Botswana Federation of Public Sectors Unions (BOFEPUSU) and Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) have approached the American Embassy in Gaborone to express their concerns with the Trade Dispute Bill No. 12 of 2015 which is currently before Parliament. The Bill in question has introduced Section 46 which has extended the essential service cadres by classifying four more cadres as ‘essential services.” Through the amended Trade Dispute Bill, government intends to add teaching services, state broadcasting services, immigration and custom services, to the essential services list. Under existing legislation, professions categorised as essential services are defined as being of critical importance to the economy. Strikes within these cadres are not legal as they are viewed as being against national interest. Section 46 (1) reads thus; “The following are designated essential service – Air Traffic Control Services ,Botswana Vaccine Laboratory Services, Bank of Botswana. Diamond Sorting, Cutting, and Selling Services, Electricity Services, Fire Services ,Health Services, Operational and Maintenance Services of Railways, Sewerage Services, Water Services, Veterinary Services in Public Service, Teaching Services, Government, Broadcasting Service, Immigration & Customs Services; and Services necessary to the operation of any of the forgoing services. Section 47 reads thus, “No, Employee in essential services shall take part in a strike; and Employer in essential services shall take part in a lockout.” Sunday Standard has turned up information showing that the two unions met with representatives of the American embassy among them the Political and Economic Chief Greg Shaw. The American Embassy officials are said to have promised the two unions that they would brief the ambassador Earl Miller who was reportedly engaged in other official business at the time of the meeting and take up the matter with the United States Government. Responding to Sunday Standard queries, Information Specialist at the American Embassy Ephraim Keoreng said “thank you for your inquiry. Embassy officials recently met with union representatives at their request. We do not share information from private meetings with the press.” BFTU Secretary General Gadzani Mhotsha, BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari and BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa confirmed the meeting. Mhotsha explained that they found it fit to approach the American Embassy because the US Government is keen and passionate about issues relating to democracy. “You will recall that even recently they have been following some disturbing issues unfolding in our country that have a negative bearing on the ideals of democracy. We told them that we need their support on this matter,” said Mhotsha. He added that they have since written to a number of international organisations among them the International Labour Organisation (ILO). For his part Motshegwa said they decided to approach the American Embassy “because we believe it is passionate about human rights. They have recently voiced their concerns regarding some disturbing issues in our country.” According to Rari, it is Botswana Government’s second attempt to extend the cadres of employees that are categorized as essential service. “They attempted to do so immediately after the 2011 Industrial Action in 2012. The 2012 attempt was reversed by the courts of laws after BOFEPUSU took the issue to court on account of non – consultation and usurping the powers of parliament by the Minister of Labour,” said Rari. He noted that the 2012 attempt was reversed by the courts of laws after BOFEPUSU took the issue to court on account of non – consultation and usurping the powers of parliament by the Minister of Labour. “ This time around, government has attempted to rectify the breach that was upheld by the courts by taking the proposed amendments to the Labour Advisory Council to honour procedure, published the draft bill on the government gazette, and took it to parliament for discussions and ultimate adoption,” he said. Rari added that “our considered view is that most of the cadres listed as essential service do not fall within the scope of the definition of essential service as defined by the ILO. The ILO defines essential service as those services whose interruption would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population.” He said the bill provides that any services necessary to the operation of the listed essential services shall also be regarded as essential. In our view, the provision unnecessarily expands the essential service employees. “For instance, a cleaner in a school becomes a provider of essential service for the mere reason that teaching service is an essential service,” he said. He said the Bill gives the Minister the power to declare any other cadre not listed in the bill essential service in the event the interruption of such service during the course of a strike endangers the life, safety or health of the whole or part of the population. “Though it provides that the Minister could only do that after consultation with the Labour Advisory Board, we now know that the Minister is not bound by the board’s advice and that the consultation is done only for procedural purposes,” said Rari. If the bill passes in its current form, Rari said, it would make almost all employees essential, taking away their right to withdraw labour. “The right to withdraw labour is fundamental for employees as it is the strongest bargaining tool that employees would have at their disposal to defend themselves against unscrupulous and exploitative employers. We are therefore vehemently against this bill being passed into law as it is bound to leave employees weak, vulnerable and susceptible to abuse and exploitation,” said Rari.