Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Botswana civil service strike escalates

A few  comments on the ongoing public service strike and recent escalations resulting from it. I do not want to dwell much on whether or not the strike was justifiable to begin with. One observation on this though. In Botswana, public sector workers constitute about 40% of the total workforce. This 40% earns more than 54% of total salaries paid in the country. This implies that, on average, public sector workers are 15% better off than employees in the private sector. At the same time, the economy is trying to recover from the worldwide economic crisis caused by economic mismanagement in the West.
This being the case, public sector workers were disgruntled regarding their salaries. Negotiations on salary increments between government and unions broke down and the strike was a fact. So far so good, as everything happened within the framework of the legislation of the country. Government and unions continued failing to come to an understanding. Was there a genuine effort on both sides?  Were salary increments the only issue or was there a political agenda behind the strike as well? The strike took longer than expected, the courts ruled that certain sectors of striking workers had to return to work and the people probably hardest hit by the strike were those often referred to as our ‘future leaders’. Especially Form 3 and 5 students, who are very close to writing their crucial final examinations, were victims of the situation. Finally, their frustration and anger, possibly combined with some incitement by utterly irresponsible elements, finally led to the recent tragic events in Molepolole and elsewhere. Events that are so much unlike Botswana. Events that are in the news worldwide and have an extremely detrimental effect on our international image and on the perception of our investment climate.
The way forward? Government and unions will have to finally sit down seriously with a constructive and willing mind-set and resolve the issue in a reasonable and mutually acceptable manner. Further polarisation will obviously prove completely counter-productive. Moreover, opposition parties should refrain from further misusing the situation for their selfish, cheap and short-term political gain. Students, no matter how understandably frustrated, should behave instead of turning into a vandalising and looting mob. And if allegations that some teachers were responsible for inciting and instigating the student riots are true, those responsible are not worthy of the profession and should be severely dealt with.

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