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Opinion

24 Oct 2022

Author:
Kitso Phiri, Botswana Mine Workers Union

Inadequacies of the Law in Protecting the Rights of Mine Workers and Communities Against Climate Change

In an endeavor to ensure sustainability and growth of the mining and energy sector in Botswana, transformative laws and policies have been formulated to codify state obligations under the Paris Agreement. Implementation of these instruments would in the short to medium term bring about disruptions of epic proportions to the mining and energy labour market. These mitigation policies are intended to assist the country in reaching its climate change target set out in its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of a 15% reduction of greenhouse emissions across all sectors by 2030.

In response to these commitments, mining companies in Botswana have embraced the global transition to a lower carbon economy and the use of technology to the detriment of their workers’ rights. Green mining models are changing the world of work and gradually phasing out manual labour with the integration of technology in mining work streams. As a result, many workers are expected to lose their jobs. Most mining services are outsourced and the companies providing these techno-services typically hire on fixed term contracts, therefore promoting casualisation of employment which renders workers vulnerable to exploitation. Mechanisation, especially in open cast mines, will render traditional mining skills redundant. Consequently, unskilled workers will likely lose out to digitisation of the mining operation.

Mining workers’ organisations are equally vulnerable to this transition. For instance, automated mines are operated by a relatively small number of workers who operate mining equipment remotely. As such, the traditional way of trade union organising and recruitment will be impacted. According to Botswana’s labour laws, a trade union is only recognised by an employer if it attains one third of the workforce. Effectively, a decline in the workforce will directly impact the union’s membership and collective bargaining power. A weak workers’ organisation renders workers vulnerable to the violation of their fundamental rights at work. This will be more pervasive in operations owned by multi-national companies whose control centers are outside of the country in which they operate.

According to Botswana’s National Climate Policy, Strategy and Action Plan, an assessment by sector of the social and economic impacts of climate change has not been done. This means that climate mitigation action being undertaken by most mining companies are not guided by any national framework. The national climate change coordination structures and national action plans have omitted mining workers’ participation in the development, implementation and monitoring of climate action. The omission of workers is inconsistent with the Just Transition imperative in the pre-amble of the Paris Agreement and undermines the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution commitments.

In Botswana, social dialogue at sectoral level is non-existent due to workers’ lack of participation in sectoral tripartite social dialogue forums. This is despite the tripartite partners being signatories to the Botswana Decent Work Country Program (BDWCP), which prioritises social dialogue in line with ILO Convention 144. The mining bargaining council and the sub-sector high level consultative committee are but examples of such forums. These are high-level legal and policy decision-making structures. Ordinarily their composition ought to be tripartite in nature, however in their current form, they are bipartite, as representation is between the employer and government. Consequently, decisions affecting the sector including the impact of climate change policies on the workforce, are discussed in the absence of the workers or their representatives. This systematic exclusion of the workforce fails to meet Just Transition principles, particularly a horizontal approach to decision making which is predicated on inclusivity and respect for adequate stakeholder consultations. Despite several attempts by workers to have representation in those forums, antiquated policy and laws invariably keeps them on the margins as if the workers demand for participation impinges on mainstream national development processes.

As the highest emitter of greenhouse gas, the mining industry must begin consultations with workers on the impacts of the anticipated energy transition. National policies and action plans must include trade unions in their coordination mechanisms to ensure an inclusive and sustainable pathway in reaching the country’s climate change targets. Achieving this will require serious policy and legal reform to align with the ambitious targets Botswana has committed in its nationally determined contribution.

Kitso Phiri is Executive Secretary of Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU)