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Factory workers set to petition PM tomorrow

Ntsebeng Motsoeli MASERU — Thousands of factory workers are expected to hand over a petition to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane tomorrow to demand higher wages. The workers are expected to march from the Thetsane industrial area and hand over their petition to Thabane at Pitso Ground.
Daniel Maraisane, who is co-ordinating the march, said they want Thabane to intervene and order factory owners to pay a living wage. “We want the Prime Minister to address issues of salaries for factory workers. Factory workers want a living wage that can sustain them until the next pay day.
“They want to earn at least M2 020,” said Maraisane, who is the coordinating the march.
Factory workers are among the lowest paid in Lesotho with some taking home between M833 and M980 a month. Maraisane said an average family of four needs M2 020 a month for basic needs. Maraisane said the factory workers will also ask Thabane to persuade textile factory owners to review the number of days women are supposed to be on maternity leave.

“Factory employees are paid for only two weeks maternity leave. Other private sectors give much longer maternity leave days. That is discrimination. We want government to revise the Labour Code so that factory workers are also given longer days like everybody else,” he said. Maraisane said factory workers were also not happy with the Minister of Labour and Employment Lebesa Maloi’s response to their grievances. “Factory workers feel that the Minister of Labour has not handled their concerns with urgency.

“That is why they want to petition the Prime Minister because it seems negotiations to resolve their grievances have been dragging on for too long,” he said. The workers also want Thabane to approve the setting up of a new body that will represent textile workers in negotiations with their bosses. Maraisane said the Wages Board, an advisory body that had been negotiating living wages for factory workers, had proved ineffective.

“The Wages Board is just an advisory body. Their opinions in negotiation have been easily thrown away. “We want the government to establish a bargaining council that will be recognised under the law and whose input in the negotiations will be valued,” he said.
Maraisane said factory workers’ salaries had not been increased this year even though salary adjustments are effected on October 1.
“The problem is that factory workers have demanded a 12 percent increment as opposed to the eight percent that the employers have offered. Their offer does not bring the salaries anywhere closer to what the workers want. It is even further away from the M2 020,” he said.
“We know that what workers are demanding is not outrageous. In fact recent studies by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) have justified the demand. The ILO has estimated that factory workers could survive on at least M1 416 while the CBL says at least M1 396.”

He said factory workers were merely holding the coalition government to its pre-election promise to improve the salaries and working conditions for workers. When contacted for comment yesterday, Maloi said he was shocked because they were “still in talks with the unions”. “You’d expect people to resort to such measures only once it has been declared that talks have reached a standstill,” Maloi said.
“But like I said, we’re still in talks and talks have not reached a dead-end.”

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