Sunday, July 3, 2022

Government moves to sack union leaders dabbling in politics

Government has called trade union leaders for a meeting where they will be told to stay out of politics.

The Director of Public Service Management, Carter Morupisi, has said if trade union leaders want to join politics they are free to form a political party, but added that they first have to leave the public service.

The meeting is believed to be a step closer to the sacking of public sector union leaders who are spearheading a campaign to lobby support for the opposition in the 2014 General Elections.

Muzzling the union leaders by government is a second phase of a multi-pronged approach to neutralize the union movement ahead of the 2014 elections. The first phase involved de-registration of trade unions found to be in breach of the Societies Act.

The Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs has already launched a massive investigation of trade unions to establish if they are compliant.

Morupisi, who insists that the Public Service Act bars public officers from political activism, has confirmed that he has summoned leaders of public sector unions to explain their involvement in politics.

During the Letlhakane West by-election, Public sector Unions openly campaigned for the opposition Umbrella For Democratic Change (UDC).

The meeting slated for the 31st of April is expected to be attended by DPSM top officials and representatives from public sector Unions affiliated to the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU).?These include, among others, Botswana Public Sector Union (BOPEU), National Amalgamated Central and Parastatal Manual Workers Union (NACL&PMWU) as well Botswana LandBoards Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAWU).

“It is true I have called them for a meeting so that they can explain whether they are a public sector union or a political party,” Morupisi told The Telegraph in a brief interview.

He said there was an urgent need to make the distinction between political parties and the public sector.

“The purpose of the meeting is to share with them our view as employer and come to an agreement ….If they want to form a political party they should be clear….the Public Service Act is very clear and unambiguous about political activism by civil servants,” he said.

“The reason why we have stability is that there has never been politics in the public sector and public servants support government, advise, implement policies and provide services to members of the public,” he added.

While the Unions persist that workers interest cannot be separate from politics, the director has a different view. Morupisi is adamant that by entering the theatre of partisan politics, Union leaders are in breach of the Public Service Act which prohibits civil servants from engaging in active politics.

Union officials however enjoy immunity while acting on behalf of the Union.

Morupisi is of the view that several public sector Union officials are in politics and want to use union membership as a pretext for lobbying for their political parties.

“First and foremost you are a public servant and the union membership is secondary,” he said.

Morupisi said that politics and the public service were two very distinct roles.

Following two Court of Appeal decisions that confirmed the dismissals of scores of public sector employees who participated in the 2011 strike, BOFEPUSU has been aggressively campaigning for the overthrow of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
In a separate interview, BOFEPUSU has indicated they will honour the meeting.

“We have received a letter from DPSM wishing for us to sit down and discuss our involvement in politics,” said Tobokani Rari, BOFEPUSU general secretary.

Rari said that although the correspondence from government was addressed to BOFEPUSU as an Umbrella it was sent out to the public sector Unions separately.

“We will attend that meeting and explain our position,” Rari said.

He said that the Federation’s executive is scheduled to meet this week to discuss, among other things, the request from government.

“We might not make it at the date they want us to meet but we definitely intend to honour that meeting,” he added.

Rari said that there is a high possibility that the Union will not meet government on the 30th of April because it would be on the eve of the 1st of May which is Labour Day.

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