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1 August - A changing workplace

By August, full production had resumed at the Sunshine Harvester Works. Owner HV McKay then moved to introduce piecework, paying workers according to what they produced rather than the hours they worked, pressuring them to work harder to earn the minimum wage. Piecework and other changes to factory processes, as well as the union’s continued fight to improve wages, saw the Sunshine works remain the site of industrial disputes for decades.

McKay’s opinion of the unions never changed, but the 1911 strike encouraged him to seek his workers’ loyalty through schemes improving conditions and benefits. During the 1920s he introduced pensions and retirement allowances, a sick-pay scheme and a mortuary fund.

A worker making header comb figures, 1938
A worker making header comb figures, 1938
Museum Victoria
Table comparing the earnings of workers on an award wage with those working on piecework.
Table comparing the earnings of workers on an award wage with those working on piecework. It also shows the percentages of those on piecework at the Sunshine Harvester Works.

Employing women

From 1922, the Sunshine Harvester Works employed women on the factory floor, beginning in the bolt shop. The employment of women caused uproar in the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the peak body for unions, as it believed women were taking men’s jobs. It also considered factory work too dirty and strenuous for women.

In 1927 the Victorian Government undertook an inquiry into the effects of factory working conditions on women’s and children’s health. Led by Dr Kate McKay, the inquiry found that there were no health reasons to exclude women from the metal trades. It did highlight unequal rates of pay between men and women, stating that pay rates should be equal.

Female worker in the Sunshine Harvester Work bolt shop, 1927
Melbourne Argus, 26 February 1927, p. 33
National Library of Australia
Text below photograph: The Trades Hall Council contends that the work in the nut and bolt department at H.V. McKay Pty. Ltd's harvester works, Sunshine, is unsuitable for women. The photograph was taken yesterday afternoon.

Excerpt from a letter written by Sunshine Harvester Works superintendent George McKay to the Melbourne Argus, 19 September 1922

Excerpt from a letter from Sunshine Harvester Works superintendent to the Melbourne Argus newspaper, 19 September 1922, about the advantages of employing women
National Library of Australia
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