The New International Encyclopædia/Labor Legislation

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

LABOR LEGISLATION. An inclusive term used to denote the body of statutes which in any way affect the labor contract or the relation of the employer and the employed. The first step was taken in the so-called factory acts of Great Britain, designed to improve the sanitary conditions prevailing in workshops and factories and safeguard the health of the laboring population. In the subsequent development many other points in the mutual relations of employer and employed have been the subject of legislative and administrative regulation, so that to-day the mass of statutory enactment on these topics is almost bewildering.

In the United States the problems of an industrial population developed later than in England, and labor legislation is of a later date. With the growth of modern industry, together with the prevalence of universal suffrage, the enactment of such laws did not encounter the same difficulties as in England. There has been no lack of legislation, though it has frequently been assumed that such laws would enforce themselves, and no adequate machinery was provided to insure their execution. In later years factory inspection has been widely introduced, though in many States it is not equipped with adequate machinery for the discharge of the duties imposed upon it. On the other hand, the progress of unionism has made the workingmen alert in the maintenance of their legal rights, and their officials have done much to render labor legislation effective.

Labor legislation is a matter of State concern, and while in America the laws of one State have frequently been enacted bodily by other States, there is still much diversity among the States. In reviewing the labor legislation in force in the United States, we must content ourselves with a general account of the various types of enactments, without attempting to specify where such laws are in force. The most usual subjects of legislation concern the hours of labor, mode of paying wages, and protection of machinery to avoid accidents.

Hours of Labor. On this subject several States in the South and in the Rocky Mountain district have no legislation whatever, and that of the other States in the same regions is rather meagre, as compared with the comprehensive laws of the North Atlantic States and those of the North-Central division. Rules for the hours of minors and women are general, while there are few restrictions upon those of adult males.

Most of the States prohibit the labor of children in factories, workshops, and mines before a certain age is reached. This is in some States ten years, but twelve and fourteen years are more frequent. Limitations of the hours of labor per day and per week for minors who have not reached the age of eighteen, or sometimes as much as twenty-one years, are frequent. This limit is usually ten hours per day, though in Pennsylvania it may be twelve. The latter State prescribes, however, that the work shall not exceed sixty hours per week, and other States with a ten-hour day provide that the weekly work shall be less than sixty hours (fifty-five in Ohio and New Jersey, fifty-eight in Massachusetts). Some of the States impose further restrictions. For children under sixteen, whose attainments do not reach certain standards, hours must generally be so adjusted as to permit of school attendance for a portion of the year, or to permit attendance at night schools.

Several of the States which regulate the labor of minors as above stated make no restrictions upon the labor of adult women. In others, however, such labor is subject to the same rules as that of minors. Absolute prohibition of woman's labor in mines exists in several of the States.

Much less frequent is the effort to restrict the number of hours of adult males. Wyoming has a constitutional provision providing for an eight-hour day in the mines, and Utah and Missouri have statutory regulations to the same effect. On the other hand, several States, either by constitutional provision or statute, prescribe an eight-hour day for those employed in the public service or working under contractors for public labor. Legislation fixing the hours of labor in the absence of contract provides generally for an eight-hour day, but ten hours also occurs.

Payment of Wages. Laws fixing the intervals at which wages shall be paid have been enacted in several States, but they are of doubtful validity. More frequent is the attempt to prescribe that all payments shall be made in money, by declaring illegal payments in store orders and the like. Corporations are especially enjoined from establishing company stores or having an interest in such concerns.

Protection of Health, etc. Laws designed to protect the workmen against accident or disease are especially applicable to labor in inclosed places, in workshops and factories, and in recent legislation in so-called sweatshops. Among other things, such laws aim to require adequate fire-escapes, outward-opening doors, guards for dangerous machinery, elevators, belting, etc., connection of rooms where machinery is used with engine-rooms by tubes or bells. Other laws provide that machinery shall not be cleaned while in motion, and frequently that women and minors below a certain age shall not be employed in cleaning machinery; that a certain number of cubic feet of air-space for each person employed shall be provided; that fans and other contrivances shall be used to rid the air of noxious vapors and dust. Similar in character is the legislation in regard to sweatshop production—i.e. the manufacture of goods, particularly clothing, in dwellings and tenements—which aims to restrict the production of goods in unsanitary surroundings. These laws either place such production under the general factory law, or seek to prevent overcrowding by restricting such labor to members of the family living in the dwelling, or requiring a license for all persons engaged in such production.

Employers' Liability. Under the common law the employer is liable in pecuniary damages for the bodily injury or death of his employees by accident when in his employ, in so far as such accident is not due to the negligence, direct or contributory, of the employee. But the rigor of this rule was greatly modified by the principle which relieved the employer of liability in case the accident was traceable, not to his negligence, but to that of another employee. (See Fellow Servants.) Strictly construed, this doctrine made it practically impossible for the laboring man to avail himself of this liability, as he was forced to prove the negligence of the employer. Legislation has been invoked in England and in the United States to remove this difficulty. Such laws declare the employer directly liable for all accidents except in case of negligence of the person injured, or in a less extreme form attempt to define who are fellow servants. The effect of such legislation is to place upon the employer the burden of proof that the injured workman was negligent. Such laws apply in a number of States to railroads, but in a very few cases to employees generally. In Europe such laws are more frequent, and are especially favorable to the workman in England and Switzerland.

The labor legislation of England has not only been imitated in the United States, but has been widely copied in the industrial countries of Continental Europe and in the English colonies. While certain general features, such as factory inspection and limitation of the hours of labor of children and women, are common to all, the labor codes of the various countries show marked individuality, as the result of peculiar conditions or of historic tradition. Hence we find the different aspects of the labor laws in different stages of development in the different countries.

Germany. In Germany (and this is true of Continental Europe generally) the main interest in labor legislation has centred about the question of employers' liability and the evils it is designed to meet. After struggling for some time with a liability law which gave very unsatisfactory results, Germany was led to introduce the insurance principle as a means of alleviating the suffering caused by accidents to workingmen in industrial pursuits. From protecting the workman and his family from the effects of accidents directly attributable to his occupation, it was an easy step to extend this protection to sickness, which in many cases was also incident to the occupation. A still further step has been taken in providing by insurance against the incapacity of old age. This dominant feature of the legislation of Continental countries is treated more fully in the article Workingmen's Insurance.

Australia. Of all countries, the Australasian colonies of Great Britain have been most radical in their labor legislation. Industrial labor is most directly affected by the laws providing for compulsory arbitration of all labor disputes. See Industrial Arbitration and Conciliation; Trade Unions; Convict Labor.

Bibliography. The most complete guide to the labor legislation of the United States is contained in the Report on Labor Legislation (Washington, 1900), which forms vol. v. of the Report of the United States Industrial Commission. The compilation of labor laws issued in 1892 as the Second Special Report of the United States Department of Labor is fuller in its citation of laws. The Annual Summaries of State Legislation issued by the New York State Library can also be consulted with profit. Details of labor legislation are also found in the Bulletins of the United States Department of Labor (since 1896), where especial attention is given to foreign labor laws. Among foreign sources attention may be directed especially to the Archiv für sociale Gesetzgebung und Statistik, and to the Annuaire de législation de travail, issued since 1897 by the Belgian Office du Travail. An excellent study, Massachusetts Labor Legislation (with a bibliography of labor legislation and labor generally), by Sarah S. Whittlesey, was published (1901) by the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.