A servants' union needed

The St Clair club team, winners of the provincial rinks title at the Dunedin Centre Easter...
The St Clair club team, winners of the provincial rinks title at the Dunedin Centre Easter bowling tournament. From left: E. Ball, J. Foster, W. Giles and H. Cole (skip). - Otago Witness, 15.1.1914. Copies of the picture available from ODT front office, lower Stuart St, or www.otagoimages.co.nz
Sir, - Kindly allow me space in your correspondence columns to urge the forming of a servants' union without delay, in the interests of both mistresses and maids.

I am a servant. I am aware that mistresses often deplore among themselves both the quality of the maids they do get and the insufficient number of girls offering for domestic service.

I am aware also that we often deplore among ourselves the quality of the mistresses we get and the insufficient number of good ones.

A servants' union would consider, among other things, the regulation of wages and hours of work, the provision of bedrooms properly lighted and open to fresh air, good beds and bedding, etc.

As things are now, wages and hours of work vary immensely, not always justly; beds and bedding may be good, bad, or worse; bedrooms may be damp and not fit to sleep in (I always ask to see mine before I engage myself now); while kitchens are generally furnished as if maids had cast-iron backs.

The Shearers' Union now ensures to shearers protection in all these matters - station quarters are inspected by an Inspector before shearing time begins.

If the welfare of able-bodied men requires this, how much more the welfare of ourselves, who have no open-air life, and who presumably are less strong?

If these things were efficiently seen to there would be more girls offering for this work, and the health of maids and mistresses would be improved.

If no one comes forward in response to this to form a servants' union, perhaps the Society for the Protection of Women and Children will say something on these matters at its next meeting, for we who, from our lack of organising ability, are sorely handicapped in protecting ourselves might well look to such a society to promote our welfare.

To promote our welfare is to promote the welfare of the whole people of New Zealand, present and future.

As regards ourselves, the health of many of the future mothers of New Zealand is being affected by the conditions under which we often work; the health of the present mothers is being affected seriously by the shortage of supply of our particular form of labour.

As regards hours of work, it is not fair that while some of us work six hours others work 14 or 16 hours daily, often for the same pay, and much wear and tear would be saved mistresses also by knowing exactly how much work to expect from a girl, and by dropping the principle too often acted on now, ''get all you can out of her''.

It would be a great gain to us if an employers' or mistresses' union were formed too, and if an annual meeting of delegates from the two unions ventilated grievances, etc., of either side.

We servants all feel more or less that we are not regarded much as what we are - i.e., an important order of social service, entitled to at least as much civility as a shop employer gives to his employees.

His way of regarding us cannot be guaranteed by any union or any law, of course; but the want of ''decent treatment'' militates greatly at present against there being a sufficient supply of servants.

As I have said, I write in the interests of both mistresses and maids, and therefore sign myself. Pro Bono Publico.

- ODT 17.4.1914.

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