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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 40

Notes of a Visit by the Commission to the Mosgiel, Roslyn, and Kaikorai Woollen Factories

Notes of a Visit by the Commission to the Mosgiel, Roslyn, and Kaikorai Woollen Factories.

On the 17th of May the Commission visited the Mosgiel Factory, situated on the Taieri Plain, about twelve miles from Dunedin, accompanied by Mr. Morrison, manager for the Company. They found the mills in full working, and inspected the various processes in the manufacture from the raw material of woollen tweeds, rugs, shawls, blankets, flannels, hosiery and yarns. The number of persons employed was forty, earning wages from £1 page 23 to £1 10s. per week, and working eight hours a day, in accordance with the provisions of the Regulation of Factories Act. The premises were roomy, well ventilated, warmed, and thoroughly wholesome and comfortable in every respect. The Commissioners selected several of the work-people, and examined them separately as to the operation of the Factories Act and their own feeling regarding the length of hours. They one and all spoke in terms of the highest satisfaction of their circumstances in the factory, and they stated that they would have no objection to work for an hour or an hour and a half longer in the day, during a press of business, at the present rate of piece-work wages, with a corresponding increase in the case of day-workers. They did not seem to feel at all strongly on the matter one way or the other, but they were distinctly in favour of a change in the law that would admit of their earning as much as they could. Their condition appeared to be to the Commissioners an exceedingly favourable one. They found girls of sixteen earning on an average £1 7s. a week at light and wholesome work, close to their homes, and under the care of their parents, also employed in the factory. The whole establishment is highly creditable to its proprietors, and must be a source of gratification to all who are interested in local industries.

The Commission next visited the Roslyn Mill, recently erected by Messrs. Ross and Glendining, at an outlay of about £40,000, for the manufacture of blankets and flannels. These works appeared to be perfect in all their arrangements, and the comfort and well-being of the work-people are as liberally provided for as at Mosgiel. The Commissioners found the prescribed notices under the Factories Act posted conspicuously, and all the requirements of the Act most strictly carried out, except in so far as the law may be held to be evaded by giving the work-people a half-holiday on Saturday, and distributing the time thus lost after hours on the other days of the week. The Commissioners examined several of the work-people on the question of legal hours; but here they found them unanimous in the feeling that they already worked quite long enough, and that the law, by forbidding them to work more than eight hours a day, whether they wished it or not, afforded them a valuable protection. They spoke in the highest terms of their employers and their condition in the factory, and stated that they desired no change, even for the sake of gaining more money. One of them, an intelligent middle-aged married woman, dwelt strongly on the advantage of the eight-hours system in enabling persons in her situation to attend to the care of their homes, and at the same time to earn fair wages by factory-work. A girl of seventeen spoke in the same strain of the value to her of her leisure, and stated that, although she would work longer hours if her companions in the page 24 factory did so, yet she would greatly prefer that the hours should remain as they are.

The Commissioners then visited the Kaikorai Mill, in which some £20,000 has been invested. This mill was established about six years ago on a limited scale, and the arrangements are not nearly so perfect as at Roslyn and Mosgiel. The rooms were hot and close, and the Commissioners recognized from what they saw there that, even with the best intentions on the part of employers, the lot of persons in woollen factories might easily become a hard one. The Commissioners selected an elderly woman of long experience as a factory-weaver, both in England and in New Zealand, and examined her as to the question of hours. She unhesitatingly declared in favour of the law as it stands, and expressed in emphatic terms her conviction that if the hours were lengthened the rate of wages would be lowered. She also urged that eight hours a day was enough work for anybody; and that, although she and others of her class might be tempted to work longer for the sake of earning more, it would be much better for them to be prevented by law from doing so. She stated that she felt sure that this was the feeling of the work-people generally, and that any alteration of the law could not but act injuriously to them.