The Botswana Transport Workers Union has accused Unitrans, a trucking company, for disregarding workers’ rights. BOTRAWU’s accusation comes in the wake of the death of one of the company drivers, who died after he was caught between trucks, trying to guide the other driver who was reversing his truck.
While the company claims it was negligence on the drivers’ part, the union insists it was a result of poor working conditions.
Speaking in an interview with The Patriot on Sunday, Unitrans human resources manager, Moses Sebolai said it is unfortunate that the union chooses to play politics to the extent that they would rather blame the company even if their union members flout company policies on safety, health and environment. He said their industry is ultra-sensitive as they are in the fuel logistics industry, where there are strict policies that need to be observed.
Sebolai said whenever they experience or suspect is a fault in a truck, the drivers are supposed to call in for emergency assistance. They are not expected to do anything even change tyres of the truck, if they experience a puncture. This can be done by the emergency assist. Their job is simply to drive, said Sebolai. He said the driver, who died recently had ventured out of the road and got stuck in the sand by the roadside on the way to Sehithwa. The manager said, knowing that he is not allowed to make unscheduled stops, he sought the assistance of a fellow truck driver, whence the two tried to move the Unitrans truck out of the spot where it was stuck, only for their driver to have the fatal accident.
“We spent a lot of money, about P300 000, paying for his medical bills at the private hospital . Prior to that we paid for a plane to airlift him to Gaborone,” said Sebolai.
One of the things that the union is complaining about is the fact that drivers have to sleep inside the trucks instead of at a lodge or hotel. BOTRAWU’s Christopher Mogomotsi said they are concerned that their members who spend most of their time away from their homes are forced to sleep inside the trucks, where it is difficult for one to have a decent bath, among other things.
“This company does not treat its staff well. They expect people to drive their trucks for weeks, non-stop, without proper rest at a decent sleeping place where they can have access to good bathing facilities. It is unfair,” he said.
However, Sebolai has said that it is an international practice for truck drivers to sleep in trucks especially that they travel long distance and at many times have to stop and rest for the night at places where there are no lodging facilities. He said that is why the trucks have nicely fitted comfortable beds inside the trucks so that drivers can enjoy a good night’s sleep. Regarding complaints that the drivers are at risk of being attacked by criminals at night, the Unitrans manager said that every job has its own risks. There have also been complaints that the company has a tendency of promoting junior staff to discourage them from unionising, claiming that they are managers.
Mogomotsi said that he is worried that Unitrans management rule their staff, especially drivers with an iron fist. “At one point they called one of the drivers, who was off-duty while he was busy enjoying the weekend, drinking his beer, telling him to report to work the following day. When he got to the offices, he was found to be over the required alcohol limit and he was suspended for three months without pay. This was despite that the poor man was not supposed to be on duty on that particular day. So his crime was that he chose to go and enjoy his alcohol knowing that he will be off-duty the whole weekend,” he said.
Sebolai refuted this, saying there is no way that a company can ask for someone at a time when he is off-duty, and then punish that person when they realise he is not fit for duty.
“They are not being honest. They should state a case in which it happened. We don’t have policies that say people should not drink alcohol during their time,” he said.
The union has also reported three people to the police, whom BOTRAWU is accusing of working without working permits. BOTRAWU charged that the trio were working as senior management officials. The police subsequently arrested the three people, who were charged P500 each, as fee for admission of guilt. In response, Sebolai has said that the trio did not flout any labour law.
“But we told the labour officers that we have an arrangement with these people who are engaged as consultants. They offer us some services that we don’t have. They consult for us as companies and not as individuals. The labour officers told us that these people should not operate from our premises. We will comply with these,” he said.