Improving Productivity – Reversing The Nemesis



Two years ago, on 30th May 2021 the highly publicized and intensively promoted Reset Agenda was launched – but despite the hullabaloo almost nothing seems to have changed. Unemployment, social issues, low productivity (non-mining sectors) and an abrasive non- productive civil service remain. Abrasive and non-productive were accusations made by HE President Masisi in his speech that launched the reset initiative. This item explores the apparent intractability of Botswana’s employment malaise as low esteem, confidence and a suboptimal work ethic remain. The four pillars of the International Labour Organisation or ILO ‘Decent Work Agenda’ provided an excellent framework for analysing the causes of low productivity for addressing the challenges faced by Botswana.


Promoting jobs and enterprise


Pillar One -Promoting jobs and enterprise: Botswana’s low productivity could be attributed, in part, to a lack of job creation and limited entrepreneurial opportunities. Insufficient investment in industries that generate productive employment can hinder economic growth and productivity. Encouraging the development of sectors with high potential for job creation, such as manufacturing, technology, and services, can contribute to increased productivity. Currently unemployment generally is around 25 percent of the labour market while for young people it is an unacceptably high 40 percent. As the fourth industrial revolution advances indications are that unemployment will increase not reduce. The reset agenda seems curiously more reactionary than radical, focusing on traditional, not new sectors for development. Notwithstanding its conservative nature, Reset did provide an opportunity to focus on one issue – that of productivity.

Improving productivity is fundamental to achieving the aspirations of a high-income society. It is necessary to realise that the additional GDP to reach the magic high per capita income boundary of $13,025 pa from our current level of circa $7,000 will be $15 billion. This requires steady growth of 6% pa until 2036. It is also vital to appreciate that none of this additional income will come from diamonds but our own intellect and abilities induced by investment.


FDI Inflows

According to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2022, FDI inflows into Botswana increased from USD 32 million in 2020 to USD 55 million in 2021, as the global economy bounced back from the initial impact of the pandemic. That same year, the total stock of FDI in Botswana reached USD 5.1 billion. Despite the big numbers, it succeeded in only placing Botswana at a very dismal 160/180 in the world rankings of FDI as a percentage of GDP.  It is reasonable to compare FDI as a function of the size of the economy. At this low level of inward financial flows, it would be delusional to believe that new jobs will be created and high-income status be achieved any time soon. And with unemployment as high as it is, labour rates and conditions will remain poor, as will the work ethic crippling our economic aspirations.


Rights at work

The ILO second pillar concerns guaranteeing rights at work: Protecting workers’ rights and ensuring fair and inclusive working conditions are essential for enhancing productivity. The Government should focus on strengthening labour laws, promoting compliance with international labour standards, and combating exploitative practices. Providing workers with adequate wages, safe working environments, and opportunities for skills development can lead to higher job satisfaction, motivation, and ultimately, increased productivity. The process of getting there may be painful, employers are not known for voluntarily advancing conditions of employment,  jurisprudence will be needed. Ultimately the Industrial Court has exclusive judgments in all labour disputes and ranks equal to the High Court in its status and power. Its judgments are appealable to the court Appeal. It is hard to obtain statistics on the number and type of cases heard at the Court. Search engines revealed a report published in 1995 The 1995 Annual Report of the Department of Labour and Social Security indicates that 81.9 percent (6,134 cases) of the total number of industrial disputes in 1995 were settled at the level of the District Labour office. BOCCIM believes that the major problems in the present system arise at the level of the district labour office. Labour officers are poorly trained, and most continue to act as if they were adjudicators rather than as mediators or conciliators. Employers waste a lot of time at these meetings – a meeting scheduled to take place at 9 am will invariably take place be 11.30 am. The meetings are continually interrupted by phone calls, and BOCCIM recommends that a separate room should be used for mediation (not the officer’s office). Labour officers should also do much more investigation before calling the employer to these meetings. The effectiveness of all labour related entities needs comprehensive evaluation.


Social protection


Extending social protection is the third ILO Pillar: Access to social protection programs, including healthcare, pensions, and unemployment benefits, plays a pivotal role in promoting productivity. In Botswana, expanding social protection coverage and ensuring its availability to all workers, including those in the informal sector, can enhance overall well-being and reduce economic insecurity. When individuals have a safety net, they are more likely to invest in their skills and productivity, contributing to sustainable development. The engagement of hundreds of citizens to sweep roads using basic tools while providing lots of jobs and disguises unemployment,  diminishes dignity and the human spirit. Imagine sweeping the Western Bypass with a household broom! Unsurprisingly, Botswana has been ranked nearly bottom of the World Happiness Index for years – successive governments discredited the WHI so consequently remain impervious to change and are blind to the reality of an unhappy society, so productivity is undermined. This really must change.


Promoting social dialogue

The fourth pillar concerns promoting social dialogue: Effective social dialogue involves inclusive and constructive engagement between employers, workers, and the government. In Botswana, fostering an environment that encourages open communication, consultation, and collaboration can lead to better policy-making, improved working conditions, and enhanced productivity. Social dialogue enables the identification of common challenges and the development of shared solutions, ensuring that the voices and needs of all stakeholders are considered. Inequality in Botswana remains among the highest in the world, job creation lags, and unemployment is structurally high at 25.4 percent (end of 2022).


Quality healthcare

One of the key aspects of bolstering social protection is ensuring access to quality healthcare. The Government long ago recognized the profound impact of a healthy population on overall productivity. By prioritizing healthcare services and expanding coverage, the nation is ensuring that its workforce remains resilient, reducing absenteeism due to illness, and promoting a healthier and more productive workforce. Education is another vital pillar in the drive to improve labour productivity.  We continue to invest in comprehensive educational programs that equip its citizens with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in the modern workforce. By focusing on early childhood education, vocational training, and lifelong learning opportunities, the nation is empowering its workforce to adapt to changing demands and seize new opportunities for growth. Furthermore, income support programs play a crucial role in enhancing social protection. Government is striving to establish a robust social safety net that provides financial stability during periods of unemployment or economic uncertainty. But it needs to go further not only by ensuring a basic level of income and alleviating poverty, but fostering a sense of security and enabling individuals to pursue productive endeavours without the burden of economic precarity. The impact of these social protection measures on labour productivity is manifold. By enhancing citizens’ well-being, Botswana is fostering a motivated and engaged workforce, which is more likely to contribute positively to economic growth.


Reducing inequality and promoting inclusivity


Moreover, by reducing inequality and promoting inclusivity, the nation is harnessing the potential of all its citizens, irrespective of their socio-economic background, leading to a more equitable and prosperous society. Addressing gender inequality, as a cross-cutting theme, is also crucial for improving productivity. By promoting gender equality in the workplace and addressing barriers that limit women’s participation and advancement, the nation can tap into the full potential of its workforce and drive productivity growth. The commitment to improving social protection represents a decisive step towards unlocking its true potential. By prioritizing healthcare, education, and income support, the nation is nurturing a productive workforce that is better prepared to meet the challenges of the future. As Botswana strengthens its social safety nets, it embarks on a path of inclusive growth, ensuring that no citizen is left behind in its quest for a prosperous and harmonious society.


Addressing low productivity requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond these four pillars. Other factors such as education and skills development, infrastructure, access to finance, and good governance also play significant roles in enhancing productivity and sustainable development. However, without real change, the well intentioned Reset Agenda will continue to underwhelm.