An industrial relations dispute: weekly and fortnightly pays
· These documents are about a longstanding dispute between shipyard employers and employees.
Shipyard workers on the Clyde were traditionally paid fortnightly and this had been considered a grievance by the workers, probably since the middle of the 19th century
The arguments put forward by the workers for the introduction of weekly pays were:
that the workers were due money owing to them and that the employer benefited from the use of the money which they had held back in wages.
that fortnightly pays were not generally paid anywhere except on the Clyde.
that the difficulties of managing a fortnightly pay made many workers dependent on shopkeepers' credit and that this was worth about 1 s (5p) a week to them. They claimed that pressure was put on the employers by the shopkeepers.
that the difficulties were particularly severe for workers who had been laid off and and were starting back. The employee operated three days lying time so that if he started on a Thursday a worker would have to wait 16 days for his first pay. This was very harsh on men who had just suffered a period of unemployment.
that smaller firms were in the habit of actually paying out wages weekly by giving a 'sub' on the 'blind' Saturday (the Saturday on which the men were not paid) and charging 2½ % interest - an annual rate of 65%.
that the drinking habits of some of the men, acknowledged by both sides, would be moderated by having the smaller sum weekly rather than the larger sum which encouraged long drinking parties.
The employers arguments were:
- that time lost in absenteeism each pay day was a serious problem and the problem would simply be doubled by the introduction of weekly pays.
- that it would cost extra in administrative and clerical staff to issue weekly pays.
The issue was a difficult one for the workers to take up as negotiating was done by craft unions for the pay and conditions of their own members, but the Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades was pressurised to take the issue up in 1896 and in 1898 they threatened the employers with strike action after a ballot of their members. Negotiations resulted in an agreement with the employers for a trial period of one year of weekly pays. The 'trial' was to assess the effect of the new system on absenteeism. The employers reverted to fortnightly pays at the end of the year, claiming that the absenteeism had increased.
It was not until 1905 that the workers were again sufficiently well organised to force the employers to negotiate by threatening with strike action. It was agreed to pay weekly wages from the end of July 1906.
Evidence from the Clyde Shipbuilders' Association shows a decrease in absenteeism for the 3 years after the introduction of weekly pays but an increase after that. It is likely though that absenteeism was, as the unions claimed, due to more complicated factors than the system of payment. Workers on piece rates reacted to fluctuations in the amount of work available and in the pricelist by varying the time they were available for work.
Conference of the Trades' Councils and Trades in the Clyde District
One of the delegates moved as a resolution:
'That in the opinion of that conference the present system of paying wages was detrimental to the interests of the workers and that an effort be make to secure weekly wages'. He claimed the present system of paying wages was detrimental to the workers because of wages being kept back too long. For instance, if a man started work on the Thursday before the pay day he had to wait 16 days before he received any wages. That fell extremely hard upon such men especially if they had been out of work previously.
Where the shoe pinched hardest of all however was the inconvenience caused by not having the money always at hand when wanted. For instance, most of the working classes had to deal on the credit system and had therefore to go to those who would give him credit, whereas if his wife had the money at hand she could take her order to the cheapest market and thereby save some 2s (10p) per week.
It was a pity they had the necessity of dealing with grocers at all, but it was a necessary evil. At present they had that fraternity up in arms against cooperation because the co-operation system was detrimental to the traders. It was not for the benefit of the working classes that that fraternity was up in arms, but they were taking a very high-handed policy and tyrannical method of dealing with co-operation and discharging all persons from their employment who had any share whatever in the co-operative societies. Sir Wm. Pearce paid weekly wages for a time, but the shopkeepers got up petition intimating that so long as he paid weekly wages he would not get their support as their parliamentary representative.
It was perfectly evident that it would be a great boon to the working classes to receive their wages weekly and he was certain the day was not far distant when the employers would be compelled by Act of Parliament to pay weekly wages.
The Govan Press, 16 May 1896
There is no contradiction about the fact that the wives did in the past ask that the fortnightly wages might be reverted to. I am talking in a friendly way without any feeling against the most intemperate of the men, but these wives asked the employers to go back to the fortnightly pays so that they might have one quiet Saturday night in the house. These are things that cannot be gainsaid.
Mr Dunlop, representing the Clyde Shipbuilders' Association.
At one of our meetings when we considered this question of weekly pays, it was stated very distinctly by my colleague - and I think this is bearing upon the lost time - that instead of the wives going to the firm and asking the fortnightly wages to be introduced, one of them said that her experience was that she was getting a fortnightly pay weekly instead of a week's pay fortnightly, and I think that is really the kernel of the question.
Alexander Wilkie, General Secretary of the Associated Shipwrights' Society.
Transcript of negotiations between employers and unions, 1898.
The men were buying during those twelve months what I understand and believe was a jewel of very great price; they were going to get weekly pays and be ever so much better off than they were for the 50 or 60 or 80 years that they had been paid fortnightly wages - that was to be a mighty relief from their serfdom' to get weekly pays. If they had wanted the weekly pays they would have shown by their action and words that they would try and keep them, but the contrary was entirely the case.
Mr David J. Dunlop, representing the Clyde Shipbuilders' Association.
Of course you said that the fortnightly wages had to go away because of bad time-keeping. I believe that was a strong point there, but I think you will remember that we held that as far as the bad time was concerned there were special reasons for it.
The bad time-keeping was very materially affected by one of the worst years we have had; it was one of the wettest years and that compelled the men who were working on the outside to give up work when they would otherwise be working.
Mr Jack, representing the Associated Iron Moulders.
Here more than elsewhere you have the 'boozing Monday'. I believe and we all regret that, but we are inclined to think that it is because the men are paid fortnightly instead of weekly that they have the 'boozing Monday'. They have a lot of money put into their hands once a fortnight - more money than they are accustomed to handle and I believe that if they were paid weekly instead of fortnightly it would put them in a more regular method of living and instead of more time being lost, ultimately there would be less time lost.
Mr George Barnes, representing the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.
There can be nothing worse in my mind that this system of fortnightly pays, because I thing it panders to the shopkeeping class and the pawn brokers. I would always like to see them losing.
Mr Cummings, representing the Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders' Society.
Transcript of negotiations between employers and unions, October 1905