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Polihali workers strike enters second week

A strike by workers at the Polihali Dam entered its second week on Monday following a deadlock in negotiations. The workers downed tools last week demanding a 25 percent salary increase. They also want their contracts extended from two to five years, an extension the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) said will be impossible because the project would by then be long completed.

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The workers who are from SUNJV, a joint venture between Sinohydro Bureau 8 Company Ltd and Nthane Brothers, are also complaining about the quality of food provided by catering companies at the sites and compounds.

The joint venture is the contractor engaged to build the Polihali Dam and Appurtenant works at the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase 2.

A trade unionist from the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA), Hlalefang Seoaholimo, told thepost yesterday that negotiations “had reached a deadlock”.

“They are proposing a six percent (salary) hike, but we want the lowest earning worker to get a 25 percent increment,” Seoaholimo said.

He said they are “yet to see what the project will do now that the workers refuse to work”.

“They still report to work on working days and hours, but they never enter the project premises to show their discontent,” he said.

Local businesses told thepost yesterday that they have been knocking incessantly at the LHDA’s offices seeking to be contracted for certain jobs.

The Mokhotlong Business Association said they came together aiming to support each other to get contracts “but we have been ignored”.

The association’s spokesman, Sebatana Mathaba, said they are not happy with the way the project recruits its employees.

“We are aware that the employees are on strike right now,” Mathaba said.

He complained that the project overlooks Mokhotlong residents when hiring.

“They do it despite such people qualifying for the posts,” he said.

He added that they are aware that “the project managers hire people whom they know and have an interest in”.

“These people are not transparent when doing things here. All we wanted was for people to get jobs lawfully.”

Mathaba said the project even fails to recruit catering companies that operate in Mokhotlong.

He said last week they were in a meeting with the project managers on the issue of transporting crushed stones and sand, adding that “the community members wanted to supply the crushed stones”.

“They did not agree, even on the issue of transporting equipment using trucks, as some people have trucks here,” he said.

He said the businessmen also established an organisation called Basotho Plant Hire that was aimed at selling services to the project.

“Even those people as a collective never get anything at all,” he said.

The LHDA released a statement yesterday assuring Basotho that it would help mediate between the two parties to reach a solution.

The authority said it received a letter from LEWA on January 16 requesting intervention on a range of issues related to contractor-employee working conditions at Polihali.

“The LHDA is in the process of supporting all efforts to ensure that the areas of concern are addressed where warranted,” the statement reads.

It said the main issues relate to safety and standards of the food that contractors provide for their employees as well as “the salaries that contractors pay their employees as well as issues of contract lengths that the contractors give their employees”.

The authority thanked LEWA for bringing the complaints against the contractors to their attention.

Nkheli Liphoto

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