As early as three months into the pandemic, permanent layoffs had already begun to spread beyond industries such as hospitality which are directly affected by the measures put in place to curb the disease spread.
A year plus few months after the declaration of the SOE in April 2020 by Parliament, bits and pieces of information from the government enclave shows that officials are finding it very difficult to ensure compliance to labor laws.
The Ministry responsible for Employment, Labor Productivity and Skills Development has since admitted that under the current Covid environment it has become complicated to carry out its mandate. As a result, many Batswana continue to lose not just their jobs and some of their employment benefits.
A Statistics Botswana’s survey that seeks to capture the impact of COVID-19 on jobs and businesses in Botswana estimate that the total number of persons who lost jobs or businesses due to COVID-19 in 2020 reached 67,132 while those who gained employment because of COVID-19 was 19,112. Out of the total of 67,132 persons who reported to have lost jobs/ businesses due to COVID-19, only 2,720 (4.1%) were able to find new jobs.
Botswana’s total labour force has been estimated at 972,606 persons, comprising of 479,693 (49.2%) males, and 492,913 females (50.8%).
This week Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Gasiemelwe Goitsemang told Parliament`s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that there are instances where the Ministry cannot help where possible job losses have become possible. One of those instances, Goitsemang said, include voluntary separation a variety of actions, but most commonly when an employee’s decision to leave a job is on their own accord. Another is when a company or business has collapsed and the employer can honor the employees’ contracts as there is no money generated.
The Members of Parliament however expressed their worry that the voluntary separation has been used to remove employees from their jobs under the current State of Emergence protocols which forbids it. Despite the State of Emergency (SOE) regulations which were renewed in April this year and still prohibits outright retrenchments, there are fears that the economy will bleed more jobs.
The employers are said to be offering it to employees so that the employee does not lose their benefits as most employers have accepted the possibility of cutting down staff once the State of Emergence has been lifted. While some employees accept the voluntary separation under duress.
“Employees can either risk losing their job and packages once SOE is lifted or they can get their benefits and not risk waiting on a job that may not want them in the near future”, Goitsemang informed the MPs.
Goitsemang said the labour ministry has heard about it but it is difficult to address it if the two parties have reached an agreement.
As per labour laws and SOE regulations the employer is obligated to inform the office of the commissioner of labour if they are to retrench any employee.
Goitsemang said If some companies happen to retrench without informing the office of the commissioner, then it means they will be operating on the wrong side of the law and corrective measures will be undertaken.
Furthermore, PAC members queried Goitsemang, on the issue of unpaid leaves, employees sent home without pay all due to Covid 19 particularly in the Tourism sector.
“The issue of unpaid leaves in the tourism sector is very problematic, if the business has collapsed then the questions is what can be done”,
He admitted that it is something the labour department does not have a solution to.
“If the company has collapsed then we can’t force them to pay when there is no money being generated.”
In the meantime, as Covid 19 continues to ravage the economy other challenges currently experienced by the Ministry include the failure to appear for hearing by company executives.
“Failing to appear for hearings we have identified it as one of our challenges because it has proven to be expensive on the side of Government. As we have arbitrators and mediators we engage as part timers, when they come and people who have to appear don’t, we still have to pay them. However, justice is not done and it is a concern. We are doing a comprehensive review of labour laws, as a way to address it.”
LIQUOR EMPLOYEES HARDEST HIT
Following the recent indefinite ban on liquor sale more jobs are on the line in the hospitality industry.
Botswana beverage Association Spokesperson Tumelo Mmusi says liquor operators have taken a decision to cut further jobs due to low business caused by indefinite closures.
Mmusi said since last year, over 4 000 jobs have been lost in the sector, adding that over 700 outlets have since closed.
“Government has really failed us because it does not consult, so in this case, liquor operators have no choice but to cut jobs because they have nothing to pay their employees”
“We have previously proposed to government to save the sector by cushioning the most affected operations but that has not materialized to date”
“We had requested government to provide club owners with an allowance, workers with subsidy and dish out a bail out fee for clubs as well because as we speak, they long closed” says Mmusi.
Mmusi highlighted that more liquor businesses have already indicated the desire to shut down operations permanently.
He said they have previously proposed sustainable solutions to government, indicating that government has shown that it does not care about the sector.
Botswana Alcohol Industry Association (BAIA) says there can only be one solution to the sustainability of the sector – roll out of the vaccines.
BAIA Spokesperson Jacob Sesinyi says one of their members – Kgalagadi Breweries has since stopped production.
“KBL one of the largest employers in the liquor sector has stopped production because alcohol has shelf life, so they cannot produce because they have no idea as to when it shall be reopened”
Sesinyi says every single time there is closure, a good number of liquor businesses are unable to come back and jobs are lost forever.
Botswana this week banned the sale of alcohol and closed all liquor outlets blaming elbow benders of spreading Covid 19.