Govt, civil ser­vants on col­li­sion course over salar­ies

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Nt­sebeng Mot­soeli

GOV­ERN­MENT and civil ser­vants could be on a col­li­sion path af­ter the for­mer in­di­cated that it would meet the de­mands for salary in­cre­ments only “if in­vest­ment and eco­nomic growth in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly”.

Civil ser­vants who in­clude teach­ers, mag­is­trates and the po­lice have been on the warpath, threat­en­ing to bring ser­vice de­liv­ery to a halt if gov­ern­ment did not award them salary in­cre­ments.

How­ever, Fi­nance Min­is­ter, Moeketsi Ma­joro, re­cently told the Le­sotho Times that the econ­omy was “strug­gling” and “ev­ery­one will be paid in line with what the Le­sotho econ­omy can carry”.

Three weeks ago, mag­is­trates went on an un­prece­dented strike to press the gov­ern­ment to award them salary in­cre­ments, al­lowances and im­prove their work­ing con­di­tions. Although the mag­is­trates re­turned to work a fort­night ago, the sit­u­a­tion re­mains tense as the two par­ties con­tinue meet­ings aimed at find­ing so­lu­tions to the mag­is­trates’ de­mands.

Teach­ers have also ad­vised the gov­ern­ment of their in­ten­tion to go on a month-long strike from 2 Au­gust to 2 Septem­ber this year “un­til the gov­ern­ment has ad­dressed our griev­ances”.

The teach­ers’ griev­ances in­clude the pay­ment of out­stand­ing salar­ies and al­lowances.

The teach­ers want the gov­ern­ment to pay them salary ar­rears on their per­for­mance-based con­tracts dat­ing back to 2009. They also want the gov­ern­ment to pay salar­ies that are com­men­su­rate with their aca­demic and pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions as well as weed out ghost work­ers from the pay­roll.

They also want Min­is­ter Ra­papa to sack the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the Teach­ing Ser­vice Depart­ment, ’Masel­loane Sehlabi, who they ac­cuse of mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion and be­ing a stum­bling block to ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween them and the gov­ern­ment.

The teach­ers’ pro­posed strike comes on the heels of a re­cent un­prece­dented strike by mag­is­trates who aban­doned the court­rooms to press the gov­ern­ment to award them wage in­cre­ments, higher salar­ies and im­prove their work­ing con­di­tions.

Three weeks ago, thou­sands of work­ers con­verged at the Moshoeshoe 1 mon­u­ment in Maseru where they de­liv­ered a pe­ti­tion to Prime Min­is­ter Thomas Tha­bane de­mand­ing salary in­cre­ments for all work­ers.

The pro­tes­tors, who com­prised of fac­tory em­ploy­ees, se­cu­rity guards and gen­eral work­ers from the re­tail and cater­ing sec­tor, want a 15 per­cent in­cre­ment for all work­ers. They are also de­mand­ing a gen­eral min­i­mum wage of M2000 for fac­tory work­ers.

The work­ers also de­manded that Dr Tha­bane sack Labour Min­is­ter, Keketso Ran­tšo, who they ac­cuse of ne­glect­ing their wel­fare con­cerns.

Be­sides th­ese work­ers, nurses and the po­lice also want wage in­cre­ments. In an un­prece­dented move in April this year, the po­lice even ap­plied for per­mis­sion to march and pe­ti­tion Dr Tha­bane over their de­mands for a six per­cent salary in­crease.

And with the teach­ers vow­ing to in­def­i­nitely ex­tend their strike un­til their de­mands are met, a show­down with gov­ern­ment is in the off­ing af­ter Fi­nance min­is­ter Moeketsi Ma­joro re­cently said that the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion was pre­car­i­ous and wages could only be in­creased when in­vest­ment and eco­nomic growth in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly.

Dr Ma­joro said gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees will be paid ac­cord­ing to the per­for­mance of the coun­try’s econ­omy.

“We wish to ac­knowl­edge that ev­ery­one has a right to ne­go­ti­ate com­pen­sa­tion with their em­ployer,” Dr Ma­joro said.

“Each case is treated dif­fer­ently and one can­not speculate on the realm of pos­si­bil­i­ties. In the end, ev­ery­one will be paid in line with what the Le­sotho econ­omy can carry. For em­ploy­ment and wages to in­crease, in­vest­ment and eco­nomic growth must in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly,” Dr Ma­joro said.

Dr Ma­joro how­ever, stressed that the in­vest­ment and the re­sul­tant eco­nomic growth would only be pos­si­ble if the coali­tion gov­ern­ment cre­ated an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment where there was po­lit­i­cal and macroe­co­nomic sta­bil­ity.

“For that (wage in­cre­ments) to hap­pen, gov­ern­ment must en­sure both po­lit­i­cal and macroe­co­nomic sta­bil­ity and then suc­cess­fully sell Le­sotho as an in­vest­ment des­ti­na­tion of choice. With­out th­ese pre­req­ui­sites, the Le­sotho econ­omy will strug­gle for years to come,” Dr Ma­joro added.

Dr Ma­joro also told this pub­li­ca­tion in May this year that the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion re­mains pre­car­i­ous as in­ter­na­tional in­vestors’ skep­ti­cism about the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to last its five-year term have af­fected the coun­try’s abil­ity to at­tract new in­vest­ments.

He said the gov­ern­ment had its work cut out in restor­ing con­fi­dence and growth as it in­her­ited a weak “post con­flict” econ­omy where there was only M1, 5 bil­lion in the re­serves down from M3, 5 bil­lion in the 2015/2016 fi­nan­cial year.

“In a sense you could call 2015/16 a pe­riod of con­flict. It was a pe­riod of con­fu­sion and di­vi­sions in so­ci­ety and now we are un­der-go­ing a post-con­flict sit­u­a­tion where trust is slowly be­ing re­stored but it will not hap­pen in an in­stant,” Dr Ma­joro said.

“We have been in power for sev­eral months and we re­alise that restor­ing in­vestor con­fi­dence is go­ing to take longer than we thought. I didn’t know this at the be­gin­ning and I just thought things would re­vert to nor­mal like switch­ing on a light.

“The first thing that hap­pened when we came in was the in­vestors say­ing, ‘it is great that you are here and things have changed. We are no longer fear­ful and that’s good. But are you re­ally go­ing to sur­vive the next five years?’

‘So now it be­comes a sit­u­a­tion where they say, ‘we will watch you. Let’s wait and see be­fore we put our money in’.

“This (fence-sit­ting by the in­vestors) is what we are cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. I had in­for­mal dis­cus­sions with some in­vestors and they said that the change of gov­ern­ment was pow­er­ful but for them to dig into their pock­ets, they need guar­an­tees that the gov­ern­ment will sur­vive for five years. So, they are say­ing, ‘demon­strate to us be­fore we do any­thing’,” Dr Ma­joro said.

If the gov­ern­ment were to give in to the civil ser­vants and other work­ers’ de­mands and award them salary in­cre­ments, this could set the gov­ern­ment on a col­li­sion course with the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF).

Four months ago the IMF painted a bleak picture of Le­sotho’s short-term eco­nomic prospects char­ac­terised by slower than ex­pected growth on the back of a “steep de­cline” in South­ern African Cus­toms Union (SACU) rev­enues and high gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­ture par­tic­u­larly on salar­ies for civil ser­vants.

It rec­om­mended tough fis­cal mea­sures to mit­i­gate the ef­fects on the econ­omy. Chief among th­ese is the need for the gov­ern­ment to re­duce the high public wage bill, un­der­take public fi­nan­cial man­age­ment re­form as well as im­ple­ment the multi-sec­tor re­forms that were rec­om­mended by the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC).

FI­NANCE Min­is­ter Moeketsi Ma­joro.

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