Touria Prayag's Blog

Weekly editorial (August 9, 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on August 10, 2012

Sweet and sour

The bitter struggle between the Joint Negotiating Panel (JNP) and the Mauritius Sugar Producers’
(MSPA) which has marred the atmosphere of the sugar industry these last couple of weeks is most
unfortunate at a time when the harvest of sugar has just started. The dangers of this are obvious. Popular
fury is seldom a good starting point for negotiation. And, as the scandal rages in the country, the industry’s
credibility is likely to be shot. The fi rst attempt of the MSPA to ride out the storm by appealing to the
Relations Tribunal (ERT) for an injunction has not exactly had the success intended. The workers
have, it would seem, decided to fi ght until the last ditch. It is now diffi cult to see how an orderly exit out of
the confl ict is possible, the problem being the word “orderly.”
We have always stood for the respect of the law and institutions. We are not going to change our stance
to please anyone. The ERT has issued an interim injunction while mulling the issue. If the workers decide to
doggedly go ahead with the strike anyway, much as we would like to, we cannot endorse it. Nothing good
comes out of lack of respect for the rule of law and institutions.
We are also sensitive to the arguments that the sugar industry has undergone a complete overhaul and
that some companies have moved into ethanol production, power generation or that many have moved
to other countries while some have remained in sugar and that they therefore have different budgets. We
are also prepared to entertain the argument that because the activities of the MSPA members are now very
varied, they have different needs and a different fi nancial capacity. These may or may not be the reasons
why the MSPA is rejecting the idea of collective bargaining at the national level and recommending
with companies individually. We are still prepared to put our cynicism aside and accept that there is
no bad faith and that the intention is not to weaken the bargaining power of the workers but rather to take
into account the specifi cities and particular needs of the companies involved as it is the case in other
like tourism and textile.
Here is where we have a problem. First, the sugar sector cannot be compared to the textile or tourism
The reason is simple: although textiles and tourism have benefi ted from government grants, that’s
small change compared to the money pumped in by the European Union to be used to restructure and
modernize the sugar cane industry. And neither sector has collectively signed juicy contracts with the
which are still generating controversy, like the Private Power Producers. Secondly, the MSPA has
not been very consistent in its line of argument. Either it is mandated to represent the sugar producers or it
is not, in which case it should be dissolved. It cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. It cannot
embrace centralization when it comes to grants and contracts and decentralize as soon as there is industrial
talk. This is an argument it is unlikely to win in the court of public opinion even if it wins on legal grounds.
And the former is more important. So, let’s hope common sense prevails, the strike is called off and the JNP
and the MSPA sit together to find common grounds. Otherwise, we are heading for a lose-lose situation.


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