The protracted battle between Government and BOFEPUSU over salary increases ended on Thursday afternoon after a standoff that lasted for hours at the Gaborone High Court, as the parties failed to agree on a compromise. At the centre of the disagreement was a demand by Government that the federation withdraw the interdiction of 4% increase and contempt of court cases, commit to settle all the costs of the lawsuits, and publish an apology distancing the parties from a story published by The Patriot on Sunday last week on the same subject. DPSM had earlier expressed their displeasure over the article because they believed it was revealing a lot of inside information. Government also reneged on an earlier assurance to pay the increments in retrospect to the first day they were awarded other public servants. BOFEPUSU, on the other hand, suggested sharing of costs as part of the compromise. They also agreed to publish a clarification as opposed to an apology and insisted on an order confirming the two increments but leaving the issue of back pays open for further discussion. After lengthy discussions, which at some point were referred to the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Carter Morupisi, Government representatives amended their position but insisted on publication of an apology. The final court order reads: "Government shall after the statement has been published, pay 3% and 4% salary increment to members of (BOFEPUSU trade unions) with effect from the 1st June 2017. Payment shall be made in accordance with Public Service Management Directive No. 4 of 2017. Both interlocutory applications for contempt and interdict are withdrawn by consent. In respect of the interdict proceedings, each party shall pay its own costs. In respect of the contempt application, the applicants shall pay 55% of the costs of PSP, DPSM and Attorney General".
Earlier meetings with the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) had concluded that Government will start paying members of BOFEPUSU affiliated unions a 3% and 4% upon withdrawal of two court cases, details of the agreement became a subject of heated argument. The cases that were before Justice Tshepo Motswagole, which were finally withdrawn through a consent order on Thursday, are the interdiction of 4% increase and contempt of court by Morupisi and the Director DPSM Ruth Maphorisa. The refusal by Government to grant the increment retrospectively to April 2016 was precipitated by reports in state media (Btv and Daily News) where Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale was quoted saying: "Ka gore gase rona re dirileng gore ere di 01 tsa April wa 2016, abo le sa duelwe, ga rena gole duela di backpay". [Since we are not responsible for the omission to pay (3% increase to BOFEPUSU members) on 01 April 2016, we are not going to award them backpays]. Molale made the statement while addressing public servants in Thabala village, near Serowe on Tuesday. Secretary General of BOFEPUSU, Tobokani Rari, said after the judgment that the conclusion of the matter on salary increment is a small victory for workers who suffered a whole year. He said going forward their members will enjoy equal benefits as their colleagues, who do not belong to trade unions affiliated to the federation. Rari, however, expressed concern that the tone of government changed on the final day after DPSM representatives had earlier promised to pay the increments retrospectively. "We have made our position clear in meetings we held with DPSM that our members deserve to enjoy the increments from the day they were awarded to their colleagues. It is not fair that they be denied that benefit simply because at the time their unions were still in negotiations at the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC). Now that we have gone past the first hurdle, we will engage the employer further to resolve the matter," said Rari, without excluding the possibility of litigation should Government refuse to budge. Acting Director of DPSM, Tefo Bogosi said they are happy that an agreement was reached and the matter resolved, enabling all public officers to benefit from the salary increments. He said government does not have any intention to discriminate against any public officer and wanted all to benefit from government salary increments. Government was represented by Joseph Akoonyatse instructed by Tefo Bogosi of DPSM while Mboki Chilisa represented the trade unions.
UDC enters the fray
The opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has lurched onto the raging debate about backpays promising to pay public service employees their 3% and 4% arrears when they assume state power in 2019 if the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) led government fails to do so. UDC Labour Secretary and BNF Publicity Secretary Justin Hunyepa said on Friday that all public sector employees are entitled to the 3% and 4% salary increment effected on April 2016 and April 2017 respectively as these are the implementation dates. He said the increments were budgeted for and therefore there is no excuse of lack of funds. "Refusal by the BDP led government to pay the arrears is just a normal continuation of the regime to frustrate the workers and their federation. The current government has its priorities wrong as available funds are spent on unnecessary expenditures. UDC is concerned with the continued demoralisation, demotivation, brutality and ruthlessness meted on the public service employees by the BDP led government. The government has a very important role of promoting good labour relations in the country so that there is productivity, tranquillity and sustainable socio-economic development, leading to prosperity and job creation," said Hunyepa. The former BOSETU Executive Secretary said it is clear that government is on a ruthless warpath to completely destroy the progressive public service trade unions. In its reckless journey of revenge the government has trampled on both domestic and international laws with reckless abandon, he said. Hunyepa dcried that public servants who are members of legally registered organisations (affiliates of Botswana Federation of Public and Private Sector Union (BOFEPUSU) are being punished for associating with the legal activities of the federation.