A workshop on the “Code of Conduct for the Recruitment and Employment of Migrant Workers in Mauritius”, organised by the Mauritius Export Association (MEXA), in collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Labour, Human Resource Development and Training, to commemorate the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, opened, this morning, at Sir Harilall Vaghjee Hall in Port Louis.
The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Protection and Minister of Labour, Human Resource Development and Training, Mr Soodesh Satkam Callichurn; the Chairperson of MEXA, Mr Dominique de Froberville; the Regional Director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Mr Ashraf El Nour; several members of the Diplomatic Corps and other eminent personalities were also present on the occasion.
In his address, Minister Callichurn highlighted that migrant workers remain the most powerful anti-poverty tool allowing those from high-poverty countries to send home more money than any international foreign aid programme provides. “Every year, 200 million migrant workers send money home, and 800 million people benefit from them,” he pointed out.
Furthermore, Mr Callichurn indicated that in Mauritius, the opportunity for any willing worker capable of fulfilling an open job within the legislation to protect a worker’s human rights, regardless of their nationality, is of absolute priority to this Government and especially to his Ministry. “Our Manufacturing Sector is a great example as it is known for its quality and high standards, and contributes to more than 13% of the Gross Domestic Product as well as employs more than 80,000 people,” he stated.
Speaking of the United States Department of State in the form of its Trafficking in Persons Report which downgrade Mauritius to the Tier Two Watch List, the Minister observed that this report is not reflective of the work being carried out at the National Governmental level to ensure that Mauritius is a destination of choice for skilled workers.
In fact, he underscored that with the support of the IOM, the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons 2022-2026 was developed and is being implemented. Moreover, in order to deter companies from malpractices, the Non-Citizens (Employment Restriction Act) has been amended in August 2021 to increase the financial penalty for illegal employment of foreign workers from 50,000 rupees to half a million rupees and a potential prison term of up to 5 years, Mr Callichurn added.
The Minister further dwelt on some initiatives that his Ministry in collaboration with concerned stakeholders take in order to adjust labour laws to ensure justice for migrant workers. These include: the production and dissemination of informative literature specifically for Migrant Workers; joint inspections by the National Employment Department to verify the validity of work permits and their occupations and; when victims or suspected victims of labour trafficking are identified, the Labour Minister is empowered to grant a special humanitarian work permit in order that the person can engage in safe employment whilst awaiting the prosecution of the perpetrators.
On this score, Minister Callichurn reiterated that the Government remains focused on actively protecting migrant workers and enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to both labour trafficking, and, abuse of workers, whether domestic or foreign. In this context, there is an ongoing dialogue between the United States Embassy and the Ministry of Labour to demonstrate the work that is carried out on a daily basis, he remarked.
As regards today’s workshop, Mr Callichurn underlined that it is another example of the commitment in Mauritius to the ethical migration of workers. On this note, he commended MEXA for its initiative in partnering with the IOM to develop this industry-led Code of Conduct.
The association enables dialogue between its members, the leaders of the Mauritian manufacturing industry and this collaboration will facilitate sharing best practices and promoting accountability among industry peers, he added.
For his part, the IOM Regional Director highlighted that this workshop has been organised to disseminate the new features of the recruitment and employment of migrant workers in Mauritius as well as to commemorate the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, held annually every 30 July.
The IOM, he underlined, is working very closely with MEXA in order to come up with positive actions in relation to migrant workers and improve their working conditions. Mr El Nour further informed that the IOM and the Government of Mauritius have been working together on three different tracks, namely: Skills Development and Current Transfer; Migration Data Management; and Diaspora Engagement.
On this score, he reiterated the commitment of the IOM to continue to support legislation for the betterment of migrant workers and foster responsible behaviour that anchors human rights.
As for the Chairperson of MEXA, he indicated that migration has today become an integral part of the employment structure of many economies, be it as a host or a source country for migrant workers. “For Mauritius as well, the reliance on foreign workers has increased over the years and today contributes to 45% of the labour force of the export sector,” he added.
The export sector, Mr De Froberville emphasised, remains the largest employer of migrant workers and MEXA has continuously endeavoured to work with its members to improve the working conditions as well as adopt best practices for the betterment and well-being of migrant workers.
He also observed that MEXA has been proactive and to promote human rights, has three years back, taken the initiative to develop the Code of Conduct on the recruitment and employment of migrant workers with the assistance of the IOM and the European Union Commission.
The objectives of the Code of Conduct include: ensuring humane hiring and employment conditions in line with international standards on recruitment and migrant workers protection; ensuring that companies adhere to and implement the code of conduct and standards and; build the trust of international clients in Mauritian export companies, amongst others.