Blog: MSPA/JNP Agreement - A major feat
‘Na pas grate le dos malheur.’ No message could have been expressed in clearer terms to all parties involved in discussions to reach an agreement concerning the wages and conditions of service of the workers of the sugar industry.
The MSPA representing the employers had already signed an agreement with the plantation workers union giving an increase of 16 percent. I am told that the Plantation Workers Union had also agreed that after four years, negotiations would be carried out at enterprise level instead of the present collective bargaining method. This agreement was rejected by the Joint Negotiating Panel which comprised the Union of Artisans of the Sugar Industry, the Sugar Industry Labourers Union, the Artisans and General Workers Union and the Organization de l’Unite des Artisans. The JNP had followed all the procedures to go on a legal strike. At this juncture, it would have been catastrophic for the industry and the economy.
It is a pity that the Plantation Workers Union which had in the past leaders like Pundit Ramnarain, Jugdambee and Bhageerathy have no longer the fighting spirit to defend the interests of the workers. I fail to understand how it can choose a negotiator who had no experience of the sugar sector to carry the negotiations on behalf of the workers.
Mr Cassam Kurreeman was an excellent trade unionist defending the interests of the nurses. He also became the President of the prestigious Mauritius Labour Congress. I do not understand how they could rush into reaching an agreement with the MSPA before the release of the report of Professor Torul. Either they wanted to take credit alone for successfully concluding an agreement or they were fools. They ought to have known that the MSPA is very well advised and have all the data at their disposal to agree to what is only favourable to them.
On Wednesday, at the meeting presided by the Minister of Labour, Shakeel Mohamed, the MSPA used the terms of the agreement to try to extract major concessions. There was no way for the JNP to give way. The present agreement applies to all workers of the sugar sector except for the overseers, they have a separate agreement. The major concession the MSPA has made is that collective bargaining will be maintained after 2013 and seasonal workers will be included in the pay rise.
It should not be forgotten that these workers have opted to continue serving the industry. They have not got the benefits of the VRS, that is, lump sum, a piece of land and a pension. I call this agreement which has avoided a social unrest a major feat in the context of what is happening elsewhere.
In Europe and China, workers have come to the streets to defend their rights and seek better conditions and wages. Chinese Government is also not opposing the workers to claim better conditions from particularly the multinationals which have invested in China on the account of low wages. The Chinese authorities have realized that they cannot ensure economic growth and progress forever on the back of workers.
We are all aware that the bargaining powers of the workers have been reduced. All parties, that is, the government employers and the trade unions have realized that nothing is gained by savage strikes. In the past, trade unions and workers have also been used to satisfy the political ambitions and aspirations of quite a few. The MMM used them in the 1970’s to get political power. But once in power, both the unions and the parties discovered that their interests are divergent and they parted ways.
However, over the years, government has passed laws and established institutions to regulate and promote industrial regulations. They ensured relative industrial peace over decades and contributed to a large extent to the economic development of the country. The success of the present agreement could be attributed to the excellent work professor Torul did at the conciliation and mediation committee. No party could contest his findings.
The Prime Minister publicly declared that he was impressed by the work of Professor Torul. I am told that at the signing ceremony of the agreement, all parties paid tribute to Professor Torul. I have always believed that if our institutions are manned by professionals and competent people, they can deliver excellent work in the interest of all.
Now that the capitalist system has become all inclusive and the government powerful, it is high time for the trade unions to modernize and adapt themselves, otherwise they will form part of the species in danger of becoming extinct.
This does not mean that the small man has no means to defend his interest. The small man can make and unmake the most powerful.
President Obama had to go four times to the states affected by the oil spill in the Mexico Gulf. He forced the President and CEO of BP to apologize and set aside a 20 billion dollar fund to help those whose lives have been affected by the oil spill. Even the most powerful could not ignore the interests of the small man.
In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set up a ministerial committee to look into the problems of the Bhopal gas tragedy after 25years. Billions of rupees have been released to compensate at least those still alive and suffering and also, to clean up the environment of all its poisons. Laws are being passed so that justice is not delayed and such tragedy does not occur again.
This agreement came at an appropriate time to test the will of the government and the Prime Minister. The choice was for the Prime Minister to stand by the workers who gave him power or side with the employers, particularly when they had an agreement with the Plantation Workers Union in hand. The Prime Minister will be remembered for his stand and support.
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