MERCREDI 18 SEPTEMBRE 2013 EDITION 147 | CAPITAL
We also talked to some concerned people in the industrial sector. Here are their views: HEMRAJ RAMNIAL, DIRECTOR OF ESQUEL MAURITIUS LTD AND CHAIRMAN OF MAURITIUS EXPORT ASSOCIATION (MEXA)
“Foreign Workers are complementary to the local Workers” Esquel Mauritius Ltd employs 5,400 workers out of which 2,200 are foreigners. Mostly are from Bangladesh, and the rest from Madagascar and China. The Director of the company who is also the chairman of Mauritius Export Association (MEXA) Hemraj Ramnial explains to Capital how foreign labour has contributed to transform our textile and apparel sector to go up and retain the market share in the United States and European Union: « We have an ageing local workforce which explains their declining productivity. On the contrary, foreign workers are more skilled and polyvalent to perform different operations. The local workers lack the flexibility to perform new tasks which require higher skill levels ». According to him, the foreign labour has definitely helped to sustain the textile industry as they represent a competitive source of labour. « They have better skill level to cope the difficult styling orders and we are thus able to capture the niche market which requires higher value added products aiming at Fast Fashion », highlighted Hemraj Ramnial. As he further explains, “the foreign workers are complementary to the local workers” and their
major contribution has been to sustain the competitiveness of this sector by contributing towards the market and product differentiations and most importantly supporting the annual growth in this sector. “The critical factor which we must reckon is that the foreign labour is helping to maintain the jobs of our local workers. The factories will not be able to operate without the foreign workers and the disastrous consequences will inevitably impact on the employment of our local workers. It will lead to major social unrest because it will be difficult for our local workers who are over 40 years old, to get new jobs in the current economic situation in Mauritius”, he adds. However, Hemraj Ramnial also points out the challenges linked to the management of the foreign workers such as, cultural factors, different ways of living and adaptation to local environment and lack of proper orientation and training. He is of the opinion that the human resource department must have a special team for taking care of the dorms on a daily basis and management must get involved to ensure that the workers are being well treated at the workplace and provided with decent living conditions. And also, the top management must ensure a close monitoring of the industrial relations with the foreign workers and must promptly intervene to resolve those issues which affect the earnings of the workers, workplace relationships and dormitory conditions.
FAYZAL ALLY BEEGUN, TRADE UNIONIST
“They have enhanced the Industry” According to the trade unionist, there are more than 49,000 foreign workers in Mauritius, a figure that differs from Statistics Mauritius which takes into consideration large enterprises only. Fayzal Beegun states that 13 years back, many textile factories faced closure and the industry was going through a severe recession. “People were losing confidence in this sector and started to move towards the services sector. As a result,
there was a lack of workers in the textile, mainly the machinists. Thus, the employers started to look for the required labour force from abroad,” he explains. For the trade unionist, the most crucial reason why foreign workers are demanded is because they are willing to work for odd hours and overtime. “As these people do not have their families and relatives here, they do not have a social life. Even on festive periods they are willing to work as
they are here to make their lives. Even if they want a sick leave as pretext for an absent, they will not be able to so as the place where they live is con-
trolled by the employers most of the time. Therefore, medical check up will be carried out. Employers prefer to hire foreign workers because they are vulnerable as far as their rights and demands are concerned”, he says. Fayzal Beegun believes that the textile industry has over 40 years of existence, “but for the past 22 years it was the foreign workers who have further enhanced the industry due to their hard work and dedication”.
STATISTICS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES For the month of June 2013 according to the latest publication from the Ministry of Labour and Industrial Relations and Employment (see table), the number of valid work permits stood at 36,619, comprising of 25,305 new work permits and 11,314 renewals. The number of new work permits issued was 861.The majority of the new work permits issued was for the “Manufacturing” sector (664). Out of the total of 861 new work permits issued, 483 were allocated to Bangladeshi workers, 169 to Indian workers, 74 to Malagasy workers and 65 to Chinese workers. As for the number of work permits renewed for the month of June 2013, it amounted to 1,157 out of which 843 were for the “Manufacturing” sector. The majority of the work permits renewed were for Bangladeshi, Indian, Malagasy and Chinese workers - 660, 220, 146 and 68 permits respectively.
NUMBER OF VALID WORK PERMITS BY INDUSTRIAL GROUP, AS AT END OF JUNE 2013 INDUSTRIAL GROUP
Agriculture, hunting and forestry
Electricity, gas and water supply
Wholesale & retail trade; repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles & personal and household goods
Hotels & restaurants
Transport, storage & communications
Real estate, renting and business activities
Public administration and defence; compulsory social security
Health & social work
Other community, social and personal service activities
Private households with employed persons
TABLE 1-FOREIGN WORKERS EMPLOYED IN LARGE ESTABLISHMENTS, MARCH 1990 - 2012 Year
DR VISHAL RAGOOBUR, SENIOR ECONOMIST AT THE MAURITIUS EMPLOYERS' FEDERATION
“An open Economy needs to have foreign Workers”
The Senior Economist explains that in highly labour intensive sectors such as the manufacturing and construction, there are not enough Mauritians who are willing to work. “Therefore, there is a need to compensate them with foreign workers”. He says that it also depends on the demand of labour of the employers to chose which kind of labour they want. We often think than foreign workers, especially in the manufacturing industry are more productive than the local fellows. But, is this really true? Vishal Ragoobur confirms: “If we compare a foreign worker with a local one, the task will be executed in the same way. However expatriates are willing to work more in terms of overtime, week-ends and even on public holidays. As for the local employees, they will prefer to
spend some time with their families”. He is also of opinion that it would be more appropriate to call expatriates employed in the manufacturing and construction sectors skilled and trained workers instead of giving them the title of manual and unskilled workers. At the level of management and professionals, the economist states that there are around 4,000 expatriates who are employed in sectors such as health, IT, tourism amongst other services sector. In Mauritius, we have presently around 50,000 unemployed people. Why can't these unemployed be recruited instead of importing foreign labour? The problem of unemployment could have been settled in some way. Vishal Ragoobur points out that this is simply because the unemployed Mauritians do not possess the required skills and experience and they are young graduates. However, one important point highlighted by the economist, which was also pointed out by MEXA chairman above, is
that in some cases foreign workers protect the employment of local workers. He explains: “There are some enterprises which are not able to operate here due to high costs of production or some other obstacles. Thus, they prefer to open up in other countries where doing business is easier. Following the closure, the local people will lose their jobs. In this case, we can therefore say that being a strong component of the human resource in the enterprise, foreign workers somehow protect local workers”. “If we want an open economy, we need to have foreign workers”, Dr Ragoobur adds. However the Senior Economist does not hide the problems that are associated with these foreign workers. “Very often, like recently, we witnessed the case where some Bangladeshis had to leave due to industrial relations problems. If we cannot treat them in dignity, this will prove to be fatal for the industrial image and reputation of our country on a global note”, he points out.
Source CSO: Survey of Employment and Earnings in large (employing 10 or more persons) establishments
Capital Edition 147