The commemoration provided an opportunity for all of us to reflect and introspect, particularly on how far we are in addressing issues of poverty, empowerment and accountability at all levels of society in Botswana.
Can we say workers enjoy decent work when they are still victimised based on their actual or perceived 'sero-status'? The victimisation takes many forms for instance, denial of further studies opportunities. Can we say workers enjoy decent work when they are treated as less of human beings by employers and colleagues in that some do not want to share utensils and ablution facilities with those known or assumed to be HIV positive?
Can we say workers enjoy decent work when they are tested for HIV before employment and denied work opportunities when found to be positive? Can we also say workers enjoy decent work when they are fired from work because of their HIV status? Can we say workers enjoy decent work and decent living when the Labour Offices are toothless and the Industrial Court takes forever to hear to hear their disputes? Employers could do harm knowing that the wheels of justice are too slow to catch up with them if at all.
There is also a widespread of discrimination in awarding employment benefits. Many employers treat AIDS and HIV less favourably than other life threatening conditions in determining disability benefits, group life insurances, spouse and child benefits, health benefits and in pension and provident fund arrangements. Workers with grievances and claims against their employers find themselves frequently in a dilemma. If they ignore the wrong done to them, they must accept the accompanying injustice which may include the loss of their livelihood. The alternative in the eyes of many is worse as few employees are willing to assert their legal rights and brace for the publicity and resultant stress-stress in itself contributing to the progression of HIV disease.
The numerous and costly labour cases handled through BONELA and other legal aid services attest to the state of affairs. Botswana does not have a specific legislation on HIV and AIDS. The Public Service Act, although recognises non-discrimination on the basis of one’s health status, discriminatory practices are rampant in the world of work, as such BONELA also, constantly calls on the Botswana government to ratify and domesticate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as a solution to providing wages that promotes decent work and decent living.
Although Botswana has ratified some international human rights instruments, it seems that there is inclination towards civil and political rights at the expense of socio-economic rights, hence the reluctance to ratify the ICESCR. Poverty remains a huge challenge in Botswana and in situation of poverty; people have the least access to socio-economic rights such as housing, food, security and health among others. The realisation of full socio-economic rights is therefore, critical this challenge as the ICESCR is the only mechanism through which the country can monitor issues of minimum wages or income inequalities, economic opportunities and regulate investment or investors, protect citizens from labour abuse and ensure decent living as well as facilitate the right to health in both access and utility.
In conclusion, President Ian Khama is on a mission to eradicate poverty and assist the poorest members of society, ratifying the ICESCR therefore, provides an ideal opportunity to operationalize this commitment and ensuring social justice once and for all.