The Botswana Railways Train Crew Union (BRTCU), has presented a petition to the Minister of Works and Transport, Frank Ramsden, alleging corruption, bad and unsafe working conditions at the Botswana Railways.
They further asked him to delay the distribution of the organizations approved funds of P586.5 million.
The BRTCU told Ramsden that the recent financial statement for 2007/2008, which showed an operating loss of P79 million as presented by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Baledzi Gaolatlhe, is an indicator of a lack of accountability, which dominates the affairs of the BR.
“We question the credibility of the man behind the steering wheel of revenue. Does he know how much in monetary terms is the income generated by the train crew?” said, Mr Setsogo of the BRTCU, reading from the petition.
The union stated that on account of the nature of cargoes and traffic that they convey with the engines on a regular basis, they are able to determine the huge profits being made by the client organizations.
“Most of these organizations make money by meeting their targets and often times exceed their targets,” highlighted Setsogo. He further pointed out that at no instance has the crew ever failed the BR clientele.
‘Instead the crew has always given the maximum of their energies and ability,’ he added.
The minister was also bombarded with what the Union claimed was documentary evidence of the extent of the abuses they are subjected to that include working long hours.
In spite of this unwavering loyalty, the crew claims that their salaries and wages, as well as their working conditions have generally remained at paltry levels and incompatible with their actual output.
Against this background, Setsogo pointed out on behalf of his compatriots that they have been making formal appeals to query their status to their management without success.
Lately, the appeal was directed at the Board of Directors who equally did not find fault with the presented concerns.
To make matters worse, even the board would not bother to summon management on the concerns at issue.
BRTCU further put it to the minister that management had been intensively engaged on all of the issues since December 2007 up to the end of last year but to no avail.
Although agreement was reached on some of the issues, none was implemented.
The union prefaced their petition to the minister with a request for protection of all their colleagues attending the protest demonstration against possible, vengeful and unfair dismissal for carrying out their union mandate.
Copies of previous industrial cases involving union leaders who had been victimized by management have been furnished to the Sunday Standard as evidence of what the BR management is capable of.
The latest such example involves the Union Secretary General, Motube Molefe, who was fired for winning a recognition case in the Industrial Court, which Management has appealed against at great expense.
According to the petition presented to the minister, the list of those who suffered the same fate include N.P. Daniel, Samuel Moabi, Raperekisi, as well as Setsogo himself, who was reinstated on order of the High Court.
‘It is in this context that we find it appropriate to forward our petition to your Honourable office for final determination,” said the BRTCU spokesperson.
In an attempt to explain how the BR lost millions, information passed to the Sunday Standard reveals how, in the past, officials ordered new parts for either non-existing locomotives or otherwise for the same engines over and over again only to have the engines limp back home from South Africa.
Officials at the BR are also alleged to live in scandalous luxury, employing relatives and also instances of tribalistic considerations were reported.
“To curtail any resistance to all these malpractices by the Crew, management and, in particular, the Chief Traffic Engineer, is alleged to have resorted to preventing the recognition of our union hence their decision to appeal to the Industrial Court against our recognition,” said a union official who declined to be mentioned by name.
Ramsden responded by saying that the complaints and allegations will be investigated and will be given due attention, although he was reluctant to commit to a specific time frame.
He said the fact that the petition makes serious allegations and, further, that more than just one party is affected, necessarily called for a deliberate and systematic interrogation of all factors involved.
There is consensus that unless a thorough investigation is carried out, the country’s only mode of transport for the poorest of the poor in this country could soon be reduced to the spoils of those who may have been positioning themselves for its privatization over time.
In addition, the safety of passengers, as recently widely reported, may not be guaranteed.