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Cheap, forced labour through conscription is wrong

When it comes to conscription there are several arguments which prove, to any reasonable person, that this practice is wrong.

However, the most powerful argument in the arsenal of those who oppose conscription is indeed the forced labour argument.

For even the staunchest supporter of conscription feels foolish, very hypocritical, supporting such a system.

For that reason they are loathe to admit that it is in fact forced labour. For once that admission is made they must then defend the indefensible.

They must justify the unjustifiable. This places them in the unenviable position, particularly people of colour, of having to support a practice that has no place in any civilised society particularly one whose majority are only a few generations removed from slavery.

Therefore these individuals go to great lengths to deflect attention from the core issue which is that conscription is forced labour.

They euphemistically refer to it as “ giving back to one's country” or “taking pride in serving the community”.

Over the years I've observed a pattern of deceitfulness used by these people who have no regard for human rights and steadfastly support an institution which is maintained by forced labour.

So first let's determine whether or not that statement is true.

Let's look at conscription from a constitutional perspective. Recently an ad was placed in The Royal Gazette informing the draftees named that if they “fail to attend as required they may render themselves liable to be enlisted ‘in absentia' and subsequently liable to be taken into custody in that they should comply with the provisions of the Defence Act 1965, as amended”.

In other words if you fail to show up to perform your military duty the Regiment has the power to lock you up.

As grossly unfair as that seems it is backed up by our constitution. Article 4 of our constitution states, under the heading, Protection from slavery and forced labour:

(1) No person shall be subjected to slavery or servitude.

(2) No person shall be required to perform forced labour.

So far so good. Human rights are protected in these two most important areas. That is until the next section is included in the equation.

(3) For the purpose of this section ‘forced labour' does not include-

(b) any labour required of a member of a disciplined force in the pursuance of his duties ...”.

So not everyone is protected from forced labour. That being so then we can conclude that some are subjected to forced labour as is the case with those unfortunate enough to be conscripted.

That is wrong! Citizens must never fall prey to the temptation to always use “the law” in determining right or wrong.

Let's remember that society has had many laws on the books which were wrong and later removed as society evolved.

Hopefully this happens very soon as this current system of forced labour can aptly be described as a most egregious violation of these young men's human rights based on that fact alone.

Yet when this current system is further analysed it becomes crystal that it is not just forced labour but actually forced, cheap labour.

Now of course it is somewhat redundant to use the phrase “forced, cheap labour” simply because if labour is forced it will inevitably be cheap.

That is because the employer, in this case the Government, has all the power while the employee, the conscripts, has absolutely none.

There is no Collective Bargaining Agreement at all.

And therein lies the main problem which leads to what can only be described as the vicious exploitation of cheap labour not by a private company but by the very Government of the people who they are supposed to protect.

This is predatory capitalism at it's worse.

To put this exploitation in perspective consider what took place recently in the United States when workers of Wal-Mart organised a nationwide strike to draw attention to the ridiculously low wages they received by a chain whose owners are billionaires.

What was most telling was that their action drew the attention of former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich who was incensed that workers could be exploited by greedy business owners.

So incensed was Dr Reich that he started a petition telling Wal-Mart to stop being cheap with workers.

That is what the Government of the day needs to understand.

They need to stop being cheap with these young men. It is wrong to force young men to work against their will and then add insult to injury by paying them approximately $7.25 an hour.

That this continues to take place in the twentieth century is reprehensible and on that ground alone conscription should be abolished.

Again for emphasis it is not only forced labour it is forced cheap labour and that is beyond dispute.

There is always rhetoric emanating from politicians about the vital role the Regiment plays yet these words are contradicted by the deplorably low pay the young men receive.

To put this contradiction in perspective we again look to our neighbours to the east. Consider that recently in New York strippers successfully sued the city for the right to receive the minimum wage.

The minimum wage is $7.25 an hour just like the wage conscripts currently receive for providing an essential service to their country. (Of course strippers get tips, I am told.)


Bermudians Against the Draft

A Bermuda Regiment soldier is shown during disaster relief training at Morgans Point.

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Published October 10, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 09, 2013 at 7:03 pm)

Cheap, forced labour through conscription is wrong

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