Where are the trade unions?

HISTORICALLY factory workers have had it tough since the days of the Industrial Revolution in Europe.
Factory work has always been associated with long hours, apart from the monotonous and back-breaking tasks.
But granted a lot has changed from the days when industrialisation began in Europe in the 1800s.
The advent of powerful trade unions did a lot to improve the welfare of factory workers.
This is why we are shocked by reports of gross abuse and neglect of workers in our factories here in Lesotho.
It would appear that there are factory owners in Lesotho who are still locked in the past.
These bosses appear bent on either resisting the positive changes that have taken place at the shop floor or reversing the gains of factory workers.
We want to expressly condemn these factory owners.
As reported in our story, factory workers in Lesotho are still being subjected to long working hours.
Workers allege they start work at 7am and only knock off at 5pm. The pay is miserable.
They bitterly complained about the poor working conditions and starvation wages they earn.
Some claimed they earn a paltry M650 a month, an amount that is way below the poverty datum line which stands at M1 200 a month.
Workers also complained that even when they work overtime they are not rewarded for the extra effort.
Others complained that they have worked for years without getting a pay rise in recognition of their hard work.
The situation is particularly shocking for women who constitute about 80 percent of factory workers in Lesotho.
Those that are “unfortunate” to fall pregnant are not having it easy either.
Some factory bosses refuse to allow these women to take maternity leave in violation of the country’s labour laws.
Fearing to lose their jobs these women hang in there even when they are a few weeks away from giving birth.
Others who confided in our reporter said there was a culture of fear in the factories.
Workers feel so terrorised that they can hardly raise a finger. As a result they suffer in silence.
Workers also complained that they were being treated as casuals even when they have worked for the same company for years.
There is no job security for these workers as they can be summarily dismissed when they are caught on the wrong side of the law.
This is not the first time that factory workers have raised these concerns.
Our gripe is that nothing is being done at government level to address factory workers’ grievances.
The government must set up an inquiry into the conditions of service for factory workers.
If these allegations are verified it would be clear that factory owners are in violation of international labour regulations.
The Labour Code of 1992 was designed to protect workers. But there is a huge gulf between what the law says and what happens in practice.
Besides, there is a perception that the labour code is heavily tilted in favour of the foreign investor at the expense of the worker.
It is a fact of life that most of these factories are run by the Chinese and Taiwanese.
We are not being xenophobic when we raise these concerns.
We will be the first to acknowledge the important role played by the Chinese in developing infrastructure and creating jobs in Lesotho.
What we refuse to do is to accept arguments by factory owners that they created jobs for Basotho and therefore should be allowed to flout the country’s labour laws with impunity.
That argument would be highly superfluous.
It is the role of the government to ensure the health and safety of workers is not compromised in the employer’s pursuit of profits.
We would want to see the government crack the whip in ensuring that the rights of workers are fully protected and defended.
While the worker continues to be marginalised in factories we ask: where are Lesotho’s trade unions?
The current crisis in the factories in our humble opinion reflects what is seriously wrong with our trade unions.
How do these trade unions allow these injustices to be done under their noses?

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