It appears hostilities between government and local trade unions will not end soon. While the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu has denied that the amendment of the Trade Dispute Act has ill-motives, unions are maintaining that it is aimed at curtailing their powers. But Batshu insisted that trade unions are misleading the public. He said government’s intentions for amending the trade dispute act were in fact people-centred and aimed at doing away with delays in resolutions of labour disputes by specifically giving labour officers the powers to deal with unscrupulous employers.
“As it is, labour officers are only mediators and are not capacitated to take actions against offending employers,” Batshu said. According to Batshu, employers have identified this loophole and are currently using it to their advantage. He said usually when a labour dispute cannot be resolved by the labour office it is then referred to the Industrial Court where it ends up taking ages to be attended to as there is a backlog of cases. “This then ends up frustrating workers, and unfortunately it is what the unscrupulous employers hope for and want,” he said.
Batshu said trade disputes are being mediated within 30 days as required except for Francistown and Maun where it takes at least 35 days and Gaborone where it takes 60 days due to huge number of cases received. He noted that arbitration cases remain a challenge for his ministry as the backlog stands at 247 cases. “Twenty-two part time arbitrators were engaged to deal with the backlog for arbitration cases,” said Batshu.
The main aim for amending the Trade Dispute Act, Batshu said, is therefore geared at minimising frustrations especially from workers. He denied that his ministry has totally side-lined trade unions during the amendments, saying his ministry did everything by the book. He said labour laws do not necessarily require government to consult every federation but that only the federation with the most representation should be consulted.
“We were not necessarily obliged to consult with BOFEPUSU; labour laws provide that government engage trade union federation with majority representation of workers. BFTU has more members than them hence they are the ones who represent workers in such consultations,” said Batshu. The Minister, however, agreed that some stakeholders (BOFEPUSU) have complained that they were not consulted enough, especially about the inclusion of certain fields under the essential services category, an anomaly he said his ministry has noted and is addressing.
“That is perhaps why I did not rush to present the amended Act to Parliament yet,” he said. Meanwhile, Batshu stated that generally Botswana enjoyed god industrial harmony despite the two industrial actions at Botswana Unified Revenue Service and Unitrans Botswana (Pty) Ltd. “It is important to indicate that the industrial actions were not violent or disruptive and were contained within a reasonable period,” said Batshu.
According to Batshu, the Ministry conducted 3898 labour and 827 Occupational Health and Safety inspections mostly in Agriculture, Retail, Tourism and manufacturing sectors. Key violations unearthed by this inspections included failure to insure employees, non-payment of overtime, lack of employment records, inadequate fire prevention measures, provision of first aid kits and failure to provide protective clothing, he said.
He said employers involved were advised to comply with the law and some were charged for breaking the law. Despite generally the good industrial relations, the minister noted that 19 companies retrenched a total of 323 employees; the most affected sectors being manufacturing and diamond polishing.