Industrial relations in Botswana deteriorated to an all-time low midweek when Government somersaulted on an earlier agreement and moved fast to amend provisions of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) immediately after trade unions withdrew from the forum. A day after the trade union party (BOFEPUSU acting jointly arrangement) informed the Director of Public Service Management (DPSM) about their withdrawal from PSBC, Government gazetted an amendment introducing a provision which allows for business of the council to continue with a 50% quorum. This, therefore, means that Government councillors, who make up 50% of the composition of the PSBC, can continue with business without representation from the trade union party. Government is taking advantage of the absence of the trade unions at PSBC to push for the amendment despite numerous undertakings made by senior government officials in meetings with BOFEPUSU leadership. The Patriot on Sunday is in possession of records showing that BOFEPUSU leadership have held meetings with Director DPSM Ruth Maphorisa, Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development Tshenolo Mabeo and Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Thato Kwerepe. At those meetings government promised to consult further and seek expert advice before a final decision is made on the planned amendment of the Public Service Act, dubbed Public Serviced Bill 2016. BOFEPUSU Secretary General, Tobokani Rari, was shocked to learn about the latest development at Government Enclave. He said there has not been any meaningful consultation with trade unions prior to the gazetting of the amendment, even as courts of law have on numerous occasions dealt with the concept, which involves parties sharing and exchanging views over a matter. "The rivalry between us and Government is because they want to make unilateral decisions on issues which according to the law are for PSBC. Now that we have been frustrated out of the PSBC Government is causing havoc. This is what we have been fighting against," said Rari.
Correspondence shows that Government has ignored a request by BOFEPUSU to be furnished with reasons for the intended amendment. That notwithstanding, the Federation then wrote to provide views on the intended amendments and requesting further physical engagement on the matter. At a meeting with Maphorisa in March 2017, the Director intimated to the federation that the envisaged amendments were about to be gazetted, but however stated that she would engage the Minister on the possibility of suspending the process for further engagement. The federation met Minister Mabeo in April where they raised the same matter of consultation. "At this meeting we came to a common ground that with the assistance of the ILO team of experts, the amendments of all the labour laws would be harmonised and as such we were assured of further engagement. During the same month of April, we met Assistant Minister Kwerepe whereat the very issue was raised yet again. He assured the delegation that BOFEPUSU would be consulted before gazetting the bill. We are shocked that the bill has now been gazetted contrary to all these promises," said Rari. Rari said they have been fighting to protect the principle of bargaining following a resolution taken at a special congress in Tlokweng in December 2016. He said on the other hand government, and lately with the support of BOPEU, has been fighting to prevent PSBC from exercising its mandate. "They are aware that what they are doing is having negative impact on public officers who are our members. This is what they want. When negotiations were ongoing at PSBC, government undermined that process by awarding salary increases. In turn this put immense pressure on our members as they were disadvantaged under pretext of negotiations. The current impasse is being used as a recruitment tool and campaign for our members to defect to BOPEU," said Rari, adding that long before the Justice Tshepo Motswagole's judgment – which ruled that PSBC decisions are binding on all public officers –their members had already started showing signs of taking strain and losing patience as their colleagues were enjoying increments. According to Rari, the two salary increases amount to more than just 7 % as the 4% recently awarded for 2017/18 was added to already enhanced salaries from the 2016/17 increase. Rari said the recent Justice Monametsi Gaongalelwe judgment, which suspends Justice Motswagole's decision, means that the differences caused by the two increments will continue until 2018, after the appeal is heard in October. "We are disappointed that the judge chose to put the appeal in the October session when the Court of Appeal has a session in July. Technically our members were going to spend a whole year without increments while waiting for the appeal. We had to protect their interests," said Rari, adding that they expect DPSM to start paying the increments to their members after Maphorisa confirmed in previous meetings that every public officer who resigned from a trade union at PSBC was awarded the salary increase after notifying the employer.
War of words
The haste to gazette amendments to the PSA was precipitated by a heated argument between the parties after the federation announced full participation and influence of the political economy of the country ahead of 2019 general elections. This will be done through engaging political parties and civic groups aligned to the workers’ agenda, among others. "That the federation will intensify its mobilisation programme through demonstrations and strengthen linkages with some community groups," reads one of the resolutions. A schedule for demonstrations which start on May 16 has already been disseminated to members throughout the country. The decisions are part of a raft of resolutions made at a special congress in Palapye over the weekend, where public officers who have not yet received the 3% and 4% salary increments agreed to embark on a go slow at work if government denies them the adjustment. The special congress also endorsed the termination of BOFEPUSU AJA membership at PSBC and also resolved that the federation should sue the employer for discriminatory treatment and lack of parity if government continues to deny them the 3% and 4% already enjoyed by other public servants. Government took offence and issued a warning through Maphorisa, advising public officers to "desist from any utterances and activity that may land themselves in political controversy". Maphorisa also reminded public officers of Section 5(5) of the PSA, which prohibits political activism, speaking or demonstrating for or against any politician, publishing political views on political matters in writing or holding political office. "In accordance with section 37(c) it is misconduct for an employee to engage in any activity outside his official duties which is likely to involve him in political controversy," she wrote. But immediately BOFEPUSU deputy Secretary General Ketlhalefile Motshegwa responded, saying President Ian Khama is the one who has politicised the civil service. He said Khama has elected to post Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) political rejects as Ambassadors among them are Lebonaamang Mokalake, Olebile Gaborone, Lesego Motsumi and Jacob Nkate. He said former MPs Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri, Ponatshego Kedikilwe and Johnny Swart are active BDP members who continue to address political rallies and participate in party activities despite that they are public officers employed by government as Coordinators of ESP projects. Further, he cites the example of Louis Malikongwa and Duke Masilo, who after losing elections were roped back into the civil service. "Where is the so-called Public Service Act? Is its application selective, or by politics the employer refers to prohibition against opposition politics and not BDP politics. This is hypocrisy of the highest order. There are many top Government officials who continue to participate in BDP strategy meetings and sessions, and we will soon name them," threatens Motshegwa.
He said BOFEPUSU is neither regulated by Public Service Act nor is it a Department of Government as insinuated, but as a labour movement and member of civic society, it has the responsibility on socio-economic and political developments in the country. According to Motshegwa, trade unions are by nature political as they serve to protect, advance and deepen workers’ rights and welfare. They fight against repressive labour laws and policies, and further participate in the political economy to influence public policy towards the benefit of workers and poor, he said. "Bizarre press releases by Government will not deter the Federation from its fundamental undertakings. In the structures of BOFEPUSU there is no structure called DPSM or Government that can dictate which resolutions are palatable and those that are not. The highest and supreme structure of the Federation is called Congress which attracts no delegates from DPSM or Government. BOFEPUSU as a labour movement has inherent interest and role in politics. The BDP government is reactionary and hopeless to the extent that they are on lunatic fringe mode of responding to every statement by BOFEPUSU including commas and full stops. This has gotten into their system to the extent that even when we type on social media they panic and assemble their so-called minds at Attorney General and Government Media section to respond in bizarre, self-ridiculing and contradictory manner that depicts poor information management and shoddy public relations from Government," he said.