STAKEHOLDERS have called for a holistic approach to labour migration so it can be harnessed for Lesotho’s economic development.
This was the resolution made during a labour migration information sharing session organised by the Ministry of Labour and Employment in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Maseru on Thursday.
Among other objectives, the workshop was meant to support Lesotho develop its national labour migration policies in line with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Labour Migration Action Plan and Labour Migration Policy Framework.
The documents oblige SADC member states to develop the policies by 2019. The workshop’s draft agenda also sought to explore ways by which workers abroad can be protected, receive assistance in accessing their rights and benefits from current and former employers once back home, and their reintegration into the national labour market, as well as maximising the positive impact of remittances in household and communities of origin.
It also addressed the protection of foreign workers and their fair treatment in Lesotho as an aspect of labour migration management.
According to the draft agenda, Lesotho has relied on labour migration for decades as an employment opportunity for its nationals in mining, agriculture and domestic work. It has also exported highly skilled personnel, in a range of sectors such as medicine, nursing and teaching which has been a substantive complement to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Lesotho is also host to foreign workers in a range of sectors, mostly in highly skilled positions but also in certain specific lower skilled occupations, such as construction, resulting in the establishment of new industries supported by foreign direct investment.
In his remarks, Ministry of Labour and Employment Principal Secretary, Tahleho Mabetha, said high unemployment rates had caused migration to become a livelihood strategy for Basotho.
“Be that is it may, the situation calls for migration management in a coordinated and coherent manner for national benefit in line with the national migration and development strategy objective,” said Mr Mabetha.
Due to South Africa’s proximity, he said, a large number of Basotho migrate to the neighbouring country to seek employment.
“We are reliably informed that in 2005, 99.8 percent of Basotho migrants were working in South Africa. Female migration as well as irregular migration is also on the increase,” noted Mr Mabetha.
“While it is true that unskilled Lesotho migrant presence in South Africa still requires more dedicated responses, it is worth mentioning that skilled migration also requires immediate and dedicated attention.
“It is high time that the country explores the importation of skilled labour as this will create employment for surplus labour in Lesotho. It will also ensure remittances as a contribution to household survival and economic development in the country.”
He added that with the country “inundated” by the high retrenchments of migrant workers from South African mines, Lesotho could consider taking the route of such countries as Mauritius and Philippines which are sourcing and exploring work opportunities for their surplus labour.
“I wish to mention the importance of bilateral arrangements to facilitate and streamline the cross-border flow of migrants, particularly migrant workers between Lesotho and other countries,” Mr Mabetha said.
The ILO has estimated the number of migrant workers on the continent at 8.4 million in 2010, out of a total 19.3 million migrants (persons living outside their country of origin) in Africa that year. The World Bank has also estimated that 31 million African people were living in countries other than their birth place with 77 percent of the 31 million from sub Saharan Africa.