Negotiations between the Mauritius Sugar Producers Association (MSPA) and labor unions appear to have broken down, with an appeal to the law through arbitration being the only alternative now facing the sugar trade.

Rather than refine the list of requests and move forward, certain obstacles arose because of additional demands by the labor unions, claimed the MSPA.

The MSPA had already accepted certain requests of the labor unions, such as aligning the working condition of the workers with fixed-term contracts with those of permanent employees as well as others concerning concessions on loans and equipment.

However, the additional requests of the labor unions, noted members of the MSPA, were focused on a rise in salary without any commensurate improvement in productivity. Certain requests even went against higher productivity, for example, the proposal for a reduction in working hours, the MSPA stated.

Also prominent among the additional demands was a campaign by the labor unions to request for a “Fairtrade” label for the sugar produced by them. The certification implies that certain labor standards are being met by those producing the ‘Fairtrade’ sugar and is expected to act as a necessary stimulus for sugar producers to follow fair employment practices.

The members of the MSPA explained, however, that this certification is meant only for small and medium planters. In Mauritius, only 5,000 small planters have this accreditation, and only 20,000 tons of Mauritian sugar carries this label.

But, as an alternative to Fairtrade certification, the MSPA noted that the labor unions have access to other quality certifications, which also cover standards of fair employment.

The MSPA stressed that it was guided by the provisions of the labor law during the negotiations and had suggested that all terms and working conditions of the employees be strengthened in a single collective agreement.

To inform the labor unions about its intention to appeal under arbitration mode, the MSPA sent a mail on January 27 to the labor unions noting that, while the current process of collective bargaining was “voluntary”, they concluded that in order to move forward, it was time to ask for the assistance of an independent institution.

In a communiqué released by the MSPA on January 29, Jean Li, Director, MSPA, explained that the MSPA foresees taking steps such as calling on certain independent institutions like the Commission de conciliation et de médiation, arbitration court, ministry or others, in order to proceed with the discussions.

“Our demands have evolved a lot since the beginning of the negotiations. While maintaining that we have to find solutions for more productivity through greater flexibility at work, we modulated our requests according to what labor unions explained and remained opened to their suggestions,” Li said.

Meanwhile, the sugar industry balanced this unwelcome news with some good tidings as leading Mauritian sugar firm Omnicane signed a joint venture (JV) for the supply of hydroelectric power plants.

The Board of Omnicane released a communiqué informing the general public of the JV agreement signed by subsidiary Omnicane Hydro Energy Limited with Hydroneo Afrique Ltd, a subsidiary of MECAMIDI, which is one of the world leaders in the construction of small and medium hydroelectric power plants.

The aim of this project is to develop and construct hydroelectric power plants of sizes ranging from 5 to 25 MWe in East Africa for the next 3 years.

Image (via Manufacturing Digital): Negotiations broke down as additional requests of the labor unions were focused on a rise in salary without any commensurate improvement in productivity, claimed the MSPA.

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