Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Government accused of contempt of court

Public sector trade unions are up in arms over government’s failure to accede to two court rulings that were made in recent weeks after protracted legal battles between government and the unions. Lobatse High Court Judge Onkemetse Tshosa last week overturned the decision of the Director of Public Service Management, Festinah Bakwena, not to recognise the public sector unions. Earlier, government backed down from a legal battle with the unions at the Industrial Court, and hastily trashed out an agreement in which she was somersaulting from her earlier decision not to recognise the Botswana Public Sector Federation.

The President of Botswana Land Boards and Local Authorities Workers Union (BLLAWU) Pelotshweu Baeng told Sunday Standard on Friday that they are currently weighing their options as to what action to take against government, as she has failed to obey the two court rulings.

The Industrial Court dispute came after government refused to recognize BOFEPUSU affiliates, Botswana Public Employees Union, Amalgamated Workers Union and the Botswana Teachers Union. The three wrote to government in June, seeking industry recognition as they represent over one third of the public sector workforce.

“In view of the fact that Manual Workers Union, BTU and BOPEU represent in excess of one third of the total work force in the public service, the three unions seek industry wide recognition, pursuant to Section 48(A) of the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations Act,” they said.
However, Lesego Pule, the Registrar of Trade Unions, refused to grant the unions the recognition they sought.

“BOFEPUSU is a de-registered federation. We have a problem with the unions applying to be recognized under the auspices of a cancelled federation. Until this issue is brought to conclusion by the High Court, BOFEPUSU shall remain de-registered, and shall not enjoy any rights of a registered federation,” he said.

Through their lawyer, Tshiamo Rantao, the unions launched a case at the Industrial Court, arguing that BOFEPUSU’s de-registration is automatically suspended as the case is still under appeal.
“This reason is fallacious because an appeal automatically suspends an order de-registering a trade union or a federation,” they said. They also said Pule’s stance was unfounded in that he had previously been advised to the contrary by the Attorney General.

Before the case could come to a conclusion, government abandoned her earlier stance, and offered concessions on every major point raised by the unions.

“It is hereby declared that the decision declining the trade unions’ application for industry recognition is unlawful. The decision is set aside and replaced with an order directing the Commissioner of Labour to forthwith publish a notice in the Government Gazette and in a newspaper of national circulation, calling upon all interested parties to make representation in accordance with Section 34 of the Trade Disputes Act,” read the agreement.

The deadline for the publication of the said notice was Friday, and the unions insist that government is in contempt of court.

A Friday meeting between the two was postponed to next week, amid claims by the Commissioner of Labour, Rose Sennayana, that there is no acrimony between government and the unions.
“We are not concerned with meetings. We only want them to comply with the court ruling,” said Baeng. The unions are presently weighing their options as government continues to disregard the two court orders.

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