Lesotho: Ace Speaks On Wage Subsidy

African Clean Energy (ACE) company should be commended for paying its employees during the Covid-19 lockdown period without any production, co-founder of the company, Alice Troostwijk has said.

Ms Troostwijk said this in an interview with the Lesotho Times on Tuesday.

Her statement comes on the back of a strike action by her company's staff demanding that the company releases the M800 government subsidies meant for factory workers.

The government announced in April this year that it would give each of the country's 50 000 factory workers M800 subsidies for three months. The subsidies are meant to cushion factory workers during the period where production would be affected by the Covid-19 restrictions.

The subsidy programme is operated through the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), which releases the money to the employers. Two disbursements have been made so far with the last being made last week.

ACE employees last week downed tools demanding that the company releases their subsidies which it was withholding.

And on Tuesday Ms Troostwijk said her company only withheld the funds because the workers had been paid from the company's coffers throughout the lockdown period. Therefore, there was no need to continue relaying the wage subsidy to the workers when the government released it.

She said the workers were now back at work after understanding the company's actions.

"The wage subsidy issue has been resolved and our workers are now back at work," Ms Troostwijk said.

"We held lengthy discussions with the workers last week and they understood that they were wrong to embark onto an illegal strike without any permit."

Instead of vilification, she opines that her company should be commended for paying the workers their full salaries during while they were not working.

"We have done an exemplary job of continuing to pay the workers while they were not working whereas most companies have adopted a no work no pay policy... "

She said her company was also struggling on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sales have been reduced while it is challenging to obtain imported inputs on time.

"Covid-19 has hit us hard. We import components of the stoves such as batteries, fans from China, and their delivery has been delayed. We are running out of components as a result of the delays.

"We could not sell anything during the lockdown period and our income has dwindled. The situation has slightly improved but it's still far from normal."

She said so dire is their financial situation that they are now hoping to secure funding from investors.

"We are doing our best to keep going but it will depend on how long the Covid-19 situation lasts. It is difficult to talk to investors because of the uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic."

ACE manufactures cooking stoves that come with phone charging ports and home lighting. One of the products, ACE One, is touted to be fuel efficient and smokeless, which makes it environmentally friendly and favourable for household use.

The company was set up in Lesotho in 2012 and employs 130 people.

"The ACE one stove is proudly manufactured here in Lesotho. It is a biomass hybrid energy system which is for cooking. It burns any type of biomass from little twigs, cow dung or corn cobs and in a very efficient way because it has got a fan driven by a battery inside.

"The battery is charged by a solar panel. The stove uses 70 percent less fuel compared to an open fire and is smokeless.

"Smoke kills many people around the world annually from household smoke pollution. So, this stove is clean, efficient and saves money, health and the environment by cutting less trees and soil erosion and greenhouse emissions."

She said stove is ideal for rural households that have no access to electricity as they do not need to purchase candles or paraffin.

The stove costs M1 760 and buyers pay M260 deposit. The rest will be settled in M150 instalments over 10 months.

"This is a bright technological product of high quality and it is expensive, which is why we sell it on credit. People pay a deposit and pay the rest of the money in installments while already using the product."

The company is planning to introduce an upgraded version of the stove which will come with a smart phone. The phone will have an application that will allow the manufactures to monitor the usage of the stove wherever it is.

"The smartphone will allow us to monitor the usage of the stove wherever it is. We will also be able to track down defaulters."

The company also sells pellets to fuel the stove for buyers who do not have access to firewood.

With presence in Uganda, Cambodia, United States and New Zealand, the company also employs people living with disabilities.

In Lesotho it also runs a football team, ACE Maseru FC, currently in the PostBank A Division league.

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