When the Secretary General of the Botswana Railways Train Crew Union, Thapelo Molefe, appeared at the Industrial Court of justice on behalf of his colleagues, little did he know that he was placing himself on the line for dismissal from work. The railwaymen went to court to demand recognition by BR Management and for their right to bargain on behalf train crew employees.
Hardly three weeks after judgment was passed by Elijah Legwaila, the Judge President of the Industrial Court, Molefe was served with a charge sheet alleging that he used vulgar language against a Senior Train Controller.
According to information passed to the Sunday Standard, he was summoned before the Chief Traffic Manager for a disciplinary hearing whereupon he denied any wrong doing, Another BR employee, who preferred not to be mentioned by name, has intimated to the Sunday Standard that Molefe’s termination was part of a broader plan to frustrate the efforts of BRTCU to ultimately be able to negotiate and bargain on behalf of its members. To prove this he elaborated on how management rejected a bid by their union chairman to feature at the disciplinary hearing on behalf of BRTCU. He was told that he could only appear as a co-worker.
In addition, evidence unearthed by the Sunday Standard shows that a number of other leaders belonging to the railway crew union had to be dismissed shortly or sometime following cases before the labour court, under framed up charges.
Molefe declined to comment on the matter, adding that he would rather allow the internal processes to take their course.
Goitsebeng Setsogo, Chairman of the train crew union, told the Sunday Standard in an interview that his Executive is confident that, as proven by the Courts, the train crew (or engine operators as they are also referred to) are entitled to associate with a union of their choice.
“However, we are careful not to be seen to be in haste on any aspect of our dealings with management, and much less on a matter that impacts on the welfare of our colleague,” added Setsogo.
It has further been revealed to this paper by impeccable sources that the whole crew of engine operators nearly abandoned the locomotives in solidarity with their co-worker just before the Christmas Holidays, but were restrained by Molefe himself and Setsogo, who also reportedly suffered similar experiences as Molefe in the past, but was later reinstated at the instance of the Courts following wrangling which seemed premised on the concern that he played a leading role in the efforts to have management recognize train crew as a special cadre who deserve to be treated accordingly.
On how far true that is, Setsogo stated, “It would have been unwise and suicidal for us, when we know what happened to the DEBSWANA 461, to allow our colleagues to go that route.”
Recently citing Case No. BLR 763 Botswana Railways Organization V Setsogo, in which Setsogo was key, to preface his ruling in favour of the train crew for which Molefe is widely suspected to be fired, Legwaila said, All employees aspire for higher wages. To that extent a general trade union may represent everybody.
But whether the general union would be comfortable arguing a case where engineers would demand to be paid high salaries because they are better qualified than their colleagues is a matter that the court raised to show the importance of recognizing the peculiarities of the sector’s interests away from the broader industry.
Meanwhile, sources inside at the BR Headquarters have expressed the view that management might have gone too far this time by firing a union official under flimsy grounds, at a time when the Organization is a virtual underdog, given that not only was the judgment in favour of BRTCU, but also that the advice of the Attorney General to Government concerning similar cases point to radical drift to a new political dispensation.
It was not possible to speak to Moses Bagayi, BR Human Resources Manager.
The Sunday Standard is in possession of documents indicating that BR Management has decided to appeal the judgment of the Industrial Court, despite what labour experts have described as a concluded matter.
It was ruled by the court that, “The question “whether “one third of the employees of the employer” should be read as ‘one third of employees’ of the same trade in the employer’s business (as contended for by the applicant-BRTCU) is answered in the affirmative for the purposes of the applicant’s case and for all similar cases.