Re-integration of migrant mineworkers
THE return and integration is often seen as a very easy part in the cycle of migration. People migrate for work purposes with the assumption that upon return they will invest their savings or find remunerative employment. They also assume that they will adjust to any changes in their personal and family lives and pick up where they left off with very minimal support. The reality is far different from this picture despite the return process being considered the end stage of temporary migration; many migrants are often forced back into the migration cycle looking for new contracts of employment.
Returning migrant workers are often faced with a myriad of problems which include amongst others socio-psychological effects, family and social reintegration problems, financial difficulties, employment and skills related problems; filing complaints against exploitation in their home countries.
By the 1970s, it was clear that Lesotho was integrated into the South African mine labour market. Despite the benefits, there are indications that the social costs outweigh the economic benefits derived. The high levels of social risks are poorly compensated.
These include accidents and fatalities, occupational diseases, the failure of many mineworkers and their dependants to access social security and related benefits that are due to them upon retirement or when they are retrenched, and the disruption of family life back home. The proposed solution has always been the acceleration of domestic job creation efforts by promoting economic growth and implementing education and training programmes.
Efforts at reintegration of re- trenched Basotho migrant mineworkers began in the early 1980s when Lesotho requested International Labour Organization (ILO) assistance to design programmes that would create employment opportunities for anticipated mass repatriation of its citizens from the South African mines. The current interventions comprise direct measures that focus on individual or groups of ex-mineworkers and their dependants, or at preparing current migrant mineworkers for eventual retrenchments; and indirect intervention measures that aim at improving socio-economic conditions amongst rural communities in Lesotho where the bulk of mineworkers come from.
Currently, there is no updated data base that could assist planning and the tracking of mineworkers and their dependants. There are indications that retrenched mineworkers have gone back to subsistence agriculture where there is easy entry and where skills and capital are the only barriers to entry.
There is therefore a good chance that they will participate in community development projects as members of local communities in which infrastructure development projects are being implemented, as well as in skills development programmes that are implemented by various Government Ministries. However, community projects tend to be sporadic and of short-duration. A more coordinated and comprehensive approach to reintegration is therefore necessary.
The Non-state Sectors of Lesotho and South Africa have played a pivotal role in improving the work and living conditions of mineworkers at the South African mines through campaigns against the injustices and inhuman conditions of the mine migrant labour system. South African trade unions, in particular NUM, and NGOS both in South Africa and Lesotho forced mining companies to improve health and safety and reduce fatalities in the mines, to improve the salaries of mineworkers, to introduce social security protection, to agree on acceptable protocols for retrenchments and to design development programmes, including re-skilling programmes, that aim at reducing suffering amongst retrenched mineworkers and their dependants.
Development agents that operate as service providers for mining houses by implementing the latter’s corporate social responsibility programmes have relieved pressure on Lesotho’s national health system. Their infrastructure rehabilitation and food security interventions have also gone a long way to assist local communities.
Despite the fact that the mineworkers’ organizations continue to perform a role of fighting for ex-mineworkers’ benefits, their efforts are not well coordinated with each other and with those of the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
For instance, there is weak coordination amongst agencies that are involved in the tracing of both ex-mineworkers and their social security benefits, duplication of activities being found to be common. There is also a clash of laws where mineworkers’ contracts are signed in Lesotho in accordance with Lesotho laws, but are amended at the mines by employers to enable mineworkers to contribute to social security schemes that are administered in accordance with South African laws. It is lack of management of this process and clear definition of protocols that has resulted in confusion and lack of proper accountability for mineworkers’ benefits.
There is currently no comprehen- sive national policy guiding the operations of the mine migrant labour system in Lesotho. While most of the practices are done in accordance with the outdated Bilateral Labour Agreement 1973 between Lesotho and South Africa and relevant sections of the 1992 Lesotho Labour Code whilst South Africa has from time to time passed its own policies and legislation that directly affect the system.
A new and comprehensive Lesotho Labour Policy that addresses, amongst others, labour migration and employment creation is long overdue. The recently validated policy attempts to cover broad areas of labour migration. The envisaged Lesotho Labour Policy suggests a number of interventions that are directly targeted at retrenched mineworkers.
It is through it that the Government aims at Maximizing employment opportunities for Basotho women and men globally by engaging in regional, multi-lateral and bi-lateral labour arrangements to facilitate and streamline the cross border flow of labour migrants between Lesotho and other countries, regionally and globally while supporting Lesotho women and men migrant workers in host countries. The following strategies will be adopted: Explore work opportunities for Basotho surplus labour in other countries and facilitate legal labour migration to fill identified labour market gaps through the pursuit of bilateral/multilateral labour agreement negotiations. Promote inter-agency and inter-country cooperation in attracting and managing labour migration.
Support Lesotho’s women and men mi- grant workers through dedicated predeparture and return interventions, and support services while they work and reside in destination countries. Improve migration management and control, and strengthen mechanisms to combat smuggling, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls. Adopt constitutional guarantees and statutory frameworks facilitating protection of women and men migrant workers and their families abroad. Promote and safeguard the rights and welfare of Basotho women and men mi- grant workers in destination countries. Develop mechanisms, services and effective financial products to facilitate the transfer of remittances With the advent of globalisation, ushering technological developments and knowledge based economies; labour markets are changing rapidly internationally. In order for Lesotho to maximise benefits from labour migration, she should move away from the export of unskilled labour to that of skilled labour.
This shift should be accompanied by a diversification strategy where formal migration patterns move to other sectors other than mining, and where bilateral labour agreements should also be diversified to other countries beyond South Africa. As a longterm strategy, this requires the development of a national skills audit, the intensification of human resources development and skills development, and the identification of countries in need of labour with which bilateral la- bour agreements could be forged and signed.
This article has been written by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. For more information, do not hesitate to contact us here: Tel: 22322565/22316255 Cell: 57905626 You can also find us on our Ministry’s website: www.labour.gov.ls OR on our facebook page (Ministry of Labour and Employment Lesotho)