A woman was shot dead during clashes between factory workers and police in Lesotho in what is the second week of industrial action. Police and army have been blocking the protests, which they say are “in contravention of Covid-19 regulations”.
Lesotho’s 50,000 factory workers are demanding a 20% salary increase for the lowest paid employees, who take home the local equivalent of £113.73 a month. Their earnings can no longer sustain them as prices of goods have increased dramatically since the first Covid-19 lockdown last year. Cooking oil alone has more than doubled in price.
The employers say they can only pay a 5% increase because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The textile workers accuse the government, which is charged with mediating between the workers and factory owners as well as setting the minimum wage, of insincerity in its dealings.
Sam Mokhele, from the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), told the Guardian on Thursday: “It is unfortunate that we lost one of our members, Motselisi Manase, who worked in the packaging department at Nien Hsing textile factory. It is sad that neither the police nor the army, who were both present, are acknowledging the tragic death.”
Last month, three workers were hospitalised after police shot at demonstrators with rubber bullets. 95% of the workers are women, and low wages exacerbates their vulnerability in a country with a high prevalence of violent crimes against women.
In November last year Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane criticised the police for “state-sponsored violence” against civilians in violation of constitutional provisions guaranteeing their freedom from cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment.
The unions say that workers would “stay at home until they have a concrete promise that they would get salary increments” despite the threat of having their salaries for May docked for the days that they have been out of work.