Working people in times of global economic crisis: Potato field workers in the South of Mauritius
Women workers of the Savannah sugar estate potato fields are now getting only Rs.125 a day. Last year they were getting Rs. 175 daily. The job contractor says, "if you don't want to work, others will". Unemployment is at 8%, and at 13% for women according to official statistics and this excludes workers who are being "voluntarily" retrenched in the sugar industry, and people who have been given micro-credit by the State to open up a "small business". The "sugar estate" has taken on cane-field foremen that were former employees, and were "voluntarily" retrenched to now become job-contractors organising and supervising gangs of labourers for the potato fields when labour is needed.
Women workers of the Savannah sugar estate potato fields have to go "to work" earlier: they wait on the main road for a vehicle to take them to work at 4.30 a.m. Once they have got to the plantation, they wait for sunlight to begin work. They have to get to the plantation so early because there is only one vehicle picking up groups of workers on the road now. Last year, there were more vehicles, but to cut costs, they have been sold.
The sugar industry used to be the backbone of the Mauritian economy and was the biggest employer of Mauritian workers. The first wave of economic crisis in Mauritius was triggered by structural crisis in the sugar and textile industries with the withering away of a guaranteed price for sugar (far above the market price) and guaranteed quotas for sugar and textiles on the European market. Sugar estates (that formed the economic base of the historical bourgeoisie which remains the dominant section of the Mauritian capitalist class), with full State support, embarked on a plan:
1. to decrease 50% of its costs by retrenching workers by the thousand (by offering a plot of land and compensation in exchange for closing down the job),
2. to centralise its sugar factory operations, and transform the sugar industry into a "cane" industry (producing electricity through cane bagasse and coal, and producing ethanol).
3. to convert prime agricultural land into residential land (especially in coastal regions) and to build villas for multi-millionaires who also get residence permits to boot.
Sugar estates in the South are using some of their cane land to cultivate potato. This is how women workers are being recruited by job contractors to work in the potato fields of the "Savannah Sugar Estate".