Our series of articles on employment in Mauritius were greeted very warmly by our followers and a lot of people in search of factual information. We were overwhelmed with comments and queries and hope to have responded to every one of you by now. Thank you your ongoing trust and support.
We have often discussed employment in Mauritius to help expatriates understand the different aspects of life and work under the sun. The response to our articles on labour laws, made us realise that many Mauritians do not have straight and easy access to such information. We have therefore decided to henceforth include, in our blog, content that will most certainly address the needs of our fellow countrymen.
Today’s subject comes out of a recent event. Our sister company, Talent Lab Ltd (Facebook: The Talent Lab-Mauritius), recently worked on a major assignment; the recruitment of 100 Mauritians for a new five star Seychelles-based hotel. We lined up our first pool of 100 short listed candidates within just 3 days of posting adverts. The massive inflow of CVs and the way our phone lines were flooded are evidence enough as to how eager people are to move out of Mauritius. We have rarely, if at all, seen such affluence for other job offers. While some knew exactly what they wanted and had relevant working experience, others seemed deeply seduced by the idea of moving to another country even if what they really expect from such a move was yet to be determined. Expectations aside, only a few seem to realize the risks, uncertainties, and probably the dangers that lie ahead of a professional migration.
We have often heard of cases where exploitation, ill treatment, inhuman working conditions and similar incidents are brought to light. These risks cannot be totally eliminated upfront as most of the time, illegal conditions are only revealed once the employee is ‘locked’ in a no-return situation, on a foreign land. The employee is by then uprooted from his or her comfort zone, has normally no recourse or contacts and is left to the mercy of the employer. All this, in my opinion, is like gambling, where the probability of landing in a ‘nice place’ is high. But still, if you draw the ‘bad place’ card, it can be catastrophic. The good news is that you can further reduce the probability of drawing the ‘bad place’ card by doing some homework and preparation before starting the game.
Here are some areas where you should focus on while deciding whether or not to take up foreign employment.
In most situations, you are not able to assess the quality your future work place when it comes to migration. For a local job, you would normally do the interview on site, or get information from people already employed by the company (remember we are on an island and somewhere, somehow, somebody knows somebody working for the company). In the case of foreign employment, the only first hand information you will get is most probably found on the company’s website and brochures. You would probably need to rely on information sent to you by the employer or its agents. How far are these reliable? Information is, at the end of the day, issued to lure potential candidates, purposely skewed towards the positive side of things.
Other information sources exist but may not be easily accessible. One example is contacting the industry regulatory body of the country in question to ask if the business has the necessary licenses to trade. But again, is the information sufficient, usable or even reliable?
This is one of the risks when engaging yourself; not knowing exactly and precisely where you’re heading to. Once there, you might probably have no chance to turn back or can only do so at a (very) high cost. In some cases, your passport may be held under custody of your employer until the end of your contract. We have seen this in Mauritius over the recent months, so make no mistake, chances of it happening elsewhere are real.
When signing your contract, be sure that there is no clause allowing the employer to withhold your passport. Your passport is your property and cannot be withheld by anybody. Never give formal authorization or hand over this crucial document to anybody. If this is imposed on you, think twice, turn back and head home, unless your freedom is less important than the work.
What you see is not always what you get. What a contract says may not match reality. Once out of your country you are weaker, helpless even. And if bound to a contract, you are almost trapped until the end. What recourse do you have if the work conditions differ from the written contract? Honestly you will be more indulgent to your employer in a foreign land than you normally are in Mauritius. One becomes naturally more tolerant when not in one’s own country, this is fact. Here you will frown and growl for an unexpected 15 minutes work extension requested by your employer to handle a critical situation. But when abroad, you will only start ‘feeling the pain’ when the situation gets extremely beyond limit, i.e. when the employer slides dangerously towards exploitation.
If you feel exploited (and you have reasonable grounds to feel so) then the best way is to report the matter to competent bodies. First to the hierarchy and then to the governmental or federal body. The outcome will, of course, depend on all these instituitions being honest and proactive. You might also get in touch with the Mauritian embassy or consulate, if they have a physical presence in there. Reporting will directly put your employment at stake (remember: foreign labour is easily gotten rid of). Or if your employment is safe, what can you expect on the interpersonal front? With your colleagues, your superiors and boss? It can be a little scary to report your employer and stay within his reach, especially when not in your homeland.
The best way is therefore to stop everything, close the chapter and take the next flight back home. Or find another employer, depending on whether the country allows it or not. In Mauritius an expatriate cannot switch jobs directly from one employee to another unless the first one gives a formal no-objection letter. In the absence of such clearance the expatriate has to leave country and apply for a new permit under his new employment.
Salary is the key when it comes to Employment; more so when planning to move out of the country. How far will the employer respect his engagement? You will never know until you receive the first salary. To prepare yourself, check the country’s official documentation addressing pay rates in different industry sectors and employment category. This is a good benchmark to determine whether the salary offered matches the country’s standards. If the pay is equivalent to jobs available in your country, then you should seriously think twice. The opportunity cost of leaving your homeland is too major if you are getting the same pay elsewhere.
Salary should not be considered as net earnings. You should also have a look at tax rates and other legal contributions that may be deducted from pay. The gross figure may be attractive but what matters is what actually reaches your pocket. On the same line, check the country’s legislation when it comes to movement of money. Mauritius does not have exchange controls, which means money movement is not restricted as long as it’s done according to applicable laws. This is not the case in all countries. Your earnings may be trapped, without any possibility for you to enjoy its benefits in back. Salary repatriation is a serious issue and should be tackled at the outset. Make sure that you do your homework and understand the laws of the country with regards to exchange control and movement of funds.
Salary should also match the cost of living in the country you are migrating to. An easy way to examine the differences is to compare like with like. Take common international products and match their prices. A bottle of Coke, KFC burgers, a cup of coffee; choose the items there and match them with the price in local currency. The coffee index is a good benchmark as recently indicated on a BBC documentary. European workers moving out of their country use this basic indication to assess cost of living.
You may well be earning a lot of money at face value but a high cost of living will quickly prove your pay to be insufficient.
In this first article, I have highlighted some of the aspects of professional relocation and the points which potential candidates have to address. Leaving the comfort of your home is not an easy decision. We have seen and heard so many cases where fellow citizens end up in delicate (if not miserable) situations on a foreign land. I have, on too many occasions, heard complaints against Mauritian recruitment agencies. While some have been utterly dishonest in luring local people to dungeons, others are simply blinded by normal limitations. They simply do not do their homework. The business of emigration is highly profitable to recruiters, it earns good money – but this does not exempt anybody from being honest. I once handled a case where an Indian recruitment agency asked for more than Rs200,000 from their citizens, promised them jobs and sent them to Mauritius. The result was heart breaking: expulsion from the country after expiry of their visa. One of them felt so dishonored (having ruined the honor and finances of his parents) that he committed suicide on his way back.
This human drama can be avoided if you, as a candidate, educate yourself and do your homework before engaging into any foreign-based employment. Often, employees do not understand the risks and dangers of foreign employment; naturally the only one they then blame (and possibly get amends from) is the local recruitment agency. Agencies indeed have the duty to do their homework too and ascertain that the job (and employer) offers appropriate terms and conditions of work to the norms of the country.
Agencies, in their quest for business, will not necessarily provide negative information to candidates –in fear of reducing their pipe line. Little, in this business, do we see in terms of humanity taking over financial consideration (well, this is honestly very common everywhere now!). Having been in the relocation business, advising and helping foreigners to relocate to Mauritius for more than 20 years, I understand and feel the ‘human factor’ behind each and every such move. We are handling people’s dreams, family ties, ambitions and all these cannot be narrowed down to a simple financial operation.
The last thing, I would want to see is for any of my fellow countrymen to end up in a miserable situation in some part of the world. There are many of ours enjoying very comfortable workplaces around the globe. As I mentioned earlier, the probability that you land in such a situation is very high. The problem lies within the dark side which, even in a lesser proportion, does sadly exist. The Internet is a massive source of information. Communication is easy and affordable through emails. Use all the means possible to get relevant, appropriate and sufficient information on any job offer, potential employer and the country’s employment rules. Do not get blinded by offers in Dollars or Euros. Assess the pay-work ratio and very importantly, weigh the opportunity costs of going against staying back in your homeland.
A Phoenix beer with your ‘l’armée sec’ is worth much more than the most exquisite champagne in a crowd of unknown faces.