The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has ordered Government of Botswana to undertake labour reforms to comply with conventions she has ratified to align its laws with international standards. The order is among a raft of recommendations of the ILO Committee of Application of Standards on Botswana case of violation of Convention 87, which Government should report back on the progress in implementing before the November 2017 meeting. The Government of Botswana has been instructed to develop a time bound action plan towards carrying out the recommendations. A High Level ILO Technical Committee has been assigned to work with Botswana Government for a holistic review of labour laws in Botswana to align them with international standards. After the Government presentation and deliberations that ensued the ILO Committee of Application of Standards concluded by calling upon Government of Botswana to take appropriate measures that would ensure that the Prisons Service is allowed to unionize hence acting in consonance with the dictates of Convention 87. The Committee also calls upon the Government of Botswana to amend the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) to ensure that it is in conformity with Convention 87 and to amend Trade Unions and Employers’ Organization Act (TUEOA) to harmonize it with all other employment statutes with the assistance of ILO High Level Technical Committee of the ILO.
Violations of Convention 87
After being shortlisted among 24 countries violating ILO conventions Botswana appeared before the CAS on Tuesday 13 June 2017, where BFTU Titular delegate Gadzani Mhotsha presented the case, supported by other trade union federations in the region. Presenting before the CAS on behalf of Education International in his capacity as General Secretary of the Botswana Sectors of Education Trade Unions (BOSETU) Tobokani Rari enumerated violations of Convention 87 by the Government of Botswana. Rari complained that the extended list of essential services in accordance with Section 46 of the 2016 Trade Dispute Act of Botswana now includes all employees in the teaching service. "What makes this case even worse is that support staff within the teaching service is also classified as an essential service. That means grounds people, cooks, bursars, typists, matrons and boarding masters are now classified as essential service," said Rari. The ILO position is that it is admissible to limit or prohibit the right to strike in essential services cadres, the definition of which is those the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population. Contrary to TDA 2016 of Botswana, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has repeatedly explained that teachers do not fall within the definition of essential services, despite the importance of their service to pupils and the community at large. This is also contained in the 2012 General Survey on fundamental conventions.
Rari said there was no need for Botswana Government to categorise the whole teaching services as an essential service as there is a provision for establishing minimum services in consultation with social partners in cases of a strike of long duration in the education sector. "The Act makes teachers, the support staff within the teaching, and almost the whole economy, an essential service hence prohibiting them from resorting to a strike action. This undermines the bargaining power of teachers and their support staff as they are denied the right to withdraw labour, the strongest bargaining tool that workers have at their disposal. Teachers and support staff are at risk that their working conditions will deteriorate which will also affect their morale. This would have dire consequences on the quality of education, which in our view is supposed to be a public good," he said. Further Rari said a quality public education system should have respect for teachers as a core value. That respect must be reflected in appropriate working conditions with class sizes that are manageable, specialist services and safe well-equipped facilities. Those conditions can and must be reflected in freely negotiated collective agreements and the ability to strike is a fundamental element of those free negotiations, he said.
Public Service Act
Rari also expressed concern about lack of meaningful consultation in the formulation of the new draft amendments to the Public Services Ac (Public Service Bill 2017), which comes before Parliament in the July session. He said trade unions were only given three days to make written submissions, but there was no physical consultation. The draft bill was gazetted and will be taken to Parliament during the July session. According to Rari, this will be done without having physically consulted the social partners on their individual accord, nor having taken the Bill to the Labour Advisory Board as the legislation in Botswana requires with respect to labour statutes. "This action contradicts the promises that were given by the Minister of Labour and Employment and the Assistant Minister in the Office of the President to the unions, and later to ILO mission that the amendment process would be halted pending technical assistance by the ILO technical team," he said. Rari complained that there are a number of proposals of serious concern in the Bill. For example, Sections 72 and 74(4) of the Bill gives power to the Directorate of Public Service Management, and the Minister to appoint the Secretariat, Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Public Sector Bargaining Council. Currently the Constitution of PSBC confers that power on the Council itself. Furthermore, Section 75 of the Bill gives the employer, the power to unilaterally vary conditions and terms of service without the input of the bargaining council. "We call on the Botswana Government to honour its commitments to the May 2016 ILO technical mission to establish a tripartite working group with the ILO acting as an adviser to review the labour legislation in order to bring it into conformity with ILO Convention 87 and the other fundamental conventions," he said.
"We totally agree and associate ourselves with the conclusions of the Committee of Application of Standards on Botswana’s violation of convention 87. This is victory for workers as the conclusion calls upon Botswana to review the Trade Dispute Act that categorizes almost all the workers in Botswana as essential service. This shows how BOFEPUSU is patriotic by protecting and defending the democracy and rule of law in Botswana," a statement from the federation reads. The Federations further said the mere fact that Botswana made it to the short list (top 24) of gross violators of core conventions of ILO vindicates them in what they have always complained about and warned against. BOFEPUSU has always warned that Botswana is regressing in terms of withholding democratic principles and credentials that it has been known for in the last 45 years, including respect of workers’ rights and international laws that the country has ratified. The current administration should really be embarrassed that the country's record has degenerated this low, to an extent of being summoned and grilled at the 106th ILO conference level.