China Geo workers beg Labour Commissioner to intervene in labour dispute



Bereng Mpaki

THE Construction, Mining and Quarrying and Allied Workers Union (CMQ) has petitioned the Labour Commissioner in the Labour and Employment Ministry to intervene in a dispute between China Geo Engineering (CGC) and 20 of its workers.

The workers were retrenched by CGC last December with the employer citing a difficult financial situation.

However, the workers are alleging that they were unprocedurally retrenched and have now engaged CMQ to petition the Labour Commissioner to intervene.

CGC is the main contractor in the Monontša to Marakabei road construction project.

The dismissal letters were issued on the back of the workers’ demand for improved pay in December 2021, where they dragged CGC before the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR).

The workers wanted to be paid a minimum of M5000 monthly as an international wage standard as opposed to the domestic minimum wage standard currently at M2771 monthly.

The matter before the DDPR will be heard on 1 February 2022, and if the workers get their way, they will be allowed to strike to compel the company to give in to their demands.

A strike could potentially have a devastating impact on the progress of the road construction project, which is already behind schedule due to the intermittent Covid-19-induced lockdowns since 2020.

The construction involves tarring the dirt road. The works commenced in 2019 and are scheduled to be completed in 2023. The company employs an estimated 300 workers.

CGC was in 2018 awarded the M900 million tender by the government to construct the 60-kilometre road. The road will also form an international link between Lesotho and South Africa.

Upon receiving the retrenchment letters, the 20 workers promptly enlisted the services of CMQ to petition the Labour Commissioner, ‘Mamohale Matsoso.

CMQ secretary general Robert Mokhahlane, last month wrote to the Labour Commissioner last month saying the retrenchments were “procedural and substantially unfair dismissal in terms of the Labour Code (Codes of Good Practice) Notice 2003 section 19 (4) and (6) read with section 20 (1), (2) and (3)”.

“Some workers have been given letters of notice of retrenchment effective from 20 December 2021 without proper consultation prior to the notice. We therefore, request intervention to protect the workers’ welfare at work.”

Mr Mokhahlane this week accused CGC of trying to scare workers from fighting for their interests through retrenchments.

“Many employers resort to retrenching workers to discourage them from fighting for their rights, and CGC is employing the same strategy here.  However, we are determined to press on with the workers’ demands, and if possible we will have to embark on a strike for the employers to hear the workers.”

One of the retrenchment letters given to the CGC workers reads as follows:

“We are sorry to inform you that your employment with China Geo will be terminated effective from 20 December 2021. Due to the difficult economic situation, we are forced to lay off some of our staff. This was not an easy decision to make. Your performance has always been good and we are happy to work with you, unfortunately there is little that can be done,” CGC said in the letters.

On her part, Ms Matsoso said the workers should have instead they should have approached the DDPR with their grievances.

“Unfair dismissals are handled by the DDPR and not the Labour Commissioner’s office according to the law,” Ms Matsoso said.

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