Business against 8-hour work day

British Columbia would be crippled by a mandatory eight-hour work day, proposed by an independent member of the Legislature, a delegation of 20 businessmen warns in a meeting with Premier John Oliver and his cabinet, the Victoria Times reports, November 11, 1921.

A resolution passed by the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association and endorsed by the business delegation “sets forth the serious plight in which an eight-hour law would place B.C. industry.”

“Our province would be placed at a distinct disadvantage in competition with other provinces where similar industries are working longer hours.” Also, “Our ability as manufacturers and producers to meeting competition in foreign markets would be materially lessened.”

The business leaders point out that few of the nations that committed to the eight-hour day under the terms of the 1919 Versailles Treaty that formally ended the First World War are “today abiding by its terms.” Neither are any of Canada’s provinces. This, says the statement is “The best proof of the impracticality of the uniform application of an eight-hour day.”

“Any legislation which governs the hours of labor must be national in character or you will handicap the industrial development of British Columbia.”

The fact that farm, forestry and fisheries workers must make hay when the sun shines, was said to militate against the eight-hour day. Farm workers have to work long hours at harvest time; so do fisheries workers at the peak of fish runs; loggers have to make up for the periods they can’t work because the woods are covered with snow, or fire danger is too high in the summer, or it’s raining too heavily.

It was, apparently, not just the eight-hour day that was still to be generally attained, but also the five-day work week, or even the six-day work week. B.C.’s labour department reported that more than half of the province’s industry employees worked more than 48-hours a week in 1920. And from Geneva, Canadian Press reported that “The International Labor Conference had adopted the draft of the international convention establishing the general rule of one day’s rest in seven.”

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 092

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