‘We are not here to fight em­ploy­ers’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

The Na­tional Clot Cloth­ing Tex­tile and Al­lied Work­ers Union (NACTWU)(N was of­fi­cially launched on Sun­daySunda with most of mem­bers com­ing from the Fac­tory Work­ers Union (FAWU). With its slo­gan, ‘Free at Last’, the union has prom­ise promised “a whole new di­rec­tion and to treat worke work­ers’ is­sues dif­fer­ently from the rest”. NACTWU Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Sam Mokhele speaks wit with Le­sotho Times re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­suku Nt­sukun­yane, about this devel­op­ment.

LT: Could you starts by telling us how

and when NAC NACTWU was es­tab­lished?

Mokhele: NA NACTWU ap­plied for reg­is­tra­tion in N Novem­ber last year and re­ceived a Cer­tifi­cate of Op­er­a­tion on 30 Dece De­cem­ber 2014. Mem­bers of NACTWU used to be­long to other trade un unions, es­pe­cially FAWU where I also come from. FAWU didn’t ha han­dle work­ers’ is­sues that well las last year. First, the union with­dre with­drew a case that was be­fore the D DDPR (Di­rec­torate on Dis­pute Pre­ven­tion and Res­o­lu­tion tion) with­out con­sult­ing the wo work­ers. The case was re­lated to the work­ers’ salary in­cre­ment, and its with­drawal did not sit well with the con­cerned staff. The case, which was filed some­time in June 2014, was with­drawn on 18 Au­gust the same year. At the time, I was the deputy se­cre- tary gen­eral of FAWU and han­dling is­sues re­lat­ing to the case. So when the mat­ter was with­drawn, I had to go back to the work­ers and in­form them about this. And by so do­ing, I was un­for­tu­nately suspended by the FAWU lead­er­ship that very same month of Au­gust. I was be­ing ac­cused of sev­eral al­le­ga­tions and this also did not sit well with the work­ers.

There was also the is­sue of min­i­mum wage ne­go­ti­a­tions which—un­like pre­vi­ously where the lead­ers would re­ceive a man­date from the work­ers to at least de­ter­mine the amount to be tabled for ne­go­ti­a­tion—was han­dled dif­fer­ently last year. Union lead­ers, be­cause they are the ones rep­re­sent­ing the work­ers in th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions, pro­ce­du­rally have to go back to their membership and give them feed­back. But this was not the case last year. The union lead­ers reached an agree­ment with the em­ploy­ers and other stake­hold­ers on a new min­i­mum wage with­out the re­quired man­date from the work­ers. They agreed to in­crease the salaries by 10 per­cent, and also that this would be done in two phases, with six per­cent com­ing in Oc­to­ber last year while the re­main­ing four per­cent was to be added this month, April 2015.

The work­ers were not happy with this and dur­ing my sus­pen­sion from FAWU be­tween 18 Au­gust 2014 and 9 Novem­ber 2014, they in­di­cated that they wanted to form a new union. I was still hold­ing meet­ings with the work­ers to up­date them about de­vel­op­ments con­cern­ing my sus­pen­sion be­cause they had in­ter­est in the mat­ter. I of­ten ad­vised them dur­ing those meet­ings that it was not wise for us to form a new union be­cause al­ready, there are too many trade unions so much that at some point we were look­ing at how best we could merge them. At that time, I was hop­ing that per­haps my sus­pen­sion was not se­ri­ous enough that the man­age­ment of FAWU could ul­ti­mately de­cide to kick me out of the union per­ma­nently. On 9 Novem­ber 2014, I was in­vited for an ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing where now I was re­quested to give my side of the story re­gard­ing the charges lev­elled against me.

LT: What ex­actly were the charges?

Mokhele: First, I was ac­cused of bring­ing the union into dis­re­pute; se­condly, in­sub­or­di­na­tion for un­der­min­ing the author­ity of the sec­re­tary gen­eral; thirdly, that I was not work­ing well with other staff mem­bers; fourthly, that I did not com­ply with the sec­re­tary gen­eral’s in­struc­tions on a cer­tain day, and the fifth charge was that I had vi­o­lated Sec­tion 12 of the FAWU Con­sti­tu­tion, which stip­u­lates the pow­ers of the sec­re­tary gen­eral. Ba­si­cally, most of th­ese charges were based on the fact that each time union lead­ers wanted to make uni­lat­eral de­ci­sions with­out the man­date of the work­ers, I would quickly point out that this was wrong and never com­plied with such de­ci­sions. It was be­cause of this that I was per­ma­nently dis­missed from FAWU on 9 Novem­ber 2014.

LT: What was your re­ac­tion fol­low­ing the dis­missal?

Mokhele: I went back to the work­ers to in­form them about this and they in­structed me to form a new union. This was not an in­struc­tion or re­quest from a few work­ers from one com­pany but many from dif­fer­ent firms. So on 17 Novem­ber, I sub­mit­ted the ap­pli­ca­tion for reg­is­tra­tion. That is why we have NACTWU to­day.

LT: What are NACTWU’S ob­jec­tives?

Mokhele: NACTWU’S main ob­jec­tive is to pro­tect, with hon­esty and ded­i­ca­tion, the rights and needs of Le­sotho’s tex­tile work­ers. The ob­jec­tive is to en­sure the work­ers’ em­ploy­ment con­di­tions are im­proved, and most im­por­tantly, that their salaries are in­creased. We have a min­i­mum wage in the tex­tile sec­tor, but the union can ne­go­ti­ate a top-up for the ben­e­fit of its mem­bers. It is also our man­date to make the work­ers un­der­stand the coun­try’s Labour Laws, es­pe­cially those re­lat­ing to their work en­vi­ron­ment, and their rights. They should be able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their rights from those of their em­ployer so that both par­ties are able to work to­gether with­out vi­o­lat­ing each other’s rights.

I first joined LECAWU (Le­sotho Cloth­ing and Al­lied Work­ers Union) many years ago be­fore FAWU was formed from the same union. I am one of the founder mem­bers of FAWU. We are dif­fer­ent from all th­ese other unions be­cause what we are ba­si­cally ad­vo­cat­ing for is that NACTWU be­longs to the work­ers. Ev­ery de­ci­sion taken should come from the work­ers, and we are just their ser­vants. Se­condly, as ser­vants it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to har­monise work­ing re­la­tions be­tween the work­ers and the em­ployer. This is im­por­tant be­cause where both par­ties are happy, pro­duc­tion will be high, re­sult­ing in bet­ter salaries and a happy work­force. In such a sit­u­a­tion, both par­ties ben­e­fit. We are not here to fight em­ploy­ers. We need them. What we want to em­pha­sise is that the two are so­cial part­ners and they need each other. They should as­sist each other on mat­ters con­cern­ing their part­ner­ship.

LT: There have been con­cerns from the public and work­ers them­selves that union lead­ers of­ten re­ceive bribes from em­ploy­ers to make sure they don’t press for a high wage in­crease. What’s your take on this?

Mokhele: I am a vic­tim of that very con­cern you have just raised. It is true that in some cases, when we are sit­ting around a ta­ble ne­go­ti­at­ing, em­ploy­ers would some­times pro­vide some in­cen­tives to union rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The em­ploy­ers would have re­alised that there is pres­sure from the work­ers, who would be de­mand­ing more and the in­cen­tives would be for you, the lead­ers, to go and calm the sit­u­a­tion. Most of the times, I dis­agreed with my col­leagues against this prac­tice and that is one other rea­son they could not con­form to what I be­lieved in, which was be­ing loyal to the work­ers. I have never been com­fort­able with such a be­trayal of the work­ers.

LT: The other con­cern has been that most unions have be­come politi­cised and openly sup­port cer­tain par­ties and end up not fight­ing for the rights of the work­ers…

Mokhele: I can cer­tainly tell you that work­ers who formed NACTWU are ac­tu­ally vic­tims of that very fact, and the rea­son they formed this union is be­cause they are run­ning away from that sit­u­a­tion. Work­ers would have joined unions in large num­bers only to re­alise that the lead­er­ship is now chang­ing and mak­ing them plat­forms for party pol­i­tics. While this hap­pens, the work­ers start slowly be­ing dragged into cer­tain po­lit­i­cal par­ties which might not even be their cho­sen ones. A clear ex­am­ple is that of my pre­vi­ous union (FAWU), whose other founder had, at the same time, formed a po­lit­i­cal party called Le­sotho Work­ers’ Party ( LWP). At times, work­ers’ is­sues would be turned po­lit­i­cal at FAWU be­cause of that sit­u­a­tion. Some­times when peo­ple talked about the LWP membership, they re­ferred to FAWU af­fil­i­ates. When NACTWU was formed, we were se­ri­ously in­structed by the work­ers not to drag this union into party pol­i­tics and we gladly ac­cepted this man­date.

LT: What should the work­ers ex­pect from NACTWU in terms of salaries and work­ing con­di­tions this year?

Mokhele: Un­for­tu­nately, fol­low­ing an agree­ment reached by unions and stake­hold­ers dur­ing last year’s min­i­mum wage ne­go­ti­a­tions, there won’t be such dis­cus­sions this year. As I men­tioned ear­lier, those unions made the agree­ments with­out the work­ers’ man­date. The next wage ne­go­ti­a­tions will only be held early next year. How­ever, as NACTWU, we were not part of that agree­ment made last year, but we are still go­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with em­ploy­ers in com­pa­nies where we have over 50 per­cent membership, as the law dic­tates, for bet­ter salaries.

LT: Your slo­gan is ‘Free at Last’. What does it im­ply?

Mokhele: By Free at Last we mean that the work­ers have fi­nally re­alised that they were pris­on­ers in unions they pre­vi­ously be­longed to be­cause they were al­ways be­ing dic­tated to. But now, they are be­gin­ning to feel free in NACTWU be­cause they own the union in the true sense of the word.

NAUCTWU Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Sam Mokhele.

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