BOFEPUSUs response to SONA

We reckon that many speeches of the State Of The Nation Address (SONA) have been made. They were made with sheer brilliance, but in reality, it comes out as mere rhetoric. What is critical is to look at what is happening on the ground rather than the beauty of the many speeches made.

A priority to Government should be to ensure that social justice is central to achieving equitable and sustainable growth for all towards development of people as human beings. This is so because the proceeds of Botswana’s economy benefit few people whereas the many are on the margins.

That is why we have the working poor, who go to work everyday but in abject poverty, some Batswana living in the economic pains to the extent that they have become hopeless, helpless and only waiting for death to part them from the miseries and sorrows of life in this country. This is highly disturbing in a country blessed with so many natural resources ,  a rich country with poor people.

Throughout the years, and it seems to continue for a long time, the Government of Botswana does not respect workers and trade unions.

 When it comes to national agenda and public policy, labour has been relegated to the periphery and merely seen as a commodity.

It must be understood that labour is not a commodity, and for that labour is not like an apple or a television set, an inanimate product that can be negotiated for the highest profit or the lowest price.

President Masisi’s administration just like Ian Khama’s administration seems much prepared to be militant and ruthless in curtailing workers and trade union rights. The recent de-recognition of Public Sector Unions is indication of the attitude of Masisi’s administration towards trade unions.

Merely talking about economic growth is not sufficient. There must be efforts towards empowerment of individuals through decent work, support of people through social protection, and ensuring the voices of the poor and marginalised are heard.

Alleviation of poverty can only be substantial through creation of decent jobs. Work is part of everyday life and is crucial to a person’s dignity, well-being and development as a human being.

Economic development should include the creation of jobs and working conditions in which people can work in freedom, safety and dignity. In short, economic development is not undertaken for its own sake but to improve the lives of human beings.

Specific to industrial democracy in Botswana, the challenges are many and varying. Immediately after the 2011 industrial strike, Government engaged in a spree of reversal of positives gained thus far.

Government engaged in amendment of labour laws taking away workers and trade unions rights, and rendering collective bargaining devoid and meaningless.

The major contributor has always been that Government had not prepared for a paradigm shift from unilateralism to collective bargaining, and so Government is still clinging to the old ways of doing things. Government officials have not been capacitated to deal with the period of unionisation and collective bargaining and therefore appear incompetent in those regards and this has strained relations as the understanding of Government and unions is miles apart.

The state of democracy is largely declining and generally human rights are under siege, so that has extended to industrial democracy and workers rights as well because industrial democracy is a subset of broader democracy and workers rights are human rights.

What is needed going forward is for change of mindset within Government to accept trade unions as partners in collective bargaining and national development.

There is need for holistic amendment of labour laws to align them to international standards, for establishment of bargaining and other social dialogue structures.

It must be noted that freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress, that poverty constitutes a danger to prosperity of Batswana, full employment and the raising of living standards.

The Government of Botswana must be committed practically to promoting opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity. The gains of the economy must benefit all.

It is important to highlight that economic growth does not automatically ensure social progress. There is a wrong tendency of giving economic development precedence over social considerations. We call upon Government to promote balanced economic and social progress.

On other issues, the Government must be quick to ensure the existence of freedom of information bill, strengthen democratic institutions, fight corruption which is at a high slevel.

It is doubtful that Masisi’s administration will be able to fight corruption as some of his key officers are embroiled in corruption and he seems to place so much trust on them. Furthermore, even the President himself is even implicated to have benefited from some of these misdeeds.

One of the things that will also impede the capacity of Government to deliver is the problem of appointment of top civil servants on nepotism and tokenism at the expense of competence and merit. This dent morale and productivity in the public service and at the end people who are tasked with high responsibility in Government are people with questionable credentials.

*Ketlhalefile Motshegwa is BOFEPUSU deputy secretary general

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