Industrial checkmate!

SHARE   |   Monday, 08 May 2017   |   By Staff Writer
Industrial checkmate!

Anxiety reigns supreme among public officers who are members of trade unions affiliated to Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), a week after the federation’s party resigned from Public service bargaining Council (PSBC). A lapse on the part of BOFEPUSU in the midst of a volatile environment almost dealt them a final blow, but the federation quickly turned the tables on the employer in the nick of time. A Public service bargaining Council (PSBC) meeting scheduled for next Thursday was to be used by Government to destroy the federation and throw it out of the Council for violating its constitution, which technically terminates membership. The only thing remaining was an endorsement of the termination by the Council, which would discredit the whole BOFEPUSU leadership. On Friday the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi, who recently announced a four percent salary increase for public officers who are not part of the PSBC, declined to shed light on what will happen going forward. He referred enquiries on the salaries issue to the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM) Ruth Maphorisa who could not be reached at the time of going to print. "She is the employer and therefore best placed to respond to issues of bargaining and salaries," said Morupisi. In an effort to clear the confusion and wild speculation, The Patriot on Sunday had sort to establish the implications of the withdrawal of BOFEPUSU from the bargaining council, particularly in relation to the 2016/17 and 2017/18 salary increases. 

BOFEPUSU deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said they have notified PSBC secretariat and informed the employer about the withdrawal. "Our withdrawal has removed all excuses that there are any ongoing negotiations for a section of the public service. Our expectation is that the employer will realign salaries for all public servants. If the disparity continues that will be discriminatory and workers have a right to seek redress before courts," he said. In a letter dated 2 May 2017 address to Secretary General of the PSBC, Willard Ulaula, and copied to Maphorisa, the National Organising Secretary of the trade union party Johnson Motshwarakgole gave notice of immediate termination. He said the PSBC was completely hopeless as an institution because Government was bargaining in bad faith every year. They have lost countless cases where their conduct has been held to breach of the duty to bargain in good faith but were still insistent on engaging in the same conduct, he added. Motshwarakgole said their biggest challenge with the PSBC was that they were dealing with a rogue Government with absolute contempt for the law and that would do anything under the sun to get its way, including taking a matter to the Court of Appeal that properly fell to be dealt with at the High Court. The Secretariat did not escape the wrath of Motshwarakgole. He dismissed the secretariat as completely hopeless and not serving the interests and values of the Council, but concerned with trivial issues to assist Government in continuing to refuse to engage in collective bargaining. He said all the complaints about non-compliance with the Constitution of the PSBC were spurious and calculated to assist Government to delay the negotiation process. "When Government was wrong in respect of the scope of the PSBC and when it bargained in bad faith contrary to what the Constitution of the PSBC requires, the silence of the Secretariat was always deafening. The Secretariat only seemed to come to life when there were trivial issues of non-compliance being raised. The Secretariat did absolutely nothing to promote collective bargaining in good faith as a central of the PSBC," fumed Motshwarakgole, in the termination letter.

Despite the withdrawal BOFEPUSU AJA contend that as at the date of resignation they had complied with all the requirements of the PSBC Constitution, with respect to submission of audited membership and paying all fees due. The constitution of the PSBC requires that the admitted trade union party should submit its audited numbers as they stand by 31st December of every year by 31st January of the following year. By 31st January 2017, the admitted trade union party had not submitted its audited numbers allegedly due to the fact that the numbers needed were of just a difference of one month. The results of the verification as ordered by the Court of Appeal came out in October 2016 and the constitution wanted audited numbers as of 31st December 2016. The trade union party has since submitted its audited numbers on 6th April 2017. "Though this sounds plausible and reasonable under normal circumstances, this was a lapse on our part especially in such a volatile environment where they were so many forces conjuring against us and vultures waiting to pounce. Government was trying to play mind games by delaying negotiations while awaiting a stay of execution of the Motswagole judgment. In the interim Government would continue to award those outside the PSBC a 3% and 4% increases excluding members of BOFEPUSU trade unions. This would leave our members frustrated and wanting to ditch their unions to join these yellow unions so that they could also get the increment," said Tobokani Rari, BOFEPUSU Secretary General. Government, on the other hand, has responded by expressing concern and disappointment over various statements regarding the integrity of both the Council (PSBC) and the Judiciary. Government explains that the trade union party failed to comply with the requirements of the PSBC constitution and for that reason did not qualify to sit at the bargaining council as its membership had lapsed on March 31. After such discovery, Government insisted that before BOFEPUSU can participate in further meetings of the PSBC they should first show cause why their membership should not be terminated as a result of their failure to comply with the mandatory requirements of Article 8.1. A deadlock was reached when at the meeting of 18th April 2017, BOFEPUSU refused to have the issue of compliance as part of the agenda. Government said they are surprised by the resignation, as they were looking forward to the PSBC meeting of 11th of May 2017 to discuss the issue of their non-compliance with the Constitution. The resignation was a strategic decision to avert disaster. BOFEPUSU has since publicly conceded the oversight but maintain that they have rectified the compliance issues.