Delegates to the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) special congress held in Palapye last Saturday have unanimously rejected the three (3 %) per cent salary increase for 2016/17 announced by government. The resolution complicates government's decision to pay the 3 per cent increment into salaries of public servants who do not belong to BOFEPUSU being management cadres, the non-unionised, the discipline forces and those belonging to other trade unions outside the federation. After government officials announced that they will go ahead and pay public servants the three per cent increase at the beginning of the 2016/17 financial year in April, the federation obtained a court order preventing the employer from effecting the increase on their members before the bargaining process is concluded.
Briefing the delegates Deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said they were recently summoned to a meeting with Carter Morupisi - Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) – who told them that government payroll system cannot differentiate between unionised and non-unionised employees. Therefore, Morupisi persuaded BOFEPUSU leaders to allow government to effect the 3 % increase on all public servants, including their members contrary to the court order. Government has since issued a circular savingram stating that they are reinstating the 3% increment only for public servants who are not members of the applicant unions. The savingram effectively means that members of BOSETU, BTU, Amalgamated Manual Workers and BLLAWHU will not benefit from the 3% increment. But the delegates responded with a resounding ‘aeeeyeee’, rejecting the offer.
"We refused because in our view the bargaining council still has an opportunity to consider proposals from the employer and the trade unions, before a decision is made. We refused to endorse government's position, which undermines the existence and functions of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) as envisaged in the Public Service Act. Morupisi has even failed to put his request in writing, a clear indication that he had a motive to discredit us, had we agreed," said Motshegwa to a thunderous applause and cheering from delegates who filled up the Palapye International Convention Centre (PICC). When the 3 % matter came up for deliberation leaders of the different commissions (trade union delegates) took turns to bash government for offering them a pittance and vowed that they can do without the 3 %. A gloomy picture was painted when calculations showed that 3 % would increase salaries for cadres at the bottom of the pay structure by P32.00. Delegates said accepting a measly 3 % would be tantamount to celebrating abuse by the employer and they would be abandoning their principle, which is protected by the PSBC.
A day before the special congress BOFEPUSU got a major boost when on Friday the Court of Appeal (CoA) ruled that contrary to an earlier judgment by the Industrial Court, the PSBC still exists. Attorney Mboki Chilisa explained that the effect of the judgment is that the Acting Jointly Arrangement (AJA) made up of the four trade unions remains admitted to PSBC under the name BOFEPUSU, safe for the verification process. The three CoA judges Justice Ian Kirby, Isaac Lesetedi and Monametsi Gaongalelwe ruled that the AJA is admissible to the bargaining council provided one of the trade unions under the arrangement meets the requisite one third threshold. Chilisa said based on the previous verification process in February the National Amalgamated Local, Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPW)-meet the threshold and therefore qualifies BOFEPUSU to remain admitted to the PSBC.
The judges found that Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) ceased to be a member of PSBC when it pulled out of the AJA through which it had been admitted, but emphasised that it could still be admitted through the Botlhe Bargaining Forum (BBF) application, provided one of the unions under the arrangement meet the threshold. Other constituents of BBF are BONU, TAWU and BOGOWU. On Tuesday the AJA resubmitted their membership numbers for verification. BOFEPUSU has called on the PSBC Secretariat to expedite the verification process to be completed within seven days, to enable negotiations to resume next week. BOPEU, on the other hand, has not indicated when they will submit their numbers for verification. On Monday the union said in a statement: "emotions are still stirred up, some in the leadership are unable to see the woods for the trees. We would therefore wait for emotions to subside and await engagement on serious workers issues".
When negotiations resume, BOFEPUSU will revisit the proposal they made on November 23, 2015 for a 13 % salary increase for 2016/17. The federation will also push for the increase of local per diem from the current P120 to around P600,"to save money for government by encouraging public servants on a trip to choose cheaper accommodation than is currently the case," said Motshegwa. BOFEPUSU has also proposed that pension funds should be availed for use by members approaching retirement as deposit for mortgages, to ease the financial burden on them when they retire. The federation is also fighting for the resolution of issues emanating from the transition to the Public Service Act, which rendered some former manual workers non-pensionable because they do not meet the minimum requirements.
To achieve fairness, where all public servants benefit from the outcomes of PSBC, the federation has proposed a levy deducted from all as part of a funding model. The federation has also proposed the introduction of paternity leave for fathers in an effort to save the disintegrating family unit, where male employees hide behind work commitments to avoid supporting child bearing mothers.