MASERU – There is chaos in the Education Facilities Unit (EFU) which falls under the Ministry of Education and Training after workers at the unit downed tools protesting against their inclusion in civil service structures without clear contracts.
Before this the workers were not part of the civil service.
The Lesotho Times can reveal that 18 of the 23 workers in the EFU are out of work after their heated dispute with the Education Ministry’s principal secretary, Motsoakapa Makara, was not resolved.
The EFU is a unit co-funded by the government of Lesotho and international donor organisations that include the World Bank, UNICEF, the governments of Japan, Cyprus, Ireland, China and others.
The EFU’s business is to build schools and supply them with the necessary equipment.
The unit also facilitates payment of contractors who supply services to the Ministry of Education.
The entire EFU system has been seriously paralysed to an extent that currently all operations have come to a stand- still.
As a result, over 100 schools that are under construction countrywide are not being inspected and supervised by experts from the government.
This could delay the completion of some schools and stall new projects.
Other service providers who supplied the Ministry of Education with office equipment, stationery and other goods say they have not been paid.
Some service providers claim that the ministry owes them amounts ranging from M20 000 to M500 000 depending on the services and goods they supplied.
A contractor building a school in Thaba-Tseka, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was unable to pay wages because the EFU had not inspected his work to facilitate payment.
He has been waiting for payment for the past four months.
He said last month he had allowed some workers to go and see their families in areas around Butha-Buthe and Quthing but he was now unable to get them back to work because he could not pay them.
“I can’t even pay them,” he said.
The manager of ’Neko Electrics, ’Neko ’Neko, told the Lesotho Times he was still waiting to be paid after installing electricity at Rachele Primary School earlier this year.
“I was at the EFU offices yesterday and I found totally new people who did not have information about me,” he told this paper on Tuesday.
“They promised to check my file and arrange payment.”
The managing director for PL Lepota & Sons Construction, Phillip Lepota, said the problems at EFU have severely affected his work.
“I have lost financially because if site inspection is not done one cannot be paid,” he said.
Lepota said he hoped the new employees at the EFU would learn fast and help them.
Two people were recently recruited to man the unit but problems persist because the staff complement is thin and there has not been a proper handover-takeover exercise.
The EFU workers had been employed on contracts renewable at expiration.
Some of the workers have worked for EFU for 17 years, renewing contracts when they expired.
These workers were not paid according to the civil servant salary scales, which are normally low, but were paid high salaries because they worked in a project that was mainly sponsored by international donors. Some used to have three-year contracts while others had one or two years.
Their last contract with the EFU ended on March 31.
Two months before the expiration of their contracts, the workers were told that instead of renewing their current contracts the government was planning to absorb them into the civil service.
This meant that their salaries would be reduced to fit into the civil service structures.
One of the workers said the new arrangement would reduce his salary from M16 000 to M4 000 per month.
He said his gratuities would be lowered from 38.5 percent to 25 percent while the annual leave days would be reduced from 21 to 12.
“I found it outrageous because the M4 000 I am now supposed to earn as my monthly salary is spent on insurances only,” he said.
Sources within the Education Ministry said the workers told the principal secretary that they were not against being absorbed in the civil service but the decision was so sudden that they had not had time to adjust their way of spending.
On March 9 the workers met Makara to inform him of their concerns. Makara allegedly told them that the donors did not have enough money to pay their salaries.
One of the workers, Mohlakoana Sekopo, told the Lesotho Times in an interview that when they heard that donors would no longer afford to pay them they wanted the ministry to give them their terms of reference and provide them with new work contracts.
On March 17 Makara gave them letters of employment offers but there were no contracts attached.
“We wanted to know what we were getting ourselves into,” Sekopo said.
“We wanted the contracts and terms of reference.”
The workers wrote to the principal secretary on March 19 asking him to give them contracts. On March 23, they received terms of reference and new titles but there were still no contracts.
The terms of reference had not changed from the ones they had.
On March 31, the day their contracts with the EFU expired, Makara called them indicating that they must sign their contracts immediately.
They did not sign but instead wrote a letter to the Education and Training Minister ’Mamphono Khaketla asking her to intervene.
Khaketla only responded to their letter on April 7, telling them that they were no longer employees of her ministry.
Khaketla told the EFU workers that the employer-employee relationship did not exist between them and the Ministry of Education and Training.
She said she could therefore not accommodate their request to meet her to discuss issues pertaining to their work.
The Lesotho Times is in possession of correspondences between Khaketla and the EFU workers.
Khaketla instructed Makara to write to the EFU workers telling them that they were no longer employees of the Ministry of Education and Training.
“The employer and employee relationship does not exist between yourselves and the ministry,” reads part of the letter.
The workers have since approached the Director of Dispute Prevention and Resolution for intervention.
At the time of going to print, the ministry’s senior officials were still in talks with one of the donors who funded EFU, the World Bank.