While industrial action by some Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) employees who are Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) continues, the relation between the latter and Johnson Motshwarakgole led National Amalgamated Local And Central Government And Parastatals Workers Union known as Manual Workers Union is headed deep into the rocks. Although some may be under the impression that all unionized BURS workers are on strike, only BOPEU members are, in fact Manual Workers Union leader Johnson Motshwarakgole has come out and distanced his union and its members from the strike. He however pointed out that they are by no means against the strike and would have supported their colleagues from BOPEU had they not been cast out and given a cold shoulder by their comrades at BOPEU. “We only came to know about the strike through a court case citation,” Motshwarakgole said.
If the two’s relationship was to be personified, one could say as far as the BURS debacle is concerned, the two trade unions are not on ‘speaking terms’, the only communication and encounters that the two have shared is through numerous court appearances that followed salary negotiation collapse between BURS and BOPEU. This occurrence according to Motshwarakgole has put them at crossroads because while they do not want to be seen as party-poopers’ who want to steal BOPEU’shine and stand in their struggle to attain the best for their members, they too want it to be known that they are still in the picture and have decided to take a different route to that of BOPEU. “A strike is supposed to be a collective effort by trade unions especially when they share members. I don’t know why BOPEU is casting a bad light on us and making it look like we are working against them in all this while we are not,” he said.
According to Motshwarakgole as it is, their hands are tied and cannot meddle in BOPEU’s affairs. This he says is also acerbated by the fact that they still have an agreement with BURS to negotiate for salary increment for their members after they finalise their restructuring and pay structure which is due end of July. “ I was talking to BURS management today and we are to meet next week to forge a way forward,” Motshwarakgole said on Thursday. As of July according to Motshwarakgole, Manual Workers Union has 591 members who are in the employ of BURS. Of all the 591 some have dual membership with BOPEU, and have decide to participate in the strike.
While BOPEU has vowed to forge forward with the indefinite industrial action, which they swear will only stop when the employer give in to their demands, Motshwarakgole is of the opinion that experience in dealing with parastatals has taught them that radicalism will not always take them afar and says for now they are treading with caution and hope to achieve close to what they are bargaining for. “I can assure you that from the negotiations that we will get into with BURS, we are going to attain at least 11 percent increment for our workers,” he said.
BOPEU on Tuesday convened a press conference in which they gave an update of the developments of the industrial action. “It is important to acknowledge that we have been pleasantly surprised by the overall turn-up” a press statement from BOPEU read. To prove this, BOPEU further provided numbers of workers on strike countrywide, which in most cases reflected that workers were on strike in high numbers. This has however been refuted by Manual workers union leaders who accused BOPEU of giving the public a wrong picture of the situation on the ground. BOPEU further noted that they have been in contact with local unions to seek their solidarity and support.
Meanwhile, while BOPEU celebrates the massive turn out by BURS workers to partake in the strike, Motshwarakgole warns that as much as government would like to down play the impact of the strike, chances are they wont. He said government will in turn use such claims as a defense not to grant increment in future. “The millions that BURS is allegedly losing due to the strike is likely to be used by government at the next bargaining council meeting to claim there is a shortage of funds,” he said.