After a petition to the Prime Minister, marches and demonstrations by thousands of workers to the ministry of labour and to parliament, the Government of Lesotho finally agreed to a minimum wage of LSL2,000 (US$138) for factory workers.
When it seemed that the government was not yielding, the unions called for a shutdown at textile factories in Maseru, Maputsoe and Nyenye’s industrial areas. Then the government succumbed when ministers recommended the minimum wage to the Wages Advisory Board, which advises the minister of labour on wages and conditions of employment. According to Lesotho laws, workers cannot be paid below the mandated minimum wages. The unions are also pressing for wages to be increased by 15 per cent across other sectors.
The minimum wage is significant for the poorly paid workers who are struggling to pay for basics like housing and transport. For example, a general worker earning the previous minimum of LSL1,238 (US$85), will get an increase of 62 per cent. Unions have long described the low pay in the garment and textile sector as poverty wages.
Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), an affiliate of IndustriALL, in collaboration with other unions, has been campaigning for the announcement of better minimum wages which, according to the labour laws, should have been done in April.
“After sustained pressure the government addressed our demands exactly the way we wanted. The increase in minimum wages boosts workers’ confidence in trade unions. We have been fighting for better wages for many years, and now we know that we have been struggling for a worthy cause,”
said Daniel Theko, IDUL general secretary.
“We welcome the minimum wages but will continue to support IDUL in its campaigns for better wages and working conditions in Lesotho,”
said Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa.
Employing over 35,000 workers, over 80 per cent of whom are women, the garment and textile sector in Lesotho is an important player in the economy and the second largest employer after the government.