Sometime before the war, speaking in the Legislative Council, an aristocrat member of the Council complained that education imparted to children had a nefarious effect. Once they passed the Sixth Standard examination boys and girls aspired becoming clerks. The consequence was that a dearth of servants was felt.
Since, things have changed considerably and no doubt we would have expected a change in the outlook of our aristocrats. But on the 24th July 1954 the spokesman of the Conservatives, NMU spread consternation and resentment among the labouring class by his sarcastic and debasing remark concerning la race des humbles. In his article ‘Le désir de s’élever’, he derided and almost insulted the workers, saying that they aspire to make their children become prime ministers like Dr Ramgoolam instead of going back to the hoe. Hon Dr de Chazal who though upholds the view that labourers should not be uneducated complained in the Legislative Council on the 16th October 1956 that “… the population of this island once they acquire primary education have a tendency to despise manual labour… because they have acquired primary education they aspire to become white collared and black coated clerks”.
He even maintained that the laboring classes are often earning much higher wages that the white-collared clerks. He pretended he knows carpenters and masons, dockers and even agricultural labourers earning far more than men working in shops and offices.
Why people prefer one type of job to the other?
There are two overriding principles which govern this question. The first the financial, and secondly the status the job confers.
In UK a miner earns as much as the best paid clerk. A dustman (scavenger) earns around £7 per week plus uniform. He wears a boot, gloves, overalls. His status in society is not bad; his job is appreciated; society is conscious that the dustman helps the physician to keep the nation free from disease.
Is there any comparison concerning the condition of work, wages and the status of the dustman in UK with that of Mauritius? No wonder unless a Mauritian faces starvation he won’t accept that dirty job.
Living in a colony where the ghost of slavery and indentured labour system is still haunting us the dignity of labour is a vain phraseology. The economic disparity between manual and intellectual workers is so great that it is quite normal for people to endeavour to become clerks or teachers. Hon Dr de Chazal who is a well-informed member of the Council should know how big the margin is. For the information of our readers, let us quote some figures: A Second Grade Clerk in the Civil Service starts with Rs 2,280 p.a., stops at Rs 5,040. After 8 to 14 years service, he becomes First Grade Clerk and gets Rs 6,960 p.a. or as an Executive Officer he may earn Rs 7,020. The intelligent and painstaking can aspire to become one day a Senior Executive Officer with salaries running to five figures.
A training student joins the Education Department as 2nd Grade Teacher with Rs 2,112 p.a., stops at Rs 4,020. After 15 to 20 years’ service, he may be appointed 1st Grade Teacher with Rs 4,200 and climb up to Rs 4,920. He hopes to become someday a Head Teacher with salaries up to Rs 7,140. To these salaries should be added the cost of living allowance plus the normal sick and local leave plus six months’ passage and salary paid leave abroad every 3 or 6 years.
Now let us see how much manual workers earn. On the 31st October 1956, replying to Mr Fenner Brockway, the Secretary of State said that the wages of the daily paid field labourers on sugar estates in Mauritius including a cost of living allowance ranged from 2s 10d (Rs 1.90) to 5s 5d (Rs 3.63).
The Government is not a better employee than the estates. As at 30 June 1954 the Public Works Department had in its service:
Public Works Department
920 artisans earning from Rs 3.60 to Rs 7.30 per day.
2,384 skilled labourers earning from Rs 3.20 to Rs 3.92 p.d.
1,169 unskilled labourers earning Rs 2.80 to Rs 2.96 p.d.
In sugar factories
A second grade fitter on average earns Rs 4.06 per day.
A mason on average earns Rs 3.23 p.d.
A carpenter on average earns Rs 3.17 p.d.
These are few examples to prove that the disparity between a white-collared and black-coated clerk and the soil and the grease stained loin cloth and overall wearers cannot bear comparison in this colony.
These labourers or artisans do not have any of the amenities provided to the clerk. They cannot even dream of leave without pay. Insecurity constantly hangs over their heads as sword of Damocles.
In the face of such inequality and social injustice who is that mortal who would prefer making of his son an artisan or a labourer if he has the chance of making him a white-collared and black-coated worker?
What would Hon Dr de Chazal himself advise the children of his environment?
Friday 7th December, 1956
* Published in print edition on 5 July 2019