The Navvies on Strike

Singleton Argus Saturday 1 May 1909
The Navvies on Strike. Demands Conceded.

The navvies employed on the first section of the North Coast railway between Maitland and Dungog threw down their tools on Wednesday. The first gang struck at Wallarobba, and was quickly followed by others. One lot proceeded, along the line to the Dungog end, and the other to Paterson. Over 300 men marched four abreast into Paterson, where the local workers threw down their tools and joined in a mass meeting, at which there was an attend- ance of about 500 men. Grievances were discussed at some length, and it was decided that a deputation be appointed to proceed to Maitland to meet the contractors, and endeavour to effect a settle ment on improved conditions.

The existing rates of wages were 7/- per day for navvying and 11/- for horse and dray work. On these rates an increase of 1/- per day was demanded, with a cor- responding increase for other classes of labor. In the march from Wallarobba to Paterson splendid order was maintained, and although two hotels were passed on the way there was no drifting away from the ranks. The leaders impressed upon the men the necessity for good conduct and sobriety. A prominent striker, when interviewed, remarked  that included among the navvies were a fair number of members of the railway workers and General Laborers' Union of New South Wales, but that union had nothing to do with the present dispute.

The trouble had been simmering for some time, and the cessation of work was the result of a unanimous decision on the part of the unionists and non-unionists. The contractors for the Gloucester to Tarco section of the North Coast railway were paying the wages now being demanded, and it was hardly likely that the men would remain on the Maitland to Dungog section under lower conditions.

On Thursday the deputation waited upon the contractors at their Maitland office, were courteously received, and put their ideas forward, in a plain and sensible way. Briefly put, they asked for a : minimum wage of 8/- per day for 8 hours' work, with an advance of 6d per day on existing rates for branches of labor such as hammer and drill men, jumpers and sprawlers, and that "nippers" (lads) be paid 5/- instead of 3/6.

It was furthermore asked that tool sharpeners get 9/- instead of the present 8/- per day and that the wage for a horse and cart be 12/- instead of 11/-. The medical fee was touched upon, and whilst leaving other matters in abeyance contractors and delegates agreed that there should be a sick and accident fund, a doctor to be retained as at present, with a contribution of 6d. per hand per week, the contractors to have control of the fund in company with a man to be appointed by the employees. The doctor will in future call once or twice a week and interview the ganger at various sections.

After mature consideration, the contractors signed an agreement, of which the following is a copy, and which virtually met all demands of the men:—

In conference with a deputation from our workmen this day, it was mutually agreed that the following rates of wages be paid:—Minimum wage of 8/- per day; jumper, hammer ar.d drill men 8/6; tool sharpeners 9/-, horses and drays 12/-; "nippers" 4/6, and the latter to be charged only half medical fee. Further more, it was agreed that concrete workers shall receive 8/6 per day and engine drivers 9/-.

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