- The government of Lesotho is in the process of reviewing the country's controversial labour code, which currently favours investors rather than workers. Lesotho's Ministry of Employment and Labour has invited all stakeholders to participate in discussions, but the country's chronically weak trade unions are given little chance to influence the outcome.
Lesotho's controversial 1992 labour code has allowed foreign companies, in particular in the textile sector, to make use of the country's cheap labour. While providing minimum rights to workers, the law in practical terms has proven not protect employees, in particular if workers have tried to join trade unions. Even worse, the labour code is known not to be implemented by the courts when workers have sought to demand their rights.
Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa, Lesotho's Minister of Employment and Labour, has now started a process t review the labour code. Ms Mahase-Moiloa told a meeting convened to embark on this task that reviewing the labour code "will be an onerous task requiring dedication, cooperation and commitment from all those involved."
The Minister said it was expected that there would be differences during discussions but urged that these should not unnecessarily defeat their sense of purpose and objective. Their "maturity, professionalism" and the quality of their social dialogue would be "put to test by this exercise," Ms Mahase-Moiloa added.
According to the Basotho government, the Ministry of Employment and Labour is still faced with the challenges of how to extend its social dialogue and consultation beyond their traditional tripartite structures. "Issues of labour are developmental in character and affect other role players in development," the Minister said.
Participants at the review at the Manthabiseng Convention Centre felt that revisiting Lesotho's labour code somehow would help in the improvement of workers' rights as well as the country's economic growth. The code has been in operation for the last 10 years and the revision is meant "to find out if it needs any amendment," according to the government.
Lesotho's weak and split trade union movement is participating in the review. With an approximate 2 percent of Lesotho's workforce being unionised, the trade unions however have little power. During the last decade, trade unions further have turned into conflicting splitter groups, alienating the majority of workers.
The Basotho industry is known to have exploited the weak position of unions, and there are many reports of employers harassing union organisers, intimidating members and firing union activists. Provisions in the labour code regarding minimum wages, working hours and workplace safety are also often known to be ignored, despite their rather comfortable level, seen from an employer's point of view.
A basic problem with Lesotho's labour code has been the limited powers of the Labour Commission, which does not have the authority to impose criminal fines. The 1992 law was however developed in close cooperation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which also helped establishing current inspection regimes.
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