Workers fired in pay dispute

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MASERU — Workers at garment manufacturer Shinning Century Limited were summarily fired on Monday after they downed tools demanding payment for long-service.
Shinning Century Limited is a leading manufacturer of T-shirts and fleeces that are exported to United States.
The workers alleged that the company had last month promised to pay the workers, who earn average salaries of M916 a month, about M458 for every year served.
The payments were due by June 30, the workers said.
But four days after month-end the workers had still not been paid leading to the protest at the company’s premises.
Management at Shinning Century Limited responded by firing the workers on Monday.
But yesterday the workers were back at work after four workers’ unions intervened on their behalf on Tuesday.
The unions that intervened in the dispute were the Lesotho Clothing and Workers Union, Factory Workers Union, National Union of Textile Workers and the Lentsoe la Sechaba.
The workers said they were given letters on Monday informing them that they were not going to get the money for the long-service awards and that their contracts were being terminated with immediate effect.
A regional organiser with Nutex, May Rathakane, said Shinning Century Limited management withdrew their decision to fire the workers after the meeting on Tuesday.
“During the meeting we agreed that the workers should go back to work while we look into their grievances,” Rathakane said.
“We are going to have another meeting next week with the management where we expect them to let us know when they will give the employees their dues,” he said.
Rathakane said the employees would continue to work under their old contracts until a decision was reached.
The managing director of Shinning Century Limited, Jennifer Chen, said the employees decided to go on strike while they were trying to attend to the matter.
“They gave a letter of complaint to the personnel department on Friday and when I came in on morning Monday they started the protest,” Chen said.
She said the firm was not opposed to the workers’ demand for long service payment but they wanted to follow the right procedures.
“It is unfortunate that they decided to go on strike when we were looking into the matter.”
The employees said they wanted their money immediately because they feared the factory might close since it was experiencing some financial problems.
They said since August last year they have been sent home on unpaid leave on a number of occasions because there were no orders for the company’s products.
“Sometimes the leave takes as long as the whole month and this affects us badly since we won’t get paid,” said one of the workers, ’Mathabo Leseba.
She said they feared that the factory might close before they get their benefits.
“This has happened before. We have seen factories close shop leaving employees without anything.”
Leseba said they decided to strike after management had promised to pay them at the end of June but failed to do so.
She said the workers’ committee gave the management a letter on Friday reminding them about their long-service payments.
“We did not get any response from the management until Monday at around 10am when we got a letter informing us that we were not going to get our money and that our contracts were being terminated,” she added.
The workers said when they were returning to work after lunch they found the gates locked and they could not get into the factory.
“They (management) did not even let us use the toilets. We sat outside the factory for the whole day until very late when we decided to go home.
“On Tuesday when we came back they could not let us in. We only managed to enter when one of the managers arrived. When they opened the gates for her we took the opportunity and went in with her.”
Meanwhile a workers’ committee member allegedly assaulted one of the workers as they chanted and sang on Monday.
The workers’ committee official is said to have slapped the worker as she tried to convince the strikers to go back to work.
“While the employees were singing in protest one of the workers’ leaders slapped her on the face,” a witness said.
Rathakane said the assault issue would be handled separately.
“We told the employee to get a medical form and report a case of assault to the police as it is illegal to harass employees,” he said.

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