§ 34. Mr. Sorensen
asked the Secretary of State for India how many women are being recruited for work in Indian coalmines; whether the minimum of 6 feet height of galleries where they may work is a legal obligation; what are the respective wages of men and women mineworkers; whether infants accompany the mothers to and at their work; what welfare services are in operation; and if consultations have taken place with the Indian T.U.C. and the British T.U.C. regarding mine-working conditions and the possibility of avoiding the employment of women in that industry.
§ Mr. Amery
Owing to the serious shortage of coal production to meet the urgent needs of the war effort the Government 351 of India have reluctantly, and as a purely temporary measure, suspended the prohibition, in force since 1937, of work by women in the coal mines of the three Provinces of Bengal, Bihar and the Central Provinces. This suspension, which will be reviewed in six months, is subject to the conditions that no woman may work in galleries less than six feet in height and that the wage rates for women are the same as those for men on similar work. These conditions have the force of law. I have no information how many women are now employed in coal mines or whether infants accompany them. The Government of India's decision has been accompanied by welfare measures to ensure that food rations at special prices, cloth and other consumer goods are available to miners and their families. A cess on coal despatches has been imposed to finance improved arrangements for public health, education, and other amenities. Additional welfare officers including a woman have been appointed and motor transport is being provided between the coal-mines and out-lying villages. No discussions on the subject have taken place with the British Trades Union Congress. I do not know whether the Government of India have had any discussion with Indian trade unions.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that in many parts of the country and in this House this departure is viewed with grave apprehension? Why is it, therefore, that no consultations have taken place with the accredited representatives in this country of the miners and the Trades Union Congress? Has any attempt been made to secure that better wages are paid to the male miners in India so that the necessary number might be secured?
§ Mr. Amery
Yes, Sir. The whole subject has been gone into most carefully by the Government of India and they have only taken action very reluctantly in view of the really critical situation of coal supplies in India from the point of view of the war effort. The difficulty has been that the miners tended to go away because in other employments their wives are allowed to accompany them and work with them. It is because wives have not been allowed to work in the coalmines that the miners themselves have drifted away. I do not think the question is one that 352 could usefully be discussed with trade unions here or in any part of the world.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The Secretary of State will realise how reluctant we are to accept this position and how we resent this innovation. Did he say that the Government of India had not had consultations with the Indian trade unions on this matter?
§ Mr. Amery
I understand that the Indian coalmining industry is not union organised to any effective extent. Less than 10 per cent. of those in the industry are in any of the two or three small unions. I understand that the Government of India made the most careful inquiries and only adopted the suspension of the existing regulations with the greatest reluctance.
§ Mr. Sorensen
In view of the very unsatisfactory answer, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter at the earliest opportunity.