Salary talks collapse

SHARE   |   Monday, 14 November 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhababne
Molale Molale

Lawyers representing Bofepusu acting jointly arrangement (AJA) were running helter skelter late Friday afternoon trying to find a High court judge to hear an urgent application, in which they want to force government back to the bargaining council to continue 2016/17 salary negotiations.
As accurately predicted by The Patriot on Sunday last week that there will be delays caused by numerous adjournments, negotiations at the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) have already been deadlocked at the start of business. Government negotiators paralysed proceedings on the very first day (November 04), claiming that they did not have mandate from their superiors regarding the definition of an employee and the scope of negotiations as contained in the adopted rules of engagement, forcing an adjournment. They returned to the bargaining council on Tuesday (November 08) arguing that the two issues they were raising are linked to a matter brought before court by the trade union party. "The sub judice rule applies on this matter, hence (we are) constrained to proceed with the negotiations for 2016/17. They indicated their commitment to the current negotiations but cautioned that it would not be proper to proceed with the negotiations when there is a matter before court that has a bearing on the outcome of the negotiation process," reads a concluding statement from the employer party.

The lawsuit referred to is a final review of Industrial Court judgment by Justice Harold Ruhukya sought by BOFEPUSU trade unions, wherein they want the High Court to declare that the unilateral decision by government to award a 3% salary increase to non-unionised employees was unlawful as it contravenes the Public Service Act (PSA), which establishes the PSBC. BOFEPUSU maintain that all public officers employed in terms of the PSA fall within the scope of the PSBC; and that changes to terms and conditions of all public officers falling within the scope of the PSBC are subject to negotiation at the PSBC. The registered scope of the bargaining council, according to its constitution, is the entire public service excluding Botswana Defense Force, Botswana Police Service and Botswana Prison Services. Therefore, the trade unions argue that any unilateral changes to the remuneration of public servants falling within the scope of PSBC is unlawful and a breach of the government's duty to bargain in good faith. In addition, the trade unions said implementing an increment in respect of non-unionised employees undermines and violates the legislative role of the PSBC and constitutes breach of the duty to bargain in good faith. "Such unilateral action also amounts to by-passing the negotiation process, a form of bad faith bargaining," reads part of the court papers.

At PSBC, BOFEPUSU AJA tried without success to convince government negotiators that the current scope of negotiations is confined to their members, which is also scope defined by the judgment of the industrial court pertaining to the 3% salary increase awarded to non-unionised employees. Their contention was that the Court of Appeal has directed the PSBC to resume the 2016/17 salary negotiations after the membership verification process, and therefore the conduct of the employer party in stalling negotiations is in contempt of that decision/court order. The trade unions argued that the case before the High court – the review application scheduled to be heard on December 03 – has nothing to do with the current negotiations but future negotiations since government has already awarded some public servants the 3 % salary increase in any case. Sources close to the negotiations said the trade unions are unhappy that government is negotiating in bad faith as demonstrated by her pulling out of negotiations over a minor issue. "Even the wording in the counter proposal submitted by the employer presents a fixed position. Government says she can only afford 3 % salary adjustment," a source said. 

Defending the 3% offer, the employer party submits in the counter proposal that of concern lately to government, and which Batswana and all stakeholders should note, is the high wage bill. The total wage bill for 2016/17 currently stands at P20.073 billion. "More effort is required to manage government expenditure, especially the wage bill. One of the emerging concerns among the workforce is that of poor work ethic, which tend to undermine labour productivity. Based on the foregoing, government can only afford 3% salary adjustment," reads part of the counter proposal submitted last week. The trade union party submitted their proposal on 23 November 2015. Meanwhile the Deputy Secretary General of Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), Ketlhalefile Motshegwa has lambasted the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale, blaming him for disruptions at the bargaining council caused by the employer party. Motshegwa said the Bargaining Council continues to be disrespected, disregarded and labour laws violated in the public service under the mentorship and influence of the minister. At this moment there is low morale in the Public Service, there are poor conditions of service of workers, there is animosity and instability in the civil service, he said.

"Since his days as a Permanent Secretary, and later as Permanent Secretary to the President he has always been and continues to be confrontational against trade unions and undermines social dialogue mechanisms thereby undermining Freedom of Association, The Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. His role in mandate-giving to those who represent Government at the Bargaining Council continues to spell disaster for the Bargaining Council and the Country. His influence and role in the public service has brought an era of bad relations between trade unions and government, which in turn is negatively impacting on the democracy of the country," cautions Motshegwa. Taking the cue from their boss, Motshegwa said, there are confrontational and inexperienced Permanent Secretaries who are clueless about labour relations and contemporary trends of workplace democracy. He said these are the kind of robot-like Permanent Secretaries and Directors who simply carry the minister's instruction without any conscience.  The end result, according to Motshegwa, is that at the Bargaining Council employer representatives are always unreasonable and frustrating the negotiations and the bargaining process.

"In fact they are dedicated to kill the Bargaining Council so that Government alone can unilaterally decide on conditions of service of workers. This week they stalled 2016/17 salary negotiations indicating that they have no mandate to continue with the salary negotiations and further they are refusing to respond to the Trade Union proposal of 2017/18 salary negotiations. Government representatives at PSBC are never productive as they go there without any mandate and would continuously be on the phone, saying they are calling bagolo," said Motshegwa. To illustrate poor decisions at government enclave, Motshegwa said in the year 2010 there were only 1000 Permanent Secretaries and Directors while currently the number has ballooned to 2000. He said this places a burden on government expenditure while productivity has declined. "It is people in these scales who get a large slice of the wage bill. In yester-years Permanent Secretaries were powerful, confident and principled. They could stand their ground and objectively tender their advice to Government. Today it is different as those appointed to such positions are not necessarily the best in the civil service due to an entrenched culture of nepotism that reward bootlicking and sycophancy. The selection process and promotion process is riddled with corrupt connotations. We have headship of civil of service that is willing to carry instructions of political masters no matter how absurd and ill-advised they are. This is the crop of Permanent Secretaries and Directors who will severely cost the ruling party," he warned. 

Motshegwa also extended the onslaught on Molale to his party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which he said has responsibility to account for his "continued bullying of trade unions and disregard of the PSBC". He said if the BDP  does not reign in the minister his conduct and actions will cost them as they will make many enemies not only within civil service.  He gives the example of BOFEPUSU's request to address cabinet on matters of Public Service, with the understanding that dialogue is fundamental in preserving democracy, peace and prosperity. He said they were turned down by the Permanent Secretary to the President who wrote back, saying they should meet Minister Molale as he is the one responsible for public service. "We wrote to Minister Molale based on Morupisi's correspondence, and Minister Molale has since refused to meet leadership of BOFEPUSU. This depicts arrogance and unaccountable leadership that has no place in modern day democracy. It can then be safely interpreted that minister Molale's onslaught on trade unions is endorsed and condoned by the BDP, for they seem to have placed much trust on him despite his dismal failure in his portfolio," said Motshegwa.