Workers take wage fight to parliament

MASERU — Textile factory workers have requested parliament to urgently intervene and help improve their miserable working conditions and meagre wages. 

Workers from five textile firms wrote to parliament’s portfolio committee responsible for labour issues on Tuesday requesting an urgent intervention.

The workers, represented by the Factory Workers Union (FAWU) handed their letter of complaint to the officials at the National Assembly because the chairperson of the economic and development cluster which deals with labour issues, ’Mats’otetsi Mpesi, was not there.

The workers are from China Garments Manufacturers (CGM), Sun Textiles, C & Y Garments, Santikon and Tai Yuan. 

In their five-paged letter the workers said parliament should amend the Labour Code to include worker-friendly laws governing maternity leave, contributory burial schemes and reasonable wages.

They said a reasonable wage should be M1 500 per month.

Most textile companies pay below M900 per month.

The workers also appealed to parliament to ensure that no factory company refuses to implement the annual salary reviews once an agreement has been reached between the unions, textile companies and the government.

They say some firms did not increase their wages this financial year arguing that they were already paying above the minimum wage set by the current Labour Code Wages Order.

The minimum wage for a general textile worker is M741 per month. A machine operator earns M797 and a trainee machine operator gets M741.

The code says a trained textile machine operator with more than 12 months continuous service with the same company should be paid M839 per month. 

In the letter CGM workers accused their employer of not implementing the salary increase as agreed for this financial year.

They said management at CGM had indicated that the company was already paying way above the minimum wage.

 “All employers should be bound by the decision of the wages board,” reads the letter. “Our employer at the CGM has not honoured the nine percent increment decision saying he pays above the wage gazetted by the government.”

The CGM workers also told the parliamentary committee that they wanted their employer and the government to contribute towards their burial schemes.

The workers said they wanted government to contribute M100 monthly and the employer to pay M50.

The workers said they will contribute M25 towards the burial scheme per month.

They also want their working hours to be reviewed.

“Workers should start work at 8am and knock off at 4pm without changing their wages.”

Suntextiles workers complain that they do not have protective clothing and face masks.

“The Chinese (usually managers in the textile industry) habitually spit everywhere and we are at risk of being infected by air-borne diseases.”

The workers also accuse the Asian employers (mostly Taiwanese or Chinese from the mainland) of disregarding their religious beliefs.

 “When you are sick they ask you where is God because you are going to die.”

“They also disregard the Sesotho tradition of wearing a mourning cloth by a female worker.”

The C & Y Garment workers say parliament should ensure that wages are increased in April every year as is the norm with civil servants.

They also asked parliament to enact a law that will compel the trade minister to visit and inspect working conditions in factories twice a year.

Last year when the economic and development cluster consulted stakeholders in preparation for the current Labour Code Wages Order, FAWU raised a concern that workers in the textile industry were not earning reasonable wages.

FAWU recommended that conditions in the factories should be constantly revised.

Although the subsequent code has a provision for maternity leave FAWU insisted that it leave room for the exploitation of workers.

The union also pressed that there should be a security fund in case the factory operators disappear without paying severance packages. 

The Association of Lesotho Employers and Business (ALEB) told the committee then that a consensus had to be reached as to how the maternity leave could be paid.

The ALEB executive director, Thabo Makeka said FAWU came up with a suggestion that there should be a compulsory burial scheme in which the employee should contribute five percent and the employer seven percent.

He said all the parties had agreed to this principle except that a problem arose when it came to the issue of the administration of those contributions as it was indicated that it would affect only FAWU members.

As for the security measures to be taken against employers who run away, Makeka said it was not easy as some factory operators owned nothing in the factories and the factories belong to the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC).

Makeka said the machines used in the factories had been outsourced.

Workers from other firms are expected to hand in their letters of grievance soon, according to the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP), which is in alliance with FAWU.

LWP deputy leader Sello Maphalla told the Lesotho Times that more letters will be submitted to the parliamentary committee soon.

“That cluster has been resting for a long time but now it’s time for the workers to give them something to get busy for a change,” Maphalla said.

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