Who would have thought it? Bangladeshi workers now have a new champion: it is Shakeel Mohamed. With two other opposition parliamentarians in tow, he marched into the Jin Fei industrial zone to conduct a snap inspection of the living conditions of foreign construction workers in Ramadan.
Mohamed’s affection for the Bangladeshis seems to be of relatively recent vintage. And it seems to be another instance of that remarkable tendency of Mauritian politicians to recognise problems only when out of power and without any authority to actually do something about it. That self-same Mohamed it will be recalled was minister of labour between 2010 and 2014. But back then, like any good minister of labour, his main preoccupation was with keeping the factories humming. In fact, when in September 2013, Bangladeshis protested their living conditions at the Real Garments factory in La Tour Koenig, Mohamed was swift in declaring that troublemakers “were not welcome in Mauritius” and proceeded to go further and state that “if I have to deport all 468 workers, I will do it.” No doubt the younger Mohamed was reared on stories of his father’s exploits during the 1988 Sinotex strike. That, as irony would have it, led to bringing in the Bangladeshis; a more docile, quiescent – and most importantly, non-voting – lot, in the first place.
The minister of labour, you see, is very comparable in social function to the now-defunct post of Sirdar, a go-between between the owners and workers, but supposed to make sure that production continues nonetheless. And under Mohamed’s watch as minister, the factories did indeed hum and any Bangladeshi making trouble was ‘repatriated’, which sounds more civilised than ‘deported’, the latter having too much of the Gulf-Arab ring to it. Even when the odd truth did rear its head every now and again, Mohamed was always quick to blame the recruiting agents – relative minnows in the industry, all considered – rather than those actually profiting from the labour and supposed to provide the dormatories.
But now things are different. Mohamed is not the minister anymore so dirty dormitories occupy his mind more than they did back then. Particularly during Ramadan. So the Sirdar turns into the Bolshevik. Another factor that seems to have lubricated this particular epiphany is the not-inconsequential fact that in the present case, the company is not a Mauritian one but rather the China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd. So Mohamed can give vent to his new-found passion for the Bangladeshis without offending local capitalists, nor putting campaign financing at risk. If a little impromptu lecture on freedom of expression can be thrown at the nasty communists, so much the better.
But it was not all for nothing. Mohamed, the former minister, is now the friend of the foreign workers, as far as YouTube is concerned. And the managers have rushed in to clean the dormitories and bring in clean mattresses. So the tamasha did serve some purpose after all.
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