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.
Short courses for ex-mineworkers
THE Lesotho Diamond Academy has introduced mining short courses, particularly to ex-mineworkers, to help them re-enter the mining sector.
The Essential Introductory Courses, which will run for two weeks, will start from June this year. The courses are meant particularly for people who worked in mines in South Africa.
The Academy’s CEO, Relebohile Molefe, unveiled the new courses during the graduation of 18 students last week, four of whom are now armed with Cutting and Polishing certificates while 14 graduated with Rough Diamond Evaluation certificates.
The new courses include the Essential Certificate in Diamond Grading and the Essential Certificate in Diamond Evaluation.
“The decision to offer these courses aligns with the Academy’s dedication to bridge the gap and ensure that individuals with valuable experience can seamlessly reintegrate into the diamond and jewelry industry,” Molefe said.
“By providing short courses, the academy does not only impart essential skills but also contributes to the sector’s growth by reactivating experienced individuals who had lost access to the industry due to no formal documents showing their experience in the industry,’’ she said.
During the graduation celebration, Molefe also unveiled a new sponsorship programme for various courses.
One outstanding student previously sponsored, who demonstrated exceptional proficiency in Rough Diamond Evaluation, was granted a fully funded bursary to further his studies into Advanced Certificate in Round Diamond Brilliantering.
In pursuit of its multifaceted objectives, one of which is to serve as a catalyst for employers in the diamond and jewelry sector to devise skills development strategies, the Academy is set to sponsor four additional students in the upcoming intake starting from February 15.
Two of these bursaries will afford a 30 percent discount on overall fees for two students progressing from Cutting and Polishing to advanced studies in Rough Diamond Evaluation.
Two will be fully funded bursaries to study for a Certificate in Diamond Cutting and Polishing.
Additionally, the institution will extend two fully funded bursaries to the public, fostering inclusivity and expanding opportunities.
The Academy says it plans to announce the search for two deserving Basotho individuals on its social media pages and website.
“Importantly, the bursary programme bears no age restrictions, reflecting a commitment to fairness and inclusiveness, ensuring that opportunities are accessible to all, irrespective of age,” it says in a statement.
The Academy says it seeks “to be a dynamic force in shaping the industry, not just within national borders, but also on regional and international platforms”.
“The emphasis on competitiveness within these markets underscores the institution’s commitment to producing graduates who are not only proficient but also globally competitive,” the statement reads.
“The recent graduation ceremony symbolises a milestone in the Academy’s journey. The success of its students is a testament to the quality of education and the foresight embedded in the curriculum.”
The Academy says its decision to sponsor further education for outstanding performers reflects a belief in nurturing talent and contributing to the continuous improvement of the diamond industry.
The Lesotho Diamond Academy was founded by the late Mpalipali Molefe, a prominent educator, diamond trader and an MP, who recognised the imperative to elevate professionalism in the diamond industry.
Bank hands over uniforms to students
THE Lesotho Post Bank donated uniforms to students at Leqele High School worth a staggering M60 000 as part of its Back-To-School campaign.
The bank said it did this “to keep needy children in school and to promote their education”.
A teacher at the school, Tšepo Semethe, said the uniforms will likely motivate the students to work harder in their studies.
Semethe insisted on giving the bank the names of the students so that it could check their performance at the end of the year.
“At Leqele High School, we work very hard because what we want is excellence above all. To us, hard work pays,” he said.
The bank’s Chief Risk Officer, Molefi Khama, said they are getting old, they will soon retire and Lesotho Post Bank will be in the hands of these children.
He pleaded with the students to work harder.
“This is why we decided to come here to support the students in their education so that when coming to school, they should be confident,” Khama said.
“We are watching you and waiting on you,” he said.
The school’s head prefect, Tholoana Monatsi, said from now on, “no student will be identified by what they wear”.
“(Lesotho) Post Bank made us one and we thank them for that because what we wear cannot stand before our education. We indeed thank you and forever you will hold special places in our hearts,” she said.
A parent, ’Marorisang Latela, said they were very grateful for the gift from Lesotho Post Bank adding that they must also donate to other schools.
Minister of Trade, Mokethi Shelile, promised to go back to the school to discuss how the children could learn in comfortable surroundings.
Mamello School of Special Needs wins prize
MAMELLO School of Special Needs is the first-place winner of Standard Lesotho Bank’s Scaled-Up Pitching Den held at Maseru Avani on Tuesday.
The school has secured a grand prize for an all-expenses-paid trip to Kenya to participate as a finalist representing Lesotho at the Standard Bank Africa Awards.
The school, pioneered in 2020 during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic through Zoom classes, deals with children who live with conditions such as autism, attachment disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) dyslexia, Down syndrome and slow learners.
STKTM Solutions claimed the second-place spot, receiving a commendable M10 000, while Masia Farms secured third place and a M5 000 prize.
Pheello Masia of Masia Farms, thanked Standard Lesotho Bank for backing their vision and that of other Basotho entrepreneurs.
He acknowledged that the bank’s faith in their endeavours serves as a source of inspiration, propelling them to work harder and foster growth within the community.
The event, aimed at fortifying support and fostering regional integration for Basotho entrepreneurs across the African continent, showcased the bank’s commitment to driving the growth of Lesotho.
Malatola Phothane, Head of Enterprise Banking at Standard Lesotho Bank, set the tone in his welcoming remarks.
“As Standard Lesotho Bank, through business and commercial banking, we strive to turn possibilities into opportunities,” Phothane said.
“Lesotho is our home, and we drive her growth,” he said.
His words resonated with the bank’s dedication to nurturing local talent and fostering economic development.
Phothane acknowledged the eight finalists, commending them for their resilience and passion for their businesses.
He emphasised how each entrepreneur had stood their ground, displaying knowledge and unwavering commitment.
The recognition not only highlighted the achievements of the finalists but also underscored the bank’s role in recognising and uplifting the entrepreneurial spirit within the community.
Aliciah Motšoane, founder of Prestige Furnitures and Sentebale Gap Funeral Services, played a significant role at the event as a motivational speaker, sharing her entrepreneurial journey filled with challenges and triumphs.
She recounted her humble beginnings when she was selling bread in high school, leading to the establishment of Prestige Furnitures in 1998.
Despite facing a significant setback after her shop was burnt down during the riots and incurring a loss of M5 million, Motšoane never gave up.
She said business is always a demanding endeavour adding that it needs hard work and a unique mindset.
She urged entrepreneurs to embrace their roots, seek inspiration, and persevere through challenges.
The keynote speaker, the bank’s Head of Business and Commercial Clients, Keketso Makara, said the bank is committed to foster a thriving business environment, highlighting the pivotal role of youth collaboration across diverse economic sectors.
Makara said their mandate aims to empower youths in steering the private sector towards growth, contributing to economic diversification.
Makara urged the eight finalists to actively involve bankers in refining their proposals for maximum impact on economic stimulation and sustainable development.
The bank said the Scaled-Up Pitching Den not only served as a stage for entrepreneurs to present their ventures but also acted as a driving force for networking, collaboration, and collective empowerment.
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