By close of business on Friday, reports indicated that the domestic labor market has a new a new ‘baby’ in the form of a union simply named Botswana Commerce and Allied Workers Union. This union, we understand, was formed specifically for workers in the retail and related sectors.
Although we are aware of the existence, or lack thereof, of Botswana Wholesale, Furniture and Retail Workers Union the arrival of the new union has brought fresh hope to thousands of workers employed in this vital retail sector. It is also equally fitting to commend the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and its local ally, Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) for their swift move to band together employees in the retail sector.
The move, we understand, was provoked by what recently happened in one of the local retailers, Choppies Limited stores in South Africa where some of the employees were fired. Luckily for them they were unionized. Back home, thousands of Choppies workers and other leading retail stores such as Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Payless and Spar have failed to unionise over the years despite being employed in sizeable number. There is no doubt that the ultimate goal of COSATU and BFTU is to help these thousands of Choppies workers together with other workers engaged elsewhere get better wages, and bring to an end a history of ill-treatment for doing their jobs.
Surveys do show that young workers, who tend to staff retail stores such as Choppies, Shoprite, Pay less and others, are more favorable to collective bargaining than the older population at large.
This is why the new union should not have trouble in recruiting its membership and ultimately pushing for better remuneration. Although it is a well known fact that government is not a good friend of the labour movement, we dare challenge it, to once, atleast once, through the ministry of labour make surprise visits to some of these retailers ÔÇö such as grocery stores, gas stations and shopping malls ÔÇö just to make sure that workplace rights are protected and workers receive public holiday pay, overtime pay, hours of work, and vacation pay. We believe government would be surprised by how much the citizens of this country have been turned into modern day slaves.
It is our concrete view government is partly to blame since it’s responsible for setting the minimum wage for all the sectors. But retailers should not take that as excuse to exploit what forms part of their core investment being ‘human capital’. By extension the contribution of these workers is reflected in our Gross Domestic Product. The Bottom-line is that the retail sector is a vital engine of the domestic economy that continues to create jobs, and promotes investment as well as economic growth. To ensure that we maintain that growth, all interested parties particularly the trade union umbrella should stand up for workers to make sure their rights are protected ÔÇô no matter where they work, no matter their line of work. These include even those workers trading their service at Choppies Stores where we are told they are paid paltry amounts of money. This huge number of Choppies workers should join hands with their counterparts elsewhere and heed the BFTU and COSATU call to arms.
On the other hand, BFTU and its South African partner, COSATU should speed up the total formation of this union bearing in mind challenges faced by our fellow citizens, which includes amongst others poor benefits, slim opportunities, sexism and racism as well as other hidden major complaints that are not only found at Choppies stores but across the whole retail sector in this country.