Workers threaten to down tools

NTHETHE MAPHAONG

MASERU – Private sector workers across the country could go on strike Thursday next week if their demands for a 15 percent wage hike are not met, union bosses announced yesterday.Thousands of workers in June marched in Maseru and delivered a petition to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane demanding salary increments for all workers.

The marchers, who comprised factory workers, security guards and general workers from the retail and catering sectors, wanted a 15 percent increment for all workers. They also demanded government to reinforce a minimum wage agreement that would guarantee at least a M2 000 monthly salary for factory workers. The workers also want Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to fire the labour and employment minister Keketso Rantšo whom they have accused of incompetence.

“Government has up to today not responded to our demands yet the prime minister when receiving our petition, vowed that his government would respond to the petition within 14 days,” May Rathakane, Secretary General of the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (UDUL) said. Rathakane said after the expiry of the 14 days, instead of being given a “satisfactory response”, they were moved from pillar to post by government officials.

He further indicated that they were concerned that as government keeps dilly-dallying, the Lesotho Electricity and Water Authority (LEWA) has, on the other hand, approved new power and water tariffs which came into effect on Wednesday this week. The ministry of public works and transport’s road transport board has also approved increases in public transport fares which were also implemented on August 1.

Public Eye could not get a comment from Rantšo as she was reported to be in hospital and not in a position to respond to media queries. Labour laws allow the minister of labour to mediate between labour unions and the employers in the wages advisory board to set minimum wages for specific sectors. Under normal circumstances, public sector wages are adjusted annually by the labour minister and implemented at the beginning of the financial year in April, but this year, the wages are yet to be adjusted.

“Our government does not want to take our demands in to consideration; this means that they take us for granted. “This time we are going to show them that we are serious, there is no more turning back because everything in the country have increased, the food prices have increased, taxi fares, water and electricity tariffs but there has not been an increase in workers’ salaries,” Rathakane said.

He said the 10 trade unions were now giving government a grace period of seven days starting from yesterday to respond reasonably to their demands. Private sector workers are the latest to use industrial action as a tool to push for salary increases. On Thursday teachers also embarked on an industrial action. Last year government approved a nine percent wage hike for all workers but ran into conflict with employers who had agreed on a seven percent increase with unions. If approved, the increase would represent one of the biggest granted workers in the country in decades.

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