MASERU — “Our employees can go if they want”.
That is the reaction of Sinohydro Corporation, a Chinese-owned company, to a strike that brought the construction of Metolong Dam to a halt on Friday.
Sinohydro Corporation was hired last year to build the Metolong Dam and Raw Water Pump station.
The M540 million project which is expected to be completed by 2013 is funded by the government of Lesotho, South Africa, the World Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the European Investment Bank.
The strike at Sinohydro Corporation is likely to delay the project.
But that doesn’t seem to worry Sinohydro Corporation’s manager, Song Yi Jun.
Song said the striking employees can go if they are not happy with their salaries and working conditions.
The employees went on strike after the management refused to increase their wages, pay overtime and improve their work conditions.
Song told the Sunday Express that the company will not review the salaries because it is already offering more than what other companies in the construction industry are paying.
If the employees are not happy with their salaries they can look for jobs elsewhere, he said.
“We believe that we pay them salaries that are higher than the market rate and if they are not happy they can go because we cannot increase the current salaries,” Song said.
“We have trained these people as they were not skilled; they knew nothing about the construction of a dam.
“On top of that we offer them better salaries so we don’t know what more they want.”
Song said the skills the employees acquired at his construction company will benefit them in future when they seek employment at other companies.
The company will not be held to ransom by the striking workers because there are thousands of other people who are desperate for jobs, he added.
“This action is against the wishes of Basotho as they are expecting this dam to be finished so that they can get water.
“We will increase salaries according to their performance at their department. They are free to do what they want to do”.
Song alleged that the Lesotho Workers Association (Lewa), a labour union, had instigated the strike.
But Lewa’s secretary general, Mosesanyane Masoebe, said it was the company that had caused the strike after it failed to negotiate with the employees.
“We tried to talk to the management about the employees’ grievances but they were not willing to negotiate,” Masoebe said.
“This matter was even taken to the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) to be resolved,” he said.
Masoebe said the employees will continue with the strike until their grievances are addressed.
One of the employees who refused to be named said there is discrimination at the company.
“The Chinese and Basotho employees are not treated equally.
“Chinese are the only ones who get benefits at this company,” she said.
“Accommodation on site is meant for Chinese only and one that is being completed for Basotho does not separate male and females.
“They even share bathrooms.”
She alleged that Basotho employees drink water drawn from the river while Chinese employees get bottled water.
The company’s doctor is a Chinese who cannot communicate with us because he does not speak English, she said.
Tsepiso Rantle, another employee, said they will not go back to work until their concerns have been addressed.
“We want our employer to give us a living wage, food and transport allowances and higher overtime payment,” Rantle said.
“We need better working conditions and safety clothes as most of us use our clothes to work,” he said.
The dam wall to be built on the Phuthiatsana River in the Thaba-Bosiu area will be 73 metres high.
It will have the capacity to hold 53 million cubic metres of water.
Metolong Authority’s chief executive, Adris Mahmoud, has already warned Sinohydro Corporation that the strike will severely affect the project.