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Lesotho garment factory fires workers for demanding payment

20 August, 2020Bull Clothing, a garment factory in the Southern African country of Lesotho, fired 253 workers, accusing them of taking strike action. It then rehired them, on new contracts, at lower salaries, subject to a three-month trial period.

The workers were fired last week after gathering to ask the company why a payment of 800 maLoti (US $46) from the government had been delayed. Workers believe the company deliberately delayed the payment. The company accused them of taking wildcat strike action and fired 253 workers.

When the workers asked for their severance packages on Friday last week, the company rehired them. Bull said the workers would be treated as new employees, losing all their accrued benefits, including their packages. They would also need to go through a three-month probation period at a significantly reduced wage. Severance packages are linked to wages and years of service, and represent a significant asset to workers. 

The workers are represented by IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL). After attempting to negotiate with the company, the union met with the labour ministry in an attempt to find a solution. However, the company did not cooperate. The unions escalated the case to the DDPR conciliation tribunal, but a backlog at the tribunal means the situation will not be resolved soon.

The union also raised the issue with a government sector development committee, who have summoned a company representative. The situation is complicated by the fact that factory owner is based in South Africa, and is unable to travel to Lesotho because of Covid-19 restrictions.

The union is concerned that the company has secret plans to close the Lesotho factory and move the operation to South Africa. By firing the workers, they are attempted to reduce their liability for severance packages which workers have earned over many years of service.

The Post newspaper reports that ever since the government of Lesotho introduced a minimum wage for the sector of M 2,020 (US $117) per month two years ago, companies have attempted to fire and rehire workers to reduce the cost of severance packages. A Bull worker told the paper,

“I can see through their trick and I will never accept to be cheated like that”.

IndustriALL regional secretary Paule Ndessomin said:

“Bull Clothing has played a dirty trick on its loyal workforce. By delaying the government payment, they provoked a reaction from the workforce. They used this reaction to accuse workers of taking wildcat strike action. Bull then fired them, stripped them of their benefits, and rehired them.

“This is a dishonest manouever engineered to reduce the company’s liability to its workers. We will not accept this, and we will fight until their benefits are restored.”

Bull Clothing produces wholesale workwear, primarily for the South African market.