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Committee on the Protection of Migrant Workers considers situation in Seychelles

Committee on Rights of Migrant Workers


3 September 2015

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families this morning concluded its consideration of the initial report of Seychelles on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Presenting the report, Idith Sharon Alexander, Minister for Labour and Human Resource Development, explained that Seychelles was a small island developing State, with a population of around 93,000, highly dependent on migrant workers, who were needed for the country to meet the growing demands of the labour market and to bridge skills gaps.  Today, migrants represented around 25 per cent of the country’s labour force, and their contribution to national development was recognized by the Government.  The Employment Act safeguarded the rights of all workers in Seychelles, including migrant workers, and all workers enjoyed the same terms and conditions of employment.  The Committee on Employment of Non-Seychellois, which included all the stakeholders, was also in place.  Strengthening the quality of data available on migrant workers would assist the Government in making policy interventions. 

In the interactive dialogue which followed, Experts noted that Seychelles was at the same time a country of origin and of destination, and wanted to know more about the reasons for the emigration of Seychellois and their living conditions abroad.  They asked for clarifications on the functioning of, and the distinction between, the national human rights institution and the Ombudsman.  Questions were also asked about the working permit system, labour inspections, education of the children of migrants, the system of the transfer of remittances and the fight against trafficking in human beings.  Experts inquired about the voting rights of Seychellois living abroad and the legislation on entry and stay in Seychelles. 

Prasad Kariyawasam, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Seychelles, in concluding remarks, noted the human resource restraints of the small island nation.  The large and substantive delegation of Seychelles manifested its keen interest to provide the best possible facility for migrant workers.  The delegation provided many answers with statistics to the Committee’s queries.  More remained to be done on the rights of the Seychellois living abroad, which should be covered more in depth in the next periodic report.  Seychelles had done well in providing for migrant workers in the country, in spite of various constraints.

Ms. Alexander, in closing remarks, stated that migrant workers contributed significantly to the national development of Seychelles, in economic and monetary manner, but also in terms of enriching the country’s cultural diversity.  Seychelles, being a high-income country, was determined to ensure that the rights of migrant workers and their families were protected and promoted, and that they were treated with the respect and dignity that they deserved.  The Government looked forward to continuing the constructive dialogue with the Committee.

The delegation of Seychelles included representatives of the Ministry for Labour and Human Resource Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Transport, Ministry of Social Affairs and the Attorney General’s Office.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will start the consideration of the initial report of Timor-Leste (CMW/C/TLS/1).

Report

The initial report of Seychelles can be found here.

Presentation of the Report

IDITH SHARON ALEXANDER, Minister of Labour and Human Resource Development, recognized the delay in the submission of Seychelles’ initial report, which was due to the challenges in ensuring that the country was up to date with all of its reporting obligations and limited financial and human resource constraints.  Seychelles had adopted an inclusive approach in the development of the present report, which had involved a broad national consultative exercise, including civil society organizations.  In 2012, the Government had established the Human Rights Treaty Committee, composed of relevant representatives from Ministries and the civil sector.  The Committee was mandated with overseeing and coordinating the reporting obligations and efforts of Seychelles.

Seychelles was a young republic, having obtained independence in 1976 and having adopted its present Constitution in 1993.  It was a multi-party democracy, built upon the foundations of a strong culture of respect for human rights, equality and non-discrimination.  Seychelles did not have an indigenous population, but was a country inhabited and founded by settlers and migrants of different races, colours and cultures.  It was a small island developing State, with a population of around 93,000, highly dependent on migrant workers, in order to meet the growing demands of the labour market and to bridge skills gaps.  Today, migrants represented around 25 per cent of the country’s labour force.  The contribution of migrant workers in the national development was recognized by the Government, and their rights remained central to any discussion on labour migration.

The Employment Act safeguarded the rights of all workers in Seychelles, including migrant workers, and all workers enjoyed the same terms and conditions of employment.  The same rules applied to all workers working in the Seychelles International Trade Zone.  The national minimum wage was applicable to both Seychellois and migrant workers.  In 2014, the Government had launched a National Employment Policy, which stipulated specific strategies for migrant workers.  It emphasized the importance of safe and decent working and living conditions for migrant workers.  The role of labour inspectors in that process was highly critical, and joint inspections between labour and health inspectors were conducted.  Special attention was given to migrant workers’ working and living conditions through the Welfare Unit of the Ministry of Labour and Human Resource Development.  Contracts of all migrant workers working in Seychelles were attested by the Ministry, with the view of verifying that the terms and conditions were in accordance with the Employment Act.  A new proposal was in place to increase fines for labour offences.  Migrant workers also had the right to register a complaint about their working conditions through the grievance procedure mechanism in the Ministry, on the same basis as Seychellois workers.

Cognizant of the fact that labour migration was a cross-cutting issue, the Committee on Employment of Non-Seychellois was in place.  It was composed of key stakeholders, including workers and employers’ organizations.  A Human Resources Forum had been established in 2012, where human resources representatives from organizations in private and parastatal sectors met and discussed relevant issues.  Strengthening the quality of data available on migrant workers would assist the Government in making policy interventions.  The limited resources and capacity as a small country at times hindered the State party’s pace in achieving its objectives.  All partners had to play their part in raising awareness of the Convention.  The Ministry planned to undertake an analysis on the situation of migrant workers in Seychelles.  The research would assist in the development of a labour migration policy. 

Seychelles would continue to effectively cooperate with the various United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms.  In 2014, Seychelles had submitted a voluntary mid-term implementation report on the Universal Periodic Review.  The Government counted on its international friends and partners for an honest dialogue in order to improve upon any existing shortcoming in gaps in its endeavours to guarantee the full realization of human rights for all persons.

Questions by Experts

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Seychelles, noted that Seychelles was a unique Afro-Asian country. 

Seychelles was a country of both origin and destination for migrants.  The rights and welfare of the Seychellois working abroad was also the responsibility of the Government.  The Expert noted that the report did not address the welfare regime for the Seychellois abroad. What were their numbers?

Seychelles was praised for having ratified most human rights treaty bodies and various optional protocols.  Why would the State party not make a declaration under articles 76 and 77 of the Convention?  That would make Seychelles the first country to do so.

There was no data on the existence of private employment agencies, which was important for the Committee to understand the welfare protection system in Seychelles. 

The Committee was happy to see that there was both a national human rights institution and an Ombudsman in Seychelles.  Could more information be provided about their roles and mandates? The same person seemed to be heading both institutions – why was that the case?

When migrant workers engaged in protests, they were reportedly deported.  Was that true? If their protests were peaceful, why would migrants be deported?

How was the Convention being disseminated in Seychelles?  Given that migrants came from diverse linguistic backgrounds, how was that issue being dealt with?

More information was sought about how the State party was dealing with trafficking in human beings and the sexual exploitation of women, especially because Seychelles was a famed tourist destination.

Was the working permit system tied to the employer?

A question was asked about alleged voting rights of migrants.  How was it ensured that the Seychellois working abroad could vote?

The Committee would also like to know more about the access to education for migrant workers and their children.  Was in on par with the Seychellois, or were there special conditions in place?

What were the plans regarding human rights training programmes for judicial and law enforcement officers?

The Expert asked about procedures of deporting irregular migrants.  Were they in line with the provisions of the Convention?

ABDELLHAMID EL JAMRI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Seychelles, asked about the immigration programme being developed with international help.

What was the State party doing to promote the Convention internationally, particularly in the Seychelles region?

What had the State party specifically done to implement the Convention?  Had it been domesticated?

Did the delegation have other indicators or statistics on the benefits of migration, and was there a body monitoring migratory trends?

Exploitation of irregular migrants was also raised by the Expert.

When Seychellois migrants were in countries where they did not receive proper social protection, what was the State party doing to help them?

Had the State party set up community schools to deal with children of migrants?

In the justice system, had the Convention ever been referred to in concrete cases?

The issue of labour exploitation in the fishing and construction sectors was raised by another Expert.  More information was also sought about migrant women who performed domestic work.

Could the delegation provide more information about adolescents without valid passports?  Would they be deported as prohibited migrants?

Were sanctions applied in cases when there were no criminal infractions by migrants, but they committed irregular stays?

The issue of the same-sex marriage was raised by another Expert.  Were there any laws on reproductive health and the rights of unborn children?

An Expert asked whether the electoral law allowed migrants to take part in the decision-making process.

What legislation was planned to ensure that employment agencies were held responsible when contracting workers abroad and then violating contracts?

A question was asked on whether rules on equal wages and salaries were applicable to migrants as well.

An Expert asked whether the International Labour Organization Convention 81 had been ratified by Seychelles.  On what basis did the labour inspectors check on remuneration?

Was it known which percentage of the population wished to leave the country, an Expert asked.

Returning to Seychelles was not an easy task, another Expert noted.  Was some control of remittances exercised?   Was there information on how much money arrived to Seychelles via remittances, and how was that money channelled?

How did the geography of Seychelles, which consisted of multiple islands, affect the implementation of the country’s laws and regulations?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there were various reasons for the Seychellois to move abroad.  Prior to 2009, there had been no university in Seychelles, so many young people had left the country and settled elsewhere.  The Government was encouraging young professionals to return; an example was that of doctors working at the Ministry of Health.

It was stated that the Seychelles Constitution allowed for dual citizenship.

There was a law in place criminalizing trafficking in persons, and a national committee and a formalized fund were operational.  The Government was implementing a two-year national action plan.  The operations manual provided border officials with practical tips on how to handle trafficked persons.  Any identified victims would be hosted in hotels.  There were no registered cases of trafficking and subsequently no persecutions.

There were no detention centres for irregular migrants.  They were housed in hotels or guest houses while awaiting deportation. 

Seychelles was considering recognizing competencies of the Committee under articles 76 and 77, but the decision had not yet been made, the delegation said.

The National Human Rights Commission was empowered to inquire into any violation of human rights in Seychelles.  The Commission and the Ombudsman had separate functions, but they were hosted in the same space and the same person headed both offices.  Complaints by migrant workers could be registered on the same basis as those of the Seychellois.

Currently, three private employment agencies existed in Seychelles.  They were monitored by the Government, which ensured that they operated in line with the laws.  Before the issuance of licenses, private employment agencies needed to apply for registration with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resource Development.  Private employment agencies did not charge any fees to registered job seekers; they might charge the fees to employers instead.

The delegation explained that when an employer wanted to recruit a non-Seychellois, he had to request authorization from the Ministry of Labour, which granted it if there was no Seychellois who could fill the vacant position. 

The Constitution provided the right to every citizen over 18 to vote under the law.  Even if a Seychellois national had another citizenship and lived abroad, he could vote in the elections.

On access to education, it was explained that children of migrant workers had the right to attend crèche and primary schools free of charge.  If they did not speak any of the three official languages, they could attend adult schools. 

Training programmes existed, but were not readily available throughout the country.  The State party had an agreement with the ILO Training Centre in Turin, Italy.  Study tours and exchange programmes were also organized for border officers.  They also participated in various training programmes  run by international organizations.

Special provisions were in place for submitting grievances by non-Seychellois workers.  Solidarity was present among the workers; sometimes other workers refused to go to work unless grievances of their colleagues had been addressed.  None of the migrant workers who had reported their grievances had been deported.  In many cases, those workers themselves would ask to return to their home countries, in which case they were, of course, allowed to leave, but their cases would nonetheless be seen through. 

Contracts were translated into other languages when necessary.  The three official languages – English, French and the creole – were in place, and if workers were able to speak one of them, there was no need to translate contracts.

The delegation explained that there was a formula for minimum wage in Seychelles.  It had been introduced in 2007, and had been reviewed since then.  Working hours of the worker would be multiplied by the minimum hourly wage.  The same rate was applied for both Seychellois and foreigners.  A process was in place to attest each migrant worker arriving to the country, as employers needed to send their documents and contracts to the Ministry of Labour, which would ensure that the contracts met the rules of the country. 

Welfare officers met workers when they entered the country and followed them, ensuring that they had proper provisions and were comfortable in their work environment. 

At the present there was no specific law on reproductive health, but a policy was in the process of being drafted.

The geography of the country did not present a particular challenge with regard to the application of labour laws; numerous islands were not inhabited.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

An Expert asked if the same fees were in place for Seychellois and non-Seychellois children in secondary and post-secondary education.

He wanted to know about the Seychelles International Trade Zone Act.

How regularly were labour inspectors deployed to ensure the occupational safety of workers?

A question was also asked about the costs of repatriation.

What were the procedures for migrant workers in Seychelles to send money abroad?

More information was sought about the staffing and financial resources of the national human rights institution.  The Committee wanted to ensure that it was in line with the Paris Principles.

Was there a law in place on the entry and stay of foreigners, and could a copy of it be given to the Committee, another Expert inquired.

The Expert asked how the Seychellois perceived migration, especially irregular migration.

Which measures had the State taken to ensure that children born to migrant workers in Seychelles would be registered at birth?  What was being done to make sure that such children were not rendered stateless?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to the questions on the national Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman, the delegation said that the Ombudsman had two dedicated staff and the Commission had three staff, including the chairperson.  The Commission had been created after the Ombudsman, and both institutions were headed by the same person.

On the Seychellois living abroad, it was explained that the national social protection system did not cover those abroad.  Nonetheless, they could seek consular protection through the network of 11 Embassies and 80 Honorary Consulates around the world.  Australia, United Kingdom, Middle East and Africa were among the most popular destinations of Seychellois emigrants.

The Family Law recognized everyone’s right to form a family, but there were no policies on family reunifications of migrants.  Marriages of persons of the same sex and of persons related to each other were prohibited.

Private employment agencies in Seychelles, the delegation explained, were obliged to provide factual details on contracts when requested to do so by the Ministry for Labour and Human Resource Development.  If there was a collision with the norms, the Ministry could ask for a revocation of the agency’s license; the agency could also be prosecuted for negligence. 

The delegation said that Seychelles had ratified two conventions by the International Labour Organization - 81 on labour inspection and 11 on discrimination, employment and occupation.  There existed an adequate number of labour inspectors of both sexes.  Random inspections were also carried out when needed.  An average worker in Seychelles worked 60 hours per week and was entitled to overtime payments.  Verifying pay slips was part of the systematic labour inspection checklist. Seychelles had also verified Conventions 26 and 99, reports on which were regularly submitted to the International Labour Organization. 

There had been limited activities to date in promoting and publicizing the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the delegation said.  The Human Resources Forum provided an opportunity to discuss all pertinent issues between employees and employers.  Seychelles would also publicly mark the anniversary of the Convention.  Seychelles had not actively promoted the Convention abroad.

On education, it was explained that the post-secondary education for the citizens of Seychelles was free of charge.  An annual fee of $ 715 was paid by parents of each migrant child attending school, but the fee was frequently covered by employers of those migrant workers.

Workers had their choice on where to have their babies delivered, and could either return home or stay in Seychelles.

The International Trade Zone employment regulations provided that migrant workers and Seychellois workers enjoyed the same conditions of employment.  Certain benefits were negotiated under individual contracts.  Migrant workers needed to have necessary work permits, for which they needed to apply.  The permit allowed for the worker’s spouse and children to reside with the worker. 

Responding to the questions on work-related accidents, a delegate stated that inspections were conducted daily by labour and health inspectors.  The statistics for the previous four years showed an average of less than 100 accidents per year.  In the same period, in the construction industry, there had been between 8 and 14 accidents per year.

On irregular migrants, the delegation responded that the State party recognized this issue as a challenge and was working on overcoming it.  Any person overstaying in Seychelles after the expiration of his permit or visa was liable to be deported.  Such person could appeal to the Government within seven days of receiving a deportation notice.  If a migrant worker had finished his contract period, but did not leave the country, he would also be deported to his home country.  While awaiting deportation, they were normally accommodated in guest houses. 

At the present, there were no bilateral agreements on migrant workers with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

It was mandatory to register the birth of every child born in Seychelles.  A child could not become a citizen of Seychelles if neither of its parents were a Seychellois national. 

The delegation said that an invitation had been sent out to non-governmental and civil society organizations to join the drafting process of the report.  Seychelles had benefited greatly from the European Development Fund.  The United Nations Development Programme was currently supporting the process of drafting of Seychelles’ report on the Millennium Development Goals.

There were no provisions on the rights of unborn children in Seychelles’ legislation.

Follow-up Questions

An Expert noted that many labour-receiving countries were not parties to the Convention.  Seychelles was an exception in that regard, which was praiseworthy.  More needed to be done to promote the Convention, and Seychelles was asked to contribute pro-actively in that regard. 

Clarification was asked on the provisions for voting of Seychellois living abroad.  The Expert informed that the Convention provided for rights for migrant workers living abroad to vote in the elections of their native country.  Seychelles was responsible for that group of citizens as well.

Was it necessary for both mother and father of a child born in Seychelles to be nationals of the country in order for the child to receive Seychellois nationality?

Could information on minimum wages be provided in USD, to make it easier to understand for the members of the Committee?  How many hours did one have to work in order to qualify for the minimum wage?  What was the value of the basket of goods?

More information was sought about migrant workers with disabilities. What happened if a migrant worker became disabled while in Seychelles?

Another Expert reiterated his question on the existence of specific legislation on the entry and stay in Seychelles.

Did the country face a problem of irregular migration, and how was that problem presented in the country?  Was the phenomenon well-known in the country?

Were there any obstacles for migrant workers in Seychelles to send remittances? What were the costs of such transactions?

A question was asked on whether migrant workers could establish and join trade unions, either individually, or in conjunction with Seychellois workers. 

Responses by the Delegation

On the matter of citizenship, the delegation explained that children born in Seychelles would acquire citizenship if either of their parents was a citizen of Seychelles.

There was no one specific law on aliens.  It was the Constitution and the Citizenship Act which provided for the acquisition of citizenship in different manners.  Both documents were available online.

Every citizen above 18 and registered as a voter had the right to vote.  Any citizen living overseas might be registered as a voter if he had an identity card and had resided there for a minimum of three months. 

The delegation stated that there was a formula to calculate the minimum wage.  It took into consideration the number of hours worked.  The minimum wage for 35 hours per week was USD 306, while for 60 hours per week it stood at USD 524.  The consumer price index was released every month, with year-on-year comparisons.  The cost of living in August 2015 was some four percent higher than in August 2014. 

Seychelles was an island and thus had no land borders with any country.  If a migrant worker tried to enter the country with a false permit or expired documents, they would be refused entry into the country.  In 2014, 185 foreigners had been handed notices to leave; the number did not only cover migrant workers, but all categories of foreigners.  There were migrant workers who did not leave upon the expiry of their permits.  Sometimes it took several weeks to locate them and the Government occasionally paid for their return tickets, which was a burden on the State.  

Mass expulsion of migrant workers did not take place in Seychelles.  Migrant workers could challenge the decision on expulsion before the Supreme Court, which could issue injunctions. 

An employer could not discriminate against workers on the ground of disabilities.  If a migrant worker got injured during his work, he could be covered by his employer’s liability insurance.

It was explained that there were no restrictions on migrants joining trade unions.  They were free to join the existing national associations if they wished to do so.

There were costs associated with the transmission of remittances.  It was a free market, so people would shop around for the best offer.  An Indian bank had recently introduced transfers free of charge.  The percentage of the Gross Domestic Product for the inflow remittance could go up to two percent.  In 2016, the outflow of remittances was expected to account to up to 2.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

Concluding Remarks

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Seychelles, noted the human resource restraints of the small island nation.  The large and substantive delegation of Seychelles manifested its keen interest to provide the best possible facility for migrant workers.  The delegation had provided many answers with statistics to the Committee’s queries.  More remained to be done on the rights of the Seychellois living abroad, which should be covered more in depth in the next periodic report.  Seychelles had done well providing for migrant workers in the country, in spite of various constraints.

IDITH SHARON ALEXANDER, Minister of Labour and Human Resource Development, thanked the Committee for the constructive engagement.  Seychelles often referred to itself as a friend to all and enemy to none.  The delegation had demonstrated the country’s steadfast commitment to guaranteeing the exercise of all basic human rights.  Migrant workers contributed significantly to the national development of Seychelles, in economic and monetary manner, but also in terms of enriching the country’s cultural diversity.  Seychelles, being a high-income country, was determined to ensure that the rights of migrant workers and their families were protected and promoted, and that they were treated with the respect and dignity that they deserved.  The Government looked forward to continuing the constructive dialogue with the Committee, and was keen to hear from the Committee on areas of technical guidance and assistance which could be offered by the Committee and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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