5000 Workers sent home

5000 Workers sent home

Lemohang Rakotsoane

MASERU

ABOUT 5000 workers have been temporarily laid off because textile factories have not had orders for the past two months.

This is because the major buyers in the United States where waiting for their government to renew the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) provision.

AGOA allows Lesotho and other countries to export their textiles to the United States without paying duty. AGOA was supposed to be renewed in September last year but President Barak Obama delayed had to wait until December for approval from the Congress.

During that four month delay buyers in the United States stopped placing orders with Lesotho textile companies. Nearly to 90 percent of Lesotho’s textiles are sold to the United States because of the AGOA provision.

Orders are usually made nine months in advance. Distressed textile companies are hoping that orders will start trickling in at the end of this month. However, in the meantime the sectors has send more than a tenth of its workforce home.

According to Bahlakoana Lebakae,Secretary General of United Textile Employees (UNITE), about 2000 to 5000 factory workers have been affected.  Lebakae said between 80 and 85 percent of factories have been affected.“Some buyers are very sensitive. If there is something that they are not satisfied with and nobody gives any clarification they don’t put their orders,” Lebakae said.“However, this time around due to the uncertainty surrounding AGOA a lot of buyers did not place their orders at the expected time and by the time issues surrounding AGOA were clarified it was too late”. “Another issue is that the US through the Millennium Challenge Corporationwrote a letter to the Finance Minister last year showing that Lesotho should rectify the events of August 30, 2014,” he said.Lebakae said that was “a clear indication” that buyers under AGOA might have a second thoughtson placing orders with Lesotho factories. He said big factories that usually get a lot of orders and then share them with other firms did not foresee that there would not be enough orders.  “Some workers have been home for over a month some two weeks, it differs from factory to factory”.Lebakae said employers being send home were not being paid.

“In our Labour Code we do not have a section catering for short times and layoffs.   We only cater for when a worker is absent at work for personal reasons. The money for those days can be deducted from their salaries,” Lebakae said.

“Moreover, section 85 subsection 4 of the Labour Code says that the employer should pay the employee their salary if at some point the employer sends the employee home due to lack of work,” he said.

He said the employers should have planned “to ensure that there is work for employees todo, not to say they will not pay because employees were not going to work yet it was not their fault that they were not going to work”.

Lebakae some factories had approached unions to discuss the issue but most employers are not prepared to pay employees who are home.

“We will talk with them again after they go back to work but if they are still not willing to pay we will have to take the matter to the  DDPR (Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution) because that would be illegal and we have  won a lot of cases of this nature”.

SeabataLikoti of Independent Democratic Unions of Lesotho (IDUL)said in one factory of 4 000 workers 3 800 were sent home.

“Employers were saying there were no orders and when we approached them they indicated that the prevailing investment climate was not appealing to a lot of buyers,” he said.

“Although we understand what employers are saying they should not get away without paying workers at all. They have families and people who are dependent on them.How will they survive if they do not get their salaries because of instances that were beyond their control?”

S’khulumi Ntsoaole, former Minister of Trade, said it is embarrassing that it has come to this “due to the prevailing political climate”.

“It is not the investors’ fault that they do not have orders. Buyers have resorted to some markets like the South East Asia because currently they do not have confidence in Lesotho. They are not sure that the products have been produced under suitable conditions,” Ntsoaole said.

“Buyers look for democracy and it goes deeper than having elections. They look at things like people’s freedom of speech, the use of rule of law, that courts are being respected and many other things”.

“If any of their requirements is not adhered to they start being reluctant to do business with such a country.  So unless the political climate changes, unless the SADAC report recommendations are attended to, it will be difficult for buyers to want to do business with Lesotho.”

He said the American government “is still pleading with our government to fix governance issues. However, buyers have already made the decision for themselves to do business with some people while we wait to fix the situation”.

“As a result of this short time a lot of people are affected, employers do not have the money to pay workers and it is an uncomfortable situation for many,” he said.

’Maresetselemang Moloi, a mother of two, said she was devastated last week when told to go home because there was no work at the factory.

“In January we earned little because we did nothave a lot of working days. Now we are not going to earn again.  Winter is approaching, schools just re-opened and we have to start paying fees for this quarter. How will we do that if we are not working?” Moloi said.

The textile industry in Lesotho employs over 40 000 people most of them being women.

The garments industry produces approximately 90 million garments a year most of which are bought outside the country by the American, European and SACU markets.

It is the biggest private sector employer.

 

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