The retrenchment exercise at Botswana Railways is taking an interesting turn with a firm deadline having been decided upon and three full days having been set aside to thrash out a separation package deal.
At this point and with little progress being made, the parastatal organisation’s management and the Botswana Railways Amalgamated Workers Union (BRAWU) are still in the throes of sealing that deal. Final negotiations on the package have been scheduled for June 5, 6, and 7 this year and in compliance with instructions from the Board of Directors, negotiations should be finalised by June 30.
The deadline notwithstanding, the BRAWU leadership is itself hamstrung in that at this point in time, its term of office expired in March and is in the constitutionally-mandated winding-up phase. The constitution gives office holders three months after their term expires to wind up and hand over to the incoming leadership. This phase ends on June 30, the precise date that negotiations should be concluded. Effectively that means that the union has no mandate to negotiate with management after that date. In a situation where there was no firm deadline, that could work in the union’s favour because it could delay the implementation of an exercise that it maintains is unnecessary.
BR’s plan was to have shed some 147 employees by December 15 last year but BRAWU rushed to the Gaborone Industrial Court with an urgent application to argue that no consultations had taken place. The court ruled in its favour and the process was started over, meaning naturally, that BR has incurred more costs that it had planned to post-December 15. The organisation had already invested a lot in terms of both human and financial resources. A company called EOH Consulting carried out a study of the organisation’s operations and at one point, the exercise entailed a benchmarking trip to Brazil. Subsequently, management went on a national line tour to appraise staff of possible developments following the consultancy. The one most crucial outcome was the decision to retrench 147 employees and in preparation for that, BR engaged the services of a psychiatrist to mentally prepare staff members for possible job losses. The psychiatrist conducted group counselling sessions at three BR stations: Francistown, Gaborone and Mahalapye.
While this may be a difficult phase for BR, there is a shaft of bright light prominently visible at the end of the tunnel that it the parastatal is currently slogging through. It stands to gain bountifully from the proposed 1500-kilometre Trans-Kalahari Railway line that the government of Botswana and Namibia plan to build at a cost of US$1.4 billion. There is a good chance that when the line is operating, some of the employees who are to be retrenched will rejoin BR.