Ceps’ position paper on the amendment to the Employment Act | 26 May 2020
The Citizens Engagement Platform Seychelles (Ceps), which represents civil society organisations in Seychelles, welcomes the opportunity to comment and make suggestions in regard to the amendment of the Employment Act.
Ceps understands the onerous economic situation the nation finds itself in. Civil society is the neutral sphere which encompasses both employers and employees and comprehends the plights of both parties vis-à-vis the complicated state of affairs. This is a very distressing time. Ceps is not a business or political
platform and therefore has no agenda in the debates.
Nonetheless, Ceps has always demanded that it forms part of the discussions on any ‘White Paper’ or Bills that are primarily sent to the Bills Committee of the National Assembly for discussion.
Effects the amendment will have on employees
As per the secretary-general of the Seychelles Federation Workers Union (SFWU), history has shown that in such circumstances where redundancy and salary cuts are inevitable, employees are more likely to be vulnerable and prone to unfair treatment. The amendment gives an employee the right to partake in negotiations with his employer regarding his livelihood. This allows both parties to have a mutually agreed contract and if the latter fails, then the matter is brought to the attention of a competent officer at the Ministry of Employment, whereby a final verdict is given after thorough evaluation of the case. The Minister for Employment, Immigration and Civil Status, Myriam Telemaque, has also stated that the department has received applications from employers requesting for redundancy of 200 foreigners and 173 Seychellois. It was further
mentioned that 2700 people have registered for welfare assistance in relation to
unemployment. According to the principal secretary for employment in a consultative meeting held on May 18, future predictions indicate a rise in this figure.
Effects the amendment will have on employers
Through various consultative meetings published/broadcast in the media, members of the private sector have expressed that their hands are tied financially as revenues have been down since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country. A law prohibiting redundancy, even in cases where it has merits, adds to the burden of fiscal scarcity faced by businesses. Employers are also of the impression that through this amendment, the government is interfering in the way businesses are operated without taking into consideration the financial capacities. This is an infringement on their rights and a violation of the constitution, notably Article 27 – Right to equal protection of the law and Article 35 – Right to work. During the consultative meeting held on May 18, 2020 with stakeholders, businessmen also expressed their disappointment in the inability of the government to adequately cover 80% of the salaries of the private sector as was
previously announced. In this regard, Ceps feels that the government has let down this sector; firstly by failing to acknowledge legit applications and failing to pay the applicants deemed qualified within the stipulated timeframe. As a result, this has rendered both employers and employees confused and frustrated as Part V-A 32(2) of the Employment Act states: “Wages payable in cash are payable at regular intervals as agreed between employer and worker but not less than once a month and not later than the fifth day following the date on which they fall
due.” The delay on the part of the Ministry of Finance has put employers in a
position whereby they are actually breaching the Employment Act.
Since the National Assembly has approved the bill, Ceps would like to make the following recommendations:
Human resource capacity of the Ministry of Employment:
The Ministry of Employment should have in place, enough competent officers to deal with the forthcoming cases. There are already more than 200 applications and an increase is anticipated in the upcoming days. Without the presence of adequate manpower, it is likely that cases will take a long time to be cleared, leaving both employers and employees in a limbo.
There ought to be transparent criteria to be used by the competent officers at the Ministry of Employment so as to prevent bias when assessing cases.
The government should take a more realistic approach when delivering promises. This can be done through proper consultations with relevant departments, the private sector and civil society. When dealing with matters which affect the whole country, all parties concerned should be equally represented. On its part, Ceps can attest that it was not consulted regarding the amendment of the Employment Act – a decision which has deprived civil society of its contribution and representation.
Diversification and ease of doing business
More than ever before, current times expose the crucial role played by the business sector in generating foreign capital and creating jobs. As per statistics received from the Ministry of Employment in 2019, the private sector alone employed 20,000 people. The government should facilitate the ease of doing business by removing unnecessary bureaucracy. For too long this has been a barrier which has cost people time, energy, capital and even created gaps for
corruptive practices. The private sector in Seychelles is heavily dependent on businesses that are service-oriented such as tourism. There needs to be diversification in businesses and strong focus should be placed on the agricultural and fishing sector. Policies should enable local production and facilitate their exportation.
Education on employment rights
The Ministry of Employment should have in place a rigorous education programme on employment rights to enable employees to be well versed on their rights. In the event of breaches of such rights including abuses, employees will know the proper recourses they have to take to defend their rights. This can be achieved through a joint partnership with the trade unions, where appropriate, as well as the civil society which has member groups focusing on issues of rights and democracy. If an employee is not satisfied with the final decision of a competent officer from the Ministry of Employment, there should be proper steps in place to
facilitate legal recourse if the employee decides to appeal or contest the decision taken.
Innovative job creation strategies
Ceps recognises the effort of the government to protect employees who have/ will become vulnerable as a result of redundancy. However, providing financial assistance alone is not a long-term solution; lest we risk worsening the dilemma we have been facing for nearly a decade whereby people have been relying on welfare assistance as a salary and not a temporary solution. The government should come up with long-term plans to unlock capital and invest in nation-wide recovery. We should look into the possibility of setting up a job-creating commission (with representatives from all social and economic drivers of society) with the mission of creating sustainable jobs through innovation, coordination and action. For years, we have become too complacent with tourism as our main source of income and we have invested too much of our resources and sacrifice on a sector that can easily crumble from global factors like pandemics, terrorist attacks and natural disasters. The tsunami incident of December 2004 should have been a learning experience in this regard. Now that this sector is
down and will take 18-24 months (or longer) to recover, we should turn our attention to other forms of revenue such as the blue economy, port and freight services, financial services and IT services. Recognition of previously unrecognised areas like music, fashion, photography, fine arts, artisanal crafts, psychology and counselling can help revolutionise and challenge the ‘business as usual’ way of doing. Creation of small industries can bring value addition to the economy, for example local fruits can be used for the production of preserves, confectionery
and beverages. We can look into the possibility of creating a market for organic produce such as our previously exported copra, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon and guano. In the same line we can look at new products like moringa leaf, pure essential oils, medicinal extracts etc.
Businesses can also create their own trademarks and patents for more international visibility.
We are currently facing a situation whereby the country finds itself with return graduates who cannot find employment. Since we are facing a shortage of teachers, Ceps proposes that these graduates are temporarily placed in teaching positions in secondary schools and professional centres as per their fields of expertise, until the situation recovers. It is worthy to note that this practice is done with A’ level students awaiting scholarships. Reclassification, retraining and
reskilling should be done and this is also a good opportunity to diversify the graduate courses on offer at the University of Seychelles by creating lecturing positions for our Doctorate holders. In line with the same, we should also review our human resource requirements so as to better plan and finance training needs.
The current economic situation we are facing as a nation is one which we did not foresee. Ceps believes that in this time of unprecedented global crisis, there should be a national consensus on the way forward. Whatever we do, the crisis may surpass our ability to cope in the way we want. The decisions we take and how we react as a nation will determine how we progress into the future together. The outbreak of the coronavirus has in many ways exposed the
weaknesses of the systems we have in place. As a country we must seize this opportunity to learn from this challenging experience and prepare for future contingencies. Previous situations have demonstrated that when money and resources become scarce as a result of force majeure, man’s default setting puts him in a survival mode wherein everyone look at their welfare foremost. Ceps would like to place emphasis on the importance of moral values that last; engaging the whole population as part of the solution and not allow rough times to pit Seychellois against each other. As a nation, if we unite, we have the ability to come out of this situation stronger and more resilient.
Contributed by Ceps