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Mabeo rebuffs ILO

The Minister responsible for Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Tshenolo Mabeo has hauled Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Sectors Union (BOFEPPPUSU) over hot coals for reporting the government of Botswana to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) based in Geneva, Switzerland.


BOFEPUSU had reported the government at the ILO for what they regard as “trampling and disregarding the lawfully instituted Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC)” and also query the controversial amendment of the Trade Dispute Act. WeekendPost has established that the international body, ILO representative, under the Freedom of Association branch, Keren Curtis visited Botswana this week in a move to meet the tripartite structure to follow up on the BOFEPPPUSU letter reporting key violations of workers’ rights in the country.


As a result, Curtis met Minister Mabeo, as well as Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Thato Kwerepe, and former Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme. She also met BOFEPPPUSU and Business Botswana – all of which are tripartite stakeholders in Botswana. In accordance with International Labour Standards on Tripartite consultation, the ILO is based on the principle of tripartism – dialogue and cooperation between governments, employers, and workers – in the formulation of standards and policies dealing with labour matters.


It is understood that the ILO representative was primarily consulting on the issues raised by BOFEPUSU relating to violations of workers’ rights in contravention of ILO standards and policies while the country has ratified various conventions. “Yes it is true that ILO representative Curtis was in Botswana to meet key stakeholders under tripartite arrangement,” Minister Mabeo told Weekend Post adding that she met on official capacity, specifically “Mabeo, Kwerepe, Molokomme, BOFEPUSU and Business Botswana to discuss labour issues of concern.”


Mabeo stressed that ILO cannot solve Botswana’s labour relations issues but instead the parties involved can do so on their own (without the help of ILO). Repeatedly, the Minister insisted that “dialogue” is very important between the unions and government. He said the sour relationship and failure by parties to meet at the negotiating table of the Bargaining Council could only be resolved by dialogue. He emphasised: “ILO cannot solve our problems but only us domestically can do that. We should exhaust all the means before we ask for mediation outside the country.”


The minister said the unions should know that it’s important to note that building the economy lies with the citizenry before anyone else. On his own account, Mabeo explained that “I told ILO envoy Curtis during the meeting this week that we do not need anyone from outside to dictate to us how to solve our issues and that’s my departure point.” He also said he has met the Federations several times and they both agree that dialogue is crucial and can solve the acrimony that currently exists between government and unions.


“The union federations informed me that they did not have the platform to negotiate so I brought them closer to us as government so that we can dialogue. And there are indications that we are in the right way. As a ministry we will continue encouraging dialogue.” He said: “I believe PSBC should make dialogue, talk about the issues they face, resolve them on their own. PSBC is a lawful constituted body. I believe PSBC should do their job.”


According to the Minister the main problem between parties at the Bargaining Council is that there is lack of tolerance by all parties in the negotiations. We should, he observed, be able to speak around the table but if there is not trust, as I see, there cannot be proper dialogue. In terms of the Trade Dispute Act, Mabeo highlighted that initially they thought they were solving a problem but later found out, after some court cases, that there was need to align the Act with the constitution.


He added that law was not cast in stone and that is why they continued to amend them while also noting that “we can’t all get what we want all the time”. “But moving forward, doors are open for any amendments that we may deem necessary, all is not lost,” Mabeo pointed out. In relation to concerns they raised at the ILO, Trade Union Federation cried foul over government’s attitude of being prone to bypassing the legally constituted body which is mandated with the negotiation of salaries and conditions of service of all the public servants in Botswana.


PSBC is currently at the centre of dispute before the Courts of law over issues of scope. Of concern also to BOFEPUSU which has been put forward to the attention of ILO is the controversial amendment of the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) which consequently categorized non essential services such as teachers, Government Broadcasting services and Immigration and Customs Services as essential, once again violating ILO standards.


The government had also previously made Veterinary, Diamond Sorting, Cutting and selling services essential services but through courts intervention they lost the matter and the unlawful move was reversed. It is understood that in amending the TDA, to include more cadres as essential, government sought to reduce the bargaining power of the said professionals particularly teachers as well as circumvent their ability and right to strike. This was as a result of the notorious 2011 nationwide Industrial strike which almost plunged the education system into paralysis of unequivocal standards.


The unique tripartite structure of the ILO gives an equal voice to workers, employers and governments to ensure that the views of the social partners are closely reflected in labour standards and in shaping policies and programmes. BOFEPUSU had stated in the letter to the labour organisation dated 25th July 2016 titled “letter of complaint against the government of Botswana” they stated that they would prefer that the international organisation assist in referring the complaint as enunciated in the introductory letter and in the report on the amended Trade Dispute Act that they sent.


“We also would like to request the ILO office to prepare an informal opinion to the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. And similarly, we request the ILO office to prepare an informal opinion on the matter to guide the federation in lobbying both domestically and abroad including at the 2017 ILO conference,” BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari had written.


The main objectives of the ILO are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues. It remains to be seen whether ILO will take necessary disciplinary steps towards the Botswana government in the fullness of time – in relations to violations which has been reported to the world body.

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