15 March, 2021When migrant workers are recruited to work in Mauritius, they are often told that they will earn lots of money by recruiting agents in their countries of origin that include India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and others. However, this is not the case.
Over 50,000 skilled migrant workers are currently working in Mauritius and employed mainly in the garment and textile industries, and other sectors. About 35 per cent are from Bangladesh.
According to IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, Confédération des Travailleurs des Secteurs Publique et Privé (CTSP), some agents claim that for workers to make it in the paradise island all they must do is “lift rocks and they will find gold.” CTSP says this fake information is misleading as the workers end up working in hazardous conditions and are paid low wages during their three-year contracts.
This makes it difficult for the migrant workers to pay back huge loans they would have incurred to fund the journey to Mauritius. Saving enough money to send to their families becomes hard and the workers often return to their home countries with little to show for the three years in Mauritius.
There are also cases of debt bondage when a worker is forced to work to pay off a debt. In such cases the workers come to Mauritius to work for the debt they would have incurred in their home countries. According to Anti-Slavery International the value of the work becomes greater than the original amount borrowed.
According to ASOS, which sources garments from suppliers in Mauritius, and participated in planning meetings for the setting up of the MRC, workers should only pay the travel cost and not the expensive recruitment agencies’ fees which can be as high as US$800. There is ongoing work to engage other brands in supporting the centre.
The violations of migrant workers’ rights include confiscation of passports, being beaten up by employers, being forced to work long hours, non-payment of wages and overtime, being paid below the minimum wage, being forced to live in squalid conditions in dormitories, failure by employers to provide transport, being asked to do work without prior training, and language barriers.
To counter this exploitation of the migrant worker, CTSP, IndustriALL and Anti-Slavery International set up the Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) in 2018 to raise awareness on the violation of migrant workers’ human and workers’ rights which are protected by Mauritian laws.
The MRC, which provides support to migrant workers by encouraging them to join a union and to know their rights, has carried out 16 awareness campaigns that have reached over 700 workers. Information is also provided on the cultural diversity in Mauritius and how to keep safe in the country. The MRC also houses workers who are unfairly dismissed by employers and has produced pamphlets in different languages to address the violations.
Most migrant workers joined the CTSP members after getting information from the centre and have filed complaints with the Ministry of Labour.
IndustriALL, CTSP and ASOS have developed a smartphone app where workers can file complaints and grievances without risking repercussions from employers.
Reeaz Chuttoo, President and Jane Ragoo, general secretary of CTSP said:
“The MRC is an important tool for the migrant workers and has so far been of great help. Further, the CTSP is engaging with the Minister of Labour so that a migrant workers house be set up that can also be used as a refuge centre.”
Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL director for the garment and textile industries, says:
“The MRC is a model of international solidarity that can help to stop the violation of migrant workers’ rights and international labour standards and ensure that remedy is found. We commend the CTSP for continuing to defend the rights of the migrant workers in Mauritius.”