International capabilities assessment to support post pandemic global recovery in Mauritius

Hands on a weaving loom

Researchers have won funding of almost £200,000 to examine the effects of changes to the Workers’ Rights Act 2019 in Mauritius for domestic and migrant workers in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 was passed in May 2020 by the island nation’s National Assembly and made landmark changes which are impacting on both domestic and migrant workers there.

The research by Dr Pratima Sambajee, Dr Darren McGuire, and Professor Dora Scholarios from the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Work, Employment and Organisation, will  focus on the critical changes which may potentially put workers’ livelihoods and health and wellbeing at stake.

The Strathclyde team has embarked on an 18-month collaboration with the University of Mauritius, the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers of Mauritius and Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program, a community based migrants organisation in Bangladesh.

They will survey domestic and migrant workers from Bangladesh, across hospitality and tourism, garment manufacturing and textiles and the informal economy on the island, as well as interview a range of policy makers with the aim of informing the Mauritian Government's review of the Bill in December 2021.

Global projects

The awardi is one of the first tranche of 20 to be announced by UK Research and Innovation funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund and will directly address the negative impacts of COVID-19 across developing countries where communities are already vulnerable due to long-term conflict, food and water shortages and crowded living conditions.

Woman facing camera

Dr Sambajee, who is herself originally from Mauritius said: “Once lockdown was lifted in Mauritius the government introduced major changes to the Workers’ Rights Act on working conditions and essential employment protections.

“The reality is that they favour employers and a lot of people are losing their jobs or having their salary or annual leave reduced.

“Domestic and migrant workers follow the same law in Mauritius and most of the jobs being impacted are the low skilled manual jobs, like in textiles which are done by local women and those who have come from Bangladesh to work.

“Many governments can take action without necessarily thinking how it will impact on these people’s ability for instance to run a household because there is less money.

“These migrant workers also can’t plan for the future – they have dreams back home and family members to support, so all these issues become entangled. Our survey will ask the workers how these changes affect them now and in the future.

“So it’s about gender, it’s about people in low skilled jobs in industries which are most vulnerable like hospitality, tourism and manufacturing.”

Capabilities approach

Dr Darren McGuire added: “Our project is framed by the capabilities approach, and tries to understand how to help people lead the life they want and some of the barriers they may face.

“We’ll be looking at whether workers’ capabilities, freedoms and values have been restricted by the changes and hope the research will support the government in Mauritius to make as many good decisions as possible and have a positive impact on the labour market.

“Our Mauritian and Bangladeshi project partners bring local expert knowledge of industry, labour markets, policy-making, and greatly enhance the capacity of the research team. “

Professor Andrew Thompson, UKRI’s International Champion, said: “COVID-19 is demonstrating just how interconnected our world is and how our biggest challenges transcend rich and poor countries.

“To find lasting, sustainable solutions to the current pandemic and its aftermath, as well as to make us more resilient for the future, we require global thinking, the mobilisation of global expertise and a global response.

“That is exactly what these new projects provide. Working together, researchers across the UK and the Global South are combining their knowledge and experience to develop innovative solutions to empower local communities to overcome the wide-ranging challenges created by COVID.”

The 20 projects, totalling around £7.2 million, will be carried out over the next 18 months.