Reefton "Popper" Trouble.
Maoriland Worker, Volume 2, Issue 74, 9 August 1912, Page 7
Reefton "Popper" Trouble.
P. J. O'RECAN'S VIEWS
In an interview published in tlio "N.Z. Times" of July 22, Mr. j J. 0' Regan, the Reef ton miners' legal adviser, said:— A RETROSPECT. "The Reefton miners have beon under the jurisdiction oi the 'Arbitration Court since 189(5. Prior to that date, excellent relations existed between the miners and the companies. Indeed, the miners then had no organisation because they did not require one. In that year, howevor, the company, at the head of which was Mr. Zimau, made nn attempt to reduce wages from £3 uo £2 10s. per week, on the ground that the industry could not stand the prevailing rate of wages. The men immediately struck work, formed an industrial union, and in due course "the matter Was adjudicated upon by the Court of Arbitration, with the result that the wages were left practically as they were. That was very satisfactory from the miners' point of view, but it did not eliminate altogether a feeling of unpleasantness between employer and employed, from which that district had theretofore been ' completely immune. However, no serious industrial difficulty arose until January, 1909, when the mining companies, taking the Workers' Compensation Act of the previous session as a pretext, insisted upon a medical examination. It is needless mow to do more than recapitulate this incident very briefly. The men refused to submit to medical examination, and for a. fortnight or three weeks the miners were idle in consequence. The men's position was legally and morally unassailable, notwithstanding the gross misrepresentations to which they were subjected. The soundness of their position has since been verified to the letter by Parliament, which has enacted legislation making a medical examination for miners illegal. As a matter of fact, the companies on that occasion cor 1 have been successfully prosecuted for a lock-out, but the men had no desire to be vindictive once the trouble was over. WORKING UNDER AGREEMENT. "Since then things have gone on satisfactorily in Reef ton up to the time that the present difficulty arose. The men are working not under an award of the court, but under an industrial agreement which adopts the rate of wages and conditions theretofore prevailing. This agreement has just 12 months more to run. At the date when that agreement took effect it was tho regular practice for two men to work a , drill. I may point out that any custom of the industry prevailing at the date of the award or agreement, even if no express mention is made therein of it, is by implication part of that award or agreement. In this case, however, there is express mention in the agreement, since it fixes 10a. 6d. as a minimum daily wage of the men in charge- of the drill, and 10s. for his assistant. The companies, therefore, must have known that any attempt to go back on the agreement during its currency could meet with nothing but opposition from the men, and if the companies were really desirous of avoiding trouble, the proper course was to defer raising the question until the expiration of the present agreement. THE MEN PROVOKED. "In reality, however, the companies have left no means untried to provoke the men. The "Waugh hammer drill was introduced in January last. It is admitted that even with two men it greatly diminishes the cost of production. It is also admitted that it is possible for one man to work it, just as it is possible for one man to work ten hours instead of eight. For some weeks the drill was worked by two men without question. Then certain emissaries of the companies actually approached some of the miners and asked them if they were willing to work the drill single-handed in consideration of another shilling a day. Tine men at once refused, and stated that they would have to refer the matter to their union. AN IMPROPER PROCEEDING. "Now, let mc point out that this was a most improper proceeding, as there is a Miners' Union with which a collective agreement has been solemnly entered into by the companies. Any variation of the terms of that agreement should be a matter of negotiation between the companies and the union, not between
Straight Talk in an Informing Interview.
certain soerot emissaries of the companies and individuals. Well, tho union unanimously resolved to oppose any attempt to work the drills single-handed. Then, on Friday, May 17, placards were posted up in conspicuous places above ground stating that thereafter the men would be required to work one man one drill. The men on going to work read the notice, but- nevertheless descended and presented themselves at their working places. They were instantly informed by tho shift bosses that they were required to work the drills singlehanded. Tho men mutually refused, and they were then told there was no more work for them. This is what certain newspapers would have us believe is a strike. Of eoun-e, it is nothing of the kind. We have the Solicitor-General's opinion that it is not a lock-out, but it is decidedly significant thtat he prefaces his opinion with the words, 'on tho evidence submitted to me.' ARBITRATION MADE A CONDITION. "But the point I wish to emphasise is quite apart from the merits of the matter in controversy. Let it be clearly understood that without shutting down the mines at all the companies could have had the matter arbitrated upon under clause 11 oi' the agreement. They preferred to shut down their mines and to say nothing about arbitration until they reached the Warden's Court with their application for protection and were confronted with our objections. Nov.', it would appear that for tho purpose of circumventing the Warden's decision they intend to object to the conditions he imposed, though these conditions were practically invited by themselves when they intimated at the beginning of the proceedings in court their willingness to have th" matter arbitrated upon. The Press Ask.-; ■'■ition telegram from Auckland to the <:fi ■•:■ that arbitration has been secured t' ; -u-'h the good offices of Mr. Masse y is γ-v correct. Arbitration was made a com .'Tion when the - Warden granted protection on. the 11th inst. at Reefton. STACE-MANAGED EXHIBITIONS. "These stage-managed exhibitions of the Waugh drill in the open-air and with a selected block of cement, though no doubt very convincing to persons who know no better, are absolutely worthless. While in Reefton I was one of a party who saw the drill at work in real earnest —that was, I went 50 chains into a tunnel under a hill, then descended 1500 ft. (about 500 ft. below sea level) and saw a man in the dim candle-light using this drill between two solid walls of rock. Remember that under the blue sky there is always a breath of air to blow the dust clear, but you do, not pet that when you breathe compressed air 500 feet below sea level. It is, I know, quite possible for one man to work tho drill. I am willing to believe that Kaffirs and Mexicans do use the drill single-handed, but I want it to be understood that even with two men using it it is quite impossible to 'kill' all the dust—and deadly dust it is. When I was in Reefton a man aged 47 died from miners' complaint and I saw another man 35 years, old dying from the same disease in the hospital. We can prove that even under the most favorable conditions the men who work these drills find grit in their teeth next day and that they expectoTate black phlegm. With one ma a' working the drill more dust must inevitably be inhaled, for you cannot get any mechanical contrivance to utilise the water spray to the same advantage as a pair of human hands. KILLING DUST—THE ONLY WAY. "The most dangerous hole to drill is an 'upper,' that is, a hole in the rock right over the miner's head, for thfe dust) from it drops down close to his face. If the water-jet strikes the actual hole the drill soon becomes jammed by the congealed dust, and so th<& spray must be so adjusted as to strrke the rock a couple of ipches away from the hole, with the result that a large quantity of dust is not moistened at all. W r ith an assistant, however, the jet is held in such a position that while no water enters the hole, and the drill consequently cannot be jammed, the water strikes the descending column of dust at right angles, and effectually 'kills' it. lam quite satisfied that this is absolutely the only way to reduce the dust evil to the minimum, and having regard to the terrible nature of miners' disease it ia also absolutely necessary that the risk of contracting it should be minimised as far as possible."