PALAPYE: Unionists took turns with solidarity messages bashing the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) government that it is still too good to be trusted.
This followed Minister Nonofo Molefhi’s speech at the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) workers’ day celebration on Tuesday in Palapye. Molefhi, who is the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, was invited as the guest speaker.
In his remarks, Molefhi promised the unions that the new leadership was ready to lend them an ear. He said the government harboured no intentions of ruling with an iron fist.
He said the labour laws that the government has passed, which the labour movements were against, or felt they should have been put in better ways, were passed to create proper platforms of dialogue and cooperation between the employer and the employee.
Molefhi said what the government has done in the past might not have been enough, but improvements are visible. He admitted that salaries and conditions of service for many workers were not satisfactory and the government intended to make improvements.
He promised the unions that social dialogue would be created, but it would only be possible if the unions were free from the influence of the opposition parties, that he likened to churches that speak in parables. He also said the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) was not dead and could be revived.
“Social dialogue would be created, but it can only grow when you don’t speak in tongues of churches that are synonymous with orange, yellow, purple and navy blue colours,” he said.
“I also don’t believe the PSBC is dead. The PSBC is our patient that is ailing and needs medication and care. It is upon the government, the unions and its members to work together as a family and care for this patient until our patient is back to full fitness.
We promise to remain open to dialogue with the unions and mend our relationships for the benefit of the nation.”
Unionists felt the government was a sweet talker and refused to take government for its word, instead calling for immediate action. It was the president of the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU), Jack Tlhagale who was the first on the podium to offer his solidarity message. He spoke slowly and emotionally of how the Members of Parliament (MPs) and the ministers could sweet talk the nation and make serious matters look insignificant.
He said the issue of the BCL Mine will not rest, and warned the unionists not to believe everything the ministers and the MPs say. He said some former miners of BCL were disabled and now wheelchair-bound and the government has dumped them.
He said in many attempts to address the government on the regressing conditions of employment and exploitation in the workplace, the former turned a deaf ear.
He warned that the government could never be trusted, as it is
Tlhagale said the government has no set regulations to protect the mines, the rights of the mineworkers and their welfare. He cautioned that with the current state of affairs, the future of the mines was gloomy. “When we speak of social dialogue, the government is concerned about the colour of political parties, and that makes us wonder what could have changed from the leadership of yesterday,” he wondered.
“At BCL, former miners are wheelchair bound, others have back complications from working long hours with heavy machinery. We have always spoken to the employers about the hours of the miners.
“When we bring issues of these disabled individuals to the government, they refer us to the liquidator. The liquidator simply tells us he has no such arrangement,” he said.
He added, “We can’t be happy for the diamond that we are mining when we are crippling the people that mine those diamonds for us. These people (ministers and MPs) are good talkers and can no longer be trusted unless they act. The reality is people are crippled and dumped”.
The president of Botswana Public Employees Union, Masego Mogwera said they have had enough of the government and all they demand was action.
She said they have reported the government to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), but they could withdraw their grievance if an immediate meeting could be arranged and the government complied with the demands of the ILO.
She compelled the minister to ensure that the Trade Dispute Act was taken back in the next winter Parliament as an assurance to the change that was being heralded by the new leadership.
“I request that you (Molefhi) personally raise that motion, ensure it is supported and stamp out the Trade Dispute Act at the next Parliament seating,” she addressed the minister.
Mogwera said employees spent their able lives at work labouring under stressful conditions and thus inheriting the workplace stress.
“We have so much stress that all of us survive on medication”.
She demanded the bargaining council back, but implored workers to continue with the work while unions handled negotiations.
Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) newly elected president, Bohithetswe Lentswe said the gains that have been previously achieved by the unions were regressing. He said casualisation and exploitation of workers were on the rise. He said matters of safety in the workplace had been compromised and yet could not be an issue of the next day. He said the locals were exploited in the workplaces.
“Sometimes we wish to be foreigners in our own country because it seems the lives of foreigners are better and easier than those of Batswana,” he scoffed.