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BOFEPUSU must facilitate for essential service committee

While essential service provision stifles workers fundamental rights and potent weapon to engage in a strike for leverage purposes, mostly taking their demands to employers, it is equally imperative for trade unions particularly Botswana Federation of Public Service Union (BOFEPUSU) to call for the establishment of Essential Service Committee (ESC).

In an ideal utopian atmosphere workers need to be free to engage in a strike without governments necessarily enacting rigid acts making trade unions irrelevant and subsequently relegating workers to deplorable conditions of service. With the amendment of Trade Dispute Act (TDA) of 2016 which amongst other articles revised, rendered almost all public service employees essential service, what should therefore come from Bofepusu top brass is contemplation of pursuing for ESC.

The Federation should not even think of waiting for the outcome of legal case filed against the government for altering TDA without consulting trade unions. Whether Bofepusu wins or loses the case, essential service employees are part of Bofepusu cohorts, therefore these vulnerable employees need to be protected and cushioned against abuse by both the State and employers. The only viable remedy of bulwarking essential service employees from servitude is for Bofepusu to push for establishment of ESC.

Bofepusu should not see this noble move as a defeat of a battle to win essential service case because even without teachers there are vast numbers of essential service cadres amongst Bofepusu affiliates. For the case of our country, essential service schedule covers almost all public service. Bizarrely, the whole teaching fraternity is declared essential service.

That is, all teachers in a school including entire personnel working in the school from a gatekeeper, night watchmen, kitchenhands, groundsmen, bursar, switchboard operator, messenger, laboratory assistant, boarding master, matron, supplies officer, computer assistants and any other posts that may be created inside a school.

Basically, these essential service cadres’ rights have been limited to exercise their fundamental right to strike, however trade unions need to call for these citizens to receive essential service benefits to compensate for their constitutional rights infringements. The government has not even moved to apply statutory obligations of informing illiterate essential service employees of their expectations as essential service cadres.

The employer is legally mandated to translate and place visible laws, rules and regulations for every essential service worker to read the contents. Workers should comprehend these laws and know the consequences of not abiding to the bits and pieces of every article of essential service. These vulnerable workers can only be protected by trade union leadership by calling for the establishment of ESC.

Capital and trade unions should work in a level field without one sabotaging or taking advantage of one another. However capital by nature is avaricious, because it is preoccupied with making gigantic dividends accrued by lowing labour costs. It is only through withdrawal of labour by workers to attain their demands from employers and governments.

For International Labour Organisation (ILO) to adopt essential service principle was indeed a massive feat for both employers and governments, and a great loss to labour movements and workers globally, mainly because it is unthinkable for labour pundits to negotiate whether to render out or withdraw their treasured hands.

If workers feel unjustified by employers they have no option but withdraw labour. However after workers sold their soul to be deemed essential, they have to fight for decent work agenda through establishment of ESC, which should be a legally binding facility that critically looks after the welfare of essential service cadre.

One distinguished sociologist, Karl Polanyi developed a social theory known as countermovement. Polanyi postulated that worker rights antagonists on their endeavour to suppress workers will formulate and deploy tactics which relegate workers to servitude. In retaliation workers would consequently backlash with more radical, hostile and sophisticated rebuttals.

Interestingly, it is through this that I challenge Bofepusu as a formidable workers bloc to take the initiative by the scruff of the neck in demanding the establishment of a forum where essential service cadres conditions would be critically viewed for the betterment of its working force. Trade Union leadership should not either be fooled by employers representatives that essential service conditions of services and benefits could be discussed at the National Bargaining Council.

The principal purpose of ESC fosters cordial relations between trade unions and government/employers, therefore reducing chances of legal wrangles that may compromise productivity in the workplace. Conflicts bordering on essential service are better addressed at the level of ESC, legal cases which have recently become the order of the day for Botswana Industrial Courts could possibly become the thing of the past provided the establishment of ESC is done in good faith.

Secondly, the ESC will always come to diffuse misunderstandings emanating from failure to interpret labour laws pertaining to engaging in an action short of a strike. Drawing Bofepusu 2011 epic national strike, there was a clear standoff between trade unions and the employer over how essential service cadres should engage in a strike.

Trade unions firmly held that essential service workers are not tools therefore as human beings they should not be barred from striking, while the employer argued that essential service employees should be barred from participating in strikes because their services are essential, their services should not be interrupted because of their worth in political and economic space.

 Again trade unions believe that there should be a certain quota agreed to engage in a strike, for which the employer blatantly refute to the agreement.  Still it puts both trade unions and membership at a dilemma since the principle of “no work – no pay” still applies even if a certain numbers of essential service workers are to engage in a strike.

This principle is counterproductive to trade unions because the arrangement divides members, those remaining at workplace and those who will not be remunerated for engaging in a strike. In addition the ESC will have to come up with ways to determine who remains in the workplace and those engaging in a strike.

The latitude to remain in the workplace during a strike should not be the preserve of the employer, rather should fall squarely on the armpit of the ESC. The employer may target trade union ringleaders and make them remain in the workplace during the strike to weaken trade union organising and picketing.

Another mind boggling task of the ESC is to formulate collective agreements emanating from the discussions of the parties involved in the polemics. Such difficult assignment is the agreement on minimum service that should be left at the workplace to provide service to customers during the strike.

The essence of the strike is to suffocate services for capital, strangely capital would not in any given moment become a party to the agreement that hurts its operations. Similarly, it is basically illogically for labour to engage in a strike knowing that the daily operations of business would be normal. This jinx is normally left to the ESC to strike the balance without necessarily making one suffer over the other.

There is grave misconception from political and labour commentators in the country, of thinking that essential service employees are totally barred from engaging in a strike. During a legally sanctioned strike, there are specific numbers of essential service employees which remain in a workplace. Certain agreements need to be clearly laid down and agreed before a strike could take place.

These numbers are agreed by both the employer and trade union parties. Conversely, if it goes to the limit there is totally no need for workers bend to the rules of archaic laws enacted through dirty processes like with the case of TDA.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021


This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi:

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media.

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021


The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media.

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