Nurses Association of Botswana is mobilizing nurses countrywide to form their own union to boost their bargaining power against Government. The decision appears even more reasonable in light of the recent presidential directive approving payment for scarce skills for some civil servants at the exclusion of nurses.
According to the directive, dated April 3 2008, medical doctors, dentists, bio-medical engineers and pharmacists have been given 40% of their basic salary as scarce skills allowance.
Laboratory technicians, speech therapists and laboratory scientists are also earmarked to benefit from the announcement of the Public service management directive No. 2 of 2008.
Keabitsa Ramantele, President of the Nurses Association of Botswana said, “Actually however, this problem is only an aspect of the sum of problems nurses are faced with, and admittedly, as an association, there is very little we can do to overcome our current predicament until we have bargaining rights.”
Speaking in an interview with The Sunday Standard, on the sidelines of an emergency meeting of the association at the organization’s headquarters in Gaborone on Thursday last week, Ramantele expressed their concern thus, “It is worrying that whilst there has been a national outcry in recent years about the migration of nurses to foreign lands, Government still finds no qualms placing the nightingales at the rear of all considerations. This is more so considering that all the other fellows in the hospital are treated better.”
Additionally, the NAB official said that, given the long list of proposals they have submitted to government in the past relating to the welfare and conditions of service for nurses yet to no avail, there is every reason to view unionization as providing a ray of hope.
Concerning the existence of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) as a possible platform they could utilize, Ramantele had this to say, “First of all, it should be noted that Botswana Civil Service Association, which was to become BOPEU, and NAB have always co-existed as consultative forums: the one for all public servants and the other as a professional body concerned with the integrity of the profession and public health and safety.
In my considered opinion, this is shared by many other colleagues. BOPEU, as a multi-sector block, cannot adequately represent nurses on issues that peculiarly appertain to them.”
When approached to comment on the issue, Andrew Motsamai, President of BOPEU said, “Looking at BOPEU’s broad based membership, and the required threshold for admission at the proposed bargaining structures, I do not see why those people should conceive of such an idea instead of just joining us.”
Motsamai added that in any case the nurses have always been part of them.
At present, nurses are divided according to the previous structures of Government who remains their employer. For example, nurses who serve at local government level were members of the Botswana Unified Local Government Association (BULGASA) which, in the advent of unionization, became the Botswana Land Boards Local Authorities Union (BLLAWU, those in the employ of central government are largely in BOPEU’s fold. One highly placed union official commenting on condition that his identity is protected, said, “I think what these people should realize is that there must be graduation in real sense from the politics of consultation to genuine freedom of association for workers.” He cautioned public service employees against being trapped in the past to the point of failing to imagine any other relationship with the employer.
The official was responding to the question whether in their union affiliation, employees should be bound by their previous association membership without regard to the relevance of the operational frameworks and orientation of interests dictated by the new tasks.
Pearl Matome, Deputy Director (State President) at Directorate of Public Service Management, who chairs the reference committee responsible for the formulation of bargaining and consultative structures, said, “As far as we are concerned, as the employer we cannot prescribe for unions who and where to recruit their members.” She said what is more important is that the Unions must meet the stipulated legalities in order to be able to negotiate.
According to the Trade Disputes Act, for a union to be recognized its membership has to constitute 33% of the total workforce of the employer.
Furthermore, Ramantele said, “In the interim we have resolved to embark on an aggressive membership drive to strengthen NAB, persuade nurses to identify their rightful home from whence they can effectively find their place including affiliation to international association of nurses (ICN).”
The nurses’ spokesperson asserted that once they reach that point, then a strong impetus for the Union would have been created. She, however, intimated that they intend to keep the association intact, thus maintaining a two pronged belonging.