Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

Wages and trends in wages

Different jobs in plantations

In a given plantation in British Guiana or Demerara, indentured laborers had different jobs that would be assigned to them in regards to their physical capacities or time in the plantation. Each job would have different pays, in accordance to their difficulties or physical requirements. Not every plantation offered the same set of jobs but the following are six that were present in every plantation:


The pay for each job was determined by its difficulty. The following table shows the average wages of each type of worker in three time periods:
               Average rate (in cents) of daily wages for field labor
Field workers1880-18841885-18951896-1905Average wage (job)
Average wage (time period)46.4043.6739.33 

The general trend that can be observed here is that the average wage for all workers, as a function of time, decreased. Reasons for this are the depression suffered by the sugar industry and overcapacity of indentured laborers, discussed further in the previous page. 
A hierarchy of jobs, as observed by their daily wages, can be constructed from this information:

A picture of canecutters:

It is pertinent to mention that laborers were protected by law by a daily minimum wage of 25 cents. Considering how close to this wage some of the jobs listed in the previous table were, it is fair to assume that if not for this law, wages of indentured laborers would have suffered considerably more as a result of the depression. 

Another thing to take into consideration is the fact that the decrease in average wage for all workers was caused because of a particular set of jobs. Wages of shovelmen, suppliers and puntmen suffered the most. Surprisingly, the value of the wages for canecutters, weeders and porters did not fluctuate during this time period. This can be appreciated in the following table:
               Decrease (range) of wages per job
JobWage (1880-1884)Wage (1896-1905)Range (cents)

Not coincidentally, the jobs which did not experience a decrease in wages (shovelmen, suppliers and puntmen) are the three jobs at the top of the hierarchy of jobs. 


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