It is my singular honor and privilege to render a speech to mark the celebration of May Day 2023. This celebration marks the first coming together of the labour movement after three years of the COVID – 19 crisis, followed by the Russia – Ukraine war and inflation threats characterized by food and fuel shocks. Hence, this year’s theme is “Demanding Workers’ Rights and Economic Power”. We are not asking. We are demanding our rights and economic emancipation as much progress has not been
achieved since the COVID – 19 Crisis. The crisis has adversely affected the progress made in the workers and human rights, reduced real wages, and increased poverty and inequality, especially among us, the working class. For this reason, we, as the labour movement, should rekindle our patriotic spirit of fighting and protecting our rights and the rights of the vulnerable.
It is important to remind ourselves about the history of May Day briefly. On that note, allow me to recognize that one hundred an d thirty – seven years ago, in the month of May 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago, USA, there was a workers’ riot that led to the downfall of an American Labour Federation called the Knights of Labour. Ironically, May Day got its name from what seemed a failure by a trade union federation to deal with a labour matter effectively. However, the Haymarket Square Riot marked a turning point in the history of trade unions as the incident created a significant awareness of the nature of the conflict that exists between labour and capital.
Directors of proceedings, comrades, workers and their trade unions face many challenges worldwide. But in developed countries, the challenges are primarily about the third generation of rights. In developing countries, we still contend with ‘blue’ rights or first generation of human rights. In Africa, to be politically correct in international forums, our governments commit to policies and conventions and then fail on implementation.
As a country, Botswana has not been immune to this problem that is doing rounds in Africa. As Batswana, we face of many challenges related to employment, escalating youth unemployment, increasing social ills,
growing inequality, violation of workers’ rights, gender disparities, OSH deficits and increasing mental ill – health.
The theme of this year’s May Day commemoration allows us to emphasize these challenges, and BFTU’s message today is a chronicle of social dialogue initiatives that have failed because the government does not come to the party. Initiatives that would have benefited the workers. Initiatives that would have improved the lives of many Batswana. Initiatives that all progressive governments are pursuing not only because they are bound to as signatories to the ILO Conventions but because they are good initiatives
for all world nations.
Labour law review challenges
Director of proceedings, comrades, Botswana, committed to aligning her labour laws to the international labour standards. However, a lot still needs to be done to progress the labour law review process, which resulted in drafting instructions being sent to the Attorney General Chambers. We wish that the draft bill will be discussed in parliament by July 2023 and assented into law before next May Day.
Botswana uses ‘passive resistance’ to avoid implementing initiatives that otherwise benefit the workers. As one of the members of the tripartite structure of the ILO, the Government always remains inactive on issues that social partners would have agreed on. Very little gets d one. There have been several initiatives supported by the ILO, but most of them never saw the light of day. If they did, they eventually fizzle away. There are many examples, The Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) is one such example — the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy and National Employment Policy implementation are just a few.
Ratification of conventions
Ladies and Gentleman, comrades, on the ratification of conventions, we would like to once more commend tripartite partners for the ratification of two ILO conventions, namely the Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (Convention no.81) and the Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention,
1969 (Convention No.129).
Disappointedly, Botswana ratified the last labour convention more than 22 years ago, in January 2000. This is despite the labour movements’ repeated requests for the country to ratify and domesticate key labour conventions.
Labour inspection has been al most nonexistent in Botswana. According to the ILO ‘Labour inspectors examine how national labour standards are applied in the workplace and advise employers and workers on how to improve the application of national law in working time, wages, occupational safety and health, and child care labour’. We know that our national labour laws are violated, and workers are subjected to unfair working conditions. Retail, domestic, private security and manufacturing workers are subjected to slave working hours, unsafe work and indecent work conditions.
We confident that the ratification of this convention will catalyze the much – needed improvement in Botswana’s labour inspection system. This has long been an area of concern for workers in Botswana, and the non – ratification of Convention 81 had left Botswana as the only country in the SADC region that had not done so. It is commendable that we have rid ourselves of this bad record. Therefore, it is time that we ensure that workers in Botswana are employed in decent jobs by employers who comply with Botswana laws and regulations..
Director of proceedings, comrades, recently, two conventions that deal with occupational health and safety (OHS) were elevated to become part of the core conventions that deal with fundamental principles of rights at work. These conventions are:
A. Convention 155 on Occupational Health and Safety (1981)
B. Convention 187 on Promotional Framework for Occupational Health and Safety (2006)
C. Similarly, Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the world of work is a critical convention that recognizes the right of every employee to a world of work free from violence and harassment.
The above conventions are core conventions that form part of the fundamental principles of rights at work, and curiously, Botswana still needs to be a signatory to these conventions. Therefore, we are worried that our slow ratification processes will continue to affect and deny Batswana full employment of their workplace rights if these conventions are not ratified and domesticated promptly.
Apart from failing to ratify important conventions, Botswana is gradually becoming associated with rogue states where the rule of law is non-existent. This is a concern, since we are a country that prides itself with
observing the rule of law.
Director of proceedings, comrades, Two days ago, we joined workers around the globe to commemorate Safety Day or what we term the “International Workers’ Memorial Day”. This is a significant day in our calendar because it is a day of mourning the dead and fighting for the living. The Day reminds us that over three million workers die yearly because of their work, and tens of millions suffer injuries and ill health. As trade unions, we know that action is needed to protect workers who are often forced to choose between their health and their livelihood. We are resolute that no one should die to make a living
We need to protect workers by ensuring their right to refuse dangerous work. Enjoyment of the right to refuse dangerous work is good for business and workers.
We have noted the escalation of mental ill health reports in our workplaces. Workers are victims of workplace – induced trauma, depression and stress. This has led to various effects, some as serious as suicide and murder. As trade unions, we know that action is needed to protect workers who are often forced to choose between their health and their livelihood.
According to the World Bank Gini Index, Botswana is amongst the top 10 countries in the world with the highest wealth inequality. The disparities between the rich and the poor in most African countries are attributed to corruption and education systems that fail to provide the appropriate skills required in the labour market. This inequality indicates that the country’s wealth is enjoyed by a few at the expense of the majority.
Workers are the creators of the country’s wealth and its growth. However, we, the masses, continue to be spectators in the distribution of that wealth. Today, we demand economic power. Today, we demand that
workers stand up for their rights and say NO to salaries that make them the working poor. We have also noted with dismay a trend by the Government, parastatals and private sector employers to engage workers on renewable fixed – term contracts ranging periods of one month to two
These contracts serve to avoid unionization of workers and do not give workers their economic freedom. There is nothing progressive that workers who are on these contracts can achieve for themselves and their families. These short contracts also exacerbate job insecurity and mental ill health issues in Botswana.
Implementation of National Employment Policy, Decent Work Country
Honorable Minister, we are on the edge of a precipice as far as unemployment is concerned. High unemployment rates estimated at a staggering 24% is a recipe for high crime rates. This high rate of
unemployment is an indication of an economy that fails to create sustainable and decent jobs. It is an indication of a failing education system that does not produce the required skills in the labour market.
Perhaps what is more unsettling is the lack of commitment to address the unemployment scourge.
In an attempt to help the country to address the unemployment scourge the world bank and ILO facilitated the development of the national Employment Policy and the Decent Work Country Programme,
respectively. The two initiatives have Implementation plans, timelines and no budget that we are aware of to ensure they are progressed. But unfortunately all the well – intentioned initiatives are lagging behind , and we cannot speak of any significant progress. If we fail to see the urgency to deal with unemployment, especially youth unemployment, then, it can only mean that the future of our country is bleak.
We reiterate that as BFTU we are more than ready to pick up the pieces and forge a meaningful way forward that could benefit the nation with respect to job creation through the full implementation of the national employment policy and Decent Work Country Programme.
Lack of coordinated social protection systems
Comrades, allow me to touch on social systems in Botswana, mainly the several social protection initiatives that are not coordinated. In a world where all governments bemoan the lack of financial resources, social protection systems need to be harmonised and coordinated to avoid double
dipping so that the programmes could benefit most of our people.
Regressed social dialogue and unsupported social dialogue institutions, Honorable Minister, we continue to regress on social dialogue issues. You will recall that ILO provided technical assistance to Botswana to establish the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). ILO trained parties to the Council on negotiations as a starting point to establish the Council. All those efforts have come to nothing as the bargaining council is non-existent. We are most likely the only Southern African country with no bargaining structures. The silent resistance to implementing social dialogue initiatives is completely at variance with the culture of Batswana. Our nation’s founding fathers had, as one of the linchpins of our democracy, the principle of ‘Therisanyo’ – consultation . But the level of resistance to establish the structure that would enable smooth facilitation of ‘therisanyo’ is out of character in our society .
Peace and security in Botswana (increase in crime)
Honorable Minister, there is no denying that the crime rate is increasing. Our towns, cities and villages are no longer safe. The rate of violent crime is rising at a phenomenal rate. We are also aware that this is a result of acute unemployment levels. The national aspirations on peace and security are clearly articulated in our National Vision 2036. One wonders if our national aspirations for peace and security would be met as per our set target.
The labour sector has been a spectator in this area for too long. We should be mindful that “just Transition’ is just only when we as the labour movement are part of it otherwise it is another transition. We need to ensure that jobs are protected as we transition and employers are made aware of the need to reskill and retool workers as new green technologies are introduced.
Government should ensure that green energy appliances and equipment are affordable for to an ordinary Motswana.
Just transition and green economy
Honorable Minister, let me briefly speak to the notion of Just Transition and a Green Economy. The world is talking about Just a Transition and we must understand it from the get – go. The ILO defines Just Transition as ‘greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind. In addition, it involves maximizing the social and economic opportunities of climate action while minimizing and carefully managing any challenges. This is achievable through effective social dialogue among all groups impacted, and respect for fundamental labour principles and rights.
The Government should ensure that green energy appliances and equipment are affordable for an ordinary Motswana.
Regional labour issues: SADC protocols, Eswatini,
Comrades, I wish to touch on regional labour issues. BFTU is affiliated with SATUCC, other African and international organizations. This affiliation means that w e are part of the global labour movement, therefore , we must stand in solidarity with our sister unions, workers and human rights activists; as they continue to fight for their rights in their countries. We condemn countries where there is intimidation, assault, harassment, arrests of trade union officials, and extra – judicial killings of protesters and
activists, especially in Eswatini. We mourn those killed and urge Botswana to play a critical role in protecting lives in SADC, Africa and beyond. It is who we are as a nation.
Honorable Minister, comrades, BFTU urges Government and the business community to ensure compliance with Botswana Laws and ILO standards. The decent work Agenda is still relevant to ensure Batswana work in decent jobs. The revised lab our laws are also a gateway to a better Botswana work environment.
Viva Workers! Long Live the Spirit of No Surrender, Long Live!