The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) would like to react to a recent press statement from the Botswana Government entitled “The ILO Does Not Blacklist Countries”. We are more perplexed by the contents of the statement than its heading. To start with it is probably correct that ‘blacklisting’ is not the language or terminology you will find within the corridors of the ILO. We do not even know if there is anyone, particularly from BFTU, who ever used this kind of terminology. To understand what the recent conclusions of the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) of the International Labour Conference (ILC) meant to Botswana there are basically two things we should look into. Frist it is the methods that the ILO uses in enforcing or supervising the conventions and recommendations it has adopted. Secondly, we need to understand what the conclusions on Botswana were during the recent ILC session. In dealing with the supervisory mechanism of the ILO, we need first to look into its founding document, the Constitution. The preamble of the ILO constitution recognizes the establishment of a universal and lasting peace based on social justice. It further recognizes unjust practices, hardships and privation meted upon a large group of workers of this world. It then zeroes in to affirm that there is an urgent need to reverse the status-quo to avert unrest and protect peace and harmony threatened by the prevailing conditions of work. This was and still remains the basis of the ILO’s existence, to continually improve the conditions of work by among other things observing and promoting workers’ rights such as the right to freedom of association, the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining which are enshrined in Convention 87. Standard setting and promotion of their implementation is therefore at the centre of the ILO’s business.
To achieve its objectives, the ILO has since its inception developed and adopted international labour standards in form of conventions recommendations. Conventions are international treaties which are binding upon ratification by member states while recommendations are non-binding guidelines for implementation of conventions. To ensure compliance with ratified conventions, the ILO has devised supervisory mechanisms. Member states are required by article 22 of the ILO Constitution to submit biennial report on implementation in law and practice of the core conventions they have ratified which includes convention 87 under which Botswana appeared before the CAS. Through such reporting the ILO’s Committee of experts after examining them can then either make observations or direct request in regard to the application of the conventions. These are geared to ensure that the member state complies with the requirements or the provisions of the said convention. The procedure stated above is only the basic or the regular supervisory mechanism. Other mechanisms involve complaints and representations by other member states and social partners where violation of ratified conventions has occurred. Such complaints can be dealt with by the Committee of Experts or the Committee on Freedom Association (CFA) if the complaint is about freedom of association and then by the CAS. The CAS then examines cases brought before them and draws up conclusions that have to be implemented to resolve the complaint or representations. Such conclusions are binding to the Member state in question contrary to what the statement from the Government of Botswana suggests. The ILO deals with cases involving member states in a progressive manner.
But what were the conclusions in the recent case of Botswana before the CAS. We reproduce the conclusions word for word below: The Committee took note of the oral statements made by the Government representative and the discussion that followed. Taking into account the discussion, the Committee called upon the Government of Botswana to:
■ take appropriate measures that ensure that the labour and employment legislation grants members of the prison service the rights guaranteed by the Convention;
■ ensure that the Trade Disputes Act is in full conformity with Convention No. 87, and engage in social dialogue, with the further technical assistance of the ILO;
■ amend the Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act, in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations, to bring these laws into conformity with the Convention.
The Committee called upon the Government of Botswana to develop a time-bound action plan together with the social partners in order to implement these conclusions. The Committee urged the Government to continue availing itself of ILO technical assistance in this regard and to report progress to the Committee of Experts before its next meeting in November 2017.
The language used by the CAS is very clear and there is no way it suggests that the Botswana Government has an option not to comply with these conclusions. We want to draw attention to the words ‘called upon’. The meaning of these two words used in this manner is to; demand, require, order and request, among others. In all the variant synonyms there is no where it suggest an option not to comply. It is therefore, wrong for the Government of Botswana to try and downplay the seriousness of the outcomes of the recent ILC in regard to the case of violation of Convention 87. The above conclusions are to be implemented by the Government of Botswana and report back to the ILO. Failure by the Government to report positively will attract further examination by the Committee of Experts and the CAS and may result with Botswana being placed under a special paragraph, which is tantamount to ‘blacklisting’. This however, will not be the end of the story as continued violations may lead to further actions such as high level tripartite mission to the country and a possible case before the International Court of Justice. It would seem the Botswana Government does not take the ILO and its work seriously. BFTU is concerned as to what is likely to happen following the Government press statement in question. We are questioning Government’s genuineness and commitment to the undertakings it made before the CAS in Geneva. We challenge government to retract this statement and make a public commitment to implementation of the 2017 conclusions of the Committee on Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference.