Abandoned workers paid their December wages


. . . as new investor quickly replaces fugitive owners


MASERU – The new investors, Vishan Clothing from Durban in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, who have taken over the local shuttered textile company, Ace Apparel, paid the salaries of the firm’s 1,200 workers in December.

The firm, based in Maputsoe, Leribe, was abruptly closed down earlier in December when its two previous owners suddenly disappeared without any explanation to the workers.

The Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) interim chief executive officer, Advocate Molise Ramaili, said the move caught them flat-footed, adding that the employees left work that Friday without any inkling that their jobs could be on the line.

The government finally located the firm owners before the end of the year, with the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mokhethi Shelile, confirming that the duo was in the Netherlands.

Shelile then announced that the government was making efforts to bring the two back to Lesotho so that they could answer for their actions.

The company has since re-opened for business this week, with a total of 1,500 employees, including casual workers, returning to their jobs.

This was carried out in response to Shelile’s pledge, made with assistance from the LNDC, to re-open the business as soon as a new investor was found.

According to LNDC’s corporate communications manager, Tiisetso Moremoholo, the minister had earlier sent LNDC interim Chief Executive Officer, Advocate Molise Ramaili, to Durban to negotiate with Vishan Clothing along with the potential customers in order to come to an understanding and map a way forward.

She said the Minister of Labour and Employment, Tšeliso Mokhosi, together with Ramaili, the customers, and Vishan Clothing, all connected in a video conference call for further negotiations.

The Labour Commissioner was included in the negotiations as an advisor, Moremoholo also said.

“The investor is a foreigner from Durban; I have known him for at least two years. He already has a firm in Lesotho, and it is very easy to approach investors who are close to the country. “Even though the previous owner of Ace Apparel deleted the payroll, we were able to start it afresh, and we found 1,200 workers, along with the casual workers,’’ Shelile said.

The minister has lauded the government’s quick response, saying that the livelihoods of 1 200 workers were in danger, adding, however, that the government was quick to act on the issue. Shelile said he worked with Mokhosi to quickly defuse the situation.

He had earlier said: “The owners have left their equipment and raw materials worth around M3 million, which will still enable workers to be paid after being sold as they still have value.

“Even if we give investors conditions when we negotiate with them, we have so many countries competing with us. Kenya is number one on AGOA, and Lesotho has become number four because our prices have become too high. What we are doing is creating jobs, not losing them. We are trying to be competitive.”

He added that the equipment is still under the watchful eye of the security put in place by LNDC to ensure that no one takes it away. Ramaili said that the equipment will only leave their custody after the employees have been paid their terminal benefits.

“We work collaboratively with trade unions when it comes to workers’ rights and any related issue. One other surprising issue is that Ace Apparel is one of the factories that were operating normally, therefore there was no reason for workers to think their situation could turn out the way it did. They were even told that, due to their heavy workload, they would only close on December 20 for the Christmas holidays,” he said.

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