The tussle for power between Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and The National Amalgamated Local Central Government and Parastatal Workers’ Union (Manual Workers’ Union) played out in court on Thursday with the former suffering a huge blow to its quest to stop Botswana Revenue Services (BURS) from issuing a six percent salary increment to some of its employees.
Although in their submissions BOPEU had indicated that despite having cited Manual workers Union as a respondent in their case , this was by no means an attack on them but just a means to the end, the latter did not take their involvement in the case lightly and fired hard, frustrating and harming largely the applicant’s case.
BOPEU had filed an urgent application before the Industrial court, for an order interdicting Botswana Revenue Services from implementing a six percent salary increment in favour of any of its employees who maybe members of manual workers union or the unionized ones pending the conclusions of its salary increment negotiations with the employer.
When making a ruling, Industrial Court Judge Tapiwa Marumo refused to grant the request by BOPEU. Marumo refused to grant BOPEU their request for an interim order as well. She instead ruled that BURS is not obliged to confine its proposed increment on the salaries and allowances for its employees for the year ended 2015/16 to the maximum awarded by government to public servants and that such decision amounts to refusal by BURS to negotiate with BOPEU.
When arguing his case BOPEU lawyer Joseph Akoonyatse pleaded with the court to waive BURS any employee’s right to receive a salary increment from BURS pending the finalization of their negotiations. He asked that the balance of convenience be tilted in favor of BOPEU because though Manual workers Union and BURS were arguing that salary negotiations were still to continue after the implementation of the 6 percent increment, it was not enough, absent of a court declaration. "It is clear that the employer says is restricting itself to what government has awarded civil servants,” Akoonyatse said.
That at the time of the proceedings of the urgent application the payment had already been done, Akoonyatse said this still did not prevent the court from going ahead with the interdict. “The application cannot be termed academic just because someone, somewhere rushed and made payment,” he said.
Akoonyatse bemoaned that the decision by BURS to credit the six percent salary increment to members of manual workers union and ununionised employees undermines BOPEU’ stance as far as salary negotiations with the employer is concerned saying it was bound to put BOPEU in bad light before its members. “The employer must not be seen to be creating situations whereby workers are going to be confused as to where their allegiance is going to be. As it is, they are already fighting for members,” he said.
He pleaded with the court to nullify any salary increment agreement entered into by manual workers’ union and BURS saying employees can always be paid back their money after everything is final.
Akoonyatse’s points of argument were however received with fierce opposition from both BURS attorney Ompatile Ngoma and Manual Workers’ Tshiamo Rantao, who argued that he was making frivolous and ferocious demands made under self-engineered urgency.
BURS’s Ngoma argued that as an agent of government, the former was bound by the supervision of the ministry of Finance and Development Planning through which it gets its funding. According to Ngoma BURS is a noncommercial parastatal which submits its budget estimates including salaries to the government of Botswana and in determining its salaries it must be guided by that which it is given by the Permanent Secretary. Ngoma refuted BOPEU’s claim that BURS was refusing to negotiate stating that as the employer, they value and recognise collective bargaining and recognise that unions give employees the liberty and latitude to negotiate for a better pay. Ngoma argued that although BOPEU argued that their right to fair bargaining may suffer injury should their application be declined they brought it on themselves as they failed to stand by the 14 days cooling period after their negotiations collapsed.
Defending manual workers’ decision to allow the six percent salary increment to be issued to its members, Tshiamo Rantao argued that even though BOPEU attorney suggests that no orders were sought against them, the remedies sought in the case were going to affect his client’s members. Rantao also among other things argued that should the court concede to BOPEU’s demands, there was going to be an infringement on employees’ personal right to enjoy the increment. “Once you decide to increase salaries as a result of collective negotiations a personal right is created,” he said.
He also argued that BOPEU’s argument that they were likely to lose members to other unions should the increment be implemented was a non-issue and should blamed on them. "If BOPEU members are leaving their union for manual workers union then BOPEU has itself to blame,” said Rantao. He said it was unfair that BOPEU wants to bring everybody into their fold for its own benefit. He argued that BURS had made an offer to the two unions through a well written letter to accept the six percent increment pending negotiations for the convenience of their members.
Rantao furnished the court with names of members of BURS employees who hold a dual membership of the two unions who had written to their employer requesting that they be paid the six percent salary adjustment to be paid to other workers.
BURS and the two trade unions will resume salary negotiations at a date yet to be communicated.