HC Deb 14 April 1914 vol 61 cc31-3

I beg to move "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to amend the Coal Mines Act, 1911, for the purpose of limiting hours of work to enginemen, boilermen, and stokers employed on the surface at mines."

I venture to trespass upon the time of the House in order to call attention to what is regarded as a great injustice by a large section of men employed on the surface at mines. In 1908 this House passed a Bill restricting the hours of labour in mines for underground workers only to eight hours. In 1911 the Coal Mines Regulation Act introduced many reforms, amongst which it extended the eight hours' limit to winding enginemen, who are surface workers. The small Bill I am asking leave to introduce is to amend the Act of 1911 by extending the eight hours principle to enginemen, boilermen, and stokers employed at mines. It is no fanciful grievance this Bill seeks to remedy. I will present to the House the general conditions under which these men work. The fan engineman, who is responsible for the circulation of fresh air in the pit and the ventilation of the mine, works twelve hours a day, seven days in each week, and no meal hours. The haulage engineman works twelve hours each day for seven days in each week, and has no meal hours. The electric power engineman has a twelve hours day, many of them, seven days a week and no meal hours. The boilerman—an important position requiring constant watchfulness and care, to see that the water in the boiler is kept at right height and constant in order to facilitate generation of steam, the neglect of which leads to damage of boiler, and has led to serious accidents—he has a twelve hours day and no meal hours, and a seven days week, or in changing over from night shift to day shift he works a twenty-four hours Sunday. At small collieries the boilerman is also stoker. In order to get a shorter day these men share their work by one working a ten hour day while his mates work a fourteen hour night shift.

The stoker or fireman works twelve hours per day, seven days a week, and has no meal hours. His is very arduous toil, hot and exhausting. There is no class of worker at the mines worse paid or harder worked. He is the man who is constantly moving on and changing employment. He is a migratory workman. His average working life is twelve years, which gives an idea of the strenuous character of his labour. These are the men I ask this House to help in limiting their hours of labour. That it is a just demand is already acknowledged by many employers. Half the enginemen, boilermen, and stokers in Scotland already enjoy an eight hour day. The colliery proprietors of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have granted this demand. There may be others. This Bill is to make the practice of an eight hours day universal with these men throughout the Kingdom by the usual course of legislation. I take the liberty of saying that the continued neglect of all surface workers at mines is at the present moment at explosive point. These men have tried patience, conciliation, argument, and have met their employers. They have done all that leader writers in newspapers and well-intentioned people advise, such as friendly intercourse, etc. In the majority of cases they meet with the everlasting "No." I ask this House to act while the wheels are turning and the steam is kept up. Present action will be more profitable to the nation than much attention when the wheels cease to turn and steam is off, and the miner walks to his home to rest, while the nation wonders why these things have not had attention. Here is a danger zone. These men will thank you to give this Bill its First Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Wing, Mr. Fenwick, Sir Arthur Markham, Sir John Barlow, Mr. Aneurin Williams, Mr. Stephen Walsh, Mr. Hayward, Mr. Duncan Millar, Mr. John Wilson, Mr. Pringle, and Mr. Kenyon. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 185.]