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

Trade union freedoms remained a largely abstract notion in this small, isolated kingdom in Southern Africa.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: 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.

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

Right to strike: 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.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: Food security is a chronic problem in a country that also has one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world.

Union centre COLETU excluded from collective bargaining: A top official of the Ministry of Labour prevented the Congress of Lesotho Trade Unions (COLETU) from taking part in the work of the commission in charge of setting wages, which is supposed to be a tripartite body.

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.

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