The national strike began on 10 May and is blamed on the government’s failure to announce wage increases for the sector in the last two years.
IndustriAll affiliate, the independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), is now involved in dialogue with the ministry of labour and employment to end the dispute.
The last wage gazette was published in 2019 and wages for the workers have not been increased since. According to labour laws, the wages gazette must be published yearly, but the government is using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for not increasing the minimum wages.
This prompted an indefinite national strike in which over 40,000 workers took to the streets in protests. The government responded with force, with the police attacking and injuring several striking workers.
Mamakalo Mohapi, IDUL president and garment worker at Precious Garments in Maseru says: “Instead of resolving the dispute by announcing new wages, the government is resorting to the use of excessive force. Two workers have died: one was hit by a truck while the other was shot by the army. Several workers have also been injured and hospitalised.”
Mohapi says employers are also using divide and rule tactics.
“With non-unionised workers being asked to report for work when unionised workers are on strike, the employers are also turning workers against each other. Employers are also bribing workers to break the strike.”
Minimum wages in the textile sector for workers with less than a year’s experience are LSL1900 (US$138) for a general worker and trainee machine operator, and LSL2042 (US$148) for a machine operator per month.
Those with experience over a year earn LSL2120 (US$155). Workers are demanding a 20% increase to improve the low wages that are not enough to pay for their living expenses.
“The government must announce the wage increases and be sensitive to the livelihoods of workers who have waited for two years for an increase,” says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriAll regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa.
“The workers’ rights to freedom of association must be respected, and the police must stop using force against the striking workers. We support IDUL’s fight for minimum living wages.”
Earlier this year, companies including Levi Strauss & Co, The Children’s Place and Kontoor Brands joined a programme that targets gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in four Lesotho jeans factories employing up to 10,000 workers.
This article was first published by the IndustriAll global union.