GIVE THE WORKER k FAIR BREAK
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By Frank Cousins
General Secretary, Transport and General Workers' Union IN examining the wages structure or working conditions of most industries, it is usually possible to make comparisons covering substantial numbers of employees doing relatively similar work in the particular industry, where manufacturing processes are, in many cases, not too dissimilar. This is not, however, the position in what is loosely described as the road transport industry. There are sortie basic principles which cover all the industry, and the provisions of the various Acts are common to all— with such variations as have been regarded as appropriate
to the sub-divisions of the industry. .
Transport operators have readily accepted that they are, by the nature of the work performed, the hand-maidens or servants of other industries and the community in general, but the application of this principle by a body such as a large municipal trans port undertaking operating a passenger-carrying public service is obviouslydifferent from that used by a haulage contractor with only two or three vehicles under his control. It is against this background that the trade unions have faced the task of establishing fair wages and conditions of employment.
Before dealing in detail with the question of whether transport workers are now getting a fair break, it is only right to reflect on some of the progress that has been made, both through the channels of legislation and the use of industrial negotiation procedures.
In the field of legislation the various Road Traffic Acts (which have given attention to such matters as standards of fitness of vehicles, limitation of hours of continuous driving and licensing of vehicles) have been of inestimable value both to the general public and to the workers concerned. We do sometimes tend to forget that it is only during the past 30 years that much of the effective legislative control of road transport in Great Britain has been applied.
Further Action In order to make a broad assessment of the situation as it is now, and of the need for further action, it is necessary to examine separately the position of the four main groups of the industry. These are:—
The group of goods vehicles operating under A and B licences and covered either by the Road Haulage Wages Orders, or by separate agreements as in the case of the British Road Services; The large groups of C-licensed vehicles operated as distribution services for production or manufacturing industries; The vehicles engaged in retail distribution and generally covered by Wages Councils' agreements; And the passenger transport section operated by the London Transport Executive, municipalities and private companies.
On the road haulage side, great progress has been made during the past few years in establishing a basic industrial agreement under the Road Haulage Wages Orders covering the main provisions of employment.
The introduction of the guaranteed weekly wage, overtime calculation on a daily basis, exclusion of week-end working from the normal weekly hours of work, a clear definition of night work with additional payment for such duties, and the establishment of subsistence payments for periods of rest away from home have brought about a completely different position from that which existed before the introduction of the Road Haulage Wages Act, 1938.
In the C-licence section of the industry, many of the agreements covering wages .and conditions have followed c16
a fairly similar pattern with, in quite a number of instances, a better definition of hours of work, higher compensatory rates for overtime working, scheduling of hours of duty and higher rates of pay for the basic working week.
Retail distribution is numerically one of the largest sections, but it is not possible in a review of this nature to go into detail of the progress made, other than to say that in many of the retail groups the conditions of employment of the transport workers concerned were considerably worse than those parallel sections covered by the current Road Haulage Wages Orders.
The introduction of Wages Council agreements has meant material improvement for many of these workers. The unions can therefore say that collective bargaining, arising from a reasonably high and developing degree of membership in these sections of the road transport industry, has paid substantial dividends for the workers concerned. Despite this, however, the trade unions have felt that in many cases there has been a reluctance on the part of the employers' representatives to accept improvements which have become common practice elsewhere in industry.
The Road Traffic Acts of 1930 and 1933 defined hours of employment as 11 in any 24, with a relaxation in certain circumstances for longer hours to be worked. They also allow a spreadover of these hours to be applied, subject to there being a limit to the hours of actual duty.
Before the introduction of the Acts limiting the hours of duty, it was not at all unusual for road transport workers, both in long-distance haulage and in the passenger transport sections, to be compelled by employers to work excessive hours.
This practice is not now followed by reputable employers, but it is well known that some of the more irresponsible and inefficient operators do quite frequently instruct their, employees to complete a job or a journey regardless of the limits called for in what used to be Section 19 of the 1930. Act, now Section 73 of the 1960 Road Traffic Act.
The unions have, on many occasions, protested about this and expressed the view that this problem arises, in the main, from the acceptance by many employers of the idea that the maximum hours of work legally allowed in road transport should be regarded as the normal hours.
Shorter Hours Needed
It is felt that the speeds of modern vehicles, their greatly increased carrying capacities, and the general tendency throughout industry to reduce working hours have not been matched by corresponding thinking in the road transport industry. The need for a reduction in maximum hours without loss of pay is overwhelming.
A further substantial problem, affecting mainly longdistance haulage, is the reluctance on the part of some operators to plan their schedules of work to avoid unnecessary night duty. We may have to recognize that some jobs done by road transport are of such urgency that night work is necessarily involved. There is, however, little doubt that planned operation, particularly in large concerns, could provide means of completing much of the work during the daylight hours. The job of the road' transport man is, even under normal conditions, becoming more difficult and is bringing a great deal of mental and nervous strain to bear on him. When this is accentuated by the worsening weather conditions, which usually come in the winter season, journeys which would already be difficult during the day become positively dangerous if operated during the night. '
to encourage operators to transfer their operations to day. duty whenever possible.
Industrial pensions and the need for payment during sickness absence are also matters which we feel have had too little attention. The hazardous and exacting nature of the duties performed by modern transport drivers is such that a great feeling of insecurity and anxiety can develop when men reach middle age. This can be removed only by adequate pensions and sick-pay schemes.
These matters have been discussed on many occasions, but all too often the reply has referred to the difficulties in establishing such schemes instead of dealing with the moral need for their existence. We are satisfied that suitable schemes could be established if the will to do so was there.
Dealing with the road passenger side there are many problems, but those which are outstanding do, in many cases, arise from the fact that passenger workers feel that these services are undercut to the basis of inefficiency of
operation. This circumstance frequently brings dissatisfaction to the travelling public and the inevitable attempt on their part to find alternative means of transport.
Relationships between the public and the personnel (particularly as they affect the conductor) are strained because the unthinking blame the staff for the limitation of services and do not recognize that this is as much of a complaint by the staff as it is by the passenger.
The dissatisfaction is so marked that the union is under great pressure from its membership within the passenger side to press for either a public or Government inquiry into the deterioration in services run by some undertakings.
Poor Pay Causes Shortages
Many undertakings are suffering from an acute shortage of experienced staff. This arises, in our opinion, from the fact that the wage levels (particularly in earning capacity) are usually below those operative in industry. The conditions of employment are also less favourable.
The general reduction in hours of employment has, in most cases, made possible the operation of a five-day working week with a consequent opportunity for social and cultural relaxation during the week-end. This is hardly ever the lot of the passenger worker. As a consequence there is a prevalent feeling that the present level of total remuneration received from a job, which includes Sunday and holiday-time working, is very unsatisfactory—particularly if it is recognized that these workers were amongst the higher-income bracket of ordinary industrial employees before the last war.
Irregular hours, widely varying shift arrangements, holidays which fall outside the normally understood holiday period, all bring their disadvantages. The workers feel that these conditions should be compensated by higher basic pay ltd a real reduction in total working hours. There have for too long been the conflicting problems which are always associated with an industry within which it has become an accepted practice to work a consistent and regular amount of overtime. Employers tend to look at total earnings and assume that the worker is satisfied if the income remains at a fairly constant figure, whilst the worker continues a rather resentful acceptance of the hours of work based on a partial fear of an inevitable decline in the standards of living if pressure for a reduction in overtime work is maintained.
In the.most extreme cases this causes a further loss of operating staff as they seek jobs with fewer hours of work. The employer then finds it necessary, because of staff shortages, to curtail services further and thus drives away more customers.
Public Willing To Pay
The men and women in this industry have always hoped to give satisfaction to the community and there is a growing feeling that the general public would be quite willing to pay a justifiable and reasonable charge for a service which could be both adequate and efficient, provided that it was known that the intention of the undertaking was to create proper wages and conditions of service for those employed by it.
It will no doubt be readily understood that our members are well aware that the recent inquiry into the wages and working conditions of railway employees gave consideration to this question and made a report which bore out the claim that such employees_ were being unfairly rewarded. The feeling amongst road passenger transport workers is that a similar investigation into their own affairs would be bound to reach the same conclusion.
With many of the passenger transport undertakings we have been able to negotiate agreements which provide fOr some payment of wages during absence owing to sickness and also to establish retirement pensions of a limited character. These are now regarded as requiring revision in the light of conditions in other industries.
It will be seen that we regard the problems facing the transport industry as both varied and complex if the workers are to have a really fair break. Security both during a working life and upon retirement is a justifiable ambition. Shorter actual working hours and a reduction in the legal maximum hours of driving, a strict enforcement of the law, scheduling of work and wherever possible the limitation of night duty are also required.
These problems are not insurmountable if there is goodwill on both sides of the negotiating table.