Although trade unions, politicians and workers have for a longtime been calling for the government to increase the minimum wage in Botswana or introduce a decent minimum living wage, it seems they will have to wait a while longer.
Members of Parliament on Friday rejected a motion by Jwaneng-Mabutsane legislator Shawn Ntlhaile requesting government to introduce a decent living wage policy. Although the motion almost passed after the speaker declared that ‘the yes had it’ Shoshong MP Phillip Makgalemele called for division and following individual votes (button pressing) 15 MP's voted against the motion while only 12 voted for the motion. The motion was wholly supported by opposition MPs but was opposed by some members of the ruling party.
Debating the motion on Friday the Vice President Slumber Tsogwane was of the view that although, they as legislators wanted to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people , which is basically the core reason for the existence of government, in a case where there are other competing needs government must prioritise. “What is existing at the moment is a question of priorities not to say a motion of this kind should not be adopted and implemented but it’s unfortunate that we have to, with limitation of resources,’ said Tsogwane.
He said as a social democratic state the basis of Botswana‘s existence is to improve the social welfare of her people and that is why government is availing social welfare interventions and initiatives like the old age grant, orphans and destitute schemes. This he says is not a healthy state if government was to continue increasing such schemes to what people may think its ideal.
“I understand you Rre Ntlhaile clearly but unfortunately we have to prioritise to make sure that other existing social interventions are continued with,” he said, adding that government should be given time to go and look into the matter further before making decisions.
The Minister of Labour Tshenolo Mabeo for his part said following a study which was carried out by Botswana government in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which sought to establish problems associated with the current minimum wage a report was released in 2014. “I want to tell the house that there is currently a revised National policy on Income, employment and profits of 2005 which Ministry of Finance is assessing and we expect issues such as the minimum and living wage to be part of such. My ministry is currently awaiting the outcome of this assessment,” said Mabeo.
One of those who opposed the motion was Serowe South MP Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, who cautioned the house against comparing Botswana’s wage structure to those of other countries whose government structure do not match that of Botswana. Moitoi pointed out that currently Batswana were afforded many services and amenities such as health, education and others for free while in other countries citizens were expected to pay for every service rendered despite the high minimum wage they were getting.
“Taxi drivers in Botswana are currently not allowed to charge a fee of their choice but rather government set the charge in consideration of the mini wage. It’s not right that we are telling these people how to run their businesses. In addition Water and electricity prices are currently subsidized. It’s not fair to compare the 4500 paid to a Namibian, the 3500 paid to a South African and a P900 paid to Motswana and say they are better than us,” she said.
She pointed out that even though the minimum wage in Botswana maybe low, there are several interventions put in place to cushion workers from hardships.