Three factory workers shot at a demonstration

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Nthatuoa Koeshe

IN another brazen show of police heavy-handedness, officers in Maseru shot at protesters with rubber bullets at the Thetsane industrial area leaving three hospitalised.

The three injured men were rushed to Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital where they are being treated.

The victims were part of a group of protesters who gathered at the factories yesterday morning to demand salary increments. Hundreds of factory workers yesterday downed tools and blocked roads in the area prompting the police to fire rubber bullets to disperse them.

National police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said the police had no option but to fire rubber bullets at the protestors as they were blocking other employees from entering their companies’ premises.

“The men were fueling commotion at the factories and so police officers who were on site shot them with rubber bullets as that is what police officers use to control people in such situations,” Snr Supt Mopeli said.

The picketing workers were eventually dispersed by armed police officers.

National Union of Clothing and Textile Allied Workers Union (NACTWU) representative Sam Mokhele said they have proposed a 20 percent salary increment for workers, some of whom still earn as little as M2020 monthly. However, the employers have rejected the proposal and are instead offering a three percent increment.

It is the paltry offer which drove the workers into demonstrating yesterday.

He said they were now waiting for a meeting with the employers’ representatives to reject the three percent offer. The meeting with employers is penned in for tomorrow.

“The employers sent us a written counter proposal and so we will meet tomorrow (today) and table our issues in the hope that we will come up with a workable agreement,” Mr Mokhele said.

Last year, the factory workers also proposed a 20 percent increment for the 2020/21 financial year but it was turned down on account of strained cashflows on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year’s proposal was countering the 5, 5 percent offered by the government. The workers also rejected it.

And now they want the employers to award them 20 percent salary increments.

He said they have already given the employers a proposal for a 20 percent salary increment but will know whether or not the proposal will be adopted after today’s meeting with employers’ representatives.

“Last year we did not get any increment but we are still fighting to get it,” he said.

He said they have talked to the Ministry of Labour and Employment about the 2020 salary increments which factory workers never got and they also expect to get them.

Last year, textile workers rejected the government’s offer to increase minimum wages by between 4, 3 and 5, 5 percent and demanded a minimum of 17 percent.

Then Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo proposed only intervened after a deadlock in the tripartite negotiations among workers’, employers’ and government representatives in the Wages Advisory Board (WAG).

The WAG is a statutory body whose mandate is to advise the Labour minister on wage increments for the private sector among other things.

In the wake of Ms Rantšo’s intervention, a coalition of trade unions comprising of the United Textile Employees (UNITE), the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), the National Union of Clothing and Textile Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), Lentsoe La Sechaba Workers Union (LESWU), the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) and the Lesotho Wholesalers, Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU) had already announced that they had rejected the proposed minimum wage increments.

They also threatened to petition the then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to fire Ms Rantšo for incompetence.

 

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