Lesotho: Textile Workers Reject Wage Offer

TEXTILE workers have rejected the government's offer to increase minimum wages by 5, 5 percent.

They insist they want a 20 percent increment and they have vowed to stage a massive demonstration next Tuesday to force Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to fire Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo over the issue.

The workers had demanded a 20 percent increase in the 2020/21 financial year which starts on 1 April 2020 but they say Ms Rantšo only offered them 5, 5 percent.

Ms Rantšo also proposed minimum wage increments ranging from 4, 3 percent to 5.5 percent for other sectors and a 10 percent increment for domestic workers.

The minister only intervened after a deadlock in the tripartite negotiations among workers', employers' and government representatives in the Wages Advisory Board (WAG). 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) held a press briefing to announce that they had rejected the proposed minimum wage increments. They also vowed to petition Dr Thabane to fire Ms Rantšo for recommending wage increments which they said were not enough to cushion them against inflation.

"Our members have strongly rejected the minimum wage increase proposed by the minister," NACTWU representative Sam Mokhele said.

"The recommendations do not address the concerns of the workers who are earning wages that are below the poverty datum line. The wage increments are not enough to enable workers to meet their basic needs."

UNITE representative Solong Senohe said, "We are shocked that the minister has recommend rates that are lower than what the employers are prepared to pay. We wonder who the minister is actually protecting with this (5, 5 percent) proposal."

The unions also accused the minister of failing to addressing the shortcomings of the country's labour courts.

They said the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR), the Labour Court and Labour Appeal Courts were understaffed, under-staffed, underequipped and staff morale was at an all-time low.

Mr Mokhele said as result of the under-staffing and low morale, a labour dispute which is supposed to be resolved in 30 days ends taking as much a year to resolve.

"The DDPR is no longer fulfilling its mandate of speedily resolving disputes due to unproductive staff who are paid late. This demotivates them.

"Based on these concerns, we want to put it on record that we are unhappy and have decided to demonstrate on 10 March 2020. We have already applied for a permit to demonstrate against the minister

"We demand that the Minister of Labour and Employment be removed from the ministry with immediate effect due to the fact that she is incompetent. We demand a 20 percent wage increment for textile employees and 17 percent for other sectors for the 2020/2021 financial year. These increases will address workers' subsistence needs," Mr Mokhele said.

Last night, Ms Rantšo sent a WhatsApp message to this publication, saying she was out of the country on official business and would only comment on the workers' issues upon her return.

"I am currently out of the country on work assignment and will talk to you when I come back," wrote Ms Rantšo.

The 5, 5 percent proposed by Ms Rantšo is a fraction higher the 5 percent increase Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro proposed for civil servants when he presented the 2020/21 budget speech in parliament last Wednesday.

It is however, unlikely that the wage hike will increase the textile workers, civil servants and other employees' disposable real incomes. If anything, they are likely to see a reduction in their spending power after Dr Majoro announced a three percent increase in the tax on communications and a one percent increase in the electricity tax.

The oil levy has also been revised from 80 Lisente to 110 Lisente while bills have been drafted to facilitate the introduction of 15 percent and 30 percent levies on alcohol and tobacco products.

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