Lesotho workers’ struggle continues


  • ‘Govt hasn’t done much to fulfilled pledges’
  • Workers reiterate demand for improved health and safety


MASERU – A sombre mood resonated within the local working-class this year as they joined the world in marking International Workers Day on May 1 as workers and trade unions continue to struggle for equality, economic and social justice as well as decent salaries. International Workers Day is celebrated on the first Monday of May annually and its origins lie with activists and workers who fought for the decriminalisation of unions is a celebration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement and occurs every year on 1 May, or the first Monday in May.

For many, the day that is also referred to as Labour Day, Workers Day or May Day is not only a day to celebrate the working class and the power of unions, but also a reminder that nothing has ever been given freely to workers. Workers have always fought for their rights and must continue that fight today. Local trade unions amalgamated under the Lesotho Labour Council (LLC) this week reiterated workers’ dissatisfaction with the 2.5 percent and 6.6 percent increment for civil servants and the minimum wage respectively to the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Employment Richard Ramoeletsi. They also expressed concern over occupational health and safety issues in the workplace.

Ramoeletsi was a key speaker at an LLC-organised event to mark Workers Day on Monday, under the theme ‘Health and safety at work.’ LLC is made up of multi-sectoral unions: Progressive Association of Lesotho Teachers (PALT); Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL); Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ); Lentsoe la Sechaba; Construction and Mineworkers Association’s Union (CAMAU); Lesotho Wholesalers Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU); and Bahlanka Liberation Union. Speaking at the event Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho General Secretary, May Rathakane, highlighted lack of occupational health and safety in the workplace. He recalled an incident where a miner from the KAO Diamond Mine lost his life due to an unhealthy working environment.

Rathakane indicated that employers have discriminate against workers, claiming that the only people who benefit are themselves and their families. He alleged when they (unions) address this issue they are labelled saboteurs bent on toppling governments. “Among others, the current government had promised to build houses for workers but to this day nothing has been done. There are no health and safety measures at places we work in, we get injured and some of us have lost their lives…but nothing is being done to remedy these. With regard to salary increments, this government has not really made any effort,” he said. Bahlanka Liberation Union president, Mpontšeng Pama Letsoela, speaking at the same event said this year marks yet another milestone since the commencement of the Workers Day commemoration. He expressed disappointment that workers are still fighting for health and safety in their workplaces. She said safety and health at the workplace is a fundamental right and should be taken seriously.

She also appealed for Lesotho’s ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) health and safety conventions, pleading that they should be taken seriously and put into practice. “Also, the government owes workers’ salaries and some have not been paid to date. The 2.5 percent and the 6.6 percent salary increments set for factory workers and civil servants are too little to sustain them. We are really pleading with the government to do something about this issue,” she said. For his part Lentsoe la Sechaba general secretary, Monaheng Mokaoane, indicated that factory workers are facing a lot of challenges this year, including job losses. He mentioned that the government has wronged the workers, especially when they had promised to facilitate decent salary increments.

The 6.6 percent salary hike given to the private sector and factory workers does not cover their basic needs, he said. “In the textile factories we still have no clue as to when the closed factories will be opened so that those workers who lost their jobs due to factories shutting down will return to work. What we still hear are promises made by the government which has to-date done nothing,” he added. On behalf of the LLC merger, general secretary Paul Sematlane reminded the workers of the struggle for an eight-hour working day that informs Workers Day celebrations. He said they commemorate the day by aligning with the ILO Conventions as well as the Philadelphia Declaration of 1994 which states that labour is not a commodity.

He added that they commemorate the day to protect their jobs and that the government should be compassionate enough to create more jobs for the national economy. “We are glad that the government ratified the ILO Convention 151 on behalf of workers, Convention 187 on safety and health as well as Convention 190 on violence and harassment. Convention 187 will be of use to avoid situations such as that of the Rana Plaza Bangladesh incident where more than 1 000 workers lost their lives due to a garment factory collapse. “We urge the government to take these Conventions seriously as they bring more investors to create more jobs in the country as well as pay workers satisfactory wages,” he noted. Reacting to the litany of workers’ grievances and demands, Minister Ramoeletsi highlighted the deterioration of the country’s economy as a result of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

He said many factory workers have lost their jobs due to factories closing down while others are working for shorter times. The minister added that the government is in the process of refining policies and strategies to ensure that workers are in respectable jobs. He said the government has put into consideration laws that govern the safety of workers including the ILO Declaration Fundamental Principles and Rights at work adopted in 1998 and amended in 2022. Ramoeletsi also said his ministry will ensure that all the laws relating to occupational health and safety and workers’ welfare will be promulgated. Among others, he noted that the establishment of a Collective Bargaining Council which the workers have been asking for will be set up once the Labour Code Act is completed and presented to parliament.

In May 1886, an estimated 400 000 workers in many parts of the USA went on strike, demanding an eight-hour working day. The strike started peacefully, but on the third day of protests in Chicago there was some violence. The police shot at unarmed workers, killing several of them. The next day there were more protests and someone threw a bomb. Seven police officers and four workers were killed by the bomb or police shooting just after the bomb. The person who threw the bomb was never identified, but eight workers were arrested and seven of them were sentenced to death, and one of them was sent to prison for 15 years. 

The events provided a pretext for the arrest of the so-called eight anarchists who were then convicted of murder, with four of them hanged on November 11, 1887. This event, known as The Haymarket Affair, was very important in bringing working people together in the USA.

The Haymarket Affair became an international symbol of the struggle for workers’ rights, and May 1 was chosen to be International Workers’ Day. On this day, socialist parties and trade unions called for workers to demonstrate for the eight-hour day and in favour of a peaceful protest. The eight-hour working day became law for public workers in 1892 in the USA. Since then, workers’ movements all over the world have continued to fight for and win this right.  At the time of the first May Day, 12- and even 16-hour workdays were the norm, leaving the working class with little time for personal chores. The Haymarket affair transformed the date into a class holiday, International Workers’ Day.

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