Workers’ unions at odds, strike crumble

IDUL accuses NACTWU of seeking political gains

MATHATISI SEBUSI and NEO SENOKO

MASERU – Unions leading the currently suspended workers strike have failed to mutually act in the interests of their members leading to a fallout and exchange of accusations of betrayal.

Trade unions National Clothing, Textile & Allied Workers’ Union (NACTWU) and Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) have this week lashed out at each other over the collapse of the joint industrial action.

Since Monday this week, thousands of factory workers returned to work after the government announced that the increment’s gazette will be published on June 15. Some started going back to work as early as last week through the encouragement of their respective unions. The strike began on May 14.

Workers are demanding a 20 percent salary increase but employers say they can only pay a 6 percent increase. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has an impact in these negotiations as the industry has been severely hit.

The sector is one of the largest employers in the country, with around 50 000 people, mostly women employed. Orders from the United States (US) have dropped while the costs of procuring imported materials have risen. The textile workers accuse the government of insincerity in its dealings.

This, after its announcement during the protests that it has engaged the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to assist in dealing with the matter. Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro last week urged protesters to return to work as the gazette would be released in June.

NACTWU secretary general, Sam Mokhele, claimed speaking to Public Eye that factory workers returned to their respective jobs this week following an “IDUL false document to the workers through social media that articulated that the labour ministry will address their grievances on the July 16.”

He said the document showed that 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 gazettes will be published and workers’ arrears will be paid; a disclosure he said is untrue.

Mokhele noted that as unions they had decided that workers should continue with the strike until their grievances are addressed but that IDUL encouraged them otherwise.

He said after IDUL encouraged workers to go back to work, workers that were still on strike were given an ultimatum by employers to either go back to work or risk being fired.

He said after they discovered that majority of workers are back to work, and those that are on strike might lose their jobs, they also encouraged the group that was still on strike to return to work to avoid being fired, however noting that the strike has been suspended until June 16.

“Workers got confused after receiving documents through face book that were shared by IDUL. The documents noted that the 2020 -2021 and 2021-2022 gazette will be published and that workers will be paid their arrears.

“Since we knew nothing about the document, we consulted ministry of labour but no one was aware of such document,” Mokhele said.

He said even after finding out that the document was not legit, they could not continue with the strike while other workers were already back to work. “We told workers to go back to work but only until the 16th. If the gazette is not published or we are not satisfied about it, we will resume the strike.”

IDUL deputy general secretary, May Rathakane, on the other hand labelled as a lie the notion that they misled workers through the ‘said’ document. He argued the workers returned to work on a promise made by the prime minister – broadcast on national television and radio.

He said they understood his statement as binding, and an assurance that government will address their grievances. Rathakane pointed out that they, therefore, saw no reason for the workers to continue with the strike while the premier had committed before the nation that he will ensure that workers’ grievances are addressed.

He charged that NACTWU does not really have workers’ best interest at heart but “is using the workers to fight for its political interests.”

“These trade unions that are complaining about workers going back to work are not being sincere about their intentions. They have associated themselves with these new political parties and push their agendas at the workers’ expenses.

The document they are complaining about is the prime minister’s speech. Their argument is that it is not signed and they have none in their possession.

That is not the matter, we were also not given the statement, we found ways to get access to it and we believe that if they really wanted the statement, they too could have just approached the prime minister’s office and asked for one,” Rathakane said.

He noted that going back to work is a temporary measure and way forward will be determined by publishing of the gazette.

He further noted that they saw a need for workers to go back to work after receiving reports of workers that were struggling and unable to pay rent and cover their basic needs.

Meanwhile, NACTWU has vowed to deal with perpetrators who shot and killed two factory workers who were part of a series of protests over salary increases a few weeks ago.

One male protester was run over by a truck while a female colleague was gunned down by the army. One of the deceased was buried last weekend with the other’s funeral is scheduled for next weekend.

A group of other protesters were injured during the demonstrations which turned violent, coupled with the looting and destruction of several businesses in Maseru.

Trade unions have pledged that perpetrators will be dealt with in due course, as the fight over salary increase continues.

NACTWU) assistant secretary, Tšepang Makakole, shared in an interview that they will deal with all the damages after they are done with the salary issue.

“We are currently still in the process of fighting for the increase. Immediately after we are done, we will come to those who killed some of our members. We will deal with this matter aggressively when the time is right,” Makakole said.

Trade Unions that include National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), United Textile Employees (UNITE), Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA), Lentsoe la Sechaba Trade Union (LESWA), Construction, Mining and Quarry Trade Union (CMQ) and Lesotho Wholesale, Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU) demand publication of 2020 – 2021 and 2021 -2022 minimum wage gazettes.

They also demand the government to protect workers that are not covered by the minimum wage gazette, pointing out that failure to do so pose workers to prejudice and exploitation.

 

 

 

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