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

Union activists continued to face reprisals. Collective bargaining rights were undermined in both the public and private sector. The 2004 Trade Disputes Act grants the authorities wide powers to regulate trade unions, and legal strikes are almost impossible to organise.

Trade union rights in law

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.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) party swept to victory in a parliamentary election in October 2009, securing a new five-year term, with Seretse Khama Ian Khama as President.

Collective bargaining still weak: Collective bargaining remains weak, as few unions meet the 25% representational criteria and only the mineworker and diamond sorter unions have enough organisational strength, but even they encounter difficulties. There was controversy in the public sector during the year, over claims that too many issues were being decided in advance by the government-appointed task force, before bargaining could begin.

Union leader sacked: At the beginning of the year the General Secretary of the Botswana Railways Train Crew Union (BRTCU), Thapelo Molefe, was dismissed by Botswana Railways on disciplinary grounds. He had allegedly used vulgar language against a senior train controller, a charge he firmly denied. Three weeks before the disciplinary hearing, Molefe had represented the union before the Industrial Court to demand recognition of the union's right to represent employees in negotiations with management. Colleagues believed it was the winning of that court case that led directly to the disciplinary procedure. A number of other leaders belonging to the railway crew union had reportedly been dismissed shortly or sometime following cases before the labour court, under trumped-up charges.

Employer breaches collective bargaining rules: In March, the Botswana Mining Workers Union (BMWU) took the Tati Nickel mine management to court after the collapse of negotiations after down-sizing. Both sides exchanged proposals for a voluntary separation package (VSP), but before actual negotiations to agree the terms of a final package could begin, management chose to go ahead and present the VSP to workers.

Situation of dismissed teachers' union leader still unresolved: The court case concerning the forced early retirement of the former President of the Botswana Teachers' Union (BTU), Japhta Radibe, was still not resolved by the end of the year. Radibe was "retired" from teaching on 24 October 2007, although he was only 49 years old. This sacking seems to have been designed to prevent him from continuing his role as union leader, 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. Radibe is seeking reinstatement and compensation for the years he has been out of work, but his case has been delayed without justification. The teachers' union received information that the Director of Teaching Service Management has also identified 14 heads of secondary schools that have been intimidated because of their involvement in trade union activities. Two were sacked in 2008: Mr Ruda and Mr Habangana. In addition, attempts have been made by the Director of Teaching Service Management, who forced Mr Radibe to retire, to develop informal contacts with the BTU lawyer. This is perceived as undue interference, putting the lawyer under pressure. Minor consolation came in September when a court ordered the Ministry of Education of Botswana to pay Japhta Radibe his leave days after he was forced into early retirement.

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