Two of EI’s national affiliates, the Botswana Secondary Teachers Union (BOSETU) and the Botswana Teachers’ Union (BTU), have warmly welcomed a High Court decision ruling in favour of trade unionists who had challenged the government’s decision to declare some services essential.
The court voided a government decree saying that teachers were essential service workers and therefore unable to go on strike.
“The so-called powers that the Minister of Labour used to declare teachers essential service workers are not compatible with the constitution of Botswana,” Justice Key Dingake said. He also ruled that all workers who were fired during the strike should be reinstated, and the government must pay court costs. The government has appealed that judgment.
Teachers’ right to strike
“In my mind, the right to strike is a fundamental constitutional right that is entrenched by Section 13 of the Constitution,” Justice Key Dingake noted. “It is inconceivable that a court can hold that such a right may be taken away by the minister by way of a statutory instrument without due process of law.”
Dingake emphasised that, without a clear mandate, it was not reasonable to assume that the Parliament had intended to give the minister unprecedented powers to undermine existing workers’ rights.
Delight at ruling
“We are obviously excited about the ruling because justice has prevailed,” said Andrew Motsamai, Secretary General of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions, of which BOSETU and BTU are members.
Trade unions brought the case to court last year after the government moved to stop teachers from participating in the first-ever civil servants’ strike, which lasted two months and forced the closing of schools and clinics.
“We applaud the Botswana High Court’s decision,” said EI President Susan Hopgood. “We are concerned about the Botswana Government’s repressive attitude and scapegoating policy against public workers. We urge it to respect all workers’ human and trade union rights, including collective bargaining rights and the right to strike.”