Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Workers don’t benefit meaningfully from jobs KPI wants to protect

With the announcement that the government intends to ban the use of thermo plastic carrier bags and flat bags of less than 24 microns, manufacturers of thermo plastic materials are understandably up in arms. A fortnight ago, a manager at the Kgalagadi Plastic Industries was quoted in the press as saying that the ban would force the company to close down and employees to lose much-needed jobs.

If nothing else, that assertion was an invitation to assess the quality of a KPI job. Employee sources at the company say that the job quality has not changed in any fundamental way from four years ago when officers from the Gaborone district labour office conducted a three-day labour inspection. The report that came out shows that, in what constituted departure from lawful labour practice, employees were redeployed willy-nilly, staff meetings were irregular, contracts were not updated, the safety and health of employees was compromised, leave days were unlawfully deducted and foreign workers were not assigned local understudies.

This report, which was written on March 19, 2015, was addressed to KPI’s Operational Director and in it, management conceded to all the points that employees raised and promised to correct the anomalies. Seven months later however, Botswana Guardian reported that KPI employees were still so unhappy about their conditions of service that at least five were resigning every month. In the article, employees complained about being underpaid and overworked and about being exposed to physical harm by having to walk home late at night after knocking off. Last Friday, employee sources said that conditions of service have not changed substantially from what they were back then.

To be fair to it, KPI is only using standard language that businesspeople and the government uses to misrepresent reality. Companies often boast about the number of people they have employed. The reality though is that being simply employed and being gainfully employed are two very different things. When the government implemented the Liquor Act that limits trading hours, liquor traders argued that such development would come at great financial cost to tens of thousands of people they had employed across the country. The reality was that those employees were then and are now not gainfully employed because they are underpaid and overworked. In his 2018/19 speech, finance minister Kenneth Matambo quoted employment figures that obscure the fact that some people who are purportedly employed get slave wages that cannot enable them decent living. Statistics Botswana does the same thing with its employment figures because in Botswana, a job is not defined in terms of quality but mere employment status.

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