, GABORONE, May 25 – Botswana has suspended wage negotiations with striking public service workers, insisting that they return to the job before resuming talks, an official said on Wednesday.
"In view of the fact that the government has made its position on the economy clear, the politicisation of the strike and the unlawful activities and utterances by the unions and opposition party leadership has made us decide to suspend negotiations," said Eric Molale, the permanent secretary to the president.
"We also find it unreasonable for the strike to continue considering that the government has made it clear that the demands of the unions cannot be met," he said.
Workers left their jobs on April 18 to demand a 16-percent pay rise. Last week President Ian Khama said the country cannot afford a double-digit increase, as the economy is still recovering from a downturn.
Molale alleged that the strike has been diverted by the unions and opposition parties from being a wage dispute to a political campaign, with a view to winning favour from those on strike and the public.
"As stated in earlier statements, some of these activities and utterances are unlawful and have the potential to cause public disorder and destabilise our peace-loving nation," he said.
The unions have criticised the government\’s decision to suspend talks and say they cannot be forced to return to work.
"Who has given the government the sole right to suspend talks? They cannot force us to go back to work because they did not force us to go on strike in the first instance," Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions spokesman Goretetse Kekgonegile said.
"This strike will definitely take another twist," he said.
The unions have rejected the government\’s latest offer of a three percent raise effective from September, which was lower than the initial offer of five percent.