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Government raises workers’ M2 020 hopes

Boitumelo Koloi

Two cabinet ministers on Thursday raised textile factory workers’ hopes for a M2 020 minimum monthly wage they have been expecting since the coalition government came into power two years ago.
Addressing Workers’ Day celebrations held at the Maseru Pitso Ground, both Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Mothetjoa Metsing and Minister of Employment and Labour, Ms Keketso Rantšo, said government would fulfil its promise of ensuring a “living wage” for every employee.

The three parties currently forming government — the All Basotho Convention (ABC) led by Prime Minister Dr Thomas Thabane, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) led by Mr Metsing and Basotho National Party (BNP) led by Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane — have been accused of reneging on their pre-election promise of ensuring the textile industry’s minimum wage was increased to M2 020 once they were in power.

But Mr Metsing and Ms Rantšo reassured the hundreds of workers who turned up for the May 1 commemorations that government was still committed to ensuring better lives for all Basotho.
According to the latest minimum wages gazetted by government last October, the lowest-paid textile factory worker receives a monthly wage of M 972 — a mere seven-percent (M 64) increase from the previous year’s M908.

When the gazette was released, the hopes of the estimated 45 000 textile factory workers had been shattered, and many had given up on the promised M2 020.
But Thursday’s pronouncement by the two senior government officials rekindled hope the cherished dream would finally be realised, albeit two years late, as the coalition government has been in power since June 2012.
“As government, we believe that workers have to be paid a living wage, but in doing so, the few jobs that are available should not be compromised,” Mr Metsing said.
“I believe in the principle of financial disclosure by textile factories, as this will enable everyone to see which company can afford to pay the M2 020 or even more, because not all the companies have the same financial muscle.
“There are companies which can afford to pay their employees that much; these are the companies which we (government and workers) should be urging to pay accordingly”.

According to Mr Metsing, the Ministry of Labour had already paved the way for the enactment of a gazette that would see the review of the current wages for the textile industry, as well as improvement of working conditions.
“The minister has already presented a policy clearance for the Social Security Scheme before cabinet, and cabinet has given it the go-ahead. I can also safely inform you that cabinet will, very soon, deliberate on the issue of reviewing the Labour Code in order to ensure that you are also well taken care of at work.”

Ms Rantšo, told the workers that government had invited the relevant stakeholders to a consultative meeting scheduled week beginning tomorrow in Maseru. The meeting, she added, seeks to ensure the review of textile workers’ wages and subsequent raise to M2 020, is dealt with and given the attention it deserves.
“We have noted how sensitive this issue is, which is why we have agreed to meet all the stakeholders next week as we pave the way for its enactment.
“I therefore, urge you, through your unions, to help us by also pushing your employees to make this work,” Ms Rantšo said.
On the other hand, the Lesotho Labour Council president and politician, Mr Macaefa Billy, told government the workers’ patience was running out, and urged “swift action” to avoid “trouble”.
“We have been trying to talk to this government for a long time now because we thought since it was voted for by many workers, it would listen,” said Mr Billy, who is also leader of the Lesotho Workers’ Party.
“We urge you to act swiftly to stop any trouble. We have not had strikes and protest-marches in a very long time so don’t give us a reason for that now.”
Mr Billy further said the workers have been fighting for M2 020 “for too long” that the figure has even been overtaken by inflation.
“We wanted M2 020 then and by now, it should be worth more than that; maybe even double.”

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