. . . sparks tug-of-war between govt and unions
MASERU – Ministry of Labour and Employment has expressed concern over what it called a failure by trade unions to differentiate between a minimum wage increment and a salary increment.
The ministry has said this confusion leads misinformation among workers that the ministry has to offer them a minimum wage increment every year.
This was said by the public relations officer at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mamolise Falatsa. She said the minimum wage is the minimum income threshold below which no worker should be paid and the ministry ensures that no worker is paid less than the minimum wage at all costs, adding the minimum salary increment can be revised when the ministry sees the need.
Falatsa noted that what trade unions are currently fighting for is a salary increment, which has nothing to do with the ministry but is between the employer and the employee.
“We try several times to explain minimum wage increment, which is the lowest remuneration that employers can legally pay their employees. Now trade unions are misinterpreting the whole situation, giving workers false hope that the ministry has to increase their salaries every year.
“Yes, salaries can be increased, but it is a matter between the employer and employees. The two parties can sit down and negotiate salary increments, not us,” she said.
She said this after trade unions threatened to disregard Public Health (Covid-19 Risk Determination and Mitigation Measures) Regulations of 2021 and go on an industrial action to force the minister of labour and employment to publish a minimum wage increment gazette.
According to Public Health (Covid-19 Risk Determination and Mitigation Measures) Regulations of 2021 industrial action (picketing, protests and demonstrations) is prohibited.
Commenting on the matter, Falatsa noted that they are aware of the trade unions’ plans to deliver a petition to the labour minister and Prime Minister. She, however, noted that the decision by trade unions surprised because last week the trade unions were in a meeting with the Wages Advisory Board discussing issues pertaining minimum wage increments.
Falatsa said the action shows lack of patience by the trade unions.
She said what is even surprising is that trade unions are members of the Wages Advisory Board and progress and decisions made by the board depend on the whole team, trade unions included.
Speaking on workers’ demands, General Secretary at Voice of Workers Union, Monaheng Mokaoane said they have already applied for a permit to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour and Employment and will not be stopped by any law or regulations to ensure that their grievances that have been pending for years are addressed.
Trade Unions that include the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), the United Textile Employees (UNITE), the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA), Lentsoe la Sechaba Trade Union (LESWA), the Construction, Mining and Quarry Trade Union (CMQ), and the Lesotho Wholesale, Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU) allege that due to the ministry of labour’s negligence, workers have not been given their minimum wage increments for financial years 2020 – 2021 and 2021 – 2022.
General Secretary of the National Clothing, Textile & Allied Workers’ Union (NACTWU), Sam Mokhel, said they are unhappy with not being given a minimum wage increment for the said years while the Wages Advisory Board completed its business on 24 March, 2020.
As a result, he said, they demand that the minister of labour and employment should issue a gazette on minimum wage increment for the years in question with immediate effect or risk workers boycotting jobs and going on an industrial action.
He said after delivering the petition, they will advise themselves on a way forward if their grievances are not addressed.
Trade unions also expressed concern over how the DDPR, the Labour Court and the Labour Appeal Court’s operates, claiming that the courts have not being handling their case fairly as they are not ensuring that the minister of labour passes the labour code order that was reviewed in 2006.
They also demand that the government protects workers that are not covered by the minimum wage gazette, pointing out that failure to do so exposes workers to prejudice and exploitation.
“We are very unhappy that the Minister and Ministry of Labour and Employment are not passing the reviewed Labour Code Order since 2006 to date. We demand that the minister fast tracks the assurance of the Bill as it is beneficial to the workers, employers and the country as a whole.
“We are also not happy that the government is not doing its obligation of protecting workers that are not covered by the minimum wages gazette. On several occasions we have presented before the wages board new sectors as we have realised that workers are being prejudiced by this but every time government is not adhering to any of our proposals,” trade unions noted.
This comes after finance minister Thabo Sophonea in his budget speech noted that overall economic growth is estimated to decline to 5.8 percent of GDP in 2020/21 before rebounding in the medium-term. He said the growth trajectory is underpinned mainly by agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and construction sectors.
Sophonea noted that the manufacturing sector is set to record a disappointing growth of 14.2 percent in 2020/21, with textiles, clothing, footwear, and leather expected to contract by 18.6 percent due to disrupted supply chain and demand side shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The reduction in factory activity has led to huge cost cutting measures employed by firms. These measures have led to a decrease in employment of 3.5 percent in the first quarter of 2020/21, while on average 7.3 percent of the jobs have been lost to date.
“In 2021/22 the sector is expected to recover to 4.6 percent before growing at an annual average rate of 5.3 percent in the medium-term.
“This growth will be supported by the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine which will supposedly improve global economic outlook, particularly the recovery in US and RSA,” he said.