The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) has been called to mediate in the bitter rivalry between the leadership of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU).
In a meeting with UDC leadership last week, BOPEU leadership is alleged to have asked party president Duma Boko to reconcile them with BOFEPUSU. According to a source who attended the meeting, BOPEU leadership complained that UDC seems to be closer to BOFEPUSU than other trade unions like Botswana Federation of Trade Union (BFTU).
BOPEU leadership is said to have pointed out that there is no need to talk about opposition cooperation towards 2019 when the labour force is divided. The meeting, which was part of UDC consultations with the civic society, called on Boko to also bring together Motsamai and his rival BOFEPUSU Labour Secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole, and help them bury their differences for the good of the nation. The two are the brains behind the formation of BOFEPUSU and the idea of forming a united opposition, which gave birth to UDC.
Motshwarakgole and BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari said they are not aware of efforts by UDC to reconcile them with BOPEU. They said that they are not aware if there is some tension between them and BOPEU president. “As far as I know there is no misunderstanding between us and BOPEU because we are both part of bargaining council and meet in other forums as one voice,” said Rari, adding that they will welcome any efforts of reconciliation from any person who feels that they are divided.
Lately, BOPEU has threatened to stop their subscriptions to BOFEPUSU complaining about lack of accountability at the public sector federation. UDC Publicity Secretary Moeti Mohwasa and Motsamai declined to discuss the contents of their meeting. Motsamai would neither confirm nor deny asking for reconciliation with BOFEPUSU. “We met the UDC leadership and discussed a lot of issues and most of them were confidential and as such I cannot comment about something that was said in camera,” said Motsamai.
Mohwasa said they interact with trade unions on various issues and some are confidential. He said it is true that his party is concerned about the divisions between public sector unions. Meanwhile, the long standing relationship between the UDC and BOFEPUSU was rekindled on Monday following a consultative meeting in which they discussed several areas of development. According to UDC president, the two entities discussed establishing a platform for continuous engagement and negotiations. The UDC also want the two organisations to establish a high level forum which will include the UDC President, Secretary General and the party’s Secretary for Labour and BOFEPUSU top ranking officials. “We have presented our proposal to BOFEPUSU and it is now up to them to consider and revert,” said Boko.
He said although they share the same values and principles with local trade unions they will not hold the unions prisoners and will not expect them not to criticise them constructively. Addressing the media after the meeting with BOFEPUSU leaders in Gaborone, Boko said as a result they have not signed any agreement with trade unions and do not intend to do so in future.
According to Boko, their meeting with BOFEPUSU which came at the UDC’s insistence follows a resolution by UDC leadership to embark on consultative programme, which will see them meeting various organisations in the private sector and civil societies. “We have no agreement with BOFEPUSU whatsoever and do not need one. Our relationship is premised on shared values,” said Boko. Boko condemned the ruling party for 'the onslaught’ it has launched on any organisation and anyone who dared to oppose them. “Trade unions have not been spared this onslaught either. Government wants to restrict the political space in which they operate so as to disempower them,” he said.
Boko said all sections of the civil society should be at the forefront of staging social discourse and there could be no better example than how trade unions are currently faring locally. Trade unions, he said, are now subjected to the full wrath of the ruling party because they have constantly displayed that they will defend the country’s constitution and will go all out to criticise government to rectify things. In turn Boko said government has retaliated by ignoring court orders in which trade unions triumphed in their quest to defeat the injustice endured at the hands of the current government. “Government is now countering court orders and judgments by making amendments to current laws in order to force its wishes to be done. The BEC and the Trade Dispute Act are some of such instrument that government intends to hold workers and trade unions at ransom with,” he said.
He urged trade unions not to despair and continue in their quest to uphold the principles of democracy. “You should attend (parliament) to monitor the performance of each member on issues that affect you directly and shame (your MPs) in return,” said Boko.