“Trade unions are autonomous and independent bodies, and they certainly do not need politicians to give them support”


Prof Rajendra Parsad Gunput, Former Dean, Faculty of Law, UOM

Prof Gunput, former dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Mauritius,gives an update on the evolving legislation regarding trade union activities, the relation between trade-unions and government as well as political parties, and how they can be more efficient in the defence of the rights of their members.

* Together with Dr A. Beebejaunyou have edited ‘The Workers Guide on the Mauritian Employment Law’, published by the Mauritius Trade Union Congress (MTUC) and the Federation of Agricultural, Allied Industries & Other Workers Union. The focus of the guide has been mostly on the Workers’ Rights Act (2019) and the Employment Relations Act 2008. Would you say in light of this study that these two laws constitute an improvement over what obtained earlier as regards the protection of workers’ rights and employment are concerned?

Prof Rajendra Parsad Gunput: These two pieces of legislations protect workers in Mauritius compared to the existing law, although the Employment Relations Act was already in force but was amended successively and even some sections have been repealed.

* What about the fate of the workers, especially those in the transport industry, in the EPZ and the sugar industry – in earlier decades industrial conflicts in these sectors almost slowed down the economy -, under the current employment laws? Would you say they are better protected or worse off than in the earlier pre- and post-independence days?

All workers are protected under existing whether they are under old or existing laws, legislations and regulations. This is notwithstanding the fact that there are ample fundamental rights to protect all individuals in Mauritius including workers and employees as well. The Mauritian legislator is aware of all these pertinent issues andexplains to what extent our employment law is growing fast coupled with relevant and strong precedents that the Supreme Court, or even the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, has highlighted in various dismissal cases for example.

* The right to strike is a fundamental and constitutional right, but it would seem that the limits imposed by the current employment laws and/or the procedural steps involved make it a difficult option for trade unions. Is that correct?

Yes, there are lengthy procedures (with the CCM and the Employment Relations Tribunal). The legislator has an important role to play here to flatten them properly otherwise procedures would keep soaring to the detriment of workers who wish to go on strike.

* Present-day trade unions do not have the same clout that those which waged battle with the colonial government before Independence or even the ones, mostly associated with the MMM in the 1970s had. Have they been let down by the politicians (when they, irrespective of political affiliation, came to power) or have the amended labour/employment laws weakened the exercise of trade-unionism?

Trade unions are autonomous and independent bodies, and they certainly do not need politicians to give them support. Besides, the Ministry of Labour and Industrial Relations is well-equipped with the necessary experts to advise them about the way to proceed to avoid any conflicts that would lead to unnecessary and unjustified industrial disputes. 

* As regards their association with politics, whist it’s true that at different times in our history, trade unions have worked together with political parties and supported their agendas, the boundaries between party politics and trade unionism could have been blurred. Do you think that could also explain why they have lost their clout?

Everything changes with time. Some politicians started as trade unionists – using trade unionism it as a steppingstone to gain popularity and eventually do politics. The mentality has also changed abruptly. Trade unionists want more independence than to remain under the care of politicians.

* There is also the issue relating to the low rate of unionization, around 20 percent of the working population, and the “glaring fragmentation” amongst the confederations. Would the absence of a vision of trade unionism based on key issues which would ring true with both actual and potential future union members be responsible for that state of affairs?

Despite the good health of our trade unions and their members, unfortunately unionization is still very low in Mauritius as shown in research I carried out a couple of years ago. They have visions for the country and its workers, but internal conflicts would not affect them to work together in case of need. It is true that they have different agendas, views, portfolios and visions. It would be totally inappropriate for the welfare of the State for all trade unions to agree on all points otherwise there will be no debates.

* Isn’t it also true that a large number of young workers are unaware of the role of trade unions or may have a negative perception of trade unionism?

I can see during meetings I have with trade unions that young workers are fully involved in regular meetings they are having, and the law is so clear that I can’t see why they may have a negative perception of trade unionism.

* It’s not known whether trade unions have worked out strategies that could address the employment challenge in Mauritius, especially arising from the impact of global competition with trade barriers down as well as economic and financial crises. It’s not going to be easy for the workers, it would seem. What’s your take on that?

There are always loopholes here and there, but bear with me that some trade unions are looking into the matter in order to come up with concrete ideas to avoid any crisis in Mauritius.

* There is also the issue of protecting the exercise of trade-unionism, which does not seem to be the subject of government policy these days. Do you think it’s going to be tough for trade unions as well?

I don’t think so. Depending on the government policies and provided they are in the interest of workers and employees, trade unions are always open to policies, and the door is still open as well. Trade unions that I know of are ready to take any challenge provided they come up with strong confederations to give a strong signal to the government of their presence and willingness to give support in the interest of the country.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 28 April 2023

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