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Lesotho: Protest action leads to the death of a woman as garment workers demand a 20 % salary increase

‘Woman shot dead in Lesotho as factory workers’ clashes with police escalate’ 28 May 2021

A woman has died after being shot during violent clashes between factory workers and police in Lesotho as trade unions say they have lost control over angry protests over pay. Demonstrations spilled over into violence in what is the second week of industrial action, with looting and damage to several businesses in the capital Maseru. Lesotho’s 50,000 factory workers are demanding a 20% salary increase for the lowest paid employees, who take home the local equivalent of £113.73 a month. The employers say they can only pay a 5% increase because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their businesses.

…The strike started two weeks ago and workers have been fighting running battles with police and army officers, who have been blocking the protests, which they say are “in contravention of Covid-19 regulations”. Last week, workers blocked roads with rocks, logs, broken streetlamps and rubbish bins, which the police dispersed with a water cannon. The protests turned violent after the government announced that it had engaged the International Labour Organization (ILO) to mediate the standoff. Some of the protesters went on a looting spree, mainly targeting Chinese-owned businesses.

…Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro on Wednesday evening said a new salary would be published on 16 June and encouraged the strikers to return to work. But the unions responded that workers would “stay at home until they have a concrete promise that they would get salary increments” despite the threat of having their salaries for May docked for the days that they have been out of work. According to unions, 95% of the workers are women, and low wages exacerbates their vulnerability in a country with a high prevalence of violent crimes against women.