11. Labor Policies and Practices
Botswana has a high unemployment rate and a constricted worker skills base. In her 2022 budget speech, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development reported an unemployment rate of 26 percent, up from 20 percent reported by Statistics Botswana in 2019, showing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy. Employers can expect to engage in significant training efforts, depending on the industry, due to shortage of skills. Retention of workers and absenteeism can pose problems. In addition, managers often cite workforce productivity as a point of frustration. The lack of trained local citizen professionals is generally addressed by contracting expatriates if they can secure work permits. There is minimal labor strife in Botswana. In 2015, there were a handful of small and peaceful strikes, the most notable of these was by a portion of BURS officials, but as with most unions across sectors, only a portion of BURS officials were unionized, allowing the GoB to maintain customs operations.
The Employment Act provides basic guidelines for employment in Botswana. The legislation sets requirements for a minimum wage, length of the workweek, annual and maternity leave, hiring and termination. Standards set by the Act are consistent with international best practice as described by International Labor Organization (ILO) model legislation and guidelines.
Employment-related litigation occurs and is both an example of trust in the court system and a cost to doing business in Botswana. Employers avoid considerable expense and frustration if they observe the provisions of the Employment Act, relevant labor regulations, and prudence in advance of potential litigation. Before a potential litigant goes to one of 11 labor courts, the parties must attempt mediation through the Department of Labor. Court cases offering severance terms for employees laid off due to fluctuating market conditions are also common. Section 25 of the Employment Act allows employers to terminate contracts for reducing the size of their work force, known as redundancy, using the first-in-last-out principle. This method of terminating contracts is separate from firing for serious misconduct as specified by Section 26 of the Act. The GoB has social safety net programs in place to assist the unemployed and destitute.
Collective bargaining is common in government and the private sector, and the Labor Commissioner can grant collective bargaining authority upon request. The largest unions are comprised of public sector workers.
In August 2016 Parliament passed a Trade Disputes Act with a list of services deemed “essential” and barred from striking that exceeds international labor standards. The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is coordinating with the ILO and other partners to review labor laws to ensure they align with ILO standards. The tri-partite labor law committee recommended that all services listed as essential be cancelled except aviation, health, electrical, water and sanitation, fire, and air traffic control services.