Population: 1,300,000
Capital: Port Louis
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Union activists are frequently harassed or even dismissed. Four trade unionists were sacked in 2008. In practice, workers in export processing zones and migrant workers have virtually no trade union rights.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: The Constitution protects the right of workers to form and join trade unions. In 2008 the Parliament passed the Employment Relations Act (ERA), which replaces the Industrial Relations Act 1973. The law will come into force in 2009.

The new Act, which applies to workers of both the public and private sector, recognises the right to organise for prison staff and fire-fighters, abolishes the discretionary powers of the Registrar on the creation and activities of trade unions, and introduces provisions against acts of interference in trade union activities.

Collective Bargaining: The ERA introduces measures for the promotion of collective bargaining and establishes a system for the recognition of bargaining agents. It further recognises that federations or confederations may engage in negotiations at the sectoral level.

Strike restrictions: The right to strike is recognised under the ERA but certain discrepancies remain in relation with Convention No. 87. 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 ERA also provides for 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 ERA empowers the Prime Minister to request the Supreme Court to prohibit it – if it entails that an industry or service is likely to be seriously affected, employment is threatened, or if the strike may result in a real danger to the life, health or personal safety of the whole or part of the population – and to refer the dispute for mandatory arbitration. The ERA still denies trade unions the possibility of organising strikes at the national level and those concerning general economic policy issues.

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 Order Act, which requires organisers of demonstrations involving more than 11 participants to give seven days' notice to the police and which, additionally, prohibits demonstrations during the sittings of the Parliamentary Assembly, thus seriously restricting the right to strike.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The World Bank's report "Doing Business" describes Mauritius as the most attractive African country by far for investors. What it does not say is that there is considerable concern regarding the social situation, as the authorities and the private sector have been campaigning for even greater flexibility from workers.

Legal proceedings and harassment of union leaders: On 11 April, Toolsiraj Benydin, President of the Civil Servants Federation, and Radakrishna Sadien, President of the Government Servants Association (GSA), were fined for contravening the Public Gathering Act (PGA) during a protest action that had actually been carried out in June 2006. This demonstration followed the announcement of the closure of the Police Mechanical Workshop. The gathering was considered unlawful under the PGA, which prohibits any public gatherings in the capital, Port-Louis, on days when Parliament is in session. The two leaders appealed against this arbitrary decision. The Supreme Court's decision is expected in early 2009. The authorities often invoke the PGA to repress demonstrations. In a similar case (a demonstration following the closure of a semi-public enterprise in June 2006), five trade unionists, including the two above-mentioned leaders, had also had a court case filed against them. After having had their passports confiscated, they were subjected to bureaucratic harassment for several months when they needed to leave the country to attend international trade union meetings. However, on 2 August the court dropped all the charges relating to this second case "for humanitarian reasons ".

Two union leaders sacked in the telecoms sector: On 28 August, Raj Rughoonuth, President of the Mauritius Telecom Employees Union and Indiren Carpenen, General Secretary of the Telecommunications Workers Union, were sacked by Mauritius Telecom "for passing on confidential information to the press". In fact, they had been calling for greater transparency in the company's operations. At the end of the year, the two trade unionists, who had received a show of support from the authorities, denounced the anti-union manoeuvres by the management, which was trying to link their reinstatement to signing some new confidentiality clauses forbidding them to criticise the company publicly in leaflets, the press or SMS messages. Neither of the two has ever had a disciplinary hearing, as the law requires, and both affirmed that they had refused some substantial offers of compensation from their employer, as a means, they said, of getting rid of trade union rights in the company.

Two trade unionists suspended at Air Mauritius: On 5 September, Moteelall Manic, President of the Air Mauritius Staff Association (AMSA) and Narvada Beenessreesingh, President of the Air Mauritius Cabin Crew Association (AMCCA) were suspended from their jobs by the management of Air Mauritius. Their employer claimed that they had made "defamatory" statements in an e-mail they had sent him, passing on criticism from members of the unions of his mismanagement of the crisis facing Air Mauritius. They were reinstated after been forced to send an apology letter, in which they did, however, call on their employer to start a real social dialogue with the unions. However, at the end of 2008 all four unions in the joint committee at Air Mauritius expressed anger at the management's refusal to meet them for over one year, despite the company's being on the verge of bankruptcy.

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. The Export Processing Zone Labour Welfare Fund (EPZLWF) received numerous complaints, but failed to follow them up. At the end of the third quarter of 2008, the EPZs included 413 companies and 64.648 workers, just over 18,000 of whom were migrants.

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 frequently to send them back to their country of origin on the grounds of "breach of contract" and "illegal strike". In August 2008, Bangladeshi workers at the textile factory Sonia Wear in Tyack were forced to go back to work, after a two-day strike, in order to avoid expulsion. Their employer had just announced that they would from now on be receiving piece rate pay. Fayzal Ally Beegun, President of the Textile Manufacturing and Allied Industries Workers Union (TMAIWU), one of the few organisations that manages to provide support to the migrant workers in the textile sector, criticised the fact that these workers' contracts did not mention their rights, or only in very sketchy terms, and that the "linguistic barrier" was an additional obstacle, as the unions and labour inspectorate had major problems explaining their rights and duties to them. In recent years, the union leader has repeatedly complained 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. At the end of June, during a strike by 300 Chinese workers employed on construction sites, Mr. Beegun again decried the lack of recourse available to migrant workers who are at the mercy, as in this case, of recruitment agencies that refuse to reimburse the money they paid in order to get their jobs.

This 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.