Khama Directive stalls SB salary talks

SHARE   |   Monday, 15 August 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Akoonyatse Akoonyatse

Salary negotiations between Statistics Botswana (SB) and their unionised employees have collapsed due to a Presidential directive of December 2015 ordering parastatals to "only offer increases to their staff within the limit agreed by government". The Khama directive at the centre of the dispute demands "that all ministries with parastatals should take the necessary steps to ensure that parastatal organisations under them only offer salary increases to their staff within the limit agreed by government and following the necessary consultation with the parent ministry". Flowing from the Directive, SB management offered a 3 % salary increment at the beginning of the negotiations through a position paper dated 07 April 2016. Part of the SB position paper reads: "(SB) Management moves to adopt the shareholder's resolution on inflationary adjustment for 2016/17 and in all future adjustments, as per government directive. Management therefore offers adjustment that government will offer as inflationary adjustment across the board effective 1st April 2016."

Negotiating in bad faith 
After trying unsuccessfully to convince SB management to approach the salary negotiations differently, and opening up to other proposals the employees engaged attorney Joseph Akoonyatse. seeking legal advise. In July, following the last meeting in June where management repeated the same position, Akoonyantse cautioned that SB confined itself to increment for public servants and refused to move despite that they are an independent organisation whose employees are not public servants, and therefore not represented at the bargaining between government and public service trade unions. Such conduct, according to Akoonyatse, amounts to a refusal to negotiate and is unlawful. If the interpretation attached by SB to the Directive is correct, then the directive is unlawful in so far as it has the result of compelling SB to negotiate in bad faith, he said. Akoonyatse cited a similar case at the Industrial Court last year (2015) between another parastatal Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) and Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU).

Court ruled that BURS is not obliged to confine itself to the 6% award of government (to public servants) because otherwise there would be no point of undertaking wage negotiations with the trade unions it has recognised. Court further observed that this would mean BURS could sit back comfortably, awaiting the outcome of wage negotiations between government and its recognised unions, and then promptly apply that award to its employees without interacting with their representatives. "The court agrees that the conduct of (BURS) constituted refusal to negotiate in good faith. Based on the award by government, BURS simply made a proposal for 6% and then stuck to its guns, making it clear it had no intention to move beyond that. In those circumstances it was clear therefore (such conduct) also constitutes a breach to negotiate in good faith," reads part of the judgment. Based on the judgment, Akoonyatse argues that SB may not adopt the position it now has adopted as that amounts to a refusal to negotiate and is unlawful.

SB Board ceiling 
In response, SB Director Legal Services and Board Secretary Benbella Rwelengera denied that management has refused to negotiate, or can be said to have negotiated in bad faith. Rwelengera said in the four weeks that negotiations have been ongoing management has made in clear that SB Board of Directors has set a ceiling amount which they cannot exceed, in compliance with the Presidential Directive. "In the spirit of the wording of the directive, management and the board may negotiate with its employees within set parameters; decide to pay the same, or less, than the amount awarded by government to its public service employees; seek permission of the ministry, should it deem necessary, to pay over and beyond the amount awarded by government to public servants," said Rwelengera, referring Akoonyatse to the Attorney General on the question of the legality or reasonableness of the Directive. Meanwhile, the case in which SB is being sued by some employees over the disparity in the new pay structure and discrepancy of its implementation following the migration exercise of 2012, started at Lobatse High court on Thursday. The session was dedicated to arguments on preliminary points in law, where lawyers representing SB argue that the matter has been brought to court prematurely as there is still room for negotiations to address grievances raised. On the other hand the aggrieved employees accuse management of failing to address their grievances, and disregarding the recommendations of a Salary Grievances Task Force, which was formed to holistically look into the pay structure, assess grievances and make recommendations to management for a final decision. Management is accused of discrimination and favouritism during implementation of the new pay structure. 

SB fires whistleblower
In yet another court case, which was scheduled to be heard on Friday at the Lobatse High court but has been postponed to next week, SB management is being sued for a decision to fire one Marang Teisi. Teisi was fired for "improper disclosure of any information in respect of the affairs of Statistics Botswana", after providing the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) with confidential information following a formal request. She was also suspected to have leaked the information she gave DCEC to the media after stories appeared in newspapers exposing controversial recruitment, appointments and dismissals, unfair labour practices, and allegations of misappropriation of funds at SB. The case will also bring the operations of the DCEC into scrutiny after its Director, Rose Seretse, ignored Teisi's appeal for protection under the Corruption and Economic Crimes Act after she assisted the graft busters in her official capacity following a formal request.