December 9, 1909 (11th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Joseph Pierre Turcotte



(Translation). Mr. Speaker, the matter which has been brought to the attention of the House suggests a few remarks. In the first place, I notice that this Bill which, on a previous occasion, was submitted to the House but at the time did not reach the committee stage, is this year introduced earlier. That is an improvement which I am happy to note and which, I think, portends a better outcome to this proposed legislation.
It has been contended by opponents of the measure that its enforcement would be objectionable. For instance, it has been alleged that, should this Bill be carried, it would result in serious inconvenience to contractors on government public works now under contract, as said contractors could no longer expect a ten-hour day on the part of their men, but only an eight-hour day. They would thus find themselves in a disadvantageous position, since they would get only eight hours' work for ten hours pay. That may be so, but let me say that there are precedents to legislation of this kind, and I have no hestitation in saving that to my mind this is a desirable change.
We have in the civil service, for instance, men whose work is pretty much, if not entirely, the same as that carried on by men engaged in commercial and industrial pursuits; nevertheless, we find that their hours of work are different, that their day's work is much shorter than in the case of people doing such outside work. Now, who, thinks of complaining of this? Nobody, to my knowledge. True, the government official may be called upon to do more work, to show greater efficiency, to expend greater energy, to bring greater powers to bear on his work, and that may justify the requirement of shorter hours from him. We are satisfied with shorter hours from our government officials, but we require from them greater concentration of the mind and more rapid work.
Now, I think that this precedent to be found in the management of the various departments, might well have its counterpart in manual occupations. For I understand that the hon. member for Maisonneuve (Mr. Verville) voices here the views of the working classes in general, of men in all the various trades and handicrafts. Considering that an exception is made in favour of the civil servant, why should not a similar measure of relief be extended to that class of people who, while getting a living through what is actually manual labour, are performing duties quite similar to those of some public servants. As a matter of fact, I take it that there is a close connection between the mental work carried on in various departments, and the manual labour effected on behalf of those same departments.
I understand that this Bill is not taken excention to on strictly technical grounds; at any rate, I am not aware of any con-. tention to that effect. Now, is such legislation desirable? That is a moot question under many skies. Experiments have been made and in some cases have turned out favourably, as stated by the honourable member who preceded me. Why should we not undertake ourselves some 'such tests? I stated a precedent, there are others. It is known that the men in the service of the Department of Marine at Quebec work nine hours a day in summer and eight hours in winter. Of course, there is a cut in the wages in winter time. That is a practical application of the system advocated by the hon. member for Maisonneuve. In all business and industrial establishments in Quebec, the working hours are from seven or eight o'clock in the morning to five or six o clock in the evening. However, in the government workshops the men work eight hours only, and nobody finds fault with the practice. So, I am satisfied that, if no exception can be taken on technical grounds to the stand of the hon. member for Maisonneuve, the government should put his system to a practical test with a view of drawing conclusions. Several hon. members who have spoken previously [DOT] against this proposal, are to my mind more anxious to forward the interests of employers rather than those of the working men. Fundamentally, it is always the same story; the unceasing struggle going on between labour and capital, between the employed and the employer. There are certain views which are held tenaciously by the employer and which the latter strives to uphold. But there is also the viewpoint ,of the workingman, which he is equally entitled to hold, and

which his representatives in this House axe in duty bound to protect as far as possible. , , .
I am satisfied this Bill does not contain a single provision inimical to the public interest, on the other hand, it extends relief to a numerous class of our people. Besides, I am satisfied that the hon. member for Maisonneuve when vindicating in this House the rights of labour, is in complete sympathy with the labouring classes. I know that he is a member of some powerful labour associations, _ he having been for some time one of their most prominent and active officers, and when lie raises his voice in this House it is their sentiments he expresses, he is the true exponent of the views of labour.
Now, one more consideration should not be lost sight of. As we are aware, laws should not have for their object to safeguard the interests of one class exclusively, and I believe that legislation as it is makes rather for the protection of employers. Some attention should be given to the working classes. Should we not do something towards relieving them from over-exertion, and too much misery, should we not strive to improve their moral and physical conditions? Such is the view which I take, and I object to the dilatory proposal made by the hon. member for South Wellington (Mr. Guthrie), who suggests the opening of a protected investigation, the effect of which would be the postponement of the settlement of this question if not indefinitely, at least to such a date when likely all of us would have disappeared from parliament before having been given in the meantime an opportunty to vote on the question. By referring the Bill to the Committee of the Whole the object we have in view will be attained. There shall we consider it, and subject it to a fair criticism, sufficient at any rate to enlighten the government and justify them in trying an experiment which shall give results of an instructive character. It will always be an easy matter to change the law if experience shows that it is in opposition to public interest. However, as already stated, that experiment has been tried in one department, I mean in the Department of Marine at Quebec, where the men are required to work only eight hours per day at certain seasons, and that experiment has given satisfactory results. They are of a nature to induce us to vote in favour of this Bill, and accordingly lay down as a rule that men employed in public works shall not be required to put in more than eight hours work a day. That is, to my mind, what should be done.

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