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Workers to strike over back pay

by Sunday Express
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Staff Reporter

WORKERS in the hotels, construction and various other sectors have threatened to go on strike on Tuesday unless they are paid salary increments backdated to April this year.

The strike threat follows recent industrial action by workers from various sectors over their employers and government’s failure to implement increments that would see the minimum wage rise to M2000.

The workers have been in a belligerent mood since June this year when they first marched in the capital to press the government to legislate a minimum wage of M2000. The average monthly wage is currently M1200 and this is not sustainable especially in the face of increases in Value-Added Tax (VAT), electricity and water tariffs, taxi fares, fuel and prices of other basic goods.

Thousands of workers converged at the Moshoeshoe 1 monument in Maseru on 25 June where they delivered a petition to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane demanding salary increments for all workers.

The protestors, who comprised of factory employees, security guards and general workers from the retail and catering sector, want a 15 percent increment for all workers. They are also demanding a general minimum wage of M2000 for factory workers.

The workers also demanded that Dr Thabane sack Labour Minister, Keketso Rantšo, who they accused of neglecting their welfare concerns.

Three weeks the workers thought their demands had been met when cabinet resolved to gazette a minimum wage of M2000 which would be backdated to 1 April this year. But their joy was short-lived the following week when High Court judge Justice Tšeliso Justice Monaphathi granted an urgent application that was filed by Advocate Tseko Banyane on behalf of the Association of Lesotho Employers (ALE) and the Lesotho Textile Exporters Association (LTEA).

Judge Monaphathi ordered that the employers’ application “should be treated with the urgency it deserves and that the Minister of Labour and Employment is interdicted from issuing the gazette as communicated to the Wages Board by the Minister of Public Service and Minister in the Prime Minister’s office on August 10, 2018”.

The workers have however, vowed to press on with their demands for salary increments backdated to April. A workers’ representative, Lebonejoang Moeketsi, recently said that the workers in the hotels and construction sectors would down tools on Tuesday if their demands for back payments are not addressed.

Mr Moeketsi said that the Labour ministry wrote to them on 29 July and 10 August and promised workers in the hotels and construction sectors a seven percent increment backdated to April. He said despite the written assurances the workers did not receive the backdated increments.

Meanwhile factory workers who recently struck to press for higher salaries had significant deductions to their August wages after some of the companies resolved to deduct from their earnings for the days that they were on strike.

An accountant at one of the textile companies in Maseru recently told the Sunday Express that they deducted as much as 31 percent from the workers’ salaries for the six days that the workers went on strike over the last two weeks.

“Factories operate on a ‘No work no pay’ policy so the workers were not paid for the six days they missed work when they were on strike,” the accountant told the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity.

“Those workers who were absent for six days suffered deductions of loss of 31 percent of their salaries,” the accountant said.

Independent Democratic Unions of Lesotho (IDUL) secretary general, May Rathakane, recently told this publication that even though they expected the employers to make the deductions and “it was a risk the workers had been willing to take when they went on strike”.

“Before engaging in the strike we considered all factors which would affect the workers and it was the decision of the factory workers not to report to work.

“They vowed to sacrifice the days as well as part of their wages and they will continue to do so until their plea for a better future is realised,” Mr Rathakane said.

The highest paid factory worker is a machine operator who has been employed for more than 12 months and earns M76 per day.

The machine operator who missed work for six days missed such an employee has suffered a loss of M456. A general worker who has been employed for the same period earns M71 per day which translates to a loss of M426 for the six days such an employee was not at work.

A general worker and a trainee machine operator who have been working for less than 12 months each earn M64 per day which translates to a loss of M384 for the six days such employees were not at work.

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