HC Deb 13 June 1904 vol 135 cc1483-5
DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will communicate to Lord Milner the assurance he gave to the House on 21st March that Chinese labourers indentured under the Transvaal Ordinance would receive at least 2s. a day; and whether he will press for the accomplishment of this undertaking.


The hon. Member will see from reference to page 37 of Cd. 2026 that I communicated my statement to Lord Milner. The assurance was given on the best authority, which was that Chinese coolies could not be obtained for lower wages. This information, probably owing to the dislocation of the labour market caused by the war, has proved incorrect. Accordingly, in order to secure the principle which I had in my mind—viz., that Chinese labour should not unfairly compete with or undercut native labour, I have exhaustively discussed the whole question with Lord Milner and have arranged that the Chinaman shall have equality of payment with the native for different classes of work, and full opportunity of taking piecework, by which, Lord Milner informs me, the Chinese will be able to earn considerably more than the average monthly wage. While it is right to protect the South African native from unfair competition, I think no one would desire to inflate the scale of native wages, which are already high, by paying Chinese not only much more than they have proved ready to take, but more than the average standard of Kaffir wages. I trust, therefore, inasmuch as I have fully observed the spirit, that the House will absolve me from fulfilling the letter, of my undertaking.


Are we to understand that the pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman on 21st, March that the Chinese labourer should at least receive 2s. a day. is one which the right hon. Gentleman, in the light of subsequent events, believes cannot be carried out?


I do not say that it cannot be carried out; but I think that in the opinion of all fair-minded men, whether opponents of the measure or not, it would not be desirable to carry it out, because I do not think anybody wishes to give the Chinese higher wages than the Kaffirs. It would tend to raise the scale of Kaffir wages throughout South Africa to the prejudice of agriculture.

SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)

Is it not the fact that the minimum wage paid to the Chinese will be lower than the minimun wage of the Kaffir?


No, Sir, that is not the case. Take, say, 100 Kaffirs and 100 Chinese. Measures have been taken to provide that if the 100 Chinese do not, on the average, earn as much as the 100 Kaffirs do—namely, 50s. a month—their wages shall be supplemented.


But is it not the fact that the wage paid for the first six months for Chinese labour is 1s. a day, whereas that paid for the first six months for African labour is 1s. 6d. a day.


No, Sir, it is not the fact. The average paid to Chinamen will, I am assured, be at least 50s. a month.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

Will there not be an inducement to the mine-owners to employ Kaffirs, because they do more work than the Chinese?


I have taken every possible measure to secure that the interest of the mine-owners shall be to employ natives rather than Chinese. It has been provided that the Chinese shall have equal wages with the native. As the expenses of transit of Chinese are much larger, it is obvious that the interest of the mine-owners will be to employ the Kaffir rather than the Chinese.

SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

How is the average wage of the Kaffir to be ascertained. Is it to be the wage before the war, during the war, or the reduced wage since the war?


It is substantially the pre-war wage. This was originally 49s. It went down to 30s. It has since risen again to something below 50s.; I think about 47s.


On what principle is the rate of wages for piecework arrived at.


This is becoming a debate on the question of Chinese wages. I think it would be better to put any further Questions on the Paper.


What is the minimum wage paid at the present time to the individual Kaffir?


I have said that notice should be given of any further Questions.