1 May 2020 The Alliance for Progressives - AP wishes to join workers of our country in commemorating the International workers Day. The contribution of workers to our economy needs to be acknowledged and celebrated even more, under the current difficult circumstances.
Never in our history has our country found herself in this level of distress. Coronavirus has left us and our way of life limping. Our health system has been stressed to breaking point; the economy has literally stopped working; the schools, and therefore our future is on hold; governance structures have proved inadequate to deal with the challenges posed; the informal sector has been served a devastating blow.
A warning need to be sent at the onset, if we do not provide assistance to the informal sector now we risk a collapse of thousands of families who will then overburden the already limping government safety net programs.
Our “essential services” are only essential as far as requiring them to stand up for the nation is concerned. They face grave health risks yet their compensation and payment does not match their “essential service” label. It is time we better their salary packages and incentives, and this is long overdue.
We need to fully appreciate the services provided by retail workers, by the cleaners, by security guards. While their companies are getting bailed out, they continue to get meager almost slave like wages and left to fend for themselves to pay rent and provide for their families.
We have come to expect, demand even that our security services (the police and the soldiers) are our clean-up crew. We have always thrown them at every enemy that comes regardless of how ill prepared and unequipped they are themselves. They out of obligation and loyalty to the country are always up to task. It is time we pay them, not only with patriotism sentiments, but befitting salary packages.
Here, we pause to call on government again to reverse the coercing of soldiers to contribute into the COVID 19 fund, and we say if they so wish they can do, as every Motswana can at the provided accounts. We all know the “voluntary” ask by the military high command is as good as a directive. When we “Stay at Home” our frontline workers, health workers come face to face with this invisible enemy. Our nurses and doctors find themselves having to risk not only their health but lives as well, to keep us safe. There is no price we can pay to them.
They give their all despite having no proper personal protective equipment – PPE, no risk allowance, no benefits to talk about, grossly underpaid and yet highly overworked. The time to resolve these issues is now. Teachers find themselves having to almost perform magic. Our lack in technology even in basic infrastructure has left them stranded and the lives, and future of a generation hangs in the balance at the risk of missing and repeating a whole year of teaching.
Workers find themselves in a far more distressing environment; some have already been retrenched, others are waiting dreadfully for that call, salaries have been for those who are fortunate halved, others are getting no salaries at all. Workers are unable to fulfill rent obligations. Business too, find themselves unable to pay rent, our small entrepreneurs face evictions – they are not able to sustain payments to staff.
There has never been a time where Workers Unions and Government need to put their differences aside and work together than now. In fact, unions should take lead in proposing way forward. The recent public disagreement between government and the Workers Unions are unfortunate. And we find it appalling that government is playing underhand tactics, taking unilateral decisions and inviting unions only to rubberstamp and bless their conclusions. This is certainly not a way to begin to get out of this distress.
We believe in building an economy that ensures that all citizens are in well-paying jobs. This is achieved mainly by building an economy structured in that way. There are no minimum wages in Singapore, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and Iceland but average salaries for instance are US 2500 (Sweden), US$ 4000 (Singapore) and similar amounts in the rest. How did they achieve this? They built economies that are structured in way that is well-paying and their unions enjoy good symbiotic relations in governance to ensure there are always win-win situations.
The nature of work has been fundamentally changed and we need to adapt. Who we wish to be means we need to churn knowledge professionals, scientists, managers, entrepreneurs and creatives. Our education system should reflect this by reinventing into early instruction on technology, especially coding, from primary school, STEM, arts and sports focus. We need technical/technology schools at all levels. One thing is clear, the standard and conventional economic theories have no answers to this pandemic.
The need to focus on growing the economy has never been this clear. We have said it before and we say it again, we need to carve a path for a New Botswana agenda including asking the big questions and providing the answers for doubling our economy and incomes within six years, adding 1 new company that generates more than P10 billion per year, add 10 more companies in the ranks of more than P2 billion per year - both within six years.
The facilitation of these kind of companies will cause an explosion of SMEs that will form an eco-system of this network of large companies, catalysed through strategic networks, infrastructure investments, and research and development in information technology, Biotech, nanotechnology, environmental science, solar energy, renewable energy, materials science, conservation, culture technology, digital content solutions, intelligent home networks, medicines, culture content, software development, green transportation, big data, smart vehicles, and intelligent internet of things.
This is the way the world is moving in, and our survival depends on the speed with which we will move in.
We send our regards to all the frontline workers; doctors, nurses, BURS officers, soldiers, policemen, and all others. We cannot thank you enough. Batswana let us continue observing the advise from the Health officials, social distancing rules, to fight this pandemic. Together, we shall overcome.
Phenyo Butale (PhD)