The loss of lives yet again at Bamangwato Concession Limited (BCL) has sent shockwaves nationwide. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) sends its heartfelt condolences to the families, fellow workers, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) and friends. UDC expects a concerned, caring and compassionate government to take immediate action as this is a repeat disaster at BCL. The Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources and BCL Management should account for the losses of these four miners, while awaiting the previous one. The families of miners at BCL are now living in fear as the mine has become a death trap.
It is shocking and disappointing that the country will be celebrating 50 years of independence and yet it does not have a national policy on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH). Companies and organisations are left to formulate their own work policies, without national direction. This means that government may not take action against those defaulting companies. The closest legislation on OSH is the Mines, Quarries, Works and Machinery Act. The act is not comprehensive enough on issues of occupational safety. The other law is the Factories Act which is irrelevant to the mines as it is for factories. The Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs established the Division of Occupational Health and Safety in 1978. As custodians of labour, the ministry should move expeditiously to ensure that there is a national policy on or legislation on OSH. Regulations on OSH are currently under several acts (Mines, Quarries…Act; Factories Act; Workers’ Compensation Act, etc) and scattered all over government ministries. A national OSH policy is therefore long overdue.
The Botswana Government is not taking OSH issues seriously. This is demonstrated by her failure to ratify International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on OSH. As a member of the United Nations Organisation and its agency, ILO, Botswana has embarrassingly failed to ratify the following three critical conventions: Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health- it provides for the adoption of a coherent national OSH policy, as well as action to be taken by governments and within enterprises to promote OSH to improve working conditions. Convention 161 on Occupational Health Services protects the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment. It calls upon each member to formulate, implement and periodically review a coherent national policy on occupational health services. Convention 187 on Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health promotes framework for occupational safety and health.
Disasters are just hanging on our heads as the Factories Act does not have power to close operations of a factory / workplace that has dangerous working conditions that pose eminent danger to employees. The inspector has to get court order first, to close such factories. The same Factories Act does not cover health and safety in non-factory offices and commercial premises. Ratification of these conventions, and then domesticating them, will therefore help address the current nightmares faced by the working class in Botswana. The demise of the BCL workers, just after the recent commemoration of Workers Day, in May is a wake up call for workers to unite and prevent such future disasters. UDC calls upon all the progressive workers and other activists to rise and ensure that government ratifies the conventions. This will be a step forward to protect creators of the nation’s wealth and ensure that we are all safe at work. May the fallen comrades find eternal peace.
*Justin Hunyepa is UDC Labour Secretary