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.

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