GOVERNMENT MUST RESPECT LABOUR LAWS UNDER COVID 19

SHARE   |   Thursday, 23 April 2020   |   By Ricardo Kanono
Hunyepa Hunyepa

The human race faces extinction due to the Covid 19 global pandemic if not managed well. World economies particularly those of third world countries face a bleak future if sound recovery and sustainable measures are not put in place. Botswana like the rest of the world faces this dark period in the history of mankind. 

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All citizens have a civic duty to fight the pandemic patriotically for their health and continuity of human race. Citizens must therefore comply with World Health Organisation protocols and advice of health professionals, especially staying at home; one metre of social distancing; 20 seconds of hands washing with soap and clean water. We must all religiously comply to defeat this monster. Vulnerable groups, especially the destitute, must be urgently catered for during this lockdown period to curtail starvation. The poor are likely to die of hunger than the virus itself, or face the double threat of corona virus and hunger.

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There is a topical issue of deferment of salary increment of public servants and Government seems to have failed to uphold basic negotiation principles. The labour movement is aware of the devastating effects of the corona virus and will not be unreasonable if engaged genuinely, with transparency and in good faith. BOFEPUSU and TAWU have a standing collective bargaining agreement with the employer, Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) regarding their 6% and 10% salary increment for the 2020/2021 financial year and commencing 1st April 2020. This was signed in February 2019, some few months before general elections. Elections are now over and DPSM has silently and unilaterally reneged under the April 2020 State of Public Emergency (SOPE) powers pretext. DPSM should have been proactive on this matter and engaged trade unions reasonably on time since Covid 19 broke out around December 2019 in China and early signs were there, that it was going to reach our shores. The employer’s silence, who exclusively knows government budget, meant that things were in order, and unions assumed so too, legitimately expecting salary increment 1st April 2020.  The DPSM move of deferment is calculated and deliberate, as it banks on citizen sympathy that government is fighting a deadly virus, and union antagonism will be seen as unpatriotic. This is blackmail. And in labour relations, the employer is grossly disingenuous as she has violated basic tenets of labour relations. This was the worst slap ever in the face of BOFEPUSU, who last year went neutral on a voting decision, technically endorsing the BDP with their voting block, and ‘fixing’ UDC. Here was a workers’ federation that could afford to be neutral to a capitalist system that has a history of exploiting BOFEPUSU members. It was a cardinal failure by the federation leadership. And the federation’s godfather, Johnson Motshwarakgole’s video went viral, publicly proclaiming that secretly he can vote Dr Masisi (BDP). Now the federation is facing a dilemma- a moral battle versus labour rights. A shrewd legal eagle will be needed to pull the federation out of the quagmire for a win-win position.

The government‘s disingenuous conduct towards the unions is not surprisingly different from that of the private sector. Just after the lockdown announcement on 2nd April 2020, several companies violated workers’ rights with impunity from unprocedural retrenchments, forced unpaid leave to salary suspensions, all against the spirit of domestic labour laws and ILO conventions. In stark irony, government halted several companies from dismissing workers due to Covid 19 and promised a relief fund. This has temporarily saved thousands of jobs but is not sustainable. The trade unions should now be alert. Both public and private sector workers will emerge more bruised than their capitalist employers whose businesses have amassed profits and are running even under lockdown.

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The other headache for the workers is that the labour department is understaffed to ensure that the workers’ rights are protected during this time and post Covid 19. The trade unions should brace for long drawn out battles with employers after this lockdown as government struggles to deliver on its relief promises. Unity and training of the workforce on collective trade unionism is paramount. Many workers could have lost their jobs if trade unions had not intervened by raising several red flags and we applaud the good work of the labour movement. Free riders have learnt on how vulnerable they are and should unionise and join the battlefield as a new world order emerges, with no job guarantees. The capitalist sharks are at work on how to maximise profit when the lockdown is lifted and economy running at full throttle. And clearly maximisation of profit is without doubt exploitation of workers. The informal sector workers will also need assistance to be organised too so that they are protected. Employment insurances for such unforeseen circumstances are now a compulsory requirement for workers and should be negotiated into the same league of employer subsidies like pension and medical aid.

Post Covid 19, government and the private sector will need the trade unions to promote industrial relations at the workplace and serve this country productively again. We encourage all visionary and smart employers to nurture good labour relations now. 

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Notwithstanding all these, the rights and liberties of citizens, including their labour rights, freedom of expression and speech, and so on must be respected and protected, and the onus lies with the President of the Country who is now ruling alone through the SOPE. 

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The UDC is in solidarity with the worker’s plight and calls upon all employers to 

respect workers and Trade Union  rights during this difficult time.

Justin Hunyepa

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BNF Publicity Secretary and UDC Labour Secretary



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