Just two weeks before the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Kenneth Matambo, delivers the 2016/17 budget in parliament, negotiations over public service salaries for the same financial year have not started at the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). Already some public servants have lost hope for any reasonable increment. Observers say with government's perchance of belt tightening and macro-economic policies, public servants will not get anything above 6%, looking at inflation rate and because billions of Pula have been drawn for ESP.
The local economy has been growing at around 3.5 percent for the past two years and a much smaller growth of only 2.6 per cent has been further projected. While the mineral revenue has plummeted by approximately 37 per cent with diamond mines slashing production and shutting down some operations to cut costs until the diamond sales recover, copper and coal mining has suffered the same fate, painting a gloomy picture for the economy. To add insult to injury, since October 2015 the world economy has shrunk, China stock market nearly collapsed, while major countries like Japan have witnessed negative growth.
Experts say the local economy has technically entered a recession, which would not augur well for any salary increments which could push the public sector wage bill by billions of Pula. Therefore, the negotiations could be a formality to satisfy procedural requirements. When it was put to him that the bargaining process may be a futile exercise since the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has already completed the budgeting process and is putting together final touches to the Budget Speech, Topias Marenga - BOPEU Secretary General - conceded that the timing for negotiations may need to be revised to accommodate the outcome of the bargaining process.
Fireworks are expected at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow (Monday 18th January 2016) to deliberate on the outcome of a membership verification process ordered by the Industrial court recently. Court ordered the verification process after Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) indicated that they were no longer part of a joint agreement entered into to be collectively admitted as a trade union party at the (PSBC) with four other public sector unions affiliated to BOFEPUSU. BOPEU has since applied for admission to PSBC and submitted their membership figures for verification alongside BONU, BOGOWU and TAWU after leaving the joint arrangement.
A day after BOPEU were invited by the federation to submit the union's audited membership figures for verification as per the court order, one Ketlhapeleng Karabo circulated a memo titled "Update on PSBC and Salary Negotiations 2016/17", claiming that they were not aware of the litigation until the 11th hour. S/he claimed that BOPEU was never consulted as an interested party at PSBC, and was deliberately sidelined from the verification process ordered in the settlement agreement entered into by parties to the legal proceedings.
Quite curiously, the federation secretary general Tobokani Rari had invited BOPEU to submit audited membership figures "under the acting jointly arrangement" by January 06 to satisfy the court order, which the latter ignored. The court order requires that a meeting of the PSBC be convened tomorrow to deliberate on among others, the outcome of the verification process. BOFEPUSU deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa has rubbished claims that BOPEU was sidelined, saying the union was duly represented by two members at some PSBC meetings but absconded from others without forwarding an apology.
Motshegwa said it is clear to members of BOPEU, workers and the public at large that BOFEPUSU has been cooperative in accommodating BOPEU at PSBC but their president has different plans that resulted in BOPEU opting out of the court case and failing to submit names of their members for verification at Bargaining Council as per the request by Rari's letter after the court made an order to that effect. He explains thus; "After the drafting of Trade Union party proposal all Unions were invited to a meeting on the 08 December 2015 at Oasis motel and BOPEU did not turn up and no apology was tendered.
Subsequently a meeting of the Bargaining Council was convened on the 17th December 2015 and all Unions were represented including BOPEU as they were represented by Francinah Senyarelo and Olefile Monakwe as indicated in the minutes of the Council. After failure of the meeting a Trade Union party caucus meeting was held at Council and BOPEU was still represented by the two where it was agreed that the Union launch an urgent application and it was agreed that there be a meeting with Attorney Mboki Chilisa. At the meeting with Chilisa all unions except BOPEU turned up.
It was then that I personally contacted BOPEU representatives at Bargaining Council and Mr Monakwe explained that he is held up at work and confirmed that he has briefed their Secretary General Mr Topias Marenga about developments at the Bargaining Council including the envisaged Court application. I then took it upon myself to call Mr Marenga and I briefed him about the looming Court case and he indicated to me that such is the right step to take. Later on that day I was called by Mr Monako (BOPEU representative at PSBC) that Marenga has since called, saying BOPEU has decided not to be part of the case.
The sudden change by BOPEU to opt out of the case we suspected had to do with their then brewing intentions to make a separate application to Bargaining Council outside BOFEPUSU, something they have since done as they call themselves "Botlhe" in that application". He said the leadership of BOPEU assured their members at congress held in December 2015 that they will not pull out of the joint arrangement under BOFEPUSU at Public Service Bargaining Council. "Given their current actions it is clear that they were deceiving their unsuspecting members as it is clear that the desire of the leadership was calculated to pull out of the joint arrangement.
Lies and clandestine ulterior motives have short legs and will soon catch up with their perpetrators who cause havoc and disunity within working class in endeavours for self centred missions," he said. BOPEU has not left the matter lying down. Karabo said despite the conduct by the federation "this should not be understood to mean that BOPEU is no longer a member of the PSBC. It can only be construed to mean that, the parties in this matter, agreed by consent to a court order which effectively cancelled the previous acting jointly agreement. We continue to be an admitted member and shall continue to sit at the PSBC.
We are under the circumstances compelled to submit our credentials to the PSBC so as to be verified as members of the PSBC outside the auspices of the BOFEPUSU collective in response to the aforementioned settlement agreement." Throwing a salvo at the federation, Karabo said "our detractors will continue, as the president warned at the last NGC, to sow seeds of discord amongst ourselves. We must be weary of that and not cause distress by mere political rhetoric and gossip."
Marenga confirmed that they have left the joint arrangement and were not part of the court case, and hence will now go it alone. He, however, said they had not received feedback from PSBC regarding their application for admission. By Friday afternoon none of the trade union parties had information on whether the salary negotiations proper will commence Monday.