The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions has waded into the debate surrounding the ban on the sale of alcohol in the country.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry, the union through its secretary general, Thusang Butale, the union said it has been following with keen interest the continued restrictions imposed on the sale of liquor in order to control the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have also received reports of workers’ woes in the liquor industry through our affiliates, Botswana Transport and General Workers Union (BTGWU),” Butale.
He called for the regulation of the use of alcohol rather than closing the industry altogether saying the liquor industry is a vital sector that absorbs a lot of labour and an important burgeoning manufacturing sector.
“Our preliminary investigation done with the Institute of Employment and Labour Studies (ILES) shows that the alcohol industry in Botswana provides direct employment to approximately 50 000 people. By direct employment we mean people who are employed in production, distribution, sale of alcohol beverages,” said Butale.
He said the country’s priority in the fight against coronavirus is to save lives and also save the economy against collapse.
“Our strategies to control the spread of the coronavirus should therefore be done diligently to avoid a total collapse of the economy at the same time ensuring that we save lives,” said Butale.
He called on the government to critically engage key stakeholders in the industry as they can provide meaningful solutions that do not put livelihoods of many Batswana workers at risk and ultimately putting the lives of many Batswana at the risk of contracting the virus.
“It is a situation like this that social dialogue becomes critical in our quest for what is best for the country. Leaders in the various economic sectors should be engaged in the course of this balancing act,” said Butale. He noted that reports show that there was no meaningful dialogue between the Government and Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL).
“The Botswana Government should engage both the Botswana Alcohol Industry Association (BAIA), Business Botswana, KBL and BTGWU to find a way in which the industry can continue to operate without putting the lives of Batswana in danger,” said Butale.
He also noted that KBL employees will be placed on unpaid leave until the resumption of alcohol sales and consumption and therefore implored the government to extend wage subsidy to the affected employees.
Admittedly, the union noted there seemed to be a correlation between the spread of the corona virus and the consumption of alcohol beverages.
“This correlation is a result of the behaviour of some people after consuming of liquor. There is a tendency for people to gather in drinking places such as bars and other liquor retail outlets. It is this behaviour that becomes fodder for the spread of the coronavirus,” said Butale.