Unemployment: the so called visionary Budget and the graduates

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Rs 1 Billion will be disbursed for 14,000 job seekers in order to eradicate unemployment.

Following the “Visionary” Budget issued by the government on Thursday 14th June, there has been several debates from the opposition, business and syndicates. However, none of these groups were able to pinpoint that the Employment Law has not been revised since 2008 even though they “updated” some sections in 2017 and 2018. But, the whole Employment Rights Act has not been revised since then and does not accommodate modern-day issues as seen in this article. The analysts and members who helped in making this Budget have also failed to create modern safeguards to prevent abuse of the employees’ rights.

Young Graduates and the Modern Slavery

Even if the government swear by the Employment Rights Act 2008, this piece of legislation has several loopholes that are now redundant since its enactment 10 years ago and some loopholes can still be found even though it saw some updated sections in 2017 and 2018. The last person who clarified the law was the Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment of the time who introduced the “Workers Guide” in 2014. But since then, if one needs to rely on a guide, they will have to develop skills in order to interpret the law as there are no updated guide.

If you have just finished university and are reading this article, then you will agree that there are no more employment for graduates but traineeship/internships something which was non-existent 10 years ago. With the rising number of graduates, the extension of the retirement age and unemployment, young graduates are sometimes forced to undergo traineeship or internships as a way to gain experience. The government has also not come forward in removing this problem of companies asking for work experience. Why does a company want experience if the unemployed has not been employed in the first place?

Traineeship/Internships are a good transition between the theory and the practice, but on the other hand it is also exploitation from the part of the employer who can rejoice with the silent laws regarding the trainees. Law students who just passed their bar exams will also agree that they still face unpaid pupillage. An intern/trainee will generally work the same number of hours as their fellow employed colleague, same amount of work and need to show strict attendance for sometimes no remuneration at all.

The mysterious Billion rupees allocation

It is true that the government promised that Rs 1 Billion rupees will be disbursed for the 14,000 job seekers in order to eradicate unemployment. It is still a mystery on how this allocated sum of money will be used for the unemployed; at the same time this does not mean that the interns or the 14,000 job seekers will be able to benefit from rights under the outdated Employment Rights Act.

If you suffer from a chronic illness then good luck in explaining your employer that you want a part-time contract or that you want the flexible time system (flexi-time) in order to reconcile your personal, health and professional life. Even though the government mentioned at the start of the Metro Express project that there will be the introduction of flexi-time to alleviate the problem of the traffic jam in Port Louis, it seems that this statement never reached the Budget programme.

Even if it is a normal practice in the EU, they want to implement the “work from home” scheme. The chronic illness patients can now rejoice but one may ask how many companies will indeed follow this trend?

Not having a feasibility study before the introduction of this scheme will indeed increase the number of abuse of this system. If everyone is going to work from home, then how will they answer the phone for example? Or how will they contact relevant authorities? The government did not mention how they will help the companies in purchasing more materials to cater for the work from home scheme such as laptops, phones, high internet speeds, etc. in order to make the system see light.

The Minimum Salary Scale and the grading system

There are no “graded” salary scales which differentiate between qualifications and experience. For instance, an HSC holder may earn Rs 9000.00 as per the minimum required under the National Minimimum Wage Regulations 2017. A degree holder or masters holder may also earn Rs 9000.00 because it is the minimum required under the law. One frustrated graduate may wonder why they took exorbitant loans for their studies and when depression kicks in because of unemployment then the juniors prefer to work instead of joining the universities. The analysts and members who released the Budget may indeed have missed this point.

Unfair dismissal, harassment or contracts that are not respected are generally disputes that go to the Employment Tribunal. This is indeed a lengthy process which is both depressing and tiresome. Our former colonisers created the ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) which generally mediates cases and is faster. Our local alternative namely The Commission for Conciliation and Mediation is not up to the standard as the ACAS.

Even if they claim that their core value is neutrality, they are still a government entity at the end of the day. One may wonder how to file case or if it is possible to do it online, but then as mentioned, there are no guides given to Mauritians for them to know their rights or the procedures that they should follow. A brief look at their website can prove this fact.

Paid suspensions and transfers in the public sector have not been tackled. Public officers who are currently suspended from work are still receiving their basic salary at the end of the month. The trend of police officers who are charged with misconduct are simply transferred to other police stations. This shows the inefficiency of the current legislations who fail to take proper sanctions. Investigations made against these officers take so long that they end up doing side jobs while still receiving their basic salary!

Equality Rights and protected characteristics

There is no real definition of discrimination or disability under the Employment Rights Act 2008 (as updated in 2018). Even if PART II Agreements, Section 4(5) defines discrimination at work, it still does not make them appear as “protected characteristics”. Other countries such as the EU and the UK, made the use of protected characteristics in order to prevent discrimination both at work and outside the workplace. There is no specific or precise definition from any legislation in Mauritius. If such definition existed, then the illegal demonstration made by an opposing group on the 2nd June 2018 would have been prevented under the grounds that protected characteristics were baffled on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Budget speech on gender equality did not mention anything about a third gender or people who are not termed as male or female. The allocated Rs 200 000 for the formation on equality between men and women will lead nowhere if a third gender is not recognized and thereby causing prejudice to those people. Again, the theme of not being up to date with the modern world changes leads to the lack of an open-minded society. A basic guide on protected characteristics would have benefited every Mauritian.

Final thoughts

As it was demonstrated by this brief analysis, the “visionary” Budget did not really address day-to-day problems that are faced by Mauritians. From interns who are striving to get a permanent contract, to Mauritians who are not aware about their employees’ rights, the Budget was simply a quick eyewash for the next elections.

The introduction of a referendum system would be much appreciated so that the public may decide on the laws that they want to be enacted instead of a government who enacts laws without a feasibility study made public or relying on outdated sources.

Even if several members of parliament were jubilating upon hearing the bland decisions from their leader, the Budget clearly lacked the “updated” and “wow” factor that the public was willing to have. The Budget also failed to remediate the problems faced by the young generation concerning employment as demonstrated throughout this analysis.

The “visionary” politicians should understand that the country does not belong to them but to the young generation!

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