The country’s oldest trade union federations, Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) and Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) have represented workers in the public and private sector over the years. All this was and is still happening despite the fact that government is not keeping her side of the bargain in some instances. Mmegi Correspondent, LEBOGANG MOSIKARE writes
The two federations’ cause was also not helped by the fact that the government has not domesticated some of the International Labour Organisations (ILO) conventions despite Botswana being a signatory to these international treaties.
The cry over the non-domestication of international treaties and other unfair employment practices in the workplace has been the rallying point of BFTU and BOFEPUSU.
As the ILO commemorated the World Day for Safety and Health at work under the theme, “Act together to build a positive safety and health culture”, in Palapye on Thursday, this will surely amplify the voice of BFTU and BOFEPUSU.
The federations have long decried issues of gender disparity and equity in the employment environment in terms of progression of females in the workplace, equal pay for equal work-done, issues of safety and security, sexual and reproductive rights and other economic and social development challenges in the workplace. The two labour movements are busy lobbying the government to domesticate ILO Convention No.190 (or C190 for short) to make work more conducive for all genders.
According to the ILO, C190 is the first international treaty to recognise the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence (GBV) and harassment.
The Convention was adopted in June 2019 by the International Labour Conference of the ILO, and came into force on June 25, 2021.
Governments that ratify C190 will be required to put in place the necessary laws and policy measures to prevent and address violence and harassment in the world of work.
The Convention represents an historic opportunity to shape a future of work based on dignity and respect for all. The ILO is now embarking on a global campaign to build support for C190, and invites constituents, stakeholders and civil society actors to get involved.
The end goal is for the Convention to be ratified and implemented by national governments and legislative assemblies around the world which BFTU and BOFEPUSU are vigorously fighting its domestication.
Recently, a government official told attendees at a GBV workshop which was organised by the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) in Palapye that despite the fact that Botswana has not domesticated C190, legislation is in place to address a host of workers’ issues and GBV in all its forms in the workplace.
“GBV affects all of us in society including in the workplace. The government has through the enactment of legislation developed policies and strategies to guide implementation in fighting GBV. The National response on GBV in Botswana is vigorous and focused despite the non-ratification of ILO Convention 190,” the official said.
In addition to the ratification of C190, BFTU and BOFEPUSU have submitted proposals calling on the government to protect the workers as coronavirus continues to ravage the world. Their clarion call for the protection of job losses happens at a time when the economy is at its lowest ebb following the outbreak of COVID-19.
The pandemic is compounded by the fact that President Mokgweetsi Masisi has recently announced that the government will merge some of the state-owned enterprises while others will be privatised. There are fears from within and without the trade union movement that the government’s plan will lead to massive job losses.
On top of that, the government recently announced that over 400 companies are on the verge of retrenching.
In addition, the government stated that the said companies would shed close to 800 jobs.
Following the government’s nerving disclosure, BFTU and BOFEPUSU made a clarion call to the State to tread carefully when merging and privatising some State Owned Entities (SoEs). Secretary generals of BFTU and BOFEPUSU, Thusang Butale and Tobokani Rari respectively decried the fact that they were not consulted before the government took the decision to merge and privatise some SoEs as well as creating new ministries.
“We are concerned that the merging of parastatals will lead to massive job losses. Already many Batswana have lost their jobs,” Butale stated. Butale also lamented that Masisi could have given timelines for implementation in relation to the merging of parastatals.
“We also missed an opportunity to hear from the President what kind of inefficiencies have been prevalent in various ministries which warranted the rationalisation,” he said. “The other key question we have as a federation is how the new ministries will be resourced this year since the budget was already done?”
echoed Butale’s words. “We warn the government that if this process of merging and privatising some parastatals is not properly handled, it would result in further ejecting a large number of Batswana into the streets, which will obviously escalate the unemployment rate. Already Botswana has an unemployment rate of about 34%,” Rari decried.
“Government should devote more effort towards ensuring that more jobs are not lost as a result of the process,” he added. “Our view is that a rationalisation (merging and privatisation) process should involve a thorough process of consultation so that stakeholders could have an input on whether what the powers that be are thinking of would bring improved service delivery or not. Stakeholders such as federations of trade unions need to be consulted even more in that such processes of rationalisation might result in huge job losses.”
Rari stated that the BOFEPUSU will not rest on its laurels, but will engage the government to ensure that members of their affiliate trade unions in SoEs will be meaningfully engaged when the process commences and adversely affected by the government’s decision.
During the International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day that will be held on May 1 at Maun and has been jointly organised by BFTU and BOFEPUSU, the voices for the domestication of ILO conventions that Botswana is a signatory to are expected to be heard.
Rari has confirmed that assumption.
The day will be commemorated under the theme, “Empowering workers and strengthening social dialogue for economic recovery and real transformation in the workplace”.
He said the theme for the celebrations is apt taking into consideration that the celebrations come in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The theme acknowledges that employees should work productively in order for any entity to continue staying afloat. Secondly, the theme says that while that is imperative, workers should be paid well in order to motivate them. This process is reciprocal.
The theme also touches on issues of safety and health in the working environment which employers should take care of adequately,” said Rari.
“Hence we agitate that the welfare and rights of workers should be improved. Issues of safety and health in the workplace should be practised in each work place and not only where manual work is mostly done as was the belief in the past. These issues affect the mental well-being of employees hence it is imperative that they be attended to without fail.”
In April 2018, BFTU and BOFEPUSU jointly held the Workers’ Day in Francistown, which was graced by President Masisi whereat he promised to resuscitate of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC), which today has not been done despite numerous promises. PSBC is a platform that is used by unions and government to talk and address various issues concerning workers for the benefit of all parties.