Riots rock factories

Riots rock factories

MASERU – ANGRY factory workers went on a rampage in Thetsane on Tuesday night following a stalemate over new salary demands.
The workers are demanding a 20 percent wage hike while the employers have said they can only afford a six percent bump.
The government, through the Ministry of Labour, was expected to come in and break the deadlock.

But on Tuesday night, Public Works Minister Motlohi Maliehe, who was speaking on behalf of a sub-committee of ministers tasked with solving the workers’ grievances, told the workers that there would be no wage hike.
Maliehe told Lesotho Television that workers should go back to work and stop their strike to avoid being expelled from their jobs, adding any rioting would scare away investors.

That message appeared to have infuriated the workers who went on to throw stones and loot shops in the Thetsane industrial area.
The police were summoned but were soon overpowered by the rioting mob.
A worker who spoke to thepost said the police fired warning shots when they tried to disperse the angry mob but all was in vain.
The more the police charged at them the more missiles were thrown at them until they gave up.

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli confirmed the clashes.
S/Supt. Mopeli said there were riots in Maputsoe as well, some 80 kilometres north of Maseru, where angry workers burnt tyres and blocked roads with stones.
“In the same manner, at the same time last night, factory workers in Maputsoe blocked roads which led to the police being sent there to disperse them,” S/Supt. Mopeli said.

The workers took to the streets and started rioting after the government said there would be no negotiations for a wage increase.
Maliehe said the government had discussed the matter at length and found that it has “challenges that affect the country’s laws, the country’s economy, and job security and business”.
“The sub-committee recommends that the Labor Ministry should invite the ILO to intervene and give advice to all the involved sides on the 2020/21 minimum wage,” Maliehe said.

He pleaded with factory workers to “return to work so that the economy does not collapse”.
“What is important is also to save the jobs of the workers,” he said.
Villagers in Thetsane took advantage of the commotion and began looting shops.

A nearby supermarket owned by a Chinese citizen was left empty after it was looted, a guard who asked for anonymity told thepost.
Two journalists and their driver were arrested yesterday morning as they covered the riots.

The police say Harvest FM news anchor, Nkosana Kunene, photographer Morakabi Tšeetše and driver Lehlohonolo Masilo were arrested early in the morning because they had not worn their masks.
Sam Mokhele, secretary-general of the National Clothing and Textile Workers Union said they were surprised by Maliehe’s speech as it did not address all the areas they discussed in their meetings.
“This is different from what we agreed,” Mokhele said.

He said Maliehe did not talk about issuing the gazette that would be backdated to April 1, last year as agreed.
The deputy secretary-general of the Independent Democratic Unions of Lesotho (Idul), May Rathakane, said they are surprised that the government did not issue the gazette as promised.

Rathakane said the official speech was meant to derail the struggle and also gain political mileage.
“We do not know who will help us,” Rathakane said.
“We know that some ministers have their private businesses at the factories and do not want to pay workers enough salaries,” he said.

A factory worker who was among the crowd that was dispersed near the main traffic circle in Maseru, Mphonyane Leeu, told thepost that they will never set foot in their factories if the government does not release the gazette.
“My salary cannot cover all the expenses. There is no point in working at all,” she said.
“We would rather die trying to fix our problems.”

Nkheli Liphoto

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Next Lesotho’s assets seized

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