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M15 pay rise for textile workers

Mpeshe Selebalo

MASERU — Just M15.

That’s how much more the lowest paid textile industry worker is now earning.

The Wages Advisory Board — made up of government officials, union members and textile factory owners — agreed on the new minimum wages last month after weeks of negotiations.

The new minimum wages came into effect on October 1.

The lowest paid textile general worker with less than a year’s service with the same employer now earns M778 a month, up from M763.

In real terms, M15 is barely enough to buy three loaves of bread.

It is not even enough for four trips on a local public transporter.

A textile machine operator who has been with the same employer for less than 12 months now earns M837 a month, up from M821.

A trained machine operator who has been with the same employer for more than a year is now on M916, up from M881.

A general textile worker who has been at the same company for more than a year now earns M27 more than the previous M830.

At those salaries most textile workers cannot afford the bare basics of life.

Most of them walk long distances to work.

Some have fallen victims to loan sharks as they borrow monthly to make ends meet.

Politician and trade unionist Macaefa Billy this week said the new salary adjustments were not enough.

Billy, secretary-general of the Factory Workers Union, said they will continue to fight for better wages.

“We are calling for a review of the whole minimum wages as the current wages cannot support workers,” he told the Sunday Express yesterday.

Billy said any wage below M1 000 a month was very low and could not even cover basic costs.

“We are proposing at least M1 500 per month which should be able to meet the very basic demands of workers,” he said.

Billy said employers were still hostile towards trade unions which created serious problems for trade unions during wage negotiations.

He also said the government appeared biased in favour of employers and this “is breeding poverty in the country”.

“You have to consider that there are no other benefits such as bonuses for factory workers,” he said.

“They just receive these low monthly incomes.”

Last month Billy accused the Wages Advisory Board, which is chaired by the labour minister, of siding with employers.

This was after his fight to have the minimum wage reviewed to M1 500 was ignored by the board.

The trade unionist has also had a spat with the rival Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union which he accuses of undermining workers’ interests by agreeing to meagre wage offers.

With nearly 35 000 on its payroll, the textile industry is Lesotho’s biggest employer after the government.

Nearly 85 percent of the workers are women.

At its peak, five years ago, the sector had 50 000 employees.

But over the years, because of the global financial crisis which suppressed demand for clothes from major markets especially in the United States, the industry has been haemorrhaging jobs.

With operational costs rising on the other hand, employers have said they are unable to meet wage demands made by unions.

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