Commentary: Mauritius' labour law reform in response to COVID-19 weakens workers' rights, threatening fundamental labour rights

Author: Sohinee Ghosh, lexpress.mu, Published on: 23 May 2020

"An Unmistakable Attack on Workers' Rights", 22 May 2020.

Last Friday (15 May 2020), the National Assembly passed the COVID-19 (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill...The main focus of this article is on the Workers’ Rights Act (WRA), one of 56 amended legislation, and the implications of the amendments on workers’ rights...the amendments constitute an unmistakable attack on labour rights. Enacting unfair working conditions as a principle defeats the raison d’être of this branch of law – the protection of workers against abuses of employers...the modifications debilitate lower-income workers’ right to adequate compensation, thereby exacerbating their unequal position in relation to their employer...they target the collective rights of those working in sectors that were cynically deemed essential to the functioning of the country during the pandemic...

As the Act stands, only workers earning under Rs 50,000/month can have their paid leave unilaterally reduced. It implies that an intact annual paid leave is a privilege afforded only to the white-collar class, as opposed to a fundamental right of all salaried persons...The Act also indicates several other authoritarian tendencies of the government...Teachers found in breach of the new distance learning regulations applicable during a pandemic face a fine of Rs 25,000 (as opposed to Rs 1,000)...the Act provides for increased sanctions for minor offences (defeating the idea of them being “minor”)...The amended provisions of the WRA deprive the majority of the working class of their right to collectively organise and fight for fair conditions of employment. The unilateral retraction of paid annual leaves constitutes a violation of workers’ right to dignity...

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