The Trade Disputes Act (TDA) was formulated some years ago to promote good labour relations between employers and employees. It was meant to help resolve industrial disputes amicably and provides procedures in resolving the disputes. In recent years, the TDA has fallen under fiery threat and attack from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) as they attempt to take away workers’ rights to strike. That attempt was done more than four times by the BDP! It all started as an unpleasant joke from the former Minister of Education and Skills Development, Hon Pelonomi Venson Moitoi. Immediately after the 2010 invigilation boycott by teachers and subsequent 2011 public sector strike, the Minister stated that teachers need to be restrained donkey style (Go ba khiina ÔÇôtying a donkey’s front legs to reduce its speed to snail pace) so that they do not participate in any future industrial action like strike. This was followed by unprocedurally amending the Schedule of the TDA so that it makes teaching services, Veterinary services, Diamond Sorting, Cutting and Selling services essential services. This BDP move was opposed by the unions and other civil society organisations as this was violating International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards.
The attempt to amend the Act failed at Parliament in 2011 as Members of Parliament (MPs) unanimously rejected it. Apparently the BDP had not caucused when they rejected it. At the Mahalapye BDP elective congress on 8 July 2011, President Ian Khama rebuked the BDP MPs and forced them to go and present to parliament the TDA amendments again. Due to their numerical strength, this time the shivering BDP MPs won the vote to make teachers, veterinary, etc essential cadres. BOFEPUSU however took the matter to the High Court where the trade union won the matter. The BDP led government was however unhappy, and they appealed the case, and lost again at the Court of Appeal! In its sworn nature and hatred against workers, the BDP, has once again come up with a bill to amend the same TDA to make teachers, Government Broadcasting services and Immigration and Customs Services essential, once again violating ILO standards. Reports from the unions show that the BDP Labour Committee, chaired by Venson-Moitoi endorsed the TDA amendments in order to reduce the bargaining power of teachers and other cadres so that they remain in poor working and living conditions. Industrial action is a legal provision and is a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). Workers should not be denied to strike when negotiations are not working. Fearing the effect of the TDA Bill on the Goodhope ÔÇô Mabule bye election, the BDP strategically delayed the bill till parliament closed so that it does not disadvantage their campaigns. After the bye-elections, the BDP will launch its missiles towards the workers and make as many sectors as possible essential. The BDP knows very well that it is wrong to take away workers’ rights to strike.
Teachers’ problems are still unresolved after so many years; BURS workers are on go ÔÇô slow after a successful strike an BDP does not care. The TDA should be amended to be in line with ILO standards on essential services. It is also high time the Trade Union and Employers’ Organisation Act (TUEOA) is amended to allow police officers to unionise. The officers’ working and living conditions are not conducive at all as their salaries are still the lowest and the progression opportunities very limited. Police officers also have rights that should be protected through their union. They will also have an opportunity to address unprofessional conduct of some their colleagues. Police around the world are unionised as is the case with South Africa, USA, Canada, etc. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) takes the opportunity to also applaud the Police force which recently celebrated its 131 years of existence, with a demoralised workforce. The general morale of workers is very low and only a new government will rekindle the workers’ morale and confidence. Workers across their respective sectors should therefore be worried by the conduct of the BDP MPs especially on labour issues and do everything to reduce them in parliament, especially when bye election opportunities arise.
*Justin Hunyepa is UDC Labour Secretary