Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Botswana's First Strike Ever and its Impact on PST

So I have decided that I need to discuss the fact that Botswana is engaging in its very first strike. I haven't mentioned it yet because it seemed very insignificant (other than it being the first one) but that has changed in the past four days.

Let me start by saying that Botswana is a very peaceful place. The people are generally mellow, personable, and caring. The strike started in this same manner. It started by asking the government if they could strike and then handing over official documentation about the terms of the strike, including what they wanted (a 16% salary increase) and the length (the strike would last for 14 days). There were no demonstrations and was no picketing that I am aware of. The government responded by saying that they could not afford the salary increase because the economy is suffering globally and, therefore, the diamond industry was suffering (which is how the government makes a significant portion of its income and supports its national ARV distribution etc). They counter-offered with 7% but the people declined and the strike continued. (The new request is 13.8% and the counter-offer is 5%, pending economic improvement.) The strike remained low-key and we hardly noticed it was happening (other than a delay in processing our residency/exemption papers at the immigration office, which was hardly a big deal).

Because I am writing this, the strike has obviously gone beyond its 14 day allotment and the situation has changed somewhat. All of the schools have officially closed down and the Vice President announced two nights ago that all employees that are participating in the strike are fired. This caused a reaction that led to riots in some of the major villages around Botswana. Additionally, petty theft by students and a number of demonstrations have begun to take place. We have heard rumors of continued violence but, at this point, nothing has been confirmed. The government is considering the strike to be of national importance and is no longer considered a struggle between employee and employer. Given this, we are hopeful that things will settle and we are getting daily updates about the status. (No notable improvement at this point however.)

The strike is now starting to impact our pre-service training, which is starting to stress my fellow trainees out somewhat. Most notably, trainees were supposed to go visit our permanent site locations this week, starting today and going through the weekend. These visits have been postponed until next week under the advice of our safety and security team and the US Embassy. They state the reasons for the postponement are (1) the closure of important offices that we may want to visit during our visits and (2) a number of safety issues involved with traveling and the uncertainty of demonstrations and the potential impact of civil unrest (given that this is Botswana's first strike etc.).

I want to assure everyone that I feel safe and that I have the utmost confidence in our safety and security team. I am cautiously optimistic that things will be settled in the upcoming weeks and that we will be able to go to our sites and continue service as normal. We have just been briefed on our Emergency Action Plan in the event that it needs to be implemented (it is not at that point yet so please don't worry). Mostly, I am sharing this all with you to let everyone know that we are in the midst of history right now. This is the first time Botswana has gone through this and that makes it somewhat exciting to be amongst it. At the same time, I feel this way because we are safe right now and monitoring the situation all the time. I will keep you all updated. Until then, know that I am safe and staying as far away from riots as possible! :)

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