Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
The majority of my colleagues have agreed that a reduction of hours from 60 to 54 is practicable and desirable throughout the country,1 and admit that such a reduction would primarily affect the cotton industry, since this is by far the most important of the industries which still work most of their operatives for 60 hours a week.
The argument adduced is that the present ten-hour day is not in reality a day consisting of ten hours' concentrated work. There is, the Commission maintain, a considerable amount of loitering and " In Bombay particularly, the visitor is struck by the large numbers of men who can be found outside the factory building at almost any hour of the day"2.
My colleagues therefore assert that a ten-hour day should not be worked, 3 cannot be worked, 2 and is not in fact actually worked.2 Their argument continues on the lines that a shorter and more disciplined working day is preferable to a longer day containing the unauthorised intervals for loitering referred to above.
After consideration of the reduction of the working day from 12 to 10 hours they continue," As hours are lessened, a point must be reached at which, even if the industry can maintain production by employing shifts, the operatives cannot face a further reduction of earning capacity. But the evidence shows that this stage has not been reached and that,
FN 1 Page 44.
FN 2 Page 41.
FN 3 Page 40.
with a reduction of hours, it would be possible and, if there were co-operation between employers and employed, easy not merely to maintain but to increase the average production per operative employed."1
These two sentences contain the kernel of the argument put forward in the Report and it as with the three main points of this argument that I now propose to deal, namely, the effect of the reduction of hours, the possibility of an increase in the efficiency of the worker which will, at any rate, largely counterbalance the restriction of hours, and the reduction of loitering.
The reduction of hours by statute, unaccompanied by any increase in efficiency on the part of the operatives, has one of two direct results—a decrease in wages or an increase in cost of production. The former difficulty is realised by my colleagues who say " It is also necessary to bear in mind the relationship between hours of work and wages, for the standard of living of the factory worker is such as to make any reduction in his earnings a serious matter " '2. While I agree that his standard of living should at least be maintained, there is evidence to show that the cotton mill worker earns at least sufficient money to enable him to remit sums regularly to his native village. Evidence given before the Banking Enquiry Committee in Bombay elicited the fact that indebtedness as less prevalent in the Konkan District than in any other district in India. This poverty-stricken district provides the cotton mill industry with a large body of workers and the explanation of the freedom from debt of its inhabitants can only lie, in my opinion, in the remittance sent by the workers in the cotton mills of Bombay.
The only practical way in which I can envisage any reduction of hours in the textile industry without dislocation is an attempt to shorten them when the prosperity of the industry is such that a rise in wages is due. Such a rise in wages might, either entirely or partially, be replaced by shortening the hours of work. I cannot conceive that it will be practicable to shorten hours in the textile industry without increasing the rate of wages to a corresponding degree.
Legislation involving a reduction of wages without the possibility of a quid pro quo in the shape of increased efficiency cannot be treated as a measure of practical politics at the present time. Strikes in Bombay have been caused in 53 cases out of a 100 during the last nine years by questions of pay, and I have no doubt in my mind that any proposal involving a wage-cut at the present time would probably result in a strike and considerable loss both to millowners and operatives. Where the ten-hour day has been shortened in textile mil Is the rate of pay for those working on the nine-hour day has been raised, both in the case of the time and piece-workers, to enable them to achieve the same earnings in spite of lower production; and, though theoretically an increase in efficiency may be anticipated to make up for the loss of production due to reduction of hours, in practice this will not be achieved.
FN 1 Pages 43—44.
FN 2 Pages 40—41.
Let us now examine the grounds on which my colleagues think that such an increase in efficiency is probable or even possible. The most striking feature of the Chapter on Hours in Factories is that there is a complete absence of statistics on this question. There is no evidence adduced to show that a reduction of hours below 60 per week has ever resulted in an appreciable increase of efficiency on the part of the workers. Through the good offices of the Bombay Millowners' Association I have been able to submit to my colleagues the results available in Bombay where a shorter shift than ten hours has been tried. (See Appendix to this Note.) I do not pretend that the evidence is conclusive, but it is particularly valuable where a day shift of ten hours and a night shift of nine hours have been worked: results are then more truly comparable than in a case where a mill has gone over from one system to another, when the " sorts " manufactured may have varied and even machinery may have been altered in the interval.
On general grounds also, it may be doubted whether any great measure of increased efficiency can be obtained from the Indian workmen at the present time: to quote the words of my colleagues:—
" But it must be admitted that the Indian industrial worker produces less per unit than the worker in any other country claiming to rank as a leading industrial nation. The causes of this low efficiency are complex. Some are to he found in the climate of India and other factors: but a powerful influence as exercised everywhere by the low standard of living. Inefficiency is attributable to lack of both physical energy and mental vigour. These are to a large extent different aspects of the same defect, for physical weakness cuts at the root of ambition, initiative and desire."
and on the following page of the same Chapter:—
" It must also be admitted that ambition is not particularly vigorous with many Indian workers....".
I fancy that my colleagues have fallen into a psychological error with regard to the question of hours of work in India. The subject is one of great difficulty and intricacy. The chief difficulty lies in the complications caused by the differing climatic conditions in this country. The standardisation of hours is rendered more complex by the variations in climate between one province and another, and even between one part of the year and another, in the same province. In other words, hours of work which might appear unendurable in one province might be reasonable in another, and hours of work which might be appropriate in the cold weather might be excessive in the hot weather in the same district.
" Loitering" is a characteristic known to everyone familiar with industry in India and the statement that it is a form of self-defence against overwork2 is only partially true. Nor is it entirely confined to the cotton industry. The representative of the Chamber of Commerce in the Central Provinces, the representative of the Industries Department of the Government of the United Provinces, the representative of the Central Provinces and Berar Mining Association, the Director of Industries of the Punjab Government, the Inspector of Factories in Delhi and the Chief Inspector of Factories in Madras, all tendered evidence showing that the Indian worker has an innate instinct
FN 1 Page 208. 2 Page 41.
and preference for a slow speed of work. To ignore the existence of this characteristic, whether it be due to climatic conditions and environment or to other causes, is in my opinion to neglect an important factor in the psychology of the Indian worker. The suggestion that the insertion of frequent short intervals1 might reduce fatigue is one to which I can readily agree, provided that the tendency of the Indian operative to be " slow off the mark " is surmountable.
Had my colleagues recommended that before statutory action an enquiry should be held in order that further evidence could be obtained as to the results of their recommendations, I should have been more sympathetic. Had they asked the cotton industry to make experiments in order to furnish some concrete evidence on which to base such recommendations, I do not doubt that they would have had the support of the industry. After consultation, however, with my technical staff, I feel that I am on sure ground in stating that, where a mill is now run on efficient lines, a reduction of hours will inevitably lead to diminished production, and at the present rate of earnings the reduction of the working week from 60 to 54 hours would result in an increase of 7 to 8 per cent in the cost of manufacture, excluding cotton. To saddle the cotton industry with any further burdens during a period of depression and exhaustion seems to me to be both unjust and unwise.