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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Botswana

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Botswana, 9 June 2007, 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: 1,700,000
Capital: Gaborone
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The bitter dispute in the mining industry at both Debswana Mining and BCL continued, with suspicions that the management was trying to entrap the union. The government removed the teachers' union president, and prevented unionisation of higher grades of postal workers.

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 s/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

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, employers still ignore workers' rights and the government is also either unable or unwilling to confront employers, especially those in the mining and financial sectors.

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.

Violations in 2006

Debswana and BCL management cause havoc in BMWU: The long-running dispute at the Debswana diamond operations continues. Two mining companies, Debswana (which is jointly owned by De Beers and the government of Botswana), and BCL (an enterprise of global mining house LionOre) tried to subvert the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU), by instigating a wildcat strike at BCL to get workers sacked, withholding union fees and starting a rival, 'yellow' (company-sponsored) union.

BCL Management urges illegal strike as excuse for sackings: In 2006 BCL management encouraged workers to hold a non-sanctioned strike, and then sacked 181 workers, saying that it was illegitimate as union leaders were in prison.

BCL entered into an illegal collective agreement with dissidents within the Selebi-Phikwe branch of BMWU, although they had been jailed for failing to comply with court orders to turn union dues over to the national union. BCL continues to support these union dissidents, and has refused to recognise a bono-fide election of a new Selebi-Phikwe branch committee.

De Beers uses dirty tricks against BMWU: The BMWU fears that the Debswana Mining Company has been trying to sponsor union dissidents in order to cause havoc in the BMWU.

In 2005, 461 miners were sacked, including the Botswana Mining Workers' Union (BMWU) Chairman, Chimbidzani Chimidza, and General Secretary, Jack Tlhagale, for taking part in what the government deemed was an illegal 13 day strike in August-September 2004. After failing to get the union penalised for going on strike in 2005, Debswana management tried to intimidate the sacked BMWU leaders by summoning them to internal hearings. The 461 dismissed strikers had still not been reinstated by the year's end.

Teachers Union President sacked for union activities: Japhta Radibe, President of the Botswana Teachers' Union (BTU) and President of the Southern Africa Teachers' Organisation was "retired" from teaching on 24 October, although he was only 45 years old. This sacking seems to have been a reaction to his support for social issues and teachers' welfare. The previous BTU President, Phillip Matoane was also dismissed from his post at the Seepapitso secondary school under similar circumstances. Japhta Radibe was reinstated on 7 November, after hundreds of BTU members took to the streets to protest and intense media coverage.

Botswana Post puts restriction on union membership: On 3 August, Botswana Post management gave the Botswana Postal Services Workers' Union a 10-day ultimatum that any union members in the higher grades would be excluded from union membership. This effectively prevented all experienced union members – such as managers, accountants and public relations officers – from belonging to the union.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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