Shortly after taking the reins at the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) Unity Dow is quickly making enemies among students and teachers. The latest fallout is precipitated by an amendment she is seeking of the Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) Act to make it compulsory for teachers to invigilate, mark examinations and conduct course work without any remuneration. Dow moved swiftly and tabled the motion in Parliament on Tuesday after the Bill was gazetted last year, disregarding numerous requests for dialogue from teacher trade unions. Teachers unions had after becoming aware of the Bill written to the minister on November 2, 2015 asking her to suspend the tabling of the amendments in Parliament pending consultation with them. In the letter they specified the offending parts which they wanted to engage her on. Dow snubbed the teachers.
The import of the bill is to amend the BEC Act such that it makes invigilation and course work part of teachers’ duties hence making remunerations for such activities a thing of the past. BEC is an independent statutory body created by Parliament for purposes of invigilation, marking and course work. The teachers are employed under the Public Service Act which is the basis of their contractual relations and job description but under the amended Act they will be expected to perform the duties of another entity. Labour experts indicate that the amendments sought by Dow are matters of Contract of Employment and it is impossible that the employer could unilaterally alter them without teachers’ involvement.
Further if Parliament was to successfully amend BEC Act to force teachers to perform the duties outside then Parliament will be defying itself and renegading on its own laws for it is Parliament that created Public Service Act that brought about Public Service Bargaining Council and by amending the BEC Act on matters of Conditions of Service then parliament will be performing the function of Bargaining Council. The BDP Parliamentary Caucus refused to meet BOFEPUSU leadership after the latter met the opposition parliamentary caucus on Wednesday and Thursday. A group of trade union members gathered at parliamentary grounds on Thursday morning to put pressure on MPs to reject the bill.
Unions block Batshu Bill
Meanwhile BOFEPUSU has filed an application at the High Court before judge Leatile Dambe to interdict the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs (ML&HA), Edwin Batshu, from presenting the proposed amendment of the Trade Disputes Act. The lawsuit, filed by attorney Nelson Ramaotwana on Friday will force Parliament to suspend the discussion of the TDA Bill, which has become the subject of a court case. Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said the two Bills demonstrate "the ruthlessness of the Government on workers". He said the BDP-led government is at it again with draconian laws, trying to forcibly and immorally enact labour laws that seek to punish workers and take away their employment rights and Trade Union rights.
He said it is clear that the current Government is anti-workers, and called on workers to persevere and fight for their rights and ensure that laws enacted are not only laws but also just laws. "The Minister of Labour & Home Affairs has tabled amendments to Trade Dispute Act that will consequently make the entire civil service essential service contrary to ILO Conventions. These amendments if they pass will defeat freedom of association, the right to organise and Collective Bargaining," he said.