Know your Right at work! Violence at Work, Section 54 Offence

Know your Rights at Work; Industrial Relation in Mauritius:
Section 54 of the Employment Rights Act 2008.

Let us take a look at Section 54 of the Employment Rights Act 2008. S54 concerns ‘Violence at work’. This section is very important and every employee of the Republic must know about this provision – well. Knowing about violence at work equips the worker with an armor to protect against unwarranted and undesired situations and circumstances at work. S54(2) provides that if a person (it can be an employer, a colleague, a friend at work, the manager, supervisor, shareholder or anybody at work) is found ‘guilty’ (convicted means found guilty by a court of law) of an offence of committing violence against another person, then that person will be subject to a fine of ‘up to’ Rs.75,000 ‘and’ a maximum of 2 years prison. It can be either prison and fine or prison only or fine only – it depends upon the gravity of an offence.

When we speak of violence at work, we also refer to harassment, sexual, physical and moral harassment, threat, bullying, insults, use of vulgar language and so. Unfortunately many workers are subject to violence at work in Mauritius despite the law and they do not know how to protect themselves and how to defend themselves. Workers become helpless! At times workers do not even know that some types of behaviours by another person at work against them are illegal by virtue of the law. And there is a tendency by workers to believe that employers, managers, supervisors and those who have direct or indirect control over their employees have a right to act as it pleases them. This belief is not correct. And not correct at all.

Many workers knowingly or out of ignorance or even innocence, under threat or under fear of job loss – among other conditions, remain silent. Workers tend to accept that unwarranted and unacceptable behaviour by another is normal. No it is not normal. And this is worst kind of human right violation. Workers take the pressure silently and the consequences are abuse and exploitation, among others. It is important to know that no employer has a legal and moral right to harass or bully (commit a violence) against any other person or worker.

What is our understanding of an act of violence at work? There is the grounded belief that an act of violence (for example harassment, bullying, threat or insults etc.) must be perpetrated regularly and continuously or even repetitively against a person. But this is not true. The law, and in particular s54 gives the worker such a protection that only and also a once off act of violence is enough for an offence of violence at work to occur. For example a supervisor points finger to a worker and insults or utters some insanity and which words affect the dignity of the worker, then an offence is committed. So what recourse do workers have in such situation?

What to do? It’s like workers have a knife, which is a formidable tool, and have to cut open a dry coconut. Workers know that the coconut copra is stiff and needs some smart skills and effort to open it! So the worker must use the knife to cut open the coconut so as to be able to drink the water and eat the fruit. Unfortunately many workers want to drink the water and eat the fruit but refuse or outright ignore how to use the given tool to help achieve the objective. Workers must dare! Workers must act on their rights! Workers must not accept to be subjected to ill treatment or violence at work. Get the support of s54!

The steps are simple. Inform the manager/supervisor that any violence whether physical or moral is not accepted and it affects workers’ dignity. Try to stop the act or reach an agreement that such acts do not repeat. If the situation persists, make the request become a grievance and report it up hierarchy to the Human Resources Department or to the Director – it depends upon the hierarchy in the organisation. So discuss with manager inside company (internal) and if matter continues, report to the Ministry of Labour, IR, Employment and Training personally. Yes the complaint must be given personally (outside the company). But first workers must explore and exhaust all the possibilities to redress inside the company. Unless the act is too serious then report direct to ministry or go to the Employment Relations Tribunal (ERT) or to the Industrial Court. Always report matter to police before going to ministry, ERT or court. Its useful.

The complainant can and must take the support of a trade unionist or a lawyer to represent him/her at the Ministry. This is the law. The support and advice of a trained professional in industrial relations is not only helpful but important. Always give a statement under advice or instruction of a trained professional. If matter does not reveal satisfactory, case may be reported to the ERT or to the Industrial Court (as indicated above) in parallel or to the industrial court.

Here highlighting the importance of industrial relations is necessary. Industrial relations and other legal matters are rather distinct things. Workers tend to ignore this fact. Industrial relation (IR) specialists, trade unionists, and IR lawyers are better equipped to defend workers under s54 as they understand the intricacies of employment law and industrial relations. Always take advice and be warned against the consequences. If all workers know, understand and use s54 provisions, both work conditions and the work environment will take a different outlook and a conducive work environment will be set.

Lean and know the benefits the employment legislations provide to workers. AHEAD is there to support and advise workers where necessary and as appropriate.

Suraj Ray | AHEAD 07.02.2018