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Lehakoe catering company workers lose jobs

by Lesotho Times
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…as CBL terminates contract

’Marafaele Mohloboli               

A TOTAL of 35 workers at STEM Catering Company, which was operating at Lehakoe Recreational and Cultural Centre, started the new year on a bad note after they lost their jobs following the premature termination of the company’s five-year contract by the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL).

The contract was expected to end in December 2021 but had to be terminated following a series of complaints from customers, who include CBL workers, over the poor standards of the food served. Operations were on a number of times, stopped to make way for improvements, before the final termination of contract on in November 2017.

It is understood customers were concerned that the menu was expensive and not commensurate with the price of M120.

The catering company workers were last Tuesday seen wrapping up operations, with many still in shock and pondering their next move.

On 28 November, the CBL management officially informed the catering company of the termination after it failed to improve its services in line with the recommendations issued by a team of health inspectors from the Maseru City Council.

In their report dated 16 August 2017, the health inspectors found the handling and management of food and preparation below the recommended standards. The inspectors raised concerns over the environment where food such as meat was stored and the preparation area which was also unhealthy, according to the Public Heath Order No.12.

This poor handling of food automatically raised concerns over the fitness for human consumption of the meals that were served at Lehakoe.

The health inspectors ordered the management to remedy the situation within seven days, leading to the company destroying a large consignment of spoiled meat estimated to be worth over M10,000, in line with provisions of the Public Heath Order.

A variety of meat destroyed included a pork carcass which was spoiled, 60 kilograms (kg) of sausage, 10 bags of chicken quarter legs, 20 kg fat, 23 x 10 kg bones, 6 kg sausage, 5 kg lamb chops, 16 sheep heads, 6 x 10 kg trotters, 6 x 1 kg chicken breast, 6 packets drumsticks, 2 packets cocktail cocktail sausage, 4 x 1 kg bacon, 1 x20 kg box tongue and 5 kg fish.

Findings by the health inspectors raised a red flag on the need for regular inspections to protect consumer rights and protection against bad business practices in the food sector.

The findings of the inspection at Lehakoe showed that the floor of the cold room was dirty while the storage area for various types of meat was not appropriately stored. Some pork carcasses were placed on the dirty floor and some on bare pallets.

Although the fridges were well covered with lids, compartments of meats, vegetables and spices were not kept in an orderly manner and mixed-up, creating a risk of cross contamination.

The inspectors also recommended the removal of a washing machine from the kitchen explaining that its location was inconvenient as it was likely to cause hazardous risks during food preparation on the working table which was adjacent.

Regular cleaning and disinfecting of the entire storage room and floor was recommended, in addition to improving the arrangement of food in storage facilities.

Following the recommendations, the catering company improved its services for a few weeks before the service plunged back again to below standard.

The CBL management issued a letter to the company’s Managing Director Elizabeth Skinner, raising serious concerns over the risk of food poisoning to which staff and the public were exposed to resulting from unhygienic conditions under which food was stored and prepared at the Club House.

Serving of food was stopped some weeks before November to allow for improvements before business resumed.

However, the company could still not sustain acceptable standards leading to the termination of the contract in November.

Some affected workers expressed their dissatisfaction at how the matter was handled, arguing a notice of termination of their contracts was not issued to prepare them for such an eventuality.

“We have been told that we are not going to get any terminal benefits, although we hear some workers are going to be retained. We are not sure under what arrangement is that going to happen,” one of the workers said.

The same fears and uncertainty was shared by many of the workers who spoke to the Lesotho Times. Most of the workers said they were not sure how to manage the situation, particularly because they had financial commitments.

“We had made commitments, borrowed some money based on the timeframe of the contract and now where do we go from here? No one has addressed us, so we are considering seeking assistance from the courts to get some answers,” one of the workers said.

Contacted for a comment, the operations manager of STEM, Mr Tšiu Shale said he was declined to comment and instead referred all questions to the Managing Director Ms Elizabeth Skinner.

Ms Skinner advised the Lesotho Times to contact one of the Directors, Peete Lerotholi.

Mr Lerotholi could also not comment on the matter. “At the moment we are not in a position to comment, maybe after a few days we will be able to address your questions,” he said.

CBL Public Relations Manager, Mr Ephraim Moremoholo said he was on leave and would consult the management on the issue for a comment when he returns to work.

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