The Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale is headed for another showdown with public servants represented by Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) over envisaged amendments set out in the Public Service Bill 2016. The winter session of Parliament, which closed on Friday, was expected to discuss the Bill but the minister failed to bring it fuelling speculation that he backed down after public servants complained about lack of consultation. Correspondence between the Director of Public Service Management, Ruth Maphorisa, and the federation shows that indeed there was disagreement between the parties on the matter, late last month. BOFEPUSU had turned down an invitation scheduled for 25 July 2017, attended by Maphorisa and assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Thato Kwerepe. "It is rather unfortunate that after having requested a meeting you declined to attend it and is a reflection on your genuine desire to meet," Maphorisa wrote after the aborted meeting. BOFEPUSU had on June 5 re-submitted their written submissions and requested a meeting with the employer to discuss their position on the Bill before it was taken to Parliament. However, upon discovering that the Bill had already been gazetted and was just about to be presented in parliament, without any consultation with trade unions BOFEPUSU declined to attend the meeting. "We felt that the employer was going to use the meeting as proof that public servants were consulted through their trade unions even without considering our submissions. The reality is that the gazetted does not accommodate our input. We should have been consulted before the BIll was gazetted," Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, deputy Secretary General of BOFEPUSU explained. Notwithstanding the failed meeting, Molale responded to written submissions made by the federation, saying it makes sense that clause 16 empowers the president to interfere with administration of the public service because it falls under the executive arm of government. The federation argues for independence. He disagreed with BOFEPUSU suggestion that the period an employee will stay in the same grade before promotion be included in the PSA, saying if promotion becomes an entitlement, employees will not have motivation to perform as they are guaranteed progression based on the number of years worked. "such a scenario will discourage new entrants from performing well. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the public service that promotion be competed for by both old and new employees, on the basis of their work performance," he said.
On complaints that the proposed PSA is usurping the power of the bargaining Council to settle disputes, the minister said having the PSBC discharge the function of dispute resolution amounts to duplication and is a waste of resources because the function is already performed by the Public Service Commission and the Commissioner of Labour. Molale further dismissed fears by BOFEPUSU that the accommodation of the bargaining council secretariat under DPSM, the appointment of chairman and deputy chairman of the PSBC by the minister amounts to giving the employer too much power in the relationship. He said the chairman and deputy act as facilitators and do not have any voting powers. The proposed Bill provides that the secretary of the Public Service Bargaining Council shall be appointed by the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) from amongst employees of the Directorate of Public Service Management. This in effect renders section 57(2)(d) of the PSA redundant because the appointment of the secretary to the PSBC is one of the matters left for inclusion in the Constitution of the PSBC. The PSBC constitution has made provision for the appointment of the said secretary. The selection of the Secretary of the council has since the inception of the PSBC been the joint responsibility of both government and the trade union parties to the PSBC. Additionally, the discharge of the role has never been restricted to public servants. "There is no good reason for seeking to depart from the existing practice, which promotes the independence of the Secretariat. It protects the Secretariat from undue influence by the DPSM. The same clause still further seeks to house the secretariat at the DPSM. This is undesirable. The collective bargaining process should remain as independent and transparent as possible. Making the DPSM who is one of the parties to the process the secretariat completely removes any indications of independence," argued Tobokani Rari, Secretary General of BOFEPUSU. Another thorny issue was over membership of the bargaining council. BOFEPUSU feel that the removal of a threshold for admission to PSBC will promote a proliferation of trade unions who shall upon registration, qualify to sit in the bargaining council. "Participation of all recognised trade unions is a welcome development at the bargaining forum as there will be contributions amassed from different experiences and perspectives. This will create a robust and effective bargaining process," said Molale.
The federation had expressed disappointment with Government’s decision to make "unwarranted and unjustified inroads into the constitutionally entrenched principles of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The proposed amendments seek to erode progressive strides made over many years by Botswana in complying with International Labour Organisation (“ILO”) standards particularly as relates to the autonomy of trade unions and the bargaining process. We note with alarm the unjustifiable move to exclude members of management from enjoying the right to freedom of association". BOFEPUSU also feels strongly that there is no justification in seeking to take away the right to freedom of association from members of senior management, as proposed in Clause 3(2)(a) of the Bill. The federation argues that the position in Botswana has always been to exclude the said employees from joining trade unions that represent other employees who are non-managerial employees, whilst allowing them to be represented by unions that only represent members of management. "There is no justification for seeking to depart from this practice which has served the union well. There is no rationale for seeking to exclude Support Staff of the Botswana Defence Force, Botswana Police Service and Botswana Prison Services from enjoying the right to unionise, enjoy the right to freedom of association and participate in the collective bargaining process, as proposed in Clause 3(2)(c). Support staff by their nature have absolutely no dealings with the management of the disciplined forces," the federation submitted.