Mexborough & Swinton Times, September 16, 1939
Crisis Work Rouses Storm
Warm Conisborough U.D.C. Debate
Criticism Over “Standing By” Pay
Statement on Paid A.R.P. Jobs
Conisborough Urban Council on Wednesday debated what one member described as “one of the biggest scandals” he had ever known.
When the Chairman, Coun. T. Shephard, asked for any other business, Coun. P. Knowles asked if there was to be no reference to a meeting held the night before. There had been, he said, a special sitting of the Council, and members had agreed that certain procedure adopted a week ago had been “most unreasonable”. The Chief Financial Officer had supplied them with details of wages received by workmen, and hours worked.
Standing Orders Bar.
Here, the Chairman pointed out that unless Standing Orders were suspended, a man´swages could not be discussed.
Coun. Knowles said he was not mentioning names and the issue did not arise. The number of hours for which workmen had been paid was so great that it was impossible for any person to work those hours reasonably. It was his opinion that if a man worked twenty hours, day after day, he was incapable of carrying out his duties satisfactorily at the end of the week.
Eventually, Coun. G. Oldfield had moved and he (Coun. Knowles) had seconded a motion that the action of the employees in working that time was unpatriotic under the circumstances, but to his amazement after they had heard everyone of one opinion, they got only the mover and seconder voting for the motion, and it was lost. Perhaps it was due to the fact that a number of members who would have voted “for” had to leave to go to other meetings, but those who had been `emphatic in their denunciation sat dumb”.
Coun. B, Roberts said some of the things he had said the night before, he was prepared to say that evening. He thought it true to say that the whole of the Council had been criticised as having agreed to this. The Surveyor had had to have certain work done, and he had undertaken it to the best of his ability. It would have been difficult to have recruited certain men required from the ranks of the unemployed or did not, however, agree to “people getting tradesmen´s wages while standing by”, and they had been assured that this would not take place again.
Coun. Roberts said he thought there were other matters that should be gone into. Some of those people who were getting wages on national service should be more patriotic; they had others in the district doing jobs voluntarily. Although it was true to say that the money would come from the Government eventually, people such as themselves would have it to pay.
Coun. R. H. Shephard said he had strongly objected to the procedure the night before. He himself had done as many as 16 and 17 hours a day without payment, and he was “supposed to be having his holiday week with pay”. If they were going to let men get time and a half after they had done their day´s work, it was time something was done. There were many fully trained A.R.P. men giving their time and services free.
Coun. F. Kelsall said he had had to leave the previous meeting on a matter of national duty, and was not present when the vote was taken. He was, however, in full agreement with the motion that was lost. He was ashamed of the workmen who got money for standing by while “we and others were patrolling the streets for nothing”.
Coun. G. Oldfield said this was one of the biggest scandals he had ever known. In the last war there were lads standing by for a shilling a day; here there were men standing by for double time. “I am most emphatic about it, and I want the public to know. It should never occur again”.
Coun. H. Gomersall said he was wondering why they called the meeting the night before.
Coun. Oldfield: The public has a right to know.
Coun. Gomersall said he quite agreed, but why have two meetings on the same subject. No mention had been made of the exceptional matters the Surveyor had had to deal with, and the Surveyor had fully explained the reasons why this extra money had been paid. They should remember that everything was “red hot” and work of this kind had to be proceeded with. Yet, on the lines of the motion, there was no patriotism shown by the workmen. On the previous night, mention had been made of services under the local authority being of the highest importance. The service that he (Coun. Gomersall) represented (the Air Raid Wardens´ Service) was the first service that entered into it. So that the question was ruled out. He thought the workmen should have taken into consideration the patriotism which had been shown from the very beginning. As Vice-Chairman of the Don Valley Joint Committee he could say that the whole atmosphere had been permeated by a voluntary spirit and the question as to how much would be allowed never entered into it. Yet, when an emergency arose, there were many receiving time and a quarter, time and a half and double time. A man was incapable of doing such long hours reasonably, but not incapable of holding out his hand.
Counc. A. M. Carlin said he thought it time to clear the air so far as wardens and Special Constables were concerned. Apart from post wardens, who had 24 hours duty to do, no warden or special constable received any pay for the duty he did.
Coun. J. T. E. Collins said all men involved were being condemned and he could not accept a motion of that kind, because they had been told by the Surveyor that workmen had to work on tasks involved in the reception, for entraining to others parts of the country of evacuees. That accounted for most of what was spoken about. When the workmen´s wages were examined, it was found that only eleven out of about seventy had received £6. Coun. Collins was saying “to condemn the whole of the workmen- and that is what the resolution intends”, when Coun. Knowles said that was not so. It said “men concerned”. This was, he contented, a quibble to excuse not voting.
Coun. Collins said he voted and he never minded people knowing what he did in committee. It had not been mentioned that the British Legion had offered their services voluntarily so far back as March. Sixty-three had volunteered, and surely if work had to be performed of a voluntary character,
The service vantage could have been taken of this offer. It seemed that because some of them did not agree to condemn workmen for accepting wages for which in the main, they had worked, apart from the time they had been standing by, they were to be criticised. “Put yourselves in the same place as the workmen. Who would have refused the money that was being offered? And I want to remind the members that nothing has been said of those who are making millions out of armaments”.
Coun. Collins said the resolution was so far-reaching in effect, that they would have condemned those workmen who were engaged in connection with arrangements for evacuees. How could they support a motion of that character? It seemed to him that it had not been made specifically clear. It was a very sorry business, but when the Surveyor gave his explanation, with the exception of standing to, it appeared that members of the Council were satisfied in the main, with that explanation. The Chairman had confirmed that statement. In the circumstances, therefore, how could the members who were present to vote, put up their hands for such a motion?
Coun. Collins said he understood the British Legion had said the Council had neglected their offer. They did not, however, know about it. Otherwise they would have been only too pleased to deal with it. They understood that the list of names had been submitted to the area officer responsible for enrolling volunteers for that particular kind of work.
One in Five
Coun. J. Humphries said he was one of the five who voted, and he was not ashamed of it. The double time that had been worked was on a Sunday. They did not expect a man to work for nothing. Standing by was something he knew little about, but he would say that to pay one man for standing by until he was relieved was the equivalent of paying another man who might have done the job.
The Surveyor (Mr. H. Thirlwall) said the point had not been stressed that the majority of the men who were called upon to do certain work had to do it immediately, some on the Saturday night and the Sunday, and only a certain number of men could do the work, and they had to be paid trade union rates of wages. On the Sunday, work had to be performed which would have had to have been done, whether there had been an emergency or not – namely that of clearing away the storm debris. Men engaged on that work on a Sunday would have been paid double time normally. Although he had been cleared of any censure the night before, the whole of the discussion that evening had tended to point a vote of censure against him, and he resented it.
The Chairman indicated, as other members who had already spoke rose again, that only one speech could be allowed from each.
Coun. Knowles: I wish I could have another five minutes.
The Chairman said the only thing he objected to was the rate of pay for standing by. A lot of trouble had been caused by the fact that many persons who had not given their services voluntarily when they had had the opportunity, were now seeking positions.
The minutes of the special meeting were adopted.