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Three textile unions form women’s committee in Lesotho

1 October, 2014“I want to work in a safe place and have a good salary and enough rest.” This was the testimonial from one young woman who participated in the meeting in Maseru on 24 and 25 September 2014.

The purpose of the meeting was to create an IndustriALL women’s committee in Lesotho, where about 14,000 textile workers belong to three different unions, FAWU, LECAWU and NUTEXT out of about 40,000 workers. These unions are likely to come together soon to form one union. The textile factories belong to South African or Chinese owners.

The women identified the following issues as being ones that need attention: insufficient toilet time, blocked or locked exits, fainting, excessive targets, sexual harassment, low pay which makes some women resort to prostitution, not enough sleep, insufficient maternity leave, HIV and AIDS. They worked on the basis of body mapping, workplace mapping, life mapping as well as visualization of dreams.

The women knew about one factory where the maternity leave went up from two weeks to 12 weeks. It is Springfield Manufacturing, a South African-owned company. The union negotiated and started by demanding a 15% wage increase. What they achieved was 8% plus the increase in maternity leave from 1 May this year. Everyone agreed on this demand. The union holds mass meetings regularly and asks workers what their demands are. There are about 1000 workers at that factory, with about 80% women. They have some women shop stewards. Everyone at the factory is on permanent contract. The employer pays the maternity benefit. In the meantime they are working on having social security pay the maternity benefit.

Six women were elected to coordinate the committee and keep contact with IndustriALL. To start with they will work to fight discrimination against men and women by:

  • Making sure that women are represented in all structures of the union
  • Teaching other women about their rights by holding mini-meetings at factory level
  • Teaching women to have self-esteem and to be independent
  • Building unity among trade unions so that they can have a strong voice
  • Training youth to protect themselves against sexual harassment and to teach them life skills
  • Teaching them about health and safety at the workplace
  • Providing women with HIV and AIDS awareness training.

The women understood that in the future unions must sign agreements that cover more than just money. That will make it more feasible for women’s concerns to be taken up such as maternity leave or sexual harassment or HIV and AIDS. As a first step members need to be educated about social benefits and rights. The women went home with a greater feeling of self-esteem and empowerment.