Breach of Eight Hours, 1909

By the 1900s, miner’s working conditions saw them working in shift patterns of no more than 8 hours underground. Still horrific, given the conditions down pits. It was an early ‘human rights’ law brought in by Parliament and at first contested by Coalmasters. More time in the mines, meant more coal brought up and therefore more profit.

However, for workers too, more time at the work-face, meant greater opportunity to extract greater tonnages and therefore maximise pay. So, in a few instances, there were some miners who wanted to work longer, perhaps either wanting to maximise pay in certain times, or if they had fallen behind quotas during normal working hours. One such case took place in November 1909 in Blantyre.

In Hamilton Sheriff Court on Wednesday 15th December 1909, Blantyre man, John Paten of Bell’s Land, Larkfield. pled guilty to having on 25th and 26th November in No. 3 Pk. Dixon’s Collieries, Blantyre, remained below ground for the purpose of his work more than customary eight hours of the consecutive twenty-four hours period, commencing at eight o’clock on the 25th November. The decision to stay down the mine was contrary to the Coal Mines Act, 1908.

The Fiscal explained that the man had begun by stretching the time by five minutes per shift, and it was profitable for him to be down. As each shift took place, he had been extending it by a further five minutes over an increasing time, until it was eventually observed over a two day period. Sheriff Thomson said he ‘had great sympathy’ with the man, but the Act of Parliament came in, and he had to enforce it. The penalty would be 10s or five days’ imprisonment.

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