In recognition of International Workers day 2023, Malisema Mahloane talks to Mr Motlalepula Setintana, Deputy Secretary General of Lesotho Workers’ Association (LEWA). He talks about the achievements of LEWA and their fight to help workers particularly their journey with village health workers to this year.

Please give us a brief about LEWA and its objectives.

LEWA was formed in 2011 by independent founding members with the objective of helping Basotho workers in Lesotho and internationally with all their existing labor grievances. In Lesotho there are multiple unions representing various labour sectors. The current mandate of LEWA is to help workers in the mining, construction, health and security industries to know their rights also shed light that worker’s unions are founded to harmonize labour relations between the employers and the employees such that both achieve the same goal.

How important is international workers’ day to you as LEWA?

Very important to us and unions worldwide. On this day we report to our federations worldwide the achievements thus far and the challenges encountered hindering us to move forward.  The reports seek intervention from the world federations where local governments are not willing to take action in resolving workers’ issues.  LEWA is a member of Lesotho Federation of Unions (LFU).

What are some of the LEWA achievements since its establishment? 

Our membership has grown remarkably compared to when the association originated. We had a few branches in the health sector, security sector and construction sector. We now have stable branches with long term contracts including the media sector. These branches (companies or employers) have many members (employees) who pay monthly subscription so that all their work issues are resolved by LEWA.

 As far as May Day is recognized, what is your biggest accomplishment as LEWA to date?

This year 2023 in so far as workers’ day is concerned we have achieved to have over 11,000 village health workers to be fully recognized by the government as ministry of health employees. The 2023 theme states that workers must be recognized by employers worldwide. By caring for workers, economies are able to grow. So as LEWA we are fighting for the workers’ rights where we observe negligence.

How has LEWA contributed towards the recognition of village health workers (VHW)?

Village health workers have been in existence for more than 20 years under the ministry of health.  They have worked tirelessly dedicating their lives to bring HIV, cancer, TB under control. For all these years, these heroes and heroines have worked closely with patients in remote, most rural and inaccessible areas ensuring they get treatments and take medication properly. All of these efforts were not compensated, none of them were paid and that is the saddest truth. For this reason, in 2020 we as LEWA had it under our mandate to take action and fight for their rights. It is this new government where the minister of health is Honorable Selibe Mochoboroane, that the VHW are being registered as employees with benefits and monthly salary.

What strategies were used to track the VHW?

From the year 2020 until 2022 we undertook a study by visiting all the clinics nationally, finding statistics of all VHW. The report was discussed with various leaders in the country, one of which took our plea seriously. This is why the VHW are being incorporated in the government system as employees. For many years the VHW have been given M800 as three months’ wages, on the contrary LEWA demanded that VHW be paid M2,000 monthly without arrears looking at the intensity of their work.

How far are you with the negotiations?

We are proud to tell you that this VHW data collection exercise is supported fully by the ministry of health to ensure the right people are paid. Also we are glad that arrears are being paid dating as far back as 2014 and 2018. You will be surprised to learn that some VHW have never been paid from the time when their engagement started 20 years ago. Some of these workers are on retirement, they are now old age pensioners but they still deserve to get their monies. However, we are delighted the 2023/24 government budget is inclusive of these arrears and we are prepared to accept whatever the monies they will be allocated.  The LEWA Secretary General and national organizer Hlalefang Seoaholimo is currently travelling every district with the health minister overseeing the verification of VHW is done well.

What does LEWA want to achieve ultimately?

That VHW feel part of the national payroll, that their work is not taken for granted. LEWA has made alliances with various financial service providers regarding funeral insurances, retirement plans, pensions to be included in their programs such that when VHW finally get their payments, they are treated with dignity and care. VHW skills should be advanced, they must be provided refresher courses to resuscitate their skills.

In ending, what is your wish for VHW?

They should be respected. They must have an identifying protective equipment (PPE) everywhere they go. They must be recognized easily and so their working conditions must be respected.