The country's factory workers have been dealt a heavy blow in their quest for salary increments.
This after the High Court this weekend refused to entertain an urgent application by the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU) for an order compelling the government to immediately publish a gazette announcing an increase in their salaries.
NACTWU had petitioned the High Court to order the Labour and Employment minister to publish the 2020 salaries review gazette for factory workers which they argued should have been published last year.
However, to their utter dismay, Judge Moroke Mokhesi refused to grant their request saying their application was not urgent and should therefore follow the normal application process. The net effect of the ruling is that the workers must join the queue of cases waiting to be heard by the courts. Given that there is a huge backlog of cases running into thousands, the application is unlikely to be heard anytime soon.
NACTWU's main prayer in the application filed last Thursday is that "the Labour and Employment Minister be compelled to publish the reviewed wages for the year 2020 immediately in the government gazette".
"The said gazette shall have a retrospective effect".
Former Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo, who served in the portfolio until her dismissal by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro in a 3 February 2021 cabinet reshuffle, is the first respondent. Ms Rantšo was replaced by Moshe Leoma.
Acting Attorney General Tšebang Putsoane is the second respondent.
In his affidavit, NACTWU secretary general, Samuel Mokhele, states that NACTWU had engaged in negotiations for salary increments with the Wages Advisory Board which had been set up by Minister Rantšo.
"The applicant, together with other employees' representatives had proposed a 17 percent wage increase, while the employers' representatives had proposed a 6, 5 percent wage increase," Mr Mokhele states.
"The first respondent had made a 5, 5 percent wage increase proposal.
"At or around 24 March 2020, the entire process for the wages review had been concluded. As a result, the first respondent (Rantšo) ought to have published in the government gazette whatever wage increment she had adopted but up to date that has never materialised
"Our members continue to suffer immeasurable prejudice because of the first respondent's unlawful acts and omissions. This is because they do not know how and to what extent their wages were reviewed for 2020.
"All the endeavours we engaged with the first respondent to publish the said reviewed wages in the gazette proved futile as she kept stalling and ended up using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for her non-publication until she was eventually dismissed from her ministerial portfolio.
"I aver that the application calls for urgent relief in that while our members remain in the dark about their reviewed wages for the past year, the first respondent has already engaged in a new wages review process for 2021. The prejudice is grave as it impacts the economic and financial rights of our members.
"I aver that in the prevailing circumstances, the balance of convenience favours the granting of the interim relief and the substantive reliefs as there is absolutely no prejudice to be suffered by the first respondent actually executing his statutory obligations. The real prejudice is on our members if the prayers are not granted."
However, the workers will have to wait much longer after Justice Mokhesi ruled that the "matter is not urgent and should be treated as an ordinary application".