BONELA’s Solidarity Message On the International Workers’ Day

2 May 2012:
BONELA’s Solidarity Message On the International Workers’ Day

International Worker’s Day, also known as May Day was commemorated globally under the theme “A call for a living wage-a call for decent work and decent living’ was characterized by organized demonstrations and marches where; hundreds of thousands of working people and their labour unions across the globe poured into the streets in honour of the day.

In Botswana, the national celebrations were held in Francistown, provided an opportunity for the nation to reflect and introspect, particularly on the gains made in addressing poverty, as well as empowerment and accountability at all levels of society in Botswana.

Given the impact of socio-economic issues on workers, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), takes this opportunity to reiterate that livelihoods is a human rights issue. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, and housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control’.[1] However, the world of work and its challenges continue to invariably impact negatively on the vulnerable and marginalized populations, including people living with HIV (PLWH).

BONELA is thus steadfast in promoting the rights of the aforementioned communities wherever they are in Botswana in society as well as in facilities such as prisons and the work place. BONELA will also support efforts that take people closer to the realization of rights in Botswana. There is need to ensure the rights to justice and favourable conditions of work, including safe and healthy working conditions and equal opportunities for everyone. While employers, unions and governments agree that discriminating against employees who are HIV positive is counter-productive, things are very different in practice. Workers with HIV are still victimized based on their actual or perceived sero-status; disrespected and denied access to enjoying their economic, social and cultural rights. Such discrimination has inhibited the full participation of people affected by HIV in the world of work.

The absence of specific legislation on HIV and AIDS also adversely affects the conditions of workers living with HIV. Although the Employment Act recognises non-discrimination on the basis of one’s health status as a founding principle, discriminatory practices are rampant in the world of work. There is widespread discrimination in awarding employment benefits. Many employers treat AIDS and HIV less favourably than other life threatening conditions in determining disability benefits, group life insurances, spouse and child benefits, health benefits and in pension and provident fund arrangements. Workers with grievances and claims against their employers frequently find themselves in a dilemma. If they ignore the wrong done to them, they must accept the accompanying injustice which may include the loss of their livelihood. The alternative in the eyes of many is worse as few employees are willing to assert their legal rights and brace for the publicity and resultant stress, which itself contributes to the progression of HIV.

The numerous and costly labour cases handled through BONELA and other legal aid services attest to the state of affairs. As such, BONELA also constantly calls on the Botswana government to ratify and domesticate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as a solution to providing wages that promote decent work and decent living.

Although Botswana has ratified some international human rights instruments, it seems that there is inclination towards civil and political rights at the expense of socio-economic rights, hence the reluctance to ratify the ICESCR.

Poverty remains a huge challenge in Botswana and in situations of poverty; people have the least access to socio-economic rights such as education, food, health, housing and security among others. The realisation of full socio-economic rights is therefore critical in addressing this challenge as the ICESCR is the only mechanism through which the country can monitor issues of minimum wages or income inequalities, economic opportunities and regulate investment or investors, protect citizens from labour abuse and ensure decent living as well as facilitate the right to health in both access and utility.

As a key stakeholder in issues of human rights and access to health services, BONELA remains committed to support workers’ rights and the elimination of discrimination and protection of individuals’ rights.We will contribute to programmes that seek to eliminate stigma and discrimination and occupational transmission of HIV and related transmissible diseases, such as tuberculosis.

In conclusion, our President, Seretse Khama Ian Khama is on a mission to eradicate poverty and assist the poorest members of society, therefore ratifying the ICESCR, provides an ideal opportunity to operationalize this commitment and ensure social justice once and for all.