Thursday, June 25, 2009

Island nation of Mauritius sees it's economy wash away

The island of Mauritius once had a thriving textile industry, but during the global economic recession, orders coming into the island's textile plants had dried up. To make matters worse, the government does not have an unemployment insurance program.

The island off of the African coast in the Indian Ocean also had a thriving tourism industry, but that has also had a sharp decrease, as people from rich nations don't travel as much as they used to.

From IPS, Nasseem Ackbarally explains the problems in the nation dealing with a recession that they did not cause.

"How will I pay my mortgage loan and my utility bills? How will I send my children to school? How will I buy food?" asks Anita Goodye, a mother of three who lost her job at clothing manufacturer Shibani Knitwear in January, together with 500 other workers.

Thousands of textile and manufacturing workers on the island find themselves in a similar situation to Goodye. They struggle to make ends meet after jobs were cut and several factories closed down because of lack of orders. According to finance minister Ramakrishna Sithanen, about 5,000 jobs, or seven percent of the textile and manufacturing workforce, have been lost in the first quarter of 2009 alone.

"Mauritius is riding through a class four cyclone, and the longer its duration, the heavier will be the consequences," he declared on national television, using the cyclone as a metaphor for the turbulent financial times the island state is facing.

Far away seems the economic miracle of the 1990s that provided jobs and money to many Mauritians, allowed for the expansion of the textile, manufacturing and tourism industries and served as a model for economic success to other African governments.

"We live in uncertainty because our factories, big and small, are producing and exporting less. If the crisis persists, many more workers will lose their jobs," predicts Eric Mangar, manager of Movement for Food Security, a local NGO working against poverty and hunger.

Sacked workers, mostly women, demonstrated on the streets in March in front of Government House in Port-Louis. They demanded jobs, but, above all, their unpaid salary for the past months.

Several factories, including Shibani Knitwear, Chentex Garments have not paid their workers since November 2008, when the economic downturn started to have an impact in Mauritius. Women are most affected by the financial crisis because 60 percent of the island’s textile workers are female.

"Our factories are receiving much less orders for textiles," comments François Woo, director of the Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile, employing 5,000 people. According to the Central Statistics Office, exports declined by 10.5 percent between 2007 and 2008. He fears the financial crisis will completely destroy Mauritius’ textile industry and with it tens of thousands of jobs.

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