Workers to grill ministers
Three cabinet ministers are tomorrow expected to address workers at Maseru Central Park as part of May Day celebrations.
May Day, also known as Workers’ Day, is commemorated in most countries, including Lesotho, on 1 May every year.
The Alliance of Progressive Trade Unions (APTU) — a federation of 15 textile, commercial, construction, brewing and beverages, and security trade unions — is organising tomorrow’s celebration, which is expected to attract thousands of workers.
APTU Secretary General, Tšeliso ramochela, on Tuesday told the Lesotho Times that this year’s May Day would be commemorated under the theme, ‘ Deepening working class power to advance the struggle for decent work’.
Mr ramochela said the alliance had invited Labour and employment Minister Thulo Mahlakeng, Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa and health Minister Dr ’ Molotsi Monyamane, to represent government at tomorrow’s commemorations.
“We have five main issues which we are going to present before these ministers. We would want the concerns to be urgently put before cabinet because they are issues bothering not only the workers, but also the employers, and the government to some extent,” said Mr ramochela.
“The workers want answers on such issues as the Jobs Summit, National Social Security Scheme, Maternity Protection, African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Apparel Lesotho Alliance to Fight AIDS (ALAFA) as a matter of urgency.
“Two issues will be directed at the Minister of Labour, Advocate Mahlakeng, the first being the Jobs Summit. You will recall that last year, international organisations that are stakeholders in workplace issues, came together and injected large sums of money into many countries to organise national forums where ideas would be exchanged on how to create and secure more jobs.
“Lesotho’s target was to create at least 10 000 jobs per year. Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing led the Lesotho delegation in discussing this issue. But because of last year’s political disturbances, Lesotho could not finalise its part of the Jobs Summit.”
According to Mr ramochela, the unions had hoped to go to employers and ask how many workers they had, through the Jobs Summit.
“If where the employers are supposed to hire 10 people and there are only five, we wanted to ask how much they needed to get the other five. We expected to go to the extent of asking how much the government would have to contribute to employers for them to hire more workers.
“This issue is of utmost importance to all stakeholders. And we are saying that without the Jobs Summit, there isn’t going to be peace in this country. As workers, we will aggressively engage into politics and fight if this is not addressed as a matter of urgency. No one will go to work countrywide because it seems we will be shortchanged.
“Second after the Jobs Summit is the National Social Security Scheme which we also want the labour minister to address. We copy a lot of things from South Africa most of which may not even be necessary for Basotho. But we fail to copy good things like the country’s Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). International organisations have helped by donating funds so that the NSSS law is established in Lesotho.
“This is where both the employer and employee will contribute for pensions and other retirement benefits. The government will provide technical knowhow. This also has to be given top priority by the government.”
Mr ramochela added the money contributed would also be invested in projects to create more jobs. “The other point that falls under this scheme is Maternity Protection, not maternity leave, for employers in the private sector. For so long, factory workers were being been given three-weeks maternity leave while other employees were allowed three months.
“According to provisions of the Labour Code, the employer is not obliged to pay for maternity leave. The difference between maternity leave and protection is that the former is paid by the employer alone while the latter is paid by both the employer and employee.”
The fourth issue related to AGOA which Mr ramochela said the unions wanted Mr Setipa to address.
AGOA, which is a trade preference that allows Sub-saharan countries like Lesotho to export products duty and quota free into the United States of America, is set to expire in September 2015.
“We want to know whether there is a possibility that it is going to be renewed. We are
aware that there are efforts being made by 37 countries, which were even led by Lesotho to negotiate the extension of the legislation. We would want to hear from the minister how far they have gone.
“he has to be clear on two issues regarding AGOA; first is whether it will be renewed or not, and secondly is that if it is renewed or extended how are we going to position ourselves as a country so that when the next term comes to an end we are not as stranded and desperate as we are now.
“The last point relates to issues of health and is directed at the Minister of health, Dr Monyamane. Following last year’s closure of ALAFA (Apparel Lesotho Alliance to Fight AIDS), which assisted more than 3, 500 workers with HIV and AIDS related treatment, these beneficiaries were stranded. Just like AGOA, the government has failed to position itself where it is able to take over or find a substitute when ALAFA’S term ended. Dr Monyamane has to tell us government’s plan about this. We don’t want promises anymore. We want dialogue with the government regarding all these key issues.”
Mr ramochela added the workers were also going to take the Democratic Congress (DC) to task over the party’s manifesto which indicated public servants would be allowed to form trade unions.
“Now that the DC is in government, we are also going to take it into task over its claim in its manifesto that it will allow government employees to form trade unions. At present, civil servants are only permitted to establish associations, not trade unions. The DC mentioned in its manifesto that it will allow the workers to form trade unions. We would want to hear them say it now.”
Meanwhile, other guest speakers expected to deliver keynote speeches at tomorrow’s event include executive directors of the Association of Lesotho employers and Business (ALEB), Lesotho Textile exporters Association (LTEA), Lesotho Council for Non-governmental Organisations (LCN) and president of the Lesotho Public Service Staff Association.