Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Early retirement law irks unionists

Lawyers and Trade Unionist have described as “the worst piece of legislation in this country”, the controversial subsection 15 (3) of the Public Service Act (cap 26:01), which gives appointing officers, such as the Permanent Secretary to the President, powers to retire public servants who have attained 45 years without a hearing.

The clause has for a long time soured relations between the public servants and government, and the already strained relationship was irretrievably broken down recently when government retired over 25 senior government officials. At the same time, government has been giving the public service unions the run around and refusing to implement the new public act, in which the clause has been deleted.

At the height of the acrimony between government and public service unions, caused by the forced retirement of the senior government officials, government found herself on the receiving end of a number of lawsuits, in which the government officers were challenging their dismissal.

Presently, 15 senior government officials, together with Botswana Public Employees Union, have filed a case with the high court challenging their dismissal. Last week industrial court judge Jamie de Villiers dismissed a case in which the former director of the Department of Building and Engineering Services Jimmy Modise was also challenging his early retirement.

The Act, which reads, “subject to this section, a public officer who has attained the age of 45 years may in the discretion of the appointing authority be retired from the public service”.

Commenting on the judgment, the Secretary General of the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government Parastatal Workers’ Union (NALCGPWU), Johnson Motshwarakgole, said that the clause that gives the appointing officers the powers to retire a person from work without a hearing is undemocratic and dictatorial.

“Retiring a person from work is a very emotional and painful event, and should be handled with grace. In all fairness a hearing should be held for such a person before he is retired, so that he is at least aware of the reasons why his employment was terminated” he said.

He further explained that as trade unionist they support government’s efforts to improve productivity, and they support the sacking of officers who do not deliver. However, he said, such initiatives should be democratic and consultative, instead of the present scenario where an officer can be promoted and then fired for low performance the next month.

“What type of procedure is this?” raged Motshwarakgole.

Motshwarakgole further called for the implementation of the new public act, which has clearly specified grounds on which an employee can be retired from work.

A government attorney, who commented on condition of anonymity, and has also represented government in similar cases, also agreed with Motshwarakgole that the law is undemocratic.

“It is surprising that a democratic country like Botswana would put in place such an oppressive law. We need to scrap it as soon as possible,” he said.

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