Migrant workers in Mauritius

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

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How Trend Clothing Ltd. adds to the trend

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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Contrary to what their name suggests the conditions we saw at two of Trend Clothing’s dormitories were outdated.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.

Panoramic view of the two dormitories and the neighbour, showing the contrast.

Health-threatening electrical system and water leakages.

Toilet, shower and washing machine in the kitchen.

The kitchen.

The outside of the first dormitory, with electrical chords hanging loosely from the roof.

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

Documents from Candytex Workers

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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.

What used to be a table is now turned into a bed.

Veena Dholah and the workers we met. Here they are talking in the kitchen.

The bathroom. There is a water leakage, so the floor is covered in water. The stick on the floor is to balance on so you don’t get you feet wet.

Bishwa’s passport. He is lucky his boss didn’t take it from him.

His visa, which was granted in a hotel in New Delhi, a third-part country, on his way here.

Payslip showing how Amit is paid 16.57 Rs an hour. That is 0.368 pound sterling an hour!

Written by Maria Louise

July 6, 2011 at 11:13 am