COLEPE wants agreement signed by today


. . . but cash-strapped govt dubs 25% pay raise unreasonable


MASERU – The Coalition of Lesotho Public Employees (COLEPE) has issued a letter to the Ministry of Public Service expressing disappointment over the salary negotiations bargaining process. The coalition is demanding a signed agreement between them and government regarding their request for a salary increase by today.

The Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA), Lesotho Public Service Staff Association (LEPSSA), Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA), Qiloane Nursing Assistants Association (QINUASA) and the Lesotho Schools Principals’ Association (LESPA) are the public service groups making the demand.

This comes after COLEPE had requested a 25 percent salary increase which was still being negotiated among relevant ministers.  COLEPE fears that the 2024/2025 budget will be presented before their request is resolved. The letter reads, “Notwithstanding scheduled meetings with clear timelines and both parties’ commitment to bargaining in good faith in the interest of peaceful negotiations, the Coalition of Lesotho Public Employees (COLEPE) herewith expresses its disappointment on the side of Government not to honour two critical meetings in keeping with the foregoing schedule.

“These missed meetings have pushed the process beyond the agreed timelines which is a serious threat to the negotiations. Please be informed therefore that we will attend the meeting set for January 19, 2024 but we are forced to go public on the state of affairs,” read the letter. The two missed meetings were on January 5th and January 10th, 2024.

In an interview this week, Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT) General Secretary Letsatsi Ntsibulane said the government has not kept its promise regarding the meetings that both COLEPE and the government were supposed to convene on the 25 percent salary increase.

He said even after writing the letter expressing their disappointment, the government did not show due appreciation of the matter adding that authorities are asking to tally with the rate of inflation which keeps on increasing while salaries are static.

“We are expecting to sign an agreement with government by the 19th this month and we are expecting the 25 percent as requested. Government has refused to go into negotiations therefore what we are waiting for is the 25 percent or a dispute. If the government does not answer by the 19th, then we will have to consult our members on the way forward,” he said.

For her part, the Ministry of Public Services Public Relations Officer ’Mamakhoa Molapo confirmed that they received the letter and that the matter is already in the hands of the responsible ministers. She said she is aware of the assumption that COLEPE fears that the budget will be presented without their issue being solved, but assured this reporter that their issue would have been solved by then.

“Even when doing consultations we do not focus on one area but should include all civil servants. There are many other pending issues which we are still working on. Also, their finances have to match the government financial projections to determine whether the government will be able to give them the 25 percent as requested. Once their issue has been resolved, COLEPE will be called for a meeting to tackle the issue.

“We have had about two meetings with them. The first was on December 18, 2023, while the second one was on December 21, 2023 and the third was supposed to have been on January 5, 2024 which was postponed due to other pending matters,” she said.

On the other hand, Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) Principal Economist Retšelisitsoe Mabote said the Government of Lesotho has been battling financial challenges for a number of years.  He said the dire financial situation was compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and its fallout, along with the geopolitical tensions. He said as it is, Lesotho is amongst countries with the highest wage bill, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been calling the government to take that matter seriously.

“The wage bill is over 50 percent of recurrent budget, averaging 17 percent of GDP (32 percent of total expenditure). This means that other statutory expenses, such as public debt service, which is mostly in foreign currencies, takes the other significant pie, leaving very little for other services such as maintenance of infrastructure, plus construction/erection of the new ones, social services such as health and education.

“Demanding 25 percent under these circumstances is unreasonable, and may also lead to rising costs (inflation). Lesotho’s inflation is linked to what obtains in South Africa, and it has averaged just above five percent over the past five years. Food inflation contributes roughly 30 percent to total inflation. This means that we have enjoyed relatively low and stable inflation over the years,” he said.

Mabote added government revenue is dominated by Southern African Custom Union (SACU) receipts, part of which is supposed to finance development, but the government has been operating a budget deficit as expenses have been rising faster than revenue, and that means government debt has also been growing in response in order to finance the ensuing deficits.

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