Mauritius: Mass demonstration against Chinese Contractors

Mauritian construction workers rally outside the Minister of Labour's Office.

The BWI affiliate in Mauritius, the Metal, Wooden & Related Industries Employees Union (CMWEU), held a mass demonstration in front of the Office of the Minister of Labour in Port Louis on 10th August 2017. The rally involved hundreds of workers demanding foreign contractors (particularly Chinese firms) treat Mauritian citizens and workers fairly.

According to CMWEU Senior Advicer Reaez Chuttoo, these firms are hiring foreign workers on 2 to 5 year contracts, while Mauritian citizens are being employed on a monthly basis. “The law is broken and the Ministry must take action”, Chuttoo said. “It is not right that Mauritian citizens are left with insecure employment contracts and treated as second-class workers in their own country.”

In the Chinese-run work site organized by CMWEU, only Mauritius Citizens have the right to join be unionized. The Chinese employees and others migrant workers are not allowed to join the union.

The 10 August protest was motivated by the aim of the union to fight against the constant casualization of work in the country for Mauritius workers, to push the government to review the Labour law to ensure the rights to decent work for all workers without any discrimination.

For Jane Ragoo, General Secretary of the CSTP (CMWEU’s national confederation), the current labour regulation is dividing workers in Mauritius. Supporting the protesters, she stated that the Chinese employers are using this ‘’atypical’’ regulation to confine Chinese and others migrant workers in a modern slavery system where they are denied from labour and human fundamental rights.    

Over the last decade Chinese investment into Mauritius has increased significantly. Last year the Mauritian Minister of Finance and Economic Development Pravind Jugnauth visited China, where it was announced that the Chinese Government had written off Rs 450 million in debt, finance a multiple-purposes sports complex and stadium, as well as signing MoUs for feasibility studies on a Mauritius-China Free Trade Agreement and cooperate to develop the fishing industry. Chinese investments have been a bone of contention in recent years, in particular the secret agreement between Shanghai-based Tianli and the Government of Mauritius to develop a special economic zone which was believed to include a 99-year lease at favourable terms, and flexibility on employing Chinese workers.

Chinese investment across the African continent is growing rapidly, and Chinese state-owned construction companies are developing infrastructure projects in many countries to maximize these investments. However workers on these projects have long complained that these companies are effectively exporting Chinese labour relations. These firms have limited respect for legal entitlements, workers’ rights and occupational health and safety, and often rely on their existing (foreign) labour force for skilled work while exploiting informal labour pools for unskilled work.