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Trade Unions Issue Unstable Jobs Warning

CHAKALISA DUBE
Vulnerable: Unions warn exploitation could rise under COVID-19 PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
FRANCISTOWN: Local trade unions have warned that there is a high possibility that the country’s labour market particularly in the private sector could soon suffer from increased precariousness.

In recent years trade unions have constantly expressed concerns about the growing trend of insecure, vulnerable and low quality employment. The situation is characterised by high flexibility, low wages as well as limited access to social protection, that does not allow workers to have a decent working and private life. Trade unions now believe that the trend is likely to reach critical heights post the State of Public Emergency (SOE) and after the COVID-19 era.

Unions are of the view that after the SOE or COVID-19 era companies might shed off more jobs as there would be a saturated labour market for various industries. The position of the unions is that a saturated labour market might give some employers the liberty to exploit workers and create severely precarious jobs for them.

Increased competition for jobs might also force employees to accept precarious jobs, according to local trade unions.

“The situation (increase in precarious jobs) is even likely to become worse in sectors where unions are weak or outside union control. Already some local companies have shown during the state of emergency that they have little regard for the welfare of employees. Some of the so called big companies did not even pay their employees despite benefiting from the COVID-19 wage relief fund,” Botswana Federation of Public Private & Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) spokesperson, Mogomotsi Motshegwa said yesterday. “Because the labour market will be very saturated we might see the employees who are due for their terminal benefits being strategically replaced by those who are relatively cheap so that they are denied their full terminal benefits,” he added.  Motshegwa emphasised that there is an urgent need for trade unions to join hands and take the issue of precarious employment in the country on board. In addition, BOFEPUSU believes that a wide variety of activities and strategies

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ranging from attempts to influence legislation to the organising of workers in precarious sectors can help guard against severe exploitation of employees.

“The government should also guard against the anticipated growth of precarious jobs by implementing the Decent Work Country Programme as a matter of urgency,” Motshegwa explained. “The government is reluctant to implement the programme despite the fact that it signed it some years ago. Through the programme the government identified and committed to improved quality of work life through addressing the socio-economic dimensions that are critical to the world of work,” he added.

The overall objective of this Decent Work Country Programme is to promote workers rights, productive and decent employment opportunities. The International Labour Organisation spearheads it.

For his part, Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) secretary general, Thusang Butale recently emphasised that there is a strong need to strengthen advocacy for the rights of workers especially those at the lower end of the labour market in the private sector. “We also call on Business Botswana and labour movements to agree on a MoU (memorandum of understanding) that would guide on ways to protect jobs in the private sector,” he said.

The economy is expected to contract by an estimated 13.1% due to COVID-19. Sectors such as mining, trade, hotel and restaurants, manufacturing, social and personal services, and transport and communications are expected to severely suffer from the effects of COVID-19.

For this reason, BFTU noted that it is critical that workers and critical businesses in these sectors need to be protected post the COVID-19 era.

Butale said already there are signs that some employers have started creating a more precarious working environment for their employees. “Under the guise of COVID- 19 employers have cut benefits such as provision of meals to their employees without offering alternatives and consultation or negotiations,” Butale said.



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