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The Truth about Construction Workers’ Real Lives

20.05.2018

Mauritian bosses have some 200 years of “importing labour” – to use their expression. They imported slaves, they imported indentured labourers, and whenever possible, they “import” modern wage slaves. The bosses always want cheaper labour. They also “export” the children of Mauritius, forcing them to go and undercut wages in France, Italy, Canada, Australia, the UK and so on. This way, we all contribute to keeping the world working class on an international treadmill. And while capital can move freely to where labour is cheap via de-localization of factories, given globalization, workers face walls and barbed-wire fences of immigration. Workers only move when bosses “place orders” for them, and then “import” them. This is a chilling reminder that we, in the working class, remain slaves, if wage slaves.


In Mauritius today, construction workers, if they are employed according to the existing labour laws, earn about Rs450 to Rs500 per day. That is what the Award says is the minimum. Those few construction workers employed on a permanent basis are generally paid no more than this minimum. But, of course, in addition to the basic wage, they get paid public holidays, local and sick leave, and their pension payments are made by the boss, meaning they get a wage-supplement after retirement.


The bosses prefer to take on workers for one construction site only, then let them go. This way they get to pay them only when the firm has a contract, and only for the time their particular skill is required on a site. So, the employers have gradually shifted almost all their workers over to a system of short-term contract work. This is organized through a web of job-contractors. To get workers to agree to work as day-labourers, however, the bosses have to pay more than the basic wage. They pay about Rs 1,000 to Rs1,200 per day. This is more than double the legal minimum of the construction workers’ Award.


When there is a burst of construction activity as there will be soon in, say, the Metro Express project, replacing collapsed roads and motorways, or in new hotels and IRS villas, then the bosses don’t want to pay more than the Award minimum. At the same time, they need workers on a more permanent basis, because of the flow of their construction site contracts coming thick and fast. But the bosses have difficulty in getting workers to think it worthwhile to become “employees”, at such a cut in wages. So, then the first thing the bosses do is to go complain in the Press. “We can’t get construction workers.” Some even go and moan to the trade unions. One big company even managed to trick some trade union leaders into going and looking for people who want to be permanently employed in construction on their behalf, and they, too, have not succeeded in acting as informal recruitment agents. It means half the wages, and with the new labour laws, not even job security in exchange.


And so the bosses announce that “Mauritians don’t want to work. They’re lazy. So, we have to be allowed to import [their term] construction workers from abroad.” In fact, it is the bosses who are lazy, and always looking to import “cheaper” workers as they have done from slave times until now.


The importance of sharing this information that construction workers have been pushed into "day work" rather than proper employment, and then get called "lazy", is that within the working class movement each sector becomes aware of the truth about all other sectors' work conditions. And so a "working class" comes into being, as a class. It is certainly not useful for the working class to rely on the mainstream press, which is one of the capitalist class's main tools of social control. 


Komisyon Sindikal LALIT