Salary talks postponed

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 18 April 2017   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Molaodi and Motshwarakgole Molaodi and Motshwarakgole

Salary negotiations between government and BOFEPUSU AJA that were scheduled for Wednesday have been postponed to next Tuesday to allow the secretariat to make logistical arrangements, which were disrupted by a lawsuit seeking to interdict the meeting. Government representatives are said to have requested the date owing to the fact that Thursday being a day preceding a long weekend, most councilors on their part would be traveling. The Director of Public Service Management (DPSM) had earlier circulated a savingram granting the release of public service employees travelling to far off places at 12:45 pm on Thursday 13th April 2017 to allow them to travel during the day to their various destinations. BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari confirmed on Thursday that the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) meeting could not go ahead as initially planned. "The judgment in which Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) wanted to interdict the meeting came out late at night and as such there were some uncertainties in preparing for the meeting," he said. When the 2016/17 salary negotiations resume on Tuesday BOFEPUSU will reinstate their proposal for a 10.5% salary increase, while government had already awarded a 3% adjustment which was nullified by court last week. Soon after the conclusion of the 2016/17 negotiations the bargaining council will consider offers for the 2017/18 financial year, in which government had already awarded a 4% salary adjustment on April 01. The parties will also consider a proposal to carry out salary negotiations in blocks of 2-3 year cycles, to prevent delays every financial year caused by disagreement between the parties. The other sessions will be reserved for negotiating other conditions of service, according to the proposal.

Trade unions war
In an unprecedented move BOPEU had filed an urgent application at the Francistown High Court on Monday challenging the validity of the membership of BOFEPUSU AJA at the PSBC. The union alleged that the AJA had failed to comply with the constitution of the bargaining council by failing to submit verified numbers of their members by December 31, 2016 and further failing to pay around P1 million as part of their contribution to funding the PSBC secretariat. The matter was decided on Tuesday night, with Justice Bengbame Sechele throwing out the application on the grounds that BOPEU did not have any legal standing to question administrative issues at the PSBC because they were not a party to the forum. The union, court said, is not directly affected by operational issues at the bargaining council that has a fully functional secretariat. Justice Bengbame also punched holes in papers filed BOPEU, noting repeated transgressions in their founding affidavit and copies of correspondence. BOPEU had claimed to have become aware of the status of the AJA without explaining how that happened or providing affidavits to corroborate the claim after PSBC secretariat refused to provide them with any information. Further, BOPEU had filed some documents to support their application but failed to support them with confirmatory affidavits from the authors to verify authenticity. As a result, without verification of the documents court refused to admit the evidence and dismissed it as hearsay.

Government and BOPEU had, a week earlier, lost with costs a case in which BOFEPUSU and her trade union members wanted the unilateral decision by DPSM to increase salaries for public service employees outside the bargaining council to be declared unlawful and set aside. Justice Tshepo Motswagole ruled that such unilateral increment by government was done in bad faith and calculated to undermine the PSBC, which has been set up lawfully under the Public Service Act (PSA). The judge nullified the increment saying the decision is of no force and effect because salary negotiations remain the preserve of the bargaining council, which powers have been delegated by Parliament through the PSA. Once again, BOPEU has joined forces with government and launched an appeal of Justice Motswagole's judgement, long before the return date (May 24) for an interim order for government to demonstrate why she cannot comply in the April salaries payment. BOFEPUSU had pleaded with court to force government to comply with its judgment after the latter claimed that it is impossible to reverse instructions on the public service payroll. Government has promised to bring experts from abroad to demonstrate why it is impossible to manipulate the payroll system, which could ensure immediate compliance. BOFEPUSU could on the other hand also request permission to appoint their own IT experts to analyse government payroll to investigate if indeed it cannot be manipulated, a position which Justice Motswagole has warned the state lawyers about.

It remains to be seen if government will continue to pay the unlawful increment when the first batch of April salaries is paid on Thursday. The numerous victories enjoyed by the trade unions recently have changed the complexion of the relationship between government and the labour movement in Botswana. In a study undertaken by Dr Trywell Kalusopa and Dr Kaelo Molefhe in March 2015, with an objective to support the internal self-reform process of the trade unions in Botswana, the researchers noted that the relationship between the state and trade unions is akin to that of a ‘master-servant’ one. “For example, trade union roles are restrictive in tripartite structures such as the Bargaining Council, Labour Advisory Board and Minimum Wages Advisory Board. In most cases, the state is not bound to accept any of the trade union views or propositions in these forums,” reads part of the report, which was sponsored by the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC) and Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung.