MASERU — The seven percent pay hike which was effected on the textile factory workers’ wages by the labour ministry last week has been generally received with an air of discontentment.
Textile factory employees and trade unions have labelled the increase “outrageous and inconsiderate” on the part of government.
According to the newly gazetted pay structure the lowest paid factory employee will receive a gross pay package of no more than a mere M972 which is a M64 adjustment from last year’s M908 which, in turn, was a nine percent increase from the previous year.
Trade unionists say the increase, which falls far short of the M2 020 which they have been eyeing for the third year running now, came as a shock which also favours the needs of the employers at the expense of employees.
Factory Workers Union project Coordinator Daniel Maraisane said that for the minister to have finally settled for a seven percent pay hike, it shows he favoured the employers at the expense of the “hard working impoverished employees”.
“This increase has been biased in favour of the employers who had always vied for that very figure from the onset, while the employees wanted M1 416 as recommended by experts,” Maraisane said.
He said M1 416 would be a very progressive step towards the ultimate M2 020 goal which was agreed to as the possible wage base that can sustain the livelihoods of factory workers.
Then the International Labour Organisation (ILO) carried out a research based on the cost of maintaining business by the factory owners, as well as the cost of the basic needs of employees and subsequently recommended M1 415 as the living wage which the employers could afford without chocking their profits.
The Central Bank of Lesotho on the other hand had recommended a pay hike of M1 396.
Last year when the new Thomas Thabane-led coalition government came into power it hiked the salaries for textile workers by nine percent in a move which was equally received with a great deal of resentment.
It was argued that the minister had settled for that figure because the two sections were failing to reach an agreement.
The employees were agitating for a 10 percent increase against the employers’ seven percent, so the nine percent was compromise.
However, this year when the parties in the wages advisory board failed to reach a consensus, the Principal Secretary as chairperson then made a decision and settled for seven percent.
Meanwhile Majakathata Mokoena, a local economist, says the wages paid to textile factory workers are not determined by any of the local factors such as the needs of the workers.
Mokoena says factors that determine the scale by which factory workers are paid has to do with global competitiveness trends and nothing to do with the workers’ local needs.
“These workers’ needs are secondary to the factors the investors consider in determining the packages for factory workers,” he says.
“As long as Agoa (African Growth and Opportunity Act) is here and the wages are low, investors will be here hence the jobs of those working in the industry,” Mokoena says.The Act provides for a duty-free American market for textile products produced in Africa.
He says Lesotho has a lot of competition to overcome in order to see the workers’ livelihoods improved, as there are other countries, mostly Asian, that willingly pay wages that are far lower than even what Lesotho workers earn.
According to him indigenising the textile industry is the answer to the workers’ wages woes.
“Indigenising, which means that the companies should serve similar clientele with the same products under domestic ownership, will be the answer to the problem”.
Mokoena says that the promises which the politicians make pertaining to factory workers’ wages “are sheer politics that have nothing to do with economics”.
Addressing the residents of his Stadium Area constituency last month, Law Minister Mophato Monyake said government could previously not hike the wages for the factory workers as desired because they were awaiting the approval of the Agoa after 2015.
Under Agoa, the agreement was scheduled to expire in 2015 but it has since been extended indefinitely.
Prior to the extension, many textile workers feared they would lose their jobs since, without the duty-free access to USA, Lesotho’s textile products would not stand competition from other world regions.
This would see textile industry investors relocating to countries in Asia where the costs of labour are relatively cheaper.
With the announcement of the extension of Agoa, the workers’ hopes for a better pay had been heightened.
However, a couple of weeks after Monyake’s statement the workers got no more than a seven percent salary adjustment.
The workers who spoke to the Sunday Express have said the M2 020 figure which the politicians even used during last year’s elections’ campaigning still remains a dream.
“They promised us M2 020 but even now, that is still a dream all they do is give us these peanuts”, said Maphaloli Lekoatsa from one of the factories in Thetsane industrial area.
“We are not satisfied at all since the increase will make no difference at all to our already meagre wages.
“Look we can’t even afford a decent meal”, she said pointing to her packed lunch container with left-over pap and cabbage.
Most of the textile factory workers, the majority of whom are women, say they are forced to walk all the way to and from work (for up to 15km) daily because they cannot afford a daily bus fare.
Meanwhile textile industry trade unions have requested a meeting with the parliamentary portfolio committee on the economic and development cluster for deliberations on the wage increase.
The meeting with the responsible parliamentary committee is expected on Wednesday, two days after the same committee meets labour ministry officials led by the Minister Lebesa Maloi.