Today is the International Labour Day. On this day workers of the world meet in different platforms and avenues to reflect on their plight and go beyond that to plan and adopt ways of improving their bargaining power with employers. Such is the case today in Botswana where unions and federations are meeting to commemorate this day. It comes at a time when many have faced different challenges. Some particularly in the mining sector have lost jobs in thousands, those in Government payroll have had their negotiations for pay increase delayed by challenging process while others are unhappy at slow or non-progression at their workplace. Each employee has one form of grievance to raise or another. Employers equally are aggrieved by the poor economic climate or primarily the poor work ethic of their employees. With productivity or market depressed, business owners are under pressure to push up margins to be able to pay salaries. Life has not been easy for anyone. And it looks like it will take a bit longer for things to turn around.
The depression in the demand for commodity prices have resulted with some mines closing in the last year and this spectre is set to continue this year with the country’s biggest copper mine moving on to release close to 1000 employees. Damtshaa, Discovery Metal, and Mowana mines have closed. Others have struggled on with reduced production. Meanwhile the sales of diamonds are only improving this year after a major fall last year. This means employees in the minerals sector have suffered the most. But being a minerals led economy it means workers in every sphere have felt the brunt of hard times. Government’s efforts in keeping alive some of the mining investments is worthy of praise, particularly as that helped in saving jobs. BCL is one example. Though they are retrenching some workers, the situation could have been worse had the Government not stepped in to bail the mine out. But more importantly the lesson for Government is to pursue economic diversification with increased aggression. The Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) is a temporary relief. What is required is long term sustainable job creation. This also means that Government should move out of the business space and not throttle business based on dislikes of individual leaders of particular practices or developments. Two key examples are the beer and media industries.
We take it that Government could have done well to save jobs in the beer industry – KBL has closed depots and cut many jobs due the harsh levy imposed on it. The media industry has equally felt the draconian treatment of Government due to its attempt to control what papers write or radios broadcast. Many jobs have been lost in the media and those currently employed suffer from lack of salary adjustments due to lack of business arising from the advertising ban imposed by Government. The Government should do all to create and safeguard jobs, irrespective of the sector. We equally urge the trade unions to take their mandate seriously and do away with self-serving leadership. The impasse over public service salaries could have been avoided had union leadership behaved more maturely and put their members ahead of their own egos.