Two weeks after denying bringing the controversial Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) through an amendment of the Electoral Act, Government officials led by ruling party politicians have gone on over drive distancing themselves from any and everything. On Monday, The Patriot on Sunday was dragged into the trend of denials when government arm twisted public sector federation BOFEPUSU to issue a statement denying what transpired in the relentless pursuit for the 3% and 4% increases. The purported apology, which government demanded that it be part of a court order the previous week was published on Monday. Quite curiously, and as a clear demonstration of an egotistic approach to the compromise brokered between the parties, government refused to normalise salary disparities in the public service simply because The Patriot on Sunday got wind of the negotiations and published same. In the purported apology signed by BOFEPUSU secretary General Tobokani Rari he says: "I confirm that indeed on 29 May 2017, I teleconversed with DPSM over the issue of responding to our letter. I confirm further that during our conversation DPSM expressed their displeasure over the article found in The Patriot on Sunday. The DPSM complained that the article was factually incorrect. We admit that at the time that the article was published, there was no agreement between the DPSM and BOFEPUSU. The correct position is as was later indicated in the Government Press Release titled “ DPSM, BOFEPUSU HAVE NOT AGREED ON SALARY INCREASE”, dated 29 May 2017.” The contents of the press release and that of earlier attempts by government to apportion blame are reproduced in the Government newspaper Daily News of Friday.
At the occasion of the National Teachers Day celebration in Mochudi on Friday, President Ian Khama continued the tirade started by the Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Eric Molale. In a whirlwind countrywide tour Molale had deliberately misled public officers to believe that the reason why government has been, and will continue to perpetuate the disparity in their salaries is because trade unions blocked the salary increase in 2016/17 and 2017/18. Molale claimed that BOFEPUSU trade unions turned down the salary increment awarded by Government. Khama reiterated the claim that trade unions wanted exemption from salary increment and blamed unions for the current salary disparities in the public service. He said the trade unions went to court asking for an exemption from the latest four percent salary adjustment. Khama did not use the occasion to address poor labour relations in the country. He leaves office in a few months but has never met trade union leaders who represent the biggest constituency of workers in the country. Where is meaningful dialogue in all this? It is true that some elected politicians and some senior government officials are deliberately dividing the civil servants for petty gains. The most obvious and recent example is denying a section of the civil service the three and four percent salary adjustments done by political leadership and senior Government officials. Legal precedence abound where Government and many other employers have been found to be in the wrong for lack of parity and differential treatment of their workers. It can never be true that Government does not have a budget for the back-pays because every civil servant was catered for at the first announcement. It is only a matter of time before courts make the same finding against Government on back-pays for the 3% and 4% increments. This discrimination has far-reaching implications in the education system, human resource development in Botswana and negatively impacts on the economic development of the country.
Meanwhile, as Government is busy with small fights on home soil, trade unions have escalated the issues of her abuse to international platforms for the world to assess if the country is really a shining example of democracy and good governance. The ongoing International Labour Conference has received reports enumerating gross violations by Botswana Government and now the world knows. Botswana Government is accused and charged for having violated two core convention being, Conventions 87 and 98 and having acted contrary to the ILO frame work definition of essential service as they, the ILO has been advised by the Committee of experts on the application of standards. Convention 87 provides as thus; “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise while Convention 98, provides as thus; “The Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining”. Botswana has now been short listed among top 24 countries regarded as gross transgressors of the ILO core conventions. These gross violations started when the government of Botswana in 2012, reacting to the consequences of the 2011 industrial action decided to angrily amend the essential service schedule that was part of the then Trade Dispute act to include among others the teaching service, veterinary services, air traffic controllers information and broadcasting etc, in actual fact, about 80% of the workers in Botswana, into the essential service bracket. At this first go the minister, Batshu, on his own successfully amended the schedule. This first attempt was foiled by BOFEPUSU when they took government to court on the basis that they, BOFEPUSU, were not consulted and also that the Minister does not have the powers to amend a schedule. BOFEPUSU won the case and the amendment of the schedule was reversed.
The second attempt was in 2013 when government then took the proposed amendments (same) to the Labour Advisory Board in an attempt the defect upon which the court upheld the BOFEPUSU case. BOFEPUSU still complained vigorously for not being consulted as at that time, they did not sit on the LAB. Due pressure mounted by BOFEPUSU by addressing the parliamentary caucuses of different political parties’ MPs and their labour committees, the bill was removed from the floor of parliament for further consultations. The third time around was in 2014. This was after consulting the LAB once more to the exclusion BOFEPUSU. This time around government was hell bent to move on in spite of complaints and queries from BOFEPUSU. They pushed the bill in parliament and it was passed as a law during the 2016 July session of parliament. The President accented to it and it came into effect November 2017. This obsession, with trying to fool public servants and the general public into believing that government had good intentions for them is achieving the opposite. On different platforms trade union members and the citizenry have dismissed attacks by government on media reports as unconvincing attempts to save face. Government should stop trying to mislead its own people but rather focus on addressing critical issues, like removing the disparity in salaries of civil servants who have toiled over the years without any adjustment to cushion them against the hardships visited on them by inflation. Government should mend relations with trade unions and create a conducive environment for bargaining to improve their working conditions. This running around dedicating acres of editorial space in Government publications is not benefitting anybody; neither is arm twisting workers representatives into submission before courts of law.