MASERU — Trade unionist and politician Macaefa Billy says he wants to fight the Wages Advisory Board for serving the interests of employers and not workers.
Billy, who is the secretary general of the Factory Workers Union (FAWU) and the leader of the Lesotho Workers’ Party, told the Lesotho Times this week he will fight the Wages Advisory Board until it is reconstituted or it starts taking the workers’ plight seriously.
The board is chaired by the Minister of Labour and it is made up of labour representatives, employers as well as officials from the government’s labour department.
It was established to set the minimum wages for workers in the textile industry.
But Billy says over the years the board has been used to serve the interests of employers.
“The wages board does not exist for the benefit of workers,” Billy said.
“I am going to carry on fighting the Wages Board even after October 1, when the new minimum wages come into effect.”
“It is going to be a two-year plan to fight this wages board, because employers use it to exploit workers,” he said.
Billy’s remarks come on the backdrop of serious clashes that he had had with fellow trade unionists who are in the board.
The tug-of-war is between the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union (Lecawu) and Factory Workers Union (Fawu), two unions that have a history of bitter rivalry over membership and influence.
Billy has accused Lecawu of undermining workers’ interests by agreeing to a meagre wage increase for workers in the textile industry for 2011.
Billy said the fact that Lecawu has agreed to “such peanuts” is an indication that the Wages Advisory Board is being molested to benefit employers.
It’s difficult to understand how workers in the textile industry can survive when they are paid such “poverty wages”, he said.
As part of his fight Billy recently wrote to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) complaining about Lesotho’s wages board.
“The wages board does not consult workers properly and also does not consider the guidelines in the ILO Convention N0. 131 3 (a) and (b) while fixing minimum wage in the textile, garment and leather sector,” Billy states in a letter.
This convention stipulates that the determination of minimum wages must take into account “the needs of workers and their families and economic factors, including the requirements of economic development and high level employment”.
In his letter Billy alleges that employers had taken advantage of the weaknesses in the board and have refused to negotiate anything above the minimum wage with trade unions.
Currently a textile worker gets around M881 a month.
Billy says the wages board is likely to recommend a minimum wage of around M916 for the next financial year which starts in October.
Billy also accuses the government and employers of conniving to keep the minimum wage low.
The letter is copied to the Association of Lesotho Employers, Commissioner of Labour, Lesotho Textile Exporters Association and some manufacturing companies.
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