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More misery for factory workers

…as employers deduct wages for days missed while on strike

Mohalenyane Phakela

FACTORY workers who recently struck to press for higher salaries will have to settle for significant deductions to their August wages after some of the companies resolved to deduct from their earnings for the days that they were on strike.

An accountant at one of the textile companies in Maseru recently told the Sunday Express that they had resolved to deduct as much as 31 percent from the workers’ salaries for the six days that the workers went on strike over the last two weeks.

“Factories operate on a ‘No work no pay’ policy so the workers will not be getting anything for the six days they missed work when they were on strike,” the accountant told the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity.

“We closed the August cards for clocking in for work on the 20 August and they (workers) had been absent for six days which constitutes to a loss of 31 percent of each person’s salary,” the accountant added.

On his part, Independent Democratic Unions of Lesotho (IDUL) secretary general, May Rathakane said they were aware of the impending deductions and “it was a risk the workers had been willing to take when they went on strike”.

“Before engaging in the strike we considered all factors which would affect the workers and it was the decision of the factory workers not to report to work.

“They vowed to sacrifice the days as well as part of their wages and they will continue to do so until their plea for a better future is realised,” Mr Rathakane said.

The highest paid factory worker is a machine operator who has been employed for more than 12 months and earns M76 per day.

The machine operator who missed work for six days missed such an employee has suffered a loss of M456. A general worker who has been employed for the same period earns M71 per day which translates to a loss of M426 for the six days such an employee was not at work.

A general worker and a trainee machine operator who have been working for less than 12 months each earn M64 per day which translates to a loss of M384 for the six days such employees were not at work.

The loss of earnings is very significant likely to further burden the workers given that the average monthly wage is M1200.

The factory workers have been in a belligerent mood since June this year when they first marched in the capital to press the government to legislate a minimum wage of M2000. The average monthly wage is currently M1200 and this is not sustainable especially in the face of increases in Value-Added Tax (VAT), electricity and water tariffs, taxi fares, fuel and prices of other basic goods.

During the past two weeks thousands of factory workers in Maseru and Maputsoe went on strike to press the government to legislate a minimum wage of M2000. The workers vandalised private property.

Standard Lesotho Bank in Maputsoe and some Chinese shops were stoned and damaged. In Thetsane, rowdy workers set up street barricades with rocks and burned tyres. They also stoned some Chinese-owned shops near Lifefo playground and attacked police officers with stones.

Some of the residents in Thetsane locked themselves in their houses in fear of the protestors. The workers also disturbed the smooth flow of traffic by blocking the road with rocks and burning tyres.

Two weeks ago, the workers thought their demands had been met when cabinet resolved to gazette a minimum wage of M2000 which would be backdated to 1 April this year. But their joy was short-lived on 13 August when High Court judge Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi issued an interim court order blocking the gazetting of the M2000 minimum wage which had been approved by the cabinet.

Justice Monaphathi granted the order after an urgent application was filed last week by Advocate Tseko Banyane on behalf of the Association of Lesotho Employers (ALE) and the Lesotho Textile Exporters Association (LTEA). The employers had argued that they could not afford the new wages and the government had only effected the increase for “political reasons”.

In Thetsane, the factory workers reacted to the court’s decision to block the wage increments by rioting and barricading roads and thus disturbing the smooth flow of traffic.

The workers’ unions also said that factory workers will not go back to work until the gazette on their salaries increment has been published.

The ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislator Sam Rapapa recently added his voice to the saga, warning that the government’s decision to increase the minimum wage for factory workers was counter-productive.

Mr Rapapa who is also a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said the government decision put the country in serious “trouble” as it was “made on emotions and not on facts” which show that the increment is not economically sustainable.

He said while it was good to increase the workers’ salaries, there was no way the factory owners could afford to pay wage increments in a short space of time and remain viable.

He warned the government to brace for the worst as the unsustainable wage increments could force some factory owners to close shop as was the case some years ago in neighbouring South Africa.

“I can only imagine the costs of running business which include workers’ salaries, cost of the materials, electricity and many others.

“Then there is the 62 percent increment that is going to be paid in arrears. That comes up to almost M25 million. To expect the investors to raise that amount and arrears in five months is not feasible,” Mr Rapapa said.

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