MASERU — Today is the last day of work for 2 400 workers in Mafeteng.
Beyond today these P&T Textile workers will have no jobs because the company has shut down.
What began as speculation two months ago that the company was tottering on the brink of collapse has turned out to be reality.
P&T, the biggest employer in Mafeteng, will cease operations today after it failed to get new orders to sustain itself.
Orders from the United States, the biggest market for Lesotho’s textile products, have dried up as customers cut their spending on clothing to cope with the financial crisis.
With customers buying less, companies that buy products from Lesotho have had to cut their orders putting nearly 42 000 jobs on the line.
While other companies have been bleeding since the crisis started in 2008, P&T is the first textile company to shut down completely.
A street demonstration by scores of P&T workers in Maseru Central Business District on Monday to petition government to bail out the company yielded nothing.
The future looks bleak.
Puleng Phakisi, 32, of Thabaneng, who joined the company at its inception in 2001, told the Sunday Express P&T’s closure is “a catastrophe”.
“I was earning a monthly salary of M950 and supporting a family of seven,” Phakisi told the Sunday Express.
She said among her responsibilities is paying school fees for her sister’s two children who are supposed to sit for their JC examinations in October.
“I’m not sure if they would be able to continue with their studies because I have lost my job. I am their last hope because both their parents passed away.
“Now that I am jobless, it means they would have to drop out of school.”
Another employee, Mosonngoa Lesenyeho, 32, of Lecoop said they were notified of the closure last month.
“We were told on January 28 that on February 28 (today), the factory would be closed for good,” Lesenyeho said.
“I’m a single parent of three children, and one wrote Standard 7 last year, but could not continue with her studies because there was no money. I was earning M881 and also supporting my parents. The salary was not enough but at least I had a job.”
Yet P&T’s closure is but one piece of bad news that has become all too familiar in this industry.
Some factories have cut working hours due to lack of orders.
According to some of the workers who spoke to the Sunday Express on Friday, this has been happening since October last year, where employees have been reporting for duty two or three weeks a month.
The reduced hours have meant almost half a salary, exacerbating an already desperate situation in which textile workers are among some of the least-paid employees in Lesotho, earning around M800 a month.
“We have been asked to work ‘short time’ because there are no orders at our factory. On Monday, the workers were told to go home and return on Monday next week. Management is hoping by then, they would have found some work for us,” said one employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“This is not the first time that this has happened; it has been going on since October last year. But the reduced hours mean I will earn far less than my normal monthly salary of M887.”
And workers’ representatives say worse is yet to come.
“We have learnt the Botswana government subsidises factories by paying 50 percent of the workers’ salaries, while the employer pays the other half,” general secretary of the Lesotho Clothing and Workers Union, Daniel Maraisane, told the Sunday Express on Friday.
“We are also calling for a similar package here in order to save this industry which is facing very serious challenges.
“The reason why factories are now taking breaks is because there are no orders to fulfil. And with no income, they will not be able to survive.
“P&T was the first factory to close down this year but it is definitely not the last. This industry is in a real crisis.”
Meanwhile, P&T regional manager, Nkopane Monyane, told the Sunday Express the company had no choice but to close shop after years of incurring heavy losses.
“We have been operating at a loss for sometime now, hence the decision to close down the factory,” Monyane said.
“The problem actually started after the expiry of the Multi Fibre Arrangement in December 2004 (a treaty signed in 1974 under which developing countries were exporting textile products to developed countries). The current global economic meltdown also worsened the situation.”
“We decided to close shop while we are still able to pay the workers their benefits.”