Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's hard to find good help these days...

As part of my occasional series: a few thoughts from 1927 on a problem you may not ever have had to consider: the 'servant famine'.


Continental Girls Anxious to Come to Britain

Ministry’s Bar

Mistresses Whose Needs Should Be Considered

One means of solving the domestic servant famine is the employment of foreign domestics. Many girls from the Continent are anxious to enter British homes, but are debarred by the Labour Ministry.

This is because of the fear that the current British rates of pay would be undercut. In view of the refusal of British girls to enter domestic service the harassed housewife would appear to be entitled to greater consideration.


Many Instances of Satisfied Mistresses
and Foreign Servants

While British housewives find it difficult to obtain efficient domestic servants, they have no opportunity of securing good and cheaper services from Continental countries. Unfortunately, that opportunity is obstructed by the Ministry of Labour, which insists that no foreign domestic servant shall be employed unless she receives the normal rate of pay of a British servant. Many Continental women are happy to accept considerably less.

There are obvious disadvantages in the employment of a Continental servant, who, at least at the outset, will have no knowledge of the English language. It seems hard, therefore, on the harassed manager of a home that she cannot avail herself of this service at a cheap rate which will compensate her for the comparative inconvenience she will suffer.


But the Ministry of Labour adopts the view, so it informs The Daily Mirror, that any extensive importation of foreign domestic labour will seriously undercut the current British rates of pay.

It is easy to combat this attitude. Because such a large number of British girls refuse to undertake domestic service, it is possible for an efficient British worker to obtain any wage she desires within reason, or even a little beyond. On account of this refusal to work in a particular capacity, domestic service has become an occupation which exceptional in this country.

The housewife has interests which are as worth as those of the housemaid. Many Continental servants have been introduced into England. They come from all the Western and Central European countries, and those from Denmark have seemed particularly acceptable. One Danish girl, who in her own country had been a teacher, recently offered to take a post as mother’s help at £24 a year. The Ministry of Labour refused to grant the necessary permit on the ground that this wage was lower than the English rate.


In order to obtain a permit for the engagement of foreign servants the prospective employer must satisfy the Ministry that every possible effort has been made to find suitable labour in this country. In the special case of domestic service this proviso may seem unnecessary. During 1926 permits were granted for 1,917 domestic servants, and there were 478 refusals mainly on the grounds given above.

It is, of course, true that many foreign domestic servants wish to come to this country principally to learn the language and may leave for employment of a higher status in their own countries when the language has been learned. On the other hand many find Britain a pleasant land, and many housewives are glad to be able to retain such women in their service.

The Daily Mirror, 17 October 1927, p. 2.

I note only that saying 'many Continental servants have been introduced into England' sounds rather like it's referring to some exotic species of mammal being released into the English countryside....

Remember: British jobs for British workers! (Though it's half as catchy as 'Danish servants for British housewives!', I would think...)

1 comment:

The Wife said...

"It seems hard, therefore, on the harassed manager of a home that she cannot avail herself of this service at a cheap rate which will compensate her for the comparative inconvenience she will suffer."

They don't write sentences like that in the Daily Mirror any more. Or the Independent. Or the Times.