Botswana public servants extend strike indefinitely


GABORONE — Public sector staff in diamond-rich Botswana, one of Africa’s wealthiest nations, called an indefinite extension Wednesday to a 10-day pay strike which has already wreaked havoc in schools and hospitals.

“We have not reached any agreement with the employer, and it does not look like we will do any time soon, hence the decision to declare the strike indefinite,” said Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions spokesman Goretetse Kekgonegile.

“The strike is now indefinite and we will continue gathering at the Gaborone Senior Secondary School grounds until we get what we want,” he said.

The school has become a rallying ground for the unions, which say that 93,000 workers have joined the strike that began on April 18.

Schools and public offices have been reduced to skeleton staffing in the southern African nation of 1.9 million people, with students gathering in classrooms waiting for the rare teacher still reporting for duty.

Botswana’s industrial court ordered health workers to return to the job on April 27, declaring the medical system an essential service.

But local media have reported that some health workers have remained on strike, saying more than 40 doctors from the country’s biggest hospital have refused to return to work.

Civil servants have not had a salary increase for three years. They are demanding a 16 percent raise, while government is offering five percent with effect from September 1.

Botswana, whose economy is heavily reliant on diamonds, was hard hit by the global economic crisis as demand for its gems plunged and revenues from a regional customs union also dived.

The economy shrank by 4.9 percent in 2009 but bounced back with 7.2 percent growth in 2010.

Workers complain that salaries have remained stagnant despite rising inflation that hit 8.5 percent in March, up from 7.4 percent in December 2010.
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