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Burying heads in the sand



AT the time of writing this editorial comment, there was agitation and unrest in Lesotho’s textile factories. We have already seen skirmishes at the factories as workers push for better pay and working conditions. It is clear that we are headed for a winter of discontent. Following what has proved to be an extremely difficult year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, most factories and businesses are now at breaking point. The Covid-19 pandemic has buffeted Lesotho’s textile sector, which is the second biggest employer after the civil service. Some factories have already retrenched workers with more factories contemplating the same measure to stay afloat. The pandemic has triggered the deepest global recession since World War II. Economies have contracted with others most likely not to recover in the foreseeable future. The pandemic has deepened levels of poverty in Lesotho. Some sectors of the economy, like tourism, are virtually on life-support. Even with the lifting of lockdowns, these sectors are likely to remain in the mire for the next few more years. This is the uncontested reality. We find it extremely odd therefore to note that factory workers are demanding a bump on their salaries and improved working conditions. The demands might be legitimate but the timing is wrong. As a newspaper, we have always taken the side of the underdog and when there is a dispute between an employer and the worker, we will always back the worker. However, under the current circumstances, we think the demands by the workers appear a bit outrageous. There is a clear sense of disconnect between what is on the ground and what the workers are demanding. It is clear that most factories and companies are still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. Any further pressures on the factories could collapse these businesses and pile thousands more on the jobless heap. This reality robs the workers of any leverage in the negotiations with employers. To deny this reality would be to bury our heads in the sand. That would be unhelpful. The factory workers are not alone in this predicament. Civil servants have had to go without any genuine salary bump for the past two years. The government, with its almost unlimited financial resources, could not give salary increases to its 45 000 civil servants last year. The resources were simply not there. Instead of agitating for more money, trade union leaders should be sitting down with their members educating them about the current realities and the dire consequences of making these outrageous demands. If they do not do so, the workers will receive a smack in the face when they shall inevitably receive their retrenchment letters. Based on what has transpired this year, with the Covid-19 pandemic still wreaking havoc on global economies, most companies have basically written off the year. They no longer seek to make a profit. What matters for them right now is to stay afloat and save the few jobs they still have. With a “third wave” looming just across our borders, this should be cause for concern for Lesotho. This should certainly bring the workers back to their senses. We must preserve the few jobs we still have. There might be no point in pushing to milk a cow that is not in a position to produce more milk.

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