Yesterday, Wednesday 10th of September, organisations forming part of the anti-WTO platform warned the Minister of Social Security and the MSM/MMM government against any attempt to dismantle the Universal Old Age Pension. The Permanent Secretary of the Minister of Social Security officially and publicly received a letter yesterday in front of all demonstrators. The letter was read by Trade Unionist, Atma Shanto, before being handled to the representative of Minister.
Here is the content of the letter.
Attention:Hon. Sam Lauthan
Minister of Social Security,
NPF Building, Port Louis
10th September 2003
We, organizations, demonstrating in Port Louis today, in defence of the People's Social Rights is hereby transmitting to you this letter to express our TOTAL opposition to your Ministry's and the government's project to dismantle the Universal Pension Rights of workers and citizens of Mauritius.
We are very concerned by various declarations made by government officials and the actual President of the Republic to the effect that the government has the intention of introducing a system of Means Testing for Old Age Pensions, thereby abolishing Old Age Pension as a Right for all citizens.
We wish to transmit to you that we will NEVER accept such an attack on the Pension Right of citizens and specially the working class.
We notice with concern that successive governments and the employers have been running campaigns supported by the IMF and World Bank, to the effect that in general the Government is spending too much money, and that the country can no longer afford universal pensions for those who reach 60 years onwards. This campaign is being run in conjunction with vested interest that wishes to privatize Pension Fund. This is a specific attack on universal rights to old-age pensions for all citizens, a right acquired in 1957.
Sir, you must be aware that Old Age Pensions, as a universal right, were gained in one country after another as countries became more developed. In New Zealand some 100 years ago, the first pensions were paid. And this tendency to pay pensions as a right increased all over the world after the 1930's crash of all private pensions investments and savings' schemes. With the development of the concept of universal human rights, and with the advent in 1948 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pensions became more and more entrenched as rights. The Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights in 1967 formalised the right to pensions.
In Mauritius the first time we heard of old-age pensions was immediately after the 1937 strike and rebellions on the sugar estates. In the Report of the Commission on Unrest on Sugar Estate in Mauritius 1938 at p. 168 it says: "In general we are in favour of old age pensions and sickness insurance. Such schemes must obviously apply to all sections of the population and not merely to persons employed in the sugar industry."
In 1940, The Governor set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Twining and it was this Committee that first mentioned the words "contributory pension scheme". The Committee thought that contributive pensions should be paid to workers from the age of 56-years-old. The bosses were against, and the Chamber of Agriculture representative who was nominated by the "Central Committee of the Sugar Estates" expressed reserves.
The first contributory pension scheme set up was for "l'etat major" of the sugar estates, and it was introduced by a private Bill in 1945. (It was only in 1956, this was broadened by an Ordinance for all sugar factory workers - "Pansyon Commarmond".)
A non-contributive system was in fact set up first. That was in 1950. It was on the basis of a means test. However, the means test was so unpopular and loathed by the people that it was abolished in 1957. Which means that we have had universal old-age pensions in Mauritius from 1957.
By 1960, The Titmuss and Abel-Smith report came and proposed that "on top of the basic pension - a contributory scheme of wage related pensions for all employed persons above a specified level of yearly earnings". And this was later to become the National Pension Scheme.
We firmly believe that the philosophy of universal old-age pensions as a basic fundamental human right is based on the following set of concepts:
Society has a duty to take care collectively of the basic needs of all those of its people who are past a certain age: Society needs to assure housing, food, clothing, medical care, transport costs as well as modern-day necessities like glasses to see, hearing aids to hear with and a telephone for keeping in contact with people.
Citizenship of a country entitles everyone to basic care from when we are born until we die; a society's capacity to care for the young, the old, the ill and the handicapped is a measure of its civilization.
Pension rights are part of the pay of the working class in its broad sense, pay deferred until retirement age.
Private pension schemes have been totally discredited historically. Since there were private pension schemes, some people held that each worker should be responsible for taking care of his own future retirement by contributing to his own private insurance payments; this philosophy got completely discredited as a fraud when the "crash" of the 1930's wiped out the entire pension contributions of a whole generation of people in Europe and the USA. The destruction in the 1990's of South East Asian, Russian and Latin American economies has done the same thing once again in those few places where the individualist ideology still held.
Humans who have lost access to the land, who have own no means of production, have a right to live in society.
Pensions rights for all are important in any conditions where there is high unemployment, casual work, insecure work, or a large informal sector for the simple reason that people in these sectors are not in a position to make regular contributions to a scheme, whether state or private. At present housewives, the unemployed, handicapped people, contract workers, seasonal workers, casual or day labourers, weak or sickly people are not able to contribute.
The "family" as an institution is very weak and is only able to look after family members on condition that there is support for the family from the state to do so: hospitals, day-care centres, subsidised transport, pension payments, free education. In addition there are old people without family at all, or whose family have rejected them. In addition, the family is stronger if each individual within it has some independence from the family; total dependency leads to grave abuse.
Sir, do you want to go in history as the Minister who destroyed the Pension Right of the present generation of workers? Will you assume the responsibility of abolishing a right that was affordable in even in colonial time? How will you explain to future generations that in the present century, with the immense progress and wealth created by people's labour, the state could not afford Universal Old Pension to its citizens?
We wish to conclude this solemn letter to you by the following quotation from the preamble of the Universal Declaration Human Rights: "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".
And for us, as stated and argued in this letter, Pension is a fundamental human right!
General Workers Federation
Federation des Travailleurs Unis
Federation of Civil Service Unions
Federation of Free Workers
Federation of Progressive Unions
Mauritius Labour Congress
Confederation Mauricienne des Travailleurs
State Employees Federation
National Trade Union Confederation
Ledikasyon pu Travayer
Muvman Liberasyon Fam
Federation of Pre-School Playgroups
Comite pour L'Amelioration de la Sante