LABOUR and Employment minister, Keketso Rantšo has warned members of the Wages Advisory Board (WAB) against divisions and conflicts which threaten the smooth running of the statutory body.
Ms Rantšo delivered the warning while addressing the inaugural meeting of the new WAB which will operate for the next four years after it was recently constituted in terms of the Labour Code of 1992, “to advise the Minister (of labour) and the National Advisory Committee on Labour on matters relating to the wages and conditions of employment as the minister may refer to it”.
Chaired by the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, the board is made up of 12 employers’ representatives and 12 workers’ representatives who are mainly from labour federations.
There are also representatives from the Central Bank of Lesotho; Bureau of Statistics as well as the Senior Economic Planner of the Ministry of Labour.
Some of the members are chairperson, ‘Maseithati Mabeleng, Lindiwe Sephomolo, Rethabile Pule, Khopotso Liphoto, Ricky Chang, Casba Kolotsane, Motlatsi Shale, Motselisi Pelesa, Mary Roux, Aliciah Motsoane, Nkosana Limema, Jennifer Chen, David Chen Lebonejoang Molefi, Bahlakoana Lebakae, Hlalefang Seoalimo, Samuel Mokhele, Robert Mokhahlane, Monaheng Mokaoane, Daniel Theko, ‘Malekena Ntsiki and Puleng Mongoai.
Some members of the board, especially workers’ representatives, have reportedly pressed for a higher minimum wage standard, a development which has brought them into conflict with employers’ representatives and the minister.
Commenting on the alleged divisions among board members, Ms Rantšo accused some members of “using the board as a bargaining forum, and discussing the work of the board in irrelevant places”.
“There is no doubt that such tendencies make a mockery of the work of the board and also weakens all stakeholders. While I understand that members of the board wish to have an outcome that will be acceptable to their constituencies.”
For his part, Bahlakoana Lebakae, of United Textile Employees (UNITE), said they negotiated the minimum wage standard on the basis of the International Labour Organisation’s guidelines, specifically the Convention 131 Minimum Wage Fixing Convention.
“When we are fighting for worker’s interests we are said to be bargaining, which is absurd because we are following the guidelines of the ILO convention on minimum wage setting.
“The criteria includes consideration of such factors as the rate of inflation, exchange rate, living standards, productivity and ability to pay by employers,” Mr Lebakae said in an interview with Lesotho Times.
He noted that the criteria has never been adequately exhausted in the case of Lesotho, and therefore workers have always been getting the shorter end of the stick.
He further indicated this was compounded by Ministers of Labour who “tended to side with the employers” when it came to setting the minimum wage standard and conditions of employment.
Also commenting on the Minister’s sentiments, Lebonejoang James Molefi, the spokesperson for workers representatives on the WAB, said he was hopeful that the proposed establishment of bargaining councils as per the current Labour Bill, would address the issue.
Mr Molefi who is also a Lesotho Wholesale, Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU) official, further indicated that the bargaining councils would help to ensure the concerns of workers were articulated and understood by many more people.
“Unlike the WAB, where we merely give advice to the minister who can either take or dismiss the advice, bargaining councils will have the right to make binding decisions concerning the working conditions,” he said.
For her part, employers’ spokesperson in the board Advocate Lindiwe Sephomolo was critical of the conduct of both workers’ representatives and the government.
“Last year there was a situation where trade unions stopped negotiating on the shop floor and resorted to negotiating wages and conditions of employment at a national level through the wage board.
“We believe that this led to the unfortunate situation where some trade unions found it necessary to institute an application in court against the minister.
“Last year we also saw an unfortunate situation where minimum wages were used as a campaigning tool during elections. This was a very sad situation and we wish to never experience it again,” Advocate Sephomolo said.
Prior to last year’s 3 June snap national elections, the government informed the workers that the minimum wage would be pegged at nine percent, only for the-then newly elected Ms Rantšo to reduce the amount to seven percent.
However, some worker representatives lodged a court case to challenge the seven percent minimum wage and the case has not yet been finalised.