The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
The following correspondence has been compiled and published by the Executive of the United Millers, Engine Drivers and Mill Employees' Society of New Zealand, for presentation to Members of both Houses of Parliament, and for the consideration of its own members, to enable them to form an opinion as to the action of the Mill Owners and N. Z. Millers' Association with regard to the proposed alterations in the hours of labour, &c. It will be seen that when first approached on the subject of the Saturday's half holiday, the principal Mill Owners in New Zealand acquiesced in the proposal if it were to become general, but drew back from this on one firm declining to fall in with it. A second appeal for the concession was made early in 1890 with no better result, whereupon this Society was formed, on proper business lines, having in view the benefit of the employees of the trade in general. The meetings of this Society have exposed many abuses, but a desire has been evinced by the delegates and members generally to avoid friction with the Mill Owners, and in no way to harass them by exorbitant or unreasonable demands. The lines on which the Society has worked have been taken from kindred Associations in Australia, where the results of mutual combination have proved most satisfactory to employers and employed. A memorandum of agreement, which was most carefully prepared, was submitted to the Owners in the latter portion of 1890 for their perusal. To this was attached the proposed hours of labour and scale of wages, drafted with every possible consideration for the interests of men and masters alike. They were considered by the Millers' Association in conference a few days later, and the proposals, with one exception, agreed to. The N. Z. Millers' Association and the Otago and Southland Millers' Association went so far as to recommend that page iv the eight hours system should come into operation on Jan. 1, 1891; meanwhile two firms adopted it forthwith, and another one adopted it on the day named. The other owners made no move in favour of the employees. Rather than act hastily, and with a view of bringing about an explanation of their reason for holding back from what was tantamount to a promise made by the Millers' Association, this Society deputed its president and an independent officer of the Canterbury Trades and Labour Council to wait on the several owners Their reports show that, though the deputation was favourably received and courteously replied to in each case, there was a general inclination to cast the responsibility of the question on to other shoulders, and to imply that the blame of the promise not being kept lay with some one else—thus the object of the deputation's visits was frustrated. On their return, as the possibility of securing a general agreement without a conference seemed out of the question, this Society suggested such a step being taken. It was likewise suggested that Delegates from the Masters' and Employees' Associations should meet and come to an amicable arrangement as soon as possible.
It will thus be seen that the employees, during the whole eighteen months in which this parleying has been conducted, have approached the Masters with every courtesy and respect; they have only sought to obtain their rights, after calm deliberation and with the experience of the older Colony to guide them; yet on Jan. 30, 1891, they receive notice from the Secretary of the N. Z. Millers' Association that a conference is declined, and that in future each miller will work his mill as he chooses. At present nearly all flour mills in New Zealand run twelve hour shifts—twelve hours day shift, and twelve hours night shift. The men on the day shift are allowed time for meals, but in some mills the engine-driver has to work continuously, and take his meals when he can. The men on the night shift also work twelve hours continuously, and take their meals beside their work. These men, both day-shift and night-shift, have unhealthier conditions of work, longer hours, and fewer holidays than any other tradesmen; are men whose own time after work is valueless to them because of their tired and exhausted state; are men who (like horses) go from stable to work and from work to stable, and whose routine of life under its present conditions may be summed up in three words-work, eat, and sleep.page v
We believe that the chief value of any organised Trade Society is in formulating and emphasizing demands, the justice of which by continued and legitimate agitation has at last been impressed upon those charged with making the public laws, and in this belief we respectfully ask your perusal of this pamphlet, and your support in legalising eight hours as the standard of a day's work in New Zealand flour mills.
V. Wilson,General Secretary. Timaru,
June 1st, 1891.