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Unions drags Gov’t to court over de-recognition

Publishing Date : 22 October, 2018

Author : UTLWANANG GASENNELWE

In an unprecedented turn of events, government has this week took a decision to de-recognise all the public service trade unions in Botswana. However trade unions have confirmed that they are currently drafting court papers in pursuance to fight the de-recognition at court.


The decision comes following President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s initial plan to resuscitate the Public Service Trade Unions but was short lived as his government stated that they do no longer recognise such as trade unions. It is the first time government make such a pronouncement although they have been working with such unions together under the ambit of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) which later became dysfunctional due to internal bickering of government and union parties under the Lt Gen Ian Khama administration.


The de-recognition affected all public service trade unions including Manual Workers Union, Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), Botswana teachers Union (BTU), Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU), Botswana Nurses Union (BONU), Botswana Land Board and Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAWHU), Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) and Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU).


In a confidential letter passed to Weekend Post this week marking de-recognition; government through Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) Director Goitseone Naledi Mosalakatane informed unions of their non-compliance of recognition. “In response to the sound and wise advise proffered, the Directorate has been conducting a due diligence exercise to ensure that there is full compliance of the law. Our records thus far do not seem to indicate that your union has complied with the requirements of section 46 of the PSA,” Mosalakatane stated.


Section 46 of PSA states that “a trade union which is representative of one third of the employees of the employer engaged in the same trade as members of the same union, may apply to the Director for recognition for purposes of collective bargaining.” She further observed that if the unions have complied with the requirements of section 46 of the PSA, then they should furnish her with a copy of the letter of recognition emanating from the Director in terms of section 46 so that they may update their records.


The public service unions have been engaged in the process of resuscitating the PSBC in terms of part XIII (collective bargaining) of the Public Service Act (PSA). The employer (government) and all public service unions that are involved in the process are currently trying to craft a constitution for the PSBC as contemplated by section 51 of the PSA.


The said section (51) states that “as soon as practicable after the commencement of this Act, the representatives of the Government in its capacity as an employer and all recognised trade unions whose members are public officers to whom this Act applies, shall conclude an agreement on a Constitution for the Council.”


WHAT IS THE IMPLICATION OF DE-RECOGNITION

The implications of the de-recognition is that there will never be any Bargaining Council because the Public Service Act indicate that the Council can only be established by the Employer and all recognized Trade Unions. BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa has wondered that “how do you attempt to resuscitate Bargaining Council with Unions that you say are not recognised? Surely we are headed for an ugly showdown.”


He further said President Masisi must be careful of his advisors on Labour Relations, because they are the same people who misled Khama into confrontation with Trade Unions and that it is clear that beyond his promises and rhetoric, Masisi‘s administration is the same as Khama’s and might even be worse. The unionist said Masisi who pride himself as a man of rule of law, has an obligation to see to it that his Government respect prevalence of Collective Bargaining as provided for by the law and ratified Conventions.


 Failure to do so, he said they will report Botswana again to International Labour Organisation (ILO) for failing to respect the workers right to collective bargaining. Recently Weekend Post reported that government through the DPSM raised the issue of recognition of trade unions and that has stalled the progress of resuscitating the PSBC.


BOFEPUSU) Secretary General Tobokani Rari stated then that: “we are really disappointed by the conduct of DPSM, how DPSM after almost 8 years could raise the issue of whether the trade unions are recognized or not? Our strong view is that they are some few individuals within the DPSM who are remnants of the repressive past immediate Ian Khama administration who are deliberately misleading government.”


The unionist observed that it is well known and documented that the recognitions that were acquired by trade unions in accordance with Section 48 of the Trade Unions and Employers Organisation Act prior to the coming into effect of the Public Service Act (PSA) in 2010 (in particular section 46) were carried over to the new dispensation. Section 48(1) of the Act provides that “if a trade union represents at least one third of the employees of an employer, that trade union may apply for recognition under section 32 of the Trade Disputes Act.”


WHAT ENSUED FOLLOWING MASISI PRONOUNCEMENT FOR PSBC TO FUNCTION?

Government had invited the unions for a meeting on 17th August 2018 to come and discuss the resuscitation of the PSBC. On 17th August, it is understood that parties to the resuscitation of the PSBC agreed that a task team be instituted to deal with the resuscitation process and report to the reference team.It is said that on the 28th of August the first meeting of the task team was convened, at this meeting the issue of compliance to Section 52 of the PSA was raised in particular in relation to the invitation of BOGOWU.


 Section 52 requires that for the purposes of coming up with the constitution of the PSBC recognised trade unions and the employer DPSM shall convene to discuss and agree on the constitution. Indications suggest that the 6 trade unions, Manual Workers union, BOPEU, BTU, BOSETU, BONU and BLAWHU raised the issue, requiring that DPSM should confirm whether BOGOWU is recognised and there comply with PSA, Section 5.  


This was justified to be that in 2013, the Court of Appeal held that BOGOWU has not been properly recognized and declared its recognition illegal. Following the decision of the court, DPSM wrote to all stakeholders declaring that they have de-recognised the BOGOWU. In 2016, DPSM also wrote again to BOPEU warning BOPEU that they cannot act jointly with BOGOWU because they are not a recognized union. “So the 6 unions wanted prove as to whether the status core has changed.”


Instead of DPSM providing the evidence of recognition of BOGOWU, it is further understood that they raised an issue that all unions are not recognized according to section 46 of the PSBC, and this is in spite of the fact that the recognition of the unions that were recognized prior to the coming into effect of the PSA were carried over to the new order as a matter of right. It then came to a standstill when government indicated that all unions were not recognized then the reference group agreed that the process should be halted pending the resolution of this issue of recognitions.

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