Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Brigades’ employees face bleak future as Government dilly dallies

Hardly six weeks into the beginning of the next development plan period, Government’s target of completing the take over of all existing Brigades in the country by the end of National Development Plan 9 appear to have hit rock bottom even before it could take off.

Given that no single Brigade has been taken over despite the projected timeframe, the outcry at a number of these community-based institutions, regarding the rise in the number of unqualified dismissals of employees, and systematic harassment by management further casts doubts on the extent of Government’s commitment to see the project through.

Basing on the contents of a government CAB MEMO /166 SX 10/5B (Ministry of Education) of 2006, titled “Take Over and Conversion of Brigades into Government Technical Colleges,” Government has sanctioned that all 41 existing Brigades be rationalized into 25 technical colleges, some with satellite campuses and others as stand alone colleges. The process, it was stated, should be complete by the end of NDP 9.

Allan Keitseng, President of the Tertiary Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU), said that by virtue of his organization’s responsibility to its members, they intend making representations to the relevant authorities, should any queries arise before or in the course of the take over process.

It is, therefore, imperative, he said, that it should be clear who, between Government and the Brigades’ Boards of Trustees, owes it to the employees to assure them of a future after the take over.

Meanwhile, Bashi Raleru, the Brigades Take over Project Coordinator, was very categorical about the question. “Before we could even think of employing any former Brigade employee, they must have satisfactorily sorted out all outstanding issues they had with their former employers.”

Raleru further made the point that all the earmarked institutions will be expected to settle their liabilities, as well as address employment terminal benefits issues, before they could be taken over

In spite of this, the impression given is that Government had a vision (the take over of Brigades) and now it is to be implemented, until one comes to realize there are conditions attached.

Moreover, such conditions do not include thorough consultation with major stakeholders so as to determine the role each would play to ensure ease of take over.

“It has become apparent that Government is reluctant to commit to what happens to the Brigades employees, especially in respect of their employability,” lamented TAWU spokesperson.

The Union official suggested that it is against this background that lack of consultation with his organization could easily be perceived as tact to avoid dialogue on a matter they are not prepared to exchange.

To compound matters, most of the Boards are accused of having unleashed a campaign of “terror” against employees, ranging from unfair dismissal, forfeiting of leave days and benefits to outright victimization.

Farther to this, a letter showing how detached some of the Boards remain from this affair written to update staff recently, by Management at Lobatse Brigade Centre, goes, “…the take over project Coordinator is floating letters advising that employees and the Commissioner of Labour be informed of the intention but still without stating exact dates to be so communicated.”

It went on, “For lack of appropriate information to make better sense to you, allow me just to quote a version of the Presidential Directive that states that as far as possible, “the staff of Brigades would be absorbed into the establishment of the public service in accordance with schemes of service of Government of different cadres at the technical colleges”

According to the Directive, employees who may not be absorbed shall be dealt with in a manner provided for by established procedures (e.g. negotiated exit, packages or redeployment to other departments).

To highlight the anxiety stemming from this undefined jurisdictions, a pending case of unfair dismissal involving one Brigade lecturer in Senyawe Brigades Development Trust (SBDT), is cited.

The case is at mediation level at Masunga District Labour Office. According to Section 8 of the Trades Disputes Act, 2003, if the matter is not concluded at mediation, it may be referred to the Industrial Court or Arbitration.

Against this background, TAWU officials have served notice to the concerned authorities, to the effect that the matter has implications on the take over. Part of the letter reads, “…it is our understanding that until this case is finalized, either dissolution is set in abeyance or Government makes a written undertaking to assume responsibility for the rights of the employee.”

However, information passed to the Sunday Standard indicates that this is a pattern that is manifest in a majority of Brigades.

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