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Of Labour, Decent Work Agenda and SONA

Publishing Date : 14 November, 2017

Author :


His Excellency the President of the Republic of Botswana’s submission on labour during the State of the National Address (SONA) has severe inaccuracies which need to be corrected.

For his submission on labour, it portrayed that President Khama’s administration will leave the High Office having dented labour relations profusely, particularly in relation to public sector trade unions. Inaccurate reporting is a clear indication of work not done. My strongest conviction is that a wrong information was submitted to the President, given that a programme such as Decent Work Agenda (DWA) country programme never took-off, painfully the President was made to submit inaccurate information to the public.

According to the State President, “Botswana Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) will be coming to an end in December 2017. The objective of the programme is to promote employment creation, social protection, social dialogue and rights at work. The programme has provided expertise in the development of the drafts on the National Policy on Wellness and Disease Management in the World of Work and the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy. In view of the importance of this programme, Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development is working with employers and workers to review this programme with a view of renewing it.”

For a start the massive labour programme has never been budgeted for, even to be officially launched by the Minister of Labour, as it is a norm whenever a national project is adopted safe for the signing of the programme in 2015 by the then Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Peter Siele, Vic Van Vuuren, Director of the ILO, Machailo Ellis for BOCCIM and Allan Keitseng for the BFTU, and thereafter nothing was executed to fulfil the objectives of DWA country programme. It baffles the mind, when the programme started, under which Ministry and how was its strategic plan outlined for execution and monitoring?

Decent Work Agenda Country programme is premised on four main strategic objectives, which are wanting since the country has not shown any commitment towards fulfilling them. The first objective according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) focuses on, “respecting, promoting and realising the fundamental principles and rights at work, which are of particular significance, as both rights.”

Recently the government has all been out in reviewing labour acts in an ulterior motive to sabotage labour. The Public Service Bill is all out to make trade unions irrelevant by promulgating articles that weaken labour organisations. Almost the entire public service cadres are essential service, a typical testimony of suppressing labour by the government. If there was any intention of promoting DWA in Botswana, the country could have not attempted to temper with progressive Public Service Act (PSA).

The PSA No 10 of 2008 ushered in unionism in Botswana where the labour movement grew in leaps and bounds. The 2011 national Public Service epic strike was facilitated by the Act which prompted workers to have a collective voice to fight against oppressors and rogue administration. Changing of laws was triggered by the might of trade unions probably motivated and protected by PSA reformism.

Regrettably, the government dismally failed to utilise the third strategic objective of DWA, which is, “promoting social dialogue and tripartism” as the most appropriate methods of quelling industrial relation unrests. The government exacerbated the acrimony of labour unrests by formulating gruesome labour policies. The government had to enable smooth tripartite engagement to promote cordial and harmonious interaction between the employer and trade unions.

May be trade unions might have prompted the government to take punitive actions such as deliberate stance to deny public sector trade union members’ salary hikes. Public sector unions made political pronouncements of their support for political opposition parties. But was the action justified to trample on its DWA country programme by further sabotaging its rationale, such as, “adequate level of social protection for workers and their family members?”

Government regressed totally from the DWA framework as the strategic objective makes deliberate actions to bulwark workers and their families against social and economic hurdles. The government should be seen not promoting actions that advance impoverishment or disadvantaging workers such as salary denial, given that real wages were surpassed by inflation. In short, if ever the government purports that the programme has been there, it was diluted and corrupted by filthy actions such as relinquishing the responsibility of protecting workers and their families by the same government.

Trade unions might have blundered to disassociate from the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC), but they needed to protect its membership who were reeling in economic depressions. The actions facilitated the employer to award public sector employees their long protracted salary increment. Inappropriately, during this unhealthy squabbles between unions and the employer, the DWA country programme architects never showed displeasure of an interrupted plan, because nothing was in place.

DWA country programme should ensure that workers’ salaries and wages are adequate to sustain their families. Workers should, “Earn an income that meets their basic economic, social and family needs.” With the minimum wage that is way below the wage equilibrium levels, it is burdensome for workers to sustain their families. The government has not made any commitment to review the Minimum Wage Board that is ceremonial as all powers are vested on the Minister who’s not obliged to accept the Board’s recommendations.

Progressive countries such as in the United Kingdom (UK) have adopted independent and national minimum wage model that covers all sectors of the economy, unlike in Botswana where it is industry based, and unfortunately a preserve for few enterprises.
Another DWA strategic objective plans on, “developing and enhancing measures of social protection, social security and labour protection that are sustainable and adapted to national circumstances.”

While the government has made tremendous strides in initiating social security programmes for various groupings of the community, labour protection needs rigorous improvement to guard workers from workplace abuse. In Southern Africa, Botswana probably comes second after South Africa in providing social security for its citizenry (Ferguson, 2007). Though the benefits for social security for specified groupings are minimal to sustain families, that commitment to establish social security programmes is commendable.

Nevertheless, the government is found wanting in monitoring whether employers extend social security to its workers. A thorough introspection is obligatory for labour inspection unit. Labour inspection department needs to be reformed, and more radical changes brought to its operation. Labour inspectoral personnel needs serious overhaul of their conditions of service to make the personnel effective and not prone to bribes by employers. The department should also be equipped in terms of resources to facilitate them perform their duties diligently.

Mosoetsa (2014) “Eating from the Pot,” observed that government hand-outs sustain families, since all family members benefit from a single-member government stipends. The little stipends afforded to families the more they become insignificant, however respectable government stipends vastly benefit a larger family members. With high rate of unemployment, able bodied family members also benefit from food hampers given to the needy and old-age members of respective families.

Social security programmes are reviewed annually, with the provision of implementing other programmes that could cushion other precarious citizens and workforce against economic hardships. The benefits afforded to social security beneficiaries are disappointingly insignificant given their monetary rate.

Another dimension of DWA country programme focuses on the, “Respect for the fundamental rights at work, including the right to join a trade union and engage in collective bargaining.” This obligation by the government has been the major downfall given the current furfure that lead to the collapse of PSBC. The wrangles between the employer/government and trade unions diminished the DWA motive of upholding fundamental rights at work.

The turmoil existed and evidenced made workers sceptical to join trade unions, while others decided to ditch trade unions. This was a deliberate move by the government to make workers lose faith on trade unions. Some members opted to have multiple trade union membership, which compromised their loyalty to a single trade union. History shows that workers with multiple membership tend not to be trade union activists since they are mainly bread and butter faithful.

To conclude that, the country’s DWA country programme has been fulfilled and awaiting reviewing is raising some eyebrows. However accolades should be given where there are due, National Occupational Health and Safety Policy draft is near completion, which plays a crucial contribution in accomplishing some feats of DWA strategic plans. Unfortunately the exercise was fulfilled outside the framework of DWA country programme.

Mpho Maruping writes from Kudumatse



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