Drink & Absenteeism

Drink and absenteeism

·          These documents were all submitted to an enquiry into absenteeism ordered by Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions, who made a very controversial speech about time lost through drink when he announced the enquiry in the House of Commons. The enquiry was followed by an Act of Parliament which cut the opening houses of public houses from thirteen to five and a half per day.

Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, 26 March 1915

 

I am very uneasy about the labour situation on the Clyde and Tyne. I have sent a telegram or two lately about it. You may think I am exceeding my sphere of action in doing so, but the efficiency of this fleet is so affected by it that I felt it my duty to wire.

 

To-day an officer in a responsible position arrived. His account of things on the Clyde was most disquieting. He said that the men refused altogether to work on the Saturday afternoon, that they took Wednesday afternoon off every week (if not the whole of Wednesday), and worked on a Sunday because they got double pay for it. He also said that they only worked in a half-hearted manner. My destroyer dockings and refits are delayed in every case by these labour difficulties, and they take twice as long as they need do. I feel that you ought to know the facts, and so put them before you now.

Brian H.F. Barttelot, Royal Navy, Superintendent of H.M. shipbuilding in Clyde district

 

... I have the honour to report on the effect of drink on the output of work.

 

From close observation - and my opinion is shared by all the managers of shipyards - the amount drunk by a section of the men is much greater than it was before the war, and it is on the increase. Those principally concerned are the iron-workers and shipwrights, and on their efficiency the output entirely depends.

 

The sole reason for this heavy drinking is that the men earn more money than they know what to do with.

 

In a shipyard last week where a warship is under repair, work on the inner bottom of the ship was so badly carried out as to suggest at once on inspection that it could not have been done by men who were sober. It was dangerous, and had to be condemned. In the same yard (and it is common in most others) drunken men, nominally at work, have had to be removed. Men are bringing or smuggling liquor into the yards in bottles, and facilities for buying spirits in bulk at public-houses and at licensed grocers must be stopped.

 

All this (and the serious point is that it is getting worse) has a much greater effect on delay than the shortage of labour.

 

I cannot state too forcibly my own opinion that the total prohibition of the sale of spirits would be the most effective act that could at the present time be taken to win this war. Any measure less drastic will not be a cure; it will keep alive the craving which has been growing after six months' indulgence, and some men will endeavour to satisfy it by keeping away from work.

 

The hours I recommend for the public-houses to be open for the sale of drink (not spirits) are from - Noon till 2pm and 7pm till 9pm

and drink must be consumed on premises, a prohibition being placed on the sale of liquor by the bottle by public-houses and by licensed grocers.

 

As to the districts in which restrictions should be enforced, they cannot be too wide. . . . I would like to see - and in this view I am supported by all shipbuilders on the Clyde - the whole city of Glasgow, and from there down to Gourock and Dumbarton on either side of the river, included in the restricted areas.

 

If that is not considered possible, then the following districts closely connected with shipyards must be in the minimum:­

On the North Bank -

 

All Finnieston

All Partick

All Whiteinch

All Scotstoun

All Clydebank

All Dalmuir

All Dumbarton

On the South Bank -

 

From Kinning Park

All Govan

All Renfrew

All Port Glasgow

All Greenock

All Gourock

I would also submit that a most beneficial effect would be produced if the men could be told by some leading statesman exactly and very plainly where they are failing their country. They have been flattered and told what splendid fellows they were just at the time when slackness was beginning to set in, and this has not had a good result. It is not that the men (I am referring always to the men who drink) are bad at heart or unpatriotic, but they have failed through weakness and opportunity, and they know they have failed and would at heart welcome being corrected and put right. Harry J. Wilson, Inspector of Factories, 3 April 1915

 

I have had many interviews from time to time with shipbuilders and engineers on the subject of bad time-keeping among workmen, and to-day I have supplemented my information by interviewing the Chief Constable of Govan and a number of publicans in an area surrounding the largest shipbuilding yards.

 

There does not appear to be any noticeable increase of drinking since the war began. The quantity consumed is about normal, the same men frequent the same premises, and those inclined to drink too much continue as before the war commenced. There is, however, some evidence that small bottles of whisky are purchased and consumed off the premises, especially by men on night-shift work. This, however, is confined to a very few men. For instance, in a yard employing 10,000 three men in one night were found partially intoxicated in the works and expelled.

 

In fairness to the men it should be noted that irregular time is confined largely to certain specific trades: riveters, caulkers, platers, riggers, and to a very much less extent engineers, are the chief offenders; such tradesmen as pattern-makers, moulders, turners, and time-workers generally keep relatively good time. Broadly speaking, the men engaged in outdoor work, that is, on the construction of the ship itself, usually piece-workers, are responsible for most of the irregular time, and their behaviour has cast a stigma on the general class of workers employed in shipbuilding and marine engineering which is certainly not justified by the facts, and it undeserved.

 

Coming to the causes of irregular time-keeping among the outdoor workers, while drinking is an important source of bad time-keeping, it is only one cause, and here again the action of a relatively small proportion will disorganise the work of many others who be capable and willing to work full time. Riveters and platers work in squads, but if one man fails to turn up at 6am the squad cannot proceed, and because of the absence of one man four or five will lose a morning's or possibly a whole day's work. Riveting is hard and exhausting work, and it is frequently and necessarily carried on in trying conditions - exposure in winter to bitter cold and damp. The temptation to take a morning or a day off during very cold or very hot weather is great, as the riveter knows he is indispensable at present, and will not lose his job if he does lie off. Moreover, his pay is sufficient, even with a partial week's work, to keep him and his family in comfort. The machine men working under cover are in a comfortable shop and have not the same temptation to lie off. Again the pay is relatively much less, and being time workers they cannot make up the lost time by a special spurt. Another important point frequently overlooked is that at present, owing to the extraordinarily scarcity of skilled labour, men who in ordinary times would never be employed on account of their irregular habits, are at work in many yards, and materially affect the numbers of those losing time. Briefly, I am convinced that the 'black squad' piece-workers have not risen much above the social position of the man earning 30s(£1.50) a week, yet their remuneration is equal to that of a professional man. They have not yet been educated to spend their wages wisely, and the money is largely wasted, for they have few interests and little to spend their wage on apart from alcohol.

 

For some reason, difficult to define, men do not readily take up riveting and plating, and consequently there is a constant shortage of this class. This shortage has tended to force up wages to such a extent that the present pay is in excess of their needs. The fear of loss of employment is absent, consequently there is no spur to stimulate a man to work regularly such as exists in most callings.

 

The question of fatigue due to prolonged overtime does not arise to any great extent. The same men do not work overtime week after week, and Sunday work is only done by the same man every second or third Sunday. The general feeling among employers is that Sunday work with double pay is not a success, it is considered that stopping it would improve time-keeping in the rest of the week.

 

One large works has just taken a vote of their men on the question of further

restrictions, and I attach particulars of the questions put to them, and the

percentage of men in favour of each alternative.

Per cent

1. Are you in favour of total prohibition?                                                    31

2. Are you in favour of leaving matters as at present?                              44 3.

Are you in favour of reducing hours to from 12 noon to 2pm and 7 to 9pm and on Saturday 6 to 10pm?                                                                                                        11

4. Are you in favour of reducing hours to from 7pm to 9pm on week-days, and Saturday from 6pm to 10pm?                                                                                                 4

5. Leaving hours as at present, but for sale of beer only                              10

 

Out of the 2,500 men employed about two-thirds voted.

 

Most of the drink on the Clyde is consumed on licensed premises; it is not the habit to drink much in the homes. A prohibition on the purchase of alcohol for consumption off the premises would possibly improve one class only, namely, those who have to work at night, and now take liquor to their place of employment. One must also recognise that teetotallers lose time as well as those who do not abstain. Away from shipbuilding pure and simple there does not appear to be any serious irregular time-keeping; it does not exist to any material extent in engineering generally, nor in the iron and steel producing towns in Lanarkshire.

 

The whole question has arisen because of the action of a few men in the more important shipbuilding yards, and there is a feeling that the mass of workers throughout the country should not be penalised because of the dissipated and unpatriotic behaviour of a small minority of overpaid men in one or two specific callings.

 

More comfortable working conditions improve timekeeping; for instance, during the last three weeks of fine bright weather distinctly better time has been kept. Again, much time lost by the 'black squad' is due to wet and windy weather; work outside is difficult and almost impossible under such conditions unless the building berth is a roofed one. To meet this difficulty, sheds are being built over the berths devoted to submarines and small shallow draft craft.

 

Figures showing the percentage of hours lost by outside workers are valueless unless allowance is made for the periods in which work is impossible owing to weather conditions. It is not uncommon for men to work on piece work until their clothing is wet through and the experience of employers is that, in this condition, if they hang about afterwards, colds and chills supervene, with perhaps the consequent loss of a week or fortnight's employment. These facts I mention so that the men's position can be given full justice.

Report and Statistics of Bad Time kept in Shipbuilding, Munitions and Transport Areas, 1915.

More comfortable working conditions improve timekeeping; for instance, during the last three weeks of fine bright weather distinctly better time has been kept. Again, much time lost by the 'black squad' is due to wet and windy weather; work outside is difficult and almost impossible under such conditions unless the building berth is a roofed one. To meet this difficulty, sheds are being built over the berths devoted to submarines and small shallow draft craft.

 

Figures showing the percentage of hours lost by outside workers are valueless unless allowance is made for the periods in which work is impossible owing to weather conditions. It is not uncommon for men to work on piece work until their clothing is wet through and the experience of employers is that, in this condition, if they hang about afterwards, colds and chills supervene, with perhaps the consequent loss of a week or fortnight's employment. These facts I mention so that the men's position can be given full justice.

Report and Statistics of Bad Time kept in Shipbuilding, Munitions and Transport Areas, 1915.

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