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Moleleki defends cheap labour

by Lesotho Times
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MASERU — Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki (pictured) says there is nothing wrong with the government allowing foreign investors to come and use Basotho’s “cheap labour”.

In fact he says cheap labour gives Lesotho a competitive advantage over other African economies.

He also believes that anyone who calls the use of “underpaid workers cheap labour is being defamatory”.

Moleleki made the controversial comments while addressing parliament on Friday after a Lesotho Worker’s Party (LWP)’s MP, Paul Qhasho, had asked what the government’s policy was on the use of cheap labour in the country’s factories.

Qhasho had said he was worried that textile companies were leaving South Africa to come to Lesotho because they say labour is cheap in the country.

He wanted to know if it was government policy to keep the lid on the minimum wage to attract foreign investors.

Moleleki, who was the government minister on the floor at that time, grabbed the opportunity and defended the government’s position on textile wages.

“This is good for us, it is something called competitive advantage,” Moleleki told the august House.

“We have to understand that an investor wants to make profit. We have to lure investors by telling them that electricity is cheap in Lesotho, water is also cheap and of course the minimum wage is the lowest.”

He said trade unions that encourage workers to go on strike for better wages were turning investors away.

“Let them leave South Africa and come to Lesotho so that all the people can get employment,” Moleleki said.

“After all the people are employed, we can then ask for a little wage increment but not equivalent to South Africa’s.”

Moleleki’s sentiments were shared by former trade minister, Popane Lebesa, who said trade unions have “brain-washed Basotho into believing that they are being exploited”.

“It is a competitive edge, that in Lesotho an investor pays low labour costs,” Lebesa said.

“We encourage investors to leave South Africa and come to Lesotho because we offer competitive wage rates.

“Even China itself managed to attract big investors using this very same method,” he said.

China is known worldwide for under-paying workers with its factories being described as sweatshops in international media.

Moleleki and Lebesa’s comments are unlikely to sit well with trade unions that have been complaining about Lesotho’s minimum wage which they have labelled “starvation wages”. 

The lowest paid textile worker in Lesotho gets M760.

In South Africa the lowest paid textile worker gets M2 500 but unions there want this figure reviewed upwards.

The increasing wage costs have forced many textile companies to shift base to Lesotho.

While their entrance into the local market has created more jobs for local people textile unions say the government is giving the companies a free ride by keeping the minimum wage low.

The government on the other hand says there must be a balance between the wage demands of workers and the need to ensure that Lesotho remains an attractive investment destination.

Lesotho’s textile industry is dominated by foreign investors of Asian origin and is notorious for underpaying workers.

Although the government has tried to implement tight controls to ensure conditions in the industry are better and the working environment is cleaner, workers and unions say the situation is still bad.

Workers complain that they are denied sick leave, their maternity leave days are arbitrarily cut short and that they are verbally insulted by their employers.

Others complain that their employers refuse to pay them for the extra hours they work to meet rising demand.

One person who was not impressed by Moleleki and Lebesa’s statements was the LWP deputy leader, Sello Maphalla.

He told the Lesotho Times in an interview that it was “an unfortunate thing that foreigners are invited to pay slave wages when they open businesses in Lesotho”.

“The LWP is of the opinion that our workers are being exploited in the textile factories,” Maphalla said.

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