The President of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) Andrew Motsamai has cautioned government that it needs to start taking labour relations seriously and stop taking workers for granted.
Speaking during a breakfast seminar hosted by BOPEU to discuss the budget speech in Gaborone on Friday, Motsamai quoted the Minister of finance and development planning’s reference to public service salaries in the budget speech in which he said ‘the government was fully committed to the Bargaining council in the process of negotiating public service salaries and will continue to consult with trade unions’. This utterances according to Motsamai were not entirely true and exposed the government’s double standards approach to the salaries negotiation process with trade unions. “An offer of 4 % is a good starting point for bargaining, given the history of public service bargaining since 2010. What is the problem is that it appears to be couched as a rigid offer, with no intention to move,” said Motsamai.
According to Motsamai in this case it would mean that bargaining was but a formality, where government goes through the motion but with no objective to reach a settlement , but rather with an intent to force unions to accept its offer. “ The latest reports in the media that government has announced an increase of 4 percent to members of the discipline forces rather than waiting for bargaining council to settle this matter is discomforting,” he said.
He continued throwing salvos at the government saying another ritual is the tendency of government to proceed to award its minimum offer to non-unionised employees so as to undermine bargaining. He accused Minister Matambo of threatening unions by mentioning in the budget speech a possible disadvantage to public servants salaries if negotiations are not settled in time, despite the fact that in law there is no disadvantage if parties mutually agree to backdate the effective date. “Again there is no law that says the effective date ought to be at the time the agreement was reached. The only possible motive one can read out of the Minister’s averments amounts not only to bad faith bargaining but also to a form of coercive negotiation,” he said.
According to Motsamai the minister was in a way implying that unions are to blame if negotiations stall or the whole process of bargaining does not complete before the next financial year.
Meanwhile other speakers also challenged government ‘stance on labour relations and abating unemployment levels . Professor Brothers Malema of the University of Botswana’s Economics department bemoaned the current situation where government boasted of a stable ecocomy and commendable GDP but with a disgruntled workforce to deal with. “Economic growth is good, but growth without employment creation or without looking at the wellbeing of workers is worrisome,” said Malema. According to Malema it would be ideal to have the economy growing marginally at the benefit of the majority than growing faster while only a few benefit.
He bemoaned that though Botswana was a few years back rated in the top fifty countries in the world which had good labour relations it was disheartening that to date the country ranks below 100. This poor perfomance according to Malema was contrary to how government wanted to be portrayed especially to foreign investors.
Sharing the same sentiments, Dr Happy Siphambe also from the UB Economics Department was of the view that government needed to provide a budget that will have an obvious link between issues of employment and the labour market. According to Siphambe employment is generally a function of two aspects , that is the demand of labour and the supply of labour. These he says interact to determine employment and wages in a typical market. He said the extent that the budget affects demand, supply for labour and wages depends on national context. According to Siphambe, Botswana’s main emphasis has always been on wages to the neglect of its impact on employment.