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Review factory workers’ salaries

TROUBLE is brewing in the textile factories after the government announced a nine percent increase on the minimum wage in the sector.
Macaefa Billy, the general secretary of the Factory Workers Union which has 10 000 members, has already warned that a huge strike looms in the factories.
He says workers have already instructed him to start organising the strike.
We understand the workers’ anger.
During political campaign rallies political parties in the coalition government promised that their demands for M2 020 will be met.
But since July the workers have watched the government dither on its promise and then completely ignore it.
We understand that despite its promises the government’s hands are tied on this matter.
After coming into government the coalition partners must have realised that M2 020 is unachievable given the challenges textile factories are facing.
Because of the global economic crisis most factories can barely survive.
Orders from major buyers have been few and far between.
Production costs have galloped, wiping away the thin margins that factories say were already unsustainable.
Yet this should be no excuse for the factories to pay workers starvation wages.
The nine percent increase for the lowest paid factory employee translates to a paltry M75 which is only enough to buy eight loaves of bread or a 10 kg packet of mealie-meal.
That small increase is coming at a time when prices of basic commodities have increased substantially.
For instance, since the beginning of this year the price of maize-meal, Lesotho’s staple food, has increased by between 12 and 25 percent.
Since last December petrol prices have spiked by 12 percent while diesel and paraffin have gone up four percent since September.
The cost of rent and electricity has also increased by more than nine percent this year.
Given these figures, there is therefore no doubt that factory workers are far worse off than they were last year.
It is also important to remember that wages in the textile industry have always been low.
The nine percent is a small increase on a small salary.
What the textile workers need at the moment is a total review of salary scale in the sector.
That review must take into consideration the poverty datum line.
While working on the review the government must immediately deal with the labour regulations that govern textile industry.
The 14-day paid maternity leave given to women in the sector is patently discriminatory especially when you consider that women in other sectors get between six and 12 weeks.
If the government does not review the salaries and change such unfair regulations labour relations in the sector will remain sour.
The government will have to deal with a mob of 40 000 disgruntled workers.
Employers will continue to live on the edgy and Lesotho will slide further down the list of preferred destinations for investors.

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