Govt , Unions in warfare for Prisons welfare

  • Prisons Association dismantled for unknown reasons
  • Prisons  workers left to envy counterparts at Police, BDF


The conditions of the services for Prisons workers once again came to the fore at the just-ended International LABOUR Organization (ILO) convention where the government’s ill-treatment of Prisons workers was a focal point of debate.
The Prisons department workers have been surviving without a welfare representative following the death of their mouth-piece-the Prisons Service Association whose members have not convened any meeting for many years. The Association is an equal of the vibrant Police Association and Botswana Defence Council which stands for the welfare and rights of the members of the forces.
This past week, the issue made headlines at the ILO convention where Botswana Federation of Trade Unions and BOFEPUSU made a call to the Committee of Application of Standards-CSA to urge Botswana government to allow for the necessary amendments to the Prisons Act to allow unionization in the Prison service.
Unions are of the view that the Government of Botswana has a long history arguing that unionizing Prisons Services will pose a threat to national security.  Botswana government has held on to its argument that Prison service belongs to the bracket of armed/disciplined forces.
In presenting its case, government also argued that section 35(1) of the Prison Act, which prohibits formation of trade unions in the Prison Service, derives its validity from section 19(1) of the Constitution.
“Clearly, the government’s argument runs contrary to the provisions in the same national constitution that eloquently provides for the enjoyment of civil liberties, including the right to freedom of association. This argument is also in sharp contradiction of Article 9 of Convention 87. The Government is not even willing to dialogue on the issue and avers that Botswana is a sovereign state and cannot be dictated to by the ILO,” Worker’s representatives argued.
In its response of 25th April 2018 to a BFTU enquiry on the matter, Government pointed out that it has no intention of amending section 35 of the Prisons Act to make it compliant with  Convention 87. According to the response, Government says unionization implies industrial action and this will compromise the security of the nation. Government further argues that the Prisons Act provides for the formation of a Staff Association that addresses employee welfare concerns through the Commissioner.
“This is a clear and brazen violation of Convention 87 and undermining of this CAS Committee by the Botswana Government. Why would the government insist on this flawed reasoning despite being advised to the contrary by the Committee,” the Unions argued.
On April 25, 2018, BFTU wrote letters to the Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security and the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration inquiring on compliance assurance with the CAS conclusions. Only the Minister of Defense, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi responded.
Yesterday at a combined media briefing, Minister Mabeo reaffirmed government positions to review all the labour laws with a particular attention being given to those highlighted in the Unions’ submissions to the ILO.