The P20 billion projects mainly won by the Chinese multi-nationals run the risk of experiencing cost overruns if government does not act fast to resolve a standoff between contractors and their employees.
Chinese contractors are embroiled in what threatens to be a bitter labour dispute with their employees over payment for work done on weekends. Although the contractors have recently appealed to Infrastructure and Technology Minister Johnny Swartz to intervene as their operations have been crippled, the stand off is far from over.
The dispute was sparked by a recent case in which a construction company employee successfully took a Chinese contractor to court saying he was dismissed from work for refusing to do weekends. The court ruled that Saturday and Sunday are rest days, and ordered that the employee be paid around P 20 000 for the hours that he had worked on weekends.
The court ruling opened a floodgate of complaints in the construction industry, as employees either refused to work completely or lined up demanding double payment for work done on weekends.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs Segakweng Tsiane on Friday said they are aware of a number of cases in Francistown and Serowe where employees have raised complaints with their employers on the matter.
The Telegraph is learnt that taking a cue from the court judgment, employees of Tuwana construction in Francistown have taken their employers to court, demanding back pays for the weekends that they have been made to work in the past.
China Jiangsu in Gaborone has also recently grappled with the same situation.
Tsiane cautioned that the court ruling should not be misinterpreted.
“The court ruling should be analyzed within context. The law states that construction company employees work 45 hours a week. If they work Monday to Friday then the weekend are rest days. But if they have not completed their 45 hours by Friday, they should work on weekends,” she said.
She explained that the confusion is caused by employees who simply misconstrue the court ruling and refuse to work on weekends even when they have not fulfilled their 45 hour week by Friday.
The Commissioner of Labour, Rose Sennanyana, said an ad-hoc meeting was scheduled for Monday, at which some Chinese contractors would meet ministry officials to try and find a solution to the persisting problem.
At the Chinese contractors meeting, Sipho Nasha, Senior Public Relations Counselor of Daheng Group, said the industrial court ruling was at variance with the provisions of the Employment Act, which does not prescribe any particular day as rest day.