‘Fight for right to strike’

Speaking in Jwaneng on the occasion to commemorate the first anniversary since 461 Debswana employees lost their jobs, Chimidza claimed that many workers in Botswana are denied the “right to strike” as such action is illegal in a country viewed by others as a bastion of freedom of expression it is illegal for workers to go on strike.

“This is a day to remember those who lost their jobs. The 461 victims were only trying to create a better future. In Botswana there is no right to strike and no right to demand equality. We have to fight for this right”, Chimidza said over the weekend to commemorate the great workers uprising.

The twin commemorations were held in Jwaneng and Orapa, and started with marches that ended with speeches by the union members.

About 200 BMWU members filled the town hall.

Chimidza added that in order to win this right, the union members have to be militant and this would make them strong unionists.

He revealed that Botswana workers are denied the right to strike although the country has ratified the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.

Chimidza went on to say that Botswana workers are not important, but only become valuable during elections.

He was concerned that in Botswana it is only the employers who can go on strike and gave an example of Caratex in Botswana. At the textile company, he explained ‘there was a lock out’, which he said is an employers’ strike while the workers cannot do the same.

The strike which culminated in the unprecedented dismissals was caused by a collapse in negotiations for salaries and bonuses at Debswana. Despite 4000 employees going on strike in all the Debswana mines, only 461 were fired because the company said they were too valuable to go on strike.

These workers included nurses, security personnel, electricians, machine operators, receptionists, fitters, hospital orderlies, sanitation attendants and cleaners.

The rest of the company workers were taken back into the company ranks. Some of the dismissed employees were paraded at the commemorations.

One of the dismissed employees, Captain Ketsweletse told the gathering that the firing of employees shows that Debswana is weak in its negotiation capacity. He explained how they were thrown out of the company houses like worthless pigs.

Ketsweletse said their children went through a traumatic experience and saw the move by Debswana to take their children out of school as revenge.

He also explained that they lost some of their comrades that were on ARV treatments. Debswana is one the first companies in the country to give ARV treatment to HIV positive workers. Messages of solidarity from invited unions like Manual Workers Union, Central Bank Union (CBU), Association of Botswana Tertiary Education Lecturers (Abotel), Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) were read at the occasion. ‘ Mmegi.

September 2006
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