Govt criticised for neglecting workers

SHARE   |   Sunday, 08 February 2015   |   By Keitebe Kgosikebatho
Mosienyane and Motsamai at the Bopeu budget review Mosienyane and Motsamai at the Bopeu budget review

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.

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