HC Deb 09 February 1938 vol 331 cc1038-43
40. Mr. Mathers

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware of the labour unrest which exists in many parts of the British West Indies; whether he will give particulars of the number of strikes and other evidences of that unrest arising during the year 1937; how many casualties arose therefrom; and what action he is taking to remedy the grievances of workers whose standard of life is too low?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

As the reply is necessarily of some length, I propose, with the hon. Member's permission, to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Mathers

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman give the House some indication of the number of cases of unrest, and evidence of unrest and strikes?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

It covers four pages.

Following is the reply:

Yes, Sir. As the hon. Member is aware, there were disturbances in Barbados and Trinidad which have been the subjects of Commissions of Inquiry, the reports of which have been published.

There was also a demonstration by unemployed and ex-service men at Kingston in Jamaica in August, 1937, when it became necessary for the police to disperse the crowd with batons. A number of small strikes also occurred during the year in various parts of the Colony, but as I stated in reply to a question by the hon. Member for St. Paneras, North (Mr. Grant-Ferris) on 1st December, agreement was reached between the employers and the labourers, and increased wages have now been given in the case of the banana labourers who were those principally concerned. There was no disorder.

In St. Lucia there was a strike of labourers in the sugar industry in August, 1937. A Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the Administrator, and an interim report on the Sugar Industry was published on 7th September. It recommended certain minimum wage rates in respect of both task work and day labour for labour employed in that industry and the rates recommended were given effect in the St. Lucia Sugar Industry Wage Order of 6th October. The final report of the Commission has now been published in St. Lucia, and its further recommendations are now under consideration by the acting Administrator.

A strike occurred among the seamen employed by the Transport and Harbours Department of the Government of British Guiana, which was settled satisfactorily. There was also a one-day strike of certain employés of the postal service in that colony.

A small dock strike occurred in Antigua at the end of April, 1937, but it collapsed after some small increases in wages had been granted.

In addition to the above, disturbances, not primarily due to labour unrest, occurred in Inagua, one of the islands in the Bahamas. A report has been placed in the Library of the House.

As regards the second part of the question, the total casualties were:—

Killed Injured.
Trinidad 14 59
Barbados 14 47
Jamaica 7
Bahamas 1 2

As regards the last part of the question, I have recently drawn the attention of all Colonial Administrations to the necessity of making provision for adequate machinery to ensure the proper supervision of labour, and a copy of my despatch on this subject dated 24th August, 1937, has been placed in the Library of the House.

In British Guiana a Labour Inspectorate, with a Commissioner of Labour and subordinate staff has been set up, and it is also proposed that the officers of the District Administration should also be entrusted with duties and powers of labour inspection.

In Trinidad, as the hon. Member is aware, labour conditions have been thoroughly investigated by the recent Commission of Inquiry, and their recommendations are now under consideration by the Government of Trinidad. In the meantime an officer has been appointed from the Home Service as Industrial Adviser.

In Barbados, the Commission of Inquiry has recommended the appointment of a Labour Officer to assist in the settlement of disputes, and the fixing of minimum wages for various workers, the provision of houses and the clearance of slums. These recommendations are under consideration by the Government and Legislature of Barbados.

New Labour Inspectorates have been established in Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and Commissions have been appointed in all three islands to investigate labour conditions and rates of pay. The commissions in Grenada and St. Vincent have not yet concluded their work, and as already stated, some of the recommendations of the St. Lucia Commission have already been implemented.

In Jamaica considerable progress has been made towards improving labour conditions: a Housing Board has been established, a Workmen's Compensation Bill is being introduced, legislation for the control of factories and workshops with minimum wage-fixing machinery is contemplated, and consideration is being given to the question of creating an organisation for arbitration and conciliation.

Finally, as was stated in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Hems-worth (Mr. G. Griffiths) on 14th December, 1937, Colonial Administrations were requested last summer to report upon the operation of the legislation providing for the fixing of minimum rates of wages So far as the West Indian Colonies are concerned such minimum rates have been prescribed in the Bahamas for unskilled labourers employed in the building trade; in Grenada and St. Vincent for agricultural labourers, and in St. Lucia for agricultural labourers generally, for workers engaged in the sugar industry and for persons engaged in various occupations in the coaling industry.

62. Mr. Riley

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the rates of wages and weekly hours of work of unskilled workers in the sugar industry and oil industry, respectively, in the West Indian islands?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

As the reply contains a number of figures, I propose, with

—— Sugar Estate unskilled workers. Oil Industry unskilled workers.
Daily rate of wages. Weekly hours of work Daily rate of wages. Weekly hours of work
Barbados 1s. 3d. 49
Jamaica 2s. 0d.−2s. 6d. 50
Antigua 1s. 2d.−1s. 4d. 44
St. Kitts Nevis* 1s. 4d.−1s. 6d. 44
Trinidad* 35c. 54 72c. 48
Grenada 1s. 3d.−2s. 0d. 48
St. Vincent. 1s. 2d. 48−54
St. Lucia 1s. 3d. 54
*Higher wages are earned by "task" work.

Only the figures relating to Trinidad, Barbados, St. Vincent and St. Lucia are based on information later than 1936.

The Trinidad sterling dollar is equivalent to 4s. 2d.

63. Mr. Riley

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies approximately the number of labour or native disturbances which have occurred in the British West Indian possessions during the years 1935, 1936, and 1937, respectively; and the number of persons killed or injured in such disturbances?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Disturbances involving casualties occurred in Jamaica, St. Kitts, and St. Vincent during the year 1935, and in the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad in 1937. The total casualties in the three years were: killed, 39; injured, 175.

Mr. Riley

Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that those disturbances are largely due to the conditions of labour in those islands, and, if so, does he not think it would be useful to have a Royal Commission to inquire into Colonial labour conditions?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

There was a Commission with regard to the West Indies, under the chairmanship of Lord Olivier, not very long ago, and it dealt with sugar labour and sugar problems generally. In the recent report of the very important Commission on Trinidad, there were very far-reaching recommendations. I am satisfied that the growth of labour departments of the Colonial Governments is essential in view of what has happened.

the hon. Member's permission, to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the reply:

The latest figures available in the Colonial Office are:

64. Mr. Riley

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether there are any trade union organisations in existence among the workers in the sugar and oil industries of the West Indian Islands; if so, whether such trade unions are permitted to function as freely as trade unions in this country; and whether such trade unions are recognised by the West Indian employers?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Trade union legislation exists in Trinidad, Jamaica, the Leeward Islands, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. There are registered trade unions for sugar and oil workers in Trinidad, but I have no information regarding the other islands. As regards the conditions under which trade unions in Trinidad function, I would invite reference to the report of the Commission of Inquiry. This is a matter which will engage the early attention of the recently appointed Industrial Adviser in Trinidad.

Mr. Riley

Are limitations placed on the functions of trade unions in Trinidad which do not exist in regard to trade unions in this country?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Not that I am aware of. Certainly that is not the intention. What we want to avoid are trade unions not functioning as trade unions do in this country.

Mr. Benn

Does not the Royal Commission point out that trade unions in Trinidad are subject to restrictions which do not exist in this country?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

They have been in the past.

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