1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Labour Ministry and Department of Labour

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Labour Ministry and Department of Labour
See also Ministry of Labour (United Kingdom) and United States Department of Labor on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LABOUR MINISTRY AND DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR. —  One of the outward signs of the intensified governmental interest in labour has been the establishment in 1913 of a Department of Labor in the United States, and in 1917 of a Ministry of Labour in Great Britain.

United Kingdom. — The demand for the creation in the United Kingdom of a separate Ministry of Labour had been since 1904 a stock subject of discussion at the annual Trade Union Congress, and resolutions in favour of it had been introduced in various years up to 1916. Meanwhile, the attention of employers had been principally directed to the advocacy of a Ministry of Commerce which was to be a development of the Board of Trade. Employers had not contemplated in general a separate ministry for the labour side of the commercial problem. The general policy of the Government had been to leave to each department of State that portion of the labour problem which naturally was associated with its main functions. In so far as there was any department which was primarily charged with labour problems, that department was the Home Office, as having charge of factory legislation, though the Board of Trade had also a considerable share of the responsibility for handling labour questions, and through its “Commercial, Labour and Statistical Department” (see 27.127) was being given continually larger association with them. Thus the Labour Department of the Board of Trade was made responsible in turn for the administration of the Labour Exchanges Act (1908), the first Trade Boards Act (1909), and Part II. of the Insurance Act of 1911, which dealt with unemployment insurance; and this Department dealt with the work of conciliation in labour disputes until the establishment of the separate department of the Chief Industrial Commissioner in 1911. Other departments concerned were: — the Local Government Board, as responsible for the administration of the poor law; the Board of Education; and the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, in so far as any labour questions affecting agriculture arose. Finally, there was the position of the State as a direct employer of labour both of clerical and semi-clerical labour in the Civil Service and the Post Office, and of industrial labour in Woolwich Arsenal and the dockyards. The general labour policy in this respect was under the financial control of the Treasury; the actual handling of the labour problems affecting the postal service was dealt with by the Post Office, those affecting Woolwich Arsenal and Enfield by the War Office, those affecting the dockyards by the Admiralty. The only general measure of coordination was given by the Fair Wages Advisory Committee, which considered from time to time what were in fact the fair wages in terms of the House of Commons resolution requiring that Government contractors should pay fair wages, and which instructed the contracting departments as to the wages that they should require their contractors to pay.

With the outbreak of the World War in 1914 labour problems immediately assumed a new importance, since the paramount question was the control of man-power. It was natural in these circumstances that resort should be had by the Government primarily to the Board of Trade, upon which the handling of labour problems had increasingly centred in the years immediately preceding the war. Thus it was to the Labour Exchanges Department of the Board of Trade that the Government looked for the supply of labour for mobilization and for the grouping of labour which was required for the munitions programme. In the same way the Government looked to the Chief Industrial Commissioner for advice and guidance upon the policy to be adopted in respect of general labour problems such as trade disputes and the need for increasing production. But, as these problems assumed an ever-increasing importance, it began to be obvious that possible conflict, which might arise from separate policies carried out by the War Office, Admiralty and Board of Trade, might lead to grave consequences. More and more it was felt that some department, charged at any rate with the labour war problems, should be established, and effect was given to this view by the establishment of the Labour Department of the Ministry of Munitions in Aug. 1915. That department was in the first place largely staffed by officers lent by the Board of Trade, and from the outset discharged the dual function of war labour supply and regulation.

At the same time, it was laid down that the duty of holding the scales between the two sides in industry, i.e. the duties of conciliation and arbitration, must remain separate from the Ministry of Munitions, which was in itself an employing department. Thus the arbitration tribunal, known as the Committee on Production, which had grown out of the Chief Industrial Commissioner's Department, remained with the Board of Trade.

At first the Labour Department of the Ministry of Munitions had charge of labour problems affecting both the Admiralty and the War Office. But, even so, there were many labour problems of the first importance for which this department was not responsible. The control of the railways remained with the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, and similarly the control of mines with the Home Office. But the problems arising on mines and railways were of a general character affecting the whole labour situation. Moreover, while technically the Ministry of Munitions had responsibility over the labour policy of the Admiralty, it was hardly to be expected that one department of State would find itself able to take instructions from another which, in labour matters, was in fact a competitor. In consequence, although the Ministry of Munitions had achieved a certain measure of centralization and coôrdination, it was increasingly felt that some central department, not itself directly an employer of labour, should be available for giving general advice to the Government.

The first attempt to secure this was the creation during 1916 of the Department of the Chief Labour Adviser to the Government. It was the intention that Mr. Arthur Henderson, M.P., who was appointed to this post, should in a sense fulfil the function of guiding the labour policy of all departments and advising the Cabinet generally on labour affairs. The difficulty, however, was that Mr. Henderson had no direct authority over the employing departments, and was not in direct relation with the Committee on Production, which remained attached to the Board of Trade. In the result, therefore, though Mr. Henderson's advice was always available, the office of Chief Labour Adviser was not found to fulfil the requirements of the situation.

Ministry of Labour, 1917. — One of the first steps of the first Lloyd George Government was to establish early in 1917 a new Ministry of Labour. It was constituted under the powers given by the New Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1916. The Act did not itself invest the Minister of Labour with any specific powers except that it provided that the labour functions of any other department of State could be transferred to him by Order in Council. The Ministry started its official existence with the responsibility for the Chief Industrial Commissioner's Department, the administration of the Trade Boards Acts, and of the employment exchanges. Shortly afterwards there was added to these functions the responsibility for labour statistics. It happened, however, that simultaneously with the creation of the Ministry of Labour the Department of the Director-General of National Service also came into existence, and the question of the control of labour exchanges at once created complications. Every effort was made to bring the two Departments into the closest possible touch, but since the Admiralty and the Ministry of Munitions, as well as the Board of Agriculture, were using the exchanges, it was difficult to effect a satisfactory coördination. During the war period the Ministry of Labour exercised the two functions of advising on general labour policy and of preparing for the post-war situation. So far as the first part of the Ministry's functions was concerned, great difficulties were experienced in effecting control. Not only had the Ministry of Munitions and the Admiralty established large and powerful Labour Departments, but as time went on separate Labour Departments under the Coal Controller of the Board of Trade and the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries were established, to be followed by an attempt to set up a separate department for the Air Ministry.

Each of these departments had its own special and pressing problems. Each was constantly driven by the pressure of circumstances to give decisions, without previous reference to the Ministry of Labour, which seriously affected Government policy as a whole. Thus the Ministry of Munitions made wages orders affecting women and men, which were not necessarily consistent with the awards given by the Committee on Production.

The Coal Controller arrived at a settlement with the miners which had the most unexpected repercussions on every class of miner engaged in non-ferrous mining. Here again there was no previous consultation with the Ministry of Labour. The Board of Agriculture pursued its own policy, and, under the Corn Production Act of 1917, set up Agricultural Wages Boards, which departed from the principles guiding the Trade Boards controlled by the Ministry of Labour in that the agricultural boards were entirely independent of any Government control. Moreover, the Board of Trade in its negotiations with the railway men was often too pressed by circumstances to be able to consult with the Ministry of Labour.

All these difficulties were almost inevitable with a new department created in the middle of the World War — a stranger among long-established departments. But in spite of these handicaps the existence of a single department which had no direct interest in production and could view labour problems from a general point of view was undoubtedly of great service. Of still greater service was the work performed by the Ministry of Labour during the war in preparing for peace conditions. The Ministry of Labour was responsible for drawing up, in conjunction with the War Office, the elaborate schemes for the demobilization of the forces, and was responsible with the Ministry of Reconstruction for drawing up the schemes for demobilization of civilian war workers. In addition the Ministry of Labour, by the creation of Whitley Councils, the extension of the Trade Boards Act and the proposals with regard to the control of wages after the war, was laying the post-war foundations.

Immediately upon the declaration of the Armistice at the end of 1918, it was decided to transfer to the Ministry of Labour the labour departments of the Admiralty and Ministry of Munitions. There was set up, to meet the special emergency created by demobilization, a new department of the Ministry of Labour under a Controller-General of Demobilization and Resettlement. The Ministry was then, for the immediate post-Armistice period, divided into two broad halves. The first half dealt with industrial conditions, and was responsible for the administration of the Wages (Temporary Regulation) Act, conciliation, the administration of the Trade Boards Acts, watching the progress of Joint Industrial Councils, and for the general industrial policy of the Government. This half of the Ministry of Labour was placed under the Permanent Secretary.

The second half of the Ministry of Labour under the post-Armistice scheme, under the Controller-General, divided itself into permanent and temporary departments. The permanent department was the machinery of the employment exchanges. Side by side with this permanent machine there were three temporary departments: — 

(a) The Training Department, which was set up to provide training for disabled men and for certain classes of women.

(b) The Appointments Department, which dealt with the placing and training of officers and men of similar educational qualifications.

(c) The Civil Liabilities Department, which provided resettlement grants for ex-service men under certain conditions.[1]

With the enormous accession of work that the Armistice threw upon the Ministry of Labour it was not possible to attempt to plan out the permanent foundations of the department. Consequently at this stage, so far from all questions of labour policy being transferred to the Ministry of Labour, at least one new department dealing with labour matters was set up in the Mines Department of the Board of Trade. Moreover, the Board of Agriculture retained its complete control of questions of agricultural labour, though it was rapidly becoming apparent that these questions could not with advantage be considered separately from the general labour questions before the Ministry of Labour.

The difficulties of this grouping of the situation were further accentuated by the increasing importance of the handling of international labour problems. With the establishment, under the Versailles Treaty, of an International Labour Office, it became of even greater importance that there should be one department, speaking for the Government as a whole, on labour topics. It was plain that action taken by the International Labour Office would profoundly affect labour problems in the United Kingdom, but, owing to the heavy burden cast upon the Ministry of Labour, it was not possible definitely to associate the department with the governing body of the International Labour Office.

Post-war Reconstruction. — When the first rush of Armistice work was over, an attempt was made to lay down to some extent the permanent lines upon which the Ministry of Labour was to develop. It was recognized that in any event it would be necessary to proceed slowly with the complete centralization in one department of all labour matters, but it was felt that an organization must be devised which would be ultimately capable of taking such a position if this were finally decided upon. Speaking generally, the functions of a Ministry of Labour would be: — 

(a) To advise the Cabinet of the day generally on labour policy.

(b) To administer the Government's labour code; by which is meant, to be responsible for all Acts of Parliament directly affecting the relations of employers and employed.

(c) To act for the Government in respect of international labour problems as a sort of foreign office for labour.

The situation did not permit of the discontinuance of the temporary departments. Apart from these, the Ministry is divided into three main administrative departments with certain common service departments.

The administrative departments are: — 

(a) The Industrial Relations Department, which deals with arbitration and conciliation relations with the industrial courts set up under the Industrial Courts Act, 1919, the administration of Joint Industrial Councils, the Fair Wages Clause and hours of labour.

(b) The General Department, concerned with administration of the Trade Board Acts, intelligence and statistics, and parliamentary and international work.

(c) The Employment and Insurance Department, responsible for administration of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, control of employment exchanges, employment of ex-service men, and juvenile employment.

The Common Services departments include (1) Finance, (2) Establishment, and (3) Solicitor's Department.

It will be observed that this arrangement tends to divide the work of the departments into two main groups — conditions and employment, with a central group which, for the purpose of convenience, has taken part of the work of conditions of employment in the administration of trade boards. Considerable tracts of work, however, which would be covered by the general basis of the department suggested above, are not included. Thus the responsibility for the administration of the Factory Acts and the Workmen's Compensation Acts remains with the Home Office, as does the responsibility for the labour policy in respect of merchant seamen with the Board of Trade, for railwaymen with the Ministry of Transport and for agricultural labour with the Ministry of Agriculture. Moreover, though the existing arrangements provide for the administration of unemployment insurance by the Ministry of Labour, this is the only degree in which the department has responsibility for the treatment of the able-bodied unemployed. So far as international labour is concerned, the position has been made definite by the establishment of an interdepartmental committee under the chairmanship of the Minister of Labour, which is responsible to the Cabinet for handling international labour problems.

(H. Wf.)

United States. — The Department of Labor was created by Act of Congress on March 4 1913. Its chief official, the Secretary of Labor, is a member of the President's Cabinet. He is “charged with the duty of fostering, promoting and developing the welfare of the wage-earners of the United States, improving their working conditions and advancing their opportunities for profitable employment.” He is authorized to direct the collection of statistics concerning the conditions of labour, its products, and their distribution, and may call upon the other governmental departments for the data they possess. He is also empowered to act as mediator in labour disputes and to appoint commissioners of conciliation, whenever he deems it desirable for promoting industrial peace. There is also an assistant secretary and a solicitor of the Department of Labor, the latter acting as legal adviser to the Secretary and to the heads of the various bureaus.

The four original bureaus comprised (1) the bureau of labour statistics, charged with gathering and diffusing information about labour, especially its relations with capital, hours of labour, earnings of labourers, and means of improving their conditions; (2) the bureau of immigration, charged with administering the immigration laws, including the Chinese-exclusion laws; (3) the naturalization bureau, for administering the naturalization laws; and (4) the children's bureau, charged with investigating and reporting upon all matters pertaining to children and child life among all classes of people, including infant mortality, maternal mortality, juvenile delinquency and diseases of children.

The exigencies of the World War led to the formation (1918) of a woman-in-industry service, or women's bureau, to safeguard the interests of the large number of women who replaced men withdrawn for war service. In the same year the U.S. employment service, formerly a part of the immigration bureau, was made a separate bureau and became the medium for recruiting unskilled labour for war industries, excepting farms and railways. Between Jan. 1 1918 and June 30 1919 employment was secured for 4,955,159 persons, and after the Armistice many discharged soldiers were placed in positions. As a temporary war emergency measure there were created also (1) a bureau of industrial housing and transportation for labourers engaged on Government contracts; (2) an information and education service for creating, through publicity, a spirit of coöperation and mutual understanding between labour and capital; and (3) a national war labour board, for settling labour disputes and ensuring uninterrupted production of the essentials for war.

The Department of Labor is the outgrowth of public agitation extending over a long period. In 1884 a Bureau of Labor was created under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. In 1888 this bureau was converted into an independent Department of Labor, headed by a commissioner who, however, was not admitted to the President's Cabinet. In 1903, after the creation of the Department of Commerce and Labor, the old Department of Labor, thereafter known as the Bureau of Labor, was placed under its jurisdiction. For 10 years the interests of both labour and capital were entrusted to the same executive department. This proved unsatisfactory because these interests were often in conflict. Finally, in 1913, the Department of Commerce and Labor was changed to the Department of Commerce, and there was created a separate Department of Labor especially entrusted with the problems that concerned the welfare of the wage-earners.


  1. A separate department for Ireland, under a secretary responsible to the Permanent Secretary, was established early in 1919.