GOVERNMENT on Thursday published a gazette for the minimum wages as anticipated by factory workers following a series of meetings between employers, trade unions and the government.
The country has in the recent weeks witnessed simmering tensions evidenced by violent rioting of workers who vandalised shops and private property in Maputsoe and Maseru.
In the Legal Notice No.63 of 2018 issued on Thursday Minister of Labor and Employment Keketso Rantšo said starting from 1 September this year, textile general workers and textile machine operator trainees with less than one-year experience working for the same employer will now get M1696 monthly up from M1238.
Textile machine operators will now be paid a minimum of M1823 up from M1331.
Trained machine operators with more than a year of service will now get M2000 up from the previous M1456 while textile general workers with more than a year of experience will now earn M1879 up from M1372.
Workers in the construction sector will also have their salaries increased by the same margins as those in the textile industry.
Secretary general of National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU) Sam Mokhele said although they wanted more than what the government has gazetted, the workers were happy that a compromise had been reached.
“Though this is not what we wanted, we are happy that a compromise was reached and this is history in the making in the factory sector,” Mr Mokhele said.
“It is an achievement and we feel that it is victory on our part.”
Mokhele also said that they have agreed with the government and the employers that next year, the workers’ salaries would be increased to 12 percent followed by another increase of 10 percent in the following financial year.
“We have all agreed that in the 2019/20 financial year factory workers will get an increment of 12 percent and in the 2020/21 financial year they will get 10 percent. This will help bridge the gap and compensate the workers to get M2000 in the end,” Mr Mokhele said.
Ms Rantšo was reportedly in hospital and could not respond to question while government spokesperson Nthakeng Selinyane said he would only be available to comment next week.
The factory workers were dealt a major blow two weeks ago after High Court judge Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi issued an interim court order blocking the gazetting of the M2000 minimum wage which had just been approved by cabinet.
As news of Justice Monaphathi’s decision filtered throughout the country, the restive workers took to the streets of Ha Thetsane which houses the textile factories in Maseru and registered their anger by barricading roads with stones and burning tyres.
The factory workers have been in a belligerent mood since June this year when they first marched in the capital to press the government to legislate a minimum wage of M2000. The previous salary regime was unsustainable especially in the face of increases in Value-Added Tax (VAT), electricity and water tariffs, taxi fares, fuel and prices of other basic goods.
Thousands of workers converged at the Moshoeshoe 1 monument in Maseru on 25 June where they delivered a petition to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane demanding salary increments for all workers.
The protestors, who comprised of factory employees, security guards and general workers from the retail and catering sector, want a 15 percent increment for all workers. They are also demanding a general minimum wage of M2000 for factory workers.
The workers also demanded that Dr Thabane sack Labour Minister, Keketso Rantšo, who they accused of neglecting their welfare concerns.
Two weeks ago, the workers thought their demands had been met when cabinet resolved to gazette a minimum wage of M2000 which would be backdated to 1 April this year. But their joy was short-lived on the 13th of this month when Justice Monaphathi granted an urgent application that was filed by Advocate Tseko Banyane on behalf of the Association of Lesotho Employers (ALE) and the Lesotho Textile Exporters Association (LTEA).
Justice Monaphathi ordered that the employers’ application “should be treated with the urgency it deserves and that the Minister of Labour and Employment is interdicted from issuing the gazette as communicated to the Wages Board by the Minister of Public Service and Minister in the Prime Minister’s office on August 10, 2018”.
Workers however, continued pushing for the increment and rioted again last week until the government acceded to an increase which will be effected on 1 September 2018.
The applicants (ALEB and LTEA) had asked the respondents (Minister of Labour and Employment, Cabinet Ministers, Cabinet Sub-Committee, Wages Advisory Board and the Attorney General) to “show cause why they may not be interdicted from issuing the gazette on the factory workers minimum wage of M2000 effective from 1 April 2018 pending the finalisation of the matter”.