China Geo hit by strike

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Striking China Geo workers

By ‘Majirata Latela

The 400 employees of construction company China Geo are accusing their employer of contravening the labour laws and of labour practices.

These are some of the grievances which have forced them to go on strike following their union’s failure to reach an agreement with the company and the labour department. The strike is now in its third week.

Chinese-owned China Geo is currently constructing the 60 kilometre Marakabei to Monontša road. The workers downed tools from June 29 2022 as the company failed to come to terms with several complaints that the workers demanded they be addressed before they continue working.

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The Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) ruled in favour of the workers to go on a lawful strike after failed negotiations with the employers, with the workforce demanding wage increases and good health and safety practices at the workplace.

Construction, Mining and Allied Workers Union (CMQ), secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane this week said the negotiations failed to be fruitful.

The principal secretary of the ministry of labour, Botha- Bothe district police commander, the district administrator of Botha-Bothe and the union representatives who were present at the meeting vowed to scrutinize the issue of underpayment with the ministry of labour set to investigate whether the workers were being paid lawful wages.

On the issue of transport, Mokhahlane showed that the ministry has clearly instructed the company to provide transport to workers to their workplace as required by the labour law.

Mokhahlane said among other issues, the workers want the three-month contracts basis to be stopped. The workers want contracts which are equivalent to the number of years that the construction of the road will take.

He said with the three-month contract, workers are not even able to take out loans from financial institutions.

“Among other issues, we are demanding on behalf of the workers, housing allowance. We are saying that the company should provide housing allowances, food and transport allowances for the workers if it cannot build a camp for the workers.

“We are saying this because there are specifications that the company has agreed to comply with when it comes to allowances and currently, they are not doing so. The company does not even provide save transport for workers to the construction site.

“We decided as the workers to pursue this issue because we have realised that the government makes sure that certain issues get resolved when it has its interests. Now, the government has proved it has no interest in resolving these labour related issues especially those in the interest of the workers.

Mokhahlane further explained that on March 16 2022 the workers were to go on a lawful strike but the district administrator together with China Geo requested a holding of negotiations triggering a suspension of the strike by the union. But they reached a deadlock.

He said the union has since met with the principal secretaries from the ministry of public works and the ministry of labour and employment. He said the negotiation were not “successful as it was clear that the company did not want to give an offer in all the things that we have asked for.”

Added Mokhahlane: “It does not cost the company any money to make sensible contracts for the workers but it seems they are not ready to do so.

“We have held also a meeting where the director DDPR and the labor commissioner were present, in that meeting, the commissioner advised the employer to be cautious of the labour laws which the company is breaching. She showed the company that Lesotho has signed treaties on international labour practices and needs to comply.

“On the issues of contracts, the commissioner said construction workers are not like labour intensive projects workers. She said in construction section 66 of Labour Code Order of 1992 clearly outlines why a worker can be laid off and in which terms.”

On Tuesday this week, theReporter visited Marakabei in Botha-Bothe where upon arrival at the Chinese camp site saw construction workers sitting in small groups just outside the camp site. The gate that leads in to the campsite was locked. On guard at the site were heavily armed security guards and members of the Lesotho Defence Force. (LDF).

One of the workers who talked on condition of anonymously for fear of victimization told this publication that there have been a series of strikes because the employer fails to listen and consider workers’ grievances.”

He said some of the workers who hold code 14 driving licenses allowing them to drive big trucks are not paid accordingly.

 “Even the machine operators are not paid according to their skills. It is even worse when it comes to the unskilled labourers who are being paid peanuts. We are not even paid according to the minimum wage bill.

“Another heartbreaking issue that we experience working for this company is that after being paid peanuts, we are regularly transferred from one project to another. When being transferred one has to take care of their food and housing allowances even if they are transferred in the middle of the month.

“When we were employed it was for Marakabei to Monontša but we find ourselves transferred from Botha-Bothe to Mafeteng. Even if we are not paid for the skills we have, the company sometimes depends on our skills for the project to be a success.

“The treatment that we get from these Chinese companies is horrible. We do not even have pay slips, for many years that we have been working here. If one asks for a pay slip, the employer fumes with anger. At first, we were given a very small paper when demanding a pay slip. The paper was written in Chinese language and was not accepted by any financial provider or even shops,” the worker narrated.

He further showed that they have been working on a three-month contract from 2018 until now with no reasons coming forward. The workers also showed that they do not have copies of the contracts they have signed with the employer and the find it risky because they do not have any prove that they work for the company.

“We are being constantly threatened that when we are sitting here and participating in an ‘unlawful strike’ our contracts are expiring. We don’t know how they accuse us of being in an unlawful strike,” the worker said pointing to the notice board where a piece of document has been placed showing that the strike the workers are participating in is unlawful.

The workers also pointed out that when going to the construction site, they board the trucks which also carry “dangerous equipment which have on several occasions injured some of the workers.” Those who suffered serious injuries were never compensated, he claimed.

“The way things are unfolding we believe that these Chinese people have people in ministries protecting their interests so that the Chinese can continue to ill-treat us. Usually when the government comes here, it takes the side of the employer without even looking at labour laws,” he fumed.