The Director of Public Service Management, Festinah Bakwena, has denied ever taking a decision to de-recognise public sector unions.
“Ms Festinah Bakwena has vehemently denied ever moving towards de-recognising any of the public sector unions or taking a decision to that effect,” said Deputy Attorney General, attorney Abraham Keetshabe, at Lobatse High Court last week.
Keetshabe was arguing for the state in the ongoing case in which five public sector unions have dragged government to court, seeking a declaration that Bakwena’s decision is unlawful and of no effect.
“The meaning, tone and intent of the unions’ affidavit is that DPSM took a decision to de-recognise them. I urge the court to take a thorough and informed look at the DPSM Director’s affidavit. She vehemently denied ever de-recognising the unions,” said Keetshabe.
He said Bakwena herself told the court that she could not possibly de-recognise the unions because that was never her agenda in the first place. He said Bakwena’s agenda has always been to implement the new Public Service Act in good faith.
He said even BOPEU President, Andrew Motsamai, concurs in his founding affidavit that they held numerous meetings with DPSM, the objective of which was to implement the new public service act.
However, attorney Tshiamo Rantao, representing the public sector unions, produced minutes of a June 28 meeting between the unions and Bakwena, in which Bakwena said the unions have to be recognised afresh.
“Only unrecognised unions can be recognised afresh. Any reasonable person would conclude that the unions’ recognition has been withdrawn until such a time that they have validated their membership,” he said.
He said Bakwena’s refusal to continue with the establishment of the bargaining council until the re-recognition exercise is complete is proof that she does not consider their recognition as valid.
Keetshabe argued that the unions’ application was improperly before the courts as they failed to give government notice of intention to institute proceedings. He said the unions failed to establish exceptional circumstances warranting granting of an interim interdict.
“The applicants have failed to establish a prima facie right to an interim interdict being granted in their favour. It is still a mystery why they instituted these proceedings, and secondly, by way of urgency,” said Keetshabe.
He argued that the unions failed to demonstrate any prejudice that they stand to suffer, or any apprehension of irreparable harm, if they are not granted interim relief. He said there is no remedy that the applicants are seeking, and prayed for the dismissal of their application with costs.
In answer, Rantao said government’s decision has grave implications for more than 65 000 public servants who wish to be represented by their unions in the course of collective bargaining.
“The director of DPSM has resolved not to have any dealings with public sector unions because she believes they no longer meet the threshold for recognition. This means that more than 65 000 employees are without any meaningful representation in the workplace,” he said.
Rantao added that the withdrawal of recognition carries with it loss of organisational rights, such as the right to have the employer administer check off facilities, which will in turn result in loss of income and eventual demise.
Rantao argued that government’s decision not to deal with public sector unions will derail establishment of the bargaining council, which renders the application urgent. He said the unions cannot get redress in due course if the matter is not heard urgently, as government will in the meantime make unilateral decisions without consultation with public sector unions.
“Collective disputes are by their nature inherently urgent and require immediate resolution to maintain harmonious industrial relations,” he said.
Rantao argued that the balance of convenience is heavily in favour of the unions as government does not allege any prejudice if the interim relief that the unions are seeking is granted.