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Calls for Minimum Wage morally justified

Publishing Date : 23 April, 2019

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This week has seen a spirited debate on various media and other platforms with regard to introducing a minimum wage of P3000 as suggested by opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) as one of its pledges for 2019 elections campaign.The debate was set in motion by Dr Phenyo Butale of Alliance for Progressives interview in one of the radio station, were he said his part had not yet committed itself to setting minimum wage because such issues can only be arrived at a logical conclusion after a research was carried out. 


Other citizens have offered polarised opinions on the matter, with the main question being, whether implementing such drastic decision may not have a negative implication on the economy or not, thus, the practical realities. Of course we cannot turn a blind eye of what has been happening over the years.  We have seen not only the rise in unemployment and the income disparities that exist between different sections of the society.  If the P3000 minimum wage cannot be afford by different section of employers in the society, Government should not be one of them. There have been calls for government to do away with the lower scales, where people still earn less than P3000.


Employers such as retailers such as Choppies, Spar, Shoprite and other big companies, who have got no to reason not to pay their employees better.  Living wage or minimum wage is can be a tool that is used to protect those at the lower bracketing of income earnings. Botswana in particular, is ranked as the fourth most unequal society in the world, with our neighbour, South Africa being ranked the most unequal in the world. In contrast, according to UN Human Development Index, Ukraine, Norway and Slovenia were the most equal countries to live in when considering distribution of income between the richest and poorest in society. 


GDP is no longer considered a good measure of well-being as a result of these inequalities that exist in societies. Botswana being ranked as a middle-upper class economy attest to that. The status quo is a result of both policy decision and subconscious decisions made over the years by those at the helm.  If the current prevailing inequality is to be reversed, it would without doubt be a matter of policy measures. When Botswana gained independence in 1966, the country was ranked among the poorest in the world. Virtually everyone was poor at that time. Yet it is shocking that 50 years later, some sections of society have progressed, while others have been left in the lurch.


What seems disturbing is that, the current situation is an artefact of our policy decision especially the last 20 years of the 50 years Botswana has been independent. Government Enclave recently made a morally acceptable decision to implement salary increase in pyramid format, where the lowest paid will got better increment and the highest paid vice-versa. Having an unequal society basically means, we have both a group of rich people at the top, as well as a group of poor people at the bottom. A group of people that can afford the luxuries and privileges of the world — good education as well access to good medical care. On the other side of the aisle is a group of people who are fighting with little success to make ends meet.


There is often a reason as alluded to by the The Global Risks Report 2018 that inequality unfairly help to perpetuate injustice against those at the receiving end. Those who are poor are unable to graduate from poverty, because the environment and available systems do not necessarily help. Kids from poor families are forced to enter into a competition with those who are well-off, doing so will little resources, with no support structures and under unfavourable environment, a situation which inevitable puts them down.


There is certainly a broader need for collective action to ensure middle‐class living standards, and that our economy works for all. Everybody should benefit and we should as a matter of necessity devise policies that promote inclusiveness. We may as well, as nation, move to implement affirmative action policies that are pro-poor; adequately funding rural schools in poor communities; and giving preferences to children from disadvantaged background in government posts, as well as enacting laws that promote inclusiveness.


In contrast to the global trend of widening gaps between rich and poor, which has become a growing concern since the financial crisis, World Economic Forum reckon that the world is waking up to the corrosive effects of inequality, not only on society, but also as a drag on further economic growth. Botswana should join the affray, sooner than later. We should be able to find a middle ground on the debate on minimum wage. We should be able to balance protecting people from slavery wages as well as not ruining the economy.

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