Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

‘Lives of Misery and Melancholy’: The Rhetoric and Reality of Industrial Reform in Post-World War I Western Australia

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (1997), 73, (1), 105–122.

Abstract

At the close of World War I, there was much talk among governments and employers in Australia and Britain of improving conditions for the workers, and especially those who were returned servicemen. While wage and housing reforms undoubtedly improved living standards for some working people and their families, those scarcely gaining any benefit from such agreements included ‘casual’ labourers such as waterside workers, and rural labourers. The rhetoric rarely extended to the urgent need to improve health and safety standards and to provide adequately for ill or injured workers. The paper examines the issues of workers’ compensation, industrial health and safety, and living conditions, through the use of two case studies: an accident which occurred to a waterside worker on the Fremantle Wharf in 1919, and its ramifications for workers’ compensation legislation, and the appalling living and working conditions of timber workers in the south-western jarrah forests in the early 1920s, which were partially redressed through the Timber Industry Regulation Act of 1926. These two cases have been chosen because they highlight serious deficiences in early twentieth century industrial reform. The paper also examines the relevant government legislation which was enacted to provide workers’ compensation, and to ensure improved health and safety conditions. The impact of such legislation is discussed in the two cases outlined above. The paper concludes that, where safer working conditions and more adequate provision for injured workers meant that the employer’s profit margin was narrowed, legislative change was difficult to achieve and any legal loop-holes were exploited.

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Author details

Oliver, Bobbie

Table of Contents

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