history of master builders kwazulu-natal part 5
The agitation against the National Industrial Council for the Building Industry led by the Association, continued and a special meeting of the Federation Executive Committee was held in Bloemfontein in March 1931 to consider whether to carry on with the National Industrial Council. It was decided by 27 votes to 15 to continue the Council but to press for drastic amendments to the agreement. In June 1932 a meeting of the Council was held in Johannesburg and the amendments proposed by the Federation, together with a suggested decrease of 4d. an hour in the wages payable in the Durban area, were submitted. On these proposals the Council deadlocked and could not arrive at any conditions for the new agreement to replace the old one which was due to expire in August 1932. The Council was then dissolved and a Conciliation Board established which agreed to continue the general terms of the then existing agreement but referred the question of rates of wages to the arbitration of Mr. J.E. Young, a retired Magistrate, assisted by Messrs. A. Barrow and H.A. Wyeth as assessors. The Arbitrator published his award speedily and this resulted in a reduction in wages payable to artisans of 3d. an hour in Durban.
During 1933 negotiations commenced between the Association and the Trade Unions with a view to establishing an Industrial Council for the Building Industry with jurisdiction over the Durban area only. M.S. Tobias, Durban Divisional Inspector of Labour, was elected Chairman for the purpose of the negotiations and after many meetings, agreement was finally reached. The details of the agreement were forwarded to the Minister of Labour with the request for approval it, together with the Constitution of the Industrial Council for the Building Industry for Durban. The Minister was unwilling to make the Agreement effective until some provision had been made for unskilled workers and, when it did finally come into force on 5 August 1934 it was only for a period of six months.
Prior to the expiration of this first agreement negotiations were begun for a further agreement and these were concluded without delay. The new conditions provided for an increase in wages to all trades of 4d.an hour and for the employment of unskilled workers at 1/- an hour on certain designated work with the stipulation that, where four or more artisans were employed, at least one unskilled workers be engaged at the rate of 1/- an hour. The Minister was not satisfied with these provisions and refused to publish the Agreement. A deputation from the Association met the Secretary for Labour and, later, the Minister, but without success, and it was only after the Association had indicated its intention of withdrawing from the Council that the agreement was published on the terms agreed to six months before.
The next agreement, published in 1936, was effective for two years, expiring during June 1938. At the same time, the area covered by the Agreement was extended so as to embrace the area within a radius of 17 miles from the Durban Post Office and provision was made for a ‘closed shop' to come into operation in June 1937. This agreement was subsequently extended to December 1938 when, after protracted negotiations, the terms of a new agreement were agreed. The Council did not consider that any provision should be made for unskilled workers and, owing to the omission of such a provision, the Minister refused to publish the agreement.
The Association held a general meeting to consider its position and, as a result, gave six months notice for the dissolution of the Council at the same time instructing its members to refrain from paying the weekly levy. The Trade Unions claimed this action was a change in the conditions of employment and was made a matter of a dispute which, in terms of the Act, had to be dealt with by the Council. In such an atmosphere of frustration and recrimination it seemed as though the Council would inevitably expire at the end of the six months notice given by the employers but, with the change of Government following the declaration of the second World War in September 1939, and strong representations by the Trade Unions, the new Minister of Labour consented to the publication of the contentious agreement. In spite of the fact that there had been no binding agreement in Durban for almost twelve months, the Council continued to function and the conditions of the expired agreement were, generally, observed by both members and non-members. A holiday scheme, introduced at the beginning of 1939, was kept on throughout the year and resulted in an amount of £45,674 being distributed by the Industrial Council immediately prior to the commencement of the annual holiday period.
Within the Master Builders movement during the thirties a great deal of debate took place about the protection of so-called "civilized labour". It was claimed by some that they could not compete with those who did not maintain similar norms and values and they also insisted that membership of the Association be restricted to members of the white population group and that skilled work in the building industry be reserved for whites.
In Europe the slow and relentless march to destruction had commenced but, for the builders of Durban, these were years of consolidation during which the Association grew in maturity.
With the ending of the world-wide depression, the membership of the Association began to improve from the 86 of 1933 it rose to 187 in 1938. With the increased membership, finances showed a marked turn for the better and the balance sheet for the year ended December 1938 revealed that the Association had assets valued at £3,434 18s. 2d.
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