Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A job for life?

Whilst working my way through the employment records over the past two weeks I have been struck by the realisation that the well-worn cliche 'a job for life', harking back to the halcyon days of continuous work at the same company, is not a particularly accurate description of employment in the late 1800s/early 1900s. I have been under the impression that we are currently witnessing an increasing number of employees on fixed-term contracts as temporary employment becomes the norm for many people. Yet, Chance's service agreements with their employees suggest that fixed-term contracts have always been a prominent form of employment.

There are hundreds of service agreements amongst the collection, which offered employees fixed-term employment for a period of between one and ten years (subject to three or six months notice being given by either employer or employee). Once the employee's term of service was over they had to write a letter offering their services again for a suggested term and wage and the company would then negotiate with them to confirm or alter these new terms. This means that some employees who continuously worked for the firm over a longer period may have had many service agreements during that time, for example, John Penn's twenty two years of service as a clerk is made up of five service agreements for a period of three or four years each . Permanent agreements seem to have been offered more to the managers and directors of the company.

Nevertheless, this does not necessarily mean that there was a high turnover of staff at Chance. The company has a very strong record of long service employees and these employees were awarded accordingly. For 25 years of continuous employment they were awarded £10 and on completion of 45 years service a presentation was made and the employee could choose from a gold wristwatch, a chiming clock, a camera, binoculars or a barometer. For example, William Grigg received a gold watch and a medal on his 80th birthday in 1916 after completing more than 60 years of service. Which proves that although employees were not often on permanent contracts, they did often have a job for life at Chances.

Long service employees and pensioners at the Chance Pensioners' Party 1945

After cataloguing the main bulk of service records I am now moving on to catalogue the wages and salaries books and records. Once again, it appears that in true Chance style, these are not a straightforward run of records. The picture below shows a sample of the salaries books. Each book is a totally different shape and size and they each records different details regarding salaries, for example, the biggest book contains quarterly and yearly salary payments whilst the smallest book contains notes on salary ranges for different jobs. I will keep you posted on how I progress with this mixed batch next week.

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