Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Botswana

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Botswana, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 24 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: 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Japhta Radibe of the Botswana Teachers' Union (BTU) was dismissed after demanding an end to forced early retirement. Botswana Railways went to court to try to stop the recognition of a new union and the government tried to withdraw representation from five major unions. The labour law grants the authorities wide powers to regulate trade unions, and legal strikes are almost impossible to organise.


Trade unions have to operate in a harsh legal environment. The Registrar can deny union registration in the absence of some formal requirement, and there is no procedure for rectifying the deficiencies, resulting in the automatic dissolution and banning of the activities of the organisation. Employers can also petition the Commissioner of Labour to withdraw union recognition. The Trade Disputes Act empowers the Labour Minister to determine the conditions for union membership, and allows the Minister to inspect the financial affairs of a union at any time.

Although unions have the right to bargain collectively both in the private and public sector, to do so they must represent a significant proportion of the workforce.

Finally, it is virtually impossible to call a legal strike: workers must follow complex arbitration and mediation procedures, and disputes are eventually referred to the Industrial Court, which comprises Ministry of Labour officials. The Commissioner must also establish that an industrial dispute exists before strike action can be initiated.


Background: The country remains economically and politically stable. AIDS is still a serious problem with an estimated 300,000 people living with HIV. Twenty villages had to be evacuated in May after the Okavango River burst its banks.

Railway seeks to thwart workers' attempt to unionise: Botswana Railways (BR) went to the Court of Appeal in January to challenge the decision to grant train crew staff permission to form a labour union. The train crew's application was approved by the Industrial Court to unionise but the railways management was not prepared to accept the decision. At the Court of Appeal, BR lawyer Stephen Vivian stated that the workers could only unionise if they represent one third of the employees of the railway. He said that the Industrial Court was wrong to rely on Section 48 of the Trade Unions and Employers Act and interpreting it to mean that the union proposed by the workers represents the majority of employees within one sector of the BR workforce – train crew staff. The court ruled in the union's favour but BR made it clear it would continue to seek to oppose the judgement.

Teacher loses unfair dismissal case: On 25 March the High Court of Botswana finally dismissed the application of Japhta Radibe for unlawful, unfair and wrongful dismissal. Radibe was forced into retirement on 24 October 2007, although he was only 49 years old. This act effectively ended his leadership of the union, which he used to strongly defend teachers' welfare and publicly criticise government education policies such as privatisation and the re-introduction of school fees. Mr. Rabibe sought reinstatement and compensation but his case had been repeatedly delayed without justification.

The Botswana Teachers' Union (BTU) discovered that the Director of Teaching Service Management had also identified 14 heads of secondary schools that have been intimidated because of their involvement in trade union activities.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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