The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) would like to lend its support to the on-going strike by members of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) at Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS). The Strike started in earnest this Monday to demand an 11% salary increase contrary to the 6% offered by the employer. BOPEU and its members need to be congratulated particularly that they have exhausted all the procedures to negotiate for an increase but the employer could not budge and thus the resultant decision to resort to industrial action. So far the strike has been very effective and no doubt the employer is feeling the intended effect.
BFTU is of the view that the demand by workers of BURS are not extreme and the employer has not shown lack of capacity to pay. The employer’s attitude has been that of adopting a 6% increase that the Botswana Government agreed with its employees earlier this year. In fact this has been a misguided belief by a number of parastatals that they can only increase salaries of their employees in line with what Government has agreed with its employees. This has to be corrected as parastatals employees are not employed by Government. They do not have a contract with Government and indeed their conditions of service including remuneration are different. It is therefore nonsensical for parastatals to want to use Government salary increments on their workers on the guise that they are funded by Government.
BFTU would like to implore the striking workers to remain resolute on their demands. It is within their rights to demand a fair and reasonable wage increase and we are of the view that 11% meets this criteria. BURS employees are striking at a time when the right to strike in Botswana is under attack from Government which seeks to curtail the right through draconian legislation. At the time they are on strike the Trade Dispute Bill is before Parliament which seeks to categorise a huge section of services as essential and thus prohibit them from participating in strikes. Customs (BURS) services have been included in the category of those services deemed essential and should the bill pass in Parliament this will be the last strike that BURS employees have undertaken. It is our hope that the campaign that BFTU together with BOFEPUSU are engaged in to try and stop the Bill succeeds.
The success of the BURS strike is very critical in the promotion of collective bargaining in Botswana. It demonstrates the importance of strike action as a means that workers can use in their endeavour to try and balance the workplace power relations. Without the right to strike collective bargaining is rendered of no effect and workers become even more vulnerable to exploitation and of course trade union existence comes under threat. It is for this reason that BFTU rallies behind the BURS strike as a demonstration of the effectiveness of collective bargaining process.
We take note that there has been concerns raised by some that the strike is going to have grave consequences to the country’s economy and their wish is that it should not have taken place or it should be ended forthwith. We wish to remind those of such thoughts that there is no worker who wants to engage in an industrial action willy-nilly. Workers engage in a strike action as a last resort to try and get the employer’s attention on their demands. What workers demand is a fair share of “the cake” and not the whole “the cake” as most of the time is the employers’ attitude. Workers contribute immensely to the building of the country’s economic prospects and it is only fair for them to be rewarded fairly. If that does not happen workers have the right to withdraw their contribution which is their labour. An economy is grown to serve humankind and not the other way round. If workers are not benefitting from the proceeds of their labour then it does not make sense to continue labouring.
To the striking workers at BURS we want them to know that BFTU is behind them and stands with them on their demands. We encourage those that are still in the offices to join hands with their colleagues to make the strike more successful. We wish to call upon all BFTU affiliates and other trade unions and workers in general to also voice their support to BOPEU members and extend any form of assistance such as provision of water and other necessities so that our comrades can be able to cope with the demands of the strike. We also wish to call upon BURS management to get back to the negotiation table with a better offer than the one taken from Government.
Botswana Federation of Trade Unions