Mpiti-Sehlabathebe road workers on strike
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…accuse Chinese employers of abusive labor practices.
By Mamello Mosaefane
Tens of Basotho employed by Qingjing group (CNQC)—a lead contractor of the Mpiti- Sehlabathebe road in the district of Qacha’s Nek—have downed tools over accusations of ill-treatment by their Chinese employers.
Today, in an interview Robert Mokhahlane, Secretary-General of the Construction Mining, Quarrying and allied workers union (CMQ) told KDNews the workers who are also members of the union went on a strike owing to unanswered complaints by CNQC.
Mokhahlane said the workers’ strike did not just come as a wild cat strike but was following two unanswered petitions from the workers union.
Among complaints, Mokhahlane said workers were being underpaid, and expelled from work whenever their employer wished to do so without any disciplinary hearing as dictated by the labor code order of 1992.
“Workers are also punished for stolen equipment without any proof and investigations on who really stole it.
“They have their salaries cut without having any word with them, while those Chinese are also stealing from the company themselves,” Mokhahlane said.
Mokhahlane told KDNews it has come to his attention that workers’ salaries have a pay-as-you-earn deduction, but the tax collection is never remitted to Lesotho Revenue Authority accordingly by the Chinese company.
“What made us realize this is the fact that workers are never given payslips to know more about their salary details,” he said.
He said the CMQ has since written a letter to Lesotho Revenue Authority to report the alleged pay-as-you-earn that is ever remitted.
Mokhahlane also said complaints started from the first week after the Easter break when workers demanded to be paid their owed salaries that were never paid during January’s Covid-19 induced lockdown.
The workers, KDNews understand are also striking over unsafe transportation mode they are forced to use for their travel to and from work site as they construct the Mpiti-Sehlabathebe road.
“Workers are also delivered to work in trucks, with some equipment inside and this is unsafe,” said Mokhahlane adding “a woman was injured early February after falling from the truck that was also loaded with roads signs, a generator, and some other site equipment and is still at home nursing her injuries”.
This, according to Mokhahlane, is not the case with workers in construction and mining sites like mines, who have proper vehicles to deliver workers safely to and from work.
KDNews learned it provided for within government and CNQC’s agreement for the company to provide accommodation for all its employees in a form of a campsite where they will be staying, and also feed them.
However, Mokhahlane said these have never happened since the company started operating in 2018.
While the Roads directorate is always at the site to do the inspection, Mokhahlane said it has been silent with all the maltreatment that CNQC meted on its employees.
He added road directorate withdrew its intervention between workers and CNQC, telling workers it cannot help them work through their complaints with their employer.
CNQC human resource manager referred to as Lekupa refused to speak to KDNews when contacted for comment on the ongoing workers’ strike and their complaints.
“Yes, workers are striking but I am not authorized to talk to journalists. Only the owner of the company talks to journalists. But I cannot guarantee he would talk to you even if he was here because he does not like talking to media,” Lekupa said.
Mokhahlane said they, therefore, had to write a letter to the principal secretary of labor and works ministry to seek intervention after the Road directorate abandoned workers’ plight.
He, therefore, said they will be expecting an intervention from the ministry of labor by Friday, as promised by the principal secretary.
Attempts to get a comment from the Labour commissioner Mamohale Matsoso were fruitless as her mobile phone rang answered.