Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Working conditions for women munitions workers

From the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 14th February 1916.



Some remarkable revelations as to the conditions under which women are working in certain munition districts were made by Miss Mary MacArthur in the course of a lecture at Sheffield last night.

At the start of the war, she said, the employment of women to replace men lowered the standard of wages and conditions.  The Government tried to deal with this by adopting in theory the principle of equal work for equal pay, but in practice the employers managed by all sorts of methods to get out of the obligation. [illegible] there had been a constant degradation of the standard.

It could not be said that an equal wage was being paid for equal work.  In even munition work there were still some cases of deplorable sweating.  In one factory in Scotland women were working 83 hours a week at 2¼d. an hour, and in hand-grenade work in an English factory women were earning 15s. a week at 2½d. an hour.

Of course, all the regulations as to bonus and conditions were in abeyance, and thus at a certain northern works a day shift stopped at 10-30 p.m. on Saturday and began at 6-30 on Sunday morning.  As it took some women one and a half hours to reach their homes, they had only about three hours' sleep, and still the firm complained that they had lost time in the morning.  She was glad to say that that state of things was now remedied.

In one case girls of thirteen were working from seven in the morning until nine at night.  Such conditions could not be allowed to continue.

When she pointed out to a Scottish employer that the women were not receiving the same piece rate as the men he replied that he dare not pay it, because the women's output was so much better than the men's that they would be earning £13 a week.

The reforms demanded for women workers included eight-hour shifts, with one day’s rest in seven, canteens and suitable food, rest rooms, proper means of conveyance to and from work, proper housing conditions, equal pay for equal work, and a minimum wage of 6d. an hour.

[It's commonly thought that munitions work was better paid than most jobs open to women during the war, but this report shows that this was not always true.  Mary Macarthur was the founder of the women's trade union., the National Federation of Women Workers.]

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