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Mabeo gives ILO middle finger

Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development Tshenolo Mabeo was not apologetic about his government’s stance following the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention that found the country had contravened the ratified standards.

The Committee on Application of Standards concluded that the government of Botswana violated the Conventions and that “corrective measures ought to be made” to rectify the transgression. In particular the committee ordered that Botswana should allow Prisons Service employees to unionise in compliance with ILO conventions 87 and that there be amendment of the controversial Trade Dispute Act for conformity with contravention 87, among other recommendations.

Botswana was given a deadline to report progress made to the Committee of Application of standards on or before November 2017. However shortly after landing at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKI) in Gaborone from Geneva on Friday, Mabeo denounced the ILO recommendations. He told a pack of journalists who graced the press conference that: “ILO is not a court.”


When Weekend Post sought clarity on the words of the minister that fall short of undermining ILO and whether that meant Botswana is not in a position to implement the body’s recommendations, Mabeo was non-committal. “ILO cannot make labour laws for member states or amend them, but it can advise on the compliance of the laws to the conventions ratified by member states.”


He emphasised boldly that ILO is just an international organization whose role is only to advise member states on implementation of ILO conventions and recommendations and cannot claim to be or act like a court. The minister continued to dismiss ILO saying “yes individual sovereign countries have their own constitutions. In our case as an example parliament makes laws. It’s important that the conventions, which we have ratified, can be of benefit to us and see that the local law is compatible with the ILO conventions. We are going to continue making laws as we have been, at parliament.”

Mabeo also highlighted that as government of Botswana, they went to ILO for the issue of essential services but “if you look at the ILO recommendations” it does not come out “clearly and separately”. “And I will tell you why,” he said adding that “it is the contradictions that we have said the employers group expressed during their presentation at ILO. We pointed a finger at ILO saying the organ is not specific and crystal clear on their recommendations.”

“When the recommendations were handed over to us,” the Botswana Minister said they, together with some African countries were complaining about the biasness of ILO. Mabeo justified that “the shortlisted countries in contravention of ILO conventions were mostly from African countries. We want this process to be transparent, as it is now, it not transparent.” “I can give you another example to show this unfairness, when we were given the recommendations; we were not given an opportunity to respond on it,” he pointed out.

“Countries were concerned.  The issue was that when a committee has any findings on a country, government must be given an opportunity to respond. That is even procedure at a court of law. Countries felt there is no transparency. The process is very secretive. And member states were dissatisfied.” He added that they had about 40 countries in the list but they don’t know what happened with them eventually.

“We are not happy that we have made to the list. It is detrimental for our country’s growth, economic prosperity and foreign investment. We understand that countries who have made it before, were sanctioned. But of course that comes after countless long battles.” According to Mabeo, a number of delegates at ILO also expressed dissatisfaction relating to the processes followed by the Committee of Application of Conventions and Recommendations that found Botswana of wrong doings.


 “In particular, lack of transparency, failure to look at positive events, and citing of negative events in countries were cited as examples.” In terms of amending the Trade Dispute Act which was cited by ILO also as a recommendation, Mabeo also poured cold water on the recommendation instead justifying the need for the existing law as is. “The list of essential services in the Trade Disputes Act, 2016 was developed in good faith, considering the unique circumstances prevailing in Botswana as determined by Parliament,” he explained.  

The Minister of Employment said the list comprised services whose interruption might lead to conditions that might endanger life, personal safety or health of the population. The contentions of local trade unions has been that, categorisation of professions such as as teachers, Government Broadcasting services and Immigration and Customs Services as essential cannot endanger anyone at their work stations.  

The ILO Committee of Experts on the Applications of Conventions and recommendations considers essential services to be the interruption would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population. With regard to unionisation by prison officers, contrary to ILO’s, Mabeo said Government’s position is that: Prison officers are members of the disciplined forces; Prison officers are custodians of public safety and security; and support staff or administrative staff in the Department of Prisons and Rehabilitation are allowed to unionise as their responsibilities does not border on security.

With these clear contraventions, Mabeo insisted that, he still believes it was also premature for Botswana to have made it on the list of shortlisted countries accused of contravening ILO conventions. It is not the first time Mabeo rebuffs ILO. Recently before attending the ILO conference, he told this publication that ILO cannot solve our problems but only “us” domestically can do that.  “We do not need anyone from outside to dictate to us how to solve our issues and that’s my departure point,” he said then.

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