By Staff Reporter
High unemployment, especially of young people, poses a threat to the security and future of Botswana, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has admitted.
And President Masisi says his vision to build a Botswana that provides opportunity and dignity for all cannot be achieved without the working class’ active participation.
During a luncheon hosted for public sector labour union leaders on Monday, President Masisi said he was aware of the discontentment that the public sector unions had on some issues and that relationship between trade unions and the government has not always been cordial.
“I am grateful that you have honoured my invitation to this reception this morning. I found it necessary that we should interact, get to know each other better, as well as to share views and ideas about the future of this beautiful country of ours in a relaxed atmosphere,” President Masisi said. “As Government, Batswana have entrusted us with the responsibility to lead this nation. Therefore, my vision is to build Botswana that provides opportunity and dignity for all. Our country is confronted by numerous challenges such as high unemployment, low productivity and poverty among some sections of our population particularly the Youth.”
He said, however, due to limited financial resources, the road ahead requires prioritisation of issues, which challenges the government alone can never deliver on to the satisfaction of all the people.
“Therefore, concerted efforts by Government, employers, workers, and all Batswana is a prerequisite for any meaningful progress towards the attainment of the sustainable development of our country. In my inaugural address, I made a commitment to fight unemployment by, among others things, making job creation a priority. The challenge is undoubtedly enormous,” President Masisi said. “My Government is thus, prepared to work with all those who are committed to this course. As the labour movement, your contribution is critical and essential , particularly in view of your capacity to promote participation of workers in driving Government programmes and strategies designed for employment creation.”
He further said the relationship between government and the trade unions must therefore, be anchored on mutual respect, partnership and recognition of the fact that the two need each other to move Botswana forward.
“This is important if we want to achieve harmonious industrial relations…It is worth noting that Botswana labour organisations’ active participation in labour-related issues dates back to pre-independence days. During the colonial period, labour organisations were vocal and in fact, some contributed immensely to Botswana’s Independence,” President Masisi recollected. “Labour organisations like the Francistown Employees Union (1949), the Serowe Workers Union (1958), the Bechuanaland Protectorate Workers’ Union (1959), the Bechuanaland Trade Union Congress (1962) and the Bechuanaland General Workers Organisation were formed back then. The Botswana Civil Service Association (BCSA) and the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) have their origins as far back as 1937 and 1949 as the African Civil Service Association and the Bechuanaland Protectorate African Teachers’ Association, respectively. All these labour movements existed before Botswana joined the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and before we ratified any Convention. To date, progress progress has been achieved in the labour relations environment of this country.”
He said Botswana only joined the ILO in 1978, and subsequently ratified fifteen (15) Conventions, including the eight Core Conventions.
“Following that wise move, Government in collaboration with employers and workers representatives made a great effort to domesticate the Conventions to ensure that labour laws and policies are aligned to the ratified conventions, hence your existence as Public Sector Unions, the two (2) Trade Union Federations and the celebration of Labour Day as a Paid Public Holiday,” he said. “It is essential to reflect on this background because it presents a measure of progress so far achieved in our labour relations system, and most importantly provides a springboard for way forward and growth. As I stated in my maiden speech, unemployment, especially of young people, poses a threat to the future and security of this country.”
President Masisi implore public sector labour unions to join forces with the government and tackle this critical challenge of youth unemployment.
“The labour movement and workers in general stand to derive substantial benefits from increased employment. The power of any trade union lies in the number of its members. Therefore, as more and more Batswana attain gainful employment, it is a positive outcome for the growth of your various organisations,” President Masisi continued.
He then turned to the issue of workers’ rights.
“Let me turn to the issues pertaining to workers’ rights, which undoubtedly are dear to you and to us too. Government prides itself in the progress that this country has made in promoting workers’ rights. We have come up with labour laws that do not only protect workers from unsafe and unhealthy conditions of work, but also protect their rights,” President Masisi said. “I am aware of some of your concerns, which include the De-registration of Public Service Bargaining Council, which has caused a lot of discontentment amongst stakeholders; Review of the Labour laws, which initially excluded the Public Service Act and Trade Disputes Act; appearance of our country before the ILO Committee on Application of Standards and conditions of service, in general.”
He said the engagement between ILO and member countries on compliance with ILO conventions has been going on for many years.
“In the process of implementing the Conventions, member states do encounter challenges, some of which have to do with interpretation of the provisions of the conventions. Therefore, the engagement with ILO is a healthy one that is intended to enhance compliance with ILO conventions,” President Masisi said. “My Government continues to seek ways to improve workers’ conditions. To this end, the Labour Law Review Committee, which was established last year, is an essential and important tripartite structure for social dialogue which Government, Workers and Business have an equal voice. It is seized with the critical task of reviewing various labour legislation.The Committee is burdened with the responsibility of ensuring that it comes up with legislative recommendations that fully protect and promote industrial peace and harmony in a manner that encourages and facilitates economic growth and job creation. Our relationship, although not cordial at times, requires that we work together for the good of employees in the Public Service.”
He then invited workers to join the government in refraining from pre-empting the outcomes of the Labour Law Review Committee.
“They should give it time, space, and respect that it needs to complete its monumental task and I pledge the same from Government,” President Masisi assured…Regarding social dialogue in the Public Service, it is regrettable that currently there is no Public Service Bargaining Council. It is therefore, imperative that, together as partners, we should ensure a resuscitation of this important platform if we are to have a more constructive and effective engagement,” he urged. “To this end, Government is in the process of engaging all Public Service Unions to operationalise the Council by collectively agreeing on a new Constitution. It is hoped that a new Constitution will avoid some of the pitfalls of the previous one. It is my Government’s wish, subject to your views and wishes and considerations, to have the Council up and running by September 2018.”
President Masisi further assured that the government will always strive to create a conducive, enabling, rewarding and pleasant working environment for workers in the hope that they in turn will be as productive, efficient and effective as possible.
“I therefore, urge all workers’ organizations to join Government in being resilient in the way we engage in social dialogue for the collective benefit of workers, economic growth and job creation. This resilience can be effectively demonstrated by treating each other in a manner that displays goodwill and sincerity. Finally, let me point out that my Government is open to any suggestions that can take this country forward on the path of sustainable socio-economic development. The Partnership between Government and the Trade Unions is critical if we are to move the development agenda of Botswana forward,” said President Masisi. “This journey is our collective responsibility and in everything we do, we should put the national interest at the forefront. This will ensure a lasting legacy of a country that is democratically sound and economically vibrant to enhance high standards of living for its citizens above all else.”