Notes on the Minimum Wage Bill
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5 August 2015
The Burma Road Riots as they are known took placemon1st and 2nd June 1942.
It has been the subject of many examinations and stories over the years.
It is clear that what it did was to crystallize the labour movement in The Bahamas.
The political hero of the Riots was Milo Butler.
There were two Committees. One a House Select Committee dominated by the Bay Street Boys and headed by Stafford Sands. The other a Commission of Inquiry appointed by the Duke of Windsor, the Governor of The Bahamas and headed by Sir Allison Russell K C. with Herbert McKinney and Herbert Brown.
Both reports are worth the read.
The more definitive report is the Commission report.
All of the commentaries say that the immediate issue and cause of the riots was the question of the disparity between the wages paid to Bahamian workers on the job and the n on nationals on the job.
The average Bahamians wage in 1936 was pegged at 2 shillings a day
That is about 28 cents if you accept the rate of exchange as 2.86 cents to the pound.
The American Company Pleasantville was prepared to pay Bahamian Blacks 2 dollars per day. Which would be about 12 shilling per day.
Michael Craton describes this as a revolution.
The government instead agreed that unskilled labour should instead get 4 shillings per day or 56 cents.
There was the report that Bahamian truckers were getting 1 shilling per hour, while American truckers were getting 1.50 per hour or ten times more than the Bahamians or in sterling that means while the Bahamian truckers were getting 1 shilling per hour, the Americans were getting 12 shillings per hour.
The American Company let the Bahamian workers know that they were prepared to pay all workers more but that it was the government of the day that prevented it.
The riot led to 2 deaths and 25 injuries. It was said to have started when someone threw a bottle from a coca cola truck parked don Bay Street and massed a window.
The labourers wages were later raised to 5 shilling per day or about 70 cents per day.
The more important point though is that all of this led to the following according to Sir Clifford Darling:
On 1st March 1943, the House of Assembly with the following bills
A bill for an act relating to permitting Trade Unions to Organize
A bill for an act to provide for the payment of compensation for workers
A bill for an act relating to the Hours of Work for Shop Assistants to provide that females may not be employed for more than eight hours from Monday to Thursday
A bill for an act to provide for Pensions for Aged Persons.
The important point I wish to raise here as we support this resolution is that wages are important. That is trite but significant. Without a proper wage there will be social disorder.
When you fool with the money of a man or woman, you are playing with fire.
That is why I support one hundred per cent the statement of the Minister of Labour on the deductions for union dues
And deplore how the matter of the gratuities for workers at the Melia resort are being handled.
It is simply reprehensible.
The gains of the workers forged over these many decades are being reversed and this generation of leaders must put a stop to it.
I support this minimum wage increase. It is not enough but at this time they say we cannot do more. I have said that in immigration I have found that when people say for example in Bimini or elsewhere that they cannot find Bahamians do the work, including live in maids and gardeners and ordinary labourers throughout the country, the real problem is they cannot find people to work at the prices they offer for their labour.
If we are to eliminate the work permits that are being offered in these low wage categories, then it appears to me that the wages have to increase.
The point I wish to draw also is that when the Burma Road riots took place there were two kinds of Black leaders. There were those who stood with the workers. Sir Clifford remembers Bert Cambridge and Milo Butler and Charles Rodriguez. And then there were the accomodationists who found every excuse to apologize, to provide excuses, to plead with workers to step back from the breach.
It sounds like the situation we have today.
Some people cannot help but apologize to the master for what the servant has done.
And plenty of them mark emancipation day but don’t understand what it means in the modern context. So it’s not surprising that as soon as the overlord is attacked, some of his friends and servants and agents will start singing their song: inappropriate, rabid, out of order, the minister should not say that, he shouldn’t behave like that.