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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Eight Hours Pay

Eight Hours Pay.

I now approach a question which has reached a stage for the fullest and freest discussion, and which ought certainly to be solved by the people of New Zealand. I refer to the question of limiting the working day to eight hours. A question of this kind should not be considered merely on the sordid ground of pounds shillings and pence. (Hear, hear.) The welfare of the race and the health and happiness of the descendants of the present generation should be factors which ought to receive respectful consideration. I do not think the town bred New Zealanders of the future will have the stamina and endurance of the early settlers, if the present inhabitants are compelled to endure a life of unremitting grinding toil. Our people ought to have sufficient leisure for healthful mental and physical recreation, and for the full and free development of all their greatest faculties. (Applause.) Eight hours honest toil daily I think is as much as any human being can continuously endure from year to year without impairing his health and imperilling the health of his progeny. It has been conclusively proved that the limitation of the working day to eight hours does not result in any loss to production. On the contrary, experience shows that more work is done, and done in a better way, by an eight hour workman than by a ten, eleven, or twelve hour workman. There are eight hour laws in several of the United States. In Nebraska, "Wyoming, Idaho and Kansas the law has been found to work most satisfactorily. In a recent book, "The Eight Hours' Day," by Sidney Webb, L.L.B., and Harold Cox, B.A., page 12 I find some very strong and cogent reasons in favour of the adoption of an Eight Hours law. One or two extracts will doubtless interest you:—"In 1859 Mr. Robert Baker, Factory Inspector, reported to the Social Science Association, that although the hours of work have been very much diminished, wages have increased in some cases forty per cent, and generally about twelve per cent, and this reduction of hours and increase of wages had not diminished any kind of textile production, and therefore it had not injured our national prosperity." Professor J. S. Nicholson, in his work on "Wages," states, "The effect of the Factory Acts has been undoubtedly to raise the real wages of the working classes as a whole." "In 1889 a Consular report states, 'In the Woollen Mills of Schmerler and Kretschmar the hours of labour have been reduced to ten with a highly satisfactory result. Not only has there been no falling off in the amount of production; but the out-put has even experienced a slight rise in regard to quantity as well as quality, and the average wages of the workmen have advanced forty kreutzers per week.'" In December, 1890, the large firm of Burroughs, Wellcome and Co., manufacturers, gave the following replies to questions on the Eight Hours' system: "First, we believe the amount of work produced in a week since we adopted the Eight Hour system is very nearly, if not quite, as great as when we were working nine hours a-day. We think the cost of production is not materially increased. We are glad to have been able both to reduce the hours of work and to increase the amount of wages at the same time." Messrs. Brunner, Mond and Co., Limited, reported: "We can assure you we are in .every way satisfied with the change to eight hours a-day. The effect on the health and physique of the men of this change has been most beneficial, and we expect still further improvement when the men have got really used to having time to spare between sleep and work." There is a large mass of testimony to the same effect as those extracts which I have just read to you, all going to show that production has not decreased by the substitution of an eight hour day for a day of a greater number of hours, and that wages have not decreased, but in many instances have increased, as a result of the change. (Cheers.) Dr. W. B. Richardson, the eminent English physician, stated in an address to the Brighton Congress, in 1890, "Taking it all in all, we may keep our minds on eight hours as a fair time for work. We may consider justly that a person who works hard and conscientiously for eight hours has little to be ashamed of, and that for health's sake he Las done what is near to the right thing." Gentlemen, it is an undoubted fact, proved by actuaries' tables, that under the present system the working population are used up before they have reached what ought to be the prime of life. That state of things cannot be said to be a national advantage. I should like just page 13 to quote a short sentence on this subject from a speech made a few years ago before the Leeds Mechanics' Institute by the late Cardinal Manning (cheers); a true friend of the toilers. (Hear, hear.) His Eminence says: "If the great end of life were to multiply yards of cloth and cotton twist, and if the glory of England consists or consisted in multiplying without stint or limit these articles, and the like, at the lowest possible price, so as to undersell all the nations of the world, well then, let us go on. But if the domestic life of the people be vital above all; if the peace, the purity of homes, the education of children, the duties of wives and mothers, the duties of husbands and of fathers, be written in the natural law of mankind, and if these things are sacred far beyond anything that can be sold in the market—then I say if the hours of labour resulting from the unregulated sale of a man's strength and skill, shall lead to the destruction of domestic life, to the neglect of children, to turning wives and mothers into living machines, and of fathers and husbands into—what shall I say, creatures of burden?—I will not use any other word—who rise up before the sun, and come back when it is set, wearied, and able only to take food and to lie down to Test, the domestic life of men exists no longer, and we dare not go on in this path."

One of the stock objections used against a compulsory Eight Hours' law is that it is a violation of the glorious principle of "freedom of contract." Freedom of contract I Why, gentlemen, the words are a mere mockery when applied to the class of cases for which the Eight Hours reform is most urgently needed—where one side is helpless and resourceless and the other side can dictate its own terms. This cant phrase of "freedom of contract" is excellently satirised in a recent issue of Punch in "Jim's Jottings," which I cannot do better than quote to you—

The nobs who're down on Workmen
Cos on knobsticks they will frown,
Has ft 'arty love for Libbaty—when keepin
Wages down
Contrack's a sacred 'oly thing, freedom
Carn't 'ave that broke,
But free contrack wot's forced on yer, why
Of course that sounds a joke.
If they know'd us and our sort gents, they would
Know free contrack's fudge,
When one side ain't got a copper, 'as been six
Weeks on the trudge,
Or 'as built his little business up in one
Particular spot,
And if the rent's raised on 'im, must turn
out and starve or rot.