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Companies feeling COVID-19 job nausea

Information gathered by this publication is that some local companies are now crying foul as the pressure that hit business activities around the world after the global declaration of the covid-19 pandemic, shutting down of borders and resultant lockdowns around many economies.

With lockdown came State of Emergency, companies and government seem to have imbibed the clarity of the ‘Emergency Powers (COVID-19)’ which pronounced that, “businesses will not be able to retrench or dismiss workers during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.”

However, WeekendPost has been receiving information showing that companies are already feeling nauseated by Emergency Powers in its second month. The companies claim that covid-19 financial impact signs are already showing on them, and they are showing symptoms of vomiting jobs out.

One of the first symptoms would be a letter written by Lucara mine partner Trollope Botswana to workers, a recent notice asking for a dialogue with employees regarding a planned or imminent retrenchment.  Trollope Botswana was engaging its workers on a “Retrenchment Package” before “finalising the exit package for retrenched employees.”

However, this seems to be not proximal to the 21th March 2020 Tripartite agreement entered between the Government of Botswana, Business Botswana and Trade Unions, which was against any form of laying off employers or cutting of jobs.

In another case which could lead to a company spillage of jobs, close to 300 jobs held by the South African clothing retail company Edcon, hangs on uncertainty as the owner of Jet and Edgars is waiting for a white knight investor as it is on the brink of collapse.  Edcon has been in business for nearly 90 years and is operational across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The dreadful axe of retrenchment, especially in the job insecurity laden private sector, is facing 22 000 Edcon workers in South Africa. Last year, Edcon Spokesperson confirmed to this publication that anything that affects South African shops will come down on its 30 Botswana stores.

That was the time when Botswana jobs hung in balance in March of last year, before Edcon was bailed out with R2.7 billion. But this year, Edcon is pressed face down with more than P2 billion in debt and is currently suffering from a lockdown hangover from the Botswana and South African economies.

Botswana Federation of Public Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) told WeekendPost that it has received grievances of the concerned workers at Edgars and other retailers. BOFEPUSUS calls this “a sad situation.”

Another case for BOFEPUSU regarding cut of jobs, which the federation refers to as “untidy, un-procedural and unethical” ongoing retrenchment is at Ericsson Botswana.

In a letter seen by this publication written on 25 May 2020, BOFEPUSU says the workers at Ericsson Botswana had tried to compromise by negotiating down their salaries fearing loss of their jobs but the company was not willing to give an ear. Workers wanted to know the validity of retrenchment and even asked information on the company financial performance to substantiate reasons for retrenchment, but that was concealed.

According to Motshegwa, Ericsson Botswana was reported to Commission of Labour. The federation said it was concerned by the increasing number of retrenchments in the country, “most of which are reckless and not genuine and the whole problem is that workers are thrown to unemployment and poverty.’’

“We are witnessing a situation where many employees are being retrenched, and acts of unfair labour practices in the workplace. We have written to the Permanent Secretary and Minister of Employment Productivity and Skills , for a tripartite meeting of social partners (Government, Business Botswana, Federations) to meet and seriously address the issue of ongoing massive retrenchments , which is sad because employees are being condemned to abject poverty and misery.

There is rising unemployment particularly among the youth and this is becoming a national security, as more and more youth roam the streets frustrated,” said BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa in an interview.

Motshegwa said workers in the private sector remain vulnerable as there is limited job security and “grave violation of workers’ rights.”

Most private sectors are not unionized according to Motshegwa and in case of Edcon or other workers, the federation is taking their labour issues or cases in ‘pro bono’ basis.  However the federation is working on a “strategy to mobilise these workers for unionisation, establishment of industrial councils, crafting of decent minimum standards with regard to employees conditions of service and welfare, and pursuit of workers friendly labour laws and policies,” said Motshegwa.

Motshegwa talked of a call for Unemployment Insurance Fund, calling it as part of progressive policies that shall address the issue of employment creation and social protection towards social justice.

WeekendPost also received general complaints by workers who got half salaries or were not paid at all despite working for companies who received full wage subsidies from government’s P30 million chunk.

According to the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan released this week, government has already implemented a number of short-term economic and fiscal measures designed to stabilise the economy and provide short-term relief to affected sectors and households.

According to the document some of these measures include, “wage subsidies for 3 months for workers in firms adversely affected by COVID-19.” Government also brought a provision for deferment of profit taxes payable by firms.

But one company, Johnson Crane Hire claims to have been left out of subsidies, according to a letter seen by WeekendPost. The letter notified workers of a review of their April salaries because of “financial distress” which could lead to the company failing to “maintain business continuation” hence the cutting down of salaries.

The Tripartite agreement entered between the Government of Botswana, Business Botswana and Trade Unions allows, “employers and employees continuous dialogue in good faith on the matter to deal with emerging issues.”

According to the tripartite agreement signed two months ago, there is a provision for negotiations of arrangements such as Johnson Crane Hire and its workers, but “in good faith.” BOFEPUSU is currently observing the case of Johnson Crane Hire employees with keen interest to see if fairness or good faith prevails.

Business

Gambling Authority tender dangles as a jittery lottery quandary

30th November 2020
SEFALANA MD: CHANDRA CHAUHAN

Lucrative and highly anticipated national lottery tender that saw several Batswana businessmen partnering to form a gambling consortium to pit against their South African counterparts, culminates into a big power gamble.

WeekendPost has had a chance to watch lottery showcase even before the anticipated and impending national lottery set-up launches. A lot has been a big gamble from the bidding process which is now set for the courts next year January following a marathon legal brawl involving the interest of the gambling fraternity in Botswana and South Africa.

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The uncertainty of getting the next meal in Botswana

30th November 2020
uncertainty of getting the next meal

Households representing more than half of Botswana’s population-mostly residing in rural areas- do not know where their next meal will come from, but neither do they take into consideration the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume.

This is according to the latest Prevalence of Food Insecurity in Botswana report which was done for the 2018/19 period and represents the state of food insecurity data even to this time.
The Prevalence of Food Insecurity was released by Statistics Botswana and it released results with findings that the results show that at national level 50.8 percent of the population in Botswana was affected by moderate to severe food insecurity in 2018/19, while 22.2 percent of the population was affected by severe food insecurity only.

According to the report, this translates to 27 percent of the population being food secure that is to say having adequate access to food in both quality and quantity. According to Statistician General, Burton Mguni, when explaining how the food data was compiled, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is custodian of the “Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU)” and “Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES)” SDG indicators, for leading FIES data analysis and the resultant capacity building.

“The FIES measures the extent of food insecurity at the household or individual level. The indicator provides internationally comparable estimates of the proportion of the population facing moderate to severe difficulties in accessing food. The FIES consists of eight brief questions regarding access to adequate food, and the questions are answered directly with a yes/no response. It (FIES) complements the existing food and nutrition security indicators such as Prevalence of Undernourishment.

According to the FIES, with increasing severity, the quantity of food consumed decreases as portion sizes are reduced and meals are skipped. At its most severe level, people are forced to go without eating for a day or more. The scale further reveals that the household’s experience of food insecurity may be characterized by uncertainty and anxiety regarding food access and compromising the quality of the diet and having a less balanced and more monotonous diet,” says Mguni.

The 50.8 percent of the population in Botswana which was affected by moderate to severe food insecurity are characterized as people experiencing moderate food insecurity and face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food. These people have been forced to compromise on the quality and/or quantity of the food they consume according to the report on food insecurity.

Those who experience severe food insecurity, the 22.2 percent of the population, are people who have typically run out of food and, at worst, gone a day (or days) without eating. According to the statistics, rural area population experienced moderate to severe food insecurity at 65 percent while urban villages were at 46.60 percent and cities/town were at 31.70 percent. Those experiencing the most extreme and severe insecurity were at rural areas making 33.10 percent while urban villages and towns were at 11.90 percent and 17.50 respectively.

According to a paper compiled by Sirak Bahta, Francis Wanyoike, Hikuepi Katjiuongua and Davis Marumo and published in December 2017, titled ‘Characterization of food security and consumption patterns among smallholder livestock farmers in Botswana,’ over 70 percent of Botswana’s population reside in rural areas, and majority (70%) relies on traditional/subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods.

The study set out to characterize the food security situation and food consumption patterns among livestock keepers in Botswana. “Despite the policy change, challenges still remain in ensuring that all persons and households have access to food at all times. For example, during an analysis of the impacts of rising international food prices for Botswana, BIDPA reported that food prices tended to be highest in the rural areas already disadvantaged by relatively low levels of income and high rates of unemployment,” said the study.

According to the paper, about 9 percent of households were found to be food insecure and this category of households included 6 percent of households that ranked poorly and 3 percent that were on the borderline according to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) definition of food security.

Media reports state that the World Bank has warned that disruption to production and supply chains could ‘spark a food security crisis’ in Africa, forecasting a fall in farm production of up to 7 percent, if there are restrictions to trade, and a 25 percent decline in food imports.

Food security in Botswana or food production was also attacked by the locust pandemic which swept out this country’s vegetation and plants. The locust is said to have contributed to 25 percent loss in production.

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Business

Solid demand for diamonds towards the ‘gift’ season

30th November 2020
Diamonds

Global lockdown have been a thorn in diamonds having shiny sales, but a lot of optimism shows with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the precious stones will be bought with high volumes towards festive season. The diamond market is however warned of the resurgence of Covid-19 in key markets presents ongoing risks amid the presence and optimist about the new Covid-29 vaccines.

The latest findings published as De Beers Group’s latest Diamond Insight ‘Flash’ Report, which looks at the impact of the pandemic on relationships and engagements, has revealed that in the US that more couples than ever are buying diamond engagement rings. Bridal sales is mostly the primary source of diamond jewellery demand in recent months, De Beers said.

According to De Beers, interviews with independent jewellers around the US revealed that the rate of couples getting engaged has increased compared with the period when Covid-19 first had an impact in the US in the spring.

“In addition, despite challenging economic times, consumers were spending more than ever on diamond engagement rings – often upgrading in colour, cut and clarity, rather than size. Several jewellers speculated that with consumers spending less on elaborate weddings and/or honeymoons in the current environment, they had more to spend on choosing the perfect ring,” said De Beers.

According to De Beers, a national survey of 360 US women in serious relationships, undertaken in late October in collaboration with engagement and wedding website, The Knot. This survey is said to have found that the majority of respondents (54%) were thinking more about their engagement ring than the wedding itself (32%) or the honeymoon (15%), supporting jewellers’ hypothesis that engagement ring sales were benefiting from reduced wedding and travel budgets in light of Covid-19 restrictions.

When it came to researching engagement rings, online was by far the predominant channel for gaining ideas/inspiration at 86% of consumers surveyed, with 85% saying they had saved examples of styles they liked, according to De Beers. According to the survey, only a uarter of respondents said they had looked in-store at a physical location for design inspiration.

“For many couples, the pandemic has brought them even closer together, in some instances speeding up the path to engagement after forming a deeper connection while experiencing lockdown and its associated ups and downs as a partnership. Engagement rings are taking on even greater symbolism in this environment, with retailers reporting couples are prepared to invest more than usual, particularly due to budget reductions in other areas,” De Beers CEO Cleaver said.

According to De Beers Group, its Diamond Insight Flash Report series is focused on understanding the US consumer perspective in light of Covid-19 and monitoring how it evolves as the crisis evolves. Also, the company said, it is augmenting its existing research programme with additional consumer, retailer and supply chain touch-basis to understand the pain points and the opportunities for stakeholders across the diamond pipeline.

Demand for diamonds is as hard and resilient as the precious stone itself. De Beers pocketed US$ 450 million in its recently held ninth rough diamond sales cycle, and the company says it is more flexible approach to rough diamond sales during the ninth sales cycle of 2020, with the Sight event extended beyond its normal week-long duration.

“Steady demand for De Beers Group’s rough diamonds continued in the ninth sales cycle of the year, reflecting stable consumer demand for diamond jewellery at the retail level in the US and China, and expectations for reasonable demand to continue throughout the holiday season. However, the resurgence of Covid-19 infections in several consumer markets presents ongoing risks,” said De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver recently.

High expectations are on diamonds being a sentimental gift for holiday season or as the most fetished gift. However the ninth cycle was lower than the eighth which registered US$ 467 million. For the last year period which corresponds with the current one, De Beers managed to raise US$ 400.

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