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China Geo workers suspend strike

Business

…as employer offers workers a M10 daily allowance

Nthatuoa Koeshe

China Geo Engineering Corporation workers have agreed to suspend their two months strike which started on June 24, this year.

China Geo – a Chinese state-owned construction firm has been contracted by the government of Lesotho to construct the 60 kilometres road from Marakabei to Monontša.

The workers launched the strike to force their employer to comply with Lesotho labour standards and increase their minimum wage, among others.

The workers want food allowance of M1,200 per month, accommodation allowance of M800 and a minimum wage of M5,000.

Before embarking on a strike, they had approached the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) which then ruled in their favour and gave them a go-ahead to launch a lawful strike.

The workers were also demanding that the employer should stop employing workers on three-months contracts.

Construction, Mining and Quarrying and Allied Workers Union (CMQ)’s General Secretary, Robert Mokhahlane, told this paper that the workers want to be employed for the duration of the project.

He said with the three-month contracts, workers were not able to take loans from financial institutions.

Mokhahlane told this paper this week that they suspended the strike on August 15, following an agreement between the union and China Geo’s Managing Director.

He said the managing director agreed to give workers M10.00 daily allowances and renew workers’ fixed-term contracts.

“This is not exactly what the workers demand but we decided to suspend the strike because if the strike is prolonged both sides lose. The workers are losing because when they are not working they are not getting paid and the employer is also losing because there is no work being done,” he said.

He said strikes are the last line of defence for workers when their employer is not willing to listen to address their demands.

“We choose to strike when there isn’t any fruitful discussion between the employer and the employees. However, strikes have repercussions especially when the strike goes on for too long because at the end of the day both sides lose,” he said.

He seemed to be pleased that they were in talks with the managing director whom he said recognises them and seems to understand their concerns. This, he said, makes it easy for them to negotiate with him.

Mokhahlane said; “We are saying that the company should provide workers with housing, food and transport allowances if it is unable to build a camp for the workers close to the construction site.

“We are saying this because there are specifications that the company has agreed to comply with when it comes to allowances and currently, they are not doing so. The company does not even provide safe transport for workers to the construction site.”

In a letter dated July 22, 2022, from CMQ to China Geo, the workers’ union had stated: “We propose M8,000 per month for loader operator and excavation operator, M6,000 for the small car driver, M7,000 for truck driver singe diff and M12,000 for tipper driver double diff.”

They also wanted the contractor to provide free meals seven days a week to all employees accommodated on site, consisting of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This was 11 days after the Principal Secretaries (PSs) of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Public Works, Matela Thabane and TÅ¡epang Koele, respectively, wrote to the union and China-Geo emphasising the importance of complying with labour standards.

The letter, dated July 11, followed a meeting which was held at the ministry of labour regarding the workers’ strike.

Thabane and Koele said the government emphasised during that meeting the importance of complying with labour standards.

“To this end, the employer under the supervision of the Roads Directorate was requested to ensure that the mode of transport used to transport workers meets safety standards including ensuring that, each one of them has fastened their seatbelts whilst in transit,” the PSs wrote.

“The employer should be willing to work with the union and address reasonable demands by the union that strive to improve on minimum labour standards,” they added.

They said the union was informed that the government was losing a lot of money through “this work stoppage and ultimately also failing to deliver on its objective of ensuring that road infrastructure in the area in question is developed”.

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