A decision by the Ministry of Employment Labour Productivity and Skills Development to de-register the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) on Tuesday has set Government on a collision course with trade unions representing thousands of civil servants. By the end of the week the trade unions were preparing an urgent application to reverse the decision by Government to completely kill the PSBC, which was announced by Acting Commissioner of Labour and Social Security Goitseone Kokorwe in a letter dated November 14, 2017 to Director of Public Service Management (DPSM) and copied to all public sector trade unions. The cancellation comes at the behest of DPSM who on November 01 applied to the Commissioner to de-register the PSBC because it is not functioning due to the termination of membership of the trade union party on 23 May 2017. "Your application for cancellation of PSBC presents sufficient and reasonable cause for cancellation of registration of the PSBC. Accordingly, in exercise of my powers and having satisfied myself that reasonable cause has been shown, I hereby cancel the registration of PSBC," wrote Kokorwe. DPSM had submitted that after the passing of a resolution effecting the termination of membership of BOFEPUSU Acting Jointly Arrangement, the constitution of the PSBC makes it impossible for the admission of a trade union party. The coalition BOFEPUSU AJA hastily pulled out of the PSBC after government refused to grant members of their trade unions the 2016/17 and 2017/18 salary increments under the pretext that salary negotiations and bargaining process was still underway. No such negotiation was taking place as Government had not only failed to submit a counterproposal for consideration at PSBC but was also challenging the scope of the council after unilaterally awarding 3% and 4% increments respectively to civil servants not represented at the bargaining council. Both parties await a court of appeal decision on the scope of the PSBC and the legality of unilateral salary increments by Government.
According to DPSM, as a consequence of these developments the council does not meet statutory requirements of the Public Service Act and its own constitution. The council is therefore unable to deal with any application for admission as set out in its constitution, reasoned DPSM. Kokorwe gave trade unions seven days to respond to the application but in her final decision totally disregarded a protest letter from National Amalgamated Local and Central Government, Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU) submitted to her office on November 6. Although Kokorwe's letter seeking to solicit the views of trade unions gave them only seven days to respond, correspondence between her office and DPSM shows that they had been engaging on the matter since July. In fact, the Commissioner of Labour had even held meetings with DPSM in September without the involvement of trade unions. Leading the protest against the de-registration, NALCGPWU National Organizing Secretary Johnson Motshwarakgole, said the seven days that Kokorwe had afforded them to respond was woefully inadequate. He argued that in order to make meaningful representation in respect of the application made by the DPSM, "we must at the very least be given a copy of the application that the DPSM has made so that we can form our own view and our understanding of the application before responding to same. It may also be necessary for us to seek legal opinion in respect of the provisions of the PSBC constitution that you refer to in your letter, as well as on whether the application that has been made is meritorious".
Motshwarakgole makes reference to the pending Court of Appeal (CoA) judgment regarding the scope of PSBC, which trade unions cite in their protest against the short notice the Commissioner gave them to respond to the application for cancellation. "Incidentally, the Court of Appeal two weeks ago heard an appeal in respect of the scope and the functions of the PSBC, in Case No: CACGB-057-17 consolidated with CACGB-058-17. One of the issues that may be addressed in the judgment of the Court of Appeal is the issue of what is to happen in the situation PSBC finds itself in where there is no admitted trade union party. In the premise we request that we be given at least 30 days in order to be able to properly address the DPSM application, seek legal opinion, prepare response and possibly have a meeting with yourselves to make oral representations just as the DPSM did. We would also wish to consider the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the matter referred to above prior to finalizing any representations that we will be making," wrote Motshwarakgole, adding that they are aware that the Commissioner sought legal advice from the Attorney General, who coincidentally is also the legal advisor of the DPSM, as well as got legal advice from in-house counsel at the Department of Labour.
The cancellation of the PSBC comes hardly a week before the Court of Appeal (CoA) makes a final determination on the illegibility of civil servants to vote in party primary elections. The decision on the appeal has forced the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to postpone their 2017 Bulela Ditswe initially scheduled for October 21 in opposition held constituencies. The PSBC was registered by the Commissioner of Labour on 19 August 2011, with the powers vested on him by the Trade Disputes Act and the PSA to register Joint Industrial Councils. Both Acts give the Commissioner power to cancel registration of the councils provided there is reasonable cause shown, which Kokorwe has evoked to de-register the PSBC. Ironically, in the pending judgment over the scope of the PSBC Government strongly rejects suggestions that the bargaining council is equivalent to joint industrial councils despite conceding that it performs the same functions. Meanwhile, the man who has earned the reputation of enemy No.1 among civil servants, Presidential Affairs and Public Administration minister, Eric Molale, on Wednesday told Parliament that Government is reviewing salaries of the public service. He was responding to a question in Parliament.