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persistent criticism and of a considerable amount of misunderstanding. No authority entrusted with responsibility for dealing with Labour questions in any industry during the past three years could expect to escape either. The actions of bodies representing other great industries -most of which have long years of experience to guide them—have not always commanded universal assent, and the wisdom even of the Cabinet itself in dealing with labour has been questioned by some. In their efforts to deal with the economic and social complexities involved in the task entrusted to them, the representatives of agriculture might perhaps claim some sympathy from those whose interests they are trying to serve. They are not, however, greatly surprised if they do not receive it.
The effect of the operations of the Wages Board on the wages paid to agricultural workers is inevitably a matter of dispute. Many farmers think that the Board has forced wages to a higher level than would have been otherwise reached; while, on the other hand, many labour leaders believe that if there had been no Wages Board, they would have been able by direct action to secure higher wages for the men. No one can seriously contend that, while the wages in all other classes of employment were rising by leaps and bounds, those of agricultural workers could, by any possible means, have been prevented from rising. It is extremely unlikely that farmers generally would have spontaneously and voluntarily increased wages; and it follows, therefore, that they would only have raised them under pressure. Whatever the result in the end, it would only have been attained after very serious disturbances throughout the country, and at the cost of irretrievable injury to the interests of agriculture. This is not a time, if ever there could be one, when a contest between farmers, on the one hand, and the forces of organised labour, which Tould have necessarily been drawn into the struggle, could be anything but disadvantageous to farmers as a
class. If the Wages Board has been instrumental, so sti lar, in preventing such a catastrophe, its members may claim to have done the State some service.
Of one fault, at least, the Wages Board has never been accused—that of inactivity. It is, indeed, fairly open to the charge of issuing an excessive number of
Orders. This was mainly due to the unavoidable circun stances of its institution. The minimum wage wa dangled before the eager eyes of the agricultura labourer in February 1917; and there are still many simpl souls—to be found not only in the country districts—wh regard a statement by the Prime Minister as equivalen to an Act of Parliament. It was not, however, unt
. August of that year that the promised measure becam a statute. The Act fixed a statutory minimum of 258. but during its passage through Parliament the figur had been violently attacked as inadequate, and by th following year the case for its increase had been greatl strengthened. The result was that the Wages Board ha to begin its work immediately; and, having decided to se up District Committees, it was bound to deal with the re commendations of each Committee individually, wit the result that a separate Order had to be made fo practically every one of the thirty-nine areas. It ha also to deal, in similar detail, with rates for women an boys, special classes of workers, overtime rates, boar and lodging allowances, cottages, and other benefits o advantages.' Gradually, the wide diversity arising out o the various recommendations of the Committees has been reduced, and the number of Orders materially diminished
Since its establishment in December 1917, the Wage Board has fixed the general minimum for adult mal workers four times. The first recommendation, receive early in 1918, was from Norfolk, for a rate of 30s. ; this was accepted by the Board, and subsequently applied to all areas, except those where a higher figure was recom mended. A year later, the minimum was raised, after very considerable discussion, to 36s. 6d. In April 1920 it was again raised to 42s., and in the following Augus to 46s. 6d. In every case there were certain counties which had a higher minimum.
On the two first occasions these rates were fixed by agreement-reached after prolonged discussion and negotiation—between employers and workers. The increase in April 1920 was made in opposition to the workers, who demanded 50s., the employers eventuallyagreeing with the appointed members to fix 42s. In the latest case, all attempts at agreement failed.
The workers' representatives demanded 50s., and would agree to nothing less; while the farmers' representatives refused to assent to any increase on 42s. The appointed members, as in duty bound, made several suggestions with the view of bringing the sides together, but without success. In the end, the deadlock was overcome by the appointed members bringing forward on their own responsibility a proposal for 46s. 6d., and the representative members, on both sides, abstaining from voting. The appointed members subsequently published a statement, setting out the case as it presented itself to then, in which they said :
'All the increases made this year are based upon, and consequential from, the alteration in the lowest minimum rate for male workers of 21 years and over, which came into force on April 19th after prolonged discussion and deliberation. The employers' representatives then proposed 40s, and the workers' representatives proposed 50s.; and 42s. was eventually accepted by the employers' representatives, the workers' representatives refusing to agree.
'In bringing forward again their proposal for a minimum of 508., the workers' representatives have contended :
'1. That the previous increase was inadequate.
2. That even if it were then adequate the subsequent increase in the cost of living makes it now insufficient.
'3. That the statutory duty of the Wages Board is, by the terms of Section 5 (6) of the Corn Production Act, to fix such minimum rates of wages
as will enable a worker to maintain himself and his family in accordance with such standard of comfort as may be reasonable in relation to the nature of his occupation," and that the Board have no right to consider any consequences which may fall on the agricultural industry by the adoption of this principle.
'4. That the rise in the wages of agricultural workers since 1914 has not been in proportion to the rise in the cost of iring, and that in any case it is not sufficient merely to place he agricultural worker in the same unsatisfactory economic Position as in 1914.
'5. That there is evidence to show that farmers can afford pay higher wages than those now fixed.
-6. That wages in other occupations, especially those of ailway men, have risen much higher than those of agricultural workers, who are more skilled and equally deserving.
"To these contentions the employers' representatives have ejoined:
1. That the increased cost of living does not press hardly upon workers in agriculture as in other industries.
62. That the provisions of the Corn Production Act mu be considered as a whole, and that, in fixing minimum wag the Wages Board must have regard to the effect which su wages will have on the production of food, and the emplo ment of labour.
3. That the rates fixed by the Board are only minima whi must be paid to the least efficient workers, and that high wages can be, and in many cases are, paid to the more efficier
•4. That the weekly wages under the Board's Orders mu be paid whether the worker can be profitably employed not; and that in this respect agriculture differs essentia from other industries in which the workers are continuou: employed on productive work.
•5. That there is evidence that the present rates of wag are causing land to be laid down to grass and throwing ma men out of employment.
66. That the increase in agricultural wages has been r less than in many other industries.
67. That any further increase in wages must result decreased production and higher prices of food.
"The Appointed Members have given anxious considerati to the arguments advanced on both sides, and they ful realise the serious responsibility which falls upon the They cannot but view with concern the reduction in t area of land under arable cultivation, and also of the numb of men for whom remunerative employment can be fou on the land. On the other hand, they cannot admit that t remedy for these evils can be found in the underpayme of the workers in agriculture. If the financial results farming under the present conditions are insufficient to allo of the payment of adequate wages to the workers, it is t duty of the Government to take such measures as may necessary to establish the economic position of the cultivato of the soil on a sound basis.
The Appointed Members are bound to observe furth that if, as has been argued, the Board had to consider nothi in the Act but the terms of Section 5 (6), it would follow th the Board has no responsibility in respect of any worke except those who are married and have families. Th cannot accept this view, and they consider that the Boa not only has responsibilities in respect of all workers in Ag culture, male or female, married or single, but that they mu also have regard to the effect of their actions upon t interests of the industry as a whole.
'The Appointed Members made every effort to secure an agreement between the employers and workers, and made various suggestions with the view of attaining that object. Neither side, however, was able to make any approach to agreement. The employers
unable to agree to any advance on the present minimum rates, while the workers were equally unwilling to accept less than the advance which they proposed. It fell, therefore, to the Appointed Members to bring forward a compromise, and they submitted to the Board a motion that a proposal should be drafted and sent to the District Wages Committees for consideration, to increase the present minimum wage for male workers of 21 years and over in all areas by 4s. The effect of this, if adopted, would be to raise the present minimum for ordinary workers from 42s. to 46s. in 26 areas and in the remaining 13 areas to a higher figure.'
It was remarked, with perfect truth, that this statement did not explain why the figure of 46s., and no other, was adopted. That the cost of living had risen substantially since the former rate was fixed, was obviously a material factor in convincing the Appointed Members that a further increase was necessary, but it was not claimed that this consideration alone influenced them in their decision. The fact is, that the settlement of a fair and reasonable minimum rate of wages is not a matter of mathematics or logic. If it were, it would be comparatively easy instead of being extraordinarily difficult. It is often argued that some scheme should be adopted whereby agricultural wages should rise or fall automatically with the rise or fall either in the cost of living or in the prices of farm produce. Such schemes appear attractive until they are closely examined. The initial difficulty is to fix a datum line. On the cost of living basis, it is evident that it would be illogical to differentiate between workers on a farm, and other workers living in rural districts but employed in other occupations. The agricultural labourer is entitled to claim as high a standard of comfort as his fellow
workers in other industries; but it is obvious, for many is reasons, that he cannot secure it, and that the result of be attempting to enforce it would, under present conditions, are only result in widespread unemployment. To relate tages to the prices of farm produce has often been Vol. 235.—No. 466,