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Conciliation Boards in United Kingdom


The formation on a large scale of conciliation boards in the coal trade to fix the rate of wages dates from the great miners’ dispute of 1893, one of the terms of settlement agreed to at the conference held at the foreign office under Lord Rosebery being the formation of a conciliation board covering the districts affected. Northumberland followed in 1894, Durham in 1895, Scotland in 1900 and South Wales in 1903.

In 1907 an important scheme for the formation of conciliation boards for railway companies and their employees was adopted as the result of the action taken by the president of the Board of Trade to prevent a general strike of railway servants in that year. Under this scheme separate boards (sectional and general) were to be formed for the employees of each railway company which adhered to the scheme, with provision for reference in case of a deadlock to an umpire.

The first general district board to be formed was that established in London in 1890, through the London chamber of commerce, as a sequel to the Mansion House committee which mediated in the great London dock strike of 1889. The example was followed by several large towns, but the action taken by the boards in most of these provincial districts has been very limited.

In addition there are two boards composed of representatives of co-operators and trade-unionists for the settlement of disputes arising between co-operative societies and their employees.

The most typical form of machinery for the settlement of disputes by voluntary conciliation is a joint board consisting of equal numbers of representatives of employers and employed. The members of the board are usually Constitution and functions of voluntary conciliation boards. elected by the associations of employers and workmen, though in some cases (e.g. in the manufactured iron trade board) the workmen’s representatives are elected not by their trade union but by meetings of workmen employed at the various works. The chairman may be an independent person, or, more usually, a representative of the employers, the vice-chairman being a representative of the workmen. In the arbitration and conciliation boards in the boot and shoe trade, provision is made by which the chair may be occupied by representatives of the employers and workmen in alternate years.

An independent chairman usually has a casting vote, which practically makes him an umpire in case of equal voting, but where there is no outside chairman there is often provision for reference of cases on which the board cannot agree to an umpire, who may either be a permanent officer of the board elected for a period of time (as in the case of several of the boards in the boot and shoe trade), or selected ad hoc by the board or appointed by some outside person or body. Thus the choice of the permanent chairman or umpire of the miners’ conciliation board, formed in pursuance of the settlement of the coal dispute of 1893 by Lord Rosebery, was left to the speaker of the House of Commons. The nomination of umpires under the Railway Agreement of 1907 was left to the speaker and the master of the rolls. Since the passing of the Conciliation Act, several conciliation boards have provided in their rules for the appointment of umpires by the Board of Trade.

Conciliation boards constituted as described above usually have rules providing that there shall always be equality of voting as between employer and workmen, in spite of the casual absence of individuals on one side or the other. In order to expedite business it is sometimes provided that all questions shall be first considered by a sub-committee, with power to settle them by agreement before coming before the full board. Boards of conciliation and arbitration conforming more or less to the above type exist in the coal, iron and steel, boot and shoe and other industries in the United Kingdom.

A somewhat different form of organization has prevailed in the cotton-spinning trade (since the dispute of 1892-1893) and in the engineering trade (since the engineering dispute of 1897-1898). In these important industries there are no permanent boards for the settlement of general questions, but elaborate agreements are in force between the employers’ and workmen’s organizations which among other things prescribe the mode in which questions at issue shall be dealt with and if possible settled. In the first place, if the question cannot be settled between the employer and his workmen, it is dealt with by the local associations or committees or their officials, and failing a settlement in this manner, is referred to a joint meeting of the executive committees of the two associations. In neither agreement is there any provision for the ultimate decision of unsettled questions by arbitration. The agreement in the cotton trade is known as the “Brooklands Agreement,” and a large number of questions have been amicably settled under its provisions.

In the building trade, it is very customary for the local “working rules,” agreed to mutually by employers and employed in particular districts, to contain “conciliation rules” providing for the reference of disputed questions to a joint committee with or without an ultimate reference to arbitration. Yet another form of voluntary board is the “district board,” consisting in most cases of representatives elected in equal numbers by the local chamber of commerce and trades council respectively. In the case, however, of the London Conciliation Board the workmen’s representatives are elected, twelve by specially summoned meetings of trade union delegates and two by co-optation. The functions of district boards are to deal with disputes in any trade which may occur within their districts, and of course they can only take action with the consent of both parties to the dispute, in this respect differing from the majority of “trade” boards, which, as a rule, are empowered by the agreement under which they are constituted 333 to deal with questions on the application of either party.

Another interesting type of board is that representing two or more groups of workmen and sometimes their employers, with the object of settling “demarcation” disputes between the groups of workmen (i.e. questions as to the limits of the work which each group may claim to perform). Examples of such boards are those representing shipwrights and joiners on the Clyde, Tyne and elsewhere. While the arrangements for voluntary conciliation and arbitration differ in this way in various industries, there is an equally wide variation in the character and range of questions which the boards are empowered to determine. For example, some boards in the coal trade (e.g. the conciliation boards in Northumberland and the so-called “Federated Districts”) deal solely with the general rate of wages. Others, e.g. the “joint committee” in Northumberland and Durham, confine their attention solely to local questions not affecting the counties as a whole. The Durham conciliation board deals with any general or county questions.

This distinction between “general” and “local” questions corresponds nearly, though not entirely, to the distinction often drawn between questions of the terms of future employment and of the interpretation of existing agreements. Some conciliation boards are unlimited as regards the scope of the questions which they may consider. This was formerly the case with the boards in the boot and shoe trade, but under the “terms of settlement” of the dispute in 1895 drawn up at the Board of Trade, certain classes of questions (e.g. the employment of particular individuals, the adoption of piece-work or time-work, &c.) were wholly or partially withdrawn from their consideration, and any decision of a board contravening the “terms of settlement” is null and void. A special feature in the procedure for conciliation and arbitration in the boot and shoe trade, is the deposit by each party of £1000 with trustees, as a financial guarantee for the performance of agreements and awards. A certain class of conciliation boards, mostly in the Midland metal trades, were attached to “alliances” of employers and employed, having for their object the regulation of production and of prices (e.g. the Bedstead Trade Wages Board). None of these alliances, however, have survived.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Statistics of existing agencies

The following statistics are based on the reports of the Labour department of the Board of Trade. The number of boards of conciliation and arbitration known to be in existence in the United Kingdom is nearly 200, but a good many of these do little or no active work. Only about one-third of these boards deal with actual cases in any one year, the active boards being mainly connected with mining, iron and steel, engineering and shipbuilding, boot and shoe and building trades. During the ten years 1897-1906 the total number of cases considered by these boards averaged about 1500 annually, of which they have settled about half, the remainder having been withdrawn, referred back or otherwise settled. About three-quarters of the cases settled were determined by the boards themselves and only one-quarter by umpires. The great majority of the cases settled were purely local questions. Thus more than half the total were dealt with by the “joint committees” in the Northumberland and Durham coal trades, which confine their action to local questions, such as fixing the “hewing prices” for new seams. The great majority of the cases settled did not actually involve stoppage of work, the most useful work of these permanent boards being the prevention rather than the settlement of strikes and lockouts. A certain number of disputes are settled every year by the mediation or arbitration of disinterested individuals, e.g. the local mayor or county court judge.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Conciliation Boards
  • Author: International
  • Description: History The formation on a large scale of conciliation boards in the coal trade to fix the rate of wages dates from the [...]

This entry was last updated: November 4, 2020


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