HC Deb 29 July 1942 vol 382 cc492-4
30. Mr. Mathers

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement regarding the labour troubles in Jamaica; and whether the trade union demand for an eight-hour day and increased wages from the West Indies Sugar Company has been conceded?

Mr. Harold Macmillan

My Noble Friend is aware that unemployment and the increased cost of living have given rise to certain difficulties in Jamaica which the Government are taking all possible steps to alleviate. No reports have been received of any labour troubles or of the demand referred to in the second part of the Question.

Mr. Mathers

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that an inquiry was made under the Defence Regulations? When will he have the result?

Colonel Arthur Evans

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it was this company's factory which introduced the eight-hour shift basis in the Jamaican sugar industry over two years ago and that during its five years' existence it has not only increased wages considerably but has played a leading part in improving the conditions of the workers generally?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, Sir, I am glad to have this opportunity of paying tribute to the progressive policy of this company.

Mr. Kirkwood

But is it not a fact that the general working conditions of these natives have been absolutely scandalous?

31. Mr. David Adams

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has a statement to make as to employment conditions in the West Indies; and whether, as construction work upon the American bases is ending, alternative plans for re-employing these workers and/ or for recruitment in the Armed Forces have been made?

Mr. Macmillan

The approaching completion of work on the United States bases, together with the restriction of overseas trade, and the curtailment of internal trade consequent on petrol and rubber rationing, will produce a difficult situation in the near future. The Governments of the Colonies concerned are doing everything possible to meet these difficulties. Some relief will be afforded by increased local production of food crops; and schemes of development and of public utility, to be financed under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act or from local revenues, will be carried out as far as present conditions permit. Owing to shipping difficulties, it has not been possible to make plans for extending recruitment of West Indians for the Armed Forces. Local forces have been strengthened in some cases, but not, of course, as an unemployment measure.

Mr. Adams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a matter of extreme urgency? Does he anticipate that the schemes to be undertaken will solve most of the unemployment?

Mr. Macmillan

I realise its importance and urgency, but the hon. Gentleman will realise the peculiar difficulties with which we are faced.

32. Mr. Adams

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that the Government Labour Department of Jamaica estimates the rise in the cost of living since the out break of war at 46 per cent. whilst the increase in the wages of Government employees awarded recently is 15 per cent.; whether this increase has yet been made; and whether it is intended promptly further to raise these wages to an equitable level?

Mr. Macmillan

The reply to the first part of the Question is in the affirmative. The cost of living bonus has been paid since 1st April, 1942. The question of revising the bonus will no doubt be considered at the end of the financial year.

Mr. Adams

Does not the Minister recognise that these people's wages are still 31 per cent. below the rise in the cost of living?

Mr. Benson

Are the wages paid by private employers comparable, or are they lower?

Mr. Macmillan

If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question concerning specific industries and cases, I will obtain the information.

Mr. Kirkwood

Have we not bled Jamaica white?

Mr. Adams

May I have an answer on the very important matter I raised—whether these people are to be kept waiting for months before they receive the rise to which they are entitled?