Labour and the Truth and Justice Commission

Introduction
The Truth and Justice Commission submitted its six volume report (four in hard copy and two in soft copy) to the President of the Republic of Mauritius on the 25 November 2011 , containing, amongst other things, some three hundred recommendations. Since then until December 2014, the previous government set up a few committees with the declared intention to study the report and either to study further the land issue and to make recommendations thereof or to allegedly make a selection of the recommendations contained therein with a view to implement them. Now in the year 2015, we have never been informed of any serious feedback from these committees, in which a political party currently in government was closely involved. It appears, in the end, that the setting up of those committees was an eyewash.
Yet the Truth and Justice Commission (TJC) had studied and researched in a wide range of topics and issues as provided and defined by its terms of reference. In the context of the Labour day, it is appropriate to remind the broad public of the key recommendations of TJC with respect to labour ; it would not be appropriate to delve in detail in the research carried out thereon as interested readers may refer to the report itself.
Moreover, it is relevant to recall that TJC found out in its research that, in a rather fundamental manner, the Mauritian society had structurally not changed with respect to labour and, in particular, in the latter’s role in the production and services sectors : Mauritius had adopted either forced unwaged labour as slaves or cheap indentured labour. Even today, from figures published by Statistics Mauritius, Mauritius still depends largely on cheap labour whether local or migrant and this was the case for the so called economic miracle of the 1980s.
It is of interest to remember that, in the 1930s, Dr Maurice Curé was leading a fight for a minimum wage for the working class. In fact, during the period of the great economic depression of the 1930s, the arithmetic mean (i.e. the average) of the wages of male agricultural workers decreased between 1927 and 1931 by 17.6 % nationally ; the rates for the districts of Savanne, Flacq and Pamplemousses were worse with respectively 28.6 %, 27.5 % and 25.1 %. Yet during that same period, some sugar estates were making considerable profits and, according to Elliot and Loughlane « A considerable part of the profits is said to have disappeared in purely private consumption and some of it to have found investment outside the colony ». (1931)
Is Mauritius qualitatively different now in the way its labour is being treated ? The following should provide food for thought and hopefully for action.

Main Recommendations of TJC regarding labour (Volume 1, p. 437 & Volume 4, p. 441- 443)
(i) Decent Wage for Decent Work
We should remember that slavery and indentured labour were, amongst other things, labour systems. There should be an overhaul of the overall labour system.
Firstly, a decent wage for decent work policy should be adopted ; the notion of decent work has been defined by the International Labour Office as far back as 1999. It includes, inter alia,
(a) rights at work whether in the formal or informal sector ;
(b) the obligation to promote the possibilities of work ;
(c) protection against vulnerability and contingency arising from unemployment,
loss of livelihood, sickness or old age ;
(d) social dialogue.
(ii) Migrant Labour
Review the conditions of migrant labour and their implementation, especially the non-respect of conditions relating to dormitories as well as conditions relating to site of work.
(iii) Gender Policies
Women and the unemployment are being targeted as reservoirs of cheap labour. Discriminatory wage rates against women and generally occupational segregation should be done away with. Economic structuring, as it has occurred in the Sugar Industry and in the EPZ, is characterized by redundancy, low incomes/wages and high levels of insecurity. Whilst both men and women do suffer from this state of affairs, women workers are more likely to be the victims.
(iv) Re-skilling
As far as export-oriented enterprises, which are being restructured, are concerned, there is now a trend (e.g. UK) for enterprises to provide training required for the re-skilling of the workers. Workers concerned should not be made redundant but should be provided with appropriate training.
(v) Labour Market and Employment
Recruitment and selection of employees both in the public sector, and in the private sector, should be made according to merit. For this policy to be effective, there must be openness in the recruitment exercise so that the broad public is kept aware of all steps and procedures involved well in advance.
(vi) New Social Contract
There is the need to define a new social contract in Mauritius, whereby the labouring classes are not considered as mere factors of production, with only certain obligation/duties, but as human beings with fundamental rights and participating fully in wealth creation of the country. The State should do the needful, in terms of both introducing new appropriate legislation, and of contributing in the development of a new mind-set both in the public and private sectors. The State should further give due consideration to better communication with the people at large and to making the public sector more responsive and welcoming in the provision of various services to the population at large. The private sector must not restrict itself to an eternal cost-cutting exercise in its factories at the expense of Health, Safety and Welfare of the labouring classes.
In the fight against poverty and social exclusion and other consequences of slavery and indenture, action should be taken in the employment sector, especially in the private sector and, in particular, in the sector of the export-oriented enterprises. We recommend the following measures :
(a) The Employment Rights Act should be amended so that there is not a license to ‘hire and fire’.
(b) Whenever there are no valid reasons for economic redundancy, the Law should be amended to provide for the reinstatement of the redundant workers. The Law, as it stands, does not do so, so that the Industrial Court cannot give its ruling for the reinstatement of the workers in such circumstances.
(c) There is the need to be inspired by Dr Maurice Curé’s struggle for a minimum wage. There is a minimum prescribed wage rate which prevails in each sector, but there is no minimum wage across sectors. A such minimum wage should be introduced.
(d) The Code Napoléon is to be amended so that, whenever there is a factory closure, first priority should be given to the payment of wages and salaries of all employees.
(e) Workers should be paid for their overtime work on a daily basis, not after forty-five or ninety hours of work.
(f) The tendency for many workers is to have been employed for more than one factory during their working life, possibly by as many as four/five factories. As explained earlier, the worker ends up with a very small gratuity retirement arising out of his/her last employment, which is grossly unfair. We recommend that the Government introduces a portable retirement gratuity by creating a Special Fund. Each time a factory closes, the employer should place in the Special Fund the entire retirement gratuity to which the redundant workers are entitled. Thus, by the time of his/her retirement, the worker would obtain his/her due as gratuity retirement.
(g) The right to strike by workers should be considered as a fundamental Human Right. The possibility of incorporating this right in the Constitution should be given serious consideration.
The above recommendations would ensure, to some extent, that workers are not treated as mere commodities, but as human beings with their basic rights and dignity. This, in turn, would represent a major step towards severing the links with the remnants of slavery and indenture, when workers were not considered as human beings but as mere factors of production, if not as objects.


Commentaires

Appliquez les recommandations du Rapport de la Commission Justice et Verite, c'est apporte la Justice dans le pays. Mais aujourdhui chacun a son propre agenda. Pourquoi a t-on peur de mettre en oeuvres les recommandations de TJC? Ou de qui a t-on peur?

(1°) Just a day after the Labour Day, this article appears to be a strong human, political and economic defence for workers of our country and it should be welcome as such. Yet, has there been no improvement at all in favour of the labour class, for instance since Independence in 1968? More, are our workers in the same or similar social, economic, financial and even intellectual conditions since the Second World War? (2°) Are workers really treated in our country as “mere commodities, but [not] as human beings with their basic rights and dignity”? Do our workers do not have the same legal rights as other more well-off Mauritian citizens? Do workers have less legal rights than other non-worker citizens? After all, who are defined as workers? What is/are the criterion/criteria to identify the working class? Is a public or private executive officer who earns a salary, a worker? Are public servants, irrespective of their jobs and grades, who work for the country and earn a monthly salary, also workers? (3°) It’s not only the Employment Rights Act that should be amended but also the Employment Relations Act. Both laws have a direct bearing on workers’ working conditions, simply because the two together, govern legally these very conditions. Still, there are other laws related to these two basic laws, for example in the commercial field, which should be reviewed. (4°) Social dialogue is important but what mechanism thereof should be instituted to have it implemented with effective results? (5°) The author writes: “Now in the year 2015, we [TJC’s Commissioners] have never been informed of any serious feedback from these committees, in which a political party, currently in government, was closely involved”. Why does he not clearly indicate that political party, since it is officially in the actual government? Transparency is the order of the day. (6°) Nothing has been said on trade unions. Nothing too on political parties which hijack every year, and for more than 40 years, the Labour Day for exclusive partisan political purposes. The fact that only the TCJ reports are referred to here, does not justify that they have been overlooked in this article which claims to be a plea for workers. (7°) Is the right to strike to be considered as a Constitutional Human Right, really an excellent and beneficial idea for our country’s development, on the basis of our national experience on strikes since Independence, other countries experience where strikes are constitutional rights and actual economic globalisation? For what reasons must it be included in our Constitution and what will be its consequences in case this is allowed by our National Assembly?