MASERU — “A storm is coming your way”.
That is the message textile union boss Macaefa Billy wants the textile factory owners to understand clearly as workers seethe over the government’s decision to set the increase their wages by nine percent this week.
The general secretary of the Factory Workers Union (Fawu) which claims to have 10 000 members says workers have instructed him to start organising for a “huge strike” soon after the festive season.
“Textile workers are mad over that paltry increase and they are going to take the fight to the factory owners,” says Billy who is also the leader of the Lesotho Worker’s Party and an MP.
For the past four months factory workers have been piling pressure on the Tom Thabane-led coalition government to increase their minimum wage to M2 020.
They claimed that during the election the coalition parties — All Basotho Convention, Lesotho Congress for Democracy and Basotho National Party — promised them that figure.
A few weeks the disgruntled workers had a small march in Maseru before handing a petition to Thabane, asking him to fulfil his campaign promises.
Their hopes were however dashed last week when labour Minister Lebesa Maloi told parliament that factory workers would get a nine percent increase.
That means the salary of a general factory worker who has had a year of service will increase from M833 to M908.
That is an increase of M75, which is only enough to buy eight loaves of bread or 10 kilograms of meali meal.
Billy says factory workers are “not going to allow themselves to be insulted by such pittances”.
Since the new wages were announced Fawu has been consulting its members.
Next week Billy and his team will visit factories in Mohale’s Hoek, Maputsoe and Mafeteng.
Billy says although consultations are yet to be completed workers have already said they want to take the fight to the factory owners.
“We are no longer going to bother government over the minimum wage.
It’s time for the employers to face the music,” he says.
“The workers have told me that this time they will not march in Maseru but they will strike in the factories until they get what they want.”
Billy is irked “that the government has ignored advice from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) on the minimum wage”.
The ILO estimated that factory workers could survive on at least M1 416 while the CBL said at least M1 396.
Workers, Billy says, are shocked that the government set the minimum wage at M908 despite the figures from the ILO and central bank.
“Although the workers wanted M2 020 they were willing to accept something around those figures (M1 396 and M1 416) but they got that small figure the minister announced.”
“The M2 020 figure was never in dispute.
“It is agreed that workers need M2 020 to survive. Workers have to eat, pay rent and travel to work.”
He says he will start planning the strike after the festive season.
“I have instructions from the factory workers to start planning the strike as soon as we come back from the festive season.
“They have told me to apply for that strike.” He says the strike will happen between February and March.