Botswana is listed for the second time among the world's worst countries that violate workers by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The report that reviews workers' rights in law in 148 countries placed Botswana among 48 countries that have systematic violations of workers’ rights. This is the same position that Botswana received in the ITUC's eighth report last year.

In an interview with Botswana Guardian, Secretary-General of Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), Thusang Butale says as an affiliate of ITUC Africa they have been sending their survey reports to the mother body, ITUC, regarding violations of workers’ rights ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.

Butale says they are happy that Botswana has been listed as among violators of workers’ rights because since the pandemic, they have had a high number of issues relating to unlawful dismissals from work by different employers both in the private and public sector.

“You can see from the report that we have been graded as one of those countries that has systematic violation of trade union rights. If you look at the regulations that were made when the country was placed under six months State of Emergency last year April, they curtail workers’ right to strike.

“This right is one of the powerful tools that workers can use against any employer and by removing it you are completely killing the bargaining power of workers,” Butale explained.

When the country was placed under State of Emergency in 2020, several workers decided to take part in industrial action because employers were violating their conditions of work, by cutting down salaries and forcing them to take unpaid leave.

About 100 workers at Kromberg & Schubert staged a sit-in last year at the company’s premises demanding that the employer pay them a living wage. The same thing was done by workers at Avani Resort Hotel last year.

Earlier this year former Minister of Employment and Labour Productivity, Machana Shamukuni told Parliament that about 457 companies notified the ministry as per the requirements of the Employment Act of their intention to retrench staff due to the effects of COVID-19.

In the report ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow said unions are there when there are challenges to monopoly power or human and labour rights violations, and without unions there will be no just transition in the face of climate change and technological change.

“Governments and employers have to face reality and recognise the state of the labour market when 60 per cent of people are in informal work with no rights, no rule of law and little or no social protection.

“This exclusion now goes beyond developing countries and includes workers in platform businesses, big tech and tech spinoffs,” Burrow explained.

BFTU Secretary-General also says, “If you look at trade union rights, they have been taken away by COVID-19 regulations. We are not mentioned as one of the societies to convene meetings during this ongoing State of Emergency.

“We have raised this a couple of times because we have not been able to function as trade unions. Even though some workers are declared essential services, their trade unions still are unable to operate and this gives room for employers to exploit them.”

This is not the first time that Botswana was reported on violations of workers’ rights. In 2017, the country was reported by BFTU to International Labour Organisation (ILO) for violating Convection 87 and 98 by refusing to allow Prison Officers to join or form unions.

The 10 worst countries for working people listed are Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Mynanmar, Philippines and Turkey. The worst region in the world is the Middle East and North Africa.

Botswana made it to the list because the country does not respect freedom of association as enshrined in the constitution, and restrictions on trade unions’ right to organise their administration.

Trade Unions and Employers' Organisations Act imposes a number of substantive requirements on the constitution and rules of trade unions and federations of trade unions, including that membership of a trade union is dependent on the person's employment in an industry in which the trade union is directly concerned, and on the person not being employed by the trade union.

The ITUC Global Rights Index depicts the world’s worst countries for workers by rating 148 countries on a scale from 1 to 5+ on the degree of respect for workers’ rights. Violations are recorded each year from April to March.