§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Summers
I beg to move, in page 25, line 35, after "work," insert "under similar conditions."
In the earlier part of our discussions on this Bill reference was made to the fact that the wages council procedure will be given greater elasticity than has hitherto prevailed under the trade boards technique. The need to ensure that workers doing the same work are treated alike by reason of the similarity of their work, and not for any other, applies in Part III of the Bill, as well as in Part II, because there arises the question whether inadequate wages are being paid by a compari- 1717 son that is jointly arrived at after discussion between the two sides. Paragraph (2) of the Third Schedule deals with the question whether payments made are, or are not, less favourable than the terms and conditions of employment jointly arrived at. The Schedule as drafted says:… if they are in accordance with the terms and conditions relating to workers engaged on similar work ….The additional words would make that paragraph read:… relating to workers engaged in similar work under similar conditions. …The object of those words is to ensure that when a comparison is made between pay to one set of workers—when that pay is being given under a joint agreement—it shall be a fair one and not a distorted one and that all relevant considerations shall be taken into account. I have in mind, particularly, work done by repairers on estates or farms who may, quite properly, be paid a rate different from that which is appropriate for repair work agreed with the local trade union in the local town. The words are intended to make sure that, for the purpose of comparison, the work and conditions are taken into account and are not ignored, which might lead to unreasonable comparisons being made.
§ Mr. Bevin
I am sorry I cannot accept this Amendment in the way in which I accepted the previous one. The question of similar conditions is a very broad one indeed. Conditions could be changed and the whole purpose of the Schedule would be nullified. We try here, as under Order 1305, to leave the question of agreements being not less favourable having regard to all the circumstances to the Industrial Court to determine.
§ Mr. Summers
The Minister has just used a phrase which may have a bearing on this point. He has just spoken about "having regard to all the circumstances." I do not find that phrase in the Schedule, and it is one which has very much the same effect as my Amendment.
§ Mr. Bevin
No, I am not going outside what has been put in the Schedule. The first paragraph reads:Where in any trade or industry in any district terms and conditions of employment are established which have been settled by machinery of negotiation or arbitration to which the parties are organisations of employers and trade unions representative respectively of substantial proportions of the employers and workers engaged in that trade or industry in that district (hereinafter referred to as "recognised terms and conditions"), all employers in that trade or industry in that district shall observe the recognised terms and conditions or such terms and conditions of employment as are not less favourable than the recognised terms and conditions.That is what the hon. Member says in another form. You might have to bring in a man on an estate being treated in exactly the same manner as another man in another industry in the district. If he is a bricklayer on the estate, there is no difference between him and another who is building the house outside. On the other hand, there are certain people employed on the estate who would not be in that trade at all, and the Industrial Court would say so. I prefer in these very broad terms to leave it for argument before the Industrial Court whether or not the agreement exists and applies If it does, the wages should be paid, but the phrase "under similar conditions" could be manipulated in a thousand ways. We have long experience in this business I have known employers who have taken advantage of phrases like that to alter conditions and, with alterations of the conditions, away goes all the agreement. These words would lie open to very grave abuse. After all, if the thing is to be argued before the Industrial Court, it is quite easy to say whether it comes within the agreement, and I prefer to leave it on that footing.
§ Mr. Summers
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with this aspect of the matter? In testing whether the rates paid are less favourable than the recognised terms and conditions, it is quite likely that, associated with the rates which are in fact paid, are certain wages which are not part and parcel of the recognised terms and conditions, and if a comparison is to be made one would like to feel sure that those advantages are taken into account in comparing them with the recognised terms and conditions. If one could feel quite sure that that is the way in which the comparison will be carried out, 1719 one would feel happier about the right hon. Gentleman's approach to the matter.
§ Mr. Bevin
I remember on one occasion an employer saying he gave his man 9 lb. of beef every Christmas, and he thought it a very good thing to do, but it was pointed out to him that, if he gave him a rise, he could give himself 9 lb. of beef next Christmas. What are the conditions? Is it cash or what? If it is cash that the hon. Member is talking about and the payment is taking a different form from that laid down in the agreement, it is easy to test whether it is less favourable. To give an illustration. There are some trades which do not want piece-work, but one firm may be working piece-work. It would be easy to show that the conditions under which they were working in one case were not less favourable than in the other. The purpose of the paragraph is that you cannot make an agreement apply to suit the whim of the union, but you have to decide whether the firm, having adapted itself to some other form, is actually treating the men as well or better than the agreement would allow. On that point I think the hon. Member is really met.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
I beg to move, in page 27, line 18, at end, add:(3) Any reference in this Schedule to a trade union shall be construed as including any organisation of employees, not being a registered trade union, recognised by the Minister for the purposes of this Schedule.The Bill provides no definition of a trade union. I do not know that a definition is normally given, but in fact there is none, and the Amendment is designed to clarify what may otherwise be a subject of some doubt. In a normal case men are catered for by their trade union and no difficulty would arise, but the Bill specifically brings in local authorities. Paragraph 4 says that:trade or industry includes the performance of its functions by a public or local authority.In the case of local authorities it is a common practice for clerical workers to form a staff association and, in the case of the London County Council, there is an association catering for all clerical workers with salaries up to £1,000. They function really as a Whitley Council, and they get together with representatives of 1720 the Council to discuss common problems. Differences occasionally arise which cannot be reconciled, and during the war the staff association has been able to go to the Minister and demand arbitration on matters on which there is a difference, and I regret to say that the staff association has even sometimes been successful. This arbitration now goes and, instead, this procedure will apply. "Terms and conditions in the trade" will presumably mean, as applied to local authorities, salaries and conditions of service which are normally paid by local authorities in the area to their staffs, and a staff association might come along to the Minister and say, "Our council is not paying salaries and performing the conditions that are customary among borough councils in London." Could they have a hearing? The purpose of the Amendment is to secure that, if an accredited association made a case of that sort, the Minister would be able to hear their views and form a judgment upon it.
Most of these people are not covered by any trade union. The staff association functions quite satisfactorily, and I suggest, in the interests of the staff—certainly not in the interests of the local authority—that they should be recognised for the purpose of making any representation to the Minister. I submit that this Amendment is a reasonable one for securing that object.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden
My hon. Friend has moved the Amendment on behalf of some of his constituents, and I, on behalf of the trade unions, hope that the Minister will not accept it. It would create an unfortunate precedent in the industrial world and upset the balance of things in the railway world if we started a horse here that could be ridden anywhere and everywhere. If there are any organisations which are not registered as trade unions, they can be registered if they are proper organisations, and no preferential treatment should be given to organisations of the kind referred to in the Amendment.
§ Mr. Bevin
We defined trade unions while my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) was out of the Chamber. It may be a union or an association of unions, but it does not go any further than that. There is nothing in this Bill to say that a union must be a 1721 registered trade union. Indeed, we could not introduce that because there are a number of unregistered unions in the country. It is one of those things, like the British Constitution, which nobody has ever tried to define in an Act of Parliament, and I hope they will not. As the Bill stands, the term "trade union" expresses the form of organisation of employees which is, invariably, party to the machinery of negotiations or agreements, decisions or awards of the kind to which the Schedule relates. Therefore, whichever body, whether registered or unregistered, has actually been party to the agreement, is the determining factor as to whom we must recognise in this business.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has given that answer and has not succumbed to the blandishments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden). In view of my right hon. Friend's statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Silkin
On a point of Order. You have collected the voices, Major Milner, but I would point out that I asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I am afraid that I did tot hear the hon. Gentleman. The Amendment has been put to the Committee and negatived.
§ Mr. Rostron Duckworth (Manchester, Moss Side)
I beg to move, in page 27, line 18, at end, add:Provided that, in the application of this Schedule to a local authority as regards the employment of administrative, professional, technical or clerical officers, references to recognised terms and conditions shall be construed as references only to terms and conditions settled by a joint industrial council or conciliation board constituted for the purpose of settling terms and conditions for the employment of such officers.I regret the unavoidable absence of the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) because he could have dealt with this matter much more efficiently than I can. My long association with a municipal county borough, however, assures me that if the Minister could accept the Amendment it would undoubtedly ease the working of this Bill when it is entered on the Statute Book. I wish to support the general principles of the Bill and to say that the continuance 1722 of Part III of the National Arbitration Order for a period of five years, as now proposed to be amended, meets with the approval of the municipal authorities. They are, however, anxious that the wording of the Schedule should not either interfere with or stop those friendly and informal discussions which take place from time to time between the representatives of municipal authorities and certain of their officials with regard to salaries and conditions of service. As the Bill stands it is possibly wide enough to have that effect, and the object of the Amendment is to meet this position. A large number of the employees of local authorities are within the scope of joint industrial councils or of the conciliation boards, and there is no wish to depart from the proposals of this Bill under which they would continue to be subject to the Arbitration Order. The Amendment is designed to make it clear that, in relation to local authorities, the Bill will apply to those administrative, professional, technical, or clerical officers who are within the scope of the Whitley Council machinery. I devoutly hope that the Minister can see his way to accept the Amendment and so clarify any doubt which may have existed.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side (Mr. R. Duckworth) and the association for which he is speaking desire that this machinery shall work with the utmost smoothness and good will, but I grieve to have to say that, in the view of the trade unions, the Amendment would have rather the contrary effect. In some cases it would lead to acute differences between grade and grade of people in the offices and between union and union. The Amendment is intended to apply to professional, technical or clerical workers, that is, the whole of the salaried staff in municipal offices. Many of them have their own organisations for technical staffs, but even the unions that cater for the generality of the workers also have members who grow up to leading workers, foremen, craftsmen and technicians and they keep on their union membership. The unions, naturally, wish to represent their own people, when their conditions are under discussion. That applies equally to the clerical grades, and it would be ill-advised to press the Amendment. If the conditions and rates for particular officers were under considera- 1723 tion it would do no harm if another union, say the Electrical Trades Union, which is particularly keen on this, or the engineering trades unions appeared to speak for such of their members as were affected, whereas this form of words would tend to exclusion and make bad blood, which none of us want. My experience of these proceedings is that the more free, open and friendly you are with one another, the better they work.
§ Mr. Bevin
I do not think the Amendment is necessary. The Bill provides that what the Minister has to enforce is a joint agreement. What have been mentioned in the speeches are really individual contracts. It may be that architects and gas engineers have a scale of charges which they make when they take on a job, and so have medical officers of health under the B.M.A., but that is not a joint agreement and has nothing to do with the Bill. It is, if I may put it so, a one-sided professional arrangement. The arrangements made between town clerks and their local authorities is a matter of private contract and do not come within the terms of the Bill. The only arrangement I can enforce under Part III is a joint agreement. If I tried to define that people receiving over a certain amount should not come into the Bill, I should open up a vast problem. No two joint agreements are alike. In some cases there is purely a clerical agreement, like that between the railway clerks and the railway companies and in other cases the arrangement is different. The acid test I must apply before I can refer any case to arbitration is: Is there a joint agreement? I have to ask the Industrial Court to say whether the agreement exists and whether the Bill ought to apply to it. It would complicate some of the other parts of the Bill if I attempted to define this point any further.
§ Mr. Rostron Duckworth
I have heard with interest the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope he will further consider the matter at a later stage in the Bill's progress. I beg, therefore, to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Fourth Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon Tuesday next, and to be printed [Bill 18].