HC Deb 30 November 1925 vol 188 cc1824-6
Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY by Private Notice

asked the President of the Board of Trade what is the position with regard to the strike of wireless operators at Hull and other ports, and whether his Department is taking any steps to end the dispute, and if the Regulations for the carrying of wireless operators in ships are being relaxed?


The employers gave notice at the end of October of a reduction in the pay of wireless operators on board ship, to come into operation on 1st December on the lines of the reduction which has already taken place in the pay of all other ratings. The Association of Wireless and Cable Telegraphists instructed their members on 26th November not to sign on under the new rates.

The Ministry of Labour is in touch with the parties to the dispute with a view to rendering such assistance as is possible in securing a settlement.

The law requires ships to be provided with apparatus and operators, the sanction being prosecution of the master or owner and detention of the ship. Where compliance with the law is rendered impossible by operators declining to sail owing to a strike, and by this alone, it would be unreasonable to prosecute the master or owner, and the Board of Trade do not think they would be justified in taking the very serious step of detaining the ship. This was the attitude adopted by the Board of Trade in the previous strikes of wireless operators in 1920 and 1922.


May I ask if the Board of Trade in this matter has no other interest to protect, and no other duty to perform than that of immediately taking sides with the employers against the men?


I do not think we can look at it that way. A great number of hon. Members of this House have often travelled in ships before wireless was used. I myself have done it, and not found ships unseaworthy. In this particular case, a dispute having arisen, it is necessary that our sea trade should proceed so that poor people who receive their food from abroad should not be put to extra expense for extra cost of food owing to detention of ships, and, therefore, the Board of Trade have acted in the way I have indicated. The ships are not unseaworthy because the wireless is not working.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Does not the Board of Trade consider, in view of the peculiar nature of this service of wireless operators, that it should be placed on some basis by which these disputes could be avoided, and especially the Board of Trade should move earlier in the matter to prevent these regrettable disputes?


Of course, it is always desirable to avoid disputes of this kind, but let us be quite sincere. Here are the masters and the owners of ships who have provided the apparatus, and the operators are there. They are more than willing, and anxious, to use the wireless, but the operators will not work the apparatus. The owners, therefore, are under force majeure. They cannot use the wireless apparatus, and I see no reason why steps should be taken by the Board of Trade to interfere, seeing that the captains and the owners are willing to use the wireless, but owing to the action of the wireless operators, are prevented from doing so.


Was any endeavour made to bring the parties together to reach a settlement? May I ask, further, if in this matter any special report will be submitted to the House showing the grounds on which the Board of Trade have acted in each case? I think that is provided for in the Regulations.


I cannot tell for the moment whether efforts were made at an earlier date to stop this unfortunate dispute, but I can say, on behalf of my tight hon. Friend, that no effort will be spared by him if he can do anything to secure peace, and anything that can be suggested will be welcomed.


May I ask if the hon. Gentleman will tell us if those wireless operators on the high seas were notified of this reduction coming into operation?


I do not think that arises out of the question. I would not like to deal with it without having notice.


Surely if a decrease in wages was to come into operation, the men affected were entitled to know?


That question should be put on the Paper.


May I ask the Secretary for the Department of Overseas Trade if it is possible, then, for the employers or owners of the ships to evade the use of wireless altogether by depressing wages to a point that the employés will not accept them?