Tuesday, September 22, 2020

FNB undermines industrial relations

Botswana Bank Employees Union (BOBEU) has won a case in which they challenged the legality of the decision by First National Bank of Botswana (FNBB) management to unilaterally implement annual performance based salary increases for its staff which took effect end of December 2007. It was ruled by the Arbitrator recently that the Bank‘s decision represented an act of bad faith.

Even though the Arbitrator ruled that the Bank’s action was out of order, FNBB continues to adopt a defiant position in relation to its employees demand for a review of the salary structure that emanated from the financial institution’s go it alone stand.

Consequently another dispute has been declared and once again another dead lock has to be broken by the Arbitrator concerning salary increases. This follows a failed bid by the Commissioner of Labour to help the parties get over the issue in an amicable manner on November 14, 2008 through mediation, thus the matter is to be scheduled for arbitration at a date to be determined.
Commenting on the Arbitrator’s ruling, Keitshokile Basoti, BOBEU Secretary General had stated that he only hoped that Management would study and draw lessons from the judgment. “If they did, that would spare FNBB similar blunders in the future,” added the Union official.

Basoti’s hope notwithstanding it emerges that FNBB has topped up salaries of its managers this week, for the year 2008/2009, even before the outcome of the anticipated arbitration. . Sources inside the Bank have described the move as a deliberate tactic aimed to divide and rule, since this is bound to create anxiety and pressurize union members into doubting the relevance of negotiations relating to 2007/2008 as it might appear a worthless exercise.

Sources further stated that although the managers are not the same cadre as the union membership, the fact that they serve the same organization creates problems. To make matters worse the Bank is said to have put it point blank to BOBEU that it can only engage on negotiations for the coming financial year, 2008/2009.

The Case No. 024/2008, which the bank lost, was a culmination of a series of unsuccessful meetings between parties since September, 2007 up to December when the employer ignored all statutory procedures and proceeded to implement salary increases for their employees without regard to their union (BOBEU). The union read this as little disrespect for their members’ rights, and they accordingly embarked on the relevant legal processes.

Apparently the gist of the dispute was primed on the manner in which both the Bank and the union were to move forward with the negotiations.

Evidence raised by the Sunday Standard reveals, that the attitude of Management was that a special task force comprising representatives from both sides be formed to deal separately, with the issue of salary entry points, whilst discussion continued on the salary increases. The Union differed.

They wanted to have an independent consultant engaged to deal with the matter. In addition, BOBEU submitted that negotiations on performance based salary increases be set in abeyance until such time as the report of the consultants would be received by parties to enable informed negotiations..

FNBB on the other hand found it a feasible idea to have it the other way round; to proceed with negotiations on the 2007/2008 salary increases first, while the entry points could be looked into by the proposed joint task force.
One Bank employee who was reluctant to declare her identity, said, “Even though during discussions about how the negotiations should proceed, management had indicated that they were amenable to having an independent consultant appointed to deal with the item of performance based increases,” it emerged that they were not genuine as they later decided to continue with the increases without basing on any remuneration survey as is common cause in the banks..

In their submissions to the Arbitrator, challenging the FNBB’s conduct, BOBEU cited Section 48(4) and 48(5) of the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organization which imposes a duty on both the employer and trade union that has been recognized by an employer, to bargain in good faith. They argued that this and clauses 11.2 and 11.4 of a collective agreement, styled Recognition and Negotiation Procedure Agreement (RPNA) have been breached.
The Bank’s defense was that where a deadlock exists, provided that they had consulted before, it was within their right to take a unilateral decision.
Against this background the Arbitrator ruled, “…the unilateral action was therefore premature as it was in breach of the procedures through which the parties have agreed to resolve deadlocks and disputes.”

“I therefore find that even if one assumes that the deadlock was over the substantive issue of performance based increments, the unilateral action which the Bank took was unlawful and constituted a breach of its duty to bargain in good faith.,” Chilisa sealed his findings.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.