HC Deb 04 August 1926 vol 198 cc3031-5

I desire to take advantage of this opportunity to bring before the notice of the Minister of Labour, the Government, and the House, a number of difficulties that have emerged in connection with the administration of Unemployment Insurance benefit. The general administrative difficulty will be dealt with later on by a number of my hon. Friends, and the particular phase of the question which I desire to bring to the notice of the Government, and particularly the Minister of Labour, concerns the difficulties that have emerged in the mining industry during the last three months. During that period, numerous claims for benefit have been turned down on grounds which we on these benches think are unjust and unfair. The difficulties to which I refer cover a very large number of cases, some of which come under the category of safety men, but a considerable number of which are men who have been turned down on the ground that they are involved in a trade dispute and who cannot be brought under the category of safety men. Their only crime evidently is that they are engaged in the mining industry. At the moment there is a dispute in that industry, and the Department for which the Minister of Labour is responsible has seen fit to turn down nearly every one of the claims of these men.

I am going to take only typical cases of the maladministration of unemployment insurance benefit. The first is the case of the safety men, for whom, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, arrangements were made before the dispute began to lift them outside the range of the dispute altogether. These men intimated to their employers that, notwithstanding that there was likely to be a stoppage, they intended to continue at work. In a large number of cases, for some reason or other, the employers did not see fit to avail themselves of the services of these men. Evidently, the safety of the mines was not a matter of first-class importance to the employers during the present dispute, because they could afford to refuse the services of a considerable number of men who were available, and they intimated to them that their services would not be required. Naturally, these men made application for unemployment insurance benefit, and their claims have been turned down by the Insurance officer, the Courts of Referees, and finally in a number of cases by the Umpire himself. We claim that these men are justly entitled to receive payment of the unemployment insurance benefit under conditions such as I have outlined. I can very well remember the cry that went up from one end of the country to the other in 1921 when we had a similar dispute, and when it was decided that the safety men were not to work. All sections of people were horrified that the miner was prepared to allow the mines .to go to wreck and ruin and to be flooded. Here that very category of men offered their services, and in numerous instances the employers said, " No thank you, we do not require your services." They then made application to the right hon. Gentleman's Department for unemployment benefit, to which we believe they are justly entitled, and their claim is turned down.

Take the case of another class of safety men. Take the case of the men whose services were available and who were engaged, but whom the employers saw fit to employ only for one, two or three days per week. These men naturally put in a claim for part-time unemployment benefit, and, again, as in the case of the first class, their claim has been turned down. In connection with the second class I think a legal point is involved, and I am not sure what would be the decision of the Law Courts upon it. Notwithstanding the fact that these men are only working on one, two or three days each week, unemployment insurance contributions are deducted from their wages. They are bound to pay the contributions during the period of the dispute, but, evidently, the Minister and his Department consider that they are not entitled to receive unemployment insurance benefit, despite the payment of contributions. It seems to be a monstrous proposition that during the dispute the Government should continue to take these contributions while refusing to pay any benefit, and I wonder what the Minister would say to a proposition of that sort, in the event of this dispute going on for 12 months instead of three months. I wonder would he and his Department maintain the same attitude? Personally, I think the position taken up by the right hon . Gentleman and his Department ought to be tested in the Law Courts, because I do not think that this kind of treatment would be justified by the Courts of the country.

Take the case of the apprentices employed in certain sections of the. mining industry, as, for example, the apprentice electricians. They are outside the dispute altogether. They are merely serving an apprenticeship and their conditions of employment are in no way involved. However the dispute ends, neither their wages, nor their hours of work will be affected in the least degree. These men's services were made available and it was intimated to the employers that they were going to continue their services but the employers have seen fit to throw these Men idle. They have made a claim and the answer has been that they are involved in a trade dispute, and cannot get benefit. There are also the cases of men who sustained injury in the course of their employment, and were idle and drawing compensation when the dispute began. The particular case which I have in mind is that of a man who, on 24th June, was declared to be fit for light work, and was prepared to take a job suited to his physical capacity if such a job could be found. The man would not have been able to return to his ordinary occupation as a miner, even if there had been no dispute and if the mines had been working, but, in his case also, benefit was refused on the ground that there was a trade dispute. I have also before me the case of a man who was ill, and who at the time when the dispute began was in receipt of national health insurance benefit. In this particular case, on 27th June, the man was declared by his medical attendant to be fit for light work, though he was not in a condition to return to his normal occupation even if there had been no dispute and if the work of the mines had been proceeding normally. Like the injured man whose case I have mentioned, he would have required light work. He was justly entitled in our view to unemployment insurance benefit, but his application also was turned down on the ground of the dispute in the mining industry.

1 have also particulars of the cases of six men who made their services available at one of the collieries in the part of the country which I have the privilege and honour to represent. The employer availed himself of their services, for a considerable part of the period of stoppage. Eventually he intimated to them that their services, for the time being, would not be required, but they were to hold themselves in readiness, and he would send for them when he required them. They naturally believed that they had a just claim to benefit, but their claim like the others has been rejected on the ground that they were involved in the trade dispute. I know that my colleagues have cases as clamant as those which I am bringing to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, and I conclude by citing the case of a man who, like the vast majority of miners finished his contract on 30th April. He would have been idle for the whole of the period between then and now, but for the fact that he made efforts to secure employment in other branches of industry, and was successful. He went on with that other work for several weeks, and then his services were dispensed with, but during all the time he was engaged in that other occupation unemployment contributions were deducted from his wages. His claim for benefit has also been turned down.

As I stated at the beginning, out of thousands of cases such as I have quoted, only a mere fraction of the men concerned have had their claims recognised, and in some instances it is very difficult for those of us who have to handle cases of this kind to discover why one man's claim has been recognised, and another's ruled out. It is difficult to see any difference between the claim which is allowed and the claim which is rejected. In our opinion all these claims, of the various types I have mentioned, ought to have been recognised. We believe that the attitude which is being taken up towards these men is due to the desire of the Government to make things as difficult as possible for the men in the mining industry. We believe that attitude is being maintained for the same reason as the parish councils, the education authorities, and the boards of guardians are taking certain action—for the special purpose of making it impossible for the miners to continue the struggle in which they are engaged. That struggle is a struggle to maintain the same standard of life in the miner's home as that which obtains in other homes in the land. It is an object which ought to appeal to every man who desires to see justice meted out to his fellowmen. Instead of the Government and the administrative bodies of the country putting difficulties in the way of the miners, that section of the community ought to have their sympathy and support in trying to obtain conditions of employment which are as equitable as those obtaining in other branches of industry. The cases I have mentioned are typical of thousands which have been rejected. I hope they will get the favourable consideration of the right hon. Gentleman and his Department. We believe that not one of them ought to have been turned down, because these men were not involved in the mining dispute, and some of them had not the remotest connection with it, and I trust their claim to benefit will receive just and fair consideration.


I rise to put a few points to the Minister of Labour. Most of them are of rather a parochial character, but one or two have a more national outlook. In the first place, let me state that I feel I ought to apologise for bringing forward matters concerning the administration of unemployment insurance in these days when we are discussing great questions such as inter-Allied debts, and so on.—

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