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Tiff over Polihali workers abuse

Business

…As 20 Unskilled Basotho are fired and replaced with 40 South Africans

Pheello Mosesi

Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) vented to the media following the firing of unskilled workers at the Polihali Dam Construction site.

The organisation charged that Basotho workers who are employed by different contactors at the project site are also abused.

They have further lashed out that Basotho unskilled workers were underpaid and over-worked, something they say constitutes abuse.

“Most of the applications by workers at Polihali were taken to Lesotho Steel Constructions (LSP) where job vacancies were announced. They submitted their applications at LSP offices which are located at Maseru industrial area and were employed,” the Secretary of Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) Robert Mokhahlane explained.

“It then came to our attention that the workers who were employed were paid wages below lawfully stipulated money.”

He indicated that CMQ then wrote a letter to the LHDA (Lesotho Highlands Development Authority) tabling their concerns about the workers who were not paid the money that they should be getting according to the law. He mentioned that as they were cross referencing the payments that the employees receive with the ones written in their payslips, there discrepancies.

“The workers’ payslips reflected a payment of M7000 per month while the workers only earned M2000 per month.

“LHDA responded with a letter written on August 2 attaching payslips. Amongst the payslips, CMQ selected the WHO and LSP Joint Venture which surprised us due to the columns that it had of salaries, presented in two different manners.

“It displayed that the worker should be paid M7000 and on the other side it showed them being paid M2000. This influenced CMQ to approach respective companies with a complaint.”

According to Mokhahlane, that is when CMQ sued LSP and WHO Joint Venture over a dispute of interest on behalf of the workers.

“Our case number is J0039 of the year 2019. This is where CMQ is directly saying that this underpayment issue will be our hold and fight. We will fight for the workers to be paid. The case is still ongoing,” he revealed.

He added that the LHDA were then notified by CMQ that this company LSP and WHO Joint Venture were acting as labour brokers, an illegal phenomenon.

“CMQ was mostly concerned about WHO and LSP Joint Venture acting as an agent that is importing workers from outside Lesotho to give them work in the country. The fact is this company was registered as a company not a labour agency or broker and that is what concerns us the most. They import employment into the country and nothing is being done about it,” he noted.

Mokhahlane said his organisation further wrote to the Labour Minister with a hope to have the case of the illegally imported workers solved.

“We pleaded that on December 8 the Minister should be at a conference at Malingoaneng to address these issues and we hoped she was going to show up, but we received an apology letter on December 5 from the Minister of Labour and Employment specifying that she would unfortunately not attend the conference.  The letter was written by the Principal Secretary (PS) of the ministry Lerotholi Pheko.

“He mentioned that he is outside of the country. Earlier, the Minister’s Personal Secretary said that the place of the conference was too far and it would be costly for her to get there. However, to our knowledge there is always a Deputy Minister or  PS who could  be on stand-by to attend such matters,” he pointed out.

“Since there is a concern that the employment structure does not go along with the forum created by the LHDA on how to go about employment, we wanted the Minister to be there to address these matters and help to reach amicable solutions,” he uttered.  

He added, “The LHDA specified that there would be committees at the villages which could note the names of people who to be hired, especially those who are unskilled labourers, but up until now this has not been the case, CMQ and the villagers of those locations have decided to submit petitions to the Lesotho Labour and Water Ministers and South Africa’s Water minister.”

Mokhahlane revealed that their battle spreads further to illegal Zulu migrants from South Africa who cross the Sani Pass border gate regularly coming to work at the Polihali Dam sites.

“The flow of these South Africans which counts to over 40 heads at Ramdel Cape residential came shortly after the release of over 20 Basotho who were fired after they protested for better pay rise.

“Since there was time when the workers in Polihali complained about their salaries, they were fired from work and replaced with these Zulu people. They were given dismissal letters from LCLC Joint venture,” said Mokhahlane.

He mentioned that their shock as CMQ develops from learning that this is during the time when a diversion tunnel was about to be constructed.

“It then makes no sense why workers who are hired to perform such a duty which can be performed by Basotho and at the heart of the construction works of the Dam.

“We have lodged further complaints and even demanded that some of the demands was that the companies be removed. The LHDA was responding to letters, but they pulled back on the matter of LCLC joint venture. They noted that this is an employer to employee matter which they cannot contest as a third party,” he said.

Another matter which raised concern on the way that the labourers are handled is around    working hours.

“Section 118 of Lesotho’s Labour Code indicates that working hours could be 8 or 9 per day, but LCLC’s contracts reflect employees working hours to go up to 10 hours in a day, which is illegal. We would excuse this if it would be paid as Overtime, but it is not and we want that to be rectified,” he explained.  

“LHDA is responsible to oversee matters concerned to the Polihali Dam project and in our view all matters that may arise, but they are turning a blind eye to these matters involving mistreatment of workers. In this way it seems like they have allowed this manipulation to happen unaccounted for.”

“On June 28, 2019, LHDA called workers’ associations and the workers revealed the employment policy which stipulated that there will be a three month rotation of hiring, but we turned it down. This is because we knew that this means that people would not receive job benefits in this matter. Again, this is not a small project hence this would not be befitting.”

They also mentioned that people cannot be retrenched or unfairly dismissed from work when there is still work for them to do.

He mentioned that at the December 8 conference at Malingoaneng, the issue of the LHDA contractors’ workers will be discussed, more so because the villagers have claimed that other employees are biased when it comes to offering jobs to native people “as if they have shares in these companies”.

CMQ said that none of the employment policy sections and requirements by the LHDA were being adhered to.

“CMQ is at a stage where it believes the government does not care about them as they complain that it does not offer them assistance regarding the matters that they have solicited help.  These include foreigners who come into the country,” he lashed.   

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