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Trade Union Movement Under Siege

CORRESPONDENT
In view of the theme of your congress, “Quest for Collective Bargaining and Reiterating and Working Class Agenda”, my address to congress will zero on the Collective Bargaining in Botswana with a view to demonstrate how Botswana is regressing in this regard.

 I will endeavour to show how Botswana has moved some few steps forward in cultivating and nurturing for the existence of Trade Unions and the bargaining process,  and how she  has since moved, and is continuing to move many more steps backward, in the process reversing the gains. I will demonstrate the state of decline and deterioration of the bargaining processes in this country coupled with the constriction of the democratic space upon which trade unions operate.

 

Ratification of ILO Conventions that support bargaining

In 1997 the government of Botswana ratified the following conventions that support the existence of trade unions and the right of trade unions to bargain;

Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, Convention 87

Convention on Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, Convention 98

Convention on Labour Relations in the Public Service, Convention 151

This no doubt was a step in the right direction and such step needed to be applauded.

 

The Domestication of Conventions by Government

Government back then, moved further to domesticate the ratified conventions to operationalise them. This was done by enacting appropriate legislation and amending others to accommodate the thriving of the ratified conventions. Such legislation included among others;

The Trade Unions and Employers Organisation Act, it allowed the existence of trade unions and gave trade union rights

The Trade Dispute Act, it outlined the dispute resolution procedures including providing for the right to strike

The Public Service Act, it established the Public Service Bargaining Council

 

Government regresses & and slides many steps backward

It is evident that the present regime / government is hell bent on reversing the gains that have been achieved as enunciated above by either amending the above stated pieces of legislation targeting the very progressive clauses that support the ratified conventions. Such amendments and some other actions by government intends to totally annihilate the trade union movement.

After the 2011 Industrial Action, government, in 2012 moved swiftly and vigorously to take away the union deduction codes. This was in spite  of  the fact it is not only a provision of the recognition agreements that they shall be check off system for trade unions, but it is also provided for in the Trade Unions and Employers Organisation

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Act. This is a clear sign of an attack on convention 87 which allows for the existence of trade unions. The taking away of the deduction code from trade unions is  tantamount to switching off their life blood. This is a clear sign of regression.

Government is continuously purging trade union leaders. The Secretary General of BLLAHWU was dismissed from the public service targeting him for being a union leader. He was charged for being absent from duty while it was known that he was on secondment at the union office in accordance with union recognition agreement with government. This is a clear sign of the  reversal of the gains made. It’s an attack on Convention 87. The President of BOFEPUSU was unlawfully transferred to the ministry outside the scope of organisation of his trade union to make him not eligible to contest for the Presidency of BTU  and by extension disqualifying him from being BOFEPUSU President. This is a further indication of the reversal of the gains made.

 

Amendment of the Trade Dispute Act;

This amendment extended the cadre of employees regarded as essential service outside the ILO framework definition of essential service. This has completely eroded the bargaining power of the workers of Botswana as the very amended Trade Dispute Act prohibits a strike action among essential service employees. This is a gross violation of Convention 98.

 

Amendment of Public Service Act

Among other things envisaged is to make the secretariat of the PSBC to be chosen by the Minister hence making the PSBC an extension a government arm. This violates convention 98. It’s a serious reversal of the gains that were made.

 

Sidelining the PSBC

It is now common knowledge that it took unions to approach the courts to interdict His Excellency from interfering with the mandate of the PSBC. This is yet another reversal of the gains as outlined above.

 

Refusal to bargain.

Government has on several cases refused, or made it difficult for bargaining to proceed at the PSBC. The current stalled negotiations are as a result of government refusing to negotiate contrary to Conventions 87, 98 and 154.

*The author is BOFEPUSU Secretary General. He was speaking at BLLAHWU  Congress



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