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The Labour Exchanges Act was the first important legislative expression of the widespread and confident belief in this country that a deeper understanding of the problem of unemployment had at last been reached. Many hopes were centred upon the new organisation. Foremost among them was the expectation that it would prove the means of grappling with under-employment, which, in the new analysis of the phenomena of unemployment, had been more or less isolated as a distinct problem. The Labour Exchanges soon found themselves dealing with a large number of very short engagements of Labour. Some of these belonged to occupations such as dock labour, in which short engagements are more or less inherent in the nature of the work. After the first year of the operations of the Exchanges, an attempt was made to isolate the statistics of the casual labour trades in regard to the applications, vacancies and placings, by the institution of a special “casual register,” subdivided into special sections, for casual employees such as the Liverpool cotton warehousemen, Manchester cloth porters, dock labourers, and sandwichmen. During 1911 the average number of persons on the casual register, to whom employment was given in each month, was 2,030, and the number of casual vacancies filled in the year was 125,304. The corresponding figures for 1912 are 3,799 and 266,622.
A large proportion of casual labour is not, however, massed in the specifically casual labour trades, but is scattered on the fringe, as it were, of almost every occupation skilled and unskilled. Many businesses frequently take on extra hands for a short period in order to cope with a mass of work. Such businesses as
a these and others are, either from the nature of the work or on account of the relatively high standing costs of machinery, in the
No. 89.--VOL. XXIII.
habit of filling up immediately the place of any worker, who is away temporarily owing to sickness or for any other cause. Thus a special class of “spare men ” tends to arise, for example, around gas works, street cleansing departments, and tramways in all large towns. In Lancashire the "sick weaver" is a recognised institution, and the Lancashire Labour Exchanges open at 5.45 a.m. on purpose to fill immediately the places of textile operatives who are absent when the factory opens. Finally, there is inevitably a considerable proportion of engagements of labour which terminate after a very short period owing to the failure of the workman and employer to suit one another. Every Labour Exchange manager knows the type of workman, often peripatetic, who “can't keep a job," owing to some defect of character or (perhaps not infrequently) some streak of divine but, as things are, unfortunately placed, genius. And every local trade unionist (and, it is to be hoped, every Labour Exchange manager) knows the firm where the works manager or foreman has a rough tongue, or an instinctive dislike of standard rules, and where consequently "men will not stick it," and a considerable proportion of the work gets done only with the aid of newcomers ignorant of the firm's reputation.
All these various causes produce the phenomenon of casual employment in primarily regular occupations. Since 1911 the Board of Trade have recorded the number of situations for adults amongst those filled (included on the ordinary register), which are known to have been of less than one week's duration. The number was 86,048 in 1911, and 153,263 in 1912, being 18:2 and 24:0 per cent. respectively of all vacancies for adults filled in those years. These figures do not imply that the Exchanges are tending, or might tend, to encourage casual engagements of
i see, e.g., the report of a case before the Colne County Court with regard to the Insurance Contributions of “siok weavers."- Manchester Guardian, 15th January, and 13th February, 1913.
2 In the Yorkshire woollen and worsted industries the employers are more willing to let a loom stand for a few hours or a day or so. This probably explains the fact that of the vacancies for adults filled by the Exchanges in 1912, a much larger proportion were known to be temporary, in the sense of being of less than a week's duration, in the cotton industry than in the woollen and worsted industries. The exact figures are as follows:
% of “temporary”