PRODUCTION came to a standstill in the garment factories this week after workers embarked onto an indefinite nationwide strike over their demands for salary increases.
The workers want the government to gazette a 20 percent salary increase for the 2021/22 financial year to cushion them against the sharp increase in the cost of living.
On Monday and Tuesday the police were forced to deploy water cannons and fire rubber bullets to disperse rioting workers in the Thetsane Industrial area. The protestors had blocked traffic for hours.
Workers who had reported for duty were turned back home as their striking colleagues drove them out of the factories forcing employers to suspend operations on Monday.
The riots continued on Tuesday with the police fighting running battles with the demonstrators who were barricading roads. The demonstrators used rocks, demolished streetlight poles, logs and rubbish bins to block traffic in Ha-Thetsane, Qoaling and Ha-Tikoe.
While workers stayed out of work in Maseru’s industrial areas, the situation was tranquil yesterday.
The strike started on Friday with protests being reported in Maputsoe. While most workers did not report for work on Friday in Maseru, the protests only turned violent this week.
The workers also want the government to gazette a new minimum wage in retrospect for the 2020/21 financial year since they were not awarded salary increases that year.
The minimum wage for different industries is determined by the Labour and Employment Ministry through the recommendations of the Wages Advisory Board (WAB).
The WAB is made up of workers, employers and government representatives. It sits annually to determine the minimum wage adjustment for various private sector employees considered vulnerable.
The workers and employers this year failed to agree on the rates by which to adjust this year’s minimum wage standards. Now the ministry must intervene by determining the rates in consultation with the public.
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Samuel Mokhele, the secretary general of National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), told the Lesotho Times that the strike would continue until the government has issued gazettes for both the 2020/21 and 2021/22 financial years.
He said other labour unions participating in the strike are United Textile Employees (UNITE), Lentsoe la Sechaba Workers Union, Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA), Construction, Mining and Quarrying Workers Union (CMQ) and Lesotho Wholesalers, Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU).
“We will continue the strike until the government has addressed our grievances,” Mr Mokhele said.
“We want the government to issue the 2020/21 minimum wage gazette reflecting a 5, 5 percent wage increase as per the ministry’s recommendation and the 20 percent adjustment we want for 2021/22 financial year.”
Mr Mokhele said their Friday protests were largely successful with all factories being closed in Maputsoe while a few were open at the Thetsane industrial area. He said only one factory was open at the Maseru industrial area.
He said there was confusion which led to some workers reporting for work on Friday despite the call to stay at home.
Tours of the industrial areas in Maseru yesterday revealed that all factories were still closed and a few scattered people were milling outside the factories under the watchful eyes of the heavily deployed police officers.
“The initial plan was to hold a march to petition the Prime Minister but we were only informed last week our application to stage the march had been declined. So, we had to change our plans on short notice.
“We could not therefore, get the information to our members in time because last Thursday 13 April being a public holiday. So, there was some confusion among the workers the message that they should not report for duty last Friday.”
On its part, the Labour and Employment ministry said in a Monday statement that Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro had formed a sub-committee of ministers to address the workers’ grievances. The ministry said the subcommittee would meet with the workers’ unions and employers’ representatives yesterday to communicate cabinet’s decision on the matter.
“The subcommittee will meet the employer organisations and trade unions on 19 May (yesterday) to discuss cabinet’s decision on the matter and to find a lasting solution.
“In the meantime, the trade unions and workers in general are requested to refrain from the ongoing illegal industrial actions, to enable the planned discussions to proceed,” reads the statement.
However, yesterday workers still did not report for duty.