Unions, not BOFEPUSU, must engage

SHARE   |   Friday, 29 April 2016   |   By Karabo Ramogotsi
Time to talk and reconcile Time to talk and reconcile

Alas! The Courts of Botswana have once again asked that the trade union leaders must go and settle the matter of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) through an out of court settlement. A settlement that after agreeing on terms and conditions, they should present such to the court of law itself for authenticity, legal compliance and subsequently as international legal practice allows, make such an agreement a court order. This judgement is very important as it brings the matter back to where the workers and the general public have been asking that it be taken to; to basic mediation through the commission of labour as chairperson of the whole process. The courts do not hold keys to this matter. The keys to this matter have long been in the possession of amicable dialogue through mutual respect. It was unfortunate that this matter found its way to the courts of law. This case highlights significant importance of the unity of workers. We don’t want to find ourselves pinching our whole bodies when we ultimately come to the realisation that the recognition of our trade unionism at the PSBC is merely a sectoral presence. But if we are going to just be here and numb, hoping that our problem will go away, then it is here to stay. The Industrial Court had initially ruled that only Manual Workers Union, as per the constitution of the PSBC qualifies entry into the membership of the PSBC. It is the constitution of the PSBC that dictates that only individual trade unions, which have not less than 27000 members can be admitted as members of the PSBC to represent public employees. Comrades, this is the matter that our trade union leaders must address.

We need to face the reality that Manual Workers Union does not represent most of us. It is a support staff union; it is for those doing manual work. If we fail to settle out of court as the courts of law have rightfully advised and as we have always wanted, we will be at the mercy of only the Manual Workers Union to represent us at the PSBC. Painful as it is to say, the Industrial Court President had initially ruled that the BOPEU’s assertion that only Manual Workers Union qualifies to be admitted as a member of the PSBC is true and without an aorta of doubt. The constitution of PSBC posits that for admission into membership entry, each individual union, and not BOFEPUSU the collective, should meet a minimum threshold of 27, 000. At the time of the judgment it was only Manual Workers Union qualifying. BOPEU was coming second and the rest of the individual trade unions such as that of BOSETU, BAGOWU, BTU, BALLAHWU, and BONU etc. trailing way below the constitutional threshold. It is this unreasonably high threshold that is dividing the workers.

Comrades we must appreciate that we have tried every trick in the book to try and hide the truth from the public and presented that this matter was not legal but of two former comrades battling it out for space. But even we at BOFEPUSU find ourselves with an egg in the eye that we need to handle this matter out of court rooms. We must find solace in the fact that the court gave us an opportunity to sort ourselves out, in the interest of non-trade union leaders like me; mere members on the basis of being a worker. We can’t afford to be going around circles when we know what the problem is.

Comrades, we need the money and we need PSBC to sit and resolve the wage impasse. Inflation is hitting us hard and for a change the Government seems willing to negotiate and instead of us using the opportunity, we have been muscling each other out of the PSBC. BOFEPUSU must become the bigger union that it is and stop competing for space with individual trade unions. And we of the minority trade unions due to numbers must wake up and not allow Manual Workers Union to derail this process. We must remember that the teachers’ trade unions such as BTU and BOSETU will not be allowed representation at the PSBC if we allow the Manual Workers Union to be the only union admitted at the PSBC. This will mean that the teachers will be represented by their drivers and messengers. We don’t want to find ourselves pinching our whole bodies when we ultimately come to the realisation that our trade unionism at the PSBC is merely sectoral by recognition. All of us, nurses, accountants, auditors, administrators, clerks etc. will not be represented.

These things have to be said so that we put the issue into perspective. Manual Workers Union as its name defines is a union of support staff workers. For example, teachers must recall that they are merely just a department of Teaching Management Services. At that Ministry resides many other staff members who are not teachers, including finance and accounts people, administrators, auditors etc. and other officers to name a few. These workers who also belong to unions that have been cut out by the threshold of the PSBC as confirmed by the Industrial court will also be represented and be negotiated for by their support staff, who are members of the Manual Workers Union. 

Because the constitution of the PSBC is our own doing, and it is our own doing that has come back to haunt us, we need to address the anomaly of the threshold. The courts have said that the PSBC constitution is clear that it recognises only individual trade unions which are recognised by the employer. No employer in Botswana recognises a federation of trade unions. That is a discussion for another day. Employers recognize individual trade unions that one might term sectoral. Essentially a huge chunk of the public sector workers will not be represented because their trade unions in their individual capacity cannot meet the threshold. A threshold no one knows how it was decided on and how it came into existence except our trade leaders who came up with the PSBC constitution and who at the moment are our representatives at the same PSBC if we agree to have am out of court settlement. We are the only ones then who can ask our trade union leaders to meet and lower the constitutional threshold as the courts have advised so that the PSBC may finally meet and deliberate on the process of salary increment and many other matters warranting resolutions.

This is what the workers and Batswana have been asking about all along. Everyone has been praying with the leaders of our trade unions to settle out of court, to find an amicable way of handling this matter. Our friends at BOPEU were also heard sometimes back on radio after the first judgment that they were hoping to resolve the matter out of court. We can only hope that the leadership of BOPEU is still willing to settle out of court and we can only hope as well again that the leaders of other trade unions including Manual Workers Union are also willing to settle out of court. BOFEPUSU as a collective, should stay out of this matter and allow individual unions to trade. It appears that this matter is often viewed to be a matter between us and BOPEU so we could just step aside and allow individual unions to engage in civil talks for an outcome that will benefit the workers, an outcome that will essentially trickle down to the ordinary Botswana. The buying power of an ordinary Motswana employed in the public service or not, is entirely dependent on the strength of the public service salary. Please comrades, be the leaders that we trust you can be, put any other matters aside and pursue this interest of the workers. You can after this go back to your many other interests.

Karabo Ramogotsi 
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