Working hours and wages from the 1880s to the 1940sThe job descriptions of early wood processing plants were divided into many groups. Most important for the employer was trouble-free functioning of the factory and continuity of production. The most valued employee groups were papermaking machine attendants and the machine workshop staff who were responsible for maintenance of the machines. Their remuneration was higher than that of other groups. Lowest in the works hierarchy were outdoor workers and women employees.
At the old Jämsänkoski pulp mill the work was in two 12-hour shifts. A labourer's wage was 1 - 1.10 markka per day. A skilled man might earn 2.25 markka a day. Women's daily pay was 50 penni. Early the following century, men's wages at the paper mill had risen to more than three markka a day.
An eight-hour working day in continuous shifts was adopted at Jämsänkoski on 1 October 1907 at the pulp and paper mills. In other jobs the rule was an eight-hour night shift and a ten-hour day shift. The 12-hour working day was readopted in January 1910. An 8-hour day came permanently into force only in June 1917.
In the early 1920s, all Finnish paper mills cut wages and reduced the number of employees. Jämsänkoski factories cut their wages on average by 10 percent. Wages were increased later, but on an individual basis. United applied an individual wages policy; a good worker was paid more and given better housing than a less good worker. As well as being hard-working with high levels of skill, a good worker was known to be on the side of the Whites in the political division of the time.
United workers were allowed summer holidays from 1922. At that time, the average wage of company employees was 10,300 markka per annum. A typist's average salary was about 15,000 mk and an office manager's 28,000 mk a year. A superintendent earned 90,000 mk, plus bonuses which were a certain percentage of the factory's annual profits.
Because of the interdependency of wage levels and cost of living, companies monitored price levels and municipal taxes in factory towns; attempts were made to keep both low. Practical measures were housing provided by the factory, and the opportunity for workers to buy the company’s farm products and firewood. For example, a machine attendant’s perks included free housing, electricity and firewood. In 1928, the perks of workers and office staff in factory communities were calculated to account for approx. 7 percent of total household incomes.
1930s and ten percent agreements
Along with the 1930s slump, the minimum hourly wage at Jämsänkoski was cut from 4 markka to 3.50 markka. Supervisors' and office workers' wages were cut by 5 - 10 percent. In 1930 - 1931 wage cuts at Finnish paper mills peaked at 20 percent. The wages had been reduced so much that the majority of poor aid in Valkeakoski went to people in regular work.
United adopted the so-called ten percent agreements. A personal contract of employment guaranteed the worker a tenth of his annual wage, if he undertook not to join a trade union and to register for work even during a strike. General Walden was staunchly against collective labour agreements. The first paper industry collective labour agreement at United was not signed until 1945.
When the economy turned to boom, wages began to rise gradually. United's young office manager, Juuso Walden, was worried about the company's reputation and the livelihood of low-paid workers. Halfway through the decade the pre-slump level had been reached, and by the end of the 1930s United wage levels were already among the highest in the country's industries.
War introduced family wage subsidies
From 1941, United introduced so-called family supplements for workers whose income fell below a certain limit. The supplement was 150 mk per month from the third child under 17. Those employed in agriculture or forestry were paid 75 - 120 mk. Jobs were created for war widows, invalids and their wives, and efforts were made to pay wages high enough to correspond with mandatory obligations. Every case was dealt with individually at superintendent’s meetings. War orphans were paid a monthly allowance of 200 – 300 markka until they reached the age of 18. This welfare system was in operation at United until the 1950s.
During the Continuation War, shortage of labour brought about considerable slippage of wages. War materials industries and building sites paid high wages. Other industries followed, and paper industry wages rose too. United raised the salaries of office staff with more restraint. Overall, wage differentials narrowed during the war years. In 1942, pay-as-you-earn taxation was introduced, and taxation was tightened for all wage earners.
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Museum24>At work>Forest industry>People at work>Work and workers>Working hours and wages 1880 - 1940
Working hours and wages 1880 - 1940