STAFF at the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) began industrial action on Friday to protest the non-payment of their April salaries, amid revelations that only six out of 35 employees reported for duty.
A senior DDPR official who cannot be named for fear of reprisals, told the Sunday Express that “only six workers, including directors, a cleaner, an office assistant and the finance manager reported for work at the Maseru office on Friday”.
The work stoppage came after the workers wrote to management on Wednesday, giving them until Friday 12 April to pay their outstanding salaries, failing which, they would not report for duty.
Our sister publication, the Lesotho Times, revealed on Thursday that all DDPR staff members deployed nationwide had not received their salaries for April 2017 despite their pay day being the 25th of every month.
The DDPR is an arm of the Ministry of Labour and Employment whose mandate is to resolve trade disputes through arbitration.
It is also mandated to advise employees, employers and their organisations on the prevention of trade disputes.
The agency’s staff complement includes directors, conciliators and arbitrators who are all employed by government.
The DDPR is, however, expected to operate independently of government, political parties, trade unions and employers’ organisations.
In a letter dispatched on Wednesday and addressed to DDPR Director and Industrial Relations Council Secretary, ’Mabathoana Khotle, the disgruntled workers issued a two-day ultimatum for the payment of their salaries.
“We write this letter to humbly seek the intervention from your good office to address this matter with utmost agency because this situation is unbearable,” the workers stated.
“We would appreciate a response within two working days of receipt, failing which, we shall have no alternative but not to report for duty.”
The letter was also copied to Labour and Employment Minister, Thulo Mahlakeng, Finance Minister Tlohang Sekhamane and their respective principal secretaries.
This publication learnt that on Friday Mr Khotle wrote back to the workers and informed them that the delay in paying them salaries was due to the fact that DDPR management “had not yet received any funds from the government for the financial year 2017/2018”.
“On Wednesday 10 May 2017 we received your undated letter in regard to the above captioned matter (of salaries). The letter demanded a response within two working days of receiving it, hence this message,” Mr Khotle wrote to the workers.
“Your letter acknowledged the receipt of our memo dated 24 April 2017 which notified you that due to the delay in processing salaries for the month of April 2017, staff would not receive salaries in time.”
He said the delay was caused by the fact that the management had not yet received any funds from the government for the financial year 2017/2018.
“As soon as funds are made available to management, your salaries for April will be processed immediately. We repeat that we are very sorry for the inconvenience caused by the delay.”
This however, did not prevent the industrial action and one of the employees who spoke to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity on Friday insisted they would not return to work “until our salaries have been deposited into our bank accounts”.
Several workers who spoke to this reporter from their homes said management’s response was not satisfactory and they would meet to draft a response “to inform the management that we will not report to work until our salaries are reflected in our bank accounts”.
In their letter on Wednesday, the workers complained they had incurred costs as a result of the delay in receiving their salaries, adding the delays had become the norm at the agency.
“Our concern is whether the employer will pay the back the charges we suffered as a result of our stop orders that were not paid on time and many other incidental expenses incurred as a result of this failure to pay salaries as per the agreed date on our contracts of employment.
“We ask that the financial issue be addressed and that our salaries be paid as soon as practicable. Further that the institution should be seen to prioritise salaries in the next financial year 2017/2018 and not let this unfortunate event repeat itself.”
Repeated efforts to contact officials from the ministry were unsuccessful.