Nat Molomo & Caswell Tlali
MASERU — With only two months before the Wages Advisory Board announces new minimum wages for the 35 000-strong textiles industry, sharp differences have emerged between two leading unions.
The new minimum wages will be announced on October 1, but already there are deep divisions between the two main labour unions over the figures.
The tug-of-war is between the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union (Lecawu) and the Factory Workers Union (Fawu).
Fawu has proposed that the monthly minimum wage be pushed from M763 to M1 300, a figure Lecawu has dismissed as “a dream that even King Farouk could never have dreamed of.”
Farouk was an Egyptian ruler known for his lavish lifestyle.
Fawu’s demand represents a M537 increase on the minimum wage.
On the other hand, Lecawu has proposed a minimum monthly wage of M816, up from last year’s M763.
Lecawu’s proposal represents a M53 increment.
The two unions have a history of a bitter rivalry over membership and clout.
Fawu broke away from Lecawu in 2003.
Lecawu has 3 000 members and Fawu represents 8 000 textile workers.
The two unions also belong to rival federations.
Lecawu is affiliated to the Lesotho Congress of Democratic Unions, while Fawu is a member of the Congress of Lesotho Trade Unions.
Lecawu secretary-general Daniel Maraisane and his Fawu counterpart Macaefa Billy are at the centre of the latest battle.
In an interview with Sunday Express on Friday, Maraisane dismissed Billy’s proposal as “a dream”.
In his proposal to the Wages Advisory Board, Billy called for employers to pay “living wages not poor minimum wages”.
Lecawu and three other unions have proposed that a general textile worker should be paid a minimum monthly wage of M816.
They also say a textile machine operator’s monthly wage should be increased from M821 to M878.
A trained machine operator should be paid M969, up from M881, they say.
They have also proposed for a four-week paid maternity leave and an 18-day paid sick leave.
Initially, Fawu was part of this agreement but upon presentation to the Wages Advisory Board and the employers association on July 6, Billy withdrew saying he wanted to consult workers.
Billy then submitted his proposal on July 14.
He proposed that an unskilled worker be paid M1 300 while a skilled one should get M1 600.
Billy also proposed that there be a provident fund in which an employer would contribute M50 a month while the employee pays M25.
He said there should be a transport allowance of M300 and a housing allowance of M100.
Billy also proposed that there be a six-week paid maternity leave applying to all female workers in Lesotho, not only to women working in textile firms as appears in last year’s government gazette.
But Maraisane told this paper that Billy’s proposal was unrealistic and would damage businesses and hurt the workers.
“There has been a global financial crisis which the world has been experiencing,” Maraisane said in an interview.
“If a man of the status of an MP like Billy comes up with such ridiculous figures, if it is not a political campaign, it is just as simple as saying investors go away, leave my country and go elsewhere.”
Billy’s proposals were “not just only malicious but also ridiculous”, Maraisane said.
He charged that Billy was fiddling with figures to goad workers into taking industrial action.
“My concern is that Billy is playing double standards as an MP for the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) and secretary-general of Fawu,” Maraisane said.
“This enables him to go and abuse workers when his position becomes untenable in politics.
“It is an open secret that he has problems with the All Basotho Convention (ABC) politics and therefore thinks that his proposals to the Wage Advisory Board will regain him the popularity he has lost among workers.”
Billy’s LWP is in an alliance with the ABC, the country’s main opposition party.
But Billy told the Sunday Express yesterday that “wages for textiles workers need to be reviewed”.
He said it was ironic that parliament saw it fit to review salaries for MPs but trade unions would be offended when he proposed wage increases for factory workers.
Billy said Fawu had to direct its organiser, Seabata Likoti, to withdraw his signature from a joint proposal with other unions “because we had not consulted with workers”.
“After consultation with the workers we have now agreed as Fawu that wages should be restructured,” he said.
“We are speaking about the living wage not the poverty wage of M800 which textile workers are getting a month.”
Billy scoffed at Maraisane’s suggestion that he was making unrealistic proposals that would push workers into industrial action.
He said he wondered why Maraisane and others feared strike action as if it was the only weapon at the disposal of workers.
Lesotho Textile Employers Association president Nkopane Monyane said the negotiations for minimum wages were already in progress.
He said Billy withdrew Fawu from the talks saying he wanted to consult workers but when he came back he complained about the status of the Wages Advisory Board.
“We are not in a position to deal with multiple proposals on the same issue, and our advice is that Billy must come to us with one voice together with other stakeholders,” Monyane said.
The Wages Advisory Board consists of representatives of the Ministry of Labour, trade unions and the Lesotho Textile Exporters Association.
Fawu is not represented in the board, chaired by the labour minister.