Within a month of his ascendence to the Presidency, Mokgweetsi Masisi is already winning the hearts of many with his benevolence, interaction and promise to mend relations between Government and Botswana Federation of Public Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), which for the past ten years has been non-existent.
In an interview with The Patriot on Sunday on the side lines of the BDP Press conference on Tuesday, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said that they are holding talks with public sector unions’ leadership in order to mend the relationship. “We are in talks with them and Government will continue to engage them going forward to address the plight of public sector workers,” he said.
This is a total paradigm shift from Masisi who was the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration and was regarded as the enemy of the workers. He was accused of being the biggest champion of a plan by Government to withdraw the multi-million Pula GEMVAS Scheme from public sector unions to cripple them. In 2010, Government had agreed to outsource to trade unions the motor vehicle scheme that offers loans to civil servants to enable them to acquire assets or develop property. The scheme that was run by Government before 2010 was then outsourced to BOFEPUSU trade unions, administered by UNIGEM, an investment company formed by the five trade unions.
Masisi has deployed former Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs Edwin Batshu who is well respected by the trade unions to lead the BDP Labour Committee and engage with public sector unions. Batshu recently met BOFEPUSU leadership at the offices of Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) offices in Gaborone.
BOFEPUSU Acting Secretary General Mogomotsi Motshegwa confirmed that they met with the BDP Labour Committee but was quick to add that it was just meet and greet. “We were just meeting them so that we can know each other. They have promised to meet with us again to discuss labour issues affecting the public service workers,” said Motshwegwa, adding that they have laid down their demands to the BDP Labor Committee which informed them that they will present them to the Central Committee.
“We told them we believe in action rather than rhetoric and if they are saying they are warming up to us they must show by actions,” he said.
One of the cardinal issues that they have told BDP to act on is the review of the Trade Disputes Act (TDA) which has made almost all civil servants essential service workers. Another topical issue that he said they want to be addressed is the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) which has collapsed and the review of the Public Service Bill which is yet to be brought before Parliament.
Some of the envisgaed amendments to the PSA are that Government shall not be required to deduct any trade union dues or levies from employees’ wages on behalf of a trade union save for union membership subscriptions; the directorate of DPSM shall be the secretariat of the council; every trade union recognised under this Act shall be entitled to appoint public officers as representatives from amongst its members for purposes of bargaining in good faith with government on salary and other monetary and non-monetary benefits, amongst others.
Motshegwa revealed that they recently met with Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development Tshenolo Mabeo during the High Level Consultative Council (HLCC) on Labour Sector and informed him that they must review the Public Service Bill and engage trade unions.
The history of the relationship between government and Public Sector Unions
Things took a nasty turn in 2011 when the public sector embarked on a month long strong after Government refused to grant them 16% salary increase citing economic recession. Addressing a kgotla meeting in Bobonong during the strike former President Lieutenant General Ian Khama was quoted as saying, “Those who insist that the country has funds for salary increments are like the conspiracy theorists who still argue that [Osama] bin Laden is not dead.”
He insisted that he will not abuse public funds to buy elections. Leading the onslaught on trade unions was the then Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration Mokgweetsi Masisi who is now the President. BOFEPUSU vowed that they will ensure that they campaign against Masisi to lose elections though it didn’t have impact as he won the general elections in 2014 subsequently becoming the Vice President.
After he became the Vice President BOFEPUSU continued their spirited campaign to ensure that they block his ascendancy to Presidency by de-campaigning him for the party chairmanship in 2015 but he still went ahead and won in Mmadinare. A few months before he became the country’s fifth president, BOFEPUSU changed their stance and stated that they will give him a chance to redeem himself.
After the 2018 BDP National Council, Secretary General Mpho Balopi told the media that their labour committee led by Batshu will engage BOFEPUSU and that they want Government and the trade union to re-start the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) which has since collapsed.
After his inauguration, Masisi made it clear that he wants to rebuild the relationship with the public sector workers. Batshu was dropped from cabinet and according to sources close to President Masisi this was done deliberately so that he concentrates on engaging the public sector unions.