Govt, civil servants on collision course over salaries

Lesotho Times
8 Min Read
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

GOVERNMENT and civil servants could be on a collision path after the government indicated that it would only be able to meet the civil servants’ demands for salary increments only “if investment and economic growth increase significantly”.

Civil servants who include teachers, magistrates and the police have been on the warpath, threatening to bring service delivery to a halt if government did not award them salary increments.

However, Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, recently told the Lesotho Times that the economy was “struggling” and “everyone will be paid in line with what the Lesotho economy can carry”.

Three weeks ago, magistrates went on an unprecedented strike to press the government to award them salary increments, allowances and improve their working conditions. Although the magistrates returned to work a fortnight ago, the situation remains tense as the two parties continue meetings aimed at finding solutions to the magistrates’ demands.

Teachers have also advised the government of their intention to go on a month-long strike from 2 August to 2 September this year “until the government has addressed our grievances”.

The teachers’ grievances include the payment of outstanding salaries and allowances.

The teachers want the government to pay them salary arrears on their performance-based contracts dating back to 2009. They also want the government to pay salaries that are commensurate with their academic and professional qualifications as well as weed out ghost workers from the payroll.

They also want Minister Rapapa to sack the  Chief Executive Officer of the Teaching Service Department, ’Maselloane Sehlabi, who they accuse of maladministration and being a stumbling block to negotiations between them and the government.

The teachers’ proposed strike comes on the heels of a recent unprecedented strike by magistrates who abandoned the courtrooms to press the government to award them wage increments, higher salaries and improve their working conditions.

Three weeks ago, thousands of workers converged at the Moshoeshoe 1 monument in Maseru where they delivered a petition to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane demanding salary increments for all workers.

The protestors, who comprised of factory employees, security guards and general workers from the retail and catering sector, want a 15 percent increment for all workers. They are also demanding a general minimum wage of M2000 for factory workers.

The workers also demanded that Dr Thabane sack Labour Minister, Keketso Rantšo, who they accuse of neglecting their welfare concerns.

Besides these workers, nurses and the police also want wage increments. In an unprecedented move in April this year, the police even applied for permission to march and petition Dr Thabane over their demands for a six percent salary increase.

And with the teachers vowing to indefinitely extend their strike until their demands are met, a showdown with government is in the offing after Finance minister Moeketsi Majoro recently said that the economic situation was precarious and wages could only be increased when investment and economic growth increased significantly.

Dr Majoro said government employees will be paid according to the performance of the country’s economy.

“We wish to acknowledge that everyone has a right to negotiate compensation with their employer,” Dr Majoro said.

“Each case is treated differently and one cannot speculate on the realm of possibilities. In the end, everyone will be paid in line with what the Lesotho economy can carry. For employment and wages to increase, investment and economic growth must increase significantly,” Dr Majoro said.

Dr Majoro however, stressed that the investment and the resultant economic growth would only be possible if the coalition government created an enabling environment where there was political and macroeconomic stability.

“For that (wage increments) to happen, government must ensure both political and macroeconomic stability and then successfully sell Lesotho as an investment destination of choice. Without these prerequisites, the Lesotho economy will struggle for years to come,” Dr Majoro added.

Dr Majoro also told this publication in May this year that the economic situation remains precarious as international investors’ skepticism about the government’s ability to last its five-year term have affected the country’s ability to attract new investments.

He said the government had its work cut out in restoring confidence and growth as it inherited a weak “post conflict” economy where there was only M1, 5 billion in the reserves down from M3, 5 billion in the 2015/2016 financial year.

“In a sense you could call 2015/16 a period of conflict. It was a period of confusion and divisions in society and now we are under-going a post-conflict situation where trust is slowly being restored but it will not happen in an instant,” Dr Majoro said.

“We have been in power for several months and we realise that restoring investor confidence is going to take longer than we thought. I didn’t know this at the beginning and I just thought things would revert to normal like switching on a light.

“The first thing that happened when we came in was the investors saying, ‘it is great that you are here and things have changed. We are no longer fearful and that’s good. But are you really going to survive the next five years?’ So now it becomes a situation where they say, ‘we will watch you. Let’s wait and see before we put our money in’.

“This (fence-sitting by the investors) is what we are currently experiencing. I had informal discussions with some investors and they said that the change of government was powerful but for them to dig into their pockets, they need guarantees that the government will survive for five years. So, they are saying, ‘demonstrate to us before we do anything’,” Dr Majoro said.

If the government were to give in to the civil servants and other workers’ demands and award them salary increments, this could set the government on a collision course with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Four months ago the IMF painted a bleak picture of Lesotho’s short-term economic prospects characterised by slower than expected growth on the back of a “steep decline” in Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenues and high government expenditure particularly on salaries for civil servants.

It recommended tough fiscal measures to mitigate the effects on the economy. Chief among these is the need for the government to reduce the high public wage bill, undertake public financial management reform as well as implement the multi-sector reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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