September 5, 2004

Opposition call for government intervention in labour dispute

Opposition parties have called on the government to intervene in the labour dispute between Debswana and the Botswana Mining Workers Union (BMWU). The dispute over the amounts of increased pay and bonuses has led to a strike by Debswana employees. As one the shareholders in Debswana, opposition politicians said government should not be sitting on the fence when there is a labour dispute.
Meanwhile, the Debswana employees who have embarked on a strike last month, have resumed work. Botswana National Front (BNF) spokesman, Paul Rantao commended the workers for compromising in the interest of the national economy. "We expect management to reciprocate in the same manner. The intimidation of employees was not necessary. The workers have resumed work but not out of fear. They still feel their demands are legitimate. At the BNF, we also feel that workers' demands are legitimate," he said. Rantao added that it has become clear that there was a glaring disparity in the salaries of the mine workers and the Debswana management. He said it was a national scandal that the Debswana management was earning huge sums at the expenses of other workers. "We call upon the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) government to do something to address the situation. They should advise Debswana and not just be sitting there as on lookers. We hope Debswana would continue to explore other options of ensuring social and income equity," he said.
The publicity secretary for the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Dumelang Shaleshando accused the Debswana management of focussing on trying to win the media war against the union. "They are driven by their big egos rather than the interests of the company," he said, adding that the government should move in to resolve the dispute. "There is a lot at stake for the government," said Saleshando. He also said that it went without saying that the labour legislation in the country was hostile to workers. According to the BCP spokesman, the legislation made it difficult for workers to wage a strike. He asserted that industrial action is the only option that workers were left with since they were not protected by law. Hence the only tool that workers could use is to withhold their labour.
According to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party's (BDP) Executive Secretary, Botsalao Ntuane, the fate of the dismissed workers would be subject to an agreement to be reached between the management and the union. However, he also said that he was concerned about some organisations which are always commenting on issues which are not their business. He accused the opposition parties of making political mileage out of every situation. The opposition parties, he said, have been making noise about the strike even though the labour dispute had nothing to do with them. (Mmegi/The Reporter, Gaborone)

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