The Problem of Salaries and Wages in Mauritius

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By Jay Narain Roy

The time has now come for us to review the entire field of salaries and wages in Mauritius. Salaries and wages have gone on in a haphazard manner and there has been little or no attempt to view the problem in the proper perspective. The two Commissions expressed divergent views and this is a further proof of the complexity of the problem.

Probably we have so far looked at it essentially from the point of view of the outsider. It is clear that the outsider’s sole interest is to increase his salary to draw higher pension. In order to do this, he is dying to invoke foreign standards of similar posts. Once the salaries of some posts are increased, there is a general clamour from all ranks and it is difficult to stop the slide.

But salaries must be related to two things – the financial power of the country and the standard of living. They should also have some bearing on skill and responsibilities but in gauging these, it becomes ultimately a problem of standardising human conscience. This is the most difficult problem of the moral sciences. To raise salaries appear to be a benevolent exercise for people who brush off administrative responsibilities in the desire to appear heroic. But the real trouble starts when under shrunken national economy we have to reduce and retrench. Somebody will have to face the music sooner or later particularly because our economy is too centred to last.

The Practice outside Government

The following are some of the tendencies on the industries: (a) most people are on monthly employment and are able to keep to a uniform standard of living but the labourers must inflate and deflate his stomach during the various seasons as the difference in his scale of wages from one part of the year to another is inhuman and fantastic, (b) a heavy charge of bonus  is saddled on to salaries and the bonus too is variously distributed following largely the whims of the demi-Gods, (c) even adolescents of the class of the owners get higher salaries than others with long and satisfactory service and this completely eliminates efficiency and usefulness to feed nepotism, (d) while many field works are being suppressed to keep away the manual workers, there is a conscious attempt to create sinecure posts for the kith and kin largely to show imposing overheads, and (e) while during intercrop all authorities appear to ignore the existence of the unemployed or under employed, all resources are geared during the crop to supply abundant labour to grease the crop period.

These are things that no civilised community can accept and they have gone on worsening during the years when we have tried to muster more administrative power. The smooth years have seen the industrial concerns grow up into a kind of Leviathan and bargaining power of trade unions has been gagged and muzzled. It is merely a unilateral dictation of wages and salaries and it has become difficult for any labour organizations to rear its head or even to organise effectively. Not only that the spur by the authorities to form strong trade unions is practically non est but one sometimes also gets the impression that some superfluous profits are being mobilised to undo the existing organisations. Some Trade unionists often transform themselves into the election pals of the reactionaries and this gives us fearfully to think.

In the private concerns, salaries and wages are looked at from different angles by the employer and the employee. To the employer they are a comfortable fraction of the profits. Economy is largely sought on the shoulders of the sweating men. The more he can keep the position under his thumb, the more he can pile up profits. He will increase only when he is bayed to the stake. The employee looks at the usefulness of labour in the general economy of the industries and at the possibility of surmounting the standard of living in the country. He realises that labour wages far from being tugged on to the caprices of the employer should follow certain civilised patterns and proportions. But with all his realization he feels himself impotent to take a stand that will entail subsistence on pittance for any protracted period. This dread is reinforced by the almighty power of the employer.

We have allowed this state of things to go on because the administrative pattern was Toryish and we were severely helpless to fight the grinding wheel. When the authorities have to make a case for the protection of the industries, they are painted as national concerns but they become private concerns when we demand that, being national concerns, they should ensure fair play to all the factors that sweat to ensure their prosperity. But this cannot continue if we can make the least vaunt of Responsible Government and popular ministries. This I consider to be among our major problems and it would be suicidal to sleep over it when the country is facing unprecedented frustration and squalor.

Salaries in Government

It has been found that since the last ten years or so, a dismal attempt has been done to shelve certain Government functions into autonomous Boards and they have a tendency to conserve most of the salary predilections of the industries. This clever manoeuvre is becoming too flagrant to escape attention and it can only be a Tory creation that must go sooner than we imagine.

Can the island administration bear the heavy charge of the present salary budget? What is the proportion of direct and indirect salaries to what is expended purely and simply for the welfare of the people? If we agreed to increase the country’s budget, it was not to inflate salaries and to create sinecure posts for protégés but to push forward the social services and to ensure health and welfare to the people. The first concern of Development Funds have so far been to create multifarious posts and we have had instances of appointed officers having arrived here to mark time, months and years before arrangements were made for their machinery to begin to function.
A case is today being made for the increase of salaries of experts and highly skilled officers. These appellations must be clearly defined as we have had in the past people who were important as experts and who were no greater experts than Sancho Panza. Some of them made the country waste large amount of money in vainglorious experimentations. It is quite true that we do need some really efficient people to tide over our planning periods. They should be people who know their jobs inside out and who would guarantee speed and concrete results. As such people come for a time, we could consider the possibility of increasing their salaries only with the idea of attracting them to push forward our welfare and to train Mauritians to take over. But it should also be clearly understood that such increase of salaries should be treated as an exception rather than a rule and that increase of salaries should imply a decrease of the number. It should by no means provide the bait for other demands.

The New Outlook

We should try to understand very clearly our approach to this complicated problem. The salaries should invariably be tied to our national income. No comparison is to be entertained with other colonies having a different set of economy or which have resources of future development superior to our own. Apart from this aspect, it should also be understood that the bureaucracy in a directly governed colony should follow a different pattern from the one under Responsible Government. Under the latter, the administration must first and foremost serve the country and the people and not Whitehall’s protégés. This is a fundamental change in the whole conception of government.

It should be our careful endeavour to see that initiatives and capacity to face problems should gradually pass over to those who were so far relegated to the position of chair-heaters or minute-scribblers in the clouds. The sense of killing time, of constantly keeping eyes of the clock or quietly working only for the size of the salaries should gradually change to the desire to push the country forward, to show speedy results and to face knotty problems. It is this new conception that will make our officers come to be marked out for a natural promotion.

But while we are unduly blatant about increase of salaries, we do appear to completely ignore the thousands of employees of Government at the lower rung of the ladder who have no sense of security even after a lifelong service and who during the crop are ingeniously discharged to cater to the needs of the industries. What civilised justification is there for increasing salaries at the top when these people have been left to wallow in wretchedness and abject despair? No moral justification can be made for any increase of existing salaries unless the wage-earning labourers in the Government services have been uplifted to a human standard of existence. If fact can we guiltlessly raise the problems of workers outside the Government if we do not put our own house in order?

These are some of the angles and aspects under which this extremely important matter of salaries and wages must be envisaged. I have no doubt that the country is feeling that this matter will receive the first attention of any Responsible Government. Much of our future development hangs on the degree of success we can achieve in salvaging the people from their encircling sense of frustration.

* Published in print edition on 25 August 2020

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