Category Archives: Trade Unions & Industrial Relations

An Overall View of the PRB Report

You might by now be thinking this guy’s pocket’s full, now that the PRB report 2008 has been released and its recommendations are about to be implemented as from July. Alfa King has surely quit blogging. He’s busy counting the extra rupees and cents he’ll earn as from next month. Why should he bother writing on the net when he’s got a better package? Well, if that’s what’s in your mind, think again.

The couple of thousands of rupees more will not make the average public sector employee any richer. Blogging is a passionate hobby for me. It’s not always easy to keep to a fixed schedule, especially when you have a full time job. If I’ve been absent for a while it’s because I had a lot to do with official commitments and hosting visitors. I’ll talk a little more about these in my next post.

The PRB report 2008 has only granted a graduated increase in salary to all civil servants and employees of the para-tatal bodies. Except for chief executives and very senior government officials, who are a selected few and whose salary packages have been literally doubled in a gesture to prevent drain as they say, middle and lower income groups have had an increase based mostly on loss of purchasing power since the last report in 2003. With an average increase of 25 to 30% and taking into account this year’s CPI increase of no less than 8%, the increase in real terms is in dilute amount.

There’s no denial. Some conditions have been slightly improved – the increase in the number of cumulative sick leaves and vacation leaves, and the appreciation of certain allowances. But new conditions have been attached as well. The public sector employee will have to contribute for their pension; they’ll have to work up to 65; they’ll have to put up to 38 1/3 years of service in order to qualify for a full pension. However, those already in service as at June 2008 will continue enjoying the conditions hitherto governing their employment.

The grant of annual increase is no longer automatic. The report emphasises the need to relate pay with performance. All increments should be earned. All government departments are required to implement a performance appraisal system to be fully operational in 2010. Emphasis has been laid on staff development and training as an integral part in the performance management system and the report recommends between 40 to 60 hours of training per employee per year. This will enable a better allocation and management of human resources.

This is only a highlight of the major recommendations of the report which aims at “transforming public sector organisations into modern, professional and citizen-friendly entities with competent, committed and performance oriented personnel dedicated to the service of the citizen”. If most public sector employees display a satisfactory mood, there are many who believe that the salary revision exercise was a means to introduce new conditions. It was a give-and-take exercise. Much of the extra earnings will go back to the treasury in the form of taxes. Have you forgotten the NRPT? Well, check whether you fall into it now, if you weren’t previously.

Government has a different stance – it’s a very costly endeavour. The cost of implementation of the report will be twice that of the previous one. Initially scheduled to be implemented in two phases, 75% from July 2008 and the full amount in July 2009, the report will now be implemented in toto this year as “it’s the Prime Minister’s wish” as announced in the national budget speech by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance on 6 June last. As if decisions are taken according to the mood of the Premier. But for the average people Government has the capacity to pay although it’ll have to disburse some Rs 4.5 billions.

Private sector employees are now claiming their share. If the national cake has become bigger they have contributed to it too and they should benefit from a similar increase in their salaries and wages, they say. Many people tend to forget that the Pay Research Bureau deals with review of salary and grading structures in the public sector only. Whereas the National Remuneration Board (NRB) caters for the private sector and reports periodically, as does the PRB, not necessarily within the same time frame.

As you can see the situation has become more competitive. A higher standard of commitment, responsibility and performance is expected of the public sector employee. He’s got to be more proactive and live up to the modern exigencies. Incremental credits have been recommended for top performers.

Let’s hope that the conditions are implemented in a just and equitable manner so that those who deserve to be rewarded are indeed recognised and that blue-eyed political pariahs do not find their way in.

New Conditions for Public Sector Employees in Mauritius

A quick post just to let you know, in case you are interested, that the long-awaited Report of the Pay Research Bureau on the review of pay and grading structures in the public service and parastatal bodies has been released today.

The two-volume report gives a detailed account of the existing structures and conditions and the improvement and innovation proposed to enhance public sector performance.

From a first glance I’ve noted the following innovations:
(i) increase in the number of days of sick leave that may be banked
(ii) a phased increase in the retirement age to bring it to 65
(iii) a contributory pension scheme of 6% of salary
(iv) performance-related pay and increment incentives

I have yet to go into deeper reading to find out more. You may access the report from here.

New labor bills postponed; strike action too!

The trade unions have called off their strike action scheduled for yesterday. They had planned to demonstrate against the introduction of the new Employee Rights and Employment Relations Bills. They justified their stand to postpone the action as the Government has decided to bring them at a later stage. You’d remember the bills have been referred for reconsideration by a high powered committee following a critical report from the ILO.

On the other hand the trade unions have alerted the ILO on the recent “arrest” and seizure of passport of two of their leaders, which they consider as repressive action against their freedom of association and right to defend the interests of aggrieved workers. They are now on bail.

In the meantime sugar sector trade unions are satisfied with the deal agreed upon between the Government and the Mauritius Sugar Producers’ Association. These relate to the release of 2000 acres of land, the implementation of the Voluntary Retirement Scheme for redundant workers and the percentage in share capital participation. This agreement will ensue in the release of fund compensation from the European Union towards the materialization of the sugar sector reform initiatives in the wake of the end of the Sugar Protocol.

Media and trade unions under scrutiny?

Repression against journalists and trade unionists seems to take a new turn, at least here in Mauritius. On Wednesday three members of the press, the Editor-in-chief of Weekend newspaper and two journalists of Radio Plus, a private radio, were arrested for having allegedly diffused false news. They were brought to court yesterday and released on bail. They have also been charged for alleged defamation. They had published and broadcast a news about a big sum of money supposedly found in the locker of a senior police officer, which was denied by the police department.

A day earlier two trade union leaders were summoned to court for having participated in a union action in June last against the intended closure of the police mechanical workshop as announced in the last budget. However the court has temporarily lifted the objection to their departure to enable them participate in a conference of the International Trade Union Confederation in Ghana. Other trade unionists were questioned by police last week on their participation last year in a demonstration against the closure of the Development Works Corporation, a para-statal organisation.

Are we heading towards a rise of repression in the country? Observers seem to be concerned with this issue at a moment when the country is facing serious economic set back with the end of the sugar protocol and rising prices of basic commodities. Reporters Sans Frontieres reminds us that the last time journalists were arrested in Mauritius dates as far back as thirteen years ago. The Mauritian Premier announced some time ago his intention to bring more stringent laws against defamation and diffusion of unfounded news. What else can be done when the media hurts?

Labor and industrial relations reforms to be reconsidered

Government in Mauritius has decided that the Employment Relations Bill and the Employee Rights Bill be referred to a high powered committee. This follows unfavorable remarks from the International Labor Office (ILO) which has noted a number of loopholes in the proposed bills.

The trade unions seem to have it, although the Government had made it clear that it had already sought ILO advice on the issue. They were right in raising concerns at all levels, especially the International Labor Office, on the proposed law reforms to govern labor and industrial relations, which according to them go against employee and trade union rights.

The ILO has just submitted its views after careful scrutiny: quite critical. “The ILO strongly believes that the final say on the appreciation of soundness, fairness and workability of a piece of legislation should belong to the users themselves, not to legal analysts…” Several clauses have been found to be in contradiction with ratified conventions.

The ILO has been particularly critical on clauses regarding the right to strike, collective bargaining, the right to organize and freedom of association and entitlement to maternity leave and compensation issues, which flout Conventions No 87, 98 and 183.

The ILO has detected the virtual prohibition of the right to strike by what may be called a tedious system and “would therefore raise problems with regard to both Article 3 of Convention No 87 and Article 4 of Convention No 98”. Compulsory arbitration is workable only if both parties are agreeable to it, notes the ILO.

The proposal restricting membership to a union only to those having worked for 18 months is in flagrant contradiction with Article 2 of Convention No 87 which provides that “workers without distinction whatsoever should have the right to establish and join organizations.”

The proposed law reforms have been criticized also for their so-called discriminatory provisions with regard to female workers. For instance there’s no provision for “a period of compulsory postnatal leave of at least six weeks”, which goes against the spirit of Convention 183.

The related bills were proposed to be introduced in Parliament this month. Trade unions have been arduously urging Government to review its decision, without much success. The ILO report on the issue seems to be a milestone in their struggle for a law reform that takes into consideration the fundamental trade union and human employment rights. The high-powered committee’s deliberations will under close scrutiny before the reintroduction of the new law reform proposals.

* Notes:
• ILO Convention 87: Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948
• ILO Convention 98: Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, 1949
• ILO Convention 183: Maternity Protection Convention, 2000

Trade Unions maintain pressure over ERB

Since the Government’s announcement to introduce new laws at the forthcoming National Assembly sittings in November, the trade unions have been on hot ashes. They’ve been maintaining pressure for the withdrawal of these bills which, they believe, go against acquired rights of employees.

While the employers’ federation seems to agree with the new proposals, the unions are adamant on their position to urge Government to put them aside.

Unions both from the private and public sectors met again in a common platform last week. They have unanimously agreed on a strike action on 10 December to protest against Government’s indifference to their views.

Employee Rights and Employee Relations: new laws in pipeline

Government in Mauritius is coming up with new proposals to replace existing labour and industrial relations laws. The Employment Relations Bill and the Employee Rights Bill will be introduced in Parliament shortly as stated by the Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment.

The Employment Relations Bill is meant to replace the Industrial Relations Act of 1973. Its object is “to amend and consolidate the law relating to trade unions, fundamental rights of workers and employers, collective bargaining, labour disputes and related matters”.

The salient features of this bill are:

– fire services and prison service employees will have the right to unionize (which was not formerly the case);
– a minimum of 30 members will be required for the formation of a trade union (formerly only 7 members were required);
– the executive committee of a union can decide over the sale of union assets (formerly this decision was vested upon the general assembly);
– recognition of a non-member negotiator (formerly the negotiator had to be a member of the union concerned);
– emphasis on elaborate procedures to be followed in dispute settlement;
– the approval of 50% of members will be required by secret voting before a decision can be taken by the union to start a strike action;
– recognition of the status of confederations.

The Employee Rights Bill will replace the Labour Act of 1975. Its object is “to revise and consolidate the law relating to employment, contracts of employment or service, minimum age for employment, hours of work, payment of remuneration and other basic terms and conditions of employment with a view to ensuring appropriate protection of workers”.

This bill will:

– apply to employees with monthly salary not exceeding Rs 20000 (approx. 650 USD or £ 330);
– regulate the hours of work such that an employee (except security officers) will have to put in a maximum of 12 hours per day or 90 hours over a fortnight (or 45 hours per week). Overtime will be calculated on the excess of 90 hours/fortnight;
– provide for the setting up of a Work Fare Programme to cater for redundant employees;
– review the amount of leave entitlement. Hence sick leave will be reduced from 21 to 15 days and casual leaves will be increased from 14 to 20;
– introduce a paternity leave of five days for three confinements.

While the employers are more or less agreeable to the new proposals, trade unions have started to shout. If they welcome prison officers’ and firemen’s right to unionize, they are not agreeable on many provisions which they consider discriminatory.

The unions are questioning the constitutionality of the provision regarding the requirement for the formation of trade unions. They have expressed serious reservations on what they call the lengthy procedures before a strike action can be resorted to.

The right to strike has always been the bone of contention because of its quasi-inexistence: even if all the procedures have been followed, which might now take about four months, the Prime Minister may declare a strike illegal for economic reasons.

Leaders of the various trade union confederations met today at Unity House (the seat of the Government Servants’ Association), Beau Bassin with a view to deciding on the course of action.

Update on Salary Compensation

At its weekly meeting today, the Cabinet approved the recommendations made by the NPC. The Finance Minister stated it’ll cost more than Rs 3.5 billions to implement the recommendations. He’s is particularly concerned about the payment capacity of small enterprises who are facing fierce competitions and evolving challenges. Although he believes that some sectors can pay more than the recommended amount, he’s been all the time in favour of a compensation based on productivity and capacity to pay rather than on the only inflationary rate index.

Salary Compensation

If you remember my posts “Union Leaders demonstrate as NPC holds its first meeting” and “Trade Union Outcry”, I mentioned about the controversy around the setting up and functioning of the National Pay Council (NPC).

The NPC held its ultimate meeting yesterday and gave its final recommendations to the government with regard to the quantum of salary compensation that should be paid this year to workers for loss of purchasing power. It has proposed an 8.7% compensation or an amount varying from Rs 260 for those with a basic salary of Rs 3000 monthly to Rs 400 for those earning Rs 8000 and more. The NPC President says it’s a fair deal resulting from a consensus from all parties concerned at a 2-hour meeting held at Victoria House yesterday afternoon. It’s worth noting that a compensation of 10.5% based on the rate of inflation was due according to the trade unions while the employers’ representatives had proposed 5.5%.

Several hundreds of people joined the major trade unions along with the opposition political parties at a mass rallye this afternoon. They brought along kitchen utensils to demonstrate they are at a loss running their households due to excessive price rises on basic commodities and to express their concern on the inadequate compensation proposed.

The Minister of Industrial Relations and Employment and other members of the government boasted it was an unprecedented amount ever granted. Last year’s was a meagre amount of Rs 135 granted across the board.

The recommendations will be considered at the Cabinet meeting of tomorrow. We’ll then know the official stand of the government on the issue. It’s most unlikely that the proposals will be amended.

Union Leaders demonstrate as NPC holds its first meeting

So the National Pay Council (NPC) held its first meeting today despite union uproar. Other meetings are scheduled in the days to come. The main issue on the table is the determination of the amount of compensation for loss of purchasing power due to rising inflation.

Each year at this particular period, representatives of the government, employers and employees meet to discuss this issue. This year the inflation is forecast at 10.5%. The trade unions and opposition political parties have been claiming a full compensation at the inflationary rate. The NPC will submit its recommendations to government on 25 May 2007.

But the trade unions are unhappy with the way the NPC has been set up. See my previous post “Trade Union Outcry”. The leaders held a demonstration in front of the Government House while the meeting was on at Sir Harilall Vaghjee Hall this morning.

They are also organizing a mass meeting on 18 May 2007 to decide on the next course of action. They are making a pressing appeal to the Prime Minister to reconsider the issue to their satisfaction. They’ve already alerted the ILO as they believe government has flouted Conventions 87, 98 and 144* which provide for the freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining and tripartite consultation.

The Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations said he had invited the trade union confederations to participate in the tripartite forum. But they didn’t respond; they boycotted the NPC. That’s why he proceeded with the appointment of other individual trade union leaders. His main concern at the moment is to see to it that the issue of compensation is thrashed out before the start of the next budgetary preparations due in the month of June.

The Minister explained that the NPC’s functioning will be different from the traditional yearly forum. This new body is expected to meet normally at three months’ intervals or at other intervals depending on issues.

* Notes:
• ILO Convention 87: Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948
• ILO Convention 98: Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, 1949
• ILO Convention 144: Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards), 1976

Trade Union Outcry

The government has been in the process of setting up a National Pay Council (NPC), a tripartite body to look into matters relating to pay review and compensation for loss of purchasing power. The main trade union confederations, the Mauritius Trade Union Congress (MTUC) and the National Trade Union Council (NTUC) raised objections for various reasons and did not send any representatives to the Council.

There was a deadlock for quite some time until on Friday five individual trade unionists were appointed by the government without consultation with the trade union movement. They do not seem to have been mandated by the latter. They are believed to be close to the ruling party in power; and this has created an ambiguous situation in the country. Is it reasonable for them to discuss issues and take decisions on behalf of those who weren’t aware of their appointment? And still those who haven’t, so to say, given their green light to be represented by them? It’s more a question of ethics and morality. Not much can be done to correct this anomalous situation, it seems.

But the confederations are determined to maintain pressure on government and the parachuted representatives. Already they are shouting vigorously and moving for a mass rally. They are also alerting the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

A tripartite structure has always existed and was chaired by the Minister of Finance for the purpose of discussing the quantum of salary compensation with respect to inflation each year. This year the government has decided to have a so-called independent body with a “neutral” chairman. As long as neutrality is observed and people are appointed in the spirit of fairness and equity, there’s no problem. But there’s widespread belief that appointment in such bodies, the more so the chairman, is done on the basis of political affinity. This is where the shoe pinches.

Another point of contention seems to be the question of discussing pay issues at this level. Trade unions claim that there already exist bodies for such purpose, namely the Pay Research Bureau (PRB) for the public sector employees and the National Remuneration Board (NRB) for the private sector, which have stood the test of time. Government has decided to do away with these two structures in the wake of reform initiatives undertaken since a while. The situation seems therefore to get somewhat complicated.

Let’s see how the rank and file would react.