Labour relations

Extracts from a letter to Herbert Morrison from Philip Noel-Baker, Minister for Fuel and Power, 22nd June, 1950 (CAB 21/2759)

22nd June, 1950

My dear Herbert,

Forgive me for not having answered sooner your letter of May 12th about “man management” in the coal industry.

Of course, I agree with you that nothing is more important in the whole future of nationalised coal than the problem which may be variously described as “man management” or “labour relations”. I think, however, there is liable to be some misunderstanding on what the National Coal Board have already achieved in this regard. We must remember that they started with the industry in absolute chaos (see the Reid Report); and had a century-old tradition of bitter hostility between management and men. They have only had three and a half years to make improvements. Against this back-ground, what have they accomplished? Let me start by taking your tests of days lost by industrial disputes and absenteeism.

You say, rightly, that mining has accounted for a considerable proportion of the
days lost by industrial disputes in recent times. That is true. A long tradition is hard to break; and the introduction of nationalisation brought many new problems and created many new strains in the relations between miners and the management. Yet the following figures, I think, show that a great deal has been accomplished.

Average number of days lost per year for 21 yrs under                     nearly 13,000,000
private enterprise 1919-1939:

Average number of days lost under nationalisation,                                           710,000
1948 and 1949;

Days lost in 1947:                                                                                                912,000

Days lost in the first four months of 1950                                                               88,000

I think this shows not only that things are infinitely better than they were under private enterprise but that the initial strains of nationalisation are disappearing and that, particularly in recent months, there has been a big improvement.

We have recently had the Lidbury inquiry into the recent increase in involuntary absenteeism [this means injury or sickness] in the coal mining industry. This shows that since the introduction of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Scheme and the Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme in July, 1948, involuntary absenteeism on account of injury has increased from 1.8 per cent. to 3.1 per cent., and that this increase is due in part at least to the increase in benefit rates and the changed method of certification brought about by the new schemes. No doubt a small part of the increase represents malingering and laxity in certification and the Committee recommends measures to tighten up the existing arrangements. But the Report says that “most injury absence is
perfectly genuine”, so that part of the increase due to malingering must be small, and the main explanation for the increase must be that, before the introduction of the new schemes, men were forced back to work by the low rates of benefit and by the strict control exercised by the company doctor. Before the war, these factors were reinforced by low wages, short-time working through lack of trade, and fear of unemployment, so that men returned to their jobs before they had fully recovered; now miners can afford to stay away from work until they are well again.

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