Home News 1 200 fired over Christmas party

1 200 fired over Christmas party

by Lesotho Times

MASERU — A local garment factory that makes top American designer labels — Gap and Levi’s — this week dismissed its entire workforce of over 1 200 for holding a Christmas party.
Nien Hsing International Lesotho, a Taiwanese company in Maseru, said it had fired the workers for striking.
The employees, however, insisted they did not stage a strike but a Christmas party.
The company was earlier this year in the international news for allegedly dumping toxic waste in a stream near the factory.
Alarmed Gap and Levi’s officials conducted investigations into the allegations.
The workers last Friday held what they claimed to be a traditional year-end celebration at the factory by singing and dancing during lunch hour.
But the management, suspecting that the workers were striking, immediately sacked them, according to the workers.
The workers were handed letters showing that they had been fired for participating in an illegal strike. 
Malelingoane Moiloa, one of the dismissed workers, said their problems started when their year-end celebrations were in full swing during the lunch hour.
“This is what we do every year,” she said.
“In most cases the management actually partake in the celebrations but this year they turned against us.
“When we got back to work after lunch there was no power.
“Our management had switched off the power because they thought we were on strike.”
Moiloa said their attempts to allay the management’s fears of a strike failed.
“We continued singing because we could not work now that the power was off but we were not fighting,” she said.
“They took our pictures saying we were on strike.”
Moiloa said on Monday each worker received four letters from the management.
“They were first, second and final warning letters and summons,” she said.
“Then one of the mangers announced through a loudspeaker that we were all dismissed.”
Moiloa was one of the hundreds of workers who were picketing outside the factory on Tuesday.
But curiously, a few hours after they had all been fired and given their severance packages, about 1 000 of the workers were re-employed under new contracts.
Daniel Maraisane, the secretary-general of the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers’ Union (Lecawu) which represents most of the workers, confirmed that the employees had been fired.
He accused the factory owners of acting in the “most illegal way”.
“The employers said it was a strike but we know that this was a normal Christmas celebration that the management is well aware of and has participated in during previous years,” Maraisane said. 
He said the union was particularly angered by the way the factory owners had handled the dismissals.
“The workers told us that on Monday a worker would get their dismissal letter on one table and pick up a form for re-employment on the other table,” Maraisane added.
In the end, 200 workers were not rehired.
“It is illegal to fire workers without a hearing,” Maraisane said.
“It’s against labour laws to fire a worker at 11am and rehire them at 11:05am.”
Maraisane said the union believed Nien Hsing International Lesotho had targeted specific employees it wanted out of the company.
“There have been strikes at the company and we believe this was their way of getting rid of the bad elements that they thought were influencing others,” he said.
Maraisane said Lecawu was planning to lobby the American fashion companies Gap and Levi’s over the way Nien Hsing International Lesotho’s had treated its employees.
“We are telling them that this is how the company that makes their products treats its workers,” he said.
“They have clearly violated workers’ rights.”
Levi’s and Gap are particularly sensitive to the conditions under which their products are made.
Pressure groups and customers of such designer wear, especially in America and the West, usually push for boycotts of products made by companies that violate labour laws and environmental regulations.
“They breached the labour law and a memorandum of understanding that our union signed with them,” Maraisane said. 
“The agreement is that before they take any action against any worker they should first inform us.
“But this time they just dismissed the workers and they were not cooperative.
“We even asked the labour commissioner to intervene but she told us that she would not come unless she has been asked by Nien Hsing management.”
Efforts to contact Nien Hsing International Lesotho’s managing director Lin Chin Yi were fruitless as he was said to have gone to Taiwan for holiday.
An official at the company said the factory had closed for the festive season on Tuesday and will reopen on January 5.
Seabata Likoti, the deputy general secretary of the Factory Workers Union, which represents some of the fired workers, said they were going to fight the dismissals in January when the factory reopens. 
“It is unfair because they were not on strike,” he said.
“They were just celebrating as they normally do at the end of the year.
“We are going to take action in January because they are now on holiday.
“We told the Nien Hsing management that if they do not change their mind we are going to deal with them.
“The law states clearly that a person should be summoned before being dismissed.”
By Tuesday morning hundreds of distraught workers were milling around the main gate at the factory.

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