Maseru -- Trade Union leaders this week rejected a proposed seven percent wage increase for factory workers and warned the government to stop unilaterally imposing decisions on workers or risk its "downfall" in the same way the previous government became unpopular among workers.
The stern warning from union leaders comes at a time when textile factory workers, a significant proportion of the country's workforce at about 40 000 strong, are becoming increasingly restive after the delayed increase of their average minimum wage from M908 to M2 020 promised by politicians in the run-up to the May 2012 poll.
Government, through the Ministry of Labour and Employment has just released the new gazette for minimum wages which carries a seven percent pay hike that translates to M972 for the lowest paid factory worker. The increase is just M64 from last year's M908. This week the government gazetted a range of new minimum wages for the following categories of workers: clothing textile and leather manufacturing sector, construction sector, wholesale and retail sector, hospitality sector, service sector (which includes security guards and funeral parlour workers), transport sector and any other drivers, small business employees and domestic workers.
The least paid textile factory worker will now earn M972 a month, up from M908. Drivers will now earn a minimum monthly wage of M1 501, while the least paid security guard will be paid M1 295 a month. An unskilled construction worker will be paid a minimum of M1 569 while the least paid retail worker is expected to earn M1 361. The least paid domestic worker will earn M424. The government notice, which "shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 1st October 2013", puts the general minimum wage for any other category of workers not listed, at M1 101.
Solong Senohe the General-Secretary of the National Union of Textile Workers (NUTEX) said that "the government seems to be heeding more to the concerns of the employers who are mostly foreign, than they are to ours as the employees". He says they were very disappointed at the decision to increase wages by a mere seven percent. "I mean who can afford to live on a salary which is lower than a thousand?"
Senohe says union leaders will this week be going around the factories to consult their membership on the way forward. Meanwhile veteran trade union leader Daniel Maraisane has singularly accused two senior officials in the labour ministry for misleading government on the issue of workers' remuneration.
Project Coordinator for the Factory Workers' Union (FAWU) Maraisane says Ministry's Principal Secretary 'Mapulumo Mosisili and the Labour Commissioner 'Mamohale Matsoso continually gave the previous government advice which alienated it from the people hence its ultimate demise. "The current government has only to watch out for the counsel it gets from the two senior officials lest they advise it towards its downfall as they did with the Pakalitha Mosisili led administration," he said.
Maraisane told the Sunday Express that, it was not the first time that the PS and her accomplice advised the minister against the needs of the majority of the employees in labour and wages matters. He says that by favouring employers at the expense of employees, government is treading on very dangerous ground which could cause its ouster as happened with the previous government.
The government arrived at the figure after the employers and employees failed to reach a consensus on the scale by which the textile workers' pay was to be increased. The employers are said to have been suggesting a 5.5 percent increase while the workers wanted a review of their payment and a subsequent pay hike of up to at least M1 416 (or 64 percent).
"The minister then, acting on the counsel of the two imposed the seven percent increase," Maraisane said, adding that this year's increase is lower than last year's nine percent "meaning that next year and in the other coming years, it may keep going down". Maraisane says the two officials are reluctant to release their clutches on power by delaying the process of establishing bargaining councils which would reduce their powers, unlike the present situation where they have absolute powers in the wages advisory board.
He says they have in many instances abused their powers and overlooked the concerns of the workers in their rulings. Meanwhile labour commissioner 'Mamohale Matsoso said it is not accurate to suggest that she has any powers to determine the outcome of the minimum wage. Matsoso said her role is just to provide legal counsel on procedures of the wages' advisory board whose chairperson is the PS. She is also the secretary who keeps track of the board's sitting.
"I have no powers whatsoever to execute the wages, but I can at the minister's discretion be consulted for advice," Matsoso said. She says even with the present gazette, the recommendation to put the wages at a seven percent increase was made by the PS upon realisation that no agreement was reached. "The recommendation by the PS was equally not well received by all the parties, so she made her decision which was subsequently presented to the minister for approval".
Matsoso also said that it is not true that they are advising the minister against the idea of establishing bargaining councils, adding that on the contrary they had made remarkable headway as "we have already approached the ILO for intensified guidance on the establishment of bargaining councils. We have even been to South Africa to learn about the operational provisions of these councils".
Textile industry trade unions said they want the membership to act on what they described as "the despicable gazette".