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Wage slavery defines Khama’s industrial relations

Publishing Date : 16 May, 2017



May 1 is a day chosen to be International Worker’s Day to commemorate the Chicago Illinois Haymarket affair in which workers went on strike to demand eight-hour workday-whereat some workers were killed. Since then and because of the rise of labour movements across the world, the day is commemorated and is a public holiday in many countries including Botswana.


Thousands of workers participated in organized street demonstrations and marches as well as rallies to commemorate the day on Monday May 1. Main events were held in Serowe by trade unions affiliated to the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BOFEPUSU) and in Selebi-Phikwe by Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) affiliates and their new big member and co-host Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU).

There are some perturbing idiosyncrasies in Botswana’s industrial relations in 2017, some of which have been highlighted by union leaders and politicians on Monday. The government appears to be acquiescent to the International Financial Institutions (International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank) orthodox economic philosophy of unmitigated free market capitalism or neo-liberalism. Neoliberal tenets are labour unfriendly.


The government has forged an alliance with domestic and international bourgeoisie and tends to favour the interests of capital. Privatization has become a swansong of the current regime. There is an accelerated selling of state entities and in the process, it would appear, procurement laws are flouted with impunity with corruption and fiscal and revenue crimes becoming more widespread. In a ploy to reduce the wage bill and pursuant to the advice of the IMF, the government has resorted to reducing the size of the public service through among other things outsourcing and contracting out of cleaning, landscaping, laundry and numerous other services. Jobs are being be lost and poverty is deepening as a consequence. Trade unions are also loosing members and are being weakened.

Notwithstanding the right to join trade unions, labour organizations are tightly controlled through legislation to create a more favorable environment for private businesses. It is difficult for labour to operate effectively under Ian Khama administration. It is worrying that tough measures have been introduced on many fronts by government since the public sector strike of 2011. Many workers who took part in the industrial action have been dismissed from work.


Others have been either transferred, demoted, re-hired under new unfavourable terms or endure ill-treatment from superiors. The government has attempted to vindictively withdraw assistance accorded to trade unions such as finance, office space, secondments arrangements and many others. It took numerous court battles to reclaim some rights.

Last year, through an amendment to the Trade Disputes Act, the government has declared almost every service essential. However, declaring all services essential is equivalent to withdrawing the right to strike and therefore practically the same as wage slavery. A labour force which cannot withdraw its labour freely is either oppressed or enslaved. A free personnel have the right to strike and can exercise this right for collective bargaining. It is contended that this is a most fundamental right, the right of every Motswana, of every worker, to associate with others and withdraw his or her labour, to go on strike.

Public servants have gone for many years without salary increments and they are unable to keep up with the increasing cost of living. The government has been grossly undermining the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) and unilaterally pronouncing and effecting paltry inflationary adjustments for some years. The situation has not been helped by the ensuing wars between trade unions in the public service.


It is vital for trade unions and their federations to forge a truce for without a ceasefire they are weakened in their struggle for workers’ rights. There is a need to review the PSBC constitution to make it more inclusive to unions and federations and for it to promote good industrial relations. It is also important to foster intra-union and intra-federations democracy anchored on elected leadership that is re-elected and recallable, criticism and self-criticism, participation of members and mandates on high policy decision. Proliferation of trade unions and federations, especially in sectors already unionized, should be discouraged for a small working population. However, unionization of workers in sectors which are not unionized should be encouraged.

The department of labour under the Commissioner has failed over the years to deal with trade disputes; the time has therefore come for an independent body with quasi-judicial functions for purposes of conciliation, mediation and arbitration. There is a need to improve the system of appointment of justices of the industrial courts to restore unions and workers confidence in the judicial system and to enhance the courts independence and integrity. Industrial Court justices should be appointed in accordance with the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The JSC must also be improved to make it more inclusive, transparent and accountable. No judge should be employed on renewable contract as it detracts from their independence.


There is a need to employ acting judges to FastTrack the backlog of cases and more substantive judges should be called to the labour court bench for expeditious judicial process.  The industrial court is a court of law and equity, for this reason, it is not bound by strict rules of order and procedure like other courts in its delivery of justice. Consequently, there is a need for a labour court of appeal to maintain the equity for the sake of justice, the equity is lost when cases are appealed at the Court of Appeal.

Trade unions and their federations and Members of Parliament (MPs) should urge the government to sign, ratify and domesticate some outstanding International Labour Organization Protocols and Conventions such as Convention 183 on maternity protection. The labour movement should collaborate with MPs to enact new progressive laws and repeal or ammend all regressive ones. Laws on citizen economic empowerment, employment tax incentives, paternity leave, living wage and others should be prioritized.



Do you think the closure of BCL will compel SPEDU to double their efforts in creating job opportunities in the Selibe Phikwe?