MASERU — Metolong Dam workers yesterday told Water Affairs Minister Timothy Thahane that they will down their tools again next month if their grievances are not addressed.
The workers said this during a tour by Thahane to the dam construction site to inspect its progress.
They said the construction management provided them with unwholesome food and poor quality safety clothes and when they complain they are threatened with dismissal.
“We are fed rotten food here and the working conditions are not good, minister,” one of the workers told Thahane.
“We have heard over local radio stations claims that we are satisfied but we are not,” the man who asked his name not to be published told Thahane.
“When our safety clothes are worn out they are not replaced immediately, the management says their policy is to replace them only after six months irrespective of the fact that they get torn within two months because of their poor quality.”
The worker said they are waiting for a response from the Lesotho Workers Association (Lewa), to act on their grievances.
“We are readying ourselves for another strike next month,” he said.
Lewa national organiser, Lehlohonolo Seoaholimo, told the Lesotho Times yesterday that they are meeting with workers today to discuss their grievances.
“We have confirmed that after last year’s strike the police were deployed at the construction site and after that the workers have experienced maltreatment at the hands of their Chinese bosses,” Seoaholimo said.
“These Chinese ignore that these workers have rights.”
Seoaholimo said workers were not happy after most of them were given three-month employment contracts for the construction that will be completed in 2014.
Thahane told workers to write down their grievances so that he would deal with them.
He said he was unaware that labour disputes were continuing after last year’s strike.
“I am not aware that you have problems here,” Thahane said.
“I can’t assume that you have problems. You should communicate with me so that I know what is happening.”
In June last year workers at Metolong Dam pelted their Chinese bosses with stones and the manager, Song Yi Jun, was briefly hospitalised with serious injuries.
Also injured in the violent confrontation was Seoaholimo.
All hell broke loose after Song allegedly reneged on an agreement to award a salary raise to the striking workers.
The workers alleged that Sinohydro Corporation, the company building Metolong Dam, had agreed to give the workers a M3 increment for every hour worked.
But at a meeting which was addressed by Seoaholimo, Song allegedly reneged on the agreement telling workers the company could only afford a M1 increment per every hour worked.
This incensed the workers who started pelting Song.
Workers at Sinohydro Corporation were said to be earning M6.20 per hour.
They were demanding M18.88 per hour for the lowest paid worker.
Song said he had offered to increase workers’ salaries by M200 a month but they rejected the offer.
Thahane then visited the project in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful end to the stand-off.
Thahane urged the workers to end their strike.
He urged the workers’ union to negotiate with the employer while workers continued with their work.
Speaking to the workers yesterday, Thahane said he thought clashes between workers and the management were resolved last year.
“I came here in June when the contractor, Sinohydro Corporation, and its employees had clashes over salary increment but they were resolved,” he said.
The Metolong project is meant to supply water in Maseru, Morija, Teyateyaneng, Moshoeshoe I Airport and other villages.
“Water is life and we need to plan ahead about how we are going to get the water supply in the next five to 10 years,” Thahane said.
“In December 2013 the dam will be completed and the machines will pump water into the water treatment plant that will be completed in March.”
“Villages where the water pipes pass through will also benefit from the project.”