29 Bangladeshi workers add to the trend of inhumane living conditions.
Contrary to what their name suggests the conditions we saw at two of Trend Clothing’s dormitories were outdated.
On the first visit of Sunday 10th Jeppe was greeted with an atmosphere of desperation. Payslips were thrust, testimonies given and cries of help were banded about the chaotic kitchen by the 19 inhabitants. The hourly rate of just Rs 15.50 (£0.336) is even less than the previous number of Rs 16.57 (£0.337) bringing the record to a new low and allowing for a monthly salary of between Rs 3500 – 5000 (£75.8 – £108.2) depending on overtime. One woman even told us that of the 43 hours overtime she worked, she was paid for only 32. Additionally some of the female workers reported that they had not received any salary for the last three months. A case was opened by the Labour Office in Rose Hill last week under trade union GWF (General Workers Federation) on this issue.
Afterwards the workers took Jeppe for a tour around their dormitory showing several holes in the ceiling and signs of water damage next to the electrical sockets. The risk that the electric wires might catch fire is very great indeed, something which a few workers had tried to minimise by using plastic bags and cartons to plug the holes. We finished the tour with a glance at the one bathroom and toilet facility whose ceiling was rotten.
The next day Annie and Maria Louise encountered similarly de-humanising conditions with their visit to the dormitory upstairs housing 10 Bangladeshi workers. We were shocked to find the bathroom, toilet, washing machine and cooking facilities all crammed into a room of around 12 to 14 square metres, although at least they had been given the luxury of a fridge-freezer. Compared to the first dormitory the general conditions of the rooms were acceptable with roughly two people sharing although there was still a lack of communal living space for the workers to use during their valuable free leisure time.
This account of our visit is aimed at improving the experiences of those few individuals suffering from the sub-standard conditions witnessed. We hope the complaint at the Labour Office will help with this as well.
Here is the speech Jeppe held at the forum this Saturday:
Dear Honorary guests, Amnesty supporters, friends and employees. Thank you all for coming.
For those who do not know me, I am Jeppe Blumensaat Rasmussen. I am a student of Aalborg University in Denmark and I have recently finished an independent exchange semester of political science at the University of Mauritius. I joined Amnesty International Mauritius Section 2moths ago where I am a full-time volunteer.
Before telling you about the preliminary research, I would like to thank all the people who have taken the time to meet and advice me on migrant workers’ rights in Mauritius. Of course also a special thanks to Amnesty International Mauritius Section for giving me the opportunity to research this very important issue.
Before presenting my findings, I would like to inform you that research on migrant workers’ rights in Mauritius is a very complex topic. The empirical data that I have collected has shown no major independent work has been done on this topic, apart from some academic articles from sociology scholars such David Lincoln of University of Cape Town and Ramola Ramtohul of University of Mauritius, plus various dissertations by students at UoM. I would like to thank Ledikasayon Pu Travayer for granting me access to their internal library, from which I was able to gather press cuttings on the topic dating all the way back to the seventies.
I approached my research from three different angles. As already mentioned I have collected a huge quantity of empirical data ranging from press cuttings, academic articles, dissertations from UoM, government publications, letters, and various documents from international organisations. – A sample of the collection can be found in the blue folders over there which I encourage you to take a look at after the forum has ended.
Secondly I have conducted detailed field research, meeting with people with wide ranging views and experiences of migrant workers rights and conditions in Mauritius. Since this is a somewhat sensitive topic I opted for a primarily passive role in the meetings so as not to cause insult or influence people’s accounts. This also reflects my own opinion that I do not have the authority to engage in a deeper discussion without listening and learning about the process first hand.
Thirdly, and probably the most crucial and difficult part of the preliminary research, has been visiting dormitories and migrant workers. I have therefore decided to focus my speech on this.
I had been warned several times of the difficulties I might face when carrying out the visits to dormitories, the details of which I have chosen not to mention, nor will I name specific company’s in this speech. I would rather focus on the conditions witnessed.
Until yesterday I had visited 650 migrant workers in 16 different dormitories. That is 2 % and 3 % respectively, of the migrant worker population according to the Ministry of Labour’s monthly bulletin May 2011 and by the Parliamentary debate of July 5, 2011 in PQ B/638.
Yesterday I was accompanied on a controlled visit to a large factory by the company’s management team. This large scale inspection will bring the figure up to 5 % of all migrant workers and a little more than 3 % of the dormitories. These stats are quite low, but it is important to take into consideration that site visits have only been done during the last month. I have to tell you that the conditions I have witnessed have been really shocking.
In terms of working conditions, the testimonies of the migrant workers have been very varied, but the general impressions have been that generally working conditions are adequate, although there were some cases of missing security at the factory floor, discrimination, and harassment, or missing salary or missing overtime-payment.
On the other hand what I have seen at the dormitories is a far more pressing concern. Before I tell what I saw, I want to make you fully aware that the cases I have witnessed are some of the worst and I don’t want to make generalisations on behalf of all dormitories. This is merely a sample.
Throughout the visits I witnessed truly dehumanising conditions. Migrant workers are forced into cramped dormitories, often without any cupboards to store valuable belongings. Sleeping facilities are very poor indeed many with missing or rotten mattresses. There is often a lack of toilet and bathroom facilities, and they are mostly unsanitary and a threat to the workers health. Fully working fire extinguishers were missing which is also a real concern. For self catering dormitories there are often huge problems with the kitchen facilities, plus the food allowance given is really low – providing only for minimal and sub-standard nutrition based on staple foods such as rice, flour and potato and almost nothing else. Proper food storage is often missing or broken.
The general impression is that the majority of migrant workers I have visited are unsatisfied with their lodging. Furthermore it is important to note that the migrant workers I have met, rarely have access to their passports, working permit or contract, which is often kept by the company. This restricts their freedom and mobility and is an unacceptable working practice.
I would like to have put more focus on the recruitment and deportation process, but unfortunately I am out of time, hopefully it will be discussed during the panel presentation or question time.
Thank you for your attention, may you all have an interesting afternoon.
On Saturday the 16th you are all invited to attend our forum on migrant workers. Meet us at the IFM in Rose-Hill between 14:30 and 16:00 for an informative and interesting day. RSVP on facebook here.
14.30 : Welcome address (Michel Ahnee, Chair)
14.35: Objectives of the forum and description (Lindley Couronne, Director)
14.40 : Findings – Preliminary research (Jeppe Blumensaat Rasmussen, intern)
14.55: Speech from Reeaz Chuttoo (The ‘Confederation des Travailleurs du Secteur Prive’ (CTSP))
Speech from Veena Dholah (General Workers Federation)
Questions and answers session
15.25: Musical interlude by Menwar (Move sans)
15.30 : Speech from Satyam Seeboruth, CMT
Speech from Gaelle Angoh, member of Amnesty International
Questions and answers
16.00: Interlude by Henri Favory
16.05: Speech from a representative of the Opposition (MMM)
Speech from the Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment, Shakeel Mohammed
Questions and answers
16.30 Song by Menwar
Tuesday 6th of July Mrs L. Ribot raised the parliamentary question No. B/638 with the title United Fabrics Ltd. & Esquel Group – Foreign Workers. The parliamentary question (PQ) was based on the article A Road of Shame, posted on our blog. The participants in the debate was Mrs L. Ribot , Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Mr Shakeel Mohamed, Leader of the Opposition Mr. Bérenger, Mr Fakeemeeah, Mr. Obeegadoo and Mr. Uteem. Mr Mohamed comes across as aggressive during the debate, and we feel like we need to make some things clear.
First of all, it has never been our intention to attack the ministry or the government, and it is not our interest either to criticise Mauritius. Our critique should rather be seen as a critique of the multinational companies exploiting migrant workers, which is happening all over the world.
There is no preliminary report yet; all that has been in the media is our personal reporting of the problem. Mr Mohamed continues:
Later in the debate Mr Mohamed says that:
Most importantly, our articles have been a description of what we have seen during the dormitory inspection, not a gross exaggeration of how bad the conditions are. This has, through our blog and local media, been shown in pictures. If the minister wishes, we have more than 600 photos backing us as evidence, as well as videos. The article was originally posted on Maria Louise’s personal blog, and then the media storm started.
Secondly, Jeppe has been here for half a year and did not come with the intention of building a bad reputation of the country. We are both here to understand and experience the Mauritian culture, but when a story like this finds you it would be wrong to let it go. As Mr Mohamed himself states, it is our duty to report that problem.
As Mauritius has an international reputation of freedom of press and freedom of speech, we do not see it as a problem to spread awareness of this through the local media. This was not done to make a big show out of a problem, but rather to help out our fellow human beings in the best possible manner. Our descriptions should be seen as a cry of help from the migrant workers.
We are fully aware of the promulgation of the Occupational Safety and Health (Employees’ Lodging Accommodation) Regulations of 2011, but we will also like to call for a signing of the ICRMW. We are familiar with the fact that that our own home countries Denmark and Norway have not signed this convention either, which is also critical. We are informed about the exploitation of migrant workers in Denmark and the UK (where Maria Louise is residing). Mr Mohamed continues:
Mr Mohamed explains:
These 3 dormitories account for over 10% of the labourers of Esquel, so we consider our findings valid. We have never claimed to be researchers, so if the Minister wants to give us that honourable title it is for his own account. Our inspections are done voluntarily, with no economic backing or hidden agendas. We are only able to comment on what we have seen ourselves, and the Ministers’ use of statistics is not enough to cover up these rotten apples.
We went on a dormitory inspection in St. Pierre, Mauritius. The article we wrote about it can be found here. The workers gave us the permission to share what they told us with the public, including photocopies of their passports, work permits, notice to employer and pay-slips.
Bishwa’s passport. He is lucky his boss didn’t take it from him.
On Friday the 1st of July we had a one-page article in l’express weekly. Although the journalist changed our article slightly, we are happy to reach out to the entire country this way. The original article can be found here.