Unions representing textile factory workers have hauled both government and their employers over the coals for the latter’s failure to honour a commitment to enforce a back-pay policy when increasing employees’ salaries.
The United Textiles Employees (UNITE), Lentsoe la Sechaba Workers Union (LSWU) and National Clothing and Textile Workers Union (NACTWU) claim that their employers have only paid factory workers from September when the enforcing gazette was released, but they have not yet been paid pack pays from April 2018.
LSWU secretary general Monaheng Mokaoane says they wrote to International Labor Organisation (ILO) asking for guidance on minimum wages and how they should be paid.
ILO replied, indicating that the governing body approved a number of measures concerning the operation of the representations procedure under Article 24 of the ILO Constitution.
“These measures provide, in particular, for arrangements to allow for optional voluntary conciliation or other measures at the national level, leading to a temporary suspension for a maximum period of six months of the examination of the merits of the representation by the committee. The suspension is subject to the agreement of the complaint organisation as well as the agreement of the Government,” the letter from ILO indicated.
It further stated that if the unions wish to explore the new possibility of seeking conciliation as referred to above, they may seek the intervention or the technical assistance of the Office, as indicated by their governing body decision. They said they remain in support of the unions at any times.
“We took the ILO’s advice and wrote a letter to the government of Lesotho through government secretary Moahloli Mphaka; even though we know they received the letter, never got back to us,” Mokaoane said.
The letter written to government, that was seen by this paper, informed the government that the unions had filed a complaint to ILO on the ways in which Lesotho observes ILO Convention 26.
“In their communication, the complainant organisations allege that, given the lack of effective consultation with workers’ representatives and their effective association in the operation of the minimum wage-fixing machinery, the government has failed to comply with Article 3 of the Convention. They consider that workers’ demands regarding wage-fixing are rarely addressed, which shows that workers’ representatives are denied the opportunity to meaningfully participate,” the letter stated.
It further said facts show that the Wage Advisory Board has not acted upon the recommendations of the advisory mission since its adoption of the eight criteria of a national consensus between unions and government sponsored by the ILO and ministry of labour and employment in 2012.
“We the trade unions wish to explore the voluntary conciliation that has ILO technical support, hence why we are inviting the Cabinet of Ministers of the Lesotho government to engage on the possible solutions to the matter only if the government subsequently agree (sic). Since the matter is of national interest, we request the full sitting of the Cabinet of Ministers, not just the Textile Committee that was responsible in the setting of the Minimum wages for 2018 that was not retroactive to the April 1st as the minimum wage gazette 2013/2014 stipulates,” the letter further states.
The unions gave the government five working days to respond to the proposal for conciliation. With government having not responded by July 25th 2019, the unions are contemplating seeking IOL intervention yet again.
UNITE spokesperson Daniel Maraisane the fact that government is ignoring their letter is a clear indication that it does not take them seriously.
“We want the factory workers to get those back pays from April, the same way police were able to get their 6% (retroactive salary adjustment). For now, we are going to play by the rules and go back to ILO to tell then that our government is not willing to sit down,” Maraisane said.
The workers thought their demands had been met when cabinet resolved to gazette a minimum wage of M2000 which would be backdated to 1 April 2018. But their joy was short-lived when on 13 August same year High Court Judge Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi issued an interim court order blocking the gazetting of the M2000 minimum wage which had been approved by the cabinet.
Justice Monaphathi granted the order after an urgent application was filed by Advocate Tseko Banyane on behalf of the Association of Lesotho Employers (ALE) and the Lesotho Textile Exporters Association (LTEA). The employers had argued that they could not afford the new wages and the government had only effected the increase for “political reasons”.
Factory workers have since received only the back pays from September 2018 – the day the gazette was released.
Attempts to find Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka to comment on the matter drew a blank as his phone rang unanswered.