Textile workers go berserk

Textile workers go berserk

MASERU – SEVERAL buildings and cars were damaged after an unruly mob of textile employees went berserk in Maseru yesterday.
The textile workers vented their anger after they heard that their employers, through their Textile Employers Association, had filed a court case opposing the government’s decision to increase the minimum wage to M2 000 from the current M1 500.

The cabinet reached a decision last Tuesday that the lowest paid worker should earn a minimum of M2 000 per month. Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo was yet to publish the gazette.
The government’s decision would be applied retrospectively from April 1 when the new financial year began.
On Monday, most workers had not yet picked that their employers were challenging the decision in the courts.
But when word filtered on Tuesday, all hell broke loose. Textile workers from the Thetsane Industrial Area began demonstrating outside the factories.
Yesterday, the workers took the protests a step further.

The textile trade unions appeared to have been caught flat-footed as well. They did not have a chance to organise the workers or advise them on the way forward, according to some trade unionists.
Early in the morning yesterday, some workers were already chanting protest songs at the gates and were resisting when security guards tried to stop them.
Workers were blocked from gaining access to the factories and those who were defiant were threatened with violence.

However, some managed to get into the factories and were already working when throngs of angry workers from other firms stormed in and ordered them out.
A frightened ’Mamoliehi Matselana told thepost that some workers threw stones at them when they tried to enter their factory.
“I am going straight home. They threw a big stone at me but missed. If it had hit me, I would have died,” Matselana, who works in one of the factories in the Maseru West Industrial Area, said.
“They are going from factory to factory ordering those who are working to immediately get out or else expect their wrath,” she said.
The police tried to disperse the protesting workers without much success.

The police had a tough time dispersing the workers. As soon as they dispersed them, they would soon gathered again blocking roads and burning tyres on public roads.
In the Maseru West Industrial Area, they closed all factories through fear.
They arrived at the Crabtree along Lepoqo Road and started throwing stones.

Frightened workers came out running and pleaded with them not to injure them.
“We are your sisters too,” cried one woman, removing her blue overalls and stashing it into her handbag.
A security guard watched helplessly as a hail of stones hit the walls of the factory.

At Luqy’s Manufacturers, workers walked out even before the angry crowd could approach them.
Suspecting that there were some who were still inside, they threw stones and hit corrugated iron walls.
A security guard fired some shots but the more he shot the more stones were thrown at the building.
A passerby parked her car near Lesotho Orthopaedic but the angry workers, thinking that the building was one of the factories and it was still opening, smashed the car’s rear window.

They also threw stones at the orthopaedic building.
The owner, Chabeli Mohatlane, came out mad.
“Do you think you are the only ones capable of getting angry?” he said.
“I can kill you all.”

The workers, mostly women, ignored him and continued to stone factories near his building.
A few were left behind trying to comfort him.
In other parts of the city, soldiers had to be roped in because the irate crowd could not be controlled.

There were reports of property being destroyed in other parts of the city and in Maputsoe, the hub of the textile industry in Lesotho.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Sports who is also the chairman of the sub-committee working on factory workers’ grievances, Dr Mahali Phamotse, said the government is determined to work with the unions in the search for a solution to the workers’ grievances.

She says the government has resolved to work with the trade unions to solve their grievances in the name of peace and stability of the country.
Dr Phamotse said the government could employ drastic measures like deploying the army and the police to ensure peace and stability but will not do so.
She said it has instead opted for the negotiating table for a resolution of the crisis.

She said they have established a committee that will look into the minimum wage for the labour force.
But this committee will not concentrate solely on the factory workers’ entry-point wages.

She said at the moment they want to speedily deal with the M2 000 saga that saw the factory workers taking to the street yesterday.
The alliance of trade unions spokesman and chairman of workers board, Lebonejoang Molefi, said they are aware that the government is trying by all means to solve their grievances.
The government is working transparently on the issue and we are satisfied, he said.
Molefi condemned the workers’ unruly behaviour.

He said criminal activities and violent acts would not be tolerated at all when the workers fight for their rights.
He said some people with ill-intentions had invited themselves to their protest over the salary increment.
Molefi said their meeting with the sub-committee has shown that the government is still insisting that workers be paid M2000 as the minimum wage.
Violent actions are not acceptable, so we urge all our members to stop all acts of violence immediately, he said.

The government has called a meeting for all factory workers today that will be converged at Sethaleng sa Mopapa while another meeting will be held at Temong for Maputsoe factory workers.
It is expected that the factory workers will be briefed about the minimum wage issues.
Molefi said they appeal to all factory workers and workers generally to refrain from engaging in unacceptable violent actions that include blocking roads.
He said they had major differences of opinion with the coalition government but such differences had now fizzled out after the government agreed that workers get a minimum of M2000 per month.

The factory workers have been protesting since last week over the salary increase. Scores of factory workers were injured during the protests.
Molefi refused to accept responsibility for the criminal activities that ensued during the protest.
He said they are not liable for all the acts committed during the protest.

He argued that it is hard to monitor actions of all workers because there were some people who invited themselves to the protest.
“We thank the government for inviting us to the negotiating table instead of setting the police on us,” Molefi said.
The Minister of Small Business Chalane Phori said it is a right of every human being to show their dissatisfaction or even file a case in court if they feel their rights have been infringed.
Phori is also a member of the sub-committee.

He said that does not prevent workers from joining trade unions that will negotiate with the employers.
Phori said the government has to work hard to accomplish its mission.
He said their commitment as the government is not only limited to factory workers’ grievances as they are set to work on other issues that affect workers.
The Minister of Mining Keketso Sello who is also a member of the subcommittee criticized the conduct of the workers during the protests.
Health Minister Nkaku Kabi said while workers have a right to protest, they should not engage in criminal activities.

Staff Reporter

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