Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Memorandum concerning the employment and remuneration of women on munitions work, 1915

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Deciding on the appropriate levels of remuneration for female dilutees posed a dilemma for the Government. After the difficulties with the introduction of dilution the government was keen not to upset grass roots trade unionists any further by introducing pay levels for dilutees which where in any way commensurate with those of the skilled and semi-skilled male worker. However, with the introduction of 'dilution' the government was admitting that the war could only be successfully prosecuted if women did men's work.

In many ways the government circular which determined dilutees rates of pay was a fudge, it stipulated that in order to protect men's wages, women should be paid the same rate as men BUT only if they were engaged in the same work which required the same level of skill. However there was never a full analysis of what was meant by the terms 'skilled', 'semi-skilled' and 'unskilled' work and as processes were altered for war production and jobs were subdivided, employers could claim that women who were only doing part of a skilled man's job were not entitled to full rates. As a result employers continued to pay women less than the going male rate and by April 1918 men in the National Factories were earning on average 4 6s 6d per week and women 2 2s 4d.

Women's wages did rise considerably during the war, but they did not keep pace with the dramatic rise in prices. Indeed there are many examples during the 1ST World War, throughout Britain, of Factory Superintendent's organising special work programme's for pregnant women and nursing mothers on the basis that the women had to continue working to support their families.