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The Agri-shop fires trade unionists

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 13 June 2018   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
BOBOGEWU Leadership BOBOGEWU Leadership

 Refuses to grant trade union recognition

 Fire truck drivers over trumped up charges

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 Some charged for high consumption of fuel by trucks 

 Fail to attend mediation; reject Commissioner's appointed mediator

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When workers at The Agri-shop decided to join a trade union of their choice, Botswana Bulk Vehicle Operators, Commercial and General Workers Union (BOBOCOGEWU) many believed that their lives will change for good with a voice to bargain for better working conditions.

It was not to be. Now workers at Mont Trade (the owners of The Agri-shop, Feed Centre Botswana and Opti Feeds Botswana) have been thrown into panic following a crackdown by management, which saw seven truck drivers dismissed from work last week and many others facing disciplinary action over what has been labelled trumped up charges.

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Coincidentally, all the terminated truck drivers are members of BOBOCOGEWU, an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Parastatal and Private Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). Not only that, the company has flatly refused to grant the trade union recognition and the parties are currently embroiled in a bruising battle before the Commissioner of Labour.

Last week Thursday [31 May 2018], the Managing Director of The Agri-shop a subsidiary of Mont Trade, Vlado Rubezic hammered in the final nail by rejecting appeal launched by the dismissed truckers. Rejecting the appeals on May 31, Rubezic said he is satisfied in view of the nature of the infringements, that in summarily terminating the drivers' employment contracts, the panel conducting the disciplinary hearings did not act  "clearly unreasonably’’.

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For one of the dismissed drivers Kagiso Dintwe the outcome of appeal read as follows: "The act of failure to account for sixty-three (63) bags of Opti Grower has the effect of damaging trust and mutual confidence between yourself and the employer.” 

For one Thakadu Rakolanyane, the outcome of the appeal was based on charge one "Acts of misappropriation, wilful dishonesty against the employer with 1 (a) read as follows “It is alleged that you have on numerous occasions been warned against high level consumption of diesel associated with your truck. You have dismally failed to disclose pertinent facts which have led to the rising level of consumption’’. Moreover charge 2 charged that “You chose to be absent from the disciplinary proceedings and a decision was taken by the Disciplinary Committee to summarily dismiss you. Rubezic confirmed the dismissal.

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On Thursday BOBOCOGEWU officials registered a case of unfair dismissal at the labour office in Block 8, Gaborone with respect to the seven dismissed truck drivers after the unsuccessful appeals to Rubezic. The trade union is assisting the terminated drivers to drag Feed Centre before the Commissioner of Labour for what they insist is unfair dismissal. The case will be heard by the Commissioner on 26 July 2018.

Meanwhile, the parties (BOBOCOGEWU and Agri-shop) will meet before the mediator next Thursday (June 14) for continuation of a hearing of the dispute caused by the Agri-shop management's refusal to grant the trade union recognition.

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 The last hearing could not continue and had to be postponed on 15 May 2018 because Group Human Resource Manager Reuben Khumalo failed to show up and when contacted by the mediator claimed that Mont trade (the parent company of The Agri-shop) had lodged grievances with the Commissioner of Labour. Three days before then (mediation) BOBOCOGEWU submitted additional members raising their membership to 104. It has since emerged that Mont Trade's grievance to the Commissioner, which has been dismissed as a delaying tactic, was that they did not want the current mediator. The Commissioner has since rejected the request to allocate a different mediator for the dispute between The Agri-shop and BOBOCOGEWU.

Coincidentally, four days before the hearing the labour office The Agri-shop management slapped the drivers with letters inviting them for disciplinary hearing dated May 11. The charges were all similar ranging from absenteeism to conduct likely to bring the company into disrepute to acts of misappropriation or wilful dishonesty against the employer due to high level consumption of diesel by the company trucks.

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One of the letters inviting Masilo Legong to attend a disciplinary hearing reads: "Engaging in conduct likely to bring the company into disrepute. It is alleged that on or around 26th April 2018, during your dispensation of duties, you knowingly parked in an area which according to South African Traffic Act was an illegal parking area. This act is unlawful and intentional and is in direct contravention of your employment contract’’. 

The notice of disciplinary hearing sent to Extra Heavy Duty Driver Omphile Komane, on the May 22 2018 read as follows “it is alleged that you were absent on 19th May 2018 and your employer did not know whereabouts. This is despite your full knowledge about your contractual obligation to provide services to the employer. When quizzed about your act, you did not proffer any reasonable explanations neither did you provide any document to account for your absence. Your act is unwarranted, constitutes misconduct and is in direct contravention of your employment contract and employment Act". 

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At least two of the drivers claim that they were never served with the notice for disciplinary hearings but only received dismissal letters with the subject matter: Outcome of the Disciplinary hearing. The letters were sent to the drivers' postal boxes. Immediately upon receipt of the dismissal letters, the drivers launched an appeal to Rubezic, as advised. On May 31, Rubezic responded upholding the outcome of the disciplinary hearing and rejecting the appeals. 

The Patriot on Sunday is in possession of documents showing that the crackdown on workers by Mont Trade management was only heightened by repeated requests for recognition by BOBOCOGEWU. The last request, which culminated with the matter being reported to the Commissioner of Labour, was made on May 11 after another one dated 31 January 2018 was ignored by management. The first application for recognition by The Agri-shop was submitted on October 25, 2017 but was rejected because the trade union did not have sufficient members to make the one third threshold.

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A payroll list for period 31/3/2018 submitted by Khumalo before the mediator on April 24, 2018 showed that Mont Trade (Pty) Ltd T/A Feed Centre Botswana and The Agri Shop employs 167 Retail, and 17 at Tara Farm in Metsimotlhabe; two heavy duty drivers for transport and water (bowsers); Opti Feed Botswana processing plant for animal feed employs 52 bringing the total employed to 238.



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