Disabled 'exploited in straw trade'

[The Luton News: Thursday, June 5th, 1919]

A serious complaint was made on Monday evening (June 2nd, 1919) at a meeting of the Luton War Pensions Committee by Mr W. J. Mair, Chairman of the Disablement Sub-Committee, that discharged disabled men, trained for the straw trade, were being exploited by one or two employers.

Regarding the straw trade institution, he said that Mr P. Currant attended a meeting and outlined the position. There was accommodation for 30 pupils, but machinery only for six. Mr Currant referred to the intricacies and difficulties of the trade, and said that in one or two cases men had not been paid adequate remuneration, such cases were exceptional. The matter was being looked into.

Mr Mair added that there had been serious complaints regarding the rate of payment. It did seem a bit mean, if not despicable, that disabled men who had passed through a training centre and came out with a certificate showing full qualifications, and the fact that they were trained by experts under the management of business men in the trade, should be so treated, and that there were manufacturers in the town who took advantage of the men's disability and attempted to pay sweated wages.

He was not quoting an isolated incident, but he spoke in a responsible manner in the hope that the straw trade manufacturers would take very serious warning. If, in future, there was any attempt to exploit discharged soldiers who had passed through the training centre, there would be serious trouble, caused not only by the discharged men themselves, but other who would see that they got their rights.

He had been asked to draw attention to this fact, and he did so with particular emphasis, because it would create a serious situation in the town. It showed the chaotic condition the staple trade was in when they had some of the largest manufacturers employing labour on practically the same work, but paying half a dozen different rates of wages.

If the employers themselves were either not capable or not included to have a regular rate for the work done it was up to the employees themselves to see that such a state of things was remedied, not only for their own sake but for the sake of those who had fought and come back and had to learn a trade for a living.