himself strongly as to the hardship of a case like this. After an hour's discussion, during which every point was carefully inquired into, Captain Russell said he would give the grievance his thoughtful attention, and report any decision through Dr Newman. The deputation thanked the Colonial Secretary for the care with which he had considered the matter of their interview, to which he replied he was always ready to hear genuine grievances, and he could assure them that he thought they had brought him a subject which was worthy of and should receive his early attention. The deputation then withdrew. Next day, when these men went to receive their wages, four of them (the least deserving, by priority) were told to start next morning for two days' work. The two who were not so informed asked the reason, and they were then told that they could start also. When the two days were up, they were told to go on until further notice, and as there was a large amount of work in hand, they were very hopeful. On Saturday, after four days' work, they were astonished when they were instructed to « make up your docs. » One of their number broke up his home and went to Dunedin, and while he was seeking employment there, having been assured that there would be no more work at the Government Printing Office for some months, the other five were again taken on, and the piece-room opened again by the placing of some hands therein.
I opened this letter by stating that the reform desired was likely to be brought about, but a long paragraph does not show how it is to be done. I have left that interesting news for another par. I am assured by one who « ought to know, » being in the confidential circle, that Captain Russell has given the matter considerable attention, and he is taking steps whereby the Government Printing Office will have a system that will compensate men who are chosen from the piece for the time-room, for casual work, and that will place men who have been two or three years in the service on a graduated permanent footing, and that wages may be paid according to quality of work done.