Foreman left farmer in a predicament

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1914 court

At the North Riding Police Court today before Mr AH Robinson and other magistrates, William Fletcher, farmer, summoned Ernest William Wilson, Wykeham, under the Employers’ and Workmen’s Act.

A difficulty of law arose which made it of particular interest.

Mr Whitfield said the amount claimed was £5. This case was perhaps more important from the standpoint of his client, for the latter engaged defendant as his foreman at £32 a year, paying him a fest of 10s. Defendant came to his place on Wednesday, December 3rd, and worked on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday, leaving on the Sunday morning. His client was therefore left without a foreman, without anyone to supervise his men. The two horses to which, as foreman, he was attending, and had to work, were left standing idle. Good foremen were scarce, and it was not easy after Martinmas week for a farmer to get a suitable man. For the period of seven weeks Mr Fletcher was without a foreman.

He was put to very great inconvenience, he had to pay another foreman 12s per week, and besides giving him 10s extra during harvest. This was £34 per year. There was a loss, on the horses alone, of at least £7 apart from the lack of supervision.

Complainant said he had had to put the horses to grass for seven week.

By the Chairman: He thought defendant was in another situation, but it was only from hearsay. Defendant made no complaint to him before he left.

Defendant to complainant: You engaged me for foreman? - Yes.

Defendant: What for did you come and give all the orders yourself?

Continuing, he said that Mr Fletcher gave the orders himself. That was why he came away.

The Magistrates’ Clerk: Did you complain to Mr Fletcher about his doing so?

Defendant: No, sir, I did not.

Defendant: When he engaged me he didn’t say whether I was engaged for a year or not. It was never mentioned how long I was engaged for.

Witness: I asked him what he wanted for the year. He said £35. I told him it was too much and offered him £32. It was to be paid at the end of twelve months.

The magistrates retired and on their return complainant again entered the box.

The Chairman: What day did you engage this man? - On 21st November. The Saturday night.

The Chairman: Are you sure it was the Saturday night? - Certain it was a Saturday.

The Chairman: I think Saturday was the 22nd.

Complainant agreed that it was the 22nd, and in answer to further questions he said that his new man was married. He boarded in the house, but he would not sleep there.

The magistrates retired for a lengthy period, and on their return the Magistrates’ Clerk said that if the contract was made on the 22nd it was a contract which could not be performed within a year (Martinmas Day was on Sunday November 23rd).

Mr Whitfield said that he agreed there was that difficulty. They could get over it in this way. When a man performed services under an unenforceable contract it did require some notice to terminate the engagement. If a man stopped so long he was bound to give some notice to leave. The question would be what was a reasonable notice for a farm foreman. He had caused very great inconvenience and some serious loss. He asked them to give damages on account of defendant not having given reasonable notice.

Defendant: If this man had let me have the place he engaged me for, I should never have come away. I never had chance of being foreman when I got there.

The magistrates retired a third time, and on their return the Chairman said they had gone carefully into the case. In consequence of the circumstances of the case they had no power to make an order for damages.