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Day 52 – How to Judge the Covid-19 Bill?

11.05.2020

Coming out of the lockdown, it is important to think big.


We need to be able to imagine changes in society that are based on:


- What work is “essential” – we have begun to learn this.


- What classes are essential – we have learnt this too. The bosses have shown themselves to be non-essential.


- Food-production is essential – we still do not know what will happen to world food security, and Mauritius must be one of the most insecure countries regarding food. The Government must force big land-owners to shift to one-third land for food, and force them to set up amenities for food preservation and transformation on each sugar estate or ex-sugar estate.


- The fishing industry must be expanded, and gear in with the food preservation and transformation units.


 At the same time, we must also concentrate on the Bills in the National Assembly this week. Here is some food for thought on the Covid-19 Bill, which amends a whole series of existing laws. 


The Covid-19 Bill due to come before the National Assembly on Wednesday has over 80 pages of text, and most of the Bill concerns straight-forward issues – delaying tax payments, extensions on time limits on declaration of newborns, payment of amenities and that sort of thing.


However, there are important issues touched on in some of the sections that may change the balance of class forces after the end of the lockdown.


In particular today we give two sections for people to think about, both of which need time limits in order to ensure the temporary nature of the enactments, and if extended, extended only by the National Assembly:


1. With the extension of working from home, the category that LALIT was warning about in the Workers’ Rights Act concerning “atypical workers” now exposes its full dangers. As a minimum, the Bill needs the phrase “during the COVID-19 period” referring to the boss being able to force someone to become atypical, and to be able to do this on notice of 48 hours.


 2. In the Education Act, again it is necessary to include 


“Distance education during temporary closure


“(1) Where the Minister makes an order section 36, the Minister may, during the temporary closure or for any further period as may be necessary, [but for not longer than one term, unless a new Bill is put before the National Assembly] order any educational institution to provide distance education and online learning programmes, including broadcast lessons.” Here too, there needs to be a time limitation as proposed in square brackets.


In general, we must ensure that any infringement of ordinary rights and freedoms is only of a temporary nature due to a health emergency, and does not creep into a general movement towards a police state. So, this article is just the beginning of thinking about this Bill. 


Lindsey Collen


for LALIT, a personal view.