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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Botswana

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Botswana, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 1,900,000
Capital: Gaborone
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The government uses various legal provisions to control the unions. The harassment of the leader of the teachers' union continued.

Trade union rights in law

Workers have right to form unions: All workers, with the exception of police officers, the Botswana Defence Force and the prison service are allowed to join unions, and the ILO has requested Botswana to amend its legislation to allow prison officers to join a union. Workers may not be fired for union-related activities.

Ministry has power to interfere in union affairs: Registration of trade unions, via the Registrar at the Ministry of Labour, is compulsory. The law requires a minimum of 30 employees in order to form a trade union and the Trade Disputes Act empowers the Labour Minister to determine the conditions for union membership. If a trade union is not registered, union committee members are not protected against anti-union discrimination. Unions are allowed to affiliate to international trade unions and receive funds from outside the country without the Minister's approval.

Collective bargaining allowed: Collective bargaining is allowed, provided the union represents at least 25 per cent of the workforce.

Extensive government powers over industrial relations: The 2004 Trade Disputes Act gives the government extensive power over industrial relations. The right to strike is recognised, but workers must submit their demands to complex arbitration procedures, which unions say always result in strikes being declared illegal. Sympathy strikes are prohibited. The Act does not protect workers' organisations against acts of interference by employers and their organisations.

The Act sets out the procedure to be followed once a dispute is deemed to exist: first, the matter is submitted to the Commissioner of Labour, who, if she/he decides that a dispute exists, refers the matter to mediation or failing that, to an Industrial Court, composed of Ministry of Labour officials.

Export processing zone: The same labour laws apply to Botswana's export processing zone as to the rest of the country.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

While workers (with the exceptions noted above) have the right to organise, in practice this is restricted, as each government sector has its own rules.

There is very little collective bargaining, as few unions meet the 25 per cent representational criteria and only the mineworker and diamond sorter unions have enough organisational power. The government has used legislation to order strikers back to work.

Employers' attitudes: Although labour legislation has improved in many areas over recent years and the government has ratified all ILO core labour standards, many employers still ignore workers' rights and the government is also either unable or unwilling to confront employers, especially those in the mining industry. The Trades Disputes Act is deeply unpopular with the unions. "State control over the mediation and arbitration process has sown deep mistrust and the workers rarely expect a fair hearing," says the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), which is calling for the labour laws to be redrafted to replace the employer-favoured legislation. The government has said that it is working on a new labour bill, but unions complain that as proposed, it will not improve current hostile employer-worker relations.

Interference in the mining sector: The industrial tribunal still has to give its ruling on the two labour disputes that broke out in 2004 and 2006 in the Debswana and BCL companies. In both cases the management tried to undermine the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU). In 2004, 461 workers at Debswana were sacked for taking part in a strike that was ruled illegal by the authorities. In 2006, the management of BCL, a subsidiary of LionOre, supported a dissident union, several of whose leaders were in prison for corruption, which encouraged the workers to hold a strike that the management knew would be illegal. The manoeuvre resulted in the sacking of 181 strikers.

Harassment of a teachers' union leader: The authorities' attacks against Japhta Radibe, President of the Botswana Teachers' Union (BTU) and the Southern Africa Teachers' Organisation, continued. In 2006 he had been "retired" from teaching, at 45 years old, before being reinstated after the solidarity campaign launched by his union. This year he was again forced to retire by the authorities, as a ploy aimed at silencing the notorious activist, whose post as leader of the BTU was subject to his being employed as a teacher. His union reacted by appointing him President of the BTU's Union Centre. In that capacity he was able to attend the ILO's International Labour Conference as a workers' representative and the World Congress of Education International. At the end of the year the dispute was still running.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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