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Resolve factory workers’ strike



THE violent strike by factory workers around the country has left two people dead with scores others seriously injured. One person was run over by a truck during the protests while the other is said to have had a stab wound. The police say they are investigating the two fatalities. The workers’ strike has made international headlines amid allegations of heavy-handedness by the police. We would like to believe that the reputational damage inflicted on Lesotho by that single story was massive. It fits the current narrative that Lesotho is a “little, troublesome” country where instability and chaos reign supreme. It is precisely for the above reasons that we think this strike by factory workers could have been handled differently in a much better way. At the centre of the protests are complaints of poor pay by factory workers who currently earn about M2 000 per month. The workers want the government to gazette a new minimum wage backdated to the 2020/2021 financial year before gazetting a new wage for the current year. They are demanding a 20 percent wage hike while the employers have only agreed to a 6.5 percent increase. The protests escalated last week with factory workers vandalising property and looting shops. The police were then rightfully called in to restore order. We sympathise with the plight of factory workers who have had to bear the brunt of low wages in the textile sector for decades. The factory owners however argue that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, textile orders have gone down significantly leaving them with no option but to trim costs to stay afloat. We would like to believe that the government should have come in earlier to break the stalemate before matters came to a head. What we saw however was prevarication by a government that appeared too eager not to rock the boat. We are now reaping the results of the government’s lethargy. While the factory workers might have genuine concerns, what we cannot condone is the wanton lawlessness that was on display during the protests. Violence in any form is totally unacceptable. No matter how much the factory workers felt they had been wronged, there was no reason why they resorted to violence and looting. By engaging in such violent acts, the factory workers might have unwittingly shot themselves in the foot by antagonising the very public that was sympathetic to their cause. Instead of sympathising with the workers, the public now sees the workers as a lawless bunch out to harm public interests. The workers only have themselves to blame for this state of affairs. While we will always back the underdog as a newspaper, the violence we saw last week has left us with no option but to condemn the lawlessness perpetrated by the workers. There was no reason to resort to anarchy. To resolve this matter, we suggest that the government, the factory owners and workers’ representatives should sit down for serious talks to break the impasse. It is our considered position that all three sides should talk and find a middle ground where they can have a meeting of hearts and minds. The employers must not be intransigent. The workers must also co-operate with the government by playing a mediatory role to break the stalemate. It would be a pity if the factory owners, who employ over 40 000 Basotho, were to pack their bags and leave, throwing thousands onto the jobless heap.

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