Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
I sign this Report, not because I think that the recommendations are adequate and will remedy all the grievances of the industrial workers in India, but because I believe they are calculated in some degree to bring about an amelioration of the present situation. It is again in this sense that I subscribe to all the recommendations made by my colleagues Messrs. Cliff, Joshi and Diwan Chaman Lall.
In regard to Chapter XI which deals with seamen, however, I must make the following recommendations:—
(1) The evils in the present system of recruitment of seamen have been sufficiently stressed in the Report, so that they need not be recapitulated here. The complete inadequacy of the present system of recruitment, the bribery to which it gives rise and the consequent indebtedness, misery, and general demoralisation, call for even more stringent regulation than the majority of my colleagues are prepared to recommend. I therefore suggest that future recruitment should be effected only through free Employment Bureaux set up by the Government in the more important recruiting ports.
(2) I cannot agree to the interpretation of our terms of reference which takes away from our purview conditions of seaman on ships registered outside India. If the foreign shipping companies have any branch offices in India, and the Articles of Agreement are signed either in these branch offices or in the Employment Bureaux, the establishment of which I have recommended, then I consider that it will be perfectly within the jurisdiction of the Government of India -to regulate the condition under which such foreign companies engage Indian seamen. My second recommendation, therefore, is that the officer-in-charge of the Government Employment Bureaux should draw up model Articles ,of Agreement detailing hours of work, and living conditions on board, and that these Articles signed by the representatives of the shipping Companies and by the seamen on Indian soil; Indian courts should have jurisdiction in the matter of enforcing these agreements. In addition the working hours on board ships must be curtailed as otherwise it will lead to the physical deterioration of Indian seamen. Provision must also be made in the Articles of Agreement for proper accommodation of the seamen on all ships and steamers, for the supply of free cooking pots; eating utensils, beds, pillows, blankets, soap and towels and proper mess-room accommodation.
(3) I am satisfied that the great disparity between the wages paid to Indian seamen and to the seamen of other nationalities is not economically or ethically justifiable.
I am prepared to concede that there may be a certain difference in the quality of the work of these two classes of seamen, but this is largely accounted for by the difference in wages and general amenities offered to them. I therefore urge that speedy efforts should be made to bridge the difference between the two scales of wages, and that this should be done by gradual increases in the rates now payable to Indian seamen.
Special Questions Relating to Workers in Inland Navigation.
In inland navigation there are about 40, 000 men employed. in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, Assam, Burma and other places. There as a great deal of unemployment among them, and any number of men can be recruited at any time without any difficulty. They are recruited by the serangs and " drivers ", and there exists a great many abuses in the method of recruitment. The serangs and maistries who recruit them not only give them bad food, but keep to themselves a part of their wages. They do not get a living wage the year round. They have absolutely no direct connection or relationship with the employers and they always remain dependent on the serangs who treat them as chattels. There are no fixed times of work, but generally they have to remain on board. In the ferry services the crews have to be on duty from 6 o'clock in the morning to 8-30 in the evening while the steamers are being plied from station to station. In addition they have to be on board the steamer an hour before 6 o'clock and similarly an hour longer after the steamers stop plying at 8-30 P.M. (vide also the evidence of Sir Charles Stuart-Williams, Chairman of the Calcutta Port Trust). I hope, under the circumstances, that the Port Commissioners at the ports of India and Burma will take sufficient steps to ameliorate the conditions of this class of seamen and remove the grievances set forth above.
As it was considered by the Chairman that the conditions of the crews of the military and marine launches in the Royal Indian Marine at Calcutta are beyond the scope of the enquiry, I recommend that the Government should investigate the conditions of life and work of the crews of these launches both at Calcutta and Bombay. It appears that they have been serving continuously for the last 25—30—35 years and yet they do not get any pension, gratuity, leave, uniforms, or other benefits corresponding to those granted to the Port Commissioners' men and to those of the Bengal Government doing similar; work.
I do not agree with the observation made in Chapter XVI at pages 299—301 with regard to the applicability of the Workmen's Compensation Act for injury and loss of life to Indian seamen engaged on ships registered outside India, nor do I agree that the principle of International Law can debar claims for such damages in any court in India by the seamen's relatives or dependants, since the seamen are recruited on Indian soil under the supervision of the shipping master appointed by the Government of India. I have recommended that seamen's Article of Agreement in all cases should be signed on in the Employment Bureaux at the shipping office and not on board the ship, and I would also insist that the printed forms of agreement supplied by the shipping office should include a clause entitling a seaman to enforce his claim for compensation in any court in India in the same manner as other claims such as a claim for arrears of salary, etc.