‘Down With PR!’& Minimum Wages of Labourers

We publish below the resolutions voted at the chain meetings organised by the ‘Down with PR!’ Campaign

The Rt. Hon Alan Lennox Boyd
Secretary of State for the Colonies

Sir

We, the inhabitants of the Colony of Mauritius, humbly beg to register our protest against the system of Proportional Representation envisaged in the Constitutional Proposals for the elections of both the Legislative and the Executive Councils.

We protest further against the vote cast by the three official members of the Legislative Council on a matter that should have been decided solely by the representatives of the people. It was the weight of the official vote that enabled the Council to pass the Constitutional proposals by a single vote.

A few weeks after the Council vote, a by-election was decided in the important constituency of Port Louis where the minority sections form the majority of the electorate. The election was specifically fought on the issue of Proportional Representation, and the Labour Party which was fighting against PR secured a resounding victory at the polls.

We feel that far from offering any guarantee to the minorities, the system of PR in a multi-racial population will threaten to dismember the people into various groups thus shattering all hopes of party alignment and national unity of the people. We feel that the most important problem of the country at the juncture of its political evolution is to bring the various sections together and to build up the conception of a national entity.

We are persuaded that all the sections inhabiting the colony are imbued with the utmost sense of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen and to the Commonwealth. We shall strive our utmost to help the Empire in any scheme of Imperial defence, making Mauritius as a bastion and we desire formally to hold out the assurance that a generous Constitution alone will cement the bonds closer between the Commonwealth and the people of the Colony.

We feel that the provision to have 12 nominated members in a Council of 25 elected is a fair and adequate guarantee to the minorities. It is obvious that a good number of members of the minority sections will be elected. In the final resort, there will be the Nominees and the officials to balance the scales in favour of the minorities.

The arguments against Proportional Representation have been exhaustively given in the Council debates on the issue and it is hoped that the Mauritius Hansard will give a fair picture of the points of view of the Coloured sections of the population.

We beg to suggest that the application of the system of PR in the elections to the Legislative and Executive Councils will result in treading underfoot the legitimate aspirations of the population and will make a mockery of democracy. The ministerial system will have to bear the heinous system of diarchy that will wreck all collective responsibility.

As loyal citizens we feel strongly that if the system is forced on the country, a necessary result will be to make the higher officials extremely unpopular and opposition to official policies will stiffen at every stage.

In view of all these, we humbly request you, Sir, to withdraw the provision of Proportional Representation from the Constitutional proposals and to allow democratic and free elections.

Before PR is imposed, we would request you to hold a general election to enable the country to give a clear verdict on it.

(Mauritius Times – 22 June 1956)

 


Minimum Wages of Labourers

Based Upon Inhuman Considerations

We publish below the findings of the Minimum Wage Board which fixed the wages of labourers in 1939. According to it, the wife of the labourer should work to complement the budget of the family. We understand that no minimum wage board has been instituted since and the wages of labourers are even today based on the inhuman considerations of that Board.

In what civilized country is it considered necessary that housewives should work to complement the budget of the family?

Yet 58,400 labourers of the sugar industry and about 10,000 labourers employed by Government Departments, Boards and Municipalities are being paid at rates between Rs 2.80 and Rs 3.92 per day.

Since the last ten years the prosperity of the Colony has increased very considerably. Is it not iniquitous to pay starvation wages to those who are producing the wealth of the country?

We would like to draw the attention of those with whom rests the destiny of labourers, to these startling facts. We further make a special appeal to the Presidents of Mauritius Amalgamated Labourers Union and of the Mauritius Agricultural Workers Union to consider well the interest of labourers before signing any agreement with the employers.

A minimum wage board for the district of Moka was appointed under Article 6 (i) of the Minimum Wage Board Ordinance, 1934, to advise Government as to the feasibility of fixing a minimum wage in respect of agricultural labourers employed in field work on sugar estates. After long and careful enquiries, it was agreed that the basis of computation should be a standard labourer’s budget and one which should be acceptable to both employers and labourers was drawn up, the monthly cost of which amounted to Rs 18.61 with prices ruling in Moka district in June, 1939.

A copy of this budget is included in Appendix II. (It is published below).

As the average adult labourer is married and is the father of not less than two children, the Board decided that it would be advisable to work out the approximate cost of living for such a family, and the figure of Rs 35 a month or Rs 420 a year was agreed upon. It was considered that the family should earn Rs 5 per mensem or Rs 60 a year from sources other than wages; e.g., vegetables, cattle, etc. This left a balance of Rs 360 a year to be earned by the family. The Board agreed that the average earnings during crop season should be taken as follows:

The man would work for 85 days at Rs 1.40 a day  – Rs 119

The woman would work for 90 days at 60 cs a day – Rs 54

                                                                                  Total – Rs 173

Therefore the balance which had to be earned during the inter-crop season was Rs 187. This inter-crop season lasts for about eight months, which means that the family would have to earn a little under Rs 24 a month. It was considered reasonable that a man would earn 66 cs a day and his wife 34 cents. The award which was fixed and subsequently promulgated by Government was as follows:

Day Labourers

(i) Able-bodied Labourers

(a) 66 cents for a day of 8 hours or for an equivalent task during the inter-crop season.

(b) Rs 1.25 for a day of 8 hours or for an equivalent task during the crop season.

(ii) Less efficient labourers

50 cents for a day of seven hours or for an equivalent task.

Labourers Employed on Agreement

Grande Bande

(a) Rs 20 a month (or its equivalent if the labourer is on a weekly or fortnightly agreement) a day’s work to be 8 hours or an equivalent task.

(b) The expression “Crop Season” used in paragraph (i) above means a period of four months starting from the date on which canes are first cut for crushing.

(c) The rates of the Minimum Wage Board have now been applied in the district of Moka. It is too early to appreciate the effectiveness of this award. While there are indications that some categories of labour are receiving more wages, it is believed that the majority of labourers are not affected.

Appendix II

Minimum Wage Budget
(Compiled by the Labour Department in 1939)

 

Stuff                                     Quantity                           Cost (Rs)

Rice                                         38 lb                                       Rs   2.70

Salt                                          1 lb                                                  .05

Chillies                                     ½ lb                                                .12

Curry Stuff                              1lb                                                   .25

Dholl or lentils                       7½ lb               fortnightly             .75

Peas or beans                          2 lb                                                 .28

Onions                                      1 lb                                                 .20

Garlic                                       ½ lb                                                  .10

Mustard oil                            1½ bottles                                         .75

Lighting oil                             1½ bottles                                       .30

Matches                                  6 boxes                                             .06

Cigarettes                                2 tins                                                .60

Soap                                        2 lb                                                     .60

Salt Fish                                  2 lb                                                    .48

Meat                                        3 lb                                                   1.50

Fish                                         4 lb                                                      .80

Vegetables                         for the amount of                                  .80

Potatoes                                  6 lb                                                      .50

Tea                                          3/4 lb                                                 1.00

Sugar                                      4 lb                                                        .40

Bread                                      10 lb                                                      .60

Milk                                         ¼ lb bottle daily                                 .60

Ghee                                       3/4 lb                                                    .75

Fruit                             for the amount of                                          .60

Clothing                                Rs 12 p.a.                                             1.00

Washing blue                                                                                       .10

Barber                                                                                                    .25

Bedding                                                                                                 .42

Pots and pans                          Rs 3.60 p.a.                                         .30

Rent (house)                                                                                        1.00

Religious ceremonies                                                                          .25

Books, papers etc.                  Rs 3.00 p.a.                                         .25

Working tools                          Rs 3.00 p.a.                                         .25

                                                                                    Total               18.61

(Mauritius Times – 29 June 1956)

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