Sunday, October 25, 2020

Government registers a public sector federation, weakens labour

Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government Manual and General Workers Union (NALCGMGWU), have been amalgamated and registered by the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs as Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions without respect to the laws of the country.

According to Government Notice no. 335 of 2008 dated 2nd July 2008 which was published in the Botswana Government Gazette Vol. XLVI, No.48 of 18 July, 2008, notice is given pursuant to the provisions of section 65(a) of the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations Act, to the effect that Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions has been registered as a Trade Union.

The Government Notice notwithstanding, information unearthed by the Sunday Standard reveals that one of these two Federation members remains a member of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU).

Gadzani Mhosha, Secretary General of the BFTU responded to the news thus, “As far as we are concerned, the MWU has not ceased to be a component of the BFTU.”

Additionally, Mhosha indicated that MWU have since stopped paying their membership subscriptions to the umbrella body, and that concerted efforts were made to harmonize their relationship.

“As a matter of fact our constitution provides that once a member organization stops paying their dues they are automatically suspended from the activities of the federation, and that is as far as it goes,” the BFTU official stated.

Johnson Motshwarakgole, National Organizing Secretary, holds a different view, “Our Union had been served with a letter which informed us that the General Council had resolved to suspend us from the BFTU for failing to pay our subscriptions and this, you must note, it’s years now.”

He says that, to add salt to injury, the suspension was indefinite, and that there was never any attempt to motivate them to update, rather, they were subjected to unwarranted criticisms.
Against this background, Motshwarakgole maintains that they owe no body an apology for their decision.

The Law is silent on whether there is any restriction for a Trade Union not belong to more than one Federation.
However, Claude Mojafi, Commissioner of Labour at the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs stated that they have not received any objections so far against the registration of the new federation, and that, “We cannot preempt any such plans by anybody”

Information turned up by the Sunday Standard investigations, points to a build up of tensions as a result of the formation of the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BFPS).

The most immediate explanation for the situation is that it carries the potential to divide the BFTU which currently includes both private sector and public service Unions. One reason advanced for this is that the name suggests that it is destined to be an all embracing public sector Union, whilst in fact there are other public services Unions outside the fold of the new federation.

On this score Motshwarakgole argues that it is in the ultimate interest of all the public service unions to establish a common platform, especially in view of the envisaged national bargaining council for purposes of an integrated strategy in bargaining with the employer.

President of BOPEU, Andrew Motsamai, posited at the early stages of conception of BFPS that, the fact that they command the bulk of Government’s workforce and ultimately the largest federation in the country, means that when the time is right they would seek for recognition at the International Labour Organization.

If Motsamai’s ambitions were to materialize there is a danger that the private sector, an important component of the Tripartite arrangement upon which the activities of the ILO are run would be excluded from the recognition point of view.

Another concern raised by other Trade Union officials is that the generalized approach of assuming that the two public service Unions which make up the new federation can represent all sub sectors of the public service is wrong.
Allan Keitseng, President of the Tertiary and Allied Workers Union (TAWU), commented thus, “Imagine what would happen once the nurses who are already up in arms to form their Union achieve their desired objective of bringing the nightingales under one nursing union and then pull out of the mass that is BOPEU, others in line with their sector or sub sector-specific interests follow suit!”

There is also Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU), which is in the process of getting recognition from the employer. The fact that it focuses on Government manual workers only, as against the MWU which includes non Government employees also presents a challenge for the new federation.

In order to avoid the national disaster that the alienation of the BFTU could result in, the leaders of both the BFTU and the new Union need to act proactively than fall into the pitfalls of political agendas which do not serve the national workforce, and give substance to local movement for real change.

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