I am delighted to join the workers in Botswana and across the globe to commemorate the 2021 International Workers’ Day.
Let me take this opportunity to observe a moment of silence in remembrance of our citizens and residents who have departed during the course of this year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. I also extend my deepest condolences to the over six hundred bereaved families who lost their loved ones to this pandemic. Today, we commemorate this Day in the second year of the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic and just like last year, this important day will not be characterised by celebrations. Since the outbreak of COVID19, it has become evident that this disease is much more than a health crisis, given the severe economic shocks, disruptions and suffering it has caused in its wake throughout the world.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) an estimated One Hundred and Fourteen (114) million jobs were lost in 2020, translating to a global labour income decline of percent, which amounts to Three Trillion and Seven Hundred Million US Dollars (US$ 3.7 trillion). Botswana, like other countries, has not been spared from the impact of this disease. Some of the notable effects of the pandemic are salary cuts, closure of businesses, forced and unpaid leave and unilateral variation of contracts of employment. In view of these challenges, my Government had to take unprecedented actions to bring the disease and its effects under control. Such actions included the declaration of the State of Public Emergency (SOE), introduction of health and travel regulations in order to curb the spread and transmission of the disease and safeguard the livehoods of our people.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the declaration of the State of Public Emergency, prohibited businesses from carrying out retrenchments or dismissal of employees. In the initial stages of the outbreak, representatives of the tripartite parties namely Government, Employers and Workers had regular engagements in order to provide guidance to the world of work. These engagements resulted in the development of guidelines whose intention was to protect employment. Although the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines has renewed hope for economic recovery as projections indicate a robust economic recovery for the second half of 2021, one of biggest lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic is that, there is a critical need to invest in social protection systems and occupational health and safety.
To that effect, through the Botswana Decent Work Country Programme (BDWCP), work has commenced to develop a National Occupational Health and Safety Policy to enhance the existing social protection provisions. Furthermore, Government is working on a social protection framework to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on our economy which include continuous engagement with companies to assist them to find alternative ways of avoiding job losses. These measures have been made to safeguard the interests of both the employer and employees during this difficult period in our nation’s history.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as we commemorate this very important day in our Labour calendar, we are also reminded of the contribution and dedication that men and women in our country have made to improve our economy over the years. We are also reminded that it is people who are the key drivers for any economic transformation we want to pursue as a nation. As you all know, we have committed ourselves through our National Vision 2036, to be a high income country with an export led economy underpinned by diversified, inclusive and sustainable growth driven by high levels of productivity. I am aware of the state of affairs regarding some labour relations issues in the country like the full implementation of the Decent Work Country Program (BDWCP) and the delayed resuscitation of the Public Service Bargaining Council. I am reliably informed that, despite the plethora of past challenges and obstacles, there is hope for the Bargaining Council. Under the guidance of a mutually agreed upon independent facilitator, the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) together with all Public Service Unions have been engaging each other in a spirit of mutual respect and good faith. I am further informed that the parties have resolved to seek expert advice from the ILO to address outstanding issues in order to complete the task of resuscitating the Council.
Moreover, the ongoing review of our labour laws such as the Employment Act, the Public Service Act and the Trade Disputes Act, to align them with international labour standards, will go a long way in creating decent work for our people. This will also pave way to effectively address issues such as fair income, equal opportunities for both men and women in the work place, security and protection in the work place. This work further re-affirms our commitment as Government to better the lives of Batswana. However, I am cognisant of the fact that as we emerge from the impact of this scourge, there is a need for us to ensure that we create an opportunity for sustainable job creation in our country. The impact of the COVID 19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenge of unemployment, particularly amongst our young people. To this end, as you may be aware, Government has developed an Economic Recovery Transformation Plan and committed billions of Pula in the long term to resuscitate the economy thereby creating jobs for our youth.
As I conclude, I want express my deepest gratitude to all frontline workers, particularly, the medical doctors, health professionals, immigration officials, teaching professionals, drivers, cleaners, and our law enforcement agencies and employee organizations who have contributed immensely to the containment of the pandemic in numerous ways. I want to encourage you look to the future with hope and the same determination our fore fathers had when they changed the economic prospects of our country after independence, making us the successful nation we are known as the world over. That same spirit which they had is the one they have instilled in us. The future of this country is in our hands. Let us unite as a people, remain strong and focused to emerge victorious from this pandemic.
Please be reminded to continue observing the health protocols of washing hands your hands with clean water and soap or sanitizing, wearing masks properly, social distancing and avoinding unnecessary travel and gathering. I thank you for your attention.