The incompetence of the ministry of labour is clearly written over a trend of strikes, ill-treatment of workers and inhuman treatment workers are experiencing at their work places.
The maltreatment trend traces back to 2021 or even to 2020 with the strikes of the textile factory workers that even claimed lives in 2021. In (2021) the textile factory workers orchestrated the strike over their salaries increment.
The strike came following the failure of the government to fulfill its 2020 promises on hiking the factory workers’ salaries. The gazette had last seen by workers in 2019 and since then they waited as promises filled their wallets. In 2021 the budget statement was published workers poured with cold water when their increment was not mentioned.
At this moment, Workers made a demand of 20% which was promised to them by the former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in April 2020. Workers were saying they have never seen a gazette on their increment since April 2020.
“The government does not care about us, since last year April they have not released the gazette and now want to give us peanuts over what we asked for. We demand 20 % increment on our salaries and no salary cut, the firm owners are robbing us with salary cuts and the trade unions are doing nothing regarding the salary increment,” said an anonymous factory worker then.
In this strike, three men were admitted into the Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) reported shot by the police who were allegedly dispersing the crowds. The then Spokesperson of QMMH Mothepane Thahane had confirmed the admission of three men into their facility from the Thetsane textile strike. Among the shot, was a street vendor who was caught in the crossfire when police were shooting at the striking workers.
Moreover, in Maputsoe, reports emerged of Indian factory owners who were assaulting and insulting the workers, in fact a woman had been reported hospitalized after receiving a beating of her a life at the hands of her bosses who were male. The trade unions said that they are not allowed to intervene in some of Maputsoe cases because some factory owners do not allow their workers to join the unions.
As if that was not enough, 2500 Nien Hsing workers in the Thetsane industrial area Maseru, received unpalatable news when they were given their marching orders in the form of retrenchment just in the midst of salaries increment battle. Justifying the retrenchment to the trade unions, Nien Hsing blamed the retrenchment on bad business owing to the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
When the workers received the news, they had approached the Labour Court in a move to have the court stop the intended retrenchment. In their application, the workers asked the court not to allow the employer to carry on with the retrenching mission.
According to the UNITE Deputy Secretary General Potloloane Monare the matter had first been presented to the Ministry but until the filing of the application, there had been no attempt of help by the ministry. As a matter of fact, the factory went ahead with the retrenchments and even closed shop with the remaining 2000 workers also losing their employment, “…as the ministry watched-on doing nothing”. The 2500 workers were adding to another 2000 workers from Glory that had lost their jobs a year before 2021.
Following this was reports of rape and inhumane treatment on workers engaged in the building of the Mpiti to Sehlabathebe road in Qacha’s Nek. Reports indicated how the condition for the female workers’ contracts renewal was having sex with their Chinese bosses.
The Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) union Secretary-General Robert Mokhahlane confirmed the reports, adding that the unfortunate part was that the coitus even happens without protection the effects of which include unplanned pregnancies in the name of contracts renewals.
Furthermore, the workers are said to be exposed to inhumane treatment wherein their health is disregarded at the expense of service delivery for the project.
Mokhahlane indicated that the safety negligence in the industry is rampant as there seems to be no one taking charge of the situation especially on projects implemented by Chinese companies citing in addition, the Belo road construction project in the Butha-Buthe district as well as the Queen II Hospital refurbishment project in Maseru city.
He indicated that at the Belo project implemented by UNIK Constructions, work goes on in total disregard of safety precautions to the affect that in one instance a worker had fallen from atop a factory structure rooftop to his death.
“Most of the injuries that workers encounter at the workplace are not reported by the companies because they are avoiding responsibility and fudging injury expenses,” he said then. He added that skilled and unskilled labourers earn the same income, a feat totally disregarded by the ministry. He said had the ministry intervened on the matter such issues would have been addressed and grumblings averted.
It is reported that some 75 workers had also been dismissed and replaced with 50 Chinese nationals after downing tools following the company’s failure to improve their deplorable work conditions.
Recently, workers at the Queen II construction site reported instances of inhumane treatment meted against them by their Chinese bosses where workers are forced to stay on site for six months without visiting home or attending any personal business or affairs even after their working hours where they are enclosed in the staffers’ camp all the time if they want to keep their jobs. They are not even allowed to enter trade unions or be visited by outsiders.
“We are not even allowed to visit the workers to see their working conditions, it is not in law to hinder the trade unions to visit workers except they hiding something. Workers are only allowed to leave the camp twice a year as they are released after six months and do not even have time to spend their salaries,” Mokhahlane told this publication earlier.
Two workers are reported to have been dismissed when one showed dissatisfaction on food and other one for being injured at work. Labour inspector Mpho Manyeli said they did carry the inspection at Queen two, however this leaves a question of why such treatment went unnoticed and unresolved in inspection time.
The minister of labour Moshe Leoma said he had already sent the officials to resolve the matter.
In his response the minister of labor told this publication that he is unaware of the matter and he shall sent officers to Qacha. However, labour had not carried its inspections be casue they did, such inhuman actions will have been unveiled.
Manyeli said labour does not carry inspections when the project begins but they go to a place when they receive complain. He said construction workers can be kept in one place of work but after working hours they are allowed to roam about for their personal activities and it is their right.
According to Manyeli the chines company implementing the Queen Two project is should allow workers to move around after working hours. This leaves a question of why this matter and others were addressed if the inspection had been done in this area.
Meanwhile, the minister of labour Moshe Leoma said the inspection has to be carried out at the very beginning of the project where the officers will check the contracts and help in seeing that no one is wrongly treated by the other.
“The inspectors should go to the area right at the very beginning of the project, the other way is to carry out the inspection after receiving the complaints and if we find any crime committed we hand such people over to the police,” said Leoma.
He added that only recently had he was told about the incident at Queen two where workers are being mistreated by the employer and the matter is in his hands.
“The problem is to look over the law when we find that some employers have committed crimes and save them for who they are,” he added.
Up to date over seven cases of Chinese employers mistreating the workers have been reported in Lesotho, the reports unveil the failure of labour to inspect thoroughly the contracts before the workers and employers can even start working.
Up to date the ministry of labour have failed to secure over 10 0000 factory jobs. And there is no sign that the ministry is willing to create works for those workers who lost their jobs.