Marches and demonstrations – and threats of strikes at textile plants – have persuaded the Lesotho government to approve a 62% increase the minimum wage for factory workers.

The move will see pay for general workers rise to LSL2,000 (US$138) from LSL1,238 (US$85), with trained machinists earning more.

The increase comes after unions called for a shutdown at textile factories in the Maseru, Maputsoe and Nyenye industrial areas.

Ministers then recommended the minimum wage to the Wages Advisory Board, which advises the minister of labour on wages and conditions of employment. According to Lesotho laws, workers cannot be paid below the mandated minimum wages. The unions are also pressing for wages to be increased by 15% across other sectors.

Employing over 35,000 workers, over 80% of whom are women, the garment and textile sector in Lesotho is an important player in the economy and the second largest employer after the government.

Unions have long described the low pay in the garment and textile sector as poverty wages.

The Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), an affiliate of IndustriAll, in collaboration with other unions, has been campaigning for better minimum wages which, according to the labour laws, should have been raised in April.

“After sustained pressure, the government addressed our demands exactly the way we wanted. The increase in minimum wages boosts workers’ confidence in trade unions. We have been fighting for better wages for many years, and now we know that we have been struggling for a worthy cause,” says Daniel Theko, IDUL general secretary.

Lesotho is one of four counties – including Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar – that together accounted for over 90% of all US apparel imports from sub-Saharan Africa in 2016, helped by certainty created following the long-term renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to 2025.

According to re:source, the new online sourcing tool from the team behind just-style, the key export categories from Lesotho are coats and jackets, dresses, pants/trousers, shirts/blouses, and skirts.