MASERU – Trade unions are at loggerheads backing out of responsibility over Wednesday’s protests which saw factory workers in Maseru boycott work demanding that government increases their salaries.
Three people we shot by police during the protest in a successful attempt to disperse protesters. One of these people was a street vendor operating in the area.
Among other things, workers demand that government publish a Gazette which they say was finalized in 2020 by the then Minister of Labour Keketso Rantšo.
The Minister had to make a final decision after the two parties, employees and employers could not reach a common ground. Employers were offering only six per cent while employees were requesting a 20 percent increase.
Rantšo has since been fired from that office, a move which was partly influenced by the same workers who were not happy with her operations.
Expectations were that the new Minister of Labour, Moshe Leoma, would publish the Gazette almost immediately but he did not, a situation which prompted Wednesday’s protests.
Unlike in other previous mass protests, Wednesday’s picketing was organized by just one trade union of the Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL).
Under normal circumstance, not one, but up to five unions join hands factory workers to fight for their rights.
But this time around, these unions did not see eye to eye with regard to the issues at hand.
In an interview with Public Eye, the General Secretary of the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), Sam Mokhele, said his organization was surprised by the way things unfolded on Wednesday, citing that the matter at hand was still being discussed with the wages advisory board.
“We were not part of the protests because discussions around the same issues are ongoing with the wages advisory board. So we were surprised to hear that people are already on the streets. Even this week such discussions are ongoing because we are also pushing for government to publish that gazette and increase worker’s salaries,” Mokhele told Public Eye on Wednesday.
The wages advisory board is responsible for fixing and updating the minimum wage on annual basis. This board consists of representatives of the employees and employers as well as independent members.
The board may after consultation among its members, make a proposal to the Minister of Labour on the minimum wage level. The Minister can then decide to implement the same through a wage order.
On his own accord, the general secretary of the Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), May Rathakane, explained that it was not necessary for his association, with its huge following in the sector, to betray them and act against their desires.
He told Public Eye that before Wednesday protests, different trade unions had a meeting trying to come up with solutions regarding the issues at hand, but he emphasized, parties did not agree.
“So we decided to listen to our followers because at the end of these are the people we represent. And again, we are all independent bodies, so it means we cannot always agree on everything that we do. Our mandates are different sometimes,”
“We cannot therefore, listen to people who do not have as many followers as we do. We had to act because we were also under immense pressure from these people we represent,” Rathakane said.