(MENAFN- The Post)
MASERU – THE Covid-19 outbreak and the related economic problems have worsened an already dire situation for many Basotho, many who are finding it difficult to pay their bills.
The global economy has also been adversely affected by the pandemic.
Factory workers in Lesotho are some of the worst affected, with thousands losing their jobs.
About 40 000 people were employed as factory workers before the outbreak. Many of them are now out of jobs and those remaining are jittery they could be next.
“The situation is worrisome,” said 'Mapontšo Moimane, who has worked in the factories for 15 years.
“Things have changed for the worse,” said the 36-year-old.
In the past, she was able to access small loans from her bank to settle some of her financial obligations.
Not anymore. Her bank says it can no longer risk loaning her money because her job is insecure.
“My most serious concern right now is that I have to pay back the money I borrowed from our society (stockvel) in my village in Koalabata,” said Moimane.
Moimane said she had borrowed the money from her society hoping to pay it back with interest in line with the rules governing their society.
'Mahlalefang Makhutle, 49, said her life has been a mess since she lost her job at Nseing Heisien on September 8.
“I am devastated,” she said, adding that at first she could not believe it when her bosses addressed employees telling them of the layoffs. The company bosses blamed Covid-19 for the decision.
“I had been working in the factories for 20 years. And all of a sudden I was told it was all over,” said the heartbroken Makhutle, a widow who lost her husband 19 years ago.
“My daughter has lost her job at the factory too,” Makhutle said, adding that she is already struggling to survive barely two months after she was retrenched.
The mother of two says her first born child trained to be a carpenter but he is struggling to get a job.
With the severance package that she got from her employer, Makhutle said she managed to roof her house.
“I have not plastered the home because the money got finished,” she said, adding that her health has deteriorated following the retrenchment.
This month, about 2 600 employees from the C & Y Factory are going to lose their jobs after being served with notices recently.
These employees are going to join the unemployed ranks of people like Makhutle.
Makhutle said she is struggling to secure another job because working in the factories was the only job she could do.
Sobbing, Makhutle said her health is taking a toll.
“I could not be vaccinated against Covid-19 because my blood pressure was too high,” she said.
She said her woes are mounting because she is also struggling to pay her insurance premiums.
After losing her job, Makhutle said she approached her insurance company to tell them about her difficulties.
The insurance company told her that they would give her just two months to get a new job so that she could continue paying for her policy, including the months she would have defaulted, she said.
“My future is bleak, I cannot find a breakthrough,” said Makhutle.
She claimed that some of her colleagues are battling mental health problems after losing their jobs.
Another factory worker who has lost her job, 'Malebohang Mototi, said she was employed at the C&Y Factory, specialising in working on a line that produced top-end jeans.
“This year has been characterised by difficulties and agony for us factory workers. We have been experiencing lay-offs from the beginning of this year because of Covid-19,” said the 47-year-old.
Mototi was a shop steward for the National Clothing and Textile and Allied Workers Union (Nactwu) at her former job.
Mototi said many workers were already trapped in debt when they returned to work after the lockdown. Then a few months later they were told that some of them would be sent packing.
“My family is struggling because my husband is also jobless,” said the mother of two.
Mototi says she managed to put her daughter through school when she was still employed.
Her daughter is in the final year of her studies at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
Although she is job hunting at other factories, Mototi is not raising her hopes too high.
“These factories are also wrapping up the orders that they have and are also planning to retrench,” said Mototi, who reckons getting a job outside the factories is hard“because of my little education”.
“Things are really tough here,” she said.
Mototi said her family could be forced to return to her home in Teya-Teyaneng, Ha-Mohatlane, if she fails to find a job soon.
“I won't be able to afford the rent,” said Mototi, who stays in a rented house in Ha-Thetsane.
Lesotho's economy is under increasing strain as growth stalls due to the pandemic. The economy was already troubled before the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country in 2020.
Transport operators have not been spared.
Tieho Kabeli, 61, runs a fleet of taxis in Maseru.
He said he used“to make a good fortune” from his business but not anymore.
“I am recording losses, this business is no longer lucrative,” said Kabeli, adding that he has been forced to retrench some of his workers.
“It doesn't make much sense to keep my employees, drivers and their assistants while my taxis toil the whole day without making any profit,” said Kabeli, an owner of five taxis.
“It is now costly for me to pay employees their monthly salaries and yet they are not bringing anything. I also have to buy fuel for these cars. I have to take them to the mechanic if need be,” he said.
“I am not an economist, I am just a taxi operator but I can tell there is no money circulating in the country. Even the street vendors and hawkers are facing difficult times,” he said.
Economists say Lesotho's economy is hurtling towards a recession and is growing at its lowest because of the shutting down of factories.
Kabeli said factory workers are their major clients and lamented that the layoffs mean less business for taxi operators.
“We take them to and from work every day to the industrial estate where 4+1 cars that are our major competitors are not willing to go. The decrease in the number of factory employees has hit us hard,” he said.
He said the taxi industry is“already saturated” and their plight has been exacerbated by“pirating cars”.
The Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) said the textile and apparel manufacturing industry remains Lesotho's largest formal private sector employer.
In a statement, the LNDC said wages earned by workers in this industry are crucial to raising the number of income earners in Lesotho.
The Corporation said it was therefore troubled by the downscaling of operations by factories, which has resulted in considerable job losses.
In an endeavour to save these jobs, the corporation has engaged the companies that have downsized their operations through sizable layoffs.
The companies have cited disruptions in the supply chain due to Covid-19 as the main driver of the downsizing, the corporation said.
The LNDC said a progressively deteriorating investment climate is also one of the factors affecting business negatively.
The corporation has initiated engagements with key stakeholders to jointly address issues that are negatively impacting the investment climate.
The corporation has also resuscitated the Inter-Ministerial Task Team (IMTT), which is a high-level problem-solving forum led by the Minister of Trade and Industry to address investors' grievances.
The main objective of the IMTT is to facilitate collaboration with key stakeholders to improve the investment environment in order to restore investor confidence.
“The corporation therefore wishes to assure workers and the public that it is exploring all avenues to preserve, and create new jobs for those who have been retrenched, through operationalising expansion projects in its pipeline,” said the LNDC.
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