Africa-Press – Botswana. Members of Parliament have urged Minister of Justice to establish Industrial Court branches throughout the country and extend its services to rural areas.

Given its mandate to service the public on industrial issues, MPs were also of the view that the court should work on measures that would have its voice heard and reduce the increasing labour litigations.

Legislators raised the issues in their debates on the proposed budget estimates for the Industrial Court presented by Minister of Justice, Mr Machana Shamukuni in Parliament on Tuesday.

Maun East MP, Mr Goretetse Kekgonegile said the Labour Court was established to maintain good industrial relations and therefore emphasised the need for it to remain proactive in executing its mandate.

Mr Kekgonegile was concerned that it appeared as if Industrial Court verdicts were hardily enforced, particularly in cases where the employer was found to be wrong.

He also argued that lack of knowledge on the mandate of the court had resulted in the majority of the people failing to utilise its services, therefore opening up a window of violation of workers’ rights by the employers.

He advised the Industrial Court to exercise the principle of equity when dealing with industrial disputes.

Nata/Gweta legislator, Mr Polson Majaga appreciated the opening of the Maun branch, but expressed concern about the majority of workers in production areas and the tourism sector, which he said were limited on labour laws.

He was also of the view that litigations on industrial relations were increasing because employers were fond of violating labour laws and most cases died unnoticed as the affected workers were either clueless on their rights, had difficulty in accessing services or choosing to remain silent for fear of losing their jobs.

Mr Mmusi Kgafela of Mochudi West, on the other hand said the Industrial Court should be accorded all the support in order to spread out and reach out to all workers in the remotest areas whose rights were violated.

He said the employer was taking advantage of the labour court’s current shortcomings and abusing workers.

“Whoever is engaged in unfair labour practices must be taken to task. Despite having a comprehensive tool in the form of the Employment Act, non-compliance to the labour statutes results in unnecessary litigations wasting government resources and time,” Mr Kgafela said.

Leader of the Opposition and MP for Selebi Phikwe West, Mr Dithapelo Keorapetse said he had expected the newly formed Ministry of Justice to come up with judicial reforms for the Industrial Court. Mr Keorapetse said the current labour laws must be revamped for the sake of justice and a cordial work environment.

He said the Industrial Court must have integrity, be independent and uphold public confidence.

“The court was established through section 14 of the Trade Dispute Act and not created under the Constitution, therefore taking away its integrity,” he said.

He also expressed concern about engagement of foreign judges on contractual basis subject to renewal, saying, ‘a judge engaged on such conditions is vulnerable to losing their integrity and making decision that are biased only to please the authority with the hope of getting a contract extension.”

He also observed that appeals of industrial relations were heard by the Court of Appeal (CoA) and therefore the equity aspect was lost.

He called for the establishment of a specialised division at the CoA to specifically deal with appeals relating to labour cases.

Kgalagadi South MP, Mr Sam Brooks said it was important for labour issues to first go through the process of reconciliation.

Mr Brooks said some workers delayed their cases by engaging in litigations rather than the primary and most successful process of facing each other and burying the hatchet.

Though holding a mammoth task of resolving labour relation matters, Mr Brooks was equally concerned as the Industrial Court was accused of being biased in most cases towards the worker, which he said was unfair.

“Lack of understanding on the labour laws could also be attributed to the alarming concern that the court is biased and viewed as mostly favouring the employer.

As government pushes towards empowering the people in rural areas, the increasing economic activities across the country are breeding places for unfair labour practices,” he argued, hence urged the Industrial Court to get its services known to communities in rural areas.

Lentsweletau/Mmopane MP, Ms Nnaniki Makwinja emphasised the need for both the employer and employee to fully understand their rights.

Ms Makwinja concurred with other legislators that most of the cases that were at the Industrial Court resulted from lack of understanding.

“Most of such cases could amicably and easily be resolved by following disciplinary processes in the workplace.

Some of the cases are a result of personal vendettas or ignorance of the law.

In some instances, an employee who was fairly dismissed for not doing their job will unnecessarily engages the courts while some employers will willingly violate labour practices to an extent that a court of law will beengaged to intervene,” she argued.

Ms Makwinja said an industrial relations officer should be thoroughly trained in order to deal with labour issues in the workplace and reduce flooding the Industrial Court with cases resulting in delayed resolution of pertinent matters.

She indicated that some workers who were victimised and abused by the employer failed to report such incidents and remained unhappy and perform dismally.

For his part, Mr Onneetse Ramogapi of Palapye emphasised the importance of public education on labour issues.

Mr Ramogapi said empowered with the requisite knowledge workers would timely report their grievances to avoid situations where cases were dismissed on the ground that they were reported after too long a time.

He further appealed to government to aid litigants by providing them with deputy sheriffs to execute court orders, arguing that some cases were delayed or litigants ended up abandoning matters as they did not have the financial muscle to engage sheriffs who would serve court orders on their behalf.

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