TRADE unions of different sectors intend to demonstrate and petition Prime Minister Thomas Thabane over what they called the “poor and unprofessional handling” of their minimum wage grievances.
An alliance of eight trade unions told a press briefing that they have already applied to the police for permission to hold a procession on 25 June 2018 over their unaddressed grievances.
Labour and Employment Minister Keketso Rantšo will also be petitioned along with the parliament.
Since 2012, the trade unions have been calling for restructuring of the minimum wage especially for the textile sector, which earns as little as M1238 monthly. The workers have complained that the minimum wage is not a living wage.
A study commissioned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2012 indicated that the living wage in Lesotho is around M2850, with the Central Bank showing that textile factories could afford to pay workers M1391 in 2012.
However, six years later, the lowest earning textile worker still earns lower than the estimated figure.
The negotiation process is ongoing but the Wages Advisory Board (WAB), employers and the workers have failed to reach a consensus on the rate for adjustment for the 2018/19 financial year.
The WAB is a statutory body established “to advise the Minister and the National Advisory Committee on Labour and such other matters relating to wages and conditions of employment as the Minister may refer to it”.
It is chaired by the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, the board is made up of 12 employers’ representatives and 12 workers’ representatives who are mainly from labour federations. There are also representative from the Central Bank, the Bureau of Statistics and the senior economic planner from the Ministry of Labour.
The workers have proposed that a newly employed worker in the textile industry should earn M2000 in two years-time at 15 percent increment yearly starting this year.
The employers have however, proposed a seven percent hike for the rest of the sectors. Having noted that the two parties cannot reach an agreement, the government has said it intends to seek public opinion based on the seven percent increment proposed by the employers.
This government decision has raised the ire of the trade unions who have accused the government for colluding with the employers to the detriment of workers.
Addressing the media on Wednesday this week, the trade unions said the workers have rejected the proposed seven percent that the government intends to seek public input on.
The unions said the country’s minimum wage has remained low for too long and is therefore below the living standards.
“We have consulted the workers over the seven percent increment and they have rejected it as will not improve their lives,” Samuel Mokhele of the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU) said.
Mr Mokhele further indicated that they were convinced that the government sides with the employers to the detriment of the workers.
“This gives the impression that the government is siding with the employers over the workers which does not sit well with us,” Monaheng Mokaoane of Lentsoe La Sechaba Workers Union chipped in.
Mr Mokhele said they feel that the labour minister has not helped their cause and are now escalating the matter to higher authorities to get resolve.
“We have already written to the police requesting permission for the intended lawful procession. With this procession we are going to petition members of the parliament, the Prime Minister and Ms Rantšo.”
The trade unions also queried the delay in the issuance of a draft gazette seeking public opinion on the proposed minimum wage adjustment following the last meeting of the WAB in 8th May 2018.
They said this has burdened the workers given the increase in the cost of living as a result of Value Added Tax from 14 percent to 15 percent in April this year.
Other trade unions present at yesterday’s media briefing were Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), Lentsoe La Sechaba Trade Union, United Textile Employee Trade Union (UNITE), Construction, Mining and Quarry Trade Union (CMQ), Lesotho Association of Bank Employers (LABE), Lesotho Wholesale, Catering and Allied Workers Union (LEWCAWU), Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) and Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD).
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labour and Employment held a separate media briefing on the same day to give its side of the story.
Director of National Employment Services ‘Maqenehelo Mahlo said the minimum wage is just a safety net meant to protect the vulnerable lowest earning workers who are unable to negotiate for better wages.
Ms Mahlo indicated that trade unions were free to negotiate better wages on behalf of the workers over and above the set minimum wage. She said the WAB is advised by the Central Bank and Bureau of Statistics on the status of economy in the process of determining the minimum standard.
This sentiment was reiterated by Labour Commissioner ‘Mamohale Matsoso who said the trade unions have for a long time misused the WAB as a bargaining platform whereas it is a platform meant to discuss the mutual gains that both employer and worker stand to gain in minimum wage adjustment.
“Bargaining for better wages and conditions of work should be done on the factory floor and not in the wages board,” Ms Matsoso said.
On the decision of government to take a stand siding with employers, Ms Mahlo indicated that where the parties do not agree on the advice to give the minister, it is the responsibility of the minister to make a decision.
“It is unfortunate that when the government is taking responsibility to intervene where both parties have failed to reach a consensus the government is derided for that.” Ms Matsoso said.