Mine workers threaten to strike

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MASERU — Employees of Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC) a company sub-contracted by Lets’eng Diamond at its mine in Mokhotlong are planning to down tools on Monday.

If the workers carry out their threat, work at the mine will come to a halt. The workers are bitter that the MMIC has refused to recognise their trade union, the Mining and Construction Workers Union (MICOWU).

MMIC human resources manager, Mots’elisi Pelesa, confirmed the workers were planning to go on strike.

“It is true that MMIC management received a letter dated 24th August 2009 from employees,” Pelesa said.

“Discussions are ongoing between the management and workers, the labour commissioner, MICOWU and the mine management.”

“We are not at liberty at this stage to disclose the details of the discussions as the meeting aimed to resolve the matter is scheduled for Friday 28th August 2009 or Monday 31st August 2009.”

Lets’eng Diamond has hired all its earth-moving equipment and mining operators from the MMIC under the load-and-haul contract.

A strike could affect production of about 3 000 carats a month. A carat is currently selling at M7 200 each.

The Lets’eng general manager Moruti Mphats’oe told the Lesotho Times yesterday that they were going to hold talks with the MMIC management.

However, Mphats’oe refused to talk about the impact the strike might have on the mine.

“I will not comment on that because we are yet to have talks with the MMIC management,” he said.

Out of 154 workers, 110 have written and signed a letter to the MMIC manager, Sekoati Tlali, instructing him to deduct their monthly subscription fees to MICOWU failing which they would launch an industrial action.

The workers say MMIC management ignored their calls to consider MICOWU as their trade union by declining to deduct subscription fees from their monthly wages as provided for in the Labour Code.

“This has to come to an abrupt stop,” said a worker who requested anonymity.

“We say enough is enough.”

The MMIC workers also complain that the employer, the Labour Commissioner ’Mamohale Matsoso and the Minister of Labour and Employment Refiloe Masemene have misused the Labour Code section that allows long hours of work.

The workers say they have been working 12 hours every day for 14 consecutive days without rest every month since May 2006 after Masemene and Matsoso granted the MMIC permission exempting it from the normal working hour-practice provided for in law.

The Labour Code says an employee shall be allowed a weekly rest period of at least 24 continuous hours which shall include Sunday as the day of rest.

The normal working hours, according to the code are 45 per week.

However, an employer may apply for an exception from the Minister of Labour and Employment.

The Labour Code requires that the minister consults employers’ and employees’ organisations before granting the exemption order.

The minister is also required to stipulate the conditions of the exemption including the maximum number of hours of normal time and of overtime which employees may work.

In making the exemption regulations the minister is expected to take into account the provisions of international labour conventions which are in force for Lesotho.

Exemptions should not stretch longer than two years.

An employer can only apply for exemption to prevent loss of perishable goods, to allow for special work such as stocktaking, preparation of balance sheets, settlement of days, liquidations and the balancing and closing of accounts.

Exemption can also be permitted to enable undertakings to deal with cases of abnormal pressure of work due to special circumstances in which the employer cannot reasonably be expected to resort to other measures.

The MMIC workers say none of these reasons apply in their case.

MICOWU general secretary, Qhola Zuma, told the Lesotho Times yesterday that the MMIC worked to ensure the workers do not officially join the union.

Zuma said in one of their meetings on June 24 the MMIC management said MICOWU did not have members among its employees.

“They said we did not have members among their employees despite that we had stop-order forms with which the workers had instructed that subscription fees should be deducted from their wages,” Zuma said.

“We had 93 workers who had signed the documents to show that they had joined MICOWU,” he said.

“MMIC ended up saying the signatures were forgeries.”

“But they did not respond when I asked them why they did not have me charged with fraud.”

Regarding the issue of exemption, Zuma said procedures for application and granting were not followed.

He said it was wrong that MMIC was given exemption without reasons exacted by the Labour Code.

The Lesotho Times saw a document that said the MMIC needed to be exempted from Labour Code obligations regarding working hours because Lets’eng mine is situated in a remote area.

Efforts to contact the Labour Commissioner and Labour Minister were not successful.

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