- The Presidency of Botswana strongly denies that the government has declared the ongoing strike at the Debswana mines illegal, as claimed by trade unions. The strike was declared illegal by the Gaborone Industrial Court and the Batswana government had indeed facilitated talks between the parties, the Presidency states.
Jeff Ramsay, Press Secretary to Botswana's President Festus Mogae, today contacted afrol News to say that "misleading statements" yesterday had been issued by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and referred to by afrol News and other media.
The ICFTU yesterday strongly protested to President Mogae about "unfair dismissals" of Batswana mine workers and "the government's declaration that the mass strike is 'illegal'." The trade union representing workers in the Debswana mines - the Botswana Mining Workers Union (BMWU) - according to ICFTU was "seeking a court ruling against the government decision to declare the strike illegal and for the immediate reinstatement of all dismissed workers."
This is strongly denied by Mr Ramsay. "The ongoing industrial action was not declared illegal by the government, but rather by the Industrial Court," says the presidential spokesman. "The statement that the BMWU has approached the court to overturn a government declaration is therefore false," he adds.
Prior to the current strike, the management of the Debswana mines sought, and was granted, a ruling by the Industrial Court to the effect that any potential strike would be illegal at this point in time. The court had also warned the union that it could face contempt charges if the work stoppage were to go ahead. BMWU members have since been called to the court to answer charges of contempt, Mr Ramsay told afrol News.
The presidential spokesman emphasised that under Botswana's constitution, government was constrained from taking any action in contravention of an ongoing judicial process. Botswana was a country with "longstanding traditions of respect for the rule of law," Mr Ramsay said.
President Mogae had tried to get the trade union and the mine owners to find a negotiated solution. Mr Ramsay quotes a mid-August letter from the Permanent Secretary to the President, Eric Molale, to the BMWU leadership, saying "it is government's deep desire" that both parties "be engaged in a constructive dialogue in accordance with the law and other relevant instruments. For our part, this Office remains willing to continue to facilitate such a process."
President Mogae further, at the request of the BMWU, had previously "endeavoured to facilitate dialogue between the union and Debswana management," Mr Ramsay explains. "Unfortunately, subsequent negotiations between the union and management reached an apparent impasse."
Meanwhile, BMWU officials are to appear in court tomorrow to face contempt charges for the "illegal" strike, which is now in its second week. The strike has turned bitter as the Debswana management this week started evicting striking workers from their company-owned homes. These evictions were the principal reason for ICFTU Guy Ryder's protest letter to President Mogae.
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