BURS locks out workers

SHARE   |   Monday, 17 August 2015   |   By Keitebe Kgosikebatho, Phillimon Mmeso & Ditiro Motlhabane
Some of BURS workers during their strike Some of BURS workers during their strike

• BURS to evict workers on strike
• Motsamai snubs BDP delegation
• Strike causes fallout between BOPEU, govt
• BOFEPUSU ke bathonyana ba bochekwane - BOPEU
• BOPEU strike result of failed plan to discredit Manual workers - claim

The cosy relationship between Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) leadership and President Ian Khama's administration has suffered a major blow and is teetering on the brink of collapse due to the ongoing strike at Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS), insiders claim.
Late Friday afternoon BURS moved swiftly and served the workers on strike with Lock out papers. Management's interpretation is that since strike rules included a Lock out, the No work No pay rule applies in reverse since no work will be taking place and the Lock out being a result of employees strike. BURS on Friday filed an urgent application for the Lock out on the union which would allow them to remove striking employees from their premises. The union has also served BURS with papers seeking court to set aside letters of commitment. The letters require striking workers to make a commitment that they will never engage in a Go-slow. Notwithstanding the heated exchange between the parties, there was speculation late Friday that BOPEU would call off the strike tomorrow (Monday) to avoid the lock out.


BDP attempts to intervene

A Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) labour committee delegation got a rude awakening midweek (Wednesday) when BOPEU president Andrew Motsamai refused to meet them.
The BDP labour committee wanted to discuss and find a resolution to end the strike, which is hurting the economy. The BDP team was led by Secretary General Botsalo Ntuane after its chairperson Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi failed to make it leading to Motsamai feeling undermined and deciding not to attend the meeting. According to a source close to BOPEU leadership, Motsamai – who in past has been accused by of flirting with the BDP – felt that the ruling party was not taking them and the strike seriously. “They are the ruling party and we expected them to send a strong delegation because the strike is striking in the heart of Botswana’s economy but they decided to send a committee comprising people who are not even in the running of government,” said the source.
Since the strike started two weeks ago different political parties had meetings with BOPEU leadership to understand the impasse and mostly sent their top leadership. The BDP labour committee is said to have met BOPEU deputy president Masego Mogwera, who briefed them about the strike and the developments going forward. After being briefed by Mogwera and other BOPEU National Executive Committee members, the BDP promised to come back to Babereki House after briefing the central committee.
BOPEU Secretary General Topias Marenga confirmed that Motsamai didn’t attend the meeting because he was held up somewhere with other meetings. “He didn’t really snub them but had an important meeting to attend to and delegated Deputy President Mogwera to brief them. We told them that our members are now back at work but on a go-slow and will withdraw labour twice every month until the salary impasse is solved,” said Marenga.
The BDP delegation has never returned to Babereki house as promised. The BURS strike started two weeks after BOPEU and the tax authorities failed to agree on a salary increment. BOPEU proposed 16% while BURS stuck to 6% which they say was in line with government public service salary increment. The industrial action which has led to some goods trucks stuck at borders is hitting hard on the economy as BURS is the highest contributor to government purse.


Manual Workers angle

There is another angle to the strike. According to sources within the trade union movement, the strike was never intended to take place, but was a blunder when a plan to discredit manual workers union backfired. The original plan was that after manual workers made their proposal BOPEU would ask for a bigger increment and in turn demonstrate that manual workers had failed to win a better offer for workers. It later turned out that manual workers never started any negotiations.
The fallout between the two trade unions reached an all-time low with a verbal exchange of unsavoury utterances this week. Manual workers' national organising secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole said on Wednesday that they are aware of BOPEU's strategy, which has since backfired. He explained; "We have long been recognised at BURS and have entered into agreements, which saw BURS employees awarded annual increment and even a 13th cheque depending on their performance over the years. We successfully negotiated for BURS to retain five per cent of their annual collections and divide two percent of that among staff, while the remaining three per cent will be used by the parastatal to improve their systems and operations".
"We have had membership in 17 parastatals over the years, while BOPEU only gained recognition at Statistics Botswana and BURS recently. It is even surprising that BOPEU is recognised under dual membership at BURS, which was not supposed to happen. We are aware of their attempts to discredit us saying we have failed to negotiate better increment for our members but truth will out. We have not started negotiations at BURS. We are the ones who proposed to BURS management to give our members the 6 % increment in the interim pending the finalisation of a new structure in July, after which we will negotiate. BOPEU misread this to mean we have failed and proposed higher figures, which led to the strike," said Motshwarakgole.


BOPEU Secretary General, however, refuted Motshwarakgole’s claims saying they reached the decision after their members advised them to do so. Marenga said the notion that they embarked on the industrial action to discredit their counterparts at manual workers is senseless as their recognition as a union at BURS is not based on theirs. “We are not fighting for members with them. We were asked by our members to seek recognition at the institution after meeting the required threshold,” he said.

This week BOPEU's strained relationship with the parent federation also took another turn with BOFEPUSU leadership distancing themselves from the decision to go on strike 'as it was never communicated to them'. BOFEPUSU leaders said BOPEU did not involve them or notify them about their decision to embark on a strike at BURS following salary negotiations standoff. BOPEU Secretary General Topias Marenga, has on the other hand, labeled the allegations as baseless afterthoughts and damage control measures by the mother union after bluntly failing to support them. According to Marenga, a letter dated the 27th July 2015 was written and delivered to BOFEPUSU offices prior to the strike. “Those people were not telling the truth,” he said.
Briefing members of the media on Tuesday in Gaborone,  though they denied any friction between them and BOPEU, BOFEPUSU officials  justified their silence and non-presence during the BURS strike as a direct result of them not having received any official correspondence from BOPEU. BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari stated that BOPEU had deliberately imposed a blackout of communication about the strike on BOFEPUSU. “They did not even give us updates on events leading up to the strike,” Rari said.
BOFEPUSU officials, however, declined to comment on the unpleasant relationship between BOPEU and Motshwarakgole’s Manual Workers Union referring any questions to the two unions. All that BOFEPUSU officials are saying is, according to BOPEU Secretary General, false and propaganda filled statements aimed at saving face. He accused BOFEPUSU officials of deliberately taking sides with Manual Workers Union. “Remember that two unions which are both affiliated to BOFEPUSU are fighting for BURS turf, and it is clear whose side they are on,” he said.
Marenga said they have learnt from past experiences that BOFEPUSU officials have the habit of ignoring or pretending that they have not received correspondences if they do not want to get involved. “Re ba itse ka go fitlha dikwalo, ke bathonyana ba botshelo jwa bochekwane,” he said.
Rari confirmed that BOPEU had issued official notifications about the strike to individual unions which are affiliates to BOFEPUSU. He, however, said despite the unclear circumstances surrounding their relationship BOPEU that would nonetheless not prevent them from supporting their course. According to Rari, BOFEPUSU stand fully behind their comrades at BOPEU in their quest to fight for the rights of their members at BURS. “They have every right to strike if they are not satisfied by the conduct of the employer, as BOFEPUSU we fully support them,” he said. According to Rari, as long as BOPEU remained an affiliate to BOFEPUSU they will support its activities and decisions.” They are still our members, and we will support them,” he said.
Meanwhile BOFEPUSU officials also took the moment to reiterate their allegiance and support for the Umbrella for Democratic Change, saying they are so far content with the performance of the 17 legislators in parliament.
In a move that saw the trade unions endorsing the UDC candidate for Good Hope/Mabule in the upcoming by elections, BOFEPUSU said that they still believe in the viability of the UDC and as thus will pledge their support for it. “We believe all UDC MPs in parliament are fully doing what they have been voted to do in Parliament. Just because some barely say a word does not mean they do not have an input,” said BOFEPUSU President Johannes Tshukudu.
BOFEPUSU officials appealed to Good Hope/Mabule voters to deny the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Eric Molale their vote. BOFEPUSU National Organising Secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole launched a scathing attack on Molale, saying he is workers’ worst enemy, a  vague character who is  always unfair in his dealings and had failed Batswana not only once but several times before. According to Motshwarakgole, it was under Molale’s term as the Permanent Secretary to the President that some of the most draconian anti-worker policies and laws were passed.
Motshwarakgole warned the people of Good Hope/Mabule to be suspicious of Molale’s interests to be voted in as their MP, saying from the look of things he seems to be pursuing a hidden agenda. “Clearly he does not want to be voted in, to go and represent the people of Good Hope/ Mabule. This is a man who had it all as a specially elected MP and a cabinet Minister, what more does he want,” charged Motshwarakgole.

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