COSATU President Zingiswa Losi – Opening Remarks:

Programme Director,

The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Honourable Sam Matekane,

Leadership of the Governments and Trade Union Federations from M-Power members and our hosts, Lesotho,

Friends and colleagues, all protocol observed.

It is wonderful to be with you today, to join our sisters from the Basotho union movement and welcome you to Maseru and Southern Africa.  We are excited that you travelled so far to help place the eradication of gender-based violence at the workplace on the national agenda not only in Lesotho, but in fact across the SADC region.

GBV and sexual harassment at the workplace, and indeed across all facets of our lives has for too long been treated as an afterthought, a women’s issue.  Yet none of us wants our daughters, sisters, wives or mothers to be abused for simply wanting to earn a salary and give their families a better life. 

We know this pain as women workers in South Africa, where no woman will escape this scourge and all too many will experience the most brutal forms of violence at the workplace.  As the trade union movement in South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions has endeavoured to place this on the national agenda.  We have ensured that we ratified ILO Convention 190.  Our Parliament overhauled our criminal laws in 2022 to intensify the fight against GBV, including to ban the employment of persons convicted of sexual offences from positions of authority.

Whilst passing progressive laws is important, we must equally ensure that the public servants tasked to implement them are sufficiently trained and resourced to do so, that society too is aware of its rights and responsibilities.  Government on its own can never win this war alone, it requires all of us, men and women to play our part.

We are pleased not only to see so many friends in the Kingdom today, but that this Summit has helped spur agreements between the union movement and employers to tackle GBVH and defend the rights of workers.  This a welcome step forward for the workers of Lesotho, especially in the clothing and textile industry where all too often workers have been subjected to horrific abuses not so long ago.

We hope that this Summit will spur similar initiatives in eSwatini, Zimbabwe, Congo and across the region and continent.  If needs be, then we must go as this M-Power collective to assist unions where they face recalcitrant employers and government.  We must not shy from naming and shaming them at home, at the ILO and even enrolling the helping of our colleagues from Solidarity and the AFL-CIO. 

Equally we need to hold our governments accountable for not only signing and ratifying various ILO and SADC Conventions and Protocols, but also to domesticating them into law and ensuring their enforcement on the ground.  If politicians can find time to travel to Geneva, then they should find time to deliver to workers at home.

We must develop a culture of shareholder activism as unions.  Workers’ pension funds are invested across our economies in various companies and government bonds.  So why are we not using our financial muscle to force businesses and governments to actively champion the rights of workers and adopt a zero-tolerance to GBVH?

As a trade union movement, be it here in Maseru or Cape Town, Washington or Buenos Aires, we must continuously train our members, organisers and workers on their rights and responsibilities in the fight against GBVH, this includes us as unions adopting a zero-tolerance approach to union leaders who commit acts of GBVH.  We must not pretend that we are immune from this cancer affecting every fabric of society.  If we are to lead with credibility, then we must ensure our own homes are clean.

Allow me to conclude here friends and colleagues, we are excited that we have travelled from our initial meeting 8 months ago in Washington to being on the ground in Maseru today in support of the work the unions and employers are doing.  Let us not relax at a job well done, but rather build from this momentum as this is merely one step forward in a long but necessary journey that we must embark upon together.

Thank you.