Majoro urged to intervene
- as worker unrest, dismissals threaten M1, 8 billion road project.
SEVENTY-FIVE workers have been fired from the Ha-Mpiti to Sehlabathebe Road project. They were fired for allegedly staging an illegal two-week strike to press their Chinese employer to award them salary increments to match international standards.
A labour union representing the workers has since written to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, calling on him to ensure they are reinstated. The Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers Union (CMQ) also wants the premier to ensure the workers’ grievances are addressed.
The project is being implemented under the framework of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
The much-delayed project was one of the infrastructure projects that the Lesotho and Chinese governments agreed on at the FOCAC summit in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2015. Other FOCAC projects are the Maseru Hospital and Eye Clinic to replace Queen Elizabeth II Hospital and the construction of the Hlotse multi-purpose dam among others.
The Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of China provided a concessional loan of M1, 3 billion to fund the project. Lesotho injected a further M500 million to consolidate the total cost of the road construction.
When complete, the 91 km road will become a 7-meter-wide double-lane road, shortening the driving time from Ha-Mpiti to Sehlabathebe from 4 hours to about 1,5 hours.
Villagers’ transport woes would be solved and tourism in the picturesque area would also be boosted by the construction of the wide-tarred road.
Qingjing Group was contracted for the construction work. But just over a year after construction started, local workers who were engaged by the Chinese firms are up in arms with their employers over what they say are unfair labour practices.
Last month, some of the workers downed tools in protest and according to CMQ secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, 75 workers were fired for engaging in what the contractor said was an illegal job action.
Efforts to obtain comment from Qingjing general manager, Zhang Jimbo, proved fruitless as his mobile phone rang unanswered yesterday. Dr Majoro’s press attaché, Buta Moseme, yesterday promised to respond to the Sunday Express’ inquiries on the matter later in the day. He had not done so at the time of going to print.
However, Mr Mokhahlane says his union wants Dr Majoro to intervene after the dismissal of 75 workers for downing tools last month to press for better pay and “decent working conditions” at the construction site.
He also alleged that there was rampant sexual harassment of female workers by their superiors.
He said unskilled manual workers with at least a year’s experience are paid M2552 per month while those with less than a year’s experience earn M2309 in line with Lesotho’s minimum wage. But since Qingjing is an international company from China, the workers must be paid at least M5 000 each per month as this is what the company pays its unskilled workers back home, Mr Mokhahlane said.
“The company fired 75 striking workers leaving 300 unskilled local workers,” Mr Mokhahlane said.
“We have also received information that the employer has brought in 50 new Chinese employees to work as unskilled labourers on site to replace some of the fired local employees.
“We have also requested the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) to intervene. We will have a mediation meeting with the DDPR and the employers in Qacha’s Nek on 24 June 2021,” Mr Mokhahlane said.