The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) has lambasted the government for failing to amend the country's labour laws after signing International Labour Organisation (ILO) agreements that protect fundamental worker rights.
At May Day celebrations this weekend, BFTU President Ronald Baipidi criticised "the delay and failures to act within a specified timeframe to amend our labour laws" in line with agreements signed by government with the ILO.
"We have [fought] tooth and nail for the audit of all labour laws and statutes to be undertaken to ensure conformity with the international standards to which Botswana is a signatory. Where necessary, the laws should be amended so that they fall in line with international best practices elsewhere," he said.
The BFTU also took issue with government for creating economic growth, which the union claimed, had not expanded employment opportunities but had instead increased inequality and poverty, withered cultural identity and squandered resources needed for future generations.
However, President Festus Mogae hit back during an address to about 100 union workers gathered at the University of Botswana stadium. He said the amendment of the Employment Act, the Trade Unions and Employers Organisations Act and the Trade Disputes Act were demonstrable proof of government's commitment to improving conditions for workers.
Under these amendments workers would be recognised as privileged creditors, should a company fold, which meant that their claims for outstanding emoluments would be paid before those of other creditors of an insolvent employer.
It would be possible for all public officials, except those whose functions fell in the area of national security, to form and join trade unions. Elected officials of trade unions would also be allowed to become employees of their respective unions.
Mogae took a swipe at those accusing his government of dragging its feet with regard to labour laws. "This accusation ignores the fact that, while the ILO conventions are based on ideals that we can all cherish, they can often only be implemented in a gradual and evolutionary manner. Conditions that are conducive to their implementation must often first be created," he said.
"More often than not, the implementation of new labour standards is dependent on the enactment of domestic legislation, which, in a democracy such as ours, requires careful consultation," he added.
Officials said Botswana had ratified a number of ILO conventions as far back as 1997.
There was also concern expressed that Botswana had still not signed the ILO Convention 183 on maternity rights, which would address the current situation where working women were paid 25 percent of their salaries while on maternity leave.
Government sources said in order to encourage the growth and development of trade unions, the role of the state in supervising and regulating the affairs of trade unions had been substantially reduced.
But critics said Mogae's May Day remarks had a hollow ring to them. "There are currently no amendments to the labour laws allowing civil servants to participate in unions," said Johnson Motshwakgola, National Organiser of the Manual Workers Union.
The BFTU handed Mogae a policy document, titled "Workers Agenda 2010 Position Paper 2004", articulating their concerns in areas as diverse as economic development, politics and governance, globalisation and the environment.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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