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THE ESTABLISHMENT OF TRADE BOARDS

Utilising experience gained in Australia, Parliament in 1909 passed an Act empowering the Board of Trade

(now the Ministry of Labour) to establish a Trade Board in any case where the rate of wages prevailing in any

branch was "exceptionally low as compared with that in other employments." The Board consisted of a

number of persons selected by the Minister as representatives of employers, an equal number as

representatives of the workers, with a chairman and generally two colleagues not associated with the trade,

and known as the Appointed Members. These three members hold a kind of casting vote, and can in general

secure a decision if the sides disagree.

No instruction was given in the statute as to the principles on which the Board should determine wages, but

the Board has necessarily in mind on the one side the requirements of the worker, and on the other the

economic position of the trade. The workers' representatives naturally emphasise the one aspect and the

employers the other, but the appointed members and the Board as a whole must take account of both. They

must consider what the trade in general can afford to pay and yet continue to prosper and to give full employment to the workers. They must also consider the rate at which the worker can pay his way and live a

decent, civilised life. Mere subsistence is not enough. It is a cardinal point of economic justice that a

well−organised society will enable a man to earn the means of living as a healthy, developed, civilised being

by honest and useful service to the community. I would venture to add that in a perfectly organised society he

would not be able−−charitable provision apart−−to make a living by any other method. There is nothing in

these principles to close the avenues to personal initiative or to deny a career to ability and enterprise. On the

contrary, it is a point of justice that such qualities should have their scope, but not to the injury of others. For

this, I suggest with confidence to a Liberal audience, is the condition by which all liberty must be defined.[1]

[Footnote 1: I may perhaps be allowed to refer to my Elements of Social Justice, Allen &Unwin, 1921, for the

fuller elaboration of these principles.]

If we grant that it is the duty of the Boards to aim at a decent minimum−−one which in Mr. Seebohm

Rowntree's phrase would secure the "human needs" of labour−−we have still some very difficult points of

principle and of detail to settle. First and foremost, do we mean the needs of the individual worker or of a

family, and if of the latter, how large a family? It has been generally thought that a man's wages should suffice

for a family on the ground that there ought to be no economic compulsion−−though there should be full legal

and social liberty−−for the mother to eke out deficiencies in the father's payment by going out to work. It has

also been thought that a woman is not ordinarily under a similar obligation to maintain a family, so that her

"human needs" would be met by a wage sufficient to maintain herself as an independent individual.

These views have been attacked as involving a differentiation unfair in the first instance to women, but in the

second instance to men, because opening a way to undercutting. The remedy proposed is public provision for

children under the industrial age, and for the mother in return for her work in looking after them. With this

subvention, it is conceived, the rates for men or women might be equalised on the basis of a sufficiency for

the individual alone. This would certainly simplify the wages question, but at the cost of a serious financial

question. I do not, myself, think that "human needs" can be fully met without the common provision of certain

essentials for children. One such essential−−education, has been long recognised as too costly to be put upon

the wages of the worker. We may find that we shall have to add to the list if we are to secure to growing

children all that the community would desire for them. On the other hand, the main responsibility for directing

its own life should be left to each family, and this carries the consequence, that the adult−man's wage should

be based not on personal but on family requirements.