Opinion by Nthakoana Ngatane
JOHANNESBURG – How sad and tragic is it for the country that Lesotho Workers Association, LEWA, has had to come to the rescue of 19 employees of Africa Media Holdings – a company that owns two newspapers – Lesotho Times and Sunday Express?
‘Marafaele Mohloboli, Pascalina Kabi, Bereng Mpaki – these are just some of the senior journalists who instil fear in wrongdoers including politicians.
Every day they defend the rights of the voiceless and send looters into hiding.
Yet for more than a year, since April 2020, they and their colleagues have been silent and allowed their employer to steal 20% of their salaries every month – one fifth of their pay – every month with not even an IOU on a scrap of paper!
What puzzles me the most is that in a letter from Lesotho Times Chief Operating Officer Tsepisang Tlapi, the newspaper says it is – only now – verifying with the department of Labour IF LEWA is bona fide, and IF these workers should be represented by LEWA.
Does this mean no Lesotho Times workers are unionised? Why?
According to these colleagues of mine, two days before payday in April 2020, publisher Basildon Peta called a meeting and INFORMED the employees that the company would deduct 20% of their salaries for three months because of Covid19.
The employees say that meeting was information, not consultation, and more of an order, so they were powerless, they didn’t object or ask for a deviation of the contracts that they have signed, they just took it.
In that meeting Peta allegedly said those who were afraid of Covid19 should take unpaid leave and stay at home until they felt safe enough to return to work.
Some of these colleagues say on Wednesdays when Lesotho Times is finalised for printing they start work on Wednesday morning, they have to wait for editors to approve their work, so often they leave the office when the paper goes to printing sometimes at 3 am or 4 am the following Thursday morning. This overtime according to them is never paid.
LEWA advised Lesotho Times in its letter of June 2021 that its decision to deduct salaries is illegal, and demanded that Lesotho Times stop it with immediate effect, but that didn’t happen at the end of June.
LEWA also gave Lesotho Times until the end of July to reimburse all deducted salaries.
The union has filed the case with the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution but it will only hear the case on 18 October at 11am.
I have so many questions beginning with “bathong- why have you been quiet about this for so long?
In the past ten years that the company has been in existence how has it been dealing with workers’ rights?
Why are these colleagues – as they seem – so afraid to stand up and speak out about this ordeal?
If journalists are afraid to speak and fight for their own rights in Lesotho how will they do it for the voiceless?
Who should defend these defenders of democracy and human rights?
Nthakoana Ngatane is a Senior Foreign Correspondent and Senior Reporter for Eye Witness News