I’m wearing four hats to write this article: Mauritian citizen, entrepreneur, immigration specialist and director of an HR management agency. Of course, I’m looking at the subject from these four angles which accumulate over more than two decades of professional and personal engagement. Our articles are usually written under the banner of the Gibson & Hills Group, but this one is under my personal pen. I’m certain this will trigger different reactions, but as long as it does not leave you indifferent, I’m happy.

Local Labor Market – An Overview

From an agriculture-based economy, Mauritius shifted (rather rapidly) to a multi-fold economy through the development of industries such as textiles, tourism, financial services and IT. Education followed pace, with many of us travelling abroad for high studies and specialization in various sectors. The country opened its doors to foreign investment and capital in 2001 through the introduction of the Business Facilitation Act, the creation of the Economic Development Board (then named Board of Investment) and also, the development of a sound legal/fiscal framework. All this to ensure that the tiny island positions itself as a major business destination.

The local labor market always followed suit, until very recently. There was a notable downfall which many interpreted as a disparity between the job offer and available expertise. Plausible reasons: training/education shortages, unwillingness or disengagement of employees, lack of ethics, inappropriate conditions of work, low salary and demand for employee loyalty, among others.. It is true that employees (backed by trade unions) have, over the last decade, been more focused on their rights rather than their responsibilities. Generally, we have done nothing than to rest on the master-slave perception, well present in our DNA, to break up enterprises. Instead of building one team under a single banner, employers and employees retrenched themselves into two separate groups. I take care in mentioning that this does not mean I warrant the abuses that employees have been subject to. But neither do I vouch for the numerous frauds and business-jeopardizing actions that many employees have led.

I fear employment was not deemed important for youngsters because most of them enjoy the ‘sponsorship of parents’ until they are settled. They do not have rents to pay, nor do they cater for their own food – as long as parents can pay, they will.

Where do we stand today? Local labor is not a favorite among local employers because of its lack of quality. You cannot correct a professional negligence or mistake without being accused of rudeness. Most common result : seeing a resignation letter tabled in the next minute or – more often than you would think, seeing the employee packing up to leave without any word. Of course, all this is followed by the classic complaint lodged to the Ministry of Labor which, in turn, takes the employer as the de-facto defaulter. For every action, it is the employer who needs to justify himself, not the employee. I have chaired many disciplinary committees, and this has unfortunately been my experience so far.

Foreign Manpower

We gradually saw new faces on the labor market: Nepalese at restaurant fronts, Bangladeshis in textile factories, Chinese on construction sites, Europeans in management positions, or South Africans on the retail/commerce side. This is the visible scenario on the ground.

With the different permit schemes available, it became quite easy to have access to foreign expertise and at times, it is even easier than acquiring reliable local manpower. Whether Work Permits or Occupation Permits, employers simply need ‘to show’ that they are respecting the set conditions ‘on paper’ to secure them. From there, you can see foreigners in all categories of business or employment positions: hairdressers, accountants, lawyers, consultants, restaurants… everywhere. It has gone so far that foreign communities present on the island request to work only with their homies, creating a parallel economy while relocation is based on integrating the host country’s life. You want a French or South African hairdresser? A cake maker? A babysitter? Or even a maid? You have it.

It is only now that many are frowning at the situation, when everything is so utterly visible. We are not the United Arab Emirates where all Emiratis own their businesses and the only ones you find behind a counter are expatriates. This is Mauritius.

Ah, and to those princes and princesses: no, your parents are not eternal sponsors.

Enter Covid19

Sadly, now with the Covid situation many businesses are closing or narrowing their activities and resultingly, many are losing their jobs. Covid has somehow brought us back to the essence of things and helps us better appreciate their value. This includes work. Parents who were traditionally so supportive are finding themselves in tight corners as they themselves are exposed to redundancy. Families are in financial difficulties. The eternally sponsored generation now faces a different reality.

With a smaller plate to share among locals and foreigners, the equation starts to look tricky. At this stage, I cannot say that there is a xenophobic trend, but I cannot ignore the words I’ve recently heard though my recruitment agency and through my clients. If this situation persists, these words will surely amplify and can take unpleasant dimensions.

What Has to Be Done

The government needs to work out a better strategy with regards to the employment of foreigners. The requirements should not be limited to only salary and work conditions. They should be part of a complete strategy that is able to support our fight against unemployment.

Certain professions whereby local expertise is not scarce should be protected. Examples of such professions include accountants, lawyers, administration, book-keeping, hawkers (yes), retail and commercial jobs (salesmen, after-sales, etc.). There are many areas like these, where locals should be protected. At the end of the day, we are opening our country (I said it before, many times) for the ultimate benefits of our own people; we are neither a refugee center not are we all rich pasha earning from Petro-Dollars.

If the trend continues, I warn again, it will lead to something that we will not be able to control.

I know I may be confronting my own clients (foreigners relocating) through the above statement. But there’s a need to voice out honest opinions now, rather than risking to reach a no-return point in the future.

Foreign capital and expertise are welcome to ADD to the existing capacity, not to REPLACE locals.

With the recent troubles in South Africa, I have been flooded by hundreds of employment requests. People have to understand that our immigration strategy is selective (although this is not really the case in practice) and need to stick to the principle of adding value instead of replacing local capacity.

Therefore, if you are looking for employment opportunities, make sure that you are able to adhere to the above. If you are not, then please reconsider your expectations. You can contact us to know whether your expertise is in demand on the island, and we will give you a honest answer based on our experience on the ground; unlike many who are simply interested in selling you a residence permit.

You might find yourselves trapped in a complex situation in some years. This may include a sudden change of permit rules to politically accommodate the frustration of local unemployed people.

Nadeem Mosafeer

Gibson & Hills