- In the infamous export processing zones of Mauritius, labour rights are beginning to be respected. Mauritius positively stands out when it comes to labour rights in Africa, and the government is increasing its efforts to guarantee equal rights all over the island.
- Trade union rights are recognised by law and are generally respected in practice, according to the summary of the annual survey of violations of trade union rights - released on Tuesday by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
- However, some unscrupulous employers in the export processing zones (EPZs) textile sector violate trade union rights, the summary continues. The Mauritian Ministry of Labour however "normally intervenes rapidly to help sort out these incidents."
Mauritian labour legislation is mostly up to international standards, the report notes. The Constitution protects workers' right to form and join trade unions.
The right to strike is also recognised under the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), but there are limitations, according to ICFTU. The IRA imposes a 21-day cooling off period before any strike can begin, and the Labour Ministry can order that the case be taken before the industrial court for binding arbitration. The government also has the right to declare any strike illegal which is likely to cause extensive damage to the economy.
The labour legislation also fully applies in the export processing zones (EPZs), but there are also specific labour laws that condone longer working hours (45 hours a week plus 10 hours' compulsory overtime in the EPZs compared to 35 to 48 hours in non-EPZ sectors).
While the legal situation protecting workers in Mauritius is adequate, the practical implementation does not always live up to those standards. Freedom of association is generally respected in practice, although this is not the case with some employers in the EPZs.
- Several factors are at the root of the low level of unionisation in the EPZs, the survey explains. "Because of the lack of effective union representation there are cases where health hazards and workplace-related illnesses have not being addressed and rectified within a reasonable time."
Both the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the national trade union centres - the Mauritius Labour Congress and the Mauritius Trade Union Congress - have demanded that the law be amended to rectify the lack of legislative protection against anti-union discrimination, especially in EPZs.
- Unions also find it difficult to get access to and organise migrant workers, particularly those from South East Asia, who tend to work long hours and be cut off from other workers, the survey notes. Similarly, there had been reports of trade unions facing difficulties in organising workers in the growing off-shore business sector.
Labour conditions in EPZs are a growing problem all over Africa, and workers in Mauritian EPZs are relatively well off compared to their continental colleagues.
- In Madagascar, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Lesotho, Mozambique, Mauritius and Nigeria, working conditions and pay are often especially poor in the export processing zones, where investors come out smiling at the expense of union rights, says ICFTU spokesman Louis Belanger in a press release.
- Most companies force workers to sign letters of resignation when they are hired, says one worker at a chemical factory in an industrial zone in Egypt, leaving employers free to fire workers as they please. In all, almost 4,000 African unionists have been fired on account of their union activities.
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