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

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