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Malaya And Singapore

Volume 478: debated on Wednesday 25 October 1950

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Rubber Workers (Wages)

7.

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.—

Civilian Casualties

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what is his estimate of the number of civilians accidentally killed in bombing raids on bandits in Malaya; and what compensation has been paid.

Only one civilian, a child of three, is known to have been killed in this way, and 676 dollars (about £80) were paid as compensation.

In view of the recent statement by the Director of Operations in Malaya that these bombing operations are expensive, and seeing that the jungle cannot be set on fire, would the Minister reconsider the whole policy of the use of bombers in Malaya?

This is a matter which I would prefer to leave to the Director of Operations in Malaya.

Would it not be better if Mr. Vyshinsky, now so friendly, would call off these operations altogether?

Does not the Minister agree that the Royal Air Force does at least give some warning to the bandits when its aircraft are coming, whereas the bandits stab people in the back when they are carrying out their normal daily work?

I indicated last week the steps taken before bombing takes place to ensure that civilians are given as much warning as possible.

Can the Minister say how many civilian lives have been saved as a result of the attacks on terrorists by Royal Air Force aircraft?

I have given the figure; it is a very large number, and an increasing number.

Doctors (Pay)

20.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what is the average increase in pay of the European doctors in the medical service in Malaya and Singapore, comparing 1950 with 1938; and what is the rise in the cost of living for Europeans in those territories as between 1938 and 1950.

For most doctors, the average increase is between 50 and 60 per cent. For those in the highest posts, between 30 and 50 per cent. In August, 1950, the Singapore cost of living index for Europeans was 110 per cent. above the 1938 level; in June, 1950, the corresponding index for the Federation of Malaya stood at 142 per cent. above 1939.

In view of the difficulty of recruiting British doctors, and also the fact that there is a shortage of European doctors in Malaya, would the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the scale of payments and the financial attractions to the service? If he cannot do that will he give consideration to recruiting European doctors in those countries where there is a surplus of doctors?

I have answered before not only about Malaya but about other Colonial Territories. There is a shortage of doctors in the service of the Colonial Territories everywhere. We are doing our very best to recruit doctors wherever we can find them.

Administrative Officers (Retirement)

21.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what consideration he has given to raising the age of compulsory retirement for members of the administrative service in Malaya in view of the shortage of experienced officers and the improvements in health conditions in the past 20 years.

The present age of compulsory retirement in Malaya is 55. That in tropical conditions is not too low as a general rule, but when the services of an individual officer who is nearing retiring age are specially needed it has been the practice to ask him if he would be willing to stay voluntarily beyond 55. Also the local Governments have notified all officers that permission will no longer be given automatically to those applying to retire at the age of 50 and have invited those approaching that age to consider carefully whether it is not their duty, in present conditions, to continue to serve.

Do not vital statistics show that officials who accept invitations to stay in Malaya over the normal age are very apt to live very little longer?

I appreciate that, but we have made an appeal to them that in the existing circumstances in Malaya we hope they will continue to serve beyond the retiring age, whenever possible.

Would it not be better to reduce the age of retirement so that many of the senior and less enlightened officers can be cleared away—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—so that many of the less enlightened officers can be cleared away—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—and more recruitment can take place from local inhabitants of Malaya, which is very much desired?

There is a good deal of recruitment. A large proportion of the officers in Malaya have served since 1945 in very difficult circumstances, and a very large number of them after years of internment in war camps. What we are asking them to do at the moment—and I know we are asking a big thing—is that, in view of the circumstances in Malaya, wherever they can stay beyond retiring age they should do so.

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to these gentlemen that the majority of the House views with respect the manner in which they are discharging their duties, often at the risk of their lives?