Page images

measures of mediation had succeeded, whilst those of arbitration had failed.

Inquiries have, I believe, been directed by the Board of Trade, and probably under the power thus conferred by the Act; and the results have probably been usesul in the compilation of the Labour Gazette, which is published under the authority of the Board of Trade ; but no public inquiry has ever, so far as I know, been made into the causes and circumstances of a trade difference.

An arbitrator is a person long known to our law; but a conciliator is a new person, a new creation of the statute ; and one turns with some interest to see how his duties are defined. The definition is, like many other passages in which the collective wisdom of Parliament is expressed, rather curious. “He shall,” says the Act, "inquire into the causes and circumstances of the difference, by communication with the parties, and otherwise shall endeavour to bring about a settlement of the difference." The notion that mere inquiry into the past history of the dispute is the main resource for conciliation, seems to underlie this sentence; it is one of doubtful accuracy; but the following words are wide and general, and fortunately are unambiguous. The Act appears to draw a distinction between the "amicable settlement" and the "settlement” of a dispute—the one appears to refer to a termination by treaty or agreement; the other to include not only the amicable settlement, but the settlement by surrender of the one party to the other. What the Legislature, therefore, seems to have meant by the sentence I have cited was that the conciliator should inquire into the circumstances and causes of the difference—that he should do this, not by means of a regular formal inquiry with witnesses, but by communication with the parties, and that he should by all means in his power endeavour to bring about a settlement, whether by agreement or by the surrender of the one party to the demands of the other.

[ocr errors]

If, leaving our own country, we look abroad, we shall find that one of the early efforts at conciliation and arbitration in trade disputes was made in France by a law of the 18th of March, 1806, which established at Lyons a "conseil de prud'hommes" and a “bureau de conciliation." The council, as originally constituted, consisted of five “negociants fabricants" and four "chefs d'atelier," and was formed, as the law expresses it, to terminate by way of conciliation the small differences which daily arise, whether between the manufacturers and the workpeople or between the foremen (chefs d'atelier) and their fellow-workmen (compagnons) and apprentices, and also summarily to determine disputes to the amount of 60 frs. in respect of which conciliation had failed. To carry this jurisdiction into effect, a “bureau de conciliation" was to be open every day from II to i, at which two members of the council one from each class of memberswere to be present.

No doubt in consequence of the success of the Lyons experiment, a decree was issued three years later (11 June, 1809), which provided for the establishment of “conseils de prud'hommes” in various districts of France, and extended their jurisdiction over the classes described as “les marchands fabricants, les chefs d'atelier, contre-maîtres, teinturiers, ouvriers, compagnons et apprentis." It is not needful to detail the provisions of this general law, or to point out in what particulars it varied from the original institution at Lyons: it is enough for my purpose to indicate the general scope of this French legislation which has probably not been without its influence on the history of trade institutions even in England. The “conseils de prud'hommes" do not undertake any adjustment of the future rates or conditions of labour.

Of all British colonies, New Zealand has shown the most anxious desire to subject the relations of master and man to the will and wisdom of its Legislature; and the result has been the formation of a wonderful code of labour laws which

regulate many matters usually left to voluntary agreement, and, above all things, for the present purpose, they have made arbitration in trade disputes compulsory, and the awards binding.

In 1894 there was passed in the colony an Act which provides for the registration and incorporation of societies lawfully associated for the purpose of protecting or furthering the interests of employers or workmen. On registration all the members of the society become subject to the jurisdiction given to a Board and the court by the Act. In like manner, a body representing any number of industrial unions may be registered as an industrial association.

Under a previous Act of 1878 trade unions might be registered. We thus get three classes of registered bodies : Industrial unions; industrial associations ; trade unions. In the next place, the Act of 1894 goes on to make provision with respect to industrial agreements, i.e. agreements between any of the following, viz. industrial unions, industrial associations, trade unions, and employers ; such an agreement may provide for any matter or thing affecting any industrial matter, or the prevention or settlement of an industrial dispute. Every industrial agreement is made binding on every person who, during the term of the agreement, is a member of any industrial union, or association, or trade union party to the agreement, and on every employer concurring in it. The Act then constitutes a Board of Conciliation in every industrial district, i.e. a part of the colony, to be determined from time to time by the Governor, and also a single Court of Arbitration for the whole colony. The Boards of Conciliation are elected by industrial unions of workmen and employers respectively, with the addition of a chairman, who is to be an impartial person, to be elected by the other members of the Board. Now what disputes can these Boards take cognizance of ? They are, first, disputes referred to them for settlement by or pursuant to an industrial agreement, and any industrial dispute

in respect of which any party to the dispute may require, in a prescribed form, a reference to the Board ; so that any one party desirous of conciliation may compel another and unwilling party to submit the dispute to arbitration, or, failing that, to the court. For whenever the Board of Conciliation reports their inability to bring about a settlement of a dispute satisfactorily to the parties thereto, any party may require the reference of this dispute to the court, which is to consist of three members-one to be appointed on the recommendation of the representatives of the workmen, and another on that of the employers, and the third, who is to be a judge of the Supreme Court, by the Governor, proprio motu. The award of the court is to specify the persons on whom it is to be binding, and the period, not exceeding two years, during which its provisions may be enforced, during which period the award is binding upon all unions, associations, and persons upon whom it is declared to be binding.

Now, pausing here, we seem to have arrived at the somewhat formidable conclusion that a master who has never joined any trade or industrial union, may be brought against his will by an industrial union of men, first before the Conciliation Board, and then before the court, and be under an obligation for two years to carry on his business and pay wages at a rate which he may deem excessive, or on terms and subject to conditions which may make his business irksome and distasteful or ruinous to him. But, and this is noteworthy, as indicative of the character of the legislation, the individual workman is exposed to no such peril. He can only be reached through some industrial or trade union, or industrial association of which he has constituted himself a member.

The next question that arises is—How is such an award to be enforced? The Act provides that it may be enforced in the same manner as a judgment of the Supreme Court to the same effect, against the property of any industrial or trade

union, or industrial association, or against the property or person of any individual ; but it is provided that no process shall issue for the enforcement of the award by payment from a union, or association, or person, of a greater sum than £ 500. Two points here seem to be clear—the one that as large a sum can be recovered from an individual employer as from an association which is a union of unions; the other that a sum of £500 would certainly be a negligable quantity in the expenditure on a great strike like that of the engineers, and would therefore probably be inoperative as a restraint. But, beyond this, several questions occur. Suppose, for instance, an award directs an employer to pay to each of 250 workmen £2 a week for wages, and directs the delivery to the workmen of the materials of the industry in a given condition, and the master refuses compliance. Can the award be sued on by each workman for the £2 a week, or will the £500 limit operate when the employer has been directed to pay one week's wages to all his men which amount to £500, or will it only be reached when he has paid £500 to each workman? Again, is his refusal to supply the materials as directed a contempt of court? and can he be imprisoned indefinitely at the discretion of the court? These questions I can ask, but I have no materials to enable me to answer them.

The labour legislation of New Zealand, including the statutes regulating trade disputes, is of a highly experimental character, and its results will be watched with much interest in this country. Already voices are heard on both sides -some alleging that the results are highly successful-others averring that capital is driven from the colony by the heavy fetters placed on its employment. Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb are now, I believe, on a visit to the colony to study these questions, and we may expect much information from their labours. But a much longer time must probably elapse before the fruit of the enactments will ripen in a new country, where the soil must yet for a long time absorb the chief

« PreviousContinue »