Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 07:40 GMT

2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Botswana

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Botswana, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 25 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 barriers placed on freedom of association by law are excessively severe. It is almost impossible to strike legally. Managers in the private sector, which includes a large number of foreign companies, have no desire to bargain with workers' representatives.

Trade union rights in law

Workers have the 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% of the workforce.

The right to strike: 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 and violations in 2008

Background: In April, Seretse Ian Khama was appointed by Parliament to succeed his father Festus Mogae at the head of state. As the world's leading diamond producer, the country is experiencing strong economic growth.

Very restricted right of association: 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. Collective bargaining remains embryonic, as few unions meet the 25% representational criteria and only the mineworker and diamond sorter unions have enough organisational power. In recent years the government has used legislation to order strikers back to work.

Employer hostility and hypocrisy: Although labour legislation has improved in many areas over recent years and the government has ratified all ILO core labour standards, many employers still trample workers' rights, and the government is also either unable or unwilling to confront employers. Trades unions criticise the behaviour of foreign investors who, too often, maximise their profits on their workers' backs, going as far as to invoke their poor knowledge of English as an excuse for refusing to negotiate with their workers. This applies in particular to the many Chinese employers in the retail distribution trade. In July the management of Sinohydro, a Chinese company building the Dikgatlhong dam at Robelela, refused to negotiate with representatives of workers who had just gone on strike. The employer stated that the strike was illegal and called the strike committee a "group of terrorists". He also added that he had "assigned our Public Relations Officers to guide workers on how to set up a proper committee". Working conditions in this company are said to be deplorable (lodging, hygiene and safety, non-renewable three-month contracts, etc.).

Strikers still waiting for a court decision: The industrial tribunal still has to give its ruling in appeal 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.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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