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Lesotho workers strike over government failure to announce wage increases

3 June, 2021IndustriALL affiliate, the independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), is involved in dialogue with the ministry of labour and employment to end a national strike over wages which began on 10 May.

The strike is over a wage dispute arising from the government’s failure to announce wage increases for textile, garment, shoe, and leather workers in the last two years. The last wage gazette was published in 2019 and wages for the workers have not been increased since. According to the labour laws, the wages gazette must be published yearly, but the government is using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for not increasing the minimum wages.

This prompted an indefinite national strike in which over 40,000 workers took to the streets in protests. The government  responded with force, with the police attacking and injuring several striking workers.

Mamakalo Mohapi, IDUL president and garment worker at Precious Garments in Maseru says:

“Instead of resolving the dispute by announcing new wages, the government is resorting to the use of excessive force. Two workers have died: one was hit by a truck while the other was shot by the army. Several workers have also been injured and hospitalized.”

Mohapi says employers are also using divide and rule tactics.

“With non-unionized workers being asked to report for work when unionized workers are on strike, the employers are also turning workers against each other. Employers are also bribing workers to break the strike.”

Minimum wages in the textile sector for workers with less than a year’s experience are LSL1900 (US$138) for a general worker and trainee machine operator, and LSL2042 (US$148) for a machine operator per month. Those with experience over a year earn LSL2120 (US$155). Workers are demanding a 20 per cent increase to improve the low wages that are not enough to pay for their living expenses.

“The government must announce the wage increases and be sensitive to the livelihoods of workers who have waited for two years for an increase. The workers’ rights to freedom of association must be respected, and the police must stop using force against the striking workers. We support IDUL’s fight for minimum living wages,”

says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa.

Photo: IDUL at a rally in Lesotho, 2019