The Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) is standing on slippery ground and faces the risk of being left in limbo as the newly formed Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BFPSU) has made inroads into its fold and looks set to steal some of BFTU’s influential public sector affiliates.
Information reaching The Sunday Standard indicates that BFTU’s strongest affiliate, the all-powerful Botswana Teachers Union, is considering defecting to the newly formed BFPSU.
Even the BTU Secretary General, Keorapetse Kgasa, was non committal when asked to clarify the issue.
“At the moment we are still evaluating the options available to us and, therefore, cannot come up with a firm statement,” he told The Sunday Standard on Friday.
But sources have revealed that the BTU leadership cannot delay the move any longer as members have indicated their desire to join BFPSU. A July 25 governing council meeting held in Mahalapye is said to have culminated in discontent as some BTU members felt that the issue should have been addressed as a matter of urgency.
At stake is the ability of the BTU to bargain with the employer. As a union, the BTU can only bargain at ministerial level but not at the national bargaining council which requires that the federation to which it is affiliated should have a third of the national workforce to qualify to sit in its forum.
Some BTU members feel that the union should join the numerically superior Manual Workers Union and Botswana Public Employees Workers Union so that they can reach the requisite quota to be able to bargain at national level.
“It is important to note that allowances and other pertinent issues are discussed at the national level and not at the sectoral level. Therefore, our exclusion from such an eminent forum will only be detrimental to the welfare of the BTU membership,” said Kgasa. He, however, said that they are still exploring a number of available options before taking a firm decision. But the BTU membership has dismissed this as stalling because “there is only one available option and the other option is a non starter”.
BTU has, over the years, cooperated with Manual Workers Union on a number of projects and pundits say that it was only a matter of time before the teachers union ditched the BFTU. Some BTU members have revealed that they want their union to join BFPSU because it will be in the best interests of their members.
The BFTU is said to have been observing these developments with interest. Indications are that the BFTU earlier this year tried to oust Radibe from the BFTU because of these developments. “Some BFTU members wanted to oust Radibe before BTU defected in a bid to save face, but apparently their initiative failed,” said a BFTU insider.
The Sunday Standard is informed BTU President Japhta Radibe, who also happens to be the president of the BFTU, reneged on his initial stance and blocked the governing council’s insistence that BTU defects to BFPSU.
Fireworks are expected at the BTU governing council meeting on August 17 as members have vowed that they will press the BTU management to take a concrete decision, failing which they will pass a motion of no confidence against Radibe. They insist that Radibe should not be the one to block the wishes of the masses, especially since he is currently employed by BTU after his sacking from the public service.
However, Secretary General Keorapetse Kgasa was quick to come to Radibe’s defense saying that he never blocked a decision to defect to the BFPSU, but rather advised that the issue should be tabled before the union’s structures before a decision is made.
“The president only advised at the July 25 meeting that the governing council should not be the one to take such a drastic decision and insisted that the issue should be tabled before all the BTU structures before a concrete decision is made at the national congress,” he said.
Tension has been rife within Botswana’s labour movement ever since Johnson Motshwarakgole and Edward Motsamai mooted the idea of a public sector federation. Detractors of such a federation argued that it will polarize and weaken the labour movement while its sponsors said that it would enable the public sector to bargain effectively with government.
Accusations have since been flying back and forth with others saying that the public sector federation is sponsored by government, especially after high profile government officials, who have traditionally shunned labour union gatherings graced BOPEU’s congress last year.
Meanwhile, BFTU Secretary General Gadzani Mhotsha continues to insist that as far as they are concerned, BFTU is empowered by the trade union and employers’ organizations act to bargain with government. He cautioned the working masses not to be misled by unfounded claims of large followings saying that they have observed that some unions continue to inflate their membership in a bid to attract more members. “We have been worriedly observing the tendency by some labour organizations to inflate their memberships and feed the public with untruths, apparently in a bid to serve their selfish interests,” he said.