Saturday, September 26, 2020

Government’s proposed broad-based national pension scheme a non starter

Government’s half-hearted plans to introduce a national social insurance scheme in Botswana that will cater for all categories of employees, will not be helpful unless a clear-cut national employment policy framework would have been formulated to ensure sustainability.

This view was expressed by the country’s trade union leaders in response to initiatives by the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs (MLHA) in that direction.

Letlhogonolo Siele, Minister of LHA, has said that some studies conducted between 1980 and 1996 indicated that the establishment of a broad-based occupational pension scheme for Botswana, although desirable, was impracticable on account of the domination of the economy by small enterprises at the time.

The lack of appropriate institutional arrangements was also found to militate against the establishment of such a scheme.

However, it was on the basis of another study carried out in 1996 that it was concluded that time was now ripe for the establishment of the scheme.

Twelve years later, Siele pointed out, “due to the complexity of this subject, Government has now identified the need for defining concepts and ideas through a policy framework”.

Siele’s words prefaced what purported to be an assessment of the current pension arrangement in the country, early this week, with a view to exploring conceptual issues and principles of design as well as issues of funding and structuring of the occupational – pensions scheme, by stakeholders led by MLHA, under the pretext of a workshop held in Gaborone at Maharaj Conference Centre.

Johnson Motshwarakgole, spokesperson of the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPW), which has a predominantly Industrial-class employees membership, dismissed the idea as a non-starter, adding that it seems brilliant at face value, but the fact that there are a range of other important issues that must be addressed first would reduce the effort to insignificance and, therefore, ‘suspect”.

He pointed out the fact that, at least as far as it is generally known, the retirement scheme, as it is also referred to, requires workers to make contributions from their own salaries.

But given the meager income and wages, combined with unpredictability of employers, who remain largely unregulated, the consistency and guarantee of such a scheme becomes a matter of guesswork.

Thus, according to Motshwarakgole, there is need for a binding employment policy framework that would stipulate in clear terms how, when and what employers are obligated to do to guarantee the security of their employees’ jobs.

Without a law guaranteeing job security, it would not make any sense to come up with such scheme, otherwise, like all other pieces of legislation, which were never implemented, it’s assured to exist only on paper.

Ephraim Mabengano, former leader of the Botswana Diamond Sorters and Valuators’ Union (BDVSU), concurred with Motshwarakgole.

He said that the idea is essentially a good one, but expressed concern that the law must be amended to make it mandatory for employers to register their workers with the department of Labour.

“Once Domestic Workers and Farm workers and Informal Sector employees as well as Causal Labour employees categories are acknowledged by law, it would be possible to have their employers contribute to their pensions,” stated Mabengano.

In addition, Mabengano pointed out that, without a legal provision to dispense with this reality, the proposed scheme, like other existing schemes, will only benefit those already better off when, in fact, the low income categories are the ones most deserving and supposedly the intended beneficiaries.

Although presently many unemployed citizens of this country depend on their siblings or employed members of the family, concern has been raised that the extended family system, which for years has provided a means of support for the ageing and family members who for whatever reason are not able to support themselves, is certainly disintegrating.

To make matters worse, the impact of the ongoing global financial crisis and the economic downturn has resulted in many companies retrenching their employees, including the country’s biggest employers, such as diamond companies.

The uncertainty that continues to hang over the economy is bound to hit hard on those who already have no means as well as those who just lost their jobs.

To compound this problem, Mabengano highlighted the fact that in the present labour statutes, no provision is made for redundancy packages, so there is nothing impeding employers from retrenching workers whenever they please, without even the obligation to offer a valid reason for their action.

Another anomaly worthy of correction is that, since women are still largely uncared for and paid only a paltry 25% of their salary if on maternity leave, they would be left with nothing to contribute for their pension.

Claude Mojafi, Commissioner of Labour, acknowledged the concerns but said that the reason stakeholders from various sectors, including Fund Managers and Insurance companies, were invited was in order to allow for a diverse scope to explore issues.

“Nevertheless, the discussion on the matter is ongoing and other stakeholders will be consulted,” concluded Mojafi.

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