National programs and government policies prioritise protection of foreign investors over local workers, which impedes mine workers from thriving, Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) president Joseph Tsimako has complained.
Speaking at the official opening of the 22nd delegates congress in Francistown last Thursday, Tsimako told delegates and stakeholders that BMWU is at a crossroads because it supports programs by the government such as the national vision 2036 and the mindset change agenda which their implementations continue to be unfavorable to mine workers. He said the union supports economic development that does not trample social development though it has become painfully common for government policies to prioritize investors more than workers.
Tsimako said regulatory institutions in government and its personnel, who have been trusted with the responsibility of protecting workers, are failing workers as they collude with the employers and investors. “Some institutions are failing to intervene on behalf of workers because their statutory powers have been curtailed or limited by the higher office. This is a policy imperative, and it is supported by the national trade policy, minerals policy and citizen economic empowerment policy, which are the key instruments for investor impunity in Botswana, “he added.
He also noted that as a union, they understood clearly that there is a need for the country to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and according to the last State of the Nation Address, FDI in the mining sector was sitting at 3.2 billion in the 2022/2023 financial year. Though the statistics are impressive, Tsimako cited that FDI’s generally come with conditions which include the provision of cheap labour, outsourcing and stability clauses which investors and multinational companies take as a blank cheque to exploit workers.
“The BMWU has raised several issues to the Office of the President and sector ministries concerning the treatment of workers by multinational companies and the appalling trends in the mining industry which contradict the National Vision’s clarion call of “Prosperity for All”. How can mine workers be prosperous when there is no job security in the mining sector? When a mine can be liquidated over night without warning. When employers are phasing out permanent and pensionable employment and replacing it with fixed term contracts, “he said.
Other issues that he highlighted include the use of fixed term contracts as weapons against employees who are vocal in the workplace or those who are active trade unionists, the collective bargaining power of workers continuously being eroded by digitization and automation as well as managers in multinational companies being powerless to make decisions affecting workers because companies are being controlled from outside the country.
In his keynote address, Vice President of Botswana Slumber Tsogwane emphasized that government endeavors to harness the collective strength and wisdom of trade unions with the understanding that their insights and advocacy contribute immensely to the formulation of policies that prioritize the well-being of citizens.
“Together, we forge a path toward a future where the aspirations of workers are not only acknowledged but woven into the very fabric of our nation’s development, ensuring that no one is left behind in the pursuit of prosperity and progress,” he added.
Tsogwane went to ensure delegates and stakeholders that government is concerned after learning of possible negligence of safety in some mines, exploitative wages, abuse of the workforce and inadequate Health and safety in the mining sector, adding that the mining sector plays a critical role in the development of the country, but care must be made to ensure that such benefits are not derived at the expense of the workforce.
Also speaking at the elective congress, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Annah Mokgethi alluded that workers are at the forefront of the development of any economy and as such workers are an important and critical stakeholder for the current government.
She further highlighted that Botswana is currently on its second generation of the Decent Work Country Programme spearheaded by her ministry.
Mokgethi further noted that there are several on-going projects under the programme that would benefit workers locally, some of which include the review of labour laws, review of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, social protection, and the integrated labour administration policy.
The minister also acknowledged that the mining sector is a unique and evolving industry, and as it experiences growth, new modes of doing work are emerging such as the introduction of the continuous operations (CONTOPS) concept.
“The CONTOPS concept has its own challenges, and my ministry continues to engage the mining sector with a view to deal with the issues. The ongoing review of labour laws and the development of an OHS Policy have also taken on board issues relating to this concept,” she added.
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