MASERU – While it is clear that nobody should be forced to take a Covid-19 vaccine in the country, Ever Unison Garment, a clothing manufacturing firm of Maputsoe in Leribe, has been coercing its employees to take the vaccine or face retrenchment. The company operates in retail services, packaging solutions, industrial services, steel products, clothing and accessories as well as plastic products, among others.
Ever Unison has been undertaking these illegal acts as part of legitimate health measures to ensure safety at the workplace as production continues. But the conduct has been put on hold, thanks to the intervention of the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU). Many workers who did not want to be vaccinated were forced to take the jab for fear of losing their jobs in an already difficult economic environment exacerbated by the pandemic.
There are many reasons why people may object to being vaccinated. For some, religious beliefs do not allow them to take vaccines while others simply have medical reasons which prevent them from being vaccinated. But there are some who are plainly afraid to take the jab. After learning about the forced vaccinations, NACTWU was quick to warn the firm to refrain from such acts. The trade union also blew the whistle to both the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the health ministry.
“We were told that employees were threatened to be fired if they refuse to take the vaccine. Knowing that it was against the law to do that, we took the responsibility and notified the ministries of health and that of labour to deal with the matter. The good thing is at that time, no one had been fired yet,” NACTWU Secretary General, Sam Mokhele, said in an interview.
In June while receiving his second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro admitted that the vaccine is voluntary adding, however, that it is important for every Mosotho to get vaccinated to lower the risks of dying from the pandemic.
“I wish to implore the Ministry of Health, working together with its partners including the Lesotho Private Sector, to expedite the vaccination programme so that all Basotho in the country and South Africa are fully vaccinated by Christmas,” said Majoro further reiterated earlier this month when receiving the first vaccine shipment from the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust. The Prime Minister has just completed two weeks of self quarantine after testing positive for the pandemic fortnight ago. Vaccination of factory workers began a few weeks ago, with many expressing their excitement for finally receiving the vaccine.
With the ongoing economic challenges in the textile sector, which have seen many people losing their jobs, it has become increasingly difficult for workers to refuse the jab for fear of losing their jobs. Just recently, Nien Hsing International, a denim wear manufacturing company began the process of retrenching around 2 500 employees as it prepares for a complete shutdown. The negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and disruptions in the supply chains have been identified as the main reasons for such huge job losses.
The Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) has expressed its concern in respect of the downscaling of operations by key players in the sector, which resulted in considerable job cuts. Following engagements with these companies, the LNDC revealed that, among other things, the companies cited a deteriorating investment climate as another major factor which affected them negatively.
As a result, LNDC has initiated negotiations with key stakeholders to jointly address issues that negatively impact the investment climate. The corporation has also resuscitated the Inter-Ministerial Task Team (IMTT), which is a high level problem-solving forum led by the Minister of Trade and Industry to address investors’ grievances. The main objective of the task team is to facilitate collaboration with key stakeholders to improve the investment environment to restore investor confidence.