HC Deb 03 December 1952 vol 508 cc149-51W
55. Mr. Awbery

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he is aware that the negotiations over the major claims of the employees of the naval base at Singapore have broken down; that the men have decided to strike on 9th December; and what action he is taking to negotiate with the trade union concerned in order to submit the whole of their outstanding grievances to arbitration.

Mr. Digby

I learned with regret that the Naval Base Labour Union had given formal notice to strike on 9th December unless their claims were met, but in view of subsequent events I trust that they will reconsider this intention.

The most important point of difference between the Union and the Admiralty is the claim to rates of cost of living allowance at the same rates as are currently paid by the Colony Government to their employees. The Union have been informed on several occasions, including my recent visit to Singapore that the pay given by the Admiralty and the other Service Departments to their locally entered employees at Singapore and other bases overseas is based on the wages accorded by the generality of local good employers (including the Colony Government) and not on those accorded by any one employer alone.

The information necessary to apply this policy is collected and examined by a committee of local representatives of the three Service Departments, who keep the matter continuously under review. In accordance with their recommendation, increases were awarded to various sections of the locally entered employees on three occasions in 1951, and an increase in the pay of labourers was made as recently as September, 1952. The Union have been supplied with a list of the employers on which the Service Departments base their review and with a list of the wages paid without identifying particular rates with particular concerns.

Payment of cost-of-living allowance at the rates paid by the Colony Government would not be justified, under the policy I have described, by the facts known to the Service Departments, and communicated to the Union. This was explained to the Union, who then substituted a claim for an increase of 20 per cent. in the existing cost of living allowance. This claim also has been examined by the Inter-Services Committee, who found that it could not be justified, and the Union were informed accordingly on 27th November.

It was then agreed that a joint meeting of the Dockyard and Union representatives should be held under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioner for Labour of the Colony Government on 2nd December to explore the latest situation. There was a free and cordial discussion at this meeting, and measures for joint investigation of wages problems were considered. The representative of the Naval Base Labour Union undertook to put to the Executive Committee of the Union matters which were discussed, and both parties agreed to a further meeting.

The remaining claims of the Union have been thoroughly examined and answered, with full explanations, and a measure of paid sick leave has recently been approved. Regarding the claim for the establishment of joint consultative machinery on a more formal basis than exists at present the terms of a formal constitution are under consideration, but, meanwhile, there is full and unfettered opportunity for consultation between the Union and the local naval authorities, and for the fullest consideration of the Union's claims.

In these circumstances, the question of the possible reference to some form of arbitration of any of the Union's claims should not arise.