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Factory workers strike persists

…fear of losing jobs hits in
KABELO MASOABI

MAPUTSOE – Factory workers in Maputsoe remain in the dark as to whether or not to return to work, following their week-long demonstrations for improved wages. The workers want the government to release gazette for 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 salary increment. In 2018 they managed to negotiate a M2 120 minimum wage and now they want an increment of 12 percent from their initially proposed 20 percent.

“Although a directive from our factory said employees should report to work on Wednesday May 26, it is not clear as to whether or not the gazettes will have been released by then. For us who opted to continue working, it will be risky because many factories, with workers inside, were attacked by the protesters last week,” Mpefole Senatla who works for Letsema Factory told this paper on Monday.

Another worker, Selebalo Habojaloe, complained that he only received M450 as salary due to the strike that led to other working days being not paid for by the employer because he was absent from work. “I really do not know how my family is going to survive the coming month with commodities prices currently on the rise. My biggest fear now is being fired should the strike persist,” he said.

The Deputy General Secretory of NACTWU, Tšepang Makakole, has since shot down allegations doing rounds that some factory workers were fired after their week-long demonstrations. He said they are still waiting for feedback after the unions’ meeting with the Cabinet Sub-Committee, adding that there are no reports of any dismissed workers. Makakole agreed that if any workers lose their jobs now, that would be disastrous as most of them are going to earn less money due to the ongoing strikes.

“We are puzzled by the rumours but we know that there is no smoke without fire,” he said, adding that their strikes are still continuing until the release of the gazettes. “We will fight for our freedom and rights until we are heard, we cannot afford to be taken for granted forever,” he also said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro announced at  All Basotho Convention (ABC) rally in Ha Abia, Maseru, that he has ordered the wages committee to finalise the issue around the pending gazettes by Monday. The government has still not released the much awaited gazette for the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 salary increment for factory workers, in spite of the pledge made last week.

After the workers held a series of demonstrations against their low salaries which began on May 14, a Cabinet Sub-Committee met the workers unions last week Wednesday and promised that the workers’ grievances which include the release of the said gazette would be heard and addressed not later than Monday this week. The government made the pledge after appealing to the workers unions to temporarily halt the strikes while the issues at hand were being addressed.

But Makakole says despite the promise made, the government through the Ministry of Labour and Employment has not released the gazette like promised. He said during the meeting held on Monday, the unions were told that legal representatives of both the labour ministry and cabinet have advised against issuance of the gazette at this stage.

While the Minister of Labour and Employment, Moshe Leoma, was expected to make an official statement sometime on Tuesday Cabinet Sub-Committee chairman and Minister of Public Service, Motlohi Maliehe told the disgruntled workers later the same day that they should await a forthcoming meeting between their unions, the sub-committee and an invited International Labour Organisation (ILO) delegation to advise on the stalemate.

One thing was clear though, that the gazette the factory workers demanded would not be issued – leading to violent protests in both the Thetsane and Maputsoe industrial sites that night. There were several reports of demonstrations and attacks on Chinese owned businesses and some of the protesting workers were injured during ensuing run-ins with the police and the army. Several were arrested by police during the strike.

According to reports a male worker was admitted at Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital (Tšepong) with serious injuries on the groin area, after he was ran down by a hit and run lorry that lost control and plunged into the marching workers who had blocked the Thetsane road. In 2018 the factory workers managed to negotiate a M2120 minimum wage and now they want an increment of 12 percent from their initially proposed 20 percent.

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