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Mauritian employers use Covid-19 to push back against labour laws

23 July, 2020In October 2019, Mauritian unions won a great victory when new labour law amendments were introduced after years of struggle. But employers have used the pandemic to push back.

Mauritian unions, including IndustriALL affiliate the Confederation of Workers in the Public and Private Sectors (CTSP), celebrated new labour law amendments as an important win after 16 years of sustained pressure on government. The new laws were a big step forwards in protecting workers in all industries, including migrant and precarious workers.

But shortly after the new laws were passed, the Covid-19 global pandemic forced the country into confinement. The labour law amendments would have been a tremendous benefit to workers during the pandemic - but employers were quick to lobby government into going backwards.

“The CTSP sincerely believed that with Covid-19 we could never go back to business as usual and everybody without exception will have a change of heart and truly understand that we have to put our heads together and push for a new normal.

“Employers from the biggest companies in Mauritius used this time to lobby Government so that the law gained with so much effort be changed to their own advantage,”

said Reeaz Chutto, CTSP president.

In May 2020, the government amended clauses of the new Workers’ Rights Act to benefit employers. Trade unions fought hard to keep as much of the original law as possible, but only managed to block one of the amendments.

The provision that the unions managed to keep is the Portable Severance Fund, which protects workers who are laid off, including precarious workers. All employers have to contribute to the fund for each worker, regardless of contract type. Workers who lose their jobs are able to draw from the fund.

The Prime Minister, Pravin Jugnauth, told the unions that the amendments would be returned to workers by 2024. Trade unions made it clear that they would not sit idly and wait: they will continue their fight to have all of the amendments restored to benefit workers.

The CTSP has seen union membership increase since the pandemic. Employers are on the offensive, using tactics to intimidate and threaten workers, and undermine their conditions. Workers are seeking union support to keep their previous working conditions.

CTSP has recruited more than 250 migrant workers from the textile and garment, seafood, and construction sectors. These migrant workers are mostly from Madgascar, India and Bangladesh.

“Many migrant workers have not received their salaries for over three months and the CTSP is currently in negotiation with the Minister of Labour to have a special redeployment desk for them.  We are also advocating for a One Stop Shop office for their voices to be heard so that they do not have to run to many ministries and departmenst to raise their issues,”

said Jane Ragoo, CTSP general secretary.

“IndustriALL congratulates the CTSP for their resilience in these difficult times. The union fought hard to achieve this legislation. However, the government has now, under pressure from employers, taken unfortunate steps backwards. Unions are seeing increased membership because they defend workers. This is the time where workers see the value of being part of a fighting union”

said IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches.