TENSIONS are simmering between workers’ unions and employers over the former’s demand for an overhaul of the minimum wage structure which they say is a promotion of modern day slavery.
The workers are also demanding a M2000 minimum wage across all sectors by 2020 which entails a 29 percent raise for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years.
On average, the least paid workers in the country earn M1200 monthly. Yearly, workers’ salaries have been revised upwards by figures not exceeding 10 percent and if that were to follow this year, the workers would get an average of M120.
Lengthy negotiations between the workers, employers and the government through the Wages Advisory Board (WAB) are ongoing.
Employers have however, pledged to raise salaries by seven percent every year starting this year. This will effectively mean that the workers will go for five years to reach M2000 per month.
Speaking to Lesotho Times this week, secretary general of Lentsoe La Sechaba Workers’ Union, Monaheng Mokaoane indicated that the minimum wage negotiations were at advance stage.
Mr Mokaoane said there were concerns by textile employers that they could not afford to effect it in full in one year.
“Given the low increment of seven percent that government seems to agree with, both the VAT and transport fares increases are going to hit low-income earners the hardest,” Mr Mokaoane said.
The government increased the value added tax from 14 percent to 15 percent on 1 April this year. Negotiations are also underway to increase taxi fares to M9 and M10 for minibuses and 4+1 vehicles on 1 July 2018.
Secretary general of the Construction, Mining and Quarry Allied Workers’ Union, Robert Mokhahlane, challenged the ministry to explain the basis on which the seven percent raise.
“We are wondering what influenced the decision to offer seven percent. They should have sat down with us before making a decision,” Mr Mokhahlane said.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment has informed members of the WAB that it is seeking public commentary on the seven percent increase across the board, a move that has incensed workers representatives who view the decision as favoring employers over workers.
“The Wages Advisory Board is mandated by Section 50 (3) to publish in a Government Gazette a notice of intention to submit recommendations or proposals for a period not less than 30 days.
“This letter serves to notify you that the comments will be based on the seven percent increase across the board,” Director of National Employment Services ‘Maqenehelo Mahlo in a letter dated 28 May 2018.
In response, Mr Mokaoane said: “This is totally against what we had proposed to the WAB and we are surprised that the government is taking the side of the employees on this”.
He further said that the proposed seven percent adjustment would be meaningless for the lowest earning workers due to the inflationary effect of the VAT increase and the looming transport fares increase.
Contacted for commented, Ms Mahlo said she could not discuss internal processes of the WAB as prohibited by the law. She however indicated that the process of fixing the minimum wage is currently on going and a decision on the minimum wage is yet to be finalized.
After public consultation on the proposed adjustment, the government will public a final gazette communicating the ultimate decision on the minimum wage adjustment.
The conflict between the government and the workers representatives in 2017/18 spilled into the courts when the labour ministry was accused of somersaulting on its pledge to increase salaries by nine percent. Back then, the workers were only awarded seven percent which had been proposed by the employers.