Botswana ignores ILO labour reforms

SHARE   |   Monday, 12 February 2018   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane

Botswana Federation of Public, Parastatal and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has joined the International Labour Organization (ILO) Committee of Application of Standards in criticising Government for ignoring, rejecting and/ or snubbing advise to reform labour laws that violate conventions it has ratified. The renewed attack is fueled by the latest ILO report, released midweek based on outcomes of the International Labour Conference, 107th Session, 2018 compiled of several countires that have violated different conventions. It shows that Botswana has not complied with ILO recommendations for reform and failed to submit a report enumerating progress made on corrective measures as promised. Bouyed by the negative ILO findings in the just released Report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, as part of a broader report on Application of International Labour Standards 2018, BOFEPUSU has launched a scathing attack on bureacrats at Government enclave and the political leadership. Speaking from Turin, Italy where he is currently studying Deputy Secretary General of BOFEPUSU, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said the continued arrogance and contempt for ILO and its international standards will dent Botswana’s international image, credibility and integrity. He said the federation is already mobilising international organisations around the world ahead of the 2018 International Labour Conference, where they will report Botswana. Motshegwa said it is abundantly clear that Government machinery was never prepared for unionisation and ushering in Collective Bargaining following domestication of ILO Conventions in 2007. He said Government was not prepared for this paradigm shift, as top bureaucrats (Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Council Secretaries and District Commissioners) remain clueless about contemporary labour relations that involve social dialogue and collective bargaining. "They are very weak, uninspiring and hopeless people occupying higher offices which seriously affect productivity and prosperity of this country. This situation was largely bred by Ian Khama's style of leadership that bordered on a dictatorship, coercion, top down approach at the expense of social dialogue and enhancement of rights. This then entrenched a system of nepotism, corruption, bootlicking, sycophancy and incompetence," he said.

The federation's biggest fear is that despite the recent reshuffle of senior government officials, incoming President Mokgweetsi Masisi is poised to inherit a majority of the already poisoned technocrats, Motshegwa said. In his opinion there is need for a positive and progressive overhaul and revamp at Government enclave to bring in a new culture of competence, efficiency and  creative thinking, which requires independent and professional minds. In order to achieve this, Masisi would have to go on a shopping spree for a new Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, new Permanent Secretary to the President, restructure the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) and populate it with personnel who objectively understand industrial relations. "It is critical to have strong and effective Ministers of Public Service and that of Employment, Productivity and Skills Development. Masisi must shed off Khama's sycophants and bootlickers in the civil service in order to allow for a new thinking in the public service. Otherwise he will be seen as a disciple of Khama who simply inherits the failings of his predecessor," fumed the unapologetic Motshegwa. The ILO report has been released in preparation for the upcoming Conference of June 2018, and Botswana Government has been found to have violated the Convention on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise, and that of The Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. Botswana Government was then advised to take measures to remedy the status quo with the involvement of tripartite partners being employers and workers organisations. The report discusses in detail findings by the Committee against Botswana and proposed remedial action. These include violations of  Convention No. 87 (ratification: 1997)Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention. The Conference Committee had called upon the Government to: (i) take appropriate measures that ensure that the labour and employment legislation grants members of the prison service the rights guaranteed by the Convention; (ii) ensure that the Trade Disputes Act (TDA) is in full conformity with the Convention, and engage in social dialogue, with the further technical assistance of the ILO; (iii) amend the Trade Unions and Employers Organisations (TUEO) Act, in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations, to bring the law into conformity with the Convention; and (iv) develop a time-bound action plan together with the social partners in order to implement these conclusions. The Conference Committee also urged the Government to report progress to the Committee of Experts before its next meeting in November 2017. Government of Botswana has to date failed to submit a progress report.

The Committee also requested the Government to take the necessary measures to amend the Trade Disputes Bill to reduce the list of essential services accordingly. Government has not acted on any of the findings and recommendations of ILO, and even ignored calls to submit progress reports or seek technical assistance from ILO experts.  When nothing was forthcoming from Government, BOFEPUSU wrote to the Minister of Employment advising him of his obligation to act on ILO findings, the need to submit a progress report with input from tripartite partners. Motshegwa says this is clear testimony that the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led Government does not respect international labour institutions. "Over the years we have witnessed drastic amendments and enactment of labour laws with sole objective of curtailment of workers and trade union rights, something which is against principles of human rights, democracy and violate international labour law," he said. BOFEPUSU has since compiled a report to be submitted to the ILO detailing how Government has failed to act on the findings. The report captures the latest violations of ILO conventions which include the deregistration of the Bargaining Council, and continued clamp down on workers and trade union rights.