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Labor Anger In Mauritian Workers Unions

ICFTU OnLine, 9 November 1996

Brussels, October 29 (ICFTU OnLine): The decision by Mauritian Prime Minister Nuvin Ramgoolam to renege on his promise to increase workers' salaries is leading to growing discontent on the Indian Ocean Island, according to the Mauritius Labour Congress (MLC), the country's main trade union centre.

During his election campaign last year Mr Ramgoolan, then leader of the opposition Labour Party, had pledged to raise Mauritian salaries by 15%. But he soon went back on his word, claiming that Mauritius's economic situation and its public deficit did not permit a pay review. According to the MLC, an amount of 700 million Rupees (42 million dollars) was secretly transferred to the Bank of Mauritius to deliberately and artificially increase the budget deficit. Exposure of the transfer, three months ago, led to the resignation of the then Finance Minister.

Following a complaint by the trade unions, the civil arbitration tribunal, whose decisions are binding for both workers' representatives and management, recently ruled that public sector workers' wages should be increased this year by the equivalent of three annual increments. Yet the government is refusing to implement the decision and has maintained the wage-freeze.

According to the 68,000 strong MLC, the government's refusal to abide by the Tribunal's award is adding to an already tense situation and "industrial action has become inevitable".

Wages in Mauritius are traditionnally low and demands by trade unions to raise the minimum wage (approximately 400 dollars) have been largely ignored by successive governments since 1988. An unprecedented national strike that year brought the island's economy to a standstill with some 300,000 workers downing their tools.

In a letter to Prime Minister Ramgoolam, the ICFTU urges the Mauritian government to respect the Arbitration Tribunal's judgment and to open talks with the trade union movement with a view to adopt economic policies, taking account of the social dimension.