Labourers Are Badly Paid – A Reply to Hon Sauzier

MT 60 Yrs – A letter relating to profits and wages in the Sugar Industry appeared last week in our daily newspaper signed by Honourable Guy Sauzier, Secretary of the Chamber of Agriculture. In this correspondence Mr Sauzier has taken up the cudgels on behalf of the Sugar Industry employers against those who try ‘to jeopardise’ the good relations now existing between employers and workers of the Sugar Industry. He finally states that the fact and figures he has quoted might interest readers as “it would help to enlist their co-operation towards maintaining the good relations which exist between employers and workers.” Now let us see what are these facts and figures.

Proceeds of Sugar Crop and Total Wage Bill

The figures quoted are as follows:

Sugar & Wages

1938

(Rs)

1953

(Rs)

Increase

Proceeds of crop

Rs 50 million

Rs 285 million

470 %

Total wage bill

Rs 10 million

Rs 88 million

780 %

By these figures Mr Sauzier has tried to prove that the total wage bill has increased in greater proportion than the proceeds of the crop i.e.780% as against 470%. But has he thought about the percentage of the wage bill on the proceeds of the crop? Let us work it out and the results obtained are as follows:

1938 – 20%
1953 – 31%

Increase – 11%

This means that the workers have enjoyed (to use Hon Sauzier’s own words) “the end of the year bonus, the regularity bonus, full pay holidays, pensions benefit, free medical care and medical treatment, sickness benefit, maternity allowances, free milk distribution, housing allowances, provisions for better camp and dwellings, free allocations of plots of land, recreation rooms, and many other amenities.” “All these,” writes Mr Sauzier, “are reflected in the total wage bill,” and that is of course the reason for the increase of 11%. But has all this contributed to an improved condition of life for the worker? The reply is definitely “NO”.

The following figures of the Cost of Living Index Number are quoted to prove this

1939

1953

Cost of Living Index

100

408

Labourer’s Budget

Rs 39

Rs 120

How does all this compare with the monthly wage of Rs 64 paid to the grande bande labourer?

Again, it is to be asked whether all the amenities listed by Mr Sauzier are provided on the Sugar Estate. As for example, housing allowances, free allocation of plots of land, recreation room, etc. It is also to be asked whether the Wage Bill does not include the cost and expenses of agricultural machineries gradually introduced to displace manual labour.

If one goes through the reports of the Chamber of Agriculture, one cannot escape from getting the impression that conditions in the technique of Agriculture and of Sugar Estates have been greatly improved and this with only one aim that is to reduce the cost of labour. The centralisation and modernization of factories as well as the new varieties of canes have largely displaced labour. So the contention of Mr Sauzier that more workers have been employed to produce the bigger crops is not correct.

Comparison of Sugar Price and Wage Rates

Mr Sauzier quotes the following figures:

New price of sugar per metric ton

1938 – Rs 120,30

1939 – Rs 465

Increase – 286%

But how does all this compare with the increase in the Cost of Living? Has therefore the conditions of living of the workers been bettered? The reply is definitely No. Moreover there is tendency on the Sugar Estates to reduce the number of monthly workers. The employers contend that due to facilities of transport on which millions are spent yearly, there is no need to keep monthly employed labour to whom they have to provide amenities listed above by Mr Sauzier.

Moreover these facilities provided on the Sugar Estates have been recently introduced. What about the conditions between the years 1938 and 1946 i.e. up to the end of the War? The labourer on the sugar estates has toiled and moiled, earned lower wages and helped to run the sugar factories. During this long period of prosperity after 1946 that has lasted about a decade already the labourer has not been able to better his conditions. He is still earning low wages and is unable to make both ends meet.

On the other hand the prosperity has helped to give luxurious life to the Senior Staff of the Estate to improve and modernize the factories to increase the area under cane to provide better housing conditions for the Senior Staff. Over and above all these has come the Sugar Industry Rehabilitation Fund to pour millions in its coffers.

The whole of Place d’Armes has never known such a period of prosperity. All this does not stop there, but “that the amount of money ploughed back into the industry ever since after the War has been considerable (nearly Rs 200 million). This proves that there is a small section of the population who is enjoying the prosperous years and also provision has been made for the future. All this has been achieved as a result of the exploitation of labour.

The labourer is able to earn decent wages during the crop time period for about 100 days of the year and for the rest of the year he cannot find employment and if he is able to get employment it is at starvation wage. Moreover, fewer and fewer people are employed in the Sugar Industry such that those engaged in it have no future assured for them. Has the Sugar Industry made provision for Unemployment?

Mr Sauzier in his plea of defence for the Sugar Industry has compared a year of depression 1938 with a year of peak prosperity (1953) and has thus tried to prove that much has been done for the labouring class. All this is eyewash. His aim is to prove that there is nothing wrong with the Sugar Industry that there has been an agreement reached by a Union representing only a few thousand workers with a vast majority being ignored. He warns people outside that the conditions reached are the best that one can think of. Labour leaders should perhaps stop thinking of the labouring class. Let Mr Sauzier think of the dark days coming ahead, the days of economic depression and of mass unemployment. Let him think of the problem the sugar industry has helped to create i.e. abundant and cheap labour.

In order to enlighten the public Mr Sauzier might be asked to reply to the following questions.

(1)    What has been the amount of profit made by the Sugar Industry year by year since 1938?

(2)    What has been the total wage bills of the Sugar Industry year by year since 1938?

(3)    What has been the number of workers (Etat Major, Artisans. Labourers, separately) employed in the Sugar Industry year by year since 1938?

(4)    What have been the amounts paid as wages (to the Etat Major, Artisans, Labourers, separately) year by year since 1938?

If Mr Sauzier wishes to have good relations maintained between employers and workers he will not hesitate to inform the public.

IRIS

(MT 16 September 1955)

 

 

*  Published in print edition on 25 March 2016

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