A woman has died after being shot during violent clashes between factory workers and police in Lesotho as a strike for a living wage goes into its second week.
Demonstrations spilled over into violence with looting and damage reported to several businesses in the capital Maseru. Trade unions say they have lost control over the angry protests over pay.
Lesotho’s 50,000 factory workers are demanding a 20% salary increase for the lowest paid employees, who take home the local equivalent of $8.20 a month. The employers say they can only pay a 5% increase because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their businesses.
Workers have been fighting running battles with police and army officers, who have been blocking the protests, which they say are “in contravention of Covid-19 regulations”.
A week earlier, workers blocked roads with rocks, logs, broken streetlamps and rubbish bins, which the police dispersed with a water cannon.
During these clashes a worker, Motselisi Manase, was fatally shot.
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 hospitalized after police shot at demonstrators with rubber bullets. Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane criticized the police for “state-sponsored violence” against civilians in violation of constitutional provisions guaranteeing their freedom from cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment.
Meanwhile, prices of goods have increased dramatically since the first Covid-19 lockdown last year. Cooking oil alone has more than doubled in price.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro said a new salary would be published on June 16 and encouraged the strikers to return to work. But unions said that workers would “stay at home until they have a concrete promise that they would get salary increases” despite the threat of having their salaries for May docked for the days that they have been out of work.
According to unions, 95% of the workers are women, and low wages exacerbates their vulnerability in a country with a high prevalence of violent crimes against women. [IDN-InDepthNews – 31 May 2021]