Almost a month after the Gaborone Industrial Court ordered Botswana Railways to establish an appeals board to hear grievances arising from its restructuring process, the three-member body has yet to be constituted. The board, which will be chaired by BR’s chief executive officer, will be made up of three members, one a staff union representative. Judging by the correspondence between the management and the staff union and given the history of their relations, another round of litigation could be on the horizon.
The Botswana Railways Amalgamated Workers Union (BRAWU) has nominated its chairperson, Gaebepe Molaodi, to represent it on the appeals board. Conversely, management takes the view that her personal circumstances make her unsuitable to assume such role. While she had indicated desire to stay on as an employee, Molaodi was retrenched through the involuntary exit scheme that started in December last year. The appeals board being constituted will hear and determine grievances from employees who, like herself, having opted to remain as employees are instead required to leave BR employ.
The position of BR management is that Molaodi’s membership of the board would pose two problems. “The first problem is that if she is going to lodge an appeal, then she cannot sit in the appeals board as she will be conflicted to do so. The second problem is that if she does not intend to appeal, it means that she accepts the position of BR to not remain in the employ of Botswana Railways and as such, she will cease to be an employee of Botswana Railways with effect from what would have been the last day to lodge an appeal. This also means that she will not be eligible to hold membership of BRAWU,” states the human resources manager, Isaac Gaolekane, in a letter to BRAWU.
The latter didn’t take kindly to the letter’s request that it should nominate someone else. The union’s position is that Molaodi can only be conflicted in said manner only when her own case is being heard. “Only then will she recuse herself and BRAWU will be represented by Mr. Tsenang Bathu Nfila,” reads a letter by the latter who is the union’s general secretary. BR stuck to its guns, noting that Molaodi should recuse herself to avoid any potential for conflict of interest and that, for the sake of consistency, it would be undesirable to reconstitute board in instances when she has to recuse herself. Reacting to such concern, BRAWU said that who represents it on the board is its own (and not management’s) prerogative.
Then it sought to turn the tables on BR by stating that “management should rather be concerned about the conflict of interest that arises when the CEO, or any of his directors, is chairing the appeals board that is hearing appeals against his decisions.” The union charges that BR is wilfully bending agreed-upon process rules and hints at legal trouble down the road by stating in a letter that, “management will be notified shortly of BRAWU’s next step relative to this matter, and other equally serious matters regarding management violation of policy and the law.”