27 June, 2019The paradise island of Mauritius hosts more than 45,000 migrant workers. Migrant workers’ rights violations are common in the country’s textile and garment sector supply chain, including exploitation by recruitment agencies in the countries of origin, like Bangladesh, Madagascar, Nepal and India.
On arrival in Mauritius, workers are paid low wages, work long hours, live in squalid conditions sometimes in dormitories behind factories, and risk deportation when standing up against the violations.
The labour and human rights violations against the migrant workers can be described as modern slavery and was discussed at a workshop organized by IndustriALL Global Union with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung on 18 – 19 June. The 30 participants were from unions in Bangladesh, Madagascar and Mauritius. Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme (OKUP), a civil society organization that carries out pre-departure training for Bangladeshi workers going to work in other countries, also participated.
ASOS, which has signed a global framework agreement with IndustriALL and whose suppliers employ over 3,000 workers in Mauritius, said they want working conditions to improve and debt bondage to end. Debt bondage is a result of the fees, sometimes as much as US$800, recruitment agencies charge that take workers more than 14 months to pay. ASOS also said that workers should not pay the cost for travelling to the country of destination, or for training.
Said Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL director for the textile and garment industry:
“The global framework agreement with ASOS will be key to begin to develop sound industrial relations with Mauritian textile and garment suppliers. Building sound industrial relations will help curtail labour rights violations.”
IndustriALL’s affiliate, Confederation des Travailleurs Secteurs et Prive (CTSP) representing over 50,000 workers is leading the fight against the exploitation and demanding the payment of the national minimum wage of 9,400 Mauritian Rupees (US$271) to migrant workers. The affiliates from Madagascar, Federation des Syndicats des Enterprises Franches et Textiles (FISEMA) and Sendika Kristanina Malagasy (SEKRIMA) and Syndicalisme et Vie des Societies (SVS), as well as a Bangladeshi affiliate, Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, support the work of the CTSP.
Reeaz Chutto, CTSP president, said:
“We are fighting for migrant workers to enjoy the same rights as Mauritian workers under the Employment Rights Act. This will help to stop unfair dismissals and protect their rights to collective bargaining.”
Anti-Slavery International (ASI), which campaigns to protect workers against slavery and human trafficking and supports the employer pays principle, where employers pay for travel and other costs of migrant workers added its support to stop the violations. Other participants were from the International Organization for Migration and the University of Mauritius. The Confederation of Mauritius Business and the ministry of labour also attended and said they supported social dialogue and better industrial relations.
An ASI project with IndustriALL, ASOS, OKUP and CTSP aims to end modern slavery in the supply chain by promoting predeparture training, developing a smartphone app for Mauritius modelled on the IndustriALL/ASOS Workers’ Rights app currently being used in Turkey, that will explain migrant workers’ rights, and a trade union-based support centre to be based at CTSP where workers can go for support on complaints and grievances. The centre will assist workers in Bangla – the language of the Bangladeshi workers who constitute most of the workers.