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Govt subsidy for Chinese factories raises eyebrows

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE government has reportedly proposed that its parastatals should subsidise Chinese-owned factories by cutting utility costs to enable the factories to meet the wage demands of their workers.

If implemented the parastatals namely, the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC), Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) and the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) would cut utility costs of electricity, water and rent for the Chinese-owned factories. This would enable the factories to pass on the savings in the form of increased wages to the restive factory workers.

The proposal was made at a recent meeting between an inter-ministerial task team and officials from the LEC, WASCO and the LNDC.

The four member inter-ministerial task team to superintend over discussions to address the workers’ wage demands.

This follows a 25 June 2018 protest march by thousands of workers who converged at the Moshoeshoe 1 monument in Maseru 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.

The government subsequently appointed the inter-ministerial task team to find ways of resolving the workers’ grievances.

The team comprises of ministers, Chalane Phori (Small Business, Development, Cooperatives and Marketing), Tefo Mapesela (Trade and Industry), Lesego Makgothi (Foreign Affairs and International Relations) and Mahali Phamotse (Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation).

Source who spoke to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity said it appeared that the government was giving Chinese employers preferential treatment as the subsidy proposal was meant exclusively for them.

“We are not happy with the proposal which only seeks to cushion the Chinese-owned businesses,” one source told the Sunday Express.

Lesotho has 55 textile factories and six of these are locally-owned, 17 South African-owned, eight are Chinese-owned and 24 are owned by the Taiwanese.

80 percent of the factories export their goods to America and the rest are exported to South Africa.

While acknowledging the recent meeting with the parastatals over the subsidise proposal, Dr Phamotse however, refused to provide details or even say the proposed arrangement is meant exclusively for Chinese-owned businesses.

All she told the Sunday Express was that “the parastatals seemed positive” and receptive to the government’s proposal.

“We have since compiled a report and we are just waiting to present it to cabinet,” Dr Phamotse said in a recent interview.

Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka also confirmed that the inter-ministerial team’s report was ready and would be presented to cabinet and thereafter “the cabinet shall advise the Prime Minister”.

Mr Mphaka said the cabinet deliberations on the report would be held next week.

The trade unions will also meet with legislators this week over their wage demands.

This was said by the Deputy Secretary of the National Clothing and Textile and Allied Workers Union, Tšepang Makakole. Mr Makakole said they will meet social cluster parliamentary portfolio committee.

The coalition of trade unions comprises of the Independent Democratic Unions of Lesotho (IDUL), UNITE, National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), Lesotho Wholesalers Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU), Lentsoe la Sechaba, Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) as well as Construction, Mining and Quarrying (CMQ), Lesotho Association of Banking Employees (LABE) and Lesotho Union of Metal and Allied (LUMA).

A general factory worker and a trainee machine operator who have been working for less than a year in Lesotho, each earn M1 238 per month while a sewing machine operator earns M1 331. The general worker who has worked for more than a year earns M1 372 while a machine operator earns M1 456.

Should the wage demands be met, the textile workers will receive a 47 percent salary increase.

The trade unions have accused previous governments of ignoring the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to ensure that workers earned a monthly minimum wage of M2000 by 2017.

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