Following the 2011 strike, the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has established a strike fund to blunt the one disincentive that might make members reluctant to participate in future strikes. While the striking workers may have paralysed some government operations in 2011, they also felt the pinch because the government did not pay them for the period of time that they were on the picket lines.
That forced one too many of them to turn to loan sharks who notoriously charge exorbitant interest. Some were later dismissed and in Selebi Phikwe, there were reports about those remaining in government employ having a whip-round to raise money that was shared out among their ill-fated colleagues. While not much, the money was enough to purchase basic needs while those workers sought reinstatement through the courts or new jobs outside the civil service.
Three years later, memories of negative-amount pay slips are still fresh in the minds of civil servants and not many would relish the prospect of another strike. BOFEPUSU’s response has been to do what some trade unions around the world have done ÔÇô establish a rainy-day fund from which it will draw money to subsidise members on the picket lines.Unions that maintain a strike fund set a benefit level of a defined percentage at a striker’s international rate of pay. The fund is administered by a committee that considers certain factors in determining who will obtain assistance.
Generally, beneficiaries will be union members who are engaged in a duly authorised strike; are in good standing; are available for and performing strike-related activities like picketing and providing strike office support; and, are not engaged in any action or deed which might adversely affect the successful outcome of the dispute. Strike fund benefit eligibility begins immediately upon an authorised work stoppage and the benefit will continue until the strikers are recalled to work or the fund is depleted. BOFEPUSU’s spokesperson, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, says that in building this fund, they have asked for financial assistance from both the local and international community.
“The funding levels are not quite where we want them but we have made some progress,” he adds. A strike fund is a tool for offensive strategy and actions during negotiations because it brings the power of financial stability. When they occupy a position of strength, union negotiators are much more likely to reject unsatisfactory offers from management and resort to strike action if the bargaining table doesn’t yield good results. However, BOFEPUSU is in a very peculiar situation ÔÇô at least for the period of time that Ian Khama will be president.
During the 2011 strike, Khama said (and it didn’t look like he was bluffing) that even if the strike went on for five years, his government would still not capitulate. This effectively means that for as long as he is president, public sector unions cannot use strike action as any weapon against the government. Building a strike fund with a five-year cover is certainly something that BOFEPUSU will not be able to do.