Editors Forum of Lesotho stands in solidarity with ‘enslaved’ journalists

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By Staff Reporter

The Editors’ Forum of Lesotho Chairman Teboho Khatebe Molefi has released a damning statement in which he decried the “illegal and unfair labor practices” allegedly committed by the local weeklies Lesotho Times and Sunday Express publisher.

Molefi said he has learned with shock the perpetration of illegal and unfair labor practices at one of the leading weekly publications, Lesotho Times on their workers a bulk of which are journalists.

KDNews has seen a letter by the Lesotho Workers Association to the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express detailing the unfair labor practices that were unleashed onto the workers of the company at the dawn of the covid-19 pandemic on alleged grounds of lack of funds.

A notice of set down seen by the KDNews for case number AO 334/21 showed a hearing has been set for October 18, by the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution after the LEWA took a case of the nineteen workers led by Letsabisa Seeiso and eighteen others to the directorate.

Molefi, in a solidarity statement, said “We have learned that the employer has for the last 15 months been illegally deducting 20 percent from salaries of more than 30 employees, 19 of whom are fighting this injustice, citing an unfavorable economic climate brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. The bulk of these workers are journalists”.

He adds that it has also emerged that the journalists work under even more unfavorable conditions as they are “…underpaid;…forced to work extremely long hours that exceed the legally stipulated 45 hours a week, and minimum 11 hours of overtime in any given week”.

Molefi said it is worth noting that despite working seven days a week, journalists are never paid overtime money.

“The lame excuse tendered by their employers is that journalism is not a ‘regular 8 to 5 job and journalists are on duty 24 hours a day.

“The Editors Forum of Lesotho strongly believes that journalists, like all workers governed by the Labour Code Order of 1992, are protected from all forms of workplace exploitation in the workplace.

“Sadly, it has become a common practice for media houses in the country to avoid paying employees decent wages. This they do by either underpaying journalists or engaging them for periods of more than two years, as interns or volunteers. Such journalists, we have learned, are paid as little as M2 000, sugar-coated as a stipend to cover ‘transport expenses’, said Molefi.

He said the practice is not only degrading to journalists, but it has a direct bearing on the quality of their work.

“For example, underpaid journalists, are tempted to resort to unethical practices to survive; they practice sycophant and brown envelope journalism which sees them soliciting or becoming vulnerable to receiving bribes from politicians and other influential interests, in exchange for biased unethical reporting. This practice is rife, and we have evidence” he said.

Molefi said the Editor Forum of Lesotho is in solidarity with the Lesotho Times journalists and others facing similar challenges.

“While we cannot over-emphasize the importance and benefits of journalists being unionized, we would also like to warn all employers that modern-day slavery can no longer be tolerated and we will support all efforts to eliminate the mistreatment of journalists by their employers,” said Molefi.

In a response seen by the KDNews to the LEWA unfair labor practices raised by the workers, Lesotho Times Chief Operating Officer Tsepisang Tlapi said the organization has been advised by its lawyers to establish the bonafides of the association with the ministry of labor and employment as a precursor to formalizing a recognition agreement to guiding a framework for a working relationship.

Tlapi said only once the bonfides of the association have been verified will the company conclude a recognition agreement and start engagements over the substantive issues raised by the workers.