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South Africa (British Firms)

Volume 889: debated on Monday 24 March 1975

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4. Mr.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement about the implementation of proposals in the White Paper "Wages and Conditions of African Workers Employed by British Firms in South Africa".

I have asked over 500 British companies to publicise improvements in wages and working conditions of African employees of their South African affiliates. A First Secretary (Labour) has taken up post in our Embassy in Pretoria.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman how he reconciles the code of practice in the White Paper with the change of law in South Africa—the second General Amendment Act 1974—which makes it illegal to declare information outside the Republic? I gather that this includes labour relations. Does not this make a nonsense of the policy in my right hon. Friend's White Paper?

My present understanding is that the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman refers was devised for a specific purpose, that it was not at all related to employment questions and that, although couched in general terms, it is unlikely to prove a serious obstacle in the present context.

Will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to a proposal that we should enact legislation requiring British companies which have widespread commercial interests abroad to pay decent rates of wages and have decent working conditions wherever they are operating?

That is a much wider question. We have to give consideration not only to conditions and the wages which are paid by our own companies overseas. We cannot operate in this area unilaterally without taking account of the relevant conditions and the competitive rates of pay and other provisions operated by other companies, both companies domestic to the country concerned and other foreign companies.