Migrant workers in Mauritius

Forced to stay on what turned out not to be the paradise island.

Speech by Jeppe

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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.

Music by Menwar, and the panel.

One of the eight workers who is finally going back to Nepal wanted to thank Jeppe and Maria Louise for making it possible.

Written by Maria Louise

July 19, 2011 at 9:32 am

Posted in Forum, Pictures

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