Allow me to greet this dignified gathering today with this labour song, “solidarity forever, for the federation would make us strong”. Having done so let me take this opportunity to greet the Central Executive of BOFEPUSU, all Presidents and Executive Committees of Affiliate Unions, the Honourable Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity ans Skills Development, Honourable Mabeo, and your delegation, His Worship the Mayor of Gaborone Rre Thutwe and your delegation, all the representatives of the foreign mission in Botswana present here today, pastors here present today, senior officials both from private, parastatal and public institutions here present, managers of bank institutions present here today, especially Banc ABC, Dikgosi here present and more importantly, all the workers who have graced this occasion from various regions of this republic. I would like to greet all of you through these salutations; Viva BOFEPUSU Viva, A e gole tshwaragano ya babereki a e gole, a e gole ikgarathelo ya babereki a e gole”
Comrades and compatriots, we are gathered here today joining billions of other workers globally to commemorate the Workers’ or Labour Day also commonly known in other quarters as the May Day. As we commemorate in songs, dance and speeches we should never forget that this day has globally been recognized as a “Labour Day” following demonstrations by workers demanding decent work, especially the recognition of an 8 hour working duration per day. In doing so precious lives of these innocent poor souls who are workers, our brothers and sisters, men and women, were lost at the hands of state machinery and the rich capitalists. We should therefore never forget that this day symbolizes the struggle of the working class to liberate themselves. The 8-hour working duration that we enjoy today did not come on a silver platter, it was fought for, and lives of innocent workers were lost. That’s why it saddens to realize that they are some workers who take this day just as one of those holidays during which they remain at home to run their own personal errands.
The process of liberating workers has been tough and painful, and it is still so even today. Some of our brothers and sisters were turned into slaves, toiling the soil in farms, digging minerals, building factories, offices, schools, hotels, at no compensation or for free. Some workers were killed for refusing to be exploited. Some of the workers have created great wealth for their masters and their pay would be a kick on the buttocks. It should be on the basis of this background that as workers of today, we should take this day as a day of self-introspection as individual workers, as a collective, as union leadership, employers and government.
Director of Ceremonies, the 2018 May Day theme as crafted by the BOFEPUSU Leadership is, “BOFEPUSU; A Key Partner in People Management in the Economy of Botswana". Through this theme, BOFEPUSU is trying to remind government as an employer and all other employers in the private sector that there is no way in which in the human resource of this country could be managed to grow the economy without direct involvement of the labour movement itself. This theme is a direct message to all employers, government included, that antagonizing trade unions would only result in a toxic labour environment triggering low moral and productivity at the work place.
This theme comrades is relevant and comes at the right time that we have recently seen a change in the leadership of the country and it is a message to the current leadership of the country that as BOFEPUSU, we stand ready for engagement on all labour related matters and issues of human resource management.
It is worth stating Director of Ceremonies that over the past 10 years under the leadership of President Seretse Khama Ian Khama, we have seen total regression in the issues of relationship between workers, their trade unions on one hand, and government as an employer on the other hand. This total collapse in relationship between labour and trade unions has been replicated by the private sector.
Under the leadership of President Sir Seretse Khama the following regressions were experienced;
• Refusal by the President to dialogue with trade unions. During the period of his reign, BOFEPUSU has made numerous attempts to meet His Excellency to dialogue on labour matters but to no avail, we remain hopeful that this will not repeat itself under President Masisi’ reign.
• Violations of international conventions that resulted in Botswana making it to the top 40 countries that had to appear before International Labour Conference’s Committee of Application of Standards for transgressions.
• Intimidation, harassment and threats to union leaders. It has to be remembered that trade unions leaders were dismissed while others were transferred from their jobs to hinder them from being eligible for union office.
• We saw a threat by government to take away stop order facilities for trade unions in an attempt close their live stream in an endeavor to collapse them.
• We have as well experienced the collapse of the only Industrial Council that ever existed in this country, which is the PSBC. This happened after this regime has constructively dismissed the only admitted party into the council, BOFEPUSU.
• We saw under the Khama regime, the purchasing power of the workers being terrible eroded by inflation
• We saw about 95% of employees in the country being classified as essential service against the international framework definition of essential service.
• We saw the public service being divided into two, others being paid a salary increment while others were not paid yet expected to work together jointly to render goods services to the public.
• It is under the Khama regime that we saw the courts being used more to settle labour disputes rather than using social dialogue
• It is during the Khama regime that we have seen government using and divide and rule tactic by partnering with some trade unions to fight other unions in the courts of laws.
Director of Ceremonies, as we are commemorating this day we do so under a dark cloud of labour uncertainty and gross violations of workers rights. The following are some challenges that we are currently being faced with as workers of this republic. As BOFEPUSU we call upon government to expeditiously intervene on the following;
• Flagrant infringement of labour laws and policies particularly prevalent in the private sector. A typical example being the recent Choppies incident in which workers demonstrated against being made to work long hours without pay. These employees were ultimately dismissed and as BOFEPUSU we call upon government through the Ministry of Labour to step in to rescue this vulnerable poor workers.
• Refusal by some companies in the private to allow trade unions to exist and refusal to grant existing unions recognition. One such incident is the refusal by UNITRANS to recognize unions that exist in the company in spite of the fact the existing trade union has met the threshold. This issue has been reported to the Minister of Labour but to no avail.
• High rate of retrenchments and job insecurity. Notorious for this is the media houses. Towards the end of last year 2017, and at the beginning of this year a number of media houses retrenched employees without following due process. This should be a worry to government as it adds to high rate of unemployment.
• Workplaces not being conducive for work as there is a lot of intimidation, threats and unjustified disciplinary hearings.
• Unsafe working environment. We have seen just recently a nurse colleague being attacked and raped due to unsafe work environments and absence of security measures. Assaulting of teachers by students has become a common occurrence.
In summary, let me take this opportunity to request the new transitional political administration led by President Masisi to reverse all the repressive labour laws passed during the Khama regime if it is serious about making amends on the relationship with labour. The new regime should;
• Unconditionally revive and reinstate the Public Service Barganing Council
• Introduce a leaving wage to replace a minimum wage
• Amend the Trade Dispute Act to de – essentialise the country’s work force in line with the recommendations of the International Labour Conference recommendations
• Establish honest and meaningful social dialogue structures to improve the labour relations in this country
• Facilitate to establishment of the Industrial Councils in the private sector to promote the bargaining process
• Withhold the tabling of the Public Service Act before Parliament pending honest and meaningful consultation with trade unions
• Minister of Presidential Affairs to move swiftly and promptly to normalize relations with trade unions in the public sector to correct the bad relations left by Minister Molale.
• Lastly we call upon President Masisi to step in as the Head of State to correct the intentional bad treatment of unions by his predecessors for peace, tranquility and socio – economic prosperity of Botswana in line with vision 2036.
I would like to wish all workers of Botswana a joyous and blessed 2018 May Day Commemorations.
Viva Babereki Viva
*Rari is the Secretary General of BOFEPUSU and BOSETU