Despite the rain and the cold, over 1,000 Free Zone workers of Leisure Garments, Summit Textiles, Corona, La Tremoliere and Kamara, took to the streets of Curepipe today in protest at the massive retrenchments that have begun in the Free Zone. The first victims are 3,700 workers of Leisure Garments and Summit Textiles. The peaceful demonstration of workers was organised by the Leisure Garments Workers Committee in collaboration with Lalit.
Slogans in the demonstration included: “Travay enn drwa” (The Right to Work), “Nu le alokasyon lisansiman”(We want redundancy benefits), “Nu le alokasyon somaz” (We want unemployment benefits), "Gro pansyon pu Minis, Travayer lor Pave" (Ministers get a huge pension, Workers are dumped on the street), “Kapitalis angrese, Travayer lor pave” (Capitalists get richer while workers are laid off), “Fon Rs. 1 milyar pu patron Zonn Frans, Travayer Zero” (Free Zone bosses get a One billion rupee fund from government, workers get nothing), “Kapitalis devaliz labank, Travayer lor Pave” (Bosses raid banks and it is workers who are laid off). Workers present signed a petition to the Prime Minister (see below) explaining the reasons for the demonstration.
The demonstration ended at Curepipe market where Leisure Garments Workers Committee representative Mukesh Saulick, Lalit representatives Ashok Subron and Rajni Lallah, union federation leaders Toolsiraj Benydin of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, Farook Auchoybur of the General Workers Federation, Atma Shanto of the Federation of Unified Workers, and Deepak Benydin of the Mauritius Labour Congress addressed concluding messages. Workers in the demonstration declared: “This is just the beginning....” Workers, Lalit and union leaders present made a call for another mass demonstration of Free Zone workers together with the rest of the working class in September, to join in the worldwide protests against the WTO and capitalist globalisation – one of the main causes of retrenchment, constituting an attack on workers’ standard of living all over the world.
Rajni Lallah and Mukesh Saulick for Lalit and Leisure Garments Workers Committee
To The Prime Minister
2 August, 2003
We, workers of the Free Zone, particularly in Leisure Garments and a delegation of workers of Summit Textiles are assembled here in the streets of Curepipe to peacefully demonstrate against the lack of consideration shown to us by your government when 3,700 of us are being sacked because of factory closure and the rest of us living in insecurity, not knowing whether we will be the next ones to be sacked. Some one thousand workers of Leisure Garments and Summit Textiles delivered a petition to you exactly a month ago, on the 1st of July. A copy was sent to Vice-Prime Minister Bérenger, Minister Fowdar, Minister Cuttaree, Members of the National Assembly of Curepipe and the South, where most of us live. None deigned to reply to our petition. We did not even get an acknowledgement of receipt from you. Not receiving any reply from you, we wrote to the Minister of Labour and Industrial Relations. He did not reply either.
Yet we, workers of the Free Zone, have contributed our utmost to the wealth of the country. Many of us have worked up to 20 years of our lives in the Free Zone, have worked 10 hours of compulsory overtime a week, and even more, at times. Everyone knows what a pittance of basic salary Free Zone workers receive. Yet, to be able to survive, we have worked in the Free Zone. Now we are being retrenched. All your government has done is to offer a few hundred out of the 3,700 sacked workers a 100 hour IVTB, or offer workers “micro-credit” schemes just as we lose our means of a livelihood and are wondering how in the world we will be able to repay our debts and interest to shops, to banks, to the NHDC.
At the same time, your government has shown utmost consideration to Free Zone bosses: meeting them in the luxury of Domaine le Pailles, going out of your way to put up a special Ministerial unit to assist Free Zone bosses, dishing out a one billion rupee fund to them. Your Industry Minister Cuttaree is busy with preparations and international lobbying for Free Zone bosses at WTO-level. You, yourself, have gone to the USA to meet President Bush to beg for a few favours in AGOA for them, and returned empty-handed. Not once have we heard you even suggest that all this assistance be conditional to Free Zone bosses preserving and creating employment for workers of this country.
It was your own government that signed, and encouraged other governments in the region to sign the agreement leading to the WTO’s formation. It is such agreements that are now leading to the abolishing of quotas for Free Zone textiles. It is your government that hosted the AGOA conference in January this year. Yet AGOA is riddled with conditionalities that impose liberalisation on African peoples. Not once have heard you or your government at national, regional, or international level, propose a motion to review existing WTO agreements that undermine internationally-recognised human rights and workers’ rights, including the right to work, to the right to housing, to the right to fair wages and a decent living.
Is the value of working peoples’ lives so worthless to you? Does this government not realise that thousands of us will be without the means to feed and clothe our families by the end of the month? This very month, just as you are refusing to meet us, you have been lavish with yourselves – increasing salaries and pensions of Ministers and MP’s. Have you no shame?
We demand the very minimum:
That government pay us a redundancy benefit of Rs2,000 a month for 2 years from the Rs.1 billion fund that your government has alloted to the Free Zone sector.
That government pay unemployment benefits to everyone without a job;
That government itself creates employment as the private sector is showing that it is incapable of creating secure employment that provides a living wage.
We hope that your government will reconsider its stand, and accept to meet workers’ delegates to open dialogue on the basis of these demands. Should you refuse, then you will have to bear responsibility.
We would like to conclude our petition with the 3rd paragraph of the United National Universal Declaration of Human Rights that reads: “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”.