Friday, October 23, 2020

Civil servants face axe

Government is planning to retrench workers and Cabinet recently approved an early exit package for civil servants.

Although government has previously denied plans to downsize its workforce, Sunday Standard investigations have turned up documentation that Cabinet recently approved the Policy, under the title, “The Botswana Public Service Early Exit Policy,” dated December 2008.

It is understood that Public Service Trade Union leaders have been sworn to confidentiality regarding the matter, with a view to allowing Government the latitude to stage-manage the release of the information.

Investigations have also turned up a supporting document presented by then Deputy Director of Public Service Management, Taboka Nkhwa, in Kampala, Uganda, on 7th-11th April, 2008, only a few weeks after Minister Daniel Kwelagobe went on radio and television to deny the story carried exclusively in the Sunday Standard.

Kwelagobe had said that, if anything, Government needed more people to be employed, and therefore it was not true that they had plans to retrench.

Under the theme, “Rightsizing the public service” in an address to the Workshop on “Enhancing the performance of the African Public Service Commissions and Other Appointing Commissions/Authorities” in Kampala, Nkhwa said, “At the current establishment the public service is considered too large. Notwithstanding the size, there is evidently severe shortage of critical skill in areas at high level while there is an over abundance of low skilled workers.”

To improve the situation, according to the DPSM official, decisions have been taken to rationalize and eliminate all unnecessary posts in the public service, provide for early retirement for underperformance and retrench unsuitable staff.

In addition, she stated, “To facilitate the decisions on early retirement and retrenchment of staff, an early exit policy has been developed.”

Nkhwa further stated that through this policy, “generous and sustainable packages and business start up assistance and training would be considered as rehabilitation strategies and programmes for the redundant”.

Andrew Motsamai, President of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), acknowledged, saying, “It is true that we were called by DPSM officials last week to inform us about the policy.”
But he said, there was nothing new about this, as it followed from discussions that have been taking place between them and the annual Workers Union on the one hand and Government on the other.

Regarding ‘right sizing’ the public service being part of a process aimed at privatization of Government assets, Motsamai replied, “We the MWU and Government’s position is no different, that any decision to sell out any state property certainly would place us at the helm of the priority list.”

“Whether Industrial Class employees will be most affected, by the retrenchments, will depend largely on what industry would be privatized, than their rank in the workplace,” argued BOPEU President.

It, however, appears that reduction of the workforce is central to the Government public reform initiatives as is the need to retain a highly skilled and productive workforce. For this reason there is consensus that the industrial class employees may be more at risk than the rest of the workers.

Indicators of the trend abound.

Botswana Privatization Policy, Item, number 29, mentions “Reducing the size of the public sector”, as one of its objectives, whereas Appendix B, Government e-Readiness, Botswana’s National ICT Policy 2004 page B1, sums up Government’s diagnostic position. “Botswana has a large public service in relation to the size of the population.”

Motsamai has said that one of the factors that had delayed the early exit policy was that there were disagreements between Government and Manual Workers Union on certain issues, which have since been ironed out.

Former President Festus Mogae had highlighted the urgency of the retrenchments in his State of the Nation Address, a few months earlier, in November 2007, when he said, “…If we delay the process of privatization of public enterprises …we will be doing ourselves a great disservice. Whilst Privatization will, at times, entail short term costs, such as retrenchments, we must not be oblivious to its long term benefits of efficiency, sustainable employment, as well as higher quality services.”

Authorities previously sought to impose their position thus, “It is intended that the policy will be available to the Industrial Class Employees even if they disagree because the current provision on redundancy in the Regulations for Industrial Employees (RIE) provides for lower incentives.”

Agreement seems to have been reached, on incentives; Appendix ii of the latest Early Exit document states that “those who voluntarily exit service having served less than 5 years will be paid 2 months basic salary, 5 years but less than 10 years entitles one to 3 months basic salary whereas 10 years service and above assures one of 4 months basic salary.

For Involuntary exit on the other hand, employees will forfeit one month in all instances for an equivalent period as Voluntary. Whilst in the case of separation pay Voluntary benefits 45 days for each year served as opposed to their counterparts’ 40 days for same amount of time served.

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