Last week two former employees of Botswana Railways took action against the organization to the Francistown Industrial Court claiming to have been unlawfully dismissed. The dismissal was due to a restructuring exercise by Botswana Railways in which two of the applicants were re-deployed from their field of profession to work as diesel electric fitters while, in fact, they had been employed as maintenance electricians.
The two applicants, Phetogo Mothuti and Anthony Mabua, brought the matter before Justice Goemekgabo Tebogo Maruping of the Industrial Court that they decided to resist this move on the basis that it amounted to a unilateral change of their employment contract without their consent, and they further pointed that they were not consulted at all, with regards to their re-designation.
They brought to the court’s attention that it took almost six months for Botswana Railways to respond to their complaints and in the meantime, they had continued to work in the old section as maintenance electricians.
The duo told the court that Botswana Railways had insisted that there should be a re-designation and when the duo failed to report to the power section, disciplinary action was taken against them on charges of willful refusal to obey lawful instructions and unlawfully withholding services.
The second applicant, Anthony Mabua, testified in court that his profession entailed replacing defective bulbs and extensions in buildings and fixing cranes in workshops.
“On many occasions, I went on long trips to perform relief duty in other Botswana Railways work stations but I have never assisted at the locomotive section and never worked as a diesel electric fitter. I consider the two professions to be different,” he said.
Mabua also testified that he was never consulted about the restructuring exercise of the organization, but only overheard it through a rumour mill. He also pointed out that he is a member of the union but was never informed about the issue regarding the restructuring process.
“On October 2003 there was a meeting held, but could not attend the meeting as I was doing relief duties in Francistown and I believe consultation should have been done by my immediate supervisor, but that never happened,” said Mabua.
He indicated that during the Christmas break in December 2003, he received a letter informing him of his re-designation to the motive power section as his usual section; in terms of that letter, the redesignation was to take effect on the first of January 2, days later.
He then resisted this move because he felt he was being asked to do a job that he did not know and had not been consulted.
Mabua also clarified to court that, to his knowledge, the jobs of maintenance electrician and a diesel fitter both involved electricity but were different and that diesel electricians worked on the diesel engines of trains and were auto electricians, while he did appliances and installations.
“The diesel electricians had their own special training which was in countries such as Kenya and, therefore, I feel that I cannot convert overnight to become a diesel electrician,” he added.
Moithuti revealed to court that he was also employed as a maintenance electrician in 1991, and was dismissed in August 2004. His duties were to maintain houses and offices from Ramokgwebana to Rakhuna.
He maintained that, to his knowledge, the diesel electricians dealt with the diesel engines of trains and they were auto electricians, and that auto electricians and mantainance electricians performed different duties.
Moithuti stressed that the job he had applied for and which he had pursued for 13 years was maintenance electrician and felt that if Botswana Railways did not have a job anymore, they should have clarified that, so that he and the organization could part ways, and not to force a re-designation on him.
He also pointed out that he did not believe he could be turned into a diesel fitter in a short span of time as alleged by the respondents and also mentioned that he was already 45 years old and about to retire with no prospects of further training
The judgment in this case was reserved.