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Work conditions at Ha Belo Estate under spotlight

NEO SENOKO

MASERU – The lives of construction workers at the Ha Belo Industrial Estate in Botha-Bothe is in jeopardy as they operate under difficult conditions, with trifling income in return.

The government-owned project is being developed by the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), with Unik Construction Engineering as the main player.

Since the beginning of the project, one person has died after falling from the roof top but nothing has been done to address the precarious working conditions. This is according to the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) findings that were released last week.

The findings further revealed that workers are being underpaid without any consideration to their experience in their respective trades. Some earn as little as M2 309 per month although local and external labour experts had recommended a minimum salary of M5 000.

Politicians were found to be in the middle of these salary discontents, with reports showing that they discourage employers to pay decent salaries in line with Multinational Enterprise Declaration of 1977 and its amendment of 2006.

“Employers do not have any problem paying the suggested M5 000 but they claim that the government encourages them to underpay the workers,” CMQ General Secretary Robert Mokhahlane said during a recent media briefing.

In a letter to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, CMQ has called for his intervention and review of the salaries in the construction industry, among other concerns. But Majoro has not yet responded to the trade union’s requests.

“We want an unskilled labourer to be paid nothing below M5 000 in line with the Multinational Enterprise Declaration of 1977 and its amendment of 2006,” CMQ said in the letter. The union has further called for the establishment of a commission of enquiry which will oversee employees’ salaries.

Completion of the project has been moved to August this year and the M800 million project was supposed to have been delivered in January but is still 81 percent complete. It encountered a number of challenges mid-way through construction. Some of the hiccups were caused by resurveys and digital terrain modelling of the project site.

The Covid-19 pandemic also worsened the situation after construction activities were halted during the national lookdowns. Phase I of the project is scheduled to deliver 16 factory shells which are expected to employ over 14 500 people upon completion of the construction.

Subsequent phases of the project will create additional 41 000 jobs from 51 shells. With the current level of unemployment, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, the delayed completion of the project has further put on hold the creation of thousands of jobs.

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