Government will soon place a ceiling on the amount public servants can borrow to control escalating indebtedness where some often find themselves at the mercy of loan sharks and creditors, leaving them with P0.00 net pay on their pay slips. The announcement was made by Director of the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) Ruth Maphorisa when addressing a packed tri-ennial congress of Botswana Land boards, local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) in Gaborone on Tuesday. She said out of concern about a growing number of civil servants being broke, government has decided to monitor and cap salaries to control a minimum balance on their pay slips. This, she said, is meant to prevent the financial embarrassment most find themselves in at the end of the month which sinks them deeper into debt. Although she said government is committed to good relations with trade unions Maphorisa revealed that government is reviewing some laws to clip the wings of public servants and exercise more control over their conduct. This is being done after government realised that some legislation has opened up the public service to operate like the private sector, she said, which in some instances compromises service delivery. She denied that such amendments are designed to spite trade unions, weaken and reduce their influence in representing their members.
But Maphorisa's announcement infuriated public service federation BOFEPUSU. Seconds after she left the podium Tobokani Rari, the Secretary General of BOFEPUSU, took the floor and criticised government for treating trade unions as adversaries instead of important stakeholders. He said currently the relationship between trade unions and the employer is at an all-time low because of the confrontational approach taken by government. He zeroed in on the state of Collective Bargaining in Botswana to demonstrate how Botswana is regressing on the progress made by the administrations preceding that of President Ian Khama where employees were empowered by the development of legislature that protect them in the workplace. He said government, under the former Heads of State signed, ratified and domesticated several ILO Conventions that support bargaining by enacting appropriate legislation and amending others to accommodate the thriving of the ratified conventions. Such Legislation included among others; The Trade Unions and Employers Organisation Act, which allows the existence of trade unions and gave trade union rights, The Trade Dispute Act, which outlines the dispute resolution procedures including providing for the right to strike, and The Public Service Act, which established the Public Service Bargaining Council.
Ratification of ILO Conventions
Rari said in 1997 the government of Botswana ratified several conventions that cultivate and nurture the existence of trade unions and the right of trade unions to bargain; Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, Convention 87, Convention on Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, Convention 98 and Convention on Labour Relations in the Public Service, Convention 151. "This no doubt was a step in the right direction and such step need to be applauded. Botswana moved some few steps forward and has since moved, and is continuing to move many more step backward, in the process reversing the gains. We are currently in a state of decline and deterioration of the bargaining processes in this country coupled with the constriction of the democratic space upon which trade unions operate," he said. He said it is now evident that the current regime is hell bent to reverse the gains that have been achieved as enunciated above by either amending the legislation targeting the very progressive clauses that support the ratified conventions. Such amendments and some other actions by government are intended to totally annihilate the trade union movement, he said.
According to Rari, after the 2011 Industrial Action, government, in 2012 moved swiftly to take away the union deduction codes. He said this was in spite of the fact it is not only a provision of the recognition agreements that there shall be a check off system for trade unions, but it is also provided for in the Trade Unions and Employers Organization Act. "This is a clear sign of an attack on convention 87 which allows for the existence of trade unions. The taking away of the deduction codes for trades unions is tantamount to switching off their life blood. This is a clear sign of regression," he said. Explaining the continuous purge of trade union leaders by government, he said, the Secretary General of BLLAHWU Ketlhalefile Motshegwa was dismissed from the public service targeting him for being a union leader. He said Motshegwa was dismissed for being absent from duty while he was on secondment at the union office in accordance with union recognition agreement with government. Rari said this is a clear sign of reversal of the gains made. He said even the President of the BOFEPUSU was unlawfully transferred to the ministry outside the scope of organisation of his trade union to make him not eligible to contest for the Presidency of BTU and by extension disqualifying him from being BOFEPUSU President. "It is an attack on Convention 87," said Rari.
He accused government of recently amending the Trade Dispute Act to extend it to the cadre of employees regarded as essential service outside the ILO framework definition. In the process, this has completely eroded the bargaining power of the workers of Botswana as the amended Trade Dispute Act prohibits a strike action among essential service employees, signaling gross violation of Convention 98, he said. Amendment of Public Service Act has also been criticised. Among other things envisaged is to make the Secretariat of the PSBC to be chosen by the Minister hence making the PSBC an extension a government arm. Moreover, he said, it took trade unions to approach the courts to interdict President Ian Khama from interfering with the mandate of the PSBC by making unilateral pronouncements on conditions of service and salary adjustments of civil servants. "Government has on several cases refused, or made it difficult for bargaining to proceed at the PSBC. The current stalled negotiations are as a result of government refusing to negotiate contrary to conventions 87, 98 and 154. It's a serious reversal of the gains that were made," he said. The tri-ennial congress-held under the theme, “Quest for Collective Bargaining and Reiterating Working Class Agenda”-also elected a new leadership for the union.