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Is R.H.E. Beyond the Law?

3rd February 1950
Page 44
Page 44, 3rd February 1950 — Is R.H.E. Beyond the Law?
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

asks Eric Cant

FROM the time when the first acquired • undertaking fell into the hands of the British Transport Commission, fully a year passed before the Road Haulage Executive announced that, as its vehicles no longer operated under A or B licences, it was not bound by the provisions of the Road Haulage Wages Act, 1938. The Executive said, however, that pending the drawing up of an entirely new agreement between itself and the trade unions, it would honour the existing Road Haulage Orders.

Here, then, is a set of circumstances which, apart from calling for a thorough investigation as to legality, has caused much misgiving. There is a moral as well as a legal aspect. Let us look first at the moral side. What is the urge prompting the R.H.E. to divest itself of its obligations (for obligations they are) under the Road Haulage Wages Act? Is it that the Executive is so trixious to provide improved terms of service and wages for its employees that it does not wish to be hampered by the complicated structure of the current Road Haulage Wages Orders, or may it be that the R.H.E. has the reverse in mind?

Under the 1938 Act, a minimum below which no

• employer may go is laid down, and any employer may pay higher rates, give more subsisteace, longer holidays, pensions, sick pay and bonuses Consequently, there is no .justification for the R.H.E.'s seeking relief from the provisions of the 1938 Act and its proposal to replace them by a voluntary agreement. One is left with the assumption that the Executive intends to set up new machinery which will allow for a reversal of the procedure described.

So far, no mention of the terms of this proposed new agreement has been made to the men mainly concerned, either through the Executive or through their trade union, although negotiations have been going on for more than six months. It is a great pity that the R.H.E. should lend itself to such a scheme, which can tend only to build up mistrust of those in command, both in the Executive and the trade unions.

Doubts on Legality.

Is the proposal legal? The Road Haulage Wages Act became law on July 13, 1938, and according to its preamble is "An Act to make provision with respect to the remuneration of persons employed in connection with the mechanical transport of goods by road and with respect to the making of recommendations and reports, and the settlement of disputes, relating to matters affecting such transport."

I am concerned only with Part I of the Act, which is headed "Regulation of remuneration of workers employed by public carriers and limited carriers in connection with the mechanical transport of goods by road." Paragraph 1 of Part I, section (2), reads, "The work to which this Part of the Act applies is road haulage work in connection with any goods vehicle specified in an A licence or a B licence granted under the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933. . ." It goes on to state that this part of this Act does not apply where minimum rates of wages have been fixed by any other enactment, or to employees of the railways.

No other enactment can be quoted which deals or c6 purports to deal with the question of wages and conditions in the road haulage industry, neither can it be claimed that employees of the R.H.E. are employees of the railways, so I may dismiss this part of the section from my argument.

Parliament's Intention What was the intention of Parliament when the Act was drafted and as it passed through its various stages to the Statute Book? In 1938 all mechanically propelled vehicles used for the transport of goods by road were operated under A, B or C licences. Obviously, it was impossible in 1938 to include vehicles which in 1950 would be.operating under R.H.E. permits. Nevertheless, it was certainly the intention of Parliament to provide statutory wages and conditions for all toad haulage workers who were employed by public carriers as then defined.

Succeeding Acts of Parliament, Statutory Instruments, Orders in Council and /or Defence Regulations, have not in any way modified the conditions to which this Act applies, although the passage of the Transport Act, 1947, has created a new group of vehicles within those specified in Part I of the Wages Act. The vehicles in question are those operating under permits issued by their owner, the Road Haulage, Executive, which is still a public carrier within the meaning of the Act.

It is, therefore, abundantly clear that it is the intention of the 1938 Wages Act that the R.H.E. should be included along with Aand B-licence operators in Part I of the Act. For the R.H.E. to argue that because it no longer operates under A or B licences, it is, therefore, exempt, is proof that the Executive is ready to observe the letter of the Act, whilst totally disregarding the intention.

The Transport Act, 1947, Part VII, Sec. 95 (i), says, "It shall be the duty of the Commission, except so far as the Commission is satisfied that adequate machinery exists for achieving the purposes of this sub-section, to seek consultation with any organization appearing to the Commission to be appropriate...." The purpose of the sub-section referred to-, is to negotiate terms and conditions of employment. Surely the Commission is satisfied that adequate machinery already exists for this purpose, in the form of the 1938 Wages Act? Why, then, should it seek to draw up a new agreement? If the existing .machinery be inadequate for the R.H.E., it must be equally inadequate for private enterprise and should be scrapped.

Sub-section (4) of the same section says, Nothing in this Section shall be construed as prohibiting the Commission or any Executive from taking part together with other employers in the establishment and maintenance of machinery for the settlement of terms and conditions of employment...." This seems to indicate that Parliament intended, even as late as 1947, to leave no doubt in the minds of those whose duty it would be to operate the Act, that they would be free, if not actually instructed, to maintain existing agreements and co-operate with other employers in such negotiations as become necessary to meet the demands from either side for variations. It does not give the R.H.E. carte blanche-to disregard the 1938 Act.

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