China Geo workers suspend strike

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Bereng Mpaki

CONSTRUCTION workers in the Marakabei to Monontša road project will today suspend their strike to give their employer a chance to address their salary hike demands.

The workers downed tools on Tuesday and Wednesday in protest over their unmet grievances including demands for salary increments from their employer, China Geo Engineering Corporation (CGC).

Represented by the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied workers Union (CMQ) in the wage dispute, the workers last November petitioned the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) to compel their employer, China Geo Engineering Corporation (CGC), to address their grievances.

Among others, the workers want to be paid a minimum of M5000 per month in line with what they describe as the international wage standard for their sector as opposed to their current M2771 wages which they say only conform to domestic industry standards.

CMQ approached the DDPR on 3 November 2021 and was heard on 15 February 2022. There was no agreement between the two parties.

The union then expressed its intension to embark on an industrial action.  About 132 employees voted in favour of the strike on 11 February 2022 while 22 voted against it. Only 154 of the company’s 300 workers participated in the voting process.

CGC was in 2018 awarded the M900 million tender by the government to construct the 60-kilometre road, which will also establish another link between Lesotho and South Africa.

The construction involves upgrading the dirt road surface to bitumen. It commenced in 2019 and is expected to be completed next year.

“Kindly take notice, that our union members from CMQ intend to embark on a legal strike with effect from the 15 March 2022 at 7am until we reach an agreement,” the workers said in their notice a fortnight ago.

In response, CGC last Thursday filed an urgent application in the Labour Court attempting to block the industrial action. However, the application was thrown out because the matter was yet to be concluded by the DDPR.

In the court papers, CGC is the applicant while CMQ, arbitrator Ntšang Pitso and officer commanding Butha-Buthe police station are first to third respondents respectively.

Among its prayers in the Labour Court, CGC wanted CMQ and its members to be interdicted from striking. The company also wanted the court to declare the strike illegal.

In his founding affidavit, Xiao Zhang, the CGC managing director said: “I must intimate that the applicant cannot accede to any of the first respondent’s demands because the employees entered into the employment contracts well aware of the terms of contract and they cannot now seek to enforce change of terms of contract via threats of strike”.

“Secondly, the very said contracts are due to expire in a month’s time therefore this exercise of engaging in an industrial action will serve no purpose but to frustrate the project which is already behind schedule.”

CMQ secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, said yesterday the strike had gone ahead after the CGC application was dismissed by the Labour Court.

He said there was no work on the construction site on Tuesday and Wednesday as a majority of the CGC workers had embarked on the strike.

He said following the commencement of the strike, the workers and CGC met in the presence of government officials and agreed to indefinitely suspend the strike while talks continued.

“We have agreed to suspend the strike from tomorrow (Thursday) until further notice provided talks on the workers’ grievances take place,” Mr Mokhahlane said.

He said the workers have also agreed to give CGC two months to address their grievances, failing which the strike would resume.

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