Fired workers reject new  contract offers

Fired workers reject new contract offers

MASERU-In what appears to be a classic case of corporate deceit, a textile firm abruptly fired 253 workers and then rehired them on new contracts three days later without paying their terminal benefits.
Last Tuesday Bull Clothing (Ltd) fired 253 employees for allegedly staging an illegal strike on its premises. None of workers faced a disciplinary hearing.

When the workers demanded their severance packages Bull Clothing rehired them on Friday under new contracts.
Curiously, the company said the workers had lost their terminal benefits and would now be treated as new employees to go through a three-month probation period at significantly reduced salaries.

That meant the workers were being forced to forego their benefits in exchange for being rehired.
Just by the stroke of a pen the company had avoided paying severance pay, a statutory requirement in the labour law.
So someone who worked at Bull Clothing for five years is now regarded as a new employee with new conditions.

Irate employees say the move amounts to a blatant attempt to cheat them of the severance pay they have always regarded as a form of saving.
The company denies the accusation and insisted that it followed the law.
Keneuoe Sehloho, Bull Clothing’s Human Resources Manager, insists the company will not pay terminal benefits.

Sehloho said it was a “take it or leave it offer”.
“The workers were expelled after engaging on an unlawful strike therefore it is well known that contract termination also means the cancellation of benefits,” Sehloho said.

“Every expelled worker lost their terminal benefits.”
Unions however say what Bull Clothing has done is the modus operandi in the textile factories.
They say factories have been using the “trick”, for years, to avoid paying terminal benefits.

thepost understands that the practice intensified two years ago when the government forced textile factories to set the minimum wage at M2 020.
Hugely popular with workers and deeply loathed by the bosses, the decision meant that textile factories were suddenly saddled by huge bills for severance pay.

Most of the companies told the government that they could not afford the new wages and the resultant terminal benefits.
So to duck the financial obligation some factories seem to have resorted to the controversial plan of summarily dismissing employees and rehiring them on new contracts.

In that way they can claim that they are not obliged to pay terminal benefits that would have accrued for years. The companies make huge savings because the employees have forfeited their benefits and they are coming back on low salaries.

In the long term the terminal benefits that accrue to the employees are substantially reduced because they are earning less over a shorter period.
In Bull Clothing’s case the plan appears to have been largely successful because 173 workers have agreed to give up their terminal benefits and get new contracts.

But some 80 employees have resisted the move and vowed to fight.
One of them is Mokhantšo Hlao who has been at the company for five years.
Hlao told thepost that “I can see through their trick and I will never accept to be cheated like that”.

“We will not return to work under the new contracts,” Hlao said.
The Labour Code states that a worker must be paid severance pay based on two weeks’ pay for every year served, as soon as their contract is terminated.
Hlao said their dismissal was pre-planned because they were fired within a few hours.

She said the company falsely accused them of having staged an illegal strike when “we were just gathering to get an explanation why they had not paid us the M800 allowance from the government”.
“The employer deliberately delayed giving us the M800 from the government and when we waited to be addressed on the issue we were dismissed on the false accusation that we were on strike,” she said.
“I will never sign a contract before getting my terminal benefits stipulated in the law.”

In the meantime trade unions have declared war on Bull Clothing.
Sam Mokhele, the secretary general of the National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers Union (Nactwu), said they are suing the Bull Clothing for “tricking 253 Basotho into losing their benefits”.

“They did everything deliberately so that they could rehire the workers on low salaries without paying the benefits,” Mokhele said.
The Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL)’s secretary general, May Rathakane, said they have asked Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu and the Labour Commissioner to intervene.

Rathakane said Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo told them to go to court.
“If the Deputy Prime Minister fails to deal with the issue we will launch international campaigns to show that Bull Clothing is violating workers’ rights,” he said.
“We will lobby buyers to boycott the company’s products.”

Nkheli Liphoto

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