Trade and Industry minister, Neo Moroka, continues to barnstorm through the country to get endorsement for his controversial liquor trade regulations. Last Monday evening, he was in Old Naledi in Gaborone where a liquor trader warned him that if government decides to introduce the stringent liquor trade regulations he has proposed, he would cause national unemployment to skyrocket.
“Bars employ many people who in turn provide for their families,” said a speaker from the floor during the question-and-answer time.
That point was being made for the umpteenth time but how much water would it hold if it were seriously interrogated? One too many bar employees complain about conditions of service in their workplaces. Bar employees are not paid overtime, are not paid on time, have no insurance, are subjected to sexual harassment and suffer daily emotional abuse and, in some cases, are not transported home when they knock off at night.
At first, the advent of the super mall seemed a wonderful employment opportunity but what has happened is that most of the young girls who work in bars located within those facilities are exploited.
An 18-year old who works at a bar in Game City says that she is not paid a salary; her remuneration comes in the form of tips that she gets from customers. It has been possible for her employer to do this because she has signed no contract with him. She is just cheap labour with no rights and is one of the many with such disadvantages.
And indeed Oliphant Mfa, the assistant minister of Labour and Home Affairs, revealed that labour offices countrywide are inundated with cases of unfair labour practice on the part of bar owners.
“There are cases of bar employees who work 14 to 20 hours a day, are not paid accordingly, never take any days off, never go on leave and are not paid gratuity. If bar owners are going to argue that they create employment, what sort of employment is that?” Mfa posed.
The chairperson of the Liquor Traders’ Association (LTA), Murray Dipate, characterised the assertion that bar employees’ conditions of service are exploitative as “absolute nonsense”.
“We may not directly insure our employees but in the event that one of them gets injured at the workplace, they would be covered under the Workman’s Compensation. We also meet the minimum wage requirement,” Dipate said.
He further asserted that the importance of liquor trade creates employment for the public transport industry.
“We have public transport operators who collect our staff when they knock off at night. Besides providing employment for those people, that also shows that we take good care of our employees,” he said.
By employing 65 000 bar employees (October 2005 figure provided by LTA) Dipate argued that as liquor traders, they have eased burden that would otherwise have been borne by the government.
“Some of our employees are bread winners for their families. They are able to buy food and put their children through school with the money they get from working for bars. If they weren’t in our employ, they would be on the government’s destitute payroll. I know it may not be possible for you to visit their houses but some of them have really nice houses with good furniture they bought with bar salaries,” Dipate said.
His assertions notwithstanding, Dipate is fully aware of the fact that not all bar owners are generous. He acknowledged the fact that while he may pay P900 a month to a bar maid at his bar, he cannot go to Mr X “and ask him to pay the same amount”.
The problem as he sees it, is that bar employees have no association of their own through which they can agitate for their rights as workers.
“Personally, I have encouraged them to form such an association,” he said.
Conversely, Dr Monageng Mogalakwe, a labour sociologist at the University of Botswana, lays blame at the door of the Department of Labour.
“If there is exploitation of bar employees, then it would be because of lack of enforcement of the law. There should be no exploitation of workers because the Employment Act protects their rights,” Mogalakwe said.