Better Work Lesotho in limbo

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. . . as major sponsor is set to pull out in June

Rethabile Pitso

THE future of Better Work Lesotho (BWL) hangs in the balance after its major sponsor, the United States Department of Labour, indicated it would stop funding the project in June this year.

BWL Lead Enterprise Advisor, Nthabeleng Molise, told the Lesotho Times they were yet to find an alternative funding source after the US government agency said last year it would no longer continue sponsoring the project beyond June.

Launched in 2010, BWL is an initiative of the International Labour Organisation and the International Finance Corporation to improve compliance with labour standards and competitiveness in global supply chains.

The project works to improve conditions for factory workers by monitoring adherence to national and international labour standards and improving the relationship between workers and factory management. It also provides auditing, advisory, and training services.

Ms Molise said BWL had until June 2016 to find another major sponsor.

“We were notified last year that the US Department of Labour, which has been sponsoring this programme since 2010, would cease funding BWL,” she said.

“They cited the fact that Lesotho should be funding such an important programme by itself as the reason for the withdrawal.

“However, last June, the US extended funding for BWL by one more year to give us time to find another sponsor. The US Department of Labour said they would continue with the sponsorship until June 2016.”

Ms Molise said they had since requested the government to take over funding the project, although they were yet to make any headway.

“We held talks with Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa last year and with officials from the Ministry of Labour and Employment to find a way to keep the programme running,” she said.

“Until now, we still don’t know how we will be able to continue operating because we have not yet received confirmation from the government regarding our situation.”

BWL, Ms Molise said, was playing an invaluable role in working for the improvement of living conditions for factory workers by fostering good relationships between workers and management.

“Better Work is the only programme in the country that has so far been successful in ensuring that factories are compliant with both national and international labour laws,” she said.

“Before BWL was established, we had instances in which some Lesotho-made goods were rejected upon being exported to the United States because the factories failed to produce compliance certificates.”

Ms Molise said BWL also worked intensively with factory workers by offering numerous life-skills, communication skills and safety trainings.

“Part of our programme also seeks to enhance good relations between employers and employees within the textile industry. We have held programmes that have impacted positively on people’s lives, and it is our wish to continue the programme for the betterment of livelihoods,” she said.

Commenting on the issue, Labour and Employment ministry Public Relations Officer, Malefetsane Nchaka, said the ministry and other key stakeholders were holding discussions to find a solution to the challenge.

However, Mr Nchaka said he was not at liberty to reveal any more information about the discussions.

“We are engaging in vigorous talks with stakeholders that include the Ministry of Trade and Industry, through its agency the Lesotho National Development Corporation, textile trade unions and factory owners to find ways to keep the Better Work programme operational,” he said.

“The programme is very important and we cannot afford to lose it. It has impacted positively on the lives of both factory workers and their employers.

“But at this stage I cannot reveal the finer details of the discussions. We will notify the public of any developments soon.”

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