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Home » News » Comments » Botswana Government goes viral to worker’s rights

Botswana Government goes viral to worker’s rights

Publishing Date : 22 May, 2017

Author : COMRADE PING MARU

The country enclosed in Southern Africa, with a tiny population of estimated two million inhabitants and better known for its diamonds exploits, with a history of Africa’s shinning democracy appears to regress from its gains since attaining independence in 1966.

The tranquillity and harmony that prevailed in Botswana is customarily derived from the prism of the old Tswana adage that vernacularly runs, “Ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo.” That means Batswana treasured freedom of expression which afforded everyone the liberty to articulate their views without hesitation. Currently Batswana, particularly public service employees are not free to express divergent views because of the State’s Big-brother supremacy.


In 1997 Botswana government ratified international labour standards to promote worker’s rights and welfare. Amongst the domesticated international laws are conventions 87 and 98, which gave workers the latitude to congregate with assemblages of their choice and the freedom to collectively bargain for better conditions of workers and salary negotiations. The move prompted trade unions to play a significant part in advocating for worker’s rights and conditions of service. However, the government played no part in sensitising workers about these conventions, and therefore, workers organisations had to fend for themselves.


Additionally, major feat witnessed the government of Botswana enacting a progressive Public Service Act (PSA) of 2008, which amongst the advanced articles of the act gave trade unions a leeway to engage in a legal strike. This witnessed Botswana Federation of Public Service Trade Union (BOFEPUSU) engaging in an epic national strike that lasted for three months in 2011 over salary increment dispute.

 

PSA of 2008 had another progressive article which afforded trade unions bargaining power to discuss issues affecting and afflicting workers bordering on conditions of service and salary negotiations. Chief among the articles was the one affording workers collective bargaining rights by establishing the National Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC).


National PSBC gave workers through their representation hope that conditions of their service would be discussed in a legally recognised establishment. The government and workers representation at the National PSBC had equal representation though government representatives always had hegemonic power because they mainly negotiated in bad faith.

 

Trade Unions representation could always move from their initial demands but the other party never shook from their positions. The major achievement of workers representatives that will go down in the history of Botswana PSBC was the attainment of public service housing allowance. Though it is minimal the government acceded to the reasons advanced by the workers representatives. The workers representation also pushed for workers to be fully salaried while on study leave, which was never the case before.


The establishment of the PSBC strengthened trade unions and workers consciousness grew tremendously. In times of salary standoffs trade unions’ picketed workers and moved around the country informing members of PSBC talks. More workers started to learn about their rights and trade unions became stronger because they articulated issues that prompted workers associate.

 

When the government technocrats realised that Bofepusu has grown in leaps and bounds they orchestrated the scheme to destroy the federation and make it irrelevant. PSBC was mainly targeted since the government rightly observed that the forum was the main source of strength of the federation. They came up with legal reforms to amend the Public Service Act to weaken trade union bargaining leverage in the PSBC. The following captured summations are some of the amended laws which are intended to cripple trade unions:


Only Public Officers can be representatives of trade unions admitted to the PSBC. Previously trade unions had freedom to choose their bargaining representatives without the interference of the government. Trade unions could hire academia, professionals and university dons to represent them on specific issues of discussion. They could as well invite trade union employees who brought immense knowledge and expertise to the bargaining council. Since public service trade unions have financial muscle they also poached experts from the government to counteract the regime’s moves. The government then formulated this draconian law to curtail workers power.


The recognition will entitle a union to one seat at the PSBC. Bofepusu is the only federation in the public sector with legal bargaining rights in the country. It has four affiliates and it means that each trade union will bring a single representative, basically one representation in an Acting Jointly Arrangement (AJA) model. The model allows trade unions to form a coalition for purposes of bargaining provided one of the parties meets the employer’s threshold. Previously trade union representatives were eight in number with an additional observer team. This entitlement should be left to the constitution of the PSBC to determine the scope of representation, which must be a consensus of both the employer and workers organisations.


The government can confer a benefit to an employee notwithstanding ongoing negotiations. This move intends to divide trade unions as the government may award salary increment or any other benefit despite ongoing salary talks. The government may award the benefits in the pretext that workers need increment notwithstanding ongoing negotiations.

 

The government recently awarded a unilateral paltry salary increment to workers, which Bofepusu took the matter to court for overruling PSBC. The decision has since been rescinded as the case went into Bofepusu favour. Now the PSBC has strengthened workers hegemony, that ultimately angered the government and it reacted by altering the PSA draconian articles to pass into new law.


The Secretariat of the PSBC shall be the Director of Public Service Management and under the supervision of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Administration. The duty of the General Secretary encompasses the administrative running of the council. Amazingly, it also gives the Minister the powers to appoint the Chairperson and the deputy of the Council. The decision to adjust this clause is solely to appoint government stooges who will work on commands and under full supervision of government enclave. Previously the PSBC Secretariat was appointed by the consensus of both the employer and employees.


That disputes or appeals thereto, between public officers and the employer will be referred to the Commissioner of labour in terms of the Trade Dispute Act, 2003 instead of the PSBC. This was another great law that has since been regrettably amended. The PSBC could attend to disputes referred as appeals and the matter viewed with two lenses by both parties. To give the Commissioner the powers to preside over the appeal is regressive because he is a government employee working under direct supervision of the Minister of Labour. Trade union activists targeted by the employer may not have fair hearings given the position of the Commissioner.


Every trade union recognised under this Act may, at the Government’s discretion, be entitled to have authorised representatives of a union who are public officers granted access to Government’s premises for purposes of recruiting members, or holding meetings. Trade union employees normally working as organisers will be barred from entering government premises for purposes of organising.

 

Trade union Organisers are employed on permanent basis to help solidify trade unions structures run effectively. Experience has shown that trade union organisers immensely contribute to edifying organisations because they are chiefly on the ground. Surprisingly, the employer may also impose frequency of visits, duration of interacting with members and control places of convening meetings. This is crystal clear that the government is all out to stifle trade unions organise effectively. Accounting offices in various government offices may celebrate the coming in of this draconian bill to subject workers to servitude.


Government shall not be required to deduct any trade union dues or levies from employees’ wages on behalf of any trade union save for union membership subscriptions. Botswana’s trade unions mainly are economic trade union type, basically business unionism. The unions tend to operate as commercial entities, rather than member-driven organisations. Often unions are financially dependent on income generated by deals on discounted retail goods and services.

 

Sometimes unions partner with business entities for economic burgeoning. The motive is to augment union finances in the endeavour to assisting members meet their needs. At present, majority of Botswana Unions have respectively a Thrift and Loan Scheme for its members. The government move intends to close capital channels for trade unions since they could use capital to sponsor political parties advocating for workers agenda.


The motive of the bill is a clear war waged against Botswana public service employees, primarily BOFEPUSU. The scheme anticipates closing down bargaining council, as well as trade unions by enacting retrogressive objects. Steps used by the regime to close trade unions may temporarily work for the State, but it would be short-lived because the era of rogue and uncompromising governments is over.

 

Progressive governments have gained centre-stage, as collectivism, patriotism, democracy and freedom are tenets of good governance. Regrettably, these new bills conspicuously omit these critical national doctrines. These objects do not even come closer to our national principles which are democracy, unity, development and self-realise.
 

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