Migrant workers keep the wheels of industry turning: in Mauritius, migrant workers from Africa and Asia are playing a critical role in sustaining economic growth.

Author:Ackbarally, Nasseem
Position:Mauritius
 
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There are 40,000 migrants working in Mauritius, with a large majority of them working in the manufacturing sector. Other sectors with strong migrant worker participation include construction, the hotel and tourism sectors and the bakery industry.

Firemount Textiles in Goodlands, northern Mauritius, employs 2000 foreign workers while 1500 of their employees are locals. "We are happy with our foreign workers as they help us to deliver [our products] on time," says one of the company's directors.

"We are expanding our factory and we need more labour, about 1000 more workers, and while our priority is to hire locals, as government guidelines say at least 50% of our employees should be local, there are not many locals interested in this type of work. We believe Mauritians prefer to work in the public sector because of job security," says the director.

Other managers in the industry say that several campaigns to recruit locals carried out through posters in towns and villages and adverts in local papers failed to produce results. As a result, the textile industry, one of the five pillars of the Mauritian economy along with sugar, tourism, offshore financial services and ICT, faces a difficult situation.

The lack of available local labour affects other Mauritian sectors and businesses, a problem that local bakery owner Sabeer Hookoomally has had firsthand experience with. Indeed, without a dozen factory workers from Bangladesh, Hookoomally would have been forced to close his bakery.

Hookoomally pays for their air-tickets, lodging and accommodation, food and inland transport above the normal wages. "Locals do not turn up for work most of the time and it was very hard to keep the factory running. Today, thanks to my migrant workers, people are having their bread every day," he says.

Opportunities

Even though local employees are skilled and capable of working, many are not happy with the anti-social hours, long workdays and insecurity that come with jobs in the services and manufacturing sector. Hiring locally, therefore, is a difficult task.

And for foreigners in Mauritius, the opportunities are great: "Unlike Mauritians, foreign workers invest themselves in their work to be able earn more money that they can send back home," says Feisal Ally Beegun, a trade unionist who has been championing the cause of migrant workers on the island for 20 years.

Kamaluddin, a Bangladeshi working for the past four years in a textile factory, says: "I am ready to...

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