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A day in the life of a factory worker

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’Mantoetse Maama

MASERU — Nkeletseng Molebatsi, 26, from Lower Thamae starts her day at 3.30 am when she drags herself from bed.
Molebatsi, a single mother, is looking after four young children, all fathered by different men.
She says she also takes care of her aged mother.
“I wake up at 3.3oam and help my children get ready for school as my mother is too old to assist them,” she says.
“At 5am I walk to Thetsane where I work. Before work starts I eat my breakfast. I don’t normally get a chance to sit and eat because I might be late so it’s better to eat outside the factory before the gates are opened.”
Lower Thamae is a working class suburb south-east of Maseru that houses some of the poorest of the poor in Lesotho.
It is from here that Molebatsi trudges to and from work every day.
She says she can hardly afford to pay the M6 taxi fare. And so she walks.
Molebatsi earns M1 006 a month, money she says is hardly enough to take her to the next pay day let alone feed her four children, mother and her late sister’s daughter and son.
“Every month-end I have to pay rent and water and buy groceries for my family,” she says.
“The food that I buy does not even last the whole month and that forces me to move around looking for money from friends and loan sharks who give me more problems,” Molebatsi says.
Molebatsi was referring to the lending clubs in Maseru that lend money at astronomical rates to the poor.
But her hope, she says, now lies in her sister’s eldest daughter who is finishing her Standard Seven exams this year after which she will start to look for a job as a domestic worker.
It was clear during the interview with the Sunday Express that all was not well for her and her family.
Her single room doubles as a bedroom and kitchen.
In one small corner was a pile of blankets and old suitcases.
Close to the door was a rickety table with humble dishes on top. A black pot was underneath.
She says she cannot even dream of buying “proper” furniture.
On the worst of days she eats papa seasoned with salt.
Molebatsi says she only buys clothes twice a year, at Christmas and during the winter season when her children really need shoes and jerseys to keep the cold at bay.
It is perhaps these shocking conditions that have triggered unrest within Lesotho’s factories.
Last week, workers at Sun Textile factory downed tools to press for better salaries.
The strike forced the factory management to accede to the workers’ demands by awarding an eight percent wage hike.
Factory Workers Union (Fawu) representative, Daniel Maraisane, said the union had initially pressed for a 15 percent salary raise but had to settle for the eight percent after tough negotiations.
“The strike at Sun Textile lasted for a day after the management offered us eight percent. We accepted eight percent because in October the factory workers’ salaries are normally increased and we hope with the percentage that will be added it will be closer to what we wanted,” Maraisane said.
He said they are still moving around the factories negotiating with the management better salaries for workers and when they fail to agree they apply for permission to strike like what they did at Sun Textile last Wednesday.
Trade unions say Lesotho’s textile workers among the worst paid in the country.
In 2011, trade unions together with taxi associations petitioned the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili demanding a massive salary hike.
The workers who were then earning about M720 a month were demanding M2 020 a month.
Maraisane said they are still hoping to get the M2 020 and their expectation is that with the little they are getting, they will get there.
“Our major concern this time is on the salaries. We want salaries to be increased. We understand that we cannot get M2 020 in one day but there should be an initiative towards it,” he said.
Maraisane said they will mobilise workers to strike if factory managers refuse to play ball.
The minimum wage currently stands at M906, an amount the unions have dismissed as inadequate.
Maraisane said they are currently hosting a workshop for shop stewards in the factories to give them knowledge on how to handle employees’ problems.

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