Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Factory Legislation in the Last Fifty Years

Factory Legislation in the Last Fifty Years

The workmen's insurance, or rather, the national insurance, which we have briefly described has done much for the benefit of the lower classes. The results may best be summed up, perhaps, as follows: a great step has been taken toward community within society; and, on the whole, Denmark has gone as far as, if not farther than, any other country toward communism, without having had to renounce the principle of individualism. Thus even the conservative elements of the population may participate in the great work with a hearty good will.

The series of measures which have been taken to the end of socializing the body politic is, however, not yet complete. Numerous laws concerning the inspection of factories and the regulation of working-hours, as well as the settlement of trade disputes, were passed during the last generation. These laws did not propose any startingly new principles; for the most part they followed the lines of foreign legislation, which before the outbreak of the World War was well on the way to become international, as though the League of Nations were already in existence.

The growth of industry led to the passing of a Factory Act in 1873. Its scope is apparent from its title: 'Act Concerning the Employment of Children and Young People in Factories and Workshops using Machinery, and the Public Inspection thereof.' The act did not extend its protection to adults, which was quite in conformity with the spirit of the times. It appointed two inspectors for all workshops run by machinery and employing persons under eighteen years of age. It prohibited the employment in factories of children under ten years and provided that children between the ages of ten and fourteen might only work for six hours a day; moreover, their hours for attendance at school were to be respected, and they were to be free on Sundays. Young persons between the ages of fourteen and eighteen might work ten hours a day. The act further provided that in building such workshops sufficient regard should be paid to the health and safety of the workmen. This last provision was one which in the hands of an energetic inspector might have prevented much evil, but it did not accomplish much, as a matter of fact for the reason that the terms in which it was couched were not sufficiently explicit.

An act of 1876 concerning holidays was of little benefit to the working people, and it seems to have been devised chiefly in the interest of the established church. It prohibited sales in shops on Sundays between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., so that the hours of Sunday rest for tradesmen were seven at the most; and in some or all of these they might be working behind closed shutters. During the same seven hours any noisy work inside or outside the house that might disturb the peace of the Sabbath was prohibited; but this did not prevent quiet work in a workshop or warehouse or in the field. Private efforts to induce storekeepers to limit their sales on Sundays were usually unsuccessful, but they nevertheless roused society to a sense of the need of having recourse to the strong arm of the law. A successful preliminary step was taken in 1891, when sales in shops after nine o'clock on Sunday mornings were prohibited and factories were compelled to stop work at the same hour; but numerous exceptions were made for particular industries. A further step was taken in 1904. In general the prohibitions were extended to cover the whole of Sunday, and tradesmen thus at last obtained the full holiday. The long hours which many tradesmen had been compelled to work were limited by an act of 1908 providing that shops should be closed at 8 p.m.; but there was the unfortunate exception that on Saturdays they might be kept open until 11 p.m., and this without the compensation given elsewhere, as in Australia, in the form of an early closing hour on some other day of the week. In this respect Denmark has lagged behind most of the countries with English-speaking populations, where almost all workers have a half-holiday on Saturday. Only by slow degrees and individual initiative and influence have we arrived at early closing hours for banks and business offices. The reason formerly given for a late closing hour on Saturday was that workmen were paid off on that evening; this reason is no longer valid, however, since wages are now generally paid earlier in the week. By arrangements made with employers the trade unions to no small extent protect their members against Sunday work. Many wage contracts now call for considerably increased rates of payment for work done on Sunday or at night.

The Factory Act of 1873 had a comparatively long life considering the rapid growth of industry. An Apprentice Act of no great importance was passed in 1889, and in the same year there appeared an act for the prevention of accidents due to machinery by which the system of inspection was slightly extended. But on the whole conditions remained unchanged.

Finally, in 1901, a new Factory Act applying to factories and large artisan workshops was passed. It contains several provisions which strengthen the control and inspection by the state. It fixes the lower age limit for working children at twelve years and reduces the maximum number of working hours. By a special clause it authorizes the municipalities to restrict or prohibit the employment of children and young persons in occupations other than those specified, in the act, with the exception of agriculture, shipping and fishery a provision of which several municipalities have taken advantage, for instance, in restriction of the work of children in distributing milk, bread, and newspapers. For women, the act takes into account only their period of confinement. It contains special provisions for the regulation of the sanitary condition of factories to insure cleanliness and good ventilation. It stipulates that in winter the workmen shall have access to a warm room in which to take their meals, that the lighting of all rooms shall be sufficient, etc. The responsibility for the execution of these provisions is laid upon a Director for the Inspection of Labour and Factories and a number of assistant inspectors. Of great importance has been the establishment of a Labour Council similar in membership to the previously mentioned councils. It consists of a Chairman appointed by the Crown and eight members appointed by the Secretary of the Home Office, of whom at least three must be employers and at least three workmen. Employers' and workmen's organizations have the right of nominating these latter members. This Council has more than justified its appointment. It has co-operated in determining dispensations from the act, as well as in framing the above-named municipal measures, trade regulations and bills. It has taken the initiative in examining conditions in domestic industry and the sources of ill-health in the various trades.

Following the New Factory Act of 1901, an act concerning work in bakeries and confectionaries was passed in 1906 and amended in 1912. The original act had provided for a possible amendment at the end of ten years, but it was not until April 29, 1913, that a new act was passed. This act of 1913 prohibits the employment of children in workshops subject to state inspection before they shall have left school, and provides that the Medical Council of the Health Department shall appoint one of the members of the Labour Council.

The discussion of this act brought forth many conflicting opinions. No provision had been made for the protection of women other than the old one relating to their period of confinement. In Denmark, as in all other civilized countries, sentiment in favour of women's emancipation had been growing very rapidly. Women had risen to political equality with men, and efforts were being made to secure their admission to public office. More and more they had come to be regarded as above any claims for special protection. If they were to be the political equals of men it was contended that they must have the same access to night work; a prohibition against it would be an offence against their self-determination. An intended provision prohibiting night work for women, which had really sprung from humane considerations and was in conformity with foreign legislation, consequently had to be omitted. The act therefore did not get the extension which was wanted and which perhaps twenty or thirty years ago would have been greeted as beneficial by those whom it was meant to protect.

On the whole it may be said that a strong individualism, in spite of a great movement toward socialization within the Danish community, is still to be found in the lower classes. In some trades the number of apprentices has increased to such an extent that in the near future it may be difficult for a young man to find work in the trade for which he has trained himself; but the working classes will not hear of laws that will restrict the freedom of their children in the choice of a trade.

This individualism confronts us at many points. Help to self-help is an extraordinarily deep-rooted idea. Heretofore the initiative for the launching of many movements useful for society, as in philanthropy, education or science, has been taken by private persons; but little by little a large part of the burden will eventually be laid upon the public. Now one society, now another, will with more or less right lay claim to government recognition and support, and in this way private initiative will co-operate with the community as a whole. Without private initiative the movement might never have been started. Perhaps one of the most striking examples is that of the Hedeselskdbet (Heath Society), which was founded in 1866, after years of more or less futile endeavour to plant the vast wastes of Jutland, under the direction of Mr. E. M. Dalgas. It attacked the problem with such energy and success that after a while the state began to aid the project, at first granting very small subsidies, but later on steadily increasing them. By this co-operation between the state and individuals very large waste areas have been converted into valuable farms or plantations. After the loss of the province of Sleswick, Denmark took great satisfaction in thus getting some small compensation for it.

Again, co-operation has brought about a signal advance in education. The high schools before mentioned have demanded and received government support. The elementary schools for the lower classes, which have been public institutions from the start, were at first supported largely by the municipalities, but recently they too have demanded and received government support. Those for the upper classes were to a great extent started by private individuals. Preparation of pupils for the university was often given by private schools, but gradually this state of affairs became untenable. It was difficult for the private schools to obtain sufficient patronage to pay the salaries of their teachers, unless they were content to cater exclusively for the 'upper ten'. The secondary schools of Copenhagen therefore formed an association which undertook to reduce the former disastrous competition. This prepared the way for a claim to government and municipal support; and at last the decisive step was taken the taking over by the state and the municipality of most of the secondary schools. The guaranty that the parents should have a voice in the education of their children lay in the Councils of Parents, which, like the councils of the Friendly Societies and other institutions, insured protection against arbitrary control by the state and municipality.