MASERU — A senior Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) official, Sam Mashinini, on Saturday lambasted factory owners in Lesotho for paying “pitiable” salaries to workers.
Mashinini, who is Cosatu’s provincial secretary general for the Free State province, said it was a shame that factory workers in Lesotho were earning salaries that were not “even a fraction of their South African counterparts”.
He was addressing about 1 300 workers at a Workers’ Day rally held at the Maseru Racecourse.
Cosatu is a trade union federation in a tri-partite alliance with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
The SACP was also represented at the rally.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Refiloe Masenene, did not attend the rally contrary to earlier reports that she would attend.
“An average worker in South Africa earns R2 400 (a month) while their Lesotho peers earn a paltry M700. That is not on,” said Mashinini to roaring applause from Basotho factory workers.
“Workers are being exploited. Your employers generate money at your expense.”
He said it was curious that factories were being shut in most parts of South Africa “only to be reopened in Lesotho.
“Factories are being shut down in South Africa, especially Botshabelo, only to be reopened in Lesotho where workers’ salaries are slashed.”
The Lesotho Congress of Trade Unions (Lecodu), Congress of Lesotho Trade Unions (Coletu) and Lesotho Trade Union Congress (LTUC) also attended the event.
Attendance by workers was poor and the procession leading to the Maseru Racecourse was weak compared to previous years.
Coletu’s secretary general Vuyani Tyali blamed the poor attendance on government interference and poor correspondence between Lesotho and South African trade unions.
Mashinini urged Basotho workers to avoid being “swallowed by shallow politics”.
“I have witnessed the abject poverty Lesotho has been plunged into. How do we deal with it?” he said.
“I urge you to please refrain from shallow politics and for once focus on your families’ livelihoods.”
Mashinini said he was tired of leaders who abused their positions within government structures by “mixing business with politics”.
“Once in power, leaders forget that the money they use to enrich themselves is actually your taxes. Why is it that leaders develop corrupt tendencies once they gain access to state funds?
“I mean tendencies that they never used in their families or had until they were handed the reins of power?”
“In South Africa we have announced that if one is a minister they should refrain from business activities. They should not be found to be mixing business with politics,” Mashinini said.
“They should not abuse the state by going into business. We have also called for lifestyle audits to bar politicians from enriching themselves using state funds and their political influence.
“The matter should seriously be looked into because it does not seem like this state of affairs will end anytime soon.”
According to Mashinini, the purpose of Cosatu’s visit to Lesotho was to sensitise the local factory and textile industry workers about their rights.
“The South African commissioner in Lesotho has urged Basotho workers to fight for their rights.
“We are establishing this friendship today so that we can together push for the realisation of your rights in the workplace.
“I have visited some of Lesotho factories and the working conditions there are not satisfactory. I am saying it and I do not care what anybody says,” Mashinini said.
Speaking at the same event, the SACP Free State secretary general, Phell Parkies, said that it was imperative that workers’ rights “are respected in the workplace”.
“If I was president, I would jail employers who force workers to work on this day (Workers’ Day),” Parkies said.
“Workers are being exploited worldwide. We as the SACP are fighting to ensure that workers are part of decision-making and not for their employers to make critical decisions on their behalf.
“The worst enemy to social progress and supreme justice of the revolution for workers and the poor is none other than corruption,” Parkies said.
Parkies said that since Workers’ Day was an integral part of workers’ struggle “trade unions should work as one”.
“Ensure solidarity between workers’ unions. Do not let people with money divide you. Fight for decent salaries for workers,” Parkies said.
Tyali said it was time that Lesotho and South Africa’s trade unions “forged a strong alliance”.
“Let us ensure that we establish a firm relationship which will benefit us all, to fight this government which prohibits workers from joining unions,” Tyali said.
“Our focus should mainly be on securing the rights of civil servants.
“We should also stop this business of factory owners shutting them down in South Africa and reopening them here for lower salaries.”
Tyali blasted workers unions that failed to attend the May Day rally and accused them of “receiving bribes”.
“Workers and unions who are not here today were bribed so that they could not join us for this occassion,” Tyali said.
The LTUC president, Martha Mosoang, said if workers wanted change “it can only be achieved through pain”.
“We will only ever see change in this country regarding workers’ rights through tears and bloodshed. Our tears and blood,” Mosoang said.
“If the law does not protect us we will simply opt to engage in a stay-away and petitions until they hear us.”