History of Master builders Kwazulu-Natal: Part 2
A consequence of the establishment of the Association was the establishment of the Natal Institute of Architects on 1 September 1901. Relations between the Builders Association and the Institute were cordial and during 1905 the Association hosted a dinner for the members of the Natal Institute. This was a forerunner of a number of such social functions supported by the two organisations, each taking it in turns to host the other.
The Natal Institute did not take kindly to the tendering rule in respect of Bills of Quantities linked to a rule for tenders in the private sector to be submitted in a National Federation of Building Trade Employers tender envelope during 1912. These closed-shop rules were applied for a period of almost 80 years.
Reid was also a building contractor of note specializing in model plastering and was responsible for the construction of a Church in Aliwal Street which currently still serves as commercial premises housing a photographic business.
Against a background of constant labour troubles the recruitment of members continued. Among those who co-operated with the Association in negotiations with the Trade Unions during the first eighteen months of its existence but who remained unconvinced of the advantages to be derived from membership were W.R. Poynton and W.F. Johnstone. That those enterprises were finally completely won over is shown by the part they played in the subsequent development of the Association.
The Trade Unions reacted sharply to the threat of a united front on the part of the employers and the three years from February 1901 to March 1904 were marred by a series of wage demands and strikes. The most serious of these began in October 1903 when a reduction in wages of a shilling a day was accepted by the Bricklayers but rejected by the Plasterers.
The Plasterers withdrew their labour and were immediately threatened with a further reduction if they did not return to work within seven days. The threat was ignored and the resulting strike lasted for five months when, their resources were depleted and the Plasterers also resumed work at the reduced rate.
During March 1903, William Ralph Poynton was elected President and this proved to be a significant event not only for the Durban Association, but also for the building industry in South Africa. The vision and determination of this man were to have far-reaching effects. Poynton was born in Australia and moved to Durban with his parents while he was still a child. After completing his education at Durban High School, he joined his father, Thomas Poynton, in the family business of Builders Merchants and Contractors. He soon became active in civic affairs and was a member of the Town Council on nine occasions, occupying the position of Deputy Mayor in 1901.
He was a member of many clubs and institutions but was not prevailed upon to join the Association until mid-1902. He was vehemently anti-Trade Union and frequently stated that he would not allow anybody to tell him what hours his men should work and what wages he should pay. He was something of an embarrassment to the Association and there is a record of a meeting with representatives of the Trade Unions at which James Reid had to use all his tact to restore the good relations which had been seriously disrupted as a result of remarks made by Poynton at a previous meeting between himself and his employees.
After his election as President, Poynton began to give serious thought to establishing a National Builders Federation and, to this end, convened a meeting in Durban on 23 March 1904. At this meeting the National Federation of Building Trade Employers (NFBTE) in South Africa was formed with Poynton as its first President.
Almost immediately thereafter, Poynton left on a visit to Britain where he attended the Congress of the National Builders Federation of Great Britain and, on his return to South Africa, addressed meetings at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London with a view to bringing those areas into the national organisation. He was welcomed back to Durban at the smoking concert held in 1904 at which James Reid received his illuminated address and, on that occasion, he received approval of the arrangements for the South African Federation to be affiliated to the British Federation which he had made while in Britain.
Poynton then applied his energies towards making the Federation a truly national institution and was succeeded by W.F. Johnstone who became the third President of the Association in 1906.
During 1908, Poynton suffered heart problems and, in 1908, he went on a recuperative trip to Britain. This failed to benefit him and he died in December 1909, at the age of 53. While in Britain he found time to write to the Secretary of the South African Federation to keep him informed with developments in the building industry in the United Kingdom.
Under the energetic leadership of Poynton the Durban Association applied itself to the task of securing equitable conditions of contract and adopted the conditions used by the British Institute of Architects as a model. After many meetings with Natal Institute of Architects, similar conditions, adapted to meet local needs were finally agreed. These negotiations extended over a period of almost two years during which each clause of the model document was discussed separately until accepted.
Copies of the agreed conditions were circulated to the other centres throughout the country together with the Sub-Contractors Agreement which was also drawn up and concluded by the Durban Association. This necessary document placed Sub-Contractors under the same conditions as bound Main Contractors in terms of principal contracts and secured for Sub-Contractors progress payments similar to those received by the Main Contractors.
That there was need for binding conditions of contract was evident from an advertisement which appeared in the "Natal Mercury" at that time:
"To Builders and Others.
The two storey premises situated opposite the Langham Hotel, Point Road, has been built by me. The job is stopped because I have not yet been paid for the work done. Notice will be given in the "Mercury" when the matter is settled.
M.J. Kerns, Contractor."
Affixed to the premises in question was the following:
Any person found forcing an entrance on these premises, or found on the premises, will be dealt with as a burglar.
M.J. Kerns, Contractor"
At the end of 1904, the outlook for the Durban Association seemed more favourable; the membership totaled 78, an increase of 6 over the previous year and more employers were becoming interested in the objects for which the Association had been formed. But 1905 saw the Industry at the beginning of a prolonged depression; in that year membership dropped to 56 as a result of many members moving elsewhere in the hope of finding better trading conditions.
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