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Police barred from harassing striking workers

Business

Bereng Mpaki

The Labour Court has ordered the Katse police to refrain from driving away striking workers at Katse Lodge construction site.

The workers, who are employed by Unik Construction Engineering for upgrading of Katse Lodge and Katse Village, embarked on a legal industrial action over a pay dispute with their employer from 17 April this year.

No work is currently taking place at the construction site since the strike started over a month ago, and completion of the project could consequently be delayed.

The Katse project is a critical component of second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project’s (LHWP) advance infrastructure, which must be completed ahead of the actual construction of the Polihali dam.

On Tuesday last week King Letsie III and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa led sod-turning proceedings to signal the commencement of the major works of the LHWP phase II in Malingoaneng, Mokhotlong district.

Dam wall, transfer tunnel and Senqu bridge construction are the main works of the multi-billion Maloti project by the two neighbouring countries.

Unik Construction was awarded a M131 million construction contract for the Katse upgrades by Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) in 2021.

The upgrading commenced in early November 2021, and was initially scheduled to be completed in April 2023.

Workers resolved to stage a legal industrial action after talks with their employer, brokered by the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) reached a deadlock.

While picketing at the entrance of the construction side earlier this month, the striking workers were forcefully driven away by heavily armed police; a development that prompted their labour representatives to approach the courts of law for intervention.   

The workers are represented by the Construction, Mining and Quarrying and Allied Workers Union (CMQ) in the dispute with their employer.

Among their demands, the workers want to be paid decent living wages in line with the minimum wage standards in the country.

Unik Construction, the Commissioner of Police, Attorney General and the (DDPR) are respondents in the Labour Court case filed in by CMQ and its affected 70 members.

Judgement on the matter was handed by the Labour Court deputy president Makoanyane Keta last week. The ruling reads as follows:

“It is hereby order that Katse police be interdicted and restrained from interfering with and arresting the striking employees who are respondents in the counter application while remaining in the lawful strike.”

The order also directed the striking workers to conduct their strike in accordance with the rules and regulations established between them and the employer.

The striking employees who were also interdicted from intimidating and assaulting non striking employees at the work place until the dispute has been resolved.

“It is hereby ordered that that all the striking employees who are respondents in the application to be confined to picketing at the main gate, which is the area initially agreed upon between the applicant and first respondent until such time when industrial dispute would have been resolved between the parties.

CMQ secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, welcomed the court’s ruling saying they were shocked when the police drove their members away who were on a legal strike.

“The workers are not engaging in anything criminal; they are engaged in a trade dispute with their employer, and they do not have to be dispersed by law enforcement officers for that,” Mokhahlane said.

In 2019 Mokhahlane was briefly detained by the police following a press conference where he exposed appalling working conditions endured by workers at a commercial cannabis firm.  

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