A Trade-Unionist Response to Lindsay Rivière

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“It is unexpected of a seasoned person of your calibre to have failed to identify the effort put in by the frontliners”

Mr Lindsay Rivière, 

It is my humble appreciation of your opinionative academic article “Steeling Ourselves” that motivates me to go out of my way to help you tune yourself to the truth of the situation that you failed to see either by inadvertence or otherwise. I do not dispute your fundamental right to the freedom of expression, as guaranteed to every citizen of this country under Article 12 of our Constitution. But I believe that, to all intents and purposes, this right does not invite a distortion of facts by anybody enjoying the comfort of one’s living room. 

One truth that you have miserably failed to recognise, and which you ought to have recognised, is the reading of the judgment of the Covid-19 court. If this is a deliberate omission then the credibility of your views is certainly at stake. That small component of the population that has never enjoyed a true recognition; the “planteurs légumes” and the “marchands légumes”, the shopkeeper, and others of the like, became “misié” overnight. People like you and me were suddenly reduced to wretches, chasing the “misié” for food. The judgment of the Covid-19 court, properly construed, upholds the views of Father Jacob concerning the Sanskrit term “Ahamkara”, that is self-pride or attachment to one’s ego. 

It is unexpected of a seasoned person of your calibre to have failed to identify the effort put in by all those people who have risked themselves in their fight against the invisible invader. They were the frontliners comprising of a wide spectrum of brave soldiers, such as cleaners, nurses, doctors, refuge collectors, firefighters, police officers and a number of other workers from different grades to whom I owe humble respect, spending sleepless nights on the battlefield when most of us were within the safe custody of our home. How unhesitantly have you recognised “prompt and decisive action, strict guidelines, inspired leadership and the co-operation of everyone” as the only measures that helped in the successful containment of the onslaught of the pandemic? What is it that motivated you to give credit to “inspired leadership” when instead of taking timely decision to close the borders, the doors were wide opened to tourists who were offered additional duty-free facilities and, by so doing, helping to import the horrendous storm? 

“You must be feeling exalted by the recent amendment of the Workers’ Right Act which has proudly allowed employers to legally steal 15 days from the annual leave entitlement of workers, again to their own benefit. ”

Under the topic of “MENTAL STRESS AND SOLIDARITY FATIGUE”, you bluntly smashed into an open door. Issues like massive unemployment, the loss of jobs, the disruption of the social fabric of society, social unrest and the few other aspects therein mentioned have time and again been pressed upon by trade unions in the course of either public debates or radio programmes. By writing things so ostentatiously and inviting readers to believe in them is not the dish of trade union leaders. To convince me of the cogency of your argument that “people spend 90% of their time thinking about themselves and their personal issues…” I referred to the information published by Statistics Mauritius but could not find anything of the sort. I wonder where you got this figure from!!! 

Dear Mr Rivière, with all due respect to you and without any prejudice to your intellect, by what stretch of your mind have you dared insult trade unions by the cheap and baseless terms “mentality of entitlement”? Did you mean “mentalité d’accapareur”? Trade unions are very refractory to people who, in spite of being descendants of slaves, still espouse the dominating attitude of the master. I believe that you have never tried to spare some of your recreational time, leave aside your precious time, to think of those thousands of workers of the private sector striving like slaves till the last drop of their sweat to fill the coffers of their employers with billions of rupees and the same employers blackmailing Government during the Covid-19 period to siphon billions from Government’s coffers in the form of Wage Assistance Scheme. This has happened before and is, unfortunately, happening more now. 

Frontliners, such as the cleaners, nurses and doctors, have risked themselves in
their fight against the invisible invader, says the author.

Also, you appear to have a blank mind over the billions of rupees extorted by the private sector oligarchy in the form of the stimulus package and using the same money to crystallize other projects of their own personal choice. I did not find any mention about this daylight robbery in your article. You dare talk about the “mentality of entitlement” when the credible candidates to this “mentality” lie on the other side of the table. You must be feeling exalted by the recent amendment of the Workers’ Right Act which has proudly allowed employers to legally steal 15 days from the annual leave entitlement of workers, again to their own benefit. 

Had you been honest to yourself, you should have mentioned the thousands, if not millions, of rupees of salary enjoyed by private sector bosses and who still pretend to be poor. My intelligence prevents me from valuing all the cheap descriptions you have tagged to trade unions and their duties and responsibilities towards workers. I leave this to a private sector boss who relies on morass arguments to criticize and damage the image of trade unions and trade unionists whenever he is swept off his feet. 

However, regarding acquired rights, I feel that it requires of me to correct you on the issue. For your information, these are rights prescribed and stressed upon in the various conventions of the International Labour Organisation duly ratified by Government and translated in our labour legislations. Our forefathers, who were enslaved by the “colons”, fought strenuously to acquire these rights. That’s why they are called “acquired rights”. They told us to protect and preserve these rights from the claws of “colons” and “colons minded people”. 

Furthermore, I do not see how you can claim to have a locus in so far as the PRB Report is concerned. No trade union of the public sector has yet given its views or stand on this aspect of the acquired right. My colleagues and I are very sensitive to the harmful consequences on the state of the economy and the challenge lying ahead. I can only advise you to take some patience to wait until we disclose the stand of our respective trade unions. Till then any comment on PRB will be cheap gossip. 

At this stage, I do not wish to give my views on the other aspects of your article which I consider to be tales that my mother used to narrate to me before I went to bed when I was a child. In the wake of the conflict created by your article, I will kindly invite you to spare some time to enlighten yourself on matters that are or may be beyond your competence, which I usually do when I feel I am on slippery ground…

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