Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April 2014, 10:56 GMT

2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Lesotho

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Lesotho, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca82c.html [accessed 24 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 2,000,000
Capital: Maseru
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

A demonstration by street vendors in the capital was brutally dispersed by the police.

Trade union rights in law

Workers in the private sector have the right to form and join trade unions without prior authorisation. All trade unions must be registered with the Registrar of Trade Unions.

Public servants denied union rights: Currently, public employees, including university lecturers, are prohibited from forming and joining trade unions, in spite of the fact that the Lesotho Constitution guarantees freedom of association. They can only form or join "associations" that have consultative status. The government has promised that the new Public Service Bill will guarantee freedom of association to public officers and allow them to form associations for collective bargaining.

The right to strike is recognised, but complicated procedures must be followed before strike action is authorised. Civil servants are not allowed to strike and all public sector industrial action is illegal by definition.

In law, all legally recognised trade unions enjoy the right to organise and to collective bargaining.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Whilst already suffering from one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, the people of Lesotho were hit by the worst drought for 30 years in 2007. The February elections were won by the governing party. The opposition contested the resulting allocation of seats in the Parliament, provoking social unrest.

Legislation not enforced: The government and some employers, particularly in the textile sector, do not observe trade union freedoms. In the private sector, the complex procedures and employers' anti-union attitude make it very difficult to operate a trade union. Foreign employers in the export processing zones (EPZs), mainly textile groups from South Africa, Hong Kong and Taiwan, ignore national legislation and pay wages below the statutory minimum. They are usually very anti-union, and collaborate with government to declare strikes "illegal". However, according to a report published in 2007 by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, the pressure exerted on the big brands with suppliers in Lesotho by NGOs and trade union organisations like the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union (LECAWU) and the International Textile, Garment & Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) were having a real impact. "Trade unions' access to the factories has improved, though the percentage of organised workers remains rather low and some companies still prevent all contacts".

Harassment: Although the law prohibits anti-union discrimination, many employers stop union organisers from entering factory premises to organise workers or represent them in disputes. In some cases, employers intimidate union organisers and members, threatening the latter with dismissal, particularly in domestic industries. In the textile sector, some workers have been locked up in their factories for trying to organise.

No legal strikes: Because the strike procedure is complicated, there have not been any official strikes in the country for many years. There have been regular spontaneous protest actions over the years, however. As these are technically defined as illegal, workers continue to risk losing their jobs and being taken to court.

Labour Court cannot review civil servants rights' cases: The government has removed cases concerning civil servants' rights from the Labour Court, thus effectively taking away their rights to present their cases. This has prevented the affiliates of COLETU, the Lesotho Union of Public Employees (LUPE) and the Lesotho Teachers' Trade Union from assisting their members.

Lesotho migrants in South Africa's mines settle claims: In January 2006 the South African department of labour agreed to settle the pension and compensation claims of migrant Basotho (Lesotho nationals) who worked in South Africa's mines over the last 30 years. This paved the way for a Memorandum of Understanding on social dialogue and dispute resolution.

Violent dispersal of a demonstration by street vendors: On 26 November, in the capital Maseru, a demonstration by street vendors was brutally disrupted by the police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets. The organisation Khatang-Tema Baitsukuli had mobilised 300 street workers to protest against a local authority project aimed at evicting them. The organisation's president, Tsolo Lebitsa, who was supported by the Lesotho Congress of Democratic Unions (LECODU), criticised the attitude of the local authorities, who repeatedly refused to meet him and were allocating licences for working in the street on an arbitrary basis.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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