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Gov’t changes approach on unions

Publishing Date : 29 November, 2016

Author : THABO BAGWASI

The government has undertaken to improve its ways of dealing with labour unions in the National Development 11.


Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Tshenolo Mabeo told parliament this week that, “during the NDP 11, government will ensure that there is harmonious and peaceful industrial relations to promote socio-economic growth and development through the amended Trade Dispute Act.”


It was the first time a widely conciliatory approach was outlined by a high raking government Minister since the 2014 general election where the labour union bloc of BOFEPPPUSU (then BOFEPUSU) helped sway the election to the opposition.
Perhaps testament to government’s resolve; Mabeo’s Ministry was also recently rechristened Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development.


He stated that in order to achieve that goal, besides the amendment of the Trade Disputes Act, “government will also seek to amend other Acts of parliament such as the Workers Compensation Act, Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act, the Employment Act, as well as strengthen the labour inspection system in the country.”


He further said that government will also establish an independent dispute resolution structure, establishment of a national tripartite social dialogue structure. The Minister who is also Member of Parliament for Thamaga-Kumakwane constituency further said that this overhaul will also include the development of a national employment policy, the development of a national broad-based occupational pension, national policy on HIV/TB and employment, as well as development of a national occupational health and safety policy.


Furthermore, Mabeo said that the national occupational health and safety policy will guide the development of an efficient occupational health and safety service delivery, enactment of a clear, comprehensive and harmonized legal and regulatory framework for all sectors of the economy.


He further stated that “it will provide for accessible and equitable compensation and rehabilitation of workers and enhanced awareness education and training at all levels.” However, the amendment of Acts such as the Trade Unions and Employment Acts are likely to be a magnet for controversy.


The recent amendment of the Trade Disputes Act which was initially enacted to help resolve industrial disputes amicably was vehemently opposed by the unions and opposition parties who saw it as government’s encroachment into the rights of workers. Government had tried to amend the Act at least four times and the efforts culminated in the amendment of the schedule of the Act which made teaching services, veterinary services, diamond sorting, cutting and selling services essential service.


This meant that these workers were exempt from taking part in the last resort measure of industrial action as their professions are deemed too important to go out of provision. The attempt to amend the Act miscarried in parliament in 2011 as Members of Parliament (MPs) unanimously rejected it. It was speculated that BDP MPs had not deliberated beforehand over how they will vote.


The government last year came up with a Trade Disputes bill to make teaching services, state broadcasting services and immigration and customs services essential and its numbers in parliament prevailed. Section 46 (1)of the bill read: “The following are designated essential service - Air Traffic Control Services ,Botswana Vaccine Laboratory Services, Bank of Botswana, Diamond Sorting, Cutting, and Selling Services, Electricity Services, Fire Services ,Health Services, Operational and Maintenance Services of Railways, Sewerage Services, Water Services, Veterinary Services in Public Service, Teaching Services, Government, Broadcasting Service, Immigration & Customs Services; and Services necessary to the operation of any of the forgoing services.


Section 47 then stated, “No, Employee in essential services shall take part in a strike; and no employer in essential services shall take part in a lockout. BDP was also among the parties such as the American Embassy and opposition parties that were debriefed by BOFEPPUSU and Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) on the bill.


Calls for the improvement of relations with the labour unions have also had backing inside the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Botsalo Ntuane, who is now the ruling BDP Secretary General rose to the position on a reform platform which also included extending the peace pipe to the labour unions. This was in the wake of a disastrous 2014 general election in which BOFEPPPUSU played a crucial role in the momentous election by endorsing the opposition coalition, Umbrella for Democratic Change.

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