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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mauritius

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Mauritius, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca7d2.html [accessed 23 September 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: 1,300,000
Capital: Port Louis
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Two draft bills aimed at reviewing labour legislation were published in August and rejected by the unions shortly afterwards. The unions regard the review as a "frontal attack" which, among other measures, further restricts the right to strike. A new "tripartite" structure was set up to establish wage adjustment mechanisms, without however consulting the unions. Migrant workers in the EPZs, most of whom are women, are the main victims of trade union rights violations.

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".

The draft bill on employment relations recognises the right of firemen and prison staff to form or join a union. It basically abolishes the discretionary powers of public authorities to restrict the exercise of trade union rights. However, the major reform of labour legislation which was publicly proposed in August has been strongly criticised by the unions (see below), and the government has agreed to postpone the discussion of the bill in Parliament, pending further consultations with the social partners.

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.

The draft bill on employment relations further restricts the right to strike. It establishes a complex conciliation and mediation procedure lasting two months in total between the failure of negotiations and the beginning of strike action. Even when a strike has been organised legally, the draft bill empowers the prime minister to request the Supreme Court to prohibit it – if it entails socio-economic risks – and to refer the dispute for mandatory arbitration. In its current wording, the bill appears to deny unions the possibility of organising strikes for legitimate reasons, including solidarity strikes, strikes concerning general economic policy issues, and strikes linked to bargaining at higher than enterprise level. The requirements established for the strike ballot, as regards the voting system and the necessary quorum and majority, are too restrictive. The requirement to provide a minimum service in the event of a strike covers too many sectors (telephone, hotels, transport, etc.).

The unions have continued to press for two important changes in law: a constitutional guarantee of the right to strike and the repeal of the Public Gathering Act (PGA), which requires organisers of demonstrations involving more than 11 participants to give seven days' notice to the police and which, furthermore, prohibits demonstrations during the sittings of the Parliamentary Assembly, thus seriously restricting the right to strike.

IRA Amendment Act undermines bargaining rights: The Mauritius Labour Congress (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 Amendment 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).

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Following the end of the Multi Fibre Agreement and the sharp fall in the price of the sugar bought by the European Union, the Mauritian economy has been striving to overcome the consequences of the expiry of the preferential trade agreements. To this end, it has adopted an extreme form of economic liberalism and is currently the most "open" country in Africa for foreign direct investment. At the same time, social inequalities have deepened in recent years.

Lack of consultation. Government interference in the creation of a tripartite structure: Ignoring the unions' criticisms, the government went ahead with its plans to reform wage policy and set up a National Wages Council (NWC). In April, in view of the fact that they had not been consulted, and considering that the NWC, in its present form, seriously undermined the International Labour Conventions, the main trade union confederations and federations refused to submit a list of 15 names from which the government intended to select five to act as the workers' representatives. Instead of agreeing to engage in negotiations with the unions to resolve the matters at issue, the government appointed five trade unionists from more pliable and/or smaller organisations, which together represent barely 2% of the country's total unionised workforce.

Based on the Singaporean model, the NWC reflects the expectations of the Mauritius Employers' Federation and the recommendations of the international financial institutions. Purportedly created to replace several existing tripartite institutions which are considered obsolete and not sufficiently flexible, the NWC aims to establish wage adjustment mechanisms that will take into account not only inflation (as in the previous wage adjustment system) but also other factors such as productivity or the ability of individual companies to increase wages – an approach which can have serious social repercussions.

Two union leaders prosecuted for "illegal public gathering": In November, the authorities decided to prosecute Toolsiraj Benydin, President of the Fédération des Syndicats du Service Civil (FSSC, civil servants federation) and Radakrishna Sadien, President of the Government Servants Association (GSA), for contravening the Public Gathering Act (PGA) during a protest action carried out in June 2006, i.e. more than a year earlier. The two union leaders had taken part in a demonstration organised following the announcement of the closure of a police garage. No incidents were reported during the demonstration, but it was considered unlawful under the PGA, which prohibits any public gatherings in the capital, Port-Louis, when Parliament is in session. The case will be heard in the course of 2008. The authorities often invoke the PGA to repress demonstrations, as in the case of a cab drivers' protest, which was broken up by the police in March.

Export processing zones: Employers in the export processing zones remain hostile to the unions, which find it very difficult to approach the workers, given also that in most cases trade unionists are denied access to the industrial sites. As a result, union membership levels in the EPZs are below 12 per cent. The competent ILO bodies have consistently highlighted the need for greater protection against acts of interference by employers and employer organisations in the activities of trade unions and the need for rapid appeals procedures and sufficiently dissuasive sanctions in this regard. The committee of Experts has also urged the government to take measures for the promotion of collective bargaining in all areas of economic activity.

Migrant workers: Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to trade union rights violations. When these workers go on strike, the coordinated response of the employers and the authorities is to send them back to their country of origin on the grounds of "breach of contract" and "illegal strike". Thus, for example, 16 workers of Floréal Knitwear Ltd were repatriated to Bangladesh in July. In February, close to 200 employees of the Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile (CMT), mostly women from Sri Lanka, got the same treatment. According to one of the repatriated women, quoted by the UK Sunday Times, the police " ... took us to the airport and left us there for three days. We could not travel. We had no tickets. Armed gunmen ... came and threatened us.... We were then kept in a camp [until] 174 of us were given tickets and told to leave." Speaking on behalf of the striking workers, Fayzal Ally Beegun, President of the Textile Manufacturing and Allied Industries Workers Union (TMAIWU), explained that, in spite of the very poor working and living conditions endured by migrant workers, many of them are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs and being deported.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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