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Textile workers petition Thabane for wage hike

Bereng Mpaki

HUNDREDS of textile workers recently went on strike and marched from the Sethaleng sa Mopapa monument near Maseru Mall to the Moshoeshoe 1 monument where they handed over a petition calling on Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to ensure that their minimum wage is increased by 20 percent.

In addition to the wage hike, the workers also want the government to guarantee their safety from the deadly Coronavirus which first broke out in China before being reported in several countries around the world. The workers are particularly concerned about their safety due to the fact some of the raw materials at the textile factories are sourced from the Asian superpower and they fear there is a likelihood of the disease spreading due to travel between Lesotho and China.

The strike and protest march came after the workers rejected the government’s offer to increase minimum wages by 5, 5 percent for the 2020/21 financial year which begins on 1 April 2020.

They insist on a 20 percent increment and even want Dr Thabane to fire Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo over the issue.

The workers had demanded a 20 percent increase but they say Ms Rantšo only offered them 5, 5 percent.

Ms Rantšo also proposed minimum wage increments ranging from 4, 3 percent to 5.5 percent for other sectors and a 10 percent increment for domestic workers.

The minister only intervened after a deadlock in the tripartite negotiations among workers’, employers’ and government representatives in the Wages Advisory Board (WAG). WAG is a statutory body whose mandate is to advise the Labour minister on wage increments for the private sector among other things.

In the wake of Ms Rantšo’s intervention, a coalition of trade unions held a press briefing last week to announce that they had rejected the proposed minimum wage increments.

The unions comprised of the United Textile Employees (UNITE), the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), the National Union of Clothing and Textile Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), Lentsoe La Sechaba Workers Union (LESWU), the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) and the Lesotho Wholesalers, Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU).

They also vowed to petition Dr Thabane to fire Ms Rantšo for recommending wage increments which they said were not enough to cushion them against inflation.

On Tuesday, the restive workers skipped work to march in their hundreds to compel the government to increase the minimum wage by a whopping 20 percent for textile workers and 17 percent for other sectors.

The handed over their petition to Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki who received it on behalf of Dr Thabane. Ms Rantšo was also on hand to listen to the workers’ grievances. She however, left Mr Moleleki to address the workers’ concerns.

“As a coalition of trade unions representing different workers, we humbly wish to bring to your attention that the private sector workers are not happy with the manner in which the Minister of Labour is addressing labour issues,” NACTWU representative Sam Mokhele read from the petition.

“We are aware that the (Labour) minister (Ms Rantšo) has invited public opinion on the 5, 5 percent (minimum wage increment) for workers with less than a year of employment and 5 percent for those with over a year she has proposed for the textile sector. These rates are below the 5, 6 percent and 6 percent the employers have proposed.

“The recommendations are not addressing the concerns of the workers of earning wages that are below the poverty line and as a result of that, they do not address their basic needs. These wages are also below the inflation rate…

“Please consider improving the minimum wage standard for textile workers by 20 percent and the rest of the other sectors by 17 percent.”

The unions accused the minister of failing to address the shortcomings of the labour courts. They said there was understaffing and low morale among staff at the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) and this had resulted in a massive backlog of unresolved labour disputes much to the suffering of workers.

“The Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution is no longer fulfilling its mandate of speedy resolution of disputes due to unproductive staff who are not paid on time. This demotivates them from executing their duties,” Mr Mokhele said.

The workers also accused Ms Rantšo of failing to push for the enactment of a revised labour act to replace the “outdated” Labour Code Order of 1992 which currently regulates labour issues.

They also accused the government of paying lip service to the threat posed by the deadly Coronavirus which has infected tens of thousands of people worldwide and killed thousands.

“We are surprised that the government has not issued any statement to the textile workers about the (Coronavirus) disease, with the Minister of Labour also not saying anything about it.”

The workers then demanded the implementation of the following measures:

  • that a labour bill be tabled in parliament before the end of the year.
  • that maternity leave for textile and other workers be increased from six to 12 paid weeks in line with International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendations.
  • The sacking of the Labour minister.

On his part, Mr Moleleki hailed the workers for staging a peaceful demonstration.

“I am glad that whenever there is an issue you are not happy with; you address it without resorting to violence and compromising the country’s stability.

“I have therefore noted all the serious issues you have raised and I will convey them to the prime minister who will respond soon, Mr Moleleki said.

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