- Massive retail chain Choppies is in CASAWU’s small hairs
Some of Botswana’s least paid workers were oblivious of the goings in Parliament on Monday because the budget speech has consistently been silent on their plight.
For many a grocery store worker, getting a measly P1, 200 a month in wages is the reality they have to contend with in the face of the ever-increasing cost of living.
Added to their deplorable working conditions, no safety policies and no job security, Botswana’s least paid are trapped in exploitation and poverty in a hostile environment of inimical legislation.
Registered in 2015, the Cashiers, Shop Assistants and Allied Workers Union (CASAWU) came into being against this background and is struggling to get the attention of workers that it represents, the government and employers, a task that the union’s Secretary General Dimpho Nyambe, describes “daunting.”
Nyambe says CASAWU’s members and potential members are easily intimidated. “They are fired without regard to due process, sometimes on the basis of hearsay but they don’t have the financial power to take these on issues on legally,” he says.
In his view, the private sector is a state on its own. “It is untamed,” he says. “They do as they please.”
Occasionally, because many companies in Botswana are owned by large multinational entities, arbitrary dismissal of workers by local managers often mean that offshore directors have to deal with cases they know nothing about and complain about payouts due to bad decisions taken locally.
“We have tried to meet Business Botswana as an employer association to try and work around this issue and so far we have not succeeded,” Nyambe says.
Suppressed wages are a widespread problem among the cadres they serve. While he says many employers would pay as much as two thirds more than the minimum wages set out by government, he is also aware that some of them use these as a smokescreen. “Even so, how does the law protect a worker against billionaires,” he queries.
The head of industrial relations at CASAWU, Mpho Chingapane, says he is in the process of declaring a dispute with renowned retail group, Choppies, for failure to recognise the union as a legitimate representative of its workers.
“He explains: “According to the law, we need one third of the workers in a region for us to be recognised. But if an employer fails to even give the number of employees it has, it means the employer is hostile.”
Retail workers got a measly 6% increment when government raised the minimum wages for various low bracket earners in October last year. The minimum hourly rate for a worker in the retail distributive sub-sector is P5.17 an hour, which makes it hard for them to make more than P1000 a month.
In South Africa, the minimum wage has been set at P16 (R20) per hour, more than three times that of Botswana, allowing them to earn as much as P3500 per month. Choppies chief executive, Ram Ottaphathu, is on record as saying that the minimum wage is what guides remuneration for their workers.
According to CASAWU, the union has the widest ambit relative to other trade unions, including public sector unions. Its leaders say it is set to become even wider as a private sector trade union that embraces all cadres in retail services, wholesale and manufacturing. What started out as essentially a Choppies workers’ union will morph into a full private sector union representing the full spectrum of private sector workers, excluding management level cadres.
Accordingly, says Nyambe, the constitution of CASAWU is to be amended to allow for it to adopt a wider mandate and the transformation is being done carefully to ensure that all legalities are adhered to.