‘Ex­pect an im­proved labour min­istry’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE Min­istry of Labour and Em­ploy­ment and South Africa’s Depart­ment of Labour last week held a three-day fo­rum in Maseru to im­ple­ment the Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing (MOU) the two coun­tries signed in De­cem­ber 2013.

The min­istry’s Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary (PS) Ad­vo­cate Karabo Tl­hoeli speaks with Le­sotho Times ( LT) reporter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, about the event and what it seeks to bring to the two neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

LT: Last week’s fo­rum be­tween Le­sotho and South Africa could not have come at a bet­ter time for Ba­sotho who are hop­ing for bet­ter re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries to en­able them to seek jobs across the bor­der. Could you please ex­plain what the fo­rum was all about?

Tl­hoeli: There was a fo­rum be­tween our­selves and South Africa’s Depart­ment of Labour. This fo­rum or meet­ing was the re­sult of an MOU signed by the govern­ment of Le­sotho, through the Min­is­ter of Labour and Em­ploy­ment, and the govern­ment of South Africa, through the Min­is­ter of Labour. The MOU is an ef­fort on im­ple­ment­ing the Joint Bi­lat­eral Co­op­er­a­tion Com­mis­sion (JBCC) of the King­dom of Le­sotho and Re­pub­lic of South Africa, which was ini­ti­ated by then Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki, signed by him as the head of state of South Africa, and Le­sotho’s head of govern­ment, Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili, in 2001.

LT: What ex­actly does this all mean?

Tl­hoeli: The whole con­cept was to as­sist Le­sotho and take it out of the eco­nomic clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Least De­vel­oped Coun­tries. The JBCC is an um­brella co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment, but to im­ple­ment it, it has to go two fur­ther phases.

The phase that comes im­me­di­ately af­ter this (agree­ment) is the MOU be­tween min­istries. And the third-tier is that of se­nior of­fi­cials of govern­ment, where the in­ten­tion was to have South Africa as­sist­ing Le­sotho across all sec­tors.

LT: Who took part in the fo­rum?

Tl­hoeli: This was a fo­rum of se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cials work­ing on the modal­i­ties of im­ple­ment­ing the Mous signed by the min- is­ters. The last MOU was signed on the 3rd of De­cem­ber 2013. On our be­half, the govern­ment of Le­sotho, it was signed by for­mer Labour and Em­ploy­ment min­is­ter Lebesa Maloi.

And for South Africa, it was signed by Min­is­ter Mil­dred Oliphant. So we came up with the im­ple­men­ta­tion plan; how we in­tend to im­ple­ment this mem­o­ran­dum on co­op­er­a­tion in the field of labour.

LT: Could you please high­light some of the key is­sues in this MOU?

Tl­hoeli: The co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment ush­ers ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion. And ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion in this field of labour in­clude dis­pute res­o­lu­tion and so­cial di­a­logue mech­a­nisms and in­sti­tu­tions. Dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nisms and in­sti­tu­tions, to us in the field of labour, mean ap­ply­ing less ag­gres­sive and con­fronta­tional means to re­solve dis­agree­ments at the work­place.

The im­por­tance of this can­not be over-em­pha­sised be­cause if you want to im­prove in­vest­ment in any coun­try, you can­not suc­cess­fully do it with­out en­sur­ing that labour dis­putes are re­solved am­i­ca­bly and speed­ily. Labour cases are very ex­pen­sive com­pared to all other cases. If the coun­try does not have the ca­pac­ity to re­solve dis­putes, it can­not be desti­na­tion for in­vestors be­cause in­stead of peo­ple fo­cus­ing on pro­duc­tiv­ity; grow­ing the GDP (Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct), things will be stalled where peo­ple are stuck in con­flict. So we are say­ing let us co­op­er­ate in that area.

To be spe­cific, they (South Africa) have the CCMA (Com­mis­sion for Con­cil­i­a­tion Me­di­a­tion and Ar­bi­tra­tion), and we have the DDPR (Di­rec­torate for Dis­pute Preven­tion and Res­o­lu­tion). We are say­ing, as two coun­tries, let’s co­op­er­ate in th­ese fields and as­sist each other on how we can im­prove ser­vices; the ef­fi­ciency of dis­pute res­o­lu­tion in­sti­tu­tions; how do we make the DDPR stronger than what it is. That’s the con­text in which dis­pute res­o­lu­tion be­comes an is­sue.

LT: Could you please men­tion a few cases as ex­am­ples?

Tl­hoeli: In some in­stances, you find that there are awards granted for em­ploy­ees against some em­ploy­ers, but for some rea­son the em­ployer, in­stead of com­ply­ing with the award, de­cides to leave Le­sotho for busi­ness in South Africa, or vice-versa. How do we deal with th­ese is­sues if we don’t co­op­er­ate? The po­lice are po­lice in coun­tries they are ap­pointed.

A po­lice of­fi­cer in Le­sotho is not a po­lice of­fi­cer in South Africa. To be able to achieve the ends of jus­tice, as per the ar­bi­tra­tion award is­sue, we need to co­op­er­ate. South Africa is a big coun­try with a big econ­omy. The ben­e­fit that comes with a big econ­omy is the ca­pac­ity on all other sec­tors which af­fect the econ­omy it­self.

So it means they have big­ger ca­pac­ity when comes to dis­pute res­o­lu­tion. Their sys­tem is much more ef­fi­cient than ours. We can learn from them.

LT: What are the other ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion per­tain­ing to this re­la­tion­ship?

Tl­hoeli: The train­ing of ar­bi­tra­tors. True enough, the laws are dif­fer­ent. They use the Labour Re­la­tions Act; we use the Labour Code Act. But gen­er­ally, the prin­ci­ples are re­lated and al­most the same. In the gen­eral scheme of things, we can train our ar­bi­tra­tors to­gether to share ex­pe­ri­ences. That way, we are im­prov­ing ef­fi­ciency.

We also have so­cial di­a­logue mech­a­nisms and in­sti­tu­tions. This, to us, is an en­gage­ment be­tween govern­ment, em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees. In the labour field, un­like other spheres of life, we work on a prin­ci­ple of tri­par­tism. This is all about three par­ties; gov- ern­ment, em­ploy­ers and work­ers. We work with tri­par­tism to achieve pol­icy ob­jec­tives, even to de­velop those poli­cies and make laws.

Work­ers and em­ploy­ers par­tic­i­pate in the law that gov­erns their affairs. We are true to the prin­ci­ple that says noth­ing for us with­out us. That’s what we mean by so­cial di­a­logue. For in­stance, in this coun­try, we have four statu­tory bod­ies which the prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary chairs, and which are made up of em­ploy­ers, work­ers and govern­ment. We have NACOLA (Na­tional Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee on Labour), NACOSH (Na­tional Coun­cil on Safety and Health), Wages Ad­vi­sory Board and In­dus­trial Re­la­tions Coun­cil (IRC). All of them have a core man­date of ad­vis­ing the Honourable Min­is­ter of Labour and Em­ploy­ment in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of their man­date. The Wages Ad­vi­sory Board has a man­date of fix­ing the min­i­mum wage; the IRC has the man­date of pre­sid­ing over the in­dus­trial re­la­tions sys­tem, in­clud­ing de­ter­min­ing or ad­vis­ing the Honourable Min­is­ter on the terms and con­di­tions of ar­bi­tra­tors of the DDPR. NACOLA ad­vises the Honourable Min­is­ter on the law. If we want to pass a new law, that law has to go through NACOLA. NACOSH ad­vises the Honourable Min­is­ter, through NACOLA, on is­sues of oc­cu­pa­tional safety and health. We are say­ing, as part of the co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment, we also as­sist each other in this re­gard.

South Africans are now look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity of in­tro­duc­ing a na­tional min­i­mum wage. They don’t have a na­tional min­i­mum wage as yet. They have what they call sec­toral bar­gain­ing agree­ments. By de­fault, they be­come min­i­mum wages per sec­tor. Re­mem­ber we also have many Ba­sotho work­ing in South Africa. Th­ese peo­ple get in­juries at the work­place. So in that sce­nario, we need an area of co­op­er­a­tion. What we are talk­ing about here is not nec­es­sar­ily new.

What is new is the im­ple­men­ta­tion plan, but the co­op­er­a­tion is al­ready there. What this MOU sim­ply does is ba­si­cally to for­malise the co­op­er­a­tion. We have, among oth­ers, agreed on hav­ing con­tact per­sons to deal with is­sues of com­pen­sa­tion. When our of­fi­cial picks a phone to call on a given case con­cern­ing some­one whose ben­e­fits were not paid in South Africa, the ar­range­ment is that there will be a spe­cific per­son to ad­dress that is­sue.

There is also the is­sue of so­cial se­cu­rity. This re­lates to pen­sion and the prov­i­dent fund. For th­ese ben­e­fits to be paid to a Mosotho who has al­ready left South Africa, a fol­low-up is needed. That fol­low-up is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of govern­ment. We have such a depart­ment in the name of Labour Mi­gra­tion. If there’s no co­op­er­a­tion, the ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness of the ser­vice we pro­vide would be low. This re­sults in peo­ple re­sort­ing to pri­vate trac­ers who charge ex­or­bi­tant amounts of money be­cause they op­er­ate in syn­di­cates.

Th­ese pri­vate trac­ers trace the very so­cial se­cu­rity ben­e­fits. Th­ese are the peo­ple who have be­come the mod­ern loan-sharks to des­per­ate fam­ily mem­bers. They charge more than 50 per­cent of the prov­i­dent fund in most cases. It is there­fore im­por­tant that as govern­ment, we should be ef­fi­cient in deal­ing with this is­sue so that we earn pub­lic con­fi­dence. This brings porta­bil­ity of so­cial se­cu­rity ben­e­fits. An­other as­pect of the same is where South African em­ploy­ers in Le­sotho leave the coun­try with­out pay­ing Ba­sotho work­ers. Why should peo­ple lose their ben­e­fits be­cause of the bor­der? We need this agree­ment to be able to at­tend to those mat­ters.

LT: So, gen­er­ally, what can we ex­pect from the min­istry fol­low­ing this meet­ing?

Tl­hoeli: The plan, for now, is to im­ple­ment the agree­ment for two years – from now un­til end of 2017. The plan has an eval­u­a­tion as­pect ev­ery six months. It is jointly ad­min­is­tered by chief ac­count­ing of­fi­cers from the min­istry and Labour Depart­ment in South Africa. It has a sub-com­mit­tee com­prised of our of­fi­cials from both coun­tries; two from Le­sotho and two from South Africa and chaired by an ILO (In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion) of­fi­cial based in Pre­to­ria. You will un­der­stand that ILO is the nat­u­ral part­ner in the labour move­ment. But what you should ex­pect is a much im­proved Min­istry of Labour and Em­ploy­ment; much im­proved ser­vices of­fered; more pro­grammes to be launched by the min­istry as part of this plan, re­spond­ing to some of the na­tional crises such as high rate of un­em­ploy­ment.

In some in­stances, you find that there are awards granted for em­ploy­ees against some em­ploy­ers, but for some rea­son the em­ployer, in­stead of com­ply­ing with the award, de­cides to leave Le­sotho for busi­ness in South Africa, or vice-versa. How do we deal with th­ese is­sues if we don’t co­op­er­ate? The po­lice are po­lice in coun­tries they are ap­pointed.

Min­istry of Labour Ps Ad­vo­cate Karabo tl­hoeli.

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