Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers–except police, military, and prison personnel–to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. Some workers are provided the right to strike. The law allows registered unions to conduct their activities without interference and with protection from antiunion discrimination.
The law limits the right to organize. Police, military, and prison personnel belong to employee associations to communicate collective needs and concerns to their government employer. Union representatives reported employee associations were generally not as effective as unions in resolving labor disputes.
Trade unions failing to meet the formal registration requirements are automatically dissolved and banned from carrying out union activities. The law does not protect members of unregistered trade unions and does not fully protect union members from antiunion discrimination. This means that those trying to establish, join, or register a trade union are not protected from antiunion discrimination. The law imposes a number of substantive requirements on the constitutions and rules of trade unions and federations of trade unions. The law also authorizes the registrar to inspect accounts, books, and documents of a trade union at “any reasonable time” and provides the minister of defense, justice, and security with the authority to inspect a trade union “whenever he considers it necessary in the public interest.” It also allows the registrar or attorney general to apply for an order to restrain any unauthorized or unlawful expenditure of funds or use of any trade union property. Employers and employer associations have the legal right to ask the registrar to withdraw recognition of a union, and the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development has the right to suspend a union if it is “in the public interest,” although the former practice is uncommon and the latter has never been employed. Any person acting or purporting to act as an officer of a trade union or federation that fails to apply for registration within 28 days of its formation is subject to sanctions.
The law provides for collective bargaining only for unions that have enrolled onethird of a sector workforce. The law does not allow employers or employers’ organizations to interfere in the establishment, functioning, or administration of trade unions. The law provides a framework for either employers or unions to nullify collective bargaining agreements, and provides a mechanism for the other party to dispute the nullification. The law also permits an employer or employers’ organization to apply to the government to withdraw the recognition granted to a trade union if it establishes that the trade union refuses to negotiate in good faith with the employer.
Employees in “essential services”–including the Bank of Botswana, railway services, health care, firefighting, military, transport services, telecommunications infrastructure, electricity, water, and sewage workers–are not legally permitted to strike. In 2016 the law was amended, codifying the list of essential services and expanding it to include teachers, veterinarians, and diamond cutters. Many of the occupations included in the law fall outside the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) definition of essential services. Department of Labor officials stated they were working with the ILO, trade unions, and an employer’s association to amend the legislation required for compliance with ILO standards. At the ILO’s June meeting of the Committee of Application Standards, Minister of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development Tshenolo Mabeo said the government was engaging with social partners to review employment laws and policies to ensure compliance with international obligations.
The law empowers two officials within the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development (the minister and the commissioner of labor) to refer a dispute in essential services to arbitration or to the Industrial Court for determination.
Civil service disputes are referred to an ombudsman for resolution, and in general, the ombudsman’s decisions are made without government interference. Labor commissioners mediate private labor disputes, and if not resolved within 30 days, disputes of right may be referred to the Industrial Court.
Workers who are members of registered unions may not be terminated for legal union-related activities. Dismissals may be appealed to civil courts or labor officers, which have rarely ordered more than two months’ severance pay. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers, but a judge may order reinstatement if the termination is deemed to be related to union activities. The law does not provide protection to public employees’ organizations from acts of interference by public authorities in their establishment or administration.
The government generally respected freedom of association, although there were some restrictions on the right to collective bargaining. Workers exercised the right to form and join unions, and in general, employers did not use hiring practices to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.
The law severely restricts the right to strike, and strikes were rare. When unions followed legal requirements and exhausted arbitration and notified the government in advance of a planned strike, the government permitted strikes and did not use force on strikers. Due to strike requirements, however, many strikes were ruled illegal, and striking workers often risked dismissal. The law prohibits sympathy strikes. Compulsory arbitration was rare and only applied in cases involving a group dispute of workers in essential services. The government’s list of essential services that are restricted from conducting strikes are well outside of international standards, restricting most sectors in the country from being able to conduct a legal strike. The law prohibits an employer from hiring workers to replace striking or locked-out workers and prohibits workers from picketing only if the parties have concluded an agreement on the provision of minimum services or, if no such agreement has been made, within 14 days of the commencement of the strike.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit and criminalize all forms of forced and compulsory labor, including by children. Civil society representatives reported in previous years the government did not effectively enforce relevant laws, particularly in remote areas, mainly due to a lack of staff and funding. Labor inspectors refer cases to the BPS for prosecution. There were anecdotal reports of forced child labor in cattle herding and in domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). There were also anecdotal reports that members of the Basarwa community were subjected to forced labor conditions on cattle farms in the Ghanzi district. There was no information available indicating to what extent these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The law punishes with compulsory prison labor any willful breach of a contract of employment by an employee who is acting either alone or in combination with others, if such breach affects the operation of essential services. Sentences of imprisonment involving compulsory prison labor may be imposed on any person who prints, makes, imports, publishes, sells, distributes or reproduces any publication prohibited by the president “in his absolute discretion” as being “contrary to the public interest.” Similar sentences may be imposed concerning seditious publications and on any person who manages, or is a member of, or in any way takes part in the activity of an unlawful society, particularly of a society declared unlawful as being “dangerous to peace and order.” The provisions are worded in terms broad enough to allow punishment for the expression of views and, insofar as they are enforceable with sanctions involving compulsory labor, they are incompatible with international standards. A prisoner may be employed outside a prison under the immediate order and for the benefit of a person other than a public authority.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor.
The minimum age for work is 15, but children as young as age 14 may be employed in light work that is “not harmful to [their] health and development” and is approved by a parent or guardian. The law provides that work shall not exceed six hours per day when a child is not in school and five hours when a child is in school but only on vacation days between the hours of 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. Although the law prohibits night work and hazardous underground work for children, it does not cover hazardous activities such as the use of dangerous machinery, tools, and equipment. In addition the law establishes the right of children to be protected from sexual exploitation including prostitution and pornography. The penalty for not reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation ranges from 10,000 to 30,000 pula ($944 to $2,830), or imprisonment for no less than two years but no greater than three years, or both. Perpetrators who engage in sexual exploitation of children are punished if convicted with a fine of no less than 30,000 pula ($2,830) but no greater than 50,000 pula ($4,720), or imprisonment of no less than five years but no greater than 15 years, or both. The law further requires that the government develop programs to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.
The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in all sectors; however, resources were too limited for effective oversight in remote areas. District and municipal councils have child welfare divisions, which are also responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Other involved government entities included offices within the Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. Government officials continued to address public gatherings, cautioning against the worst forms of child labor. Penalties for violations of child labor laws range from a fine to up to 12 months’ imprisonment in most cases, with stricter penalties for cases involving the worst forms of child labor. There was no information available indicating to what extent these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Despite laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, there were anecdotal reports of child labor, mostly on subsistence-level cattle posts or farms, where employees lived with their children in family units, particularly in the Ghanzi region. Civil society representatives noted in such cases where it was likely to exist, child labor resulted from a lack of awareness of the law among parents and their employers.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, tribe, place of origin, social origin, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV status, marital status, creed, or social status. The government generally enforced these regulations.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
According to the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development, the minimum hourly wage for full-time labor in the private sector was determined by sector. The minimum wage for domestic workers was raised 6 percent in October to more than three pula (28 cents) per hour, or approximately 26 pula ($2.45) per day. The minimum wage for workers in the agricultural sector was also raised to 700 pula ($66) per month. According to a 2011 survey of formal-sector employment by Statistics Botswana, monthly average earnings were 4,339 pula ($410) for citizens, 13,055 pula ($1,230) for noncitizens, and 4,731 pula ($446) for all employees. Formal-sector jobs generally paid well above minimum wage. The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, and each of the country’s districts had at least one labor inspector. There was no information available indicating to what extent these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The law permits a maximum 48-hour workweek, exclusive of overtime, which is payable at time-and-a-half. The law does not specifically outline rest periods or prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. The labor law also applies to farm and migrant workers.
There are limited occupational safety and health (OSH) requirements. The government’s ability to enforce OSH legislation remained limited due to inadequate staffing and lack of clear ministerial jurisdictions. The law provides protection against termination for workers who verbally complain about hazardous conditions; however, no specific provisions in the law allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.
The Department of Labor within the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development employed approximately 53 inspectors to oversee and enforce labor regulations. The government generally enforced wage and hour requirements, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to inspect all workplaces.
The primary forms of compensation for labor in the informal sector were housing and food, particularly in the agricultural and domestic service areas. Wages in the informal sector was frequently below the minimum wage. Informal-sector workers generally were covered by the same legal protections available to formal-sector workers.
Foreign migrant workers were reportedly vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, mainly in domestic labor.