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Rubber Workers (Wages)

Volume 478: debated on Wednesday 25 October 1950

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will give, in terms of English currency, the minimum rate of wages paid to the labourers on the rubber plantations of Malaya, together with the market price of rubber in October, 1948, 1949 and 1950.

In 1948 and 1949, minimum wage rates ranged between 2s. 10d. and 3s. 7d. a day, according to the job. They have now increased by 24 per cent. An agreement on daily paid wages was concluded last March between the rubber workers' unions and the employers' association; it may be reviewed by both parties at the end of six months. In 1948 and 1949, the average market spot price for top quality rubber was 1s. a pound; this October it was 3s. 10d. It must be remembered, however, that much rubber sold is below top grade, and there has also been a great deal of forward selling at prices well below the present spot prices.

It the Minister aware that we are passing through the greatest rubber boom for 38 years, and that, when there is a slump in rubber, the workers are asked to accept reductions in their wages? Now that there is the biggest boom for so many years, will he see that the workers on the rubber plantations share in this boom?

My hon. Friend will know that the agreement that was concluded last March can be reviewed by both parties at the end of six months. When I was in Malaya I sought to do everything I possibly could to encourage the growth of trade unions and industrial collective bargaining, and I am very glad to see that the unions and the employers are making agreements and carrying them out.

Is not the more important thing, in dealing with the wages position on the rubber estates, to increase the number of people who are paid on piece work and by results, so that those who work the harder get a better reward? Second, would the right hon. Gentleman remind the hon. Member who asked this question that, in his own report on trade union conditions to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the hon. Member said that, in considering wages in Malaya, it was important to take into account the Asian, rather than the Western European, standard of living?

My advice to all in Malaya, when I was there, was that they should work to make the trade unions ever stronger, and that the employers should recognise them and help to build up machinery by which they could settle all problems.

While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him to continue to encourage the trade union movement in Malaya, and, at the same time, point out to him that there are 23,000 Government employees getting less than 3s. 5d.—