Monday, June 17, 2024
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Cannabis firm in unpaid wages storm


Sekete Lesaoana

A medical cannabis company Agronotech Pty LTD based in Qacha’s Nek has admitted it is struggling to pay its employees’ salaries due to financial difficulties.

Company Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Malcom Ford, this week told Newsday that they were indeed owing their employees unpaid salaries for some months.

He said they had been paying their workers half of their monthly salaries due to financial challenges.

But the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers Union (CMQ) has claimed that eight of its members working at the factory had been working without pay since July 2022.

CMQ secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, said their members working as skilled labourers at the firm were owed a total of M70,000 in unpaid salaries to date.

Initially, the workers would go a month or two without pay but lately, the pay had stopped completely, Mokhahlane said.

But in an interview with Ford, he said they had been paying half salaries, and were working hard to pay the outstanding salaries to their workers.

“This is to say that employees have been drawing salaries for the said period to date, just not in full,” Ford said.

“Agronotech is a young cultivation company still in its capital development phase and recently started to actively cultivate cannabis for medical use, along with many organisations and businesses, Agronotech was not spared from the global COVID-19 crisis and current global economic recession,” he added.

He said the company owners had been working hard to resolve the company’s tough financial situation, and could even be forced to lay off some workers to cut down operating costs.

He said workers would be paid as and when there is enough money to do so.

“The company shareholders convened a meeting to deliberate on a way forward, they were confronted with three options to choose from which were all of them not easy alternatives.

“To close the company for six months, retrench employees or retain employees and soldier on with a hope that gradually revenue will be realized. Employees will also be paid as much as possible as money comes in,” Ford said.

He said the company had even held a meeting with employees to deliberate on the way forward, where a possible rescue plan was discussed. 

The plan was that employees would be paid half salaries for December 2022, January and February 2023, and thereafter would get full salaries.

On his part, Mokhahlane alleged that their members had since been suspended from work without pay for demanding their unpaid salaries.

He said: “When they told him they are hungry; he would buy them bread until recently when he gave them show cause letters when they told him not paying them was a breach of their employment contracts. They were eventually suspended from work without pay.”

Mokhahlane further indicated that by law, if an employer does not pay workers, that is regarded as constructive dismissal.

He said it is also illegal to pay workers with food instead of money as stipulated by the Labour Code Order of 1992.

He said non-payment of their members’ salaries had caused them a lot of financial grief, as they have to hide from their landlords and loan sharks because they do not have money.

CMQ said it had written a letter asking the minister of health, Selibe Mochoboroane, and the Principal Secretary (PS) of labour and employment, Matela Thabane, to probe whether the management of the company has legal documentation to be working in the country.

This claim has been rebutted by Ford, who said the management respects Lesotho laws.

Contacted for comment, Mochoboroane said he was yet to receive the letter from CMQ, while efforts to reach Thabane were unsuccessful.

Agronotech was established in July 2019 and commenced cultivation in February 2022.

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