Scores of opposition MPs on Friday supported Jwaneng-Mabutsane MP Shaun Ntlhaile's motion and called out government to heed calls to introduce a decent living wage, as it is for the good of all workers in Botswana.
Selibe Phikwe East MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse said the problems Botswana is experiencing in its industrial relations include but not limited to the problem of wealth and income inequalities, the working poor and slave wages. “The lowest paid civil servant in our country earns about P1600 and the highest paid gets around P75 000 without including allowances and there is a huge wage disparity between the two, that is why we end up with the working poor,” he said.
According to Keorapetse there reason why there is the working poor in Botswana is primarily due to unemployment because there is excess supply of skilled labour and this has driven the living wage lower. “Living wage is different from minimum wage in the sense that minimum wage cannot address basic needs and decent standards of living while decent living wage the idea is to make sure that workers have decent standard of living. Modest but decent life where they are able to afford food, shelter, transport, utilities health care and even child care,” he said.
According to Keorapetse research has shown that living wage tends to reduce poverty and that workers tend have to have high affective commitments; i.e. emotional attachments to organisations hence serving organisations better and being productive when they have decent living wage.
He also argued that the living wage issue cannot be debated in isolation, saying that it goes together with other issues such as labour and labour laws. “You said recently when came back from the International Labour Organisation that the new administration seeks to reform labour laws. We want restoration of the public bargaining council, and the review of the trade dispute act to remove the clause on essential services, we cannot have all this civil servants classified under essential services cadre,” he said.
He urged government to expedite its efforts in trying to create favorable labour conditions because it’s not looking good for workers, also urging the state to establish an independent body with quasi-judicial functions to entertain labour disputes. “Let us try that in our country because the labour department has failed workers for many years,” he said.
The youthful legislator was also of the opinion that the country should establish a fair entitlement guarantee scheme, which will enable those who find themselves jobless as a result of liquidations and bankruptcies being paid something. “Right now we some BCL group employees who are now indebted, some are threatened with civil imprisonment and some found themselves poor overnight with nothing to give to their families and if we had fair entitlement guarantee scheme we would have made sure that this people were paid from this fund,” he said, adding that government should recognise that trade unions are very important in industrial relations rather than treating them as enemies in labour.
MP for Bonnington South Ndaba Gaolathe also shared Keorapetse’s sentiments that workers tend to be motivated and productive if they are paid well. Taping into Alfred Marshal’s efficiency wage theory, that increasing wages can lead to increased labour productivity; Gaolatlhe argued that it is not necessary true that for the economy to grow people have to be paid less but rather that it is possible for an economy to grow whilst workers are also paid a decent living wage. “Developed countries such as Sweden and Switzerland have long embraced the concept of efficiency wage rate because they knew how critical it was for sustainable development of their countries,” said MP for Bonnington South Ndaba Gaolatlhe.
He posited that there is no country to date whose economy to date is progressing well that has not embraced the fact that workers are critical stakeholders in the economy and deserve to be paid a decent wage.
MP for Nata/Gweta Paulson Majaga also didn’t spare government criticism saying as things are currently; Batswana are not living a decent life courtesy of the low wages they earn. He highlighted the fact that this anomaly was prevalent in both the private and public sector. According to Majaga it is disheartening to note that many workers’ dignity was eroded away by the paltry remuneration they were getting from their formal employment. Majaga argued that government would not lose anything by increasing workers living wage. “If you pay people more you lose nothing but instead gain more,” he said.
The outspoken legislator pledged his support for Ntlhaile’s motion saying it advocated for the plight of all Batswana. Although the debate on the motion was completed, the house failed to vote on whether to pass it or not as they failed to form a quorum