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Workers at Chinese-run firm earn M98 a day



MASERU – M98. That is what workers who are building the new Senate on the Mpilo Mountain in Maseru earn a day.
Added to that are what the workers say are the “brutal, slave-like” working conditions they endure every day. That has resulted in a combustible and toxic working environment.

A worker who spoke to thepost this week, Sekatola Selemo, said they have been complaining about poor wages since September last year.
But the government has backed the Chinese in the labour dispute, much to their disappointment.

Last month, the workers downed tools to press for an immediate improvement of their wages. Selemo said the employer pleaded with them to resume work while their grievances were being addressed.

They went back to work. They also took the matter to court last Friday.
Selemo said the employer apologised and promised to review the workers’ salaries. But matters took a twist on Saturday when about 20 workers were summarily fired without any valid reasons.

He said they were only verbally informed when they were hired that they will continue to be employed until the work was complete. Selemo said the money they are earning was an embarrassment.

“M98 cannot even buy cooking oil today,” Selemo said.

He said this low salary is not only affecting their mental health but it degrades their self-worth as heads of the families.

“Imagine presenting M98 before your wife to cover living expenses, it’s embarrassing,” he said.

Mojalefa Sefuthi, another worker, said besides the low wages their working conditions were terrible.

“Our government is undermining us, they consider the Chinese as our God,” Sefuthi said.

He said the Chinese employers verbally assault them every day.
He said whenever the Chinese bosses feel like they want to fire them, they do it instantly.

“More than 30 employees have been fired over the past seven months,” he said.

He said some of the workers were fired over the phone without any disciplinary hearing. He said on Monday new people were hired after 20 workers were fired.

He said the very same day they told the new team that they cannot work in that construction since there are matters which are still being resolved.

“Politicians should guard their actions especially now that we are going for elections,” he said.

Sefuthi said a labourer is supposed to get M134 per day however, they earn only a paltry M98 per day.
He said they have been pleading with their management but they got no positive response.

“These Chinese have more freedom in this country which is threatening our liberty,” he said.

He said the police who are frequently deployed at the construction site every time the Chinese feel like they are threatened always take sides with the employer.

He said the police “have to focus on their duties rather than being hired to threaten us”.

He said on Monday armed police were called by the Chinese management to come to the site and instead of guarding to see if there would be any violence they started making threats against them.

“The police must intervene where there are problems, not to come to people who are sitting in the work premises,” he said.

He said on Friday, they are going to court again.
The Labour Commissioner, ’Mamohale Matsoso, told thepost yesterday she was aware of workers who are earning wages far less than the stipulated minimum wage.

Matsoso said she will send inspectors to the site.
Efforts to contact the construction company were unsuccessful yesterday.

Refiloe Mpobole

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