Tensions will run high this week as the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) convenes to kick start salary negotiations. Information reaching Sunday Standard indicates that the negotiating parties are headed for a collision course as public sector union representatives have resolved to settle for nothing less than a double digit adjustment while public service negotiators are under strict instructions not to budge from the 4 percent that government has reportedly proposed.
In November last year, President Ian Khama told a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary caucus that government will increase public service salaries by 4 percent in April this year. When presenting the 2015/16 national budget, Finance Minister Ken Matambo revealed that government had presented an offer to public sector unions, based on projected financial resources. He urged trade unions to appreciate the budgetary constraints facing government, given the downside risks with respect to dwindling diamond revenues and the need to repay outstanding debt.
“We hope PSBC negotiations will be concluded soon and an agreement reached, before the beginning of next financial year, so that public servants are not disadvantaged,” he said.
His utterances rubbed Andrew Motsamai, President of Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) the wrong way, as he lambasted Matambo from coercing public servants into submission and shifting the blame for delayed salary negotiations on to public sector unions.
“Matambo was coercing employees into accepting the mediocre offer presented by government. His statement was made in bad faith because he already wants to shift the blame to public servants in the event that negotiations are not completed before the next financial year,” he said.
Motsamai also said Matambo’s statement that public servants will be disadvantaged if negotiations drag on for too long was meant to divide employees, adding that there is no law that says salary adjustments must be effected from the date of agreement. On top of the 4 percent salary increment that has been tabled before public sector unions, government has reportedly announced an equal salary adjustment for non-unionised public officers, including security personnel. Motsamai believes this was a deliberate move aimed at sowing seeds of discord among public servants.
Meanwhile, Motsamai appreciates that an offer of 4 percent from government is reasonable, considering that the employer has to start lower and edge higher as negotiations progress. Similarly, public sector representatives usually start with a higher demand and edge lower until both parties reach a common understanding. However, Motsamai said such a scenario does not obtain in Botswana because government never budges from the initial offer it tabled.
“The problem with government negotiators is that they table rigid offers and seem to be under strict instructions not to budge. This makes a mockery of the bargaining process because government is obviously going through the motions but with no objective to bargain,” he said.
This has been the case in salary negotiations over the years, as public service negotiators have repeatedly failed to stare down government negotiators. For example, in 2013/14, BOFEPUSU declared a salary wage dispute as negotiations reached a deadlock. The same scenario is expected to unfold on Monday, only this time public sector unions have vowed never to budge, saying they have to be protected from the biting inflation and rising cost of living. The unfolding scenario is viewed by Professor Happy Siphambe, Dean of Social Sciences at University of Botswana, as indicative of a glaring need for employer and employee to mend relations.
“We are in transition from a process of consultation to negotiation. Clearly, some are resisting this change and there is need for a policy shift in industrial relations to facilitate social dialogue,” he said.