Letter: Social Chapter is a product of British history

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Sir: It is extraordinary how Tory tantrums about the Social Chapter have destroyed our recollection of recent history. The idea of limiting the hours people may work was, as most social advances used to be, British. From 1832 until 1990, HM Inspector of Factories enforced controls on the hours of work of children, and then of all women and young persons in industry.

By no coincidence, the EC measures are based, as were our own since earlier this century, on a maximum normal working week of 48 hours.

At various times there was talk of extending the same protection to men; but in those days there were trade unions, which tended to achieve the same result faster. Then, quite suddenly, people started saying that the hours people worked had no bearing on health and safety: and the relevant part of the Factories Act was repealed without any observable discussion. So were other provisions which gave women or young persons extra protection.

Now employers say that they could not compete in the marketplaces of the world if there were controls on hours of work. Their predecessors did. I wonder how? Perhaps by investment and training rather than by trying to out-sweat-shop the Far East.

Yours faithfully,


Didsbury, Manchester

2 June