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


Edgar Nelson Rhodes

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. E. N. RHODES (Cumberland).

I have given more or less attention to the subject of an eight hour day, even before I became a member of this House, and the Mr. TURCOTTE.
result of my reading, together with direct experience of the conditions of labour, have led me into a position of absolute sympathy with the movement of the labour men to secure what is known as a uniform eight hour day. I approve of the principle of an eight hour day, and of the movement which has been inaugurated by organized labour in this and other countries^ to secure an eight hour day. The objections that have been offered to this measure to-day have been largely technical, legal objections. The hon. member for South Wellington (Mr. Guthrie), while in favour of an eight hour day on government buildings alone, is not in favour of this measure, because he says it goes too far. He, in common with many other hon. gentlemen, go upon the assumption that an eight hour day would mean that you would only get eight-tenths as much work in a given space of time. I think hon. gentlemen forget the fact that for years this eight hour day has been in force in various countries. They have it in British Columbia; in Victoria the eight hour day is practically universal. I have in my hand a very excellent work entitled 'Eight hours for work,' written by Mr. John Rae, M.A., published by MacMillan and Company, and I think this is the work from which the hon. member for Maisonneuve (Mr. Verville) obtained the material for his speech last session. At the end of the book, I find a chapter entitled ' The eight hour day in Victoria/ and the author quotes figures tending to show the effect of the introduction of the eight hour day there. If the House will permit me, I would like to'read two short extracts showing the effect of such a day m operation in Victoria. Speaking from the figures, he says:
They show the utter folly of the assumption, so much pressed by the more ignorant advocates of an Eight-hours Bill, that the shortening of the day of labour has the necessary, certain, and uniform effect of abolishing the unemployed. .
On the whole the reduction of the working day to eight hours has had no very sensible influence on the numbers of the unemployed in Victoria any more than on the rate of wages, and both these circumstances point to the conclusion, to which other and more direct evidence also conducts, that shortening the day has exercised but very inconsiderable effect on the amount of the workmen s production. A shortening of hours has always two immediate effects-it improves the mettle of the masters, and it improves the mettle of the men. The masters set themselves at once to practise economics of various sorts, to make more efficient arrangements of the work, to introduce better machinery or to speed the old, to try the double shift and other expedients to maintain and even augment the production of their works. The men return to their toil in better heart after their ampler rest, reinvigorated both in nerve and muscle, and make up in the result sometimes in part.

sometimes wholly, by the intensity of their labour for the loss of its duration. Victorian experience shows the recoupment almost completely.
One other short paragraph, showing his conclusion as to the effect of the eight hour day in Victoria:
Altogether, the more we examine the subject the more irresistibly is the impression borne in from all sides that there is growing up in Australia, and very largely in consequence of the eight-hours day, a working class which for general morale, intelligence, and industrial efficiency is probably already superior to that of any other branch of our Anglo-Saxon race, and for happiness, cheerfulness, and all-round comfort of life has never had its equal in the world before. For all this advantage, moreover, nobody seems to be a shilling the worse. It is truly remarkable how immaterial apparently has been the cost of the eight-hours day in Victoria. Look for the effects of it where you will, they still ever elude your observation. Wages have not fallen, wages have not risen, production has not fallen except in certain trifling cases; prices have not risen except again in certain trifling instances; trade has not sufiered, profits have not dwindled (or we should have heard croaking), the unemployed have not vanished, not so much as shrunk in any perceptible degree ; the working classes-the great body of the nation-have an hour more to call their own, that is all.
Now, I may say that organized labour has gone to the various provincial legislatures in this country asking for an eight hour day within the province, and they are invariably met'with the reply: We cannot enact an eight hour day for this province, because our employers would be compelled to produce goods under an eight hour day in competition with the employers of other provinces who work under a ten hour day ; and for that reason we cannot grant your demand; were, however, all the other provinces to enact an eight hour day, we would be very happy to grant your demand. The represeentative of organized labour comes to the House of Commons and presents a Bill. Unfortunately, owing to the limitations imposed upon this House by the British North America Act, we aTe not able to enact a comprehensive measure, and, therefore, we sav to the representative of organized labour: You must go back to the provincial legislatures, there is the place to get your legislation. I may say that so far as this Bill is concerned, even if it had the effect which the interpretation placed upon it by the hon. member for South Toronto (Mr. Macdonell) would produce, I am prepared to vote for it. I believe if that measure were adopted this country would be not one whit worse off economically; while the introduction of an eight hour day throughout the Dominion of Canada would have the effect of bringing up a class of labouring men such as those described by this author in Australia. So strongly do I favour this measure that, in snite of the objections that have been urged against it, I shall be pleased to vote for it as it stands.

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