Members of Botswana Bank Employees Union (BOBEU) meet in Palapye on Friday for the 23rd delegates’ congress, where election of the new leadership will take centre stage. Already intensive lobbying, particularly for the strategic positions of Chairman and General Secretary – which each bank aspires to have – is ongoing behind the scenes with lobby lists only expected to emerge on the floor of congress. General Secretary Lebogang Keabetswe, who is seeking reelection, said on Friday that all positions are up for reelection but nominations are only made during elections. "I am certain by now, campaigns are effectively taking place,” she said. She said the National Executive Committee (NEC) was to have their last leadership meeting over the weekend to finalise logistics. "We will look at the reports as a collective and finalise the programme and any agenda that might be related to the Congress. We are expecting our comrades from banking unions in Zambia and Zimbabwe to grace our Congress. Both our mother bodies, BFTU and UNI Global Union will also be in attendance," she said.
On why the congress was deferred to October, as opposed to being held earlier, she said, the Constitution allows for the congress to be held within 27 months from the last one should there be challenges with holding it on the month of the anniversary of the last one. She explained that on the month of the anniversary there were a lot of outstanding negotiations with various local banks and could not just abort and handover pending issues to the next committee. She gave the example of negotiations with one bank regarding looming retrenchment, which they had to finalise. "This was communicated well in advance to the membership," she said. Keabetswe is confident that the outgoing committee did well in their tenure, dismissing widespread allegations that they are deeply divided along factions. She said of the twelve (12) resolutions from the last congress, nine have been implemented. Amongst those were to organise Bank Gaborone within a specified time period, provide training to at least 40% of the membership, review of the death claim and community project. She, however, conceded that they have failed to appoint new auditors and review the new proposed Constitution, which will be tabled back to the congress over the weekend.
Milestones, challenges, relationships
Although she complains that two years is a short space of time to have achieved a lot, Keabetswe said during their stay in office industrial relations across all banks have improved, turnaround for salary negotiations has also improved significantly with even higher percentage increases being awarded despite the liquidity challenges banks underwent. A women’s committee has been set up, together with improved international solidarity. She said job losses were only recorded at one bank, despite four banks having had announced plans to separate. "We successfully negotiated for re-deployments and voluntary separation. One of the biggest achievements has been capacity building in ensuring there is continuity. Engagement with the membership has also improved. Our Union density is at its highest ever in years," she declared. To demonstrate cordial relationship with all employers, Keabetswe said one of the leading Banks’ executive will officiate at their congress, while other MD’s and CEO’s have been invited to attend. Others, she said, have even pledged sponsorship towards the congress, while others continue to support other projects of the union. "Of course like any other relationship, we do have our hiccups but we all recognise that we are stakeholders and need to find common ground when such occurs," she says.
BOBEU membership currently revolves around 2500 with members from seven banks, representing a union density at 96% from 77% when the current committee took over – one of the healthiest in any sector. Keabetswe said they ran four organizing campaigns, one in 2014 another in 2015 and two in 2016. She said almost all those that have been in employment for over five years are unionised and they are now targeting new entrants and the youth. Over the years members in 'smaller' banks complain that the union leadership is dominated by members from big banks, which diminishes representation with their employers. Consequently, one of the motions that will be discussed is equal representation in NEC. It was deliberated in detail in the last meeting but failed to pass as a resolution. It has since been brought back. Keabetswe said they have ensured a fair representation of all banks at the congress so that big banks do not overpower the small ones in numbers and decision making. "We have represented all members fairly; we have made a provision that there is at least a minimum of two representatives coming from a bank that’s not represented in NEC whenever we go for negotiations. This has worked well. It’s unfortunate, members sometimes are unsatisfied along the way," she said.