Oral Answers to Questions — National War Effort – in the House of Commons on 20th April 1944.
asked the Minister of Labour what is the financial responsibility of a firm towards its employees under the Essential Work Order, in cases where the motive power of such a firm is derived from purchased gas or electricity, resulting in reduction in hours of employment of the employee; and is such a firm expected to pay its employees for hours when machinery is standing owing to the decision of the Minister of Fuel and Power to limit consumption of gas by 25 per cent. and electricity by 10 per cent.
A firm scheduled under the Essential Work Order is under a statutory obligation to pay the normal wage for the normal working week in the case of time-workers and for the normal working day in the case of piece-workers if the worker is capable of and available for work and willing to perform alternative work which he can reasonably be asked to perform when his own work is not available for him. As a rule the necessary reduction in consumption of gas or electricity can be achieved without causing idle time. In exceptional cases where this is not so, applications for permission to discharge staff, subject to a week's notice will be considered in proper cases by the National Service Officer, though I have no reason to suppose that employers will often want to lose workers in this way.
Is not the Minister aware that employers do not want to discharge employees? Is it not an extraordinary state of affairs that employers should be unable to provide work for a certain number of hours because the Government have cut down their gas and electricity?
We cut down gas and electricity in one area, after we had found that it ought to have been cut down much earlier. It was being wasted. Nobody was discharged; indeed, greater efficiency ensued.
But is not the Minister aware that many firms run entirely on gas or electricity and that production must be cut down? How would the right hon. Gentleman like to run his own business on those lines? Where would he finish at the end of the year?
If there is an emergency such as that which arose a week ago, when there was a temporary cut down, it does not follow that it will last for any great length of time. What employers do not like is to get rid of their people and lose their chance of building their staffs up again.