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Put rights before might

AS we reported last month, a local garment factory dismissed almost its entire workforce of 1 200 for allegedly holding an illegal Christmas party.
Nien Hsing International Lesotho is a Taiwanese-owned company that manufactures top American designer labels — Gap and Levi’s.
Management at Nien Hsing International Lesotho said they fired the workers for staging an illegal strike on company premises.
But the workers told our sister paper, the Lesotho Times, last month that they were merely having a jolly good time to mark the end of what had been a long and testing year.
The workers also argued that the party did not disrupt any production as it was held during the normal lunch-break.
In a surprise twist to the case, management at Nien Hsing International Lesotho rehired about 1 000 of the dismissed workers.
This took place just a few hours after the company had issued dismissal letters to the workers.
At least 185 workers were not so lucky.
An official who spoke on behalf of the company said they were not going to re-hire the 185 who spearheaded the ‘protest’ last month.
The official accused the 185 “ring leaders” of intimidating other employees to join the illegal “protest”.
Bizarrely, he also claimed the company had video evidence to prove that some of the workers had taken alcohol during the protest.
The essence of the allegation is that these workers were so inebriated as to warrant instant dismissal.
The company was last week adamant that it was not going to rehire these 185 workers.
It is this decision that has completely befuddled us.
We believe the thinking that has led to this stance is deeply flawed.
We cannot fathom how management at Nien Hsing International Lesotho came to this deeply divisive decision to fire others while retaining the bulk of the striking workers.
But first, we must set the record straight.
As a newspaper, it is not our duty to monitor and police how companies run their businesses.
We raise these issues because the decision taken by Nien Hsing International Lesotho has generated fierce debate among our readers.
The matter is therefore, of legitimate public interest.
Besides, we have an almost sacred duty as the media to speak out when an injustice especially against the weak and downtrodden has been done.
It would be a clear case of dereliction of duty where we to fail to discharge that responsibility without fear or favour.
It is against this background that we feel, and strongly so, that an injustice of monumental proportions has been done and is still being done at Nien Hsing International Lesotho.
We feel the workers at Nien Hsing International Lesotho have been given a raw deal.
We strongly feel these workers have been unfairly dismissed unless a competent labour court rules to the contrary.
If indeed these workers were engaged in an illegal protest, surely summoning the entire workforce and dismissing all of them summarily was a clear violation of workers’ rights.
We are tempted to believe that Nien Hsing International Lesotho had for months “plotted” how to get rid of the bad apples among their workforce.
The December “Christmas” party appeared to have given management at Nien Hsing International Lesotho a grand opportunity to carry out that plan.
This would appear to be a clear case of constructive dismissal.
The flimsy reasons advanced by the firm just do not wash.
The onus is on the firm to prove beyond any shadow of doubt that it had not targeted the 185 for dismissal way before the “Christmas party”.
In our humble opinion, we remain convinced that a gross injustice was committed by the factory management.
The clear selective application of punishment is an embarrassment to all lovers of justice and fair play.
What is also clear from the narrative is that all the 185 were dismissed without any hearing.
This is a serious violation of Lesotho’s labour laws.
We would not want to sound xenophobic apart from stressing that companies that are foreign-owned are not exempt from following our local laws.
We are happy that the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union has been fully seized with the matter since the case broke out in December.
We would want the trade union to continue to speak out and engage management at Nien Hsing International Lesotho so that the two parties can come to an amicable resolution of the matter.

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