U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Lesotho

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with King Letsie III as Head of State. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King fills a ceremonial role, has no executive authority, and is proscribed from actively taking part in political initiatives. Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, the leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy Party (LCD), took office in June and is the Head of Government. In the May 23 elections, the LCD won 79 seats in the expanded 80-member Parliament. The Basotho National Party (BNP) won the one remaining seat. Over 700 foreign and national election observers concluded that the poll met international standards for a transparent multiparty election. The LANGA Commission, a group of election auditors from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), reported that while there was no evidence to substantiate charges of electoral fraud, mismanagement of polling data made it impossible to confirm that fraud did not occur. However, opposition parties alleged that the election result was corrupted by fraud and launched a prolonged and aggressive protest at the royal palace in Maseru on August 4. The protest destabilized the Government, as armed opposition supporters engaged in gun battles with the police and ruling party supporters, and used violence to disarm the police, intimidate workers and business owners, and shut down government and business operations on three occasions during August and September. Opposition protesters urged the King, who had staged a coup in 1994, to take an unconstitutional initiative to dissolve Parliament and install a government of national unity on the basis of their allegations that the LCD Government was illegitimate. The opposition protest facilitated a junior officer rebellion in the army on September 11 as army rebels aligned themselves with the opposition, resulted in a virtual coup, and severely strained relations between the Head of State and the Government. The protest led to an unprecedented level of politically motivated violence, injury, destruction of property, the death of civilians and law enforcement officers, and compromised the neutrality of the King in political affairs. The 1998 opposition alliance palace vigil and antigovernment protests precipitated intervention at the Government's request by a SADC military task force on September 22, in accordance with an SADC agreement to ensure the security of the democratically elected government. The SADC military task force was composed of troops from Botswana and the Republic of South Africa. In the past the judiciary had been subject at times to government and chieftainship influence; however, there are no credible reports of the use of such influence during the year. The security forces consist of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF), the Royal Lesotho Mounted Police (RLMP), and the National Security Service (NSS). The Prime Minister is the Minister of Defense. In 1996 and 1997, the Parliament passed the Lesotho Defense Act (1996), Regulations for Military Justice (1997), and amended the Royal Lesotho Mounted Police Force Act. This new legislation was designed to bring these services under direct civilian control. However, the politicized armed services have a history of intervening in the country's politics and government. The LDF ruled Lesotho with two successive military regimes from 1985-90, and 1990-93. In September an SADC task force put down an army rebellion, arrested LDF rebels, and disarmed the remaining soldiers. The LDF is now the subject of a national debate on the structure, size and role of the military. The NSS is accountable directly to the Prime Minister, and the RLMP reports to the Minister of Home Affairs. The NSS and the RLMP are also under review in a national debate on comprehensive reform of the security services. Members of the security forces on occasion committed human rights abuses. Lesotho is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa and almost entirely dependents on its sole neighbor for trade, finance, employment, and access to the outside world. A large proportion of the adult male work force is employed in mines in South Africa. Basotho miners' remittances account for slightly over one-third of gross national product (GNP). Real GNP grew an estimated 9 percent in 1997, with inflation estimated at less than 7 percent. Per capita GNP was approximately $790 (4740 maloti). State-owned organizations predominate in the agroindustrial and agribusiness sectors, but private sector activity dominates in the small manufacturing and construction sectors. The opposition palace protest and the SADC military intervention resulted in a wave of political violence and arson that destroyed nearly 80 percent of the commercial infrastructure in Maseru and two other major towns. Thousands of jobs were lost and many entrepreneurs were forced into bankruptcy. Losses in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars were sustained. Under the traditional chieftainship structure, land use and tenure is controlled by the chiefs and formally owned by the Kingdom (i.e., crown lands). The Government generally respected many of the human rights of its citizens; however, there continued to be problems in some areas. Members of the security forces committed a few extrajudicial killings. Police also killed several persons and wounded others during clashes with opposition protesters during the August-September crisis period. There were allegations that police on occasion have used excessive force against suspects during arrests and while in custody. Discipline in the security services was shattered during the August-September political crisis. At least one death occurred when the police failed to keep rival political factions apart. Firefights between police and soldiers resulted in the killing of at least one policeman and the wounding of several others. Clashes with SADC forces initiated by armed opposition supporters and army mutineers in September resulted in the death of nine members of the South African National Defense Force, 60 LDF soldiers, and more than 40 opposition-allied civilians. A total of 33 members of the RLMP face sedition and high treason charges following their involvement in a February 1997 police mutiny, which reflected entrenched mistrust and political competition between the Government and some elements within the police force, and an uneasy institutional rivalry between elements of the police and the army. The LDF initially stayed out of but ultimately quelled the police mutiny. This step away from active partisan engagement in politics to a more professional civil/military relationship was reversed by the junior officer mutiny, which undermined the integrity of the security forces. Prison conditions are poor, and lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. There are long delays in trials; the 33 RLMP members have remained in the maximum security prison for 18 months without significant progress to try their cases. The security forces infringed on citizens' privacy rights. Women's rights continued to be restricted severely, and domestic violence remained common. Societal discrimination against the disabled is common. Government enforcement of prohibitions against child labor is lax in commercial enterprises that involve hazardous working conditions. The Government restricts some worker rights.


Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Members of the security forces committed a few extrajudicial killings. In February police fired shotguns into a group of workers protesting at a textile plant, killing two persons and wounding 20 others. In December members of the Lesotho Defense Force killed three South Africans who had crossed the border allegedly to recover their cattle stolen earlier by Basotho raiders. During and following the palace protest, violent clashes between opposition and LCD supporters resulted in at least four civilian deaths. Soldiers and police exchanged gunfire on several occasions, and one policeman was shot and killed. About 10 policemen were wounded in clashes with armed opposition supporters. Approximately four opposition members were killed in exchanges with the police in the vicinity of the palace. Violent clashes between opposition and LCD supporters at the village level resulted in several deaths. Between September 21 and 28, nine South African soldiers were killed while suppressing the army mutiny. Over 50 LDF soldiers and 40 opposition-allied civilians died in firefights with SADC troops. Many civilians were arrested for arson, assault, looting and weapons possession. All LDF soldiers were disarmed, and those believed responsible were arrested and later charged with mutiny and other capital offenses against the defense and national security acts.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution expressly prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment, and the Government generally respects these provisions. However, there were allegations that police and prison officials occasionally used excessive force against suspects in their custody. Some alleged victims and NGO's claimed that police beat suspects. Opposition leaders claimed that the 32 mutinous soldiers who were arrested after the September 22 SADC military intervention were tortured by government and prison officials. However, no clear evidence to that effect has been presented. Amnesty International (AI) personnel investigated these and other claims of human rights abuses in October, but AI had not issued a report of its findings by year's end. Allegations of criminal activity by SADC forces were investigated, and those found guilty were disciplined immediately by South Africa in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement signed on September 17. Soldiers who committed minor disciplinary infractions were sent home. Prison conditions are poor. Prison facilities are overcrowded and in disrepair, but conditions do not threaten the health or lives of inmates. Prison conditions are not monitored independently.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and there were no reports of such abuses. However, opposition leaders alleged that the Government engaged in "political victimization" by arresting their supporters for allegedly unlawful acts and punishing alleged mutinous soldiers with incarceration during the crisis. During the crisis, a number of persons were arrested for arson, looting, and possession of stolen property and unlawful firearms. Many homes were searched for weapons, ammunition, and stolen property. Some of those searched and arrested were opposition supporters. However, there were no court cases or clear evidence that demonstrated that authorities targeted opposition supporters. The Government's intention to court martial alleged army mutineers was criticized by opposition parties, which demanded their release and a blanket amnesty for both soldiers and civilians for acts committed during the crisis. The legal fraternity remains concerned that the 33 police mutineers who were arrested in February 1997 continued to be held without significant progress toward their trial. Although charges have been filed and some preliminary procedures have been completed, no formal trial had been held. There was some concern that persons who allegedly were involved in arson and the looting of public and private establishments in September filled the district and central lock-ups with little prospect for speedy trials. A significant number of persons arrested in interior districts for these infractions were tried and sentenced to fines and/or incarceration. Local observers believe that pretrial detainees on remand constitute up to half the prison population in some locations. Because of serious backlogs of the court's caseloads, the period of pretrial remand for some suspects can last months or years. In 1997 the Government repealed the provisions of the Internal Security Act (ISA) of 1984 allowing for investigative detention. The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in the past, magistrates appeared to be subject at times to government and chieftainship influence. The High Court Chief Justice's decision in 1994 to swear in a provisional ruling council, in defiance of the Constitution, raised questions about the independence of the judiciary. Opposition parties alleged that the High Court was biased against their cases following the May elections, but court officials stated that the opposition did not succeed in its cases due to a lack of evidence to support its claims. The judiciary consists of the Court of Appeal (which meets semiannually), the High Court, magistrate's courts, and customary or traditional courts (which exist largely in rural areas to administer customary law). The High Court also provides procedural and substantive advice and guidance on matters of legal procedure to military tribunals; however, it does not participate in arriving at judgments in such courts. Military tribunals operating under the Defense Act have jurisdiction only over military cases, such as the impending prosecution of rebel junior army officers. Decisions by military tribunals may not be appealed. Accused persons have and freely exercise the right to counsel and public trial. The authorities generally respect court decisions and rulings. There is no trial by jury. Criminal trials normally are adjudicated by a single High Court judge who presides, with two assessors in an advisory capacity. In civil cases, judges normally hear cases alone. Persons detained or arrested in criminal cases and defendants in civil cases have the right to legal counsel. There is no system to provide public defenders. The 1981 Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act, as amended in 1984, makes provision for granting bail. Bail is granted regularly and generally fairly. There is a large case backlog, which leads to lengthy delays in trials. The firebombing of the High Court on September 22 destroyed case files and other important documents and further hampered the normal operation of the courts. Under the Constitution, in custom and tradition, certain rights and privileges accorded to men are denied to women. When traditional law and custom is invoked in a court case, a male plaintiff can opt for customary judgments by a principal chief rather than a civil court and the judgment legally is binding. This system greatly disadvantages women. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although search warrants usually are required under normal circumstances, the 1984 Internal Security Act (ISA) provides police with wide powers to stop and search persons and vehicles and to enter homes and other places for similar purposes without a warrant. There are no prohibitions against monitoring telephone conversations, and the security services are believed to monitor routinely telephone conversations of Basotho and foreigners on national security grounds. Following the opposition palace protest, police searched the homes of numerous opposition members for weapons. The residences of the Prime Minister and four other cabinet members were destroyed by arson on September 22, allegedly by opposition provocateurs.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice. There are several independent newspapers--including one each controlled by the Roman Catholic and Lesotho Evangelical Churches, and two English-language weeklies--that routinely criticize the Government. The official state-owned or controlled media, consist of one radio station, a 1-hour daily newscast on a local television channel, and two weekly newspapers, which all faithfully reflect official positions of the ruling party. There are no private radio or television stations. The 1997 case of four government ministers who filed a civil lawsuit against a newspaper editor, seeking compensation for alleged slander and defamation, was decided in favor of the editor. The editor of the newspaper believed that this lawsuit amounted to press harassment and was an effort to influence the editorial policy of a private news organ. The editor's publication displayed a clear bias in favor of the opposition during the August-September crisis. However, despite damage to a number of news publications caused by arson and looting after September 22, the opposition newspaper, Mo Africa, continued to publish and the Government took no steps to close or limit its circulation. The editor of Mo Africa received one of the few private radio licenses issued in the last quarter of the year. Mo Africa Radio planned to begin broadcasting in early 1999. Destruction caused by the crisis resulted in the temporary suspension of publication by five newspapers, the Southern Star, the Sun, Thebe, Mopme-the Survivor, and Mo Africa. By the end of the year, all these publications, except for Thebe, were back in operation. The National Press Association objected to rules established by the Independent Electoral Commission, which barred reporters from entering polling stations on election day. No other barriers to press coverage of the elections existed. The Government fully respects academic freedom. Although the Government owns and administers the country's only university, the academic staff represent the full political spectrum and are free to express their views.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Under a 1993 revision of the ISA, a public meeting, rally, or march no longer requires prior police permission, only advance notification. The police and local authorities generally respected these rights in practice. Political party meetings and rallies occur regularly throughout Lesotho. The Government authorized the August 4 opposition protest march against the election, which evolved into the months-long palace protest. The palace vigil became an unlawful assembly after the authorized time limit expired, but opposition protesters maintained the palace vigil until the end of October. The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. In addition to the LCD, the Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), the Basotholand National Party (BNP), six smaller parties and independent candidates contested the May general election.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens generally are able to move freely within the country and across national boundaries. The Government places no obstacles in the way of citizens who wish to emigrate. In September numerous serious incidents and threats to the safety of citizens by opposition supporters who carried out assaults, carjackings, residential attacks, and sniper attacks led thousands of foreigners and ruling LCD supporters to flee the country to South Africa in the weeks immediately following the SADC military intervention. In 1994 the Government allowed about 25 refugees registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to study in Lesotho. They were expected to return to their countries of first asylum after completing their studies. Other than these students, Lesotho has no resident refugee population. There were no cases in which the Government provided first asylum to refugees, nor did it force any person to return to a country were they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens exercised this right in the May 23 national elections. In the first multiparty democratic elections in 1993, after more than 20 years of undemocratic authoritarian and military rule, the BCP came to power with complete control of the National Assembly. Despite its landslide electoral victory, the BCP Government was forced to contend with a number of challenges to its power including a violent opposition destabilization campaign based on allegations that the BCP had won by fraud. These challenges culminated in August 1994 when King Letsie III unconstitutionally suspended the Parliament and installed a ruling council. Many Basotho responded by demonstrating their support for the democratically-elected BCP government. Organized labor and others held two national demonstrations-"stayaways"--to express support for the ousted government, and there were numerous rallies at the National University. As a result of both local and international pressure, the King reversed himself, and the BCP regained control of the Government. The 1994 Memorandum of Understanding between King Letsie III and Prime Minister Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle--which was brokered by South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe--called for reinstatement of the King's father, Moshoeshoe II, who had been deposed by the previous military government and exiled in 1990, and for steps to broaden the political process. In early 1995, Moshoeshoe II was reinstated as king. However, King Letsie III again was sworn in as King in January 1996, upon the death of his father. The 1994 suspension of the Constitution by Letsie, although short-lived, highlighted the fragility of rule within the constitutional monarchy. The formal coronation of King Letsie III was held on October 31, 1997. The August-September political/security crisis was similar to that of the 1993-94 postelectoral period. Opposition party members alleged electoral fraud, suborned army supporters, sought to involve the King, and effectively overthrew the Government. However, the King did not take an active role in the opposition campaign as he did in 1994, and the Prime Minister asked SADC countries to intervene militarily, based on the 1994 Memorandum of Understanding, to stabilize the situation. In the May 23 election, the LCD won 79 of 80 parliamentary seats. The BNP won the other seat. International observers concluded that the poll met international standards for a multiparty election and reflected the will of the voters. Despite the opposition coalition claims, the LANGA Commission reported no definitive findings of vote rigging or fraud. However, post-election management of electoral and polling station data was poor. Consequently, the Commission stated that the documentation was in such disarray that it could not prove that fraud had not occurred. This inability encouraged the opposition to charge that errors short of fraud could have affected the results. In October the LCD and the opposition alliance agreed to hold early elections within 2 years as a means of resolving the ongoing political crisis. Local elections, scheduled to be held late in the year, were postponed because of the crisis. In October all political parties signed an agreement to create an Interim Political Authority (IPA) to govern in the period leading to elections in 2000. The IPA was sworn in in December and consists of two representatives from each party of the nine parties that contested the May general election. There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government or politics, but women remained underrepresented. There are two women in the 80-member House of Assembly and seven women in the 33-member Senate. Women serve as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Environment and as Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government did not hinder the activities of various non-governmental human rights groups. These groups freely criticized the Government. The Government did not object to the AI investigation in October of human rights abuses.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, birth or other status, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. However, the Constitution also recognizes customary law as a parallel legal system, and women's inheritance and property rights are restricted severely under the traditional chieftainship system. Women Domestic violence, including wife beating, occurs frequently. Reliable statistics were not available, but the problem is believed to be widespread. In Basotho tradition, a wife may return to her "maiden home" if physically abused by her husband. Under common law, wife beating is a criminal offense and defined as assault. However, few domestic violence cases are brought to trial. A national conference on the empowerment of women held in March noted that of 100 cases of human rights abuses, 90 percent of the victims were women, e.g., victims of domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment. Both law and custom under the traditional chieftainship system severely limit the rights of women in such areas as property, inheritance, and contracts. Women have the legal and customary right to make a will and sue for divorce. However, under customary law, a married woman is considered a minor during the lifetime of her husband; she cannot enter into any legally binding contract, whether for employment, commerce, or education, without her husband's consent. A woman married under customary law has no standing in court and may not sue or be sued without her husband's permission. Senior government officials have criticized publicly customary practice, which discriminates against women. In 1996 the Government stated its commitment to implement the plan of action from the Fourth International Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September 1995. During the year, the Government created a Ministry of Gender Affairs and debates began in Parliament on legal reforms in support of women's rights. Women's rights organizations, such as the local chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, have taken a leading role in educating women regarding their rights under customary and common law, highlighting the importance of women fully participating in the democratic process. Children The Government has not addressed adequately children's rights and welfare, although it has devoted substantial resources to primary and secondary education. Education is not compulsory even at the primary levels, and there are significant instances, particularly in rural areas, where children do not attend school because they are involved in subsistence activities in support of their family's welfare, or families cannot afford the costs associated with school attendance (for example, fees for purchase of uniforms, books, and materials). This problem of school nonattendance affects boys disproportionately more than girls. In traditional rural Basotho society, livestock herding by young boys is a rite of passage and a prerequisite to manhood in the community. There is no pattern of societal abuse against children, but many children work at a young age (see Section 6.d.). Familial stress, poverty, and divorce have led to a rise in the incidence of homelessness and child abandonment, creating a growing number of street children. People With Disabilities Discrimination against physically disabled persons in employment, education, or provision of other government services is unlawful. However, societal discrimination against the disabled is common. The Government has not legislated or mandated accessibility to public buildings for the disabled. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities Most citizens speak a common language and share common historical and cultural traditions. Small numbers of Asians (primarily ethnic Chinese and Indians) and South African whites are active in the country's commercial life. Economic and racial tension between the Chinese business community, specifically textile and garment industry employers, and the Basotho remained a problem.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the legal right to join or form unions without prior government authorization, with the exception of civil servants. The Labor Code prohibits civil servants from joining unions. The Government regards all work by civil servants as essential. In a 1997 judgment by the High Court concerning a petition filed by the Lesotho Union of Public Servants (LUPE) against the registrar of law, the Chief Justice dismissed the LUPE's application to form a union on the grounds that it was not consistent with the Labor Code. The LUPE filed an appeal with the Appeals Court, but it had not been heard by year's end. Under the 1993 Labor Code, prepared with the assistance of the International Labor Organization (ILO), all trade union federations require government registration. There are two small trade union federations, which rarely cooperate with each other: the Lesotho Trade Union Congress and the Lesotho Federation of Democratic Unions. Unions are not formally affiliated with or tied to political parties. The labor and trade union movement is very weak and fragmented. There are several small unions in the public and industrial sectors but there is no unified trade union congress. There are cases of multiple unions competitively organizing small numbers of workers in the same sector. Overall, unionized workers represent only about 10 percent of the work force. Consequently, efforts toward collective bargaining and tripartite policymaking are not amenable to strong trade union influences. There is credible evidence that some employers inhibit union representatives and organizers from gaining access to factory premises to organize workers or represent them in disputes with owners or managers. A large percentage of the male labor force works in the gold and coal mines of South Africa. The remainder are engaged primarily in traditional agriculture. A majority of Basotho mine workers are members of the South African National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). However, as a foreign organization, the NUM is not permitted to engage in union activities in Lesotho. No legally authorized strike has occurred since independence in 1966. Civil servants generally are not allowed to strike, and all public sector industrial actions are by definition unauthorized. In the private sector, the Labor Code requires an escalating series of procedures to be followed by workers and employers before strike action is authorized. Some small unions and their members have undertaken wildcat strikes or spontaneous industrial actions without following the procedures for dispute resolution. Legal protection for strikers against retribution has not always been enforced in cases of illegal strikes. Employers dismissed several hundred textile workers following wildcat strikes in 1994, and the Government maintained that it could not oblige their employers to reinstate them. However, the Government was successful in negotiating the reinstatement of employees following several illegal strikes in 1995 and 1996. Security forces violently suppressed some of the strikes in the textile, garment, and construction industries in 1994, 1996, and again in 1998. In February police fired shotguns into a group of workers protesting at a textile plant for better wages and conditions of work. Two workers were killed as a result, and more than 20 were injured. There were no instances of governmental restrictions on international affiliations or contacts by unions or their members.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

All legally recognized trade unions in principle enjoy the right to organize and bargain collectively; however, in practice the authorities often restrict these rights. Employers often are not cooperative in this area. Employees often are threatened with expulsion and loss of employment once they join unions. There is credible evidence to suggest that some employers in the textile and garment sector engage in the use of blacklists to deny employment to workers who have been fired by one employer within that sector. Although there was some collective bargaining activity between unions and employers to set wage and benefit rates, employers generally continued to set wage rates through unilateral action.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 1987 Employment Act prohibits forced or compulsory labor including children, and there is no indication that such labor is practiced.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum age for employment in commercial or industrial enterprises is 14. In practice, however, children under age 14 often are employed in the textile and garment sector and in family-owned businesses. As much as 15 percent of the textile work force of some 15,000 may be children between the ages of 12 and 15, according to a 1994 study by a foreign government. The ILO was not able to confirm allegation of illegal child labor after visiting all 14 of Lesotho's garment producers in 1994 in response to a complaint by trade unions in the textile and clothing industry. There are prohibitions against the employment of minors in commercial, industrial, or non-family enterprises involving hazardous or dangerous working conditions, but enforcement is very lax. The Ministry of Labor and Employment's inspectorate is severely understaffed. Youths under 18 years of age may not be recruited for employment outside of the country. In traditional society, rigorous and occasionally dangerous working conditions for the country's young livestock herdboys are considered a prerequisite to manhood and a fundamental feature of Basotho culture beyond the reach of labor laws. The Government specifically prohibits forced and bonded labor by children, and there were no reports that it occurred (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage for unskilled labor is $68 (320 maloti); for a heavy vehicle operator it is $131 (616 maloti). Minimum wages in lower skilled jobs are insufficient to ensure a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Most wage earners supplement their income through subsistence agriculture or remittances from relatives employed in South Africa. Many employers pay more than minimum wages in an effort to attract and retain motivated employees. However, there also are indications that some employers, especially in export sectors, treat the minimum wage as a maximum wage. This situation is made possible by the high levels of unemployment and underemployment, which provide a large pool of surplus unskilled labor that bids down wage rates and threatens job security for workers who make demands for better wages and conditions of work. The Labor Code spells out basic worker rights, including a maximum 45-hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, 12 days of paid leave per year, and paid public holidays. However, workers generally are unable to obtain an expeditious hearing in court on their complaints. There is a large backlog of industrial dispute cases on the docket of the Labor Court, which has only one labor judge who is now dealing with cases filed in 1995. The Labor Code requires employers to provide adequate light, ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees and to install and maintain machinery in a manner designed to minimize the risk of injury. In practice employers generally follow these regulations only within the wage economy in urban areas, and the Ministry of Labor and Employment enforces the regulations haphazardly. The Labor Code does not explicitly protect the right of workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without prejudice to employment. However, Labor Code sections on safety in the workplace and dismissal imply that dismissal in such circumstances would be illegal.

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