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Railwaymen's Wages

Volume 40: debated on Wednesday 12 May 1920

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My Lords, I rise to ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1) whether it is the fact that a further demand for an increase of wages has been made by certain representatives of the railway men; whether that demand is consistent with the agreement come to last January; what is the estimated cost of the demand; and on whom, if granted, the cost would fall, the shareholders, the public, or the taxpayer; (2) whether he can state if any negotiations are likely to take place to which His Majesty's Government will be parties, and, if so, by what Minister will they be conducted, and whether the sanction of the Cabinet will be obtained before any settlement is reached; (3) whether the negotiations, if any, will be with both the railway unions or with only one; and whether it is the case that the separate action of two railway unions makes any permanent settlement with the railway men very difficult.

With regard to the first paragraph of my noble friend's Question, it is the case that further demands for the increase of the remuneration of railway workers have been put forward by the representatives of the railwaymen. These demands are for increases in the rates of pay which, in the case of enginemen, were agreed upon in August last, and in the case of other employees engaged in working the traffic, were agreed upon in principle in January and were finally settled as to their details in March. The demands put forward by the National Union of Railwaymen are for a uniform increase of 20s. a week, which, if granted, would probably involve the payment of between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000 a year apart have the increases which would have to be given to other classes of men employed by railway companies but not engaged in working the traffic. Under the present arrangements between the Government and the railway companies, the increased cost of meeting any such demands would fall upon the Exchequer, but probably it would ultimately become necessary to increase railway charges further in order to meet them.

I pass to the second paragraph of the Question. These demands are being dealt with, in accordance with the pm edurc agreed upon in November last, between the railway employees and the Government with the consent of representatives of the companies by the Wages Boards which have been set up, and are not being dealt with by any Government Department or the Cabinet.

As to the third paragraph, demands for increased remuneration have been put forward by both the principal railway unions and are now being dealt with. It is certainly the case that, as suggested by my noble friend, the participation in negotiations such as these of more than one union that claims to represent the same class of employee adds to the difficulty of the negotiations.

The noble Earl did not answer one part of my noble friend's Question—namely, whether the sanction of the Cabinet will be obtained before any settlement is reached. He said that the negotiations are not being carried out by the Cabinet, but perhaps he did not notice the phrase in which the Question is couched.

I confess I did not, and the Ministry of Transport did not observe it either. The Cabinet will either transfer its sanction to the Wages Board and authorise them within certain limits to make an agreement, or else, having come to a provisional agreement, the sanction of the Cabinet will have to be obtained. In any case the Cabinet must retain the responsibility.

It is not quite clear whether the demand now made is consistent with the agreement come to last January, or whether it is a breach of it.

I cannot say whether it is a breach of agreement on the part of the railwaymen. These are increases upon the rates of pay which were agreed to in August of last year.

That part of my Question is directed to eliciting this fact—whether the agreement of January was for a definite period, or whether it was not; whether, in fact, the agreement left it free to the men to raise such questions at any time they chose, however soon, or whether this early revival of the question is a breach of the agreement then arrived at.

I do no know whether my noble friend is going to be in the House to-morrow afternoon. If so, I shall be glad to make a further statement upon that point.