Christmas break gives respite to stressed factory workers



Maseru  – “It’s a time to get away from the stress of strict food budgets in town and be able to eat as much meat as I can tuck in with family and friends in my village with very little to worry about,”  Thabo Sello, a factory worker who stays at Ha Thetsane says. Despite the economic hardships which many wage earners have been experiencing since the Covid lockdowns, Sello says Christmas time is the only time for him to get temporary respite from the stresses of urban living conditions.

With his wage of about M2 000 monthly, the father of three can hardly afford to feed his family which includes his unemployed wife and ageing mother on top of the three children. Sello is adamant going home to Thaba Tseka each Christmas holiday is a non-negotiable event in his annual calendar since he cannot afford to rent at least two rooms to accommodate his family even if he wanted to.

“Christmas is the right time to go home and celebrate with my family. It’s the only time that I have to buy new clothes for my children and eat all different kind of foods at my home where I am free and live without paying any rent,” Sello said.

Like other Maseru residents, going home and leaving the rented rooms unoccupied in town also comes with fresh worries of thieves breaking in and helping themselves to hard earned household property. “Thieves take advantage when they realize that people are going to the villages and nobody is left to guard the place because everyone wants to go home.

“Our minds and hearts would not be at ease when we are at the villages because we always worry about the furniture and always hoping that nobody breaks into our houses and steal while we are not around” Sello says.

Thankfully statistics by police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halala at a press briefing at Police Headquarters in Maseru this week showed crime incidents have been generally much less than during the same time in 2022. Malimpho Sehloho, a mother of two who also works at one of the factories at Ha Thetsane also says going to her rural home during this time is something she just has to do. She says the holidays are longer during festive season so it is an advantage for them to go home.

“Festive holidays are a bit longer so we slaughter animals for our families to feast during festive seasons which could be sheep or goats which gives us a rare treat since pork and beef are usually slaughtered during winter because they are too fatty,” Sehloho said. This year, Sehloho says, has been even more challenging because towards the end of the year, chicken, which is normally the most affordable meat was simply unavailable. This after the outbreak of Avian flu in South African farms where Lesotho retailers get their supplies from. The disease saw millions of birds being culled while the government of Lesotho banned the importation of poultry meat from South Africa as a safety measure.

Unfortunately, the ban was implemented without any alternative suppliers being secured which led to the complete absence of chicken from the market and in rare cases that chicken is available, the prices simply skyrocketed far above the reach of ordinary workers like Sehloho and Sello. Besides struggling with the high cost of living on a meager wage, textile factory workers like Sehloho and Sello have had what they describe as their worst year. The year 2023 saw hundreds of factory workers losing their jobs. Last year more factory workers continued to lose their jobs, leaving their unions to seek intervention.

On behalf of other unions, Mr. May Rathakane of the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) told the media towards the end of the year that apart from a total of 600 employees of Sun Textile Pty, Lty who were put on reduced working hours due to non-placement of orders by foreign financiers, 700 employees of the Nien Hsing – Global firm were retrenched. “This leaves us with no choice as stewards of these workers but to unite and seek immediate solution”, he stressed.

The textile sector, which is the second largest employer after government, has been losing jobs over the past few years. At its peak around 2008, the sector employed up to 50 000 garment workers but between March 2020 and 2022 alone, the sector lost 11 000 jobs. It is estimated that at least another 10 000 jobs could have been lost between 2022 and last year as Lesotho becomes less attractive for international investors who say labour is cheaper in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Such job losses are catastrophic in Lesotho which is one of the world’s least developed countries, with a population of 2.1 million people and few formal employers. The sector was also dealt a huge blow towards Christmas last year after two foreign investors unceremoniously disappeared from their firm in Maputsoe, Leribe leaving workers uncertain as to whether they would be paid their December wages let alone still have jobs in future.

Thankfully the government and the Lesotho National Development Corporation quickly moved and secured new investors, Vishan Clothing from Durban in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, who took over the abandoned textile company, Ace Apparel. The new investors managed to pay the salaries of the firm’s 1,200 workers in December. Meanwhile, 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 had been found 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. What puzzled authorities and workers was that the factory was operating smoothly and profitably so it remains unclear why the duo decided to leave unceremoniously.

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