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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mauritius

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mauritius, 9 June 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca1cc.html [accessed 25 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 1,200,000
Capital: Port Louis
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Violations were reported in the textile industry. Employers refused to recognise union representatives, and a sit-in by workers in a clothing factory was brutally suppressed by the police. The government and the unions have still not reached an agreement on the draft law amending the Industrial Relations Act. Unions fear that changes to the law on wage bargaining will undermine tripartism.

Trade union rights in law

The Constitution protects the right of workers to form and join trade unions, and this right has been strengthened by the ratification of ILO Convention 87 in February 2005. But there are restrictions. The law gives the authorities the right to cancel a union's registration if it fails to comply with certain legal obligations, including activities that may pose "a threat to public order".

Strike restrictions: The right to strike is recognised under the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), but there are limitations. The IRA imposes a 21-day cooling off period before a strike can begin, and the Labour Ministry can order that the case be taken before the industrial court for binding arbitration. The government also has the right to declare any strike illegal that is likely to cause extensive damage to the economy. Unions have demanded that the right to strike also be guaranteed by the Constitution.

IRA Amendment Act undermines bargaining rights: The MLC states that the IRA Amendment Act, adopted in June 2003, restricts the right of public service unions to declare a dispute over pay. The amended Act introduced an "Option Form" to be signed by government employees whereby they agree to abide by the Pay Research Board's recommendations. If they do not agree with the recommendations, they can decide to retain their wages and former working conditions, but the wages will always be inferior. Once the Option Form is signed, however, they will no longer have the right to declare a dispute in the same sector.

Export processing zones: Labour legislation applies in the export processing zones (EPZs), but there are also specific labour laws that condone longer working hours (45 hours a week, plus ten hours compulsory overtime in the EPZs, where required).

Proposed reforms: The government began a labour law reform project in cooperation with the ILO and a White Paper was released in November 2004. However, the government and the unions failed to agree on all the points that would ensure its compliance with conventions 87 and 98. When the opposition returned to power in September 2005, fresh consultations were started. New legislation is expected to be introduced in parliament in 2007. The unions fear it will be more in favour of the employers.

Trade union rights in practice

Tripartite committees abolished: In May the government announced the creation of a new National Wage Council to replace the existing tripartite committees. This council will replace the Pay Research Bureau and the National Remuneration Board. Based on the Singaporean model, it identifies the industries and individual enterprises with the means to increase salaries. The unions are opposed to the idea. They consider it an attempt by the government to dismantle the tripartite committees, while leaving it up to the private sector to decide whether to engage in sector negotiations or not.

Export processing zones: Access for organising in the EPZs is very difficult. In the main, organisers have to wait at the factory gate for workers, who come out in large numbers. The organiser may not know many of them, and most are women rushing to get home to their domestic responsibilities. An ICFTU-AFRO (the African regional organisation of the former International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) mission to Mauritius in February 2004 was told that the few men they saw were mainly supervisors who were said to be hostile to unions.

As a result, union membership levels are low in the EPZs (below 12 per cent). Because of the lack of effective union representation, there are cases where health hazards and workplace-related illnesses have not been addressed and rectified within a reasonable time.

Migrant workers: Unions find it difficult to get access to, and organise, migrant workers, particularly those from South-East Asia and Madagascar. They tend to work long hours and be cut off from other workers. These migrant workers are unaware of the laws that protect them and Mauritians and often earn between 2,000 and 2,500 rupees ($US 70 to $US 90) or less, per month. Some of them have intolerable living conditions, sleeping in dormitories on benches with no mattresses, or in tiny bedrooms housing up to a dozen people. Those who do try to organise have been summarily deported.

Similarly, there have been reports of trade unions facing difficulties in organising workers in the growing off-shore business sector.

Violations in 2006

Employer tries to dock union leaders' salary: In April 2006, the director of the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) threatened to drastically cut the salary of Toolsyraj Benydin, president of the Federation of Civil Service Unions (FSSC) because of his absence from work on trade union business. The right to paid leave for union business is enshrined in Mauritian legislation and ILO jurisprudence. When the government prevented the MRA director from implementing his decision, he proposed limiting Mr. Benydin's time spent on union business or giving him leave without pay. No agreement had been reached at the time of writing.

Textile workers' protest violently suppressed by the police: On 23 May, policemen armed with shields and truncheons beat female workers from Novel Garments holding a sit-in in the courtyard of the factory in Coromandel protesting against plans to transfer them to other production units. The police also used tear gas to disperse them. Earlier that day, Alain Rey, the financial director of Novel Garments, had called for a meeting between the management and the workers' representatives to announce restructuring in the company. However, Mr. Rey refused to allow the workers' union representative Mr. Faizal Beegun, and their legal representative, Mr. Rama Valayden, to attend the meeting. The management called the police to evict them. This turned the peaceful sit-in into a riot, which was then brutally suppressed by the police.

Employer refuses to recognise workers' representative: Since 2005, the same employer, Novel Garments, has refused to recognise Rama Valayden as the workers' representative, claiming that he did not represent the minimum percentage of workers required. However, there is no minimum percentage set by law.

Anti-union campaign at textile company: Firemount Textiles of Mauritius continues to refuse to recognise the Textile, Garment and Manufacturing Workers' Union in spite of the fact that it represents half of the workforce. Management has also been waging an anti-union campaign, telling workers not to join the union and preventing the union from recruiting workers outside the factory at lunchtime.

Deportations of protesting foreign workers: There were reports during the year that Chinese and Indian workers who had tried to organise or protest against their employers had been summarily deported.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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