A report by International Labour Organization (ILO) Committee of Application of Standards from ILO office in Geneva, Switzerland has put Botswana on the spotlight with regard to labour relations.
The damning report seen by WeekendPost captures the latest violations of ILO conventions which include the deregistration of the Bargaining Council, and continued clamp on workers and Trade Union rights. According to the report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations released in January 2018 – in essence the government of Botswana failed to act on ILO findings.
The findings included that government should allow Prisons Service employees to unionise in compliance with Convention 87; and amend the Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act to align it to ILO Standards and other national laws. It also advised government to liaise with the ILO Technical Committee for holistic review of Labour Laws in Botswana for alignment to international standards; work in consultation with tripartite partners to develop a time-bound action plan of implementation by ILO and report progress made to the committee on or before November 2017.
However the recommendations have not been executed to date as promised by the government, a development which worries ILO. The Committee in the latest report paints the country with a dark brush in labour relations as it points out at the 2011 Botswana Industrial strike which was dubbed the ‘mother of all strikes’ that led to the dismissal of some health workers because of the strike action; followed by the brutal repression by police of a peaceful picket organized in August 2016 dented Botswana’s image.
The report also captures the refusal to allow the labour centre, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) to raise its concerns before Parliament as regards the proposed amendments affecting the public sector. The committee said in the report that it is also concerned about the classification at national level of the prison service as “disciplined force”, and requests the government once again to take, within the framework of the ongoing labour law review, the necessary legislative measures to ensure that prison officers enjoy the right to establish and join trade unions.
The Committee also notes with concern that section 46 of the new Trade Disputes Bill No. 21 of 2015 enumerated a broad list of essential services, and that in line with section 46(2), the Minister may declare any other service as essential if its interruption for at least seven days endangers the life, safety or health of the whole or part of the population or harms the economy.
“Recalling that essential services, in which the right to strike may be restricted or even prohibited, as is the case in Botswana, should be limited to those the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population,” the Committee highlighted. It also pointed out that, while the economic impact of industrial action and its effect on trade and commerce may be regrettable, such consequences in and of themselves do not render a service “essential”.
The Committee therefore considers that “certain services enumerated in section 46, including diamond sorting, cutting and selling services; teaching services; government broadcasting services; the Bank of Botswana; railways operation and maintenance services; public veterinary services; and services necessary to the operation of any of these services, do not constitute essential services in the strict sense of the term.”
Referring to the Conference Committee’s request to ensure that the TDA is in full conformity with the Convention, the Committee therefore requests the Government to take the necessary legislative measures to ensure that the list in section 46(1) of the TDA is limited to essential services in the strict sense of the term, and invites the Government, with regard to the services mentioned above, to give consideration to the negotiation or determination of a minimum service rather than imposing an outright ban on industrial action.
Representation and composition of the Bargaining Council
The committee also states in the report that it had also requested the Government to ensure that where no union represented one third of the employees in a bargaining unit, collective bargaining rights would be granted to all unions in the unit, at least on behalf of their own members. Additionally, the Committee notes that section 37(5) of the draft TDA Bill also provides a one third minimum threshold requirement for union recognition at the industry level.
The Committee recalls that the determination of the threshold of representativity to designate an exclusive agent for the purpose of negotiating collective agreements which are destined to be applied to all workers in a sector or establishment is compatible with the Convention in so far as the required conditions do not constitute an obstacle to the promotion of free and voluntary collective bargaining in practice.
In this regard, the Committee considers that if no union in a specific negotiating unit meets the required threshold of representativity to be able to negotiate on behalf of all workers, minority trade unions should be able to negotiate, jointly or separately, at least on behalf of their own members.
Regretting that no information has been provided in this respect, the Committee requests the Government to take the necessary measures to ensure that if no union reaches the required threshold to be recognized as a bargaining agent, unions should be given the possibility to negotiate, jointly or separately, at least on behalf of their own members.
BOFEPUSU to mobilize international organisations against Botswana
Meanwhile the Federation has stated that they are mobilising international organisation as the June 2018 International Labour Conference approaches. The national labour centre states that the continued government‘s contempt for ILO and its international standards continue to dent Botswana’s international image and integrity.
“This is clear testimony that the government does not respect international labour and international institutions. We have witnessed drastic amendments and enactment of labour laws with sole objective of curtailment of workers and trade Union rights something which is against principles of human rights, democracy and violate international labour law,” BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General told this publication this week.
Unions want new government official leaders under Masisi presidency
According to the BOFEPUSUS DSG, when there was unionisation and ushering in Collective Bargaining following domestication of ILO Conventions in 2007, it is clear that Government did not prepare for this paradigm shift, as top bureaucracy (Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Councillors, District Commissioners) are clueless about contemporary labour relations that involve social dialogue, collective bargaining.
“These are very weak, uninspiring and hopeless people occupying higher offices which seriously affect productivity and prosperity of this Country. This situation was largely bred by President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama ‘s style of leadership that bordered on dictatorship, coercion, top down approach at the expense of social dialogue and enhancement of rights. This then entrenched a system of nepotism, corruption, bootlicking, sycophancy and incompetence.”
The unionist added that what is even scary is that the Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi ‘s Presidency is poised to retain majority of these people. “There is need for a positive and progressive overhaul and revamping at Government enclave to bring in a new culture of competence, creative thinking, and this requires independent and professional minds,” he stated.
In order to achieve this, he said the incoming President would have to go on a shopping spree for a new Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration to replace Molale, new Permanent Secretary to the President to replace Carter Morupisi, rearrange Directorate of Public Service Management with people who objectively understand industrial relations.
“It is critical to have strong and effective Ministers of Public Service and that of Employment, Productivity and Skills Development.” Motshegwa therefore stressed that Masisi needs to shed off Khama’s people in the civil service in order to allow for a new thinking in the public service, otherwise he will be seen as a disciple President of Khama, and will correlatively retain Khama’s enemies and failings.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”