By T’soloane Mohlomi

MASERU – The Kingdom of Lesotho recently launched the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Worker Empowerment, and Rights (M-POWER).

Initiated by the Solidarity Centre, the programme resides under the United States (US) Department of Labour, International Labour Affairs Bureau, and advocates for the rights of workers not only in the United States, but also on a global platform. The Solidarity Centre is the largest US based international grassroots worker rights organization.

In the background of The Kingdom of Lesotho like a handful of other countries around  the world, having ratified their commitment in line with the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention 2019 (C190) earlier this year, it is in this precedent that the highly beneficial programme was launched in the country.

M- Power focuses mainly on worker’s rights in international democracy promotion efforts, and recognizes workplace democracy as the key to inclusive and equitable recovery. It also prioritizes and multiplies the impact of labour capacity building programmes, diplomacy, trade engagement, and multilateral cooperation through information sharing, programme coordination, action-oriented research, and joint strategy development to enable effective and efficient targeting of resources.

Speaking at the launch, Prime Minister Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane said his government was well aware of the gross Gender Based Violence (GBV) incidences across Africa. He said Lesotho upholds workers’ rights and this is evident as enshrined in the country’s constitution.

He said in the auspices of the country having signed the Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, dubbed “ka lebelo la Nt’soekhe” (with the speed of light) which is a bilateral agreement between the government and the United Nations (UN), aimed at exhilarating Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), they were aiming to implement the programme with no time wasted.

“The theme of this momentous occasion is eradicating gender based Violence and Harassment at work in Southern Africa. We are all witnesses to the ever increasing incidences of Gender Based Violence and harassment in the workplace not only in the Southern African Region but in Africa as a whole,” he said.

” This event therefore  presents a good opportunity for all of us to address and overcome these disturbing incidences, Lesotho upholds workers rights for the promotion of decent work, these rights are all provided in the constitution of Lesotho and other legislations and international conventions under the umbrella of the United Nations. “These include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the African Union (AU), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In addition the Prime Minister mentioned that in the country’s bid to mitigate work related social ills, the Kingdom of Lesotho didn’t only ratify the C190 ILO convention, but also ratified C151, which is the Labour Relations Public Service Convention of 1978, and C187 which is the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health 2006.

In conclusion he said the current administration had extended coverage of all labour standards to all workers including public officers – this is a major departure from the previous situation where workers in the public service were unable to enjoy their fundamental rights of joining trade unions of their choice as well as the right to embark in protected strikes.

He declared M-Power officially opened and wished it great success.

In hindsight and among other things, the Multilateral Programme holds a firm belief that free, independent, and democratic trade unions provide workers the collective voice and power to influence the rules that govern their workplaces, communities, and regions. This voice helps workers to defend their rights and advance their interests in their workplaces and engage actively in their societies.

Witnessing the fact that the world is entering its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with surging unemployment, weak occupational health and safety protection, limited access to social protection, with inadequate support for family care having increased workers vulnerability, the programme will compound pre existing legal obstacles, repression, and violence that erode workers fundamental rights, including workers rights to exercise their freedom to association, to organize unions, and bargain collectively.

In addition M-Power prides itself in being a global initiative that unites governments, unions, labour academics, and CSO’s committed to working in partnership to uphold and promote worker empowerment and rights.

Speaking on behalf of the US Embassy, US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Ms Keisha Toms said it was important to ensure that  safe work spaces exist, so as to facilitating gender equality and ensuring that good willed labour practices thrive.

She said the US Embassy was proud to assist the Lesotho Government and also lauded the Solidarity Organization Centre for their global efforts in ensuring conducive working conditions for all labourers around the world.

“Ladies and gentlemen I would like to thank all government officials’ dignitaries and labour organizations representatives who are present here today, who have come together in this summit to eradicate gender based violence and promoting a safe work environment. I would like to especially thank our US Special representative Ms Kelly Fay Rodriguez, who has come all the way from Washington DC to join us, her presence here today underscores that countering gender based violence is a policy priority for the Biden Administration.

“I would like to congratulate the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho in approving ILO Convention 190, which demonstrates its dedication to ensuring dignified safe working conditions to all workers,” she said.

“The US Embassy in Maseru is proud to support the Lesotho Government in its efforts to promote labour rights and eradicate gender based violence to improve the livelihoods of the citizens of the Mountain Kingdom. We provide this support through a myriad of initiatives including PEPFARS efforts to counter gender based violence, and violence against children.

“While many challenges remain, we have to celebrate areas of progress made through Embassy collaboration with our partners in Lesotho. The government made serious legislative commitments to facilitate Lesotho’s health and horticultural compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which strives to create jobs, while addressing gender based violence and labour rights.”

Ms Toms further added that the Counter Domestic Violence Act, which was successfully passed last December, was a condition to the implementation of the MCC Compact. She said the US Ambassador’s Special Fund had given $70,000 per year in grants which have benefited workers in Lesotho to include the tools library in Maseru, a bricklaying project in Ha Sekoati, and various agricultural and technology assistance projects. She said they were looking forward to the enactment of Labour bill 2022, by the end of this year and conveyed that the US Embassy in Maseru through a new initiative had a $3 million technical assistance project with the objective to reinforce the government of Lesotho’s efforts to promote occupational safety and health to counter discrimination and gender based violence and harassment in the workplace