Thank you, Mr/Mrs Chairperson. I am speaking on behalf of Education International in my capacity as General Secretary of the Botswana Sectors of Education Trade Unions (BOSETU).
This case refers to the violation of Convention 87 by the government of Botswana.
The teaching service is included in the extended list of essential services in accordance with Section 46 of the 2016 Trade Dispute Act of Botswana. What makes this case even worse is that the support staff within the teaching service is also classified as an essential service. This means that employees in a school, such as grounds people, cooks, bursars, typists, matrons and boarding masters are as well classified as essential.
The supervisory bodies of this august organ, the ILO, have taken the position that it is admissible to limit or prohibit the right to strike in essential services, but defined as those the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population.
The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has stated on many occasions that teachers do not fall within the definition of essential services, despite the importance of their service to pupils and the community at large. (See for example para 130 of the 2012 General Survey on fundamental conventions).
We argue further that there was no need for the Botswana government to establish teaching services and the support thereto as an essential service as the Committee has provided a window that could be available to the government of Botswana, that of establishing minimum services in consultation with social partners in case of strikes in the education sector of long duration.
The Act makes teachers, the support staff within the teaching, and of course almost the whole economy, an essential service hence prohibiting them from resorting to a strike action. This undermines the bargaining power of teachers and their support staff as they are without the ability to withdraw labour, the strongest bargaining tool that employees would have at their disposal. Teachers and support staff are at risk that their working conditions will deteriorate which will also affect their morale. This would have dire consequences on the quality of education, which in our view is supposed to be a public good.
A quality public education system should have respect for teachers as a core
We therefore submit that the conduct of the Botswana government is in contravention of Convention 87, and the positions and advices given by the ILO’s supervisory organs.
We further note there has been an absence of meaningful consultation on the new draft amendments to the Public Services Act. Unions were only given three days to make their written submissions, which we did.
However, there was no physical consultation. The draft bill was gazetted and it will be taken to Parliament during the July session. This would be done without having physically consulted the social partners on their individual accord, nor having taken it to the Labour Advisory Board as the legislation in Botswana requires with respect to labour statutes. This action contradicts the promises that were given by the Minister of Labour and Employment and the Assistant Minister in the Office of the President to the unions, and later to ILO mission that the amendment process would be halted pending technical assistance by the ILO technical team.
There are a number of proposals of serious concern in the Bill. For example, Sections 72 and 74(4) of the Bill gives power to the Directorate of Public Service Management, and the Minister to appoint the Secretariat, Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Public Sector Bargaining Council. Currently the Constitution of PSBC confers that power on the Council itself.
Furthermore, Section 75 of the Bill gives the employer, the power to unilaterally vary conditions and terms of service without the input of the bargaining council.
We therefore call on the Botswana government to honour its commitments to the May 2016 ILO technical mission to establish a tripartite working group with the ILO acting as an adviser to review the labour legislation in order to bring it into conformity with ILO Convention 87 and the other fundamental conventions.
Thank you very much Mr/Mrs. Chair.