‘Unity is work­ers’ strength’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

WORK­ERS’ Day com­mem­o­ra­tions were held in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try on Mon­day by var­i­ous trade unions un­der the theme “50 years of work con­ser­va­tion and work­ers’ rights”.

How­ever, di­vi­sions among the var­i­ous trade unions were ev­i­dent dur­ing the cel­e­bra­tions, with the feud­ing group­ings hold­ing sep­a­rate events.

Labour and Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Tšoeu Mahlak­eng speaks to Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter ’Marafaele Mohloboli on his con­cerns over the di­vi­sions among the unions and the im­por­tance of work­ing as a united front. He also touches on plans in the pipeline to im­prove the plight of work­ers in Le­sotho.

LT: You have made nu­mer­ous pleas for work­ers to unite. Why is work­ers’ unity so important to you?

TM: It is in our na­ture as Ba­sotho to work as a team. It is also a well-known fact that if we all stand to­gether as one, we shall win in the end through con­certed ef­forts to tackle our challenges. The more our trade unions join forces, the more their voices will be am­pli­fied.

LT: Le­sotho will be cel­e­brat­ing 50 years of in­de­pen­dence in Oc­to­ber, yet it is still grap­pling with a high un­em­ploy­ment rate, mea­gre wages and poor work­ing con­di­tions. Why did you choose such a theme?

TM: This theme is very rel­e­vant be­cause Le­sotho will be cel­e­brat­ing its 50th in­de­pen­dence an­niver­sary, and it sim­ply gives us an op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­spect on how much progress we have made. It also al­lows us to see the tar­gets we have missed in en­sur­ing the con­ser­va­tion of jobs and rais­ing aware­ness on work­ers’ rights.

LT: Can you give us a back­ground of trade unions in Le­sotho and their role in the work­force.

TM: The first work­ers fed­er­a­tion was es­tab­lished in 1964, just two years be­fore Le­sotho gained its in­de­pen­dence. It was called Ba­su­toland Fed­er­a­tion of Labour and got its af­fil­i­a­tion mem­ber­ship un­der the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion in 1979.

In 1983, it was trans­formed into the Le­sotho Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions (LFTU) and fought for work­ers’ rights un­der un­demo­cratic regimes.

LT: What has the gov­ern­ment done to en­sure that work­ers’ rights are re­spected?

TM: So far, we have suc­ceeded in pass­ing such laws as the Trade Unions and Trade Dis­putes Law of 1964, the Em­ploy­ment Act of 1967, Wages Reg­u­la­tions Order of 1975, Work­man’s Com­pen­sa­tion Act of 1977, Wages and Con­di­tions of Em­ploy­ment Order of 1978 and Labour Code Act of 1992 as amended.

LT: Apart from these laws, what are the other no­table achieve­ments?

TM: We have man­aged to do away with the pow­ers em­ploy­ers had of dis­miss­ing an em­ployee sum­mar­ily with­out a fair hear­ing. Em­ploy­ers are now bound by the law to give valid rea­sons of dis­missal be­fore do­ing so.

In 1994, the min­istry launched the Labour Court. In the past, all work-re­lated dis­putes were taken to mag­is­trates’ courts.

We have man­aged to se­cure the work­ers’ salary struc­ture clearly de­fined work­ing hours, pay­ment of over­time, pub­lic hol­i­days and lunch hours which should be re­spected by em­ploy­ers.

We now have the Direc­torate of Dis­putes Preven­tion and Res­o­lu­tions-(ddpr) to deal with em­ployer/em­ployee dis­putes and it is do­ing fairly well.

LT: How do you keep em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees up­dated on is­sues that af­fect them?

TM: For the first time ever, the Min­istry of Labour and Em­ploy­ment held its first an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in a bid to share in­for­ma­tion on the ser­vices we provide to the pub­lic from all the min­is­te­rial de­part­ments.

LT: We have learnt that your min­istry is work­ing towards en­act­ing re­forms to bet­ter the plight of work­ers. How far are you with the process, and is there a time frame for the com­ple­tion of the ex­er­cise?

TM: This is a work in progress, and we are on track with the dead­line be­ing Septem­ber 2016. We are hope­ful that we will meet the dead­line and de­liver.

LT: Tell us more about the ob­jec­tives of the re­forms and what they en­tail.

TM: They are solely meant to bet­ter the gen­eral work­ing con­di­tions of our peo­ple. Through con­sul­ta­tions, an agree­ment has been reached be­tween the gov­ern­ment, em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees that these re­forms should in­clude the es­tab­lish­ment of bar­gain­ing coun­cils.

Last year, we went to South Africa for a joint study with em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees to see how best we can for­mu­late these bar­gain­ing coun­cils as it is done in that coun­try. We be­lieve this is a step in the right di­rec­tion.

LT: What les­sons were learnt?

TM: We learnt a lot, such as the fact that their bar­gain­ing coun­cils have a fully-fledged sec­re­tar­iat and are wholly run and man­aged by the em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees.

LT: Do you think this is im­ple­mentable in Le­sotho given the di­vi­sions within the trade unions?

TM: Yes, they can be im­ple­mented but it is cer­tainly no walk in the park. It is go­ing to re­quire courage given that our trade unions have been di­vided over the years and still are.

LT: What is the way for­ward?

TM: I earnestly call upon all trade unions, em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees to come to­gether and cast their dif­fer­ences aside for the bet­ter­ment of the work­force.

We can’t be strong if we are di­vided. United we stand and di­vided we fall. We are still trudg­ing be­hind on is­sues of unity and we still have a long way to go. Our trade unions need to come to­gether to am­plify their voice and also need to re­cruit more mem­bers as well as sen­si­tis­ing work­ers on their rights. LT: How many work­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tions are there in Le­sotho and what is your take on them?

TM: There are 28 reg­is­tered work­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tions in Le­sotho, and this is quite a large num­ber for such a small coun­try with a high un­em­ploy­ment rate.

Be­tween 2010 and 2011, Le­sotho had a work­force of 781 857. Five of these or­gan­i­sa­tions cater for the tex­tile fac­tory work­ers whose to­tal num­ber is es­ti­mated at 40 000. Only 12 000 of these work­ers are mem­bers of tex­tile unions.

This sim­ply means the di­vi­sions within the unions are do­ing them more harm than good and driv­ing the wedge wider be­tween the work­ers.

LT: Work­ers ought to have been given an in­cre­ment of their salaries ef­fec­tive from 1 April 2016, but there is still no change. And the gov­ern­ment only ap­proved an eight per­cent in­cre­ment on the rec­om­mended 10 per­cent by the Salaries Ad­vi­sory Board. What caused this de­lay and why did you change from the 10 per­cent?

TM: This takes us back to the di­vi­sions within the unions them­selves and the ab­sence of bar­gain­ing coun­cils which I re­ferred to ear­lier. Di­vi­sions mean less power. In as much as one would have liked and wished, the trade unions them­selves were di­vided over the same is­sue of salaries.

Their voices were weak­ened by their dif­fer­ences. If only they can cast their po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences aside, they would achieve their ob­jec­tives.

As for the de­lay, it was caused by the for­mat in which the gazette was couched and the con­sul­ta­tive process. It is very de­tailed and has des­ig­nated work­ers ac­cord­ing to their jobs.

This took us more time than we an­tic­i­pated. How­ever, the eight per­cent is ef­fec­tive from 1 April 2016 not­with­stand­ing the de­lay in pub­lish­ing the gazette.

LT: Le­sotho seems to be los­ing its bat­tle against HIV/AIDS and Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. What is your min­istry do­ing to re­dress this sad re­al­ity?

TM: The fight against the HIV/AIDS scourge re­quires con­certed ef­forts, and we call on all em­ploy­ees to put in place strate­gies and poli­cies to give sup­port to those who are al­ready in­fected.

We are all af­fected in one way or the other, so let’s unite and fight HIV/AIDS as well as other chronic dis­eases.

LT: What is your min­istry do­ing to ad­dress the chal­lenge of un­em­ploy­ment, es­pe­cially among the youth?

TM: We have al­ready em­barked on a Labour Mi­gra­tion pol­icy which means that Ba­sotho can now work in other coun­tries pro­vided they have the skills and ex­per­tise. Work­ing in con­junc­tion with the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs, we are as­sist­ing Ba­sotho to le­gally work in South Africa un­der the Le­sotho Spe­cial Per­mit dis­pen­sa­tion.

We would also like to urge the youth to fo­cus more on job cre­ation as un­em­ploy­ment is a global chal­lenge.

LT: What is your mes­sage to work­ers?

TM: Let’s all unite, and to­gether achieve a bet­ter Le­sotho for all. Unity is power. To­gether we can achieve more.

Labour and Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter Tšoeu Mahlak­eng.

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