The pay packets, or ‘tuutjes’

For many years, a special ceremony took place every Friday in Alfons Nelissen’s childhood home. Under the watchful eye of his wife, Anna-Maria, the workers’ wages were calculated down to the last franc and placed in envelopes.

These envelopes, containing bills and jingling coins, were then brought to the former office of the brickworks, where the employees picked up their weekly wages. Gaston Nelissen and Guido Gevers of the third generation of Nelissens were privileged witnesses. “Every Friday afternoon, we were part of this formality,” explain the former managers of Nelissen Brickworks.

The ‘tuutjes’

“The wages were first calculated using a counting machine and the total came out on a printed strip,” they still remember vividly. “There was a large iron money chest in the parlour room that contained all the wages. We then put the wages into envelopes. We called them ‘tuutjes’ in our dialect. These were pay packets that we filled very carefully. After all, this was a huge responsibility. All of the wages had to be correct down to the very last franc and centime. And while we were doing this, grandma and grandpa watched us work.” The workers picked up their pay packet from a counter in a room at the back of the old office building which, during the first decades of the brickworks, was a renovated and converted garage.

By the piece and by the hour

How were wages calculated? Wages were calculated by the piece and by the hour, depending on the position, nature of the work and/or whether the work was carried out indoors or outdoors. “Those who threw the clay by hand into wooden moulds, called ‘hand moulders’, were paid by the piece,” says Guido Gevers. “The brickmakers were paid by the cart. They retrieved the bricks from the drying tunnels and stacked them on carts that were then driven into the ovens. In team of two, they loaded seven or more carts during every shift.”

By the brick type

A pay slip from 1973 shows that a brickmaker received 96 francs for every cart. These wages were not only based on the number of bricks that were placed in the oven cart, but the type of brick also determined how many francs he would literally have in his pocket at the end of the week. The worker received a higher payment for black bricks, for example, than for the lighter coloured bricks. “The black bricks turned the brickmaker almost completely black, not least his hands,” explains Guido Gevers. “He had to wash repeatedly. So, he received 133 francs per day for the black bricks. For red bricks, the pay was 124 francs and 119 for yellow bricks. And if he had to work outdoors, he was paid an extra 10 francs. In 1973, the average daily wage was 100 francs.”

Monthly wages

Stokers, welders, technicians, drivers, sorters, bearer-offs and employees in other positions received hourly wages. Wages were initially paid in cash every week. This then changed to every other week. In the local vernacular, they received their ‘quinzième’. In the 1970s, wages began to be paid monthly. Today, the workers are only paid an hourly wage according to a pay scale. The wage amount is determined based on several factors, such as seniority and education. 
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