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800 factory workers retrenched



MASERU-A total of 800 factory workers were sent packing at Global Garments and its parent company, Nien Hsing, on Monday as a second wave of Covid-19-induced retrenchments hits Lesotho. The National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers Union (Nactwu)’s secretary general, Sam Mokhele, said all attempts to save the jobs failed. “Workers were even willing to be laid off for a long time, even up to 12 months, but the employers said there was no guarantee that things would come back to normalcy,” Mokhele said. “Their only option, after exploring several others, was to retrench.” The companies, according to Mokhele, claimed that ever since Covid-19 struck in March they had not received any orders and there was no guarantee that they would receive any soon. “It is not a secret that almost all material in the factories comes from outside the country and with the closure of borders due to Covid-19 nothing could be done,” he said. Garments that could have been knitted during the pandemic cannot be exported because of the closure of borders across the world. Most of the garments are exported to the United States. Lesotho could be witnessing a second wave of retrenchments in six months ever since the outbreak of the Covid-19 outbreak in March. The country imposed a total lockdown in April and only gradually reopened for business a month later. Factories around the country sent thousands of workers home with others retrenching staff. When they reopened a month later not all workers were taken back. Mokhele said the union tried to rope in other stakeholders like the Ministries of Labour and Trade in negotiations but nothing could be done because employers said they did not have money. He said they even engaged international organisations but still there was no solution. “We were told that the problem is lack of orders from buyers,” he said. He said each company gave a notice to 400 workers adding that they tried to step in as a union by approaching parliament to intervene but nothing came out of that too. “The government never laid down a plan to help save the jobs of Basotho,” he said. Mokhele said the employers argued that to save other jobs they had to retrench. “They said all the jobs will be gone due to the economic hardships if firms are not allowed to retrench.” He said the law was followed while retrenching as the last people to join the companies were the first to go. “Some are serving a two weeks’ notice starting from Monday while others are serving four weeks’ notice before they leave,” he said. Mokhele said when it was suggested that the employer could be assisted with rental, water and electricity costs the answer was that it will not bring any change because the problem lies with orders that are not coming.   He said some companies had shut down even before the lockdown. He said they pleaded with the government to relieve the employer by paying rent and electricity so as to keep the workers on their jobs. Mokhele said the government failed to promise the employer anything. “The Minister of Finance told us that they are not promising anything,” he said. He said they also approached international unions to visit the headquarters of the employer in Taiwan to find out how the issue could be solved but that too failed. He also said they are also trying to approach investors to invest in the company to save jobs as there is a possibility that soon another phase of retrenchment will take place. He said their prayer is that the company regains stability to stop further retrenchments. Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo, said her ministry’s responsibility is to mediate between all stakeholders where there is a need. Rantšo said her responsibility is also to assure that no workers are retrenched without valid reasons. “My job is to solve conflicts not to advocate for one factory,” she said. She said many factories have shut down since the beginning of the pandemic, adding that they would intervene if the issue was not a result of the pandemic that has bothered the whole world. “I will only fight for them to return to work when their factories re-hire afresh,” she said. Rantšo said it is not her responsibility to negotiate with the Ministries of Water and Energy to give the company services for free. “Many factories are being affected by the pandemic.” Nkheli Liphoto

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