Friday, December 3, 2021

Confusion mars public servants salary talks as unions wars intensify

Public servants salary negotiations are hanging in the balance because the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) and its breakaway rival the Botswana Public Employees Union have failed to submit crucial documents to the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) as ordered by the High Court.

While BOFEPSU is of the view that the court order also binds BOPEU, the latter insists that the order is not binding to it as it was not party to a settlement that was reached between BOFEPUSU and the Government.

In compliance with the Industrial Court Order, BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobakani Rari wrote to BOPEU Secretary General Topias Marenga inviting him to submit to him audited membership of BOPEU.

“This would be for the purposes of verification by the secretariat of PSBC under the acting jointly arrangement of unions trading as BOFEPUSU, an admitted trade union party to the PSBC,” stated Rari in a letter dated 5th January 2016.

He stated that “ the Court Order requires that a meeting of PSBC be convened on 18 January at 14hours to deliberate on among others, the outcome of the verification process and as such this matter is urgent.” 

Rari added that “in view of the urgency of the matter, we request that you submit such figures by end of business (17 hours) tomorrow, 6th January 2016.”

At the time of going to press, Saturday morning, BOPEU had still not honoured the request by BOFEPUSU and instead assured its members that it would submit verifications of its audited membership directly to PSBC “outside the auspices of BOFEPUSU.”

In a letter titled “update on developments from PSBC and Salary Negotiations” dated 7th January 2016, and addressed to its members, BOPEU Deputy President Ketlhapeleng Karabo states: “following legal wrangling at the court, the parties to the legal proceedings entered into a settlement agreement which in effect stated that PSBC should verify whether BLLAWU, BTU, BOSETU and NALCGPWU meet the required threshold to be admitted to the PSBC.”

He added that “this was made deliberately to exclude BOPEU to the verification process.”

Karabo pointed out that this however should not be understood that BOPEU is no longer a member of PSBC.

“It can only be construed to mean that the parties in this matter, agreed by consent to a court order which effectively cancelled the previously acting jointly agreement. We continue to be an admitted member and shall continue to sit at PSBC,” he said.

He added that “We are under the circumstances compelled to submit our credentials to the PSBC so as to be verified as members of the PSBC outside the auspices of BOFEPUSU collective in response to the aforementioned settlement agreement.”

The current stalemate between the two unions arises from a meeting of the PSBC which was convened on the 17th of December where procedures applicable to the wage negotiations were to be discussed. At the meeting DPSM proxies contended whether the Public Service Bargaining Council was properly constituted in light of BOPEU’s withdrawal from the trade union federation.

As a result BOFEPUSU approached the Industrial Court seeking an order compelling the Government to return to the negotiation table baring the employer party’s proposal from being added to the PSBC meeting agenda. Karabo states that BOPEU was never invited by the remaining members of BOFEPUSU to be party to the legal proceedings.

“We can only conclude that it was a deliberate act by the four union members to the legal proceedings to exclude us. BOPEU only became aware of the litigation process at the eleventh hour through BOFEPUSU attorney when the President was asked to come and sign documents,” he said.

He said as such it was impossible for BOPEU to study the case and make a decision whether the union should apply to the Court to be joined to the matter as interested parties.

However, Rari insists that “It is important to note that BOPEU was invited to be part of the lawsuit, while at first they seemed not averse, they later indicated that they chose not to be part of it. The case proceeded with BTU, BOSETU, BLLAWHU, NALCGPWU & BOFEPUSU as the applicants.”

The court had ordered that BOFEPUSU shall on or before 8th January 2016 submit their audited membership list to the third respondent and that the employer shall on or before 8 January 2016 submit a list of employees covered by the Third Respondent.

It also added that the General Secretary of BOFEPUSU shall on 11th January determine whether or not the Applicants still have the threshold necessary for them to continue being admitted.
“Parties shall convene on 18th January 2016, at 1400hrs, at the PSBC to deliberate on the following agenda items the outcome of the verification process carried out by the Third Respondent (PSBC) and rules for engagement in respect of the 2016/17 wage negotiations,” reads the court order in part.

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