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Sun International workers to down tools  

by Lesotho Times

 

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

Sun International workers are set to embark on a month-long strike on Tuesday next week after failing to reach an agreement with management over an “acceptable” salary increase.

The workers had demanded a nine percent increase, while management could only offer five percent. Following the deadlock, the matter was referred to the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR), but still an amicable solution could not be found.

According to a DDPR document, of which the Lesotho Times has a copy, the workers’ representatives, National Union of Commerce, Catering and Allied Workers Union (NUCCAW), sought intervention on 29 October 2014. Sun International owns Lesotho Sun and Maseru Sun—two of the country’s swankiest hotels.

The DDPR document reads: “NUCCAW submitted that the workers’ wages should be increased by nine percent across the board. However, the hotel offered five percent with conditions that no meals and night transport would be availed for the workers as was previously the case.”

According to the document, NUCCAW had subsequently proposed 8.7 percent, then six percent, until the union came down to 5.7 percent.

However, the management agreed to 5.7 percent but on certain conditions.

The DDPR document adds: “Dispute arose where now the management outlined a three-year deal in which it pledged to offer 5.7 percent, 5.9 percent and 6.5 percent for the current financial year (2014-2015), next year (2015 – 2016) and third year (2016-2017), respectively, with conditions.

“The offer further changed to 5.7 percent; 5.9 percent guaranteed and provisionally 6.5 percent on condition that M7 million operating profit was achieved and 6.2 percent guaranteed and provisionally 7 percent on condition that M9 million operating profit is achieved.

“The said wage increment was offered across the board respectively as a three-year deal, and still keeping the free staff meals and night transport.”

But the workers rejected the deal, insisting after settling for 5.7 percent “as a compromise,” the increase should only apply for the current  financial year, while a new deal is negotiated in 2015,” one of the workers’ representatives told the Lesotho Times  this week, on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

The workers also told the Lesotho Times  they even sought government’s intervention but still there was no breakthrough.

Government, through the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) and Ministry of Finance, owns 53 percent shares in the hotel group, which currently employs 402 staffers. Sun International owns the remaining 47 percent shares.

However, Sun International has since sold its stake to Minor International Public Company (MINT), which takes over in February 2015.

MINT operates hotels in 20 countries under the Anantara, AVANI, Oaks, Per AQUUM Elewana and Four Seasons, St Regis, Marriott, Radisson Blu and Minor International.

Contacted for a comment yesterday, Sun International Area General Manager, Riaan Van Rooyen, said the hotel had contingency measures in place to minimise the effects of the strike.

“We are aware of the workers’ intention to go on strike starting Tuesday, 23 December. As management, we will apply provisions of the law and lock them out of the hotels’ premises with effect from Monday, 22 December, so that they don’t disrupt operations.”

According to Mr Van Rooyen, the workers initially demanded a 14 percent salary increase, which the company could not afford.

“The company could not afford to pay more than what we were offering. For the first time in four years, the hotels only made a profit of M1.4 million last year. Even the government, as a shareholder, has not been receiving its dividends since the 1990s, I think, because the hotels have been struggling.”

Mr Van Rooyen further noted the company had contingency plans to mitigate the effects of the industrial action, which is tentatively expected to end on 22 January 2015.

“Actually, only 53 percent of the staffers voted to go on this strike, while we will remain with 47 percent of the workforce. They have signed their names for reference, so it will be easy to identify which ones we will be locking out of the premises come Monday,” said Mr Van Rooyen.

Labour and Employment minister Keketso Rantšo, on the other hand, yesterday confirmed to the Lesotho Times  the workers had informed her of their grievances.

“I am aware that the workers are planning to go on strike; they brought their issues to me for intervention.

“I managed to meet them and their management at different meetings and I am still trying to mediate over this issue.

“Even yesterday, I think they met with our principal secretary because I was not available in office.

“I’m yet to be told what transpired in the meeting. But basically, we are trying to work out this issue so that we have a win-win situation. We would want to avoid that strike and hope a settlement will be reached before the workers down tools.”

 

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