Tomorrow when members of the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) go on strike, those belonging to the Botswana Primary Teachers Union (BOPRITU) will abstain and go about their normal duties. This is going to be a sight to behold because some schools have both BTU and BOPRITU members.
BOPRITU’s Secretary General Mogotsi Motshegwe says that they cannot be part of the strike because its objectives are not aligned to their particular grievances with regard to remuneration.
“Our priority is not a salary increment but an overhaul of the salary structure such that we are put on par with our colleagues in secondary schools,” he says.
He goes on to explain that primary schools teachers are paid way less than their colleagues in secondary school even when they hold the same qualifications. To a degree, the progression of the latter through the salary scale structure is automatic while primary school teachers can only move to the next income bracket upon promotion. As a result of this disparity, Motshegwe says that income gap between a primary and secondary teachers who hold the same qualifications can be as high as P3000.
“So you see even if the government was to award a salary increment to civil servants, our remuneration would not change our financial circumstances in any fundamental way. We want such increment to occur within a reworked pay structure,” he says.
BOPRITU, which has 2 400 members, broke away from BTU and was officially launched late last year. Motshegwe says the union has started its own talks with the government around the salary structure issue. The talks have not yet been concluded. While he does not rule out the possibility of BOPRITU withdrawing its labour at some point in the future, Motshegwe says going on strike is not an option given their particular situation at this point in time.
Motshegwe is well aware of the fact that taking the position they had would invite the label ‘sycophants’ from those who support the strike. Naturally, he says they are anything but that.
“We are not sycophants. If we are a part of a strike action we have to be clear about what our role and objectives are. Clearly we have no role in this strike,” he says.
Part of the reason that is the case is that, as he puts it, ‘the Big Five’ are not interested in us.’ The Big Five is a formal coalition of five public sector unions that form what is known as the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU). Motshegwe says that BOFEPUSU never invited his union to be part of the strike action.
In the ‘us’ category are the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) and the Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU) whom Motshegwe says they have established a working relationship with. Some in the labour movement see the other two unions, which recently went to South Africa on a government-sponsored benchmarking trip as fraternising with the enemy. Motshegwe says that while his Union knew about the trip, representatives could go on it for reasons he cannot disclose.
The bad blood between these two camps is such that Motshegwe says that offering solidarity to the Big Five is not a priority for BOPRITU. He also feels it would cheaper to seek redress through the courts than go on strike.
BOFEPUSU’s spokesperson, Goretetse Kekgonegile says that BOPRITU was not brought on board for a good reason.
“It is not matter of inviting other unions per se. It is a matter of five unions that have been negotiating with government reaching an impasse and deciding to go strike. BOPRITU was not part of that process,” Kekgonegile says.