Rivals Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and Manual Workers Union are involved in a no holds barred turf war at Botswana’s parastatals. Information reaching The Telegraph suggests that the rivalry between the two unions, led by Andrew Motsamai and Johnson Motshwarakgole, has reached fever pitch as they are now working day and night to destroy each other and court each other’s members.
The relationship between the two deteriorated to all time lows during salary negotiations at Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS). The two unions, which are affiliated to Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) failed to present a united front and delivered divergent demands at the negotiation table. While the Manual Workers Union settled for the six percent increment offered by the employer, BOPEU demanded 15 percent.
In the middle of separate negotiations by BOPEU, the employer implemented the six percent increment for non-unionised employees and exclusive members of the Manual Workers Union. BOPEU then rushed to court seeking an interdiction, arguing that implementation would compromise its right to a fair bargaining process. But the Manual Workers Union dismissed the application as incompetent and inconsistent with BOPEU’s duty to bargain in good faith.
“This is even morose when the attempt is to even block payment to members of another recognised trade union which has itself bargained for its members as it is in law to do,” said Motshwarakgole.
On Friday, the Manual Workers Union also filed an urgent application seeking the court to allow for the six percent salary increment to be extended to BURS employees who enjoy dual membership of the two unions.
However, the court ruled that the Manual Workers Union application was not urgent and advised the two unions to resolve the matter amicably.
As the fight for turf rages on, BOPEU supporters have accused the Manual Workers Union of failing to empower structures and regularly check on its members.
“Because of our quality service, we are growing at a phenomenal rate and the Manual Workers Union is losing members to us in all parastatals,” they said.
They also accused the Manual Workers Union of applying dirty tricks in a desperate attempt to stem the outward flow of members, by telling members that BOPEU cannot represent them as it is still Botswana Civil Service Association (BCSA).
“In the end some members choose BOPEU for the benefits that it offers and Manual Workers Union for representation. That’s why we have this problem of dual membership,” they said.
BOPEU also accused Manual Workers Union of not vigilantly fighting for its members, as it readily accepted the six percent increment that was offered by BURS without bargaining for more.
“Their structures are dysfunctional. They are an absentee union that has no presence in the work place. They have adopted this top down structure in which Motshwarakgole is God, unlike in BOPEU which has empowered its members to actively fight for their rights,” said BOPEU supporters.
In response, Motshwarakgole hit back at BOPEU’s praise singers, saying they are an inexperienced lot that is endangering labour relations. He also refuted allegations that Manual Workers Union was losing members to BOPEU, saying the union was stronger than ever.
“We accepted the six percent increment because there is an ongoing organisational and pay structure review at BURS. Our members are part of the task force that oversees that review. We even lobbied for the task force to go on bench marking trips in South Africa and Rwanda,” he said.
“We accepted the six percent pending the outcome of the structure. We have no basis to negotiate until the new structure is revealed. These guys don’t know what they are doing. They are inexperienced. We successfully lobbied for better pay and restructuring of organisations like UB, HRDC, BQA and BAC. Ask them where they have ever represented the people successfully,” said Motshwarakgole.
He further said BOPEU should have communicated their concerns at BOFEPUSU, instead of rushing to court and campaigning in the media.
“As trade unions we shouldn’t behave like this. We tried to urge BOPEU to desist from this mudslinging but they seem undeterred. Anyway, what can we expect from a union that takes instructions from the highest office in the land?” said Motshwarakgole.