MASERU — A three-day strike by textile workers failed to end with a planned massive protest march yesterday after the police cancelled its authorising permit.
The textile workers, joined in solidarity by taxi operators, disgruntled youth fighting for continued tertiary education sponsorship and other civic organisations, had planned a huge march.
But the police on Tuesday evening announced that the permit for the demonstration had been cancelled.
The announcement was made after the workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area blocked roads with stones to prevent taxis from the anti-protest association, Maseru Star Taxi Association, from driving through.
For two days, police used water cannons and teargas to disperse the striking workers who had started burning rubber wheels and throwing gabbage onto the roads.
Yesterday the police arrested Daniel Maraisane who is president of the Lesotho Congress of Democratic Unions (LECODU) and the Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO) boss Mokete Jonase who were leading the strike.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha said he was not aware that the two union leaders had been arrested by police.
“I am not aware that the two have been arrested. I only know of seven men who were arrested on Monday for public disorder,” Masupha said when contacted for comment last night.
The government switched off four private radio stations for the better half of yesterday amid fears that the strike could spiral into violent protests.
TK FM, Mo Afrika, Harvest FM and PC FM only resumed broadcast at around 5 pm after having spent nearly seven hours off air.
Textile workers want the minimum wage in the sector to be reviewed from the current M900 to M2 020.
Employers have however said they cannot afford such a huge salary increase.
Thousands of factory workers in Maseru, particularly in Thetsane Industrial Area, on Monday downed tools to force their employees to raise their monthly salaries.
Only a few were seen going to work while multitudes gathered next to Thetsane textile factories singing protest songs.
The workers want their employers to enroll them in a provident fund, medical aid and funeral schemes.
They want to have fully paid maternity leave.
In addition, they demand that their employers compensate them when they contract diseases at work.
Puleng Theko, an employee in one of the factories, told this paper said she was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) two years after she started working.
Doctors told Theko, a tailor in a denim producing company, that the TB could have been triggered by her work environment.
“I was told that I inhaled something bad for my lungs. I was treated for TB. I also submitted the doctors’ papers to my employees to pay me. But even up to today I have not received a cent,” said Theko.
Another worker, ‘Matebello Poulo, said she has not been compensated for injuring her finger on duty.
“I accidentally cut my finger with a pair of scissors when I was cutting a cloth. I had to pay for my medical fees. My employers said I was careless and that they would not do anything for me,” Poulo said.
She was not given sick leave after the accident, she said.
“I brought along my signed sick leave papers but they refused to accept them. I was told that I would be replaced if a stayed at home,” Poulo said.
“We are tired of being slaves,” another employee said. “They should give us more money. The M900 they are giving us is just too little. Our government should tell these people to pay us better salaries.”
A coalition of trade unions, Factory Workers Union (FAWU), Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union (LECAWU), United Textile Employees (UNITE) and Lesotho Security Workers Union (LSWU) garnered solidarity support from the civil society, students, transport organisations and other business committees.
For three days MRTO members withdrew their vehicles from ferrying passengers.
Government was forced to release its vehicles to take people to their destinations.
Hundreds of government vehicles were brought from all over the country to help a small fleet of the Lesotho Freight and Bus Services buses to ferry workers to and from work.
The taxi operators are demanding a 100 percent fare hike.
Tertiary students want government to increase the education sponsorship funds and to enroll all tertiary students in the sponsorship programme.
Businesses, led by the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry, say government should stop foreigners from running small businesses and leave them for the locals.
The coalition said they will not stop protesting until Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili listens to their grievances.
LECODU secretary general Tšeliso Ramochela said it is high time government started making decisions that are good for the people.
Ramochela said government should review laws that regulate labour.
Bashing the government for not seriously regulating the textile industry that is dominated by Asians of Chinese origin, Ramochela said the workers are being exploited.
“Government has let the Chinese to do as they please. They abuse our people,” he said.
“Lesotho is one of the biggest garment exporters yet textile workers are the least paid. Have we completely lost our senses so much that we cannot make right decisions for our own people?”
Ramochela also said the government should allow civil servants to join unions.
“The issue of prime importance is that public servants should be able to join unions of their choice. The textile sector policy is bad. It should be reviewed.”