By ‘Majirata Latela
Some of the workers at China Geo construction company have returned to work following negotiations and interventions between the company, the ministry of labour and employment and the workers’ union.
This is besides the report from one of the workers in contact with the publication who showed yesterday that all the workers are still on strike but they have realized that the company is hiring new construction workers.
“We are still on strike until our issues have been resolved. We have seen and heard that the company is hiring totally new people and we wonder how the employer has reached the decision to bring in new employees while we are still on a lawful strike.
“We are observing the events as they unfold together with our lawyers. We do not understand how this company operates and we still repeat that this Chinese people seem to be drawing strength from the two ministries,” he said.
The ministry of labour’ s public relations manager, Tumisang Mokoai yesterday told the publication that it is clear that the workers “there are divided as some have gotten back to work from Wednesday this week.”
He told the publication on Tuesday this week that it has come to the ministry’s realization that the union uses a few of the workers that have joined the union to get more members all in the name of fighting for their interests as workers.
He said the ministry of labour has intervened on the issues that arose between the employer and the employees and the union and as per the ministry’s mandate. A mediation, he said, is usually the best way to resolve work-related issues.
“It is in the mediation meetings where we realized that every time, we have a meeting, the union comes up with new issues which were not there in the first place. This is why we end up running around in circles because the union is playing games.
“This union is hiding behind the common saying that ‘Chinese people do not respect black people’. We also realize that there is an element of political aspect in the issues that the union is raising. However, the ministry’s only interest is to secure the jobs of the workers,” he said.
On the other hand, the labour inspector Mpho Manyeli said the issues that are raised are disputes of interest not disputes of rights. He said they have looked into the issue of underpayment and found that the workers are not underpaid as per the minimum wage Bill.
“On the issue of giving workers three months contract we have raised the issue with the employer to look into the nature of work of the employees. Those that the company foresee will need for a long period then they should be given permanent contracts until the project is finished. This is also to make sure that these workers get the benefits of working in a company for a longer period of time such as severance payment,” he mentioned.
Manyeli added that the other issue which the employer agreed to look into is to also make sure that workers are chauffeured in a proper transport to and from work. He said the employer has indicated that in a space of two weeks after their return to workplace he will remodel some of the trucks to ensure employees’ safety.
In an interview with secretary general of Construction and Allied Workers union (CMQ)’s Robert Mokhahlane, said the union is aware that some workers are back at work after getting threats from the company and some community leaders that they will lose their jobs for good.
He warned: “This is very bad for the strike because if some of the workers are back at work while others are still on strike, the workers who went back to work may experience some form of cohesion. This is because the workers have gone back to work with the terms of the employer not what they are fighting for.”
He added that on August 11 2022 the union will hold a rally at Marakabei in which they have invited the prime minister, the minister of labour, the minister of public works, local chiefs and the member of parliament. The workers will write a petition which they will present to the prime minister.
“It is also wrong to say we present new issues every time there is a meeting to resolve the issues of workers at China Geo. The truth of the matter is that there are many workers’ issues that have been pending to be solved since the project started and when we seek clarification one outstanding issue is linked to another one.
“We have heard that there was an inspection that was done at the company on the issue of underpayment and even though we do not have the official report, we hear that ministry of labour says there is no underpayment of our members there.
“We are not convinced on the findings because the workers or even the shop stewards were not involved on the inspection and we wonder how that was done without the involvement of the complaining party,” Mokhahlane said.
He added that the union does not have any kind of interest like the ministry is indicating, saying their union’s interest is to see the workers’ interests protected. He said it was not for the ministry to determine how workers demand their issues resolved.