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Working Conditions During The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution, which rumbled to life in the mid-1700s, gave the world a number of handy inventions, such as steam engines, that improved the lives of many. However, this doesn’t mean the employment ethics had developed alongside the inventions that enabled the joys and benefits of mass production. Since the new technology meant there was no longer a need for skilled tradesmen, the many labourers were easy to abuse and replace. Men, women and even children, who worked in factories and mines, were treated miserably by their employers and had little to no recourse if they should be injured on the job or unfairly dismissed. If you think you hate your job, think again! Here are some of the woeful working conditions suffered by the people of the Industrial Revolution.

Low Wages

You did not need a high-level education to work the steam-powered machines at the time and even the most skilled tradesmen struggled to compete with the speed and efficiency of the mechanised assembly line processes. As such, employers could get away with employing largely unskilled workers, whom they would pay abominably low wages. Women could expect to earn only half, if not a third, of a man’s wages and children earned even less for the same number of hours worked (anywhere between twelve and sixteen hours each day). Due to the fact that there were droves of desperate people flooding urban areas looking for work, employers had a massive labour pool to draw from and could set their wages as low as they liked.

Occupational Hazards

During the Industrial Revolution, most people worked in obscenely dangerous environments. Machinery in those days didn’t have safety covers or fences and children were often used to clean them, since they were often the only workers small enough to reach the innermost parts of the machines. There was very little sunlight in the factories and whatever light was present was choked out by the smoke from the steam-powered machines. The smoke from the coal-fed machinery, aside from covering factory workers in soot, would also cause eye and lung problems. Things were much worse for children in these work environments. The lack of sunlight and exercise outside of their work caused many young children to develop physical deformities and stunt their growth. Young girls were made to pull carts of coal out of the mines, which would deform their pelvises and led to many deaths during childbirth. Like these long-term health issues, accidents were just as common.

No Sick Leave

You would think factory owners would at least compensate their employees for working under these dangerous conditions. No such luck! You see, the benefit of employing low-skilled workers from a massive labour pool meant that your employees were in every way expendable. If you, as a worker, were injured on the job or were otherwise unable to work, you would likely be dismissed (aka fired) immediately without pay. Employers were also not obliged to pay their employees’ medical expenses for any injuries sustained at work.

All Work, No Play

A typical work environment of the Industrial Revolution was very fast-paced and centred around production. Chatter between the workers on the factory floor was strongly discouraged and anyone hoping to take some time off to visit their family in the country was hoping in vain. There were no breaks allowed outside of an hour-long break each day. Any child caught sleeping on the job – and after working sixteen-hour days, who could blame them? – would be beaten. How’s that for an office culture?

Lack Of Rights

At the time of the Industrial Revolution, the political ideology of the day prevented the government from interfering in the operations of private businesses. This meant that employers were quite free to make use of child labour, pay terribly low wages, and abandon any employees who were injured or deemed unfit to work. The overall abuse of workers eventually led to the introduction of child labour and minimum wage laws, as well as the formation of labour unions, which sought to combat the long hours for low pay and force employers to take responsibility for employees, who were injured as a result of their poor work environment. However, these labour unions would often fail due to the fact that many workers were still willing to work, despite the unfair treatment.

So, to recap: If you were working during the Industrial Revolution, you would be earning next to nothing, working in dangerous conditions that could easily lead to injury and long-term health problems, you could be dismissed at a whim and couldn’t do anything about any of it.

Say it with me now: “I love my job.”