Mr. Chris Curry
Apprenticeship in Jamaica: Was it successful?
The Emancipation of the British West Indies was anticipated as early as 1787, but was not achieved until the Abolition Act of 1833. However, in 1833 emancipation was not as complete as these words would suggest, as there were clauses in the Act about an Apprenticeship system which delayed complete emancipation until 1838. The Apprenticeship system was originally applied to the plan instituted in the interval between slavery and emancipation to prepare the slaves to assume the duties of freemen. The new law freed immediately those slaves under the age of six years old; however older slaves were to be ...view middle of the document...
Therefore, many regulations were attached to the apprenticeship system in a way to persuade the ex-slaves that their conditions will differ under the system. However, from the point of view of the ex- slaves, Apprenticeship had a number of conditions: the most important was that they were legally obligated to work without compensation for their former master for up to forty-five hours per week.Their term of continued compulsory labour depended on their status; for instance, former field slaves were to be apprenticed for six years while skilled apprentices and domestics were to be fully free after four years. According to Thomas Holt, he considered the Apprenticeship period a “half way covenant”, since the relationship between the planter and the worker was much the same as slavery.
In the case of Jamaica, where the assembly stipulated that the apprentices should work forty and a half hours, the planters were required to supply the customary rations and allowances they had provided during slavery. Beyond the time required by the law for the apprentices to serve their former masters, ex-slaves were free to negotiate conditions of work and wages with their former masters or with another employer. They could also choose not to work at all. Moreover, an additional mechanism was established to safeguard the apprentices. Special magistrates were appointed, largely from Britain, to arbitrate disputes between masters and their former slaves. According to Holt “the role of these magistrates was crucial, as planters and former slave owners were no longer empowered to punish ex their ex slaves”. Though these regulations were in play under the Apprenticeship system, they were substantially ignored by both the planters and the magistrates as many ex-slaves in Jamaica protested about the horrific treatment. One of the main reasons why the ex-slaves were hostile under the system was that they were not expected to work more than forty-five hours per week, however, the planters disregarded that regulation. The planters in Jamaica almost immediately adopted an ‘eight hours a day schedule’, which meant that apprentices had little time to cultivate their provision grounds, since Saturday was their market day and the fact that they were not allowed to cultivate their grounds on Sunday. The apprentices in Jamaica were unable to negotiate with their former masters about days that they can cultivate which further fuelled their animosity towards the Apprenticeship system and the planters. Historians Beckles and Sheppard had suggested that this not only inconvenienced the apprentices but also “prevented them from pursing alternate occupations to working on estates. The apprentices were kept dependant on the estates for their livelihood so that when full freedom came they would have been accustomed to look to the estates for their earnings”.
Furthermore, the apprentices also had to confront corrupted magistrates who often sympathized with the planters rather than the ex...