Government is entangled in a web of legalities concerning the question of whether to deregister the newly formed Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BFPSU), comprising the Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government Manual and General Workers Union (NALC&GMWU), otherwise known as the Manual Workers Union.
The Minister is awaiting advice from the Attorney General on the matter. Information unearthed by the Sunday Standard reveals that the matter could end up in Court.
This follows the announcement last month of what was perceived in labour movement circles as a calculated strategy by the political leadership to weaken labour by forming another federation that would ultimately rival the existing national federation, the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions. The leaderships of both member unions of the new federation have flatly denied the charge as utterly malicious.
Responding to The Sunday Standard’s enquiry on the issue, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Peter Siele, could not say whether or not he is satisfied that the law has been complied with as the matter is currently subject to legal opinion.
The decision to approach the Minister for clarification on the issue was a follow up of an interview with the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers Organizations, Lesego Pule. The Registrar had indicated that the matter was at a level where only the Minister would be better placed than anyone else to answer any pertinent questions.
Claude Mojafi, Commissioner of Labour at the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, when approached for his opinion as the custodian of Labour Laws, said, “Since you have the Minister’s response there is very little or no difference it makes commenting on the issue, as I and the Minister always, naturally, consult on such matters.”
On what are the particulars of the procedure to be followed, Siele has stated that the procedure is that the unions concerned (BOPEU and the MWU) are required to conduct a vote by secret ballot at a general meeting supervised by the Registrar of Trade Unions.
Against this background, it emerged that the law had been skipped. The Minister pronounced, “The secret ballot conducted by BOPEU and Manual Workers’ Union was not supervised by the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers Organization.”
Andrew Motsamai, President of the new federation, maintains that they conducted the secret ballot. Although Motsamai was initially adamant that the amended version of the Trade Unions and Employers Organization Act provided for a secret ballot without the supervision of the Registrar, on being told of Government’s position, Motsamai said that he needed more time to look at the section at issue.
The issue seems headed not only to stimulate debate on the extent of Government of Government’s commitment to International Labour Standards, given the implications of giving the BFPSU the same recognition as the BFTU.
Yet a theory is peddled. According to this theory, for the same reason that it has been possible to grant registration to the new federation without much scrutiny as to be able ensure legality, the forces that were at work in propping up the two unions’ efforts will not take kindly to reversing such a process.
Reacting to the revelation that Government has solicited for AGC’s legal counsel on the matter, Secretary General of the BFTU, Gadzani Mhosha, says, “We take the matter very seriously, and hope that the Law will take full course.”
Moreover, Mhosha highlighted the fact that there are some public officers who are using their positions in Government to elevate BOPEU and the Manual Workers and thus, the new federation at the exclusion of other unions. This he says is against the law, and in violation of international standards.
To mark the seriousness of the problem, the BFTU official explained how the two unions are offered a sitting in all the tripartite structures in the country.
According to the operational arrangement of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and all its consultative mechanisms, only the national centers, of the Workers groups, Employers and Governments are represented in tripartite structures.
This provision notwithstanding, the Sunday Standard can confirm that both unions had about six of their officials represented at an important conference of the ILO on the Formulation of an Agenda for Decent Work for Botswana.
It was not possible to establish from the relevant authorities why Government extended invitations to the new federation despite the controversy surrounding it.