A certificate of failure to settle a dispute in terms of section 8 (11) of the Trade Dispute Act, 2003, has been issued after management of Diamond Trading Company-Botswana (DTCB) and leaders of Botswana Diamond Valuators and Sorters Union (BDVSU) agreed to disagree over salary increase for the 2009/2010 financial year.
The crux of the dispute, which was referred to the Commissioner of Labour for mediation, and was heard on 2nd January 2010, was that the union wanted an 8% salary increase on total package across the board for their members, whereas management maintained that the union’s proposals were not feasible and are therefore unable to accede to the union’s proposition.
It was upon failure to reach agreement that the Commissioner of Labour formed the opinion that there were no prospects for settlement over what was otherwise defined as a dispute of interest.
According to Jacob Mpasopi, Chairperson of BDVSU, the employee’s demands were reasonable and premised on formidable evidence.
“We are demanding an 8% across board increase on total package, and merit based on the agreed performance reward system,” said Mpasopi, adding that surprisingly, management has kept on citing recession as an excuse for not being able to respond positively to their queries.
Yet the union leadership believes there is sufficient basis upon which their demands should be favourably treated.
They pointed out that the increase was in fact due last year in April (2009) but because the company cited the effects of the economic crisis so as to close its operations in March 2009 (a month earlier), they could not get the salary adjustments.
Upon opening its operations in May 2009, DTC was reported to have retrieved at least 64 of its employees through agreed voluntary separation.
“Moreover, we also forfeited 20% of our salaries to mitigate for the impact of the crisis for the months that the operations were halted yet to the management of DTC, it appears that workers still have to make further sacrifices at the expenses of their labour and welfare,” posted Mpasopi.
He argued that it should now be able to pay its employees.
The reasons given to support the proposition that it was feasible for DTC to pay included the information which the union, by virtue of its mandate and as a dialogue partner, depicts the financial status of the company.
For instance, they indicated that in the year 2008, the workers were able to go above the targeted production levels by over 4.4%, which translates into a substantial profit.
“It is our contention that as much as the shareholders have taken their dividends, workers are also equally entitled to their fair share of the spoils,” quipped one of the union officials who preferred not to be cited by name.
The fact that other companies, such as De Beers South Africa, Tati and Debswana, who were equally affected by the recession, managed to give their employees a top up of 4% was also described as clear indicator that management was being unreasonable by refusing to give them an increase.
To make matters worse, in a letter dated 25th January, 2010, following a declaration of deadlock between the union and management over the 2009/10 wage/salary negotiation, DTC proposed a reopening of negotiations, through without stating what changes have occurred to their initial position.
But considering that, since the negotiations first started on 18th November 2009, the parties met about five times within a period of almost a month up to the 22nd of December 2009, without any positive results, the union declined to meet away and outside the commissioner’s room.
Hence they responded that whatever outstanding proposals management had to make, they would be discussed at mediation, where the BDVSU had already registered it with the commissioner, and DTC was accordingly informed.
Striking however, when the date set for negotiations, 2nd February 2010 arrived, and parties reappear before the Commissioner of Labour, DTC-Botswana management made the point that they were only mandated to negotiate zero increase.
The letter dated 17th February 2010, reads in part, “And whereas a mediation hearing was held on 2nd February 2010, and I am satisfied that there are no prospects of settlement at this stage of the dispute and now refer the said dispute to the Industrial Court for a hearing and determination.”
Against this background the union leadership met with the broader membership last week on Wednesday 24th February 2010 and reflected on the outcome.
“Leadership has been ordered to research more with a view to establishing the merits and prospects of the options available to us,” stated the union chair, adding that the matter is being taken very seriously.
Meanwhile, both parties were reportedly due to exchange yet another set of salary wage proposals, but this time around it is for the year 2010/11.