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Inhumane conditions of migrant workers: By Jeppe Blumensaat Rasmussen


Many Mauritians commute on the Royal Road between Port-Louis and Rose Hill on a daily basis. Stuck in traffic you could wonder what they are thinking about. A thought that probably rarely crosses their minds is what can be found behind some of the façades along the road.

June 19 2011, I went to inspect dormitories for migrant workers in Coromandel, Chebel and Beau Bassin. The sights visited were dormitories of Universal Fabrics Ltd. and Esquel Group. In the over-crowded dormitories I found migrant workers from India, China and Madagascar.

The first dormitory in Coromandel, located just behind the Royal Road, is hosting 37 migrant workers from India working for Universal Fabrics Ltd. Some of the workers are sleeping on thin rotten mattresses; two of them do not have a mattress but are sleeping directly on the wooden bottom of the bunk bed. Each worker is given Rs 1000 a month for food, and a cooker is hired to cater for them in what is a very filthy kitchen. When asked whether they have their passport and work permit, the classical answer comes up. The employer keeps them safe in the factory, which is a clear violation of Mauritian law.

The bathroom and toilet facilities are disgusting. None of the workers are interested in going on the record in fear of being deported, though they did show me their payslips; they are paid Rs19 an hour. Earlier in the week I were in Goodlands where a payslip showed Rs16,57 an hour for Santex Ltd.

The second dormitory, where workers for Universal Fabrics Ltd. live, is found directly on the main road, entering by a really unsafe spiral staircase. Here conditions are even worse than at the first dormitory. Living here are 28 migrant workers from India, mainly from Tamil Nadu. Especially one room attracts attention. The room used to be occupied by more workers, but due to a leaking toilet system, sanitation water is leaking into the room. There is a horrible smell in the room - inhumane conditions. The workers explain that when complaining they receive no response from the management. Additionally, they tell me that when it is raining water leaks though the ceiling and the electrical installations in the ceiling sparks and burns the ceiling! Dark spots are seen all over. I find out that there is another entrance to the dormitory, found on the ground floor. Actually, this door, facing the side road, is broken allowing you to walk directly into the dormitory. To add a wordplay, you can ask yourself whether you can called it a “doormitory”, when there is no door. One can wonder whether the employer cares for their employee’s safety at all.

I went visiting the two dormitories of Esquel Group, which is hosting migrant workers from China and Madagascar. Conditions here are even worse, and it seems as if it is escalating. The conditions are ‘creative’, using a positive word, and it is impressive how they manage to fit so many people into one room. The rooms inspected at the dormitory for migrant workers from China had an average of 10 to 14 people living in rooms between the size of 20-25 square meters, accompanied with one bathroom and one toilet. As for the dormitory of the migrant workers from Madagascar, there are 70 and 60 young women living on each floor, all living under inhumane conditions.

Esquel Group's five E's - is there a sixth one missing?
As a big multinational national company, Esquel Group represents its internal and external strategy in what they call an “e-culture”. This is represented by the five words ethics, environment, exploration, excellence and education. This sounds very humane and decent, but you could question whether the well-paid bosses or marketing directors have ever seen the dormitories of some their own workers. I would suggest that they look up “exploration” in the dictionary, take the word for what it is and go visit the dormitories of their own workers. Probably that would make them reconsider the choices of ethics and environment, and substitute it with exploitation. It would also be useful to flip back a couple of pages and look under “d” and search for “dignity”.
Not alone in this “business”
This should not be seen as a single case, since I, additionally, have been visiting two dormitories of Santex Ltd for men and women from Bangladesh, respectively, and a male Firemount Ltd. dormitory for migrant workers from India and Bangladesh found in Goodlands.
Mauritius is not standing alone on this issue since it is a tendency world-wide to bring in migrant workers from abroad to do the “dirty jobs” cheaply, often characterised by the three D’s dirty, dangerous and degrading. Furthermore, this often has the side effect of suppressing the local workers bargaining power, since salary is pushed to the minimum by the fixed contracts negotiated at the migrant worker’s home country. This has been seen in countries like Thailand and Malaysia also in the textile industry.
In theory it is known as the Global Division of Labour, which explains the “natural” (rather un-natural) movement of labour from poorer regions to richer areas to perform the jobs and working hours that the local population reject. This shows the power of capitalism! People are “forced” to leave for a job abroad, where they are often being ill-treated in terms of: accommodation, food, health, social isolation etc.
Therefore, kamarad let us say “no” to this kind of treatment to migrant workers. Say “no” to their social isolation and demand humane living conditions for them!