Two public service trade unions, namely the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) and the Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU) have instituted legal action against the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) over what they termed unlawful attempt to exclude smaller recognized unions in preference for the controversial Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) affiliates.
All the five unions, sometimes referred to as the “Big Five”, have been cited in the Industrial Court, Case No. IC. 1358/10, as co-respondents, along with Attorney General, representing both the Commissioner of Labour and DPSM.
The big five includes the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union, otherwise referred to as the Manual Workers Union, Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), Botswana Secondary Education Teachers Union (BOSETU) and the Botswana Local Authorities and Land Boards Administration Workers Union (BLLAWU), as well as the Botswana Teachers Union (BTU).
The applicants, TAWU and BOGOWU, have approached the IC for an order declaring that clause, 6.1.1 of the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) Constitution as signed by the respondents is unlawful.
It was further proposed by the duo, according to papers filed in court, that Section 51(2) K of the Public Service Act, 2008 should be applied in a manner consistent with section 46 of the same Act.
The argument advanced by the duo as indicated in the applicants’ founding affidavits revolves around the effect of the acrimony existing between Manual workers and BOGOWU influencing certain of the decisions adopted by Government and “Big five” unions in the establishment of the PSBC.
Apparently, the relationship between the applicants and the other 5 public sector trade unions as cited in the matter, is very acrimonious that in effect there seems to be a desire on the part of one to destroy the other, and do away with them in any way possible.
Edward Tswaipe, Secretary General of TAWU, told The Sunday Standard that, “Consequently, a combination of bad faith on the side of government and malicious intent on the part of the big five have crept into the making of the PSBC with the ultimate prospect of excluding the rest of the other unions who would not buy into the BOFEPUSU project.”
The court case followed the issuance of a settlement certificate by the Commissioner of Labour, to the effect that both parties, both respondents and applicants seek for an interpretation that would afford a common ground.
Information passed to the Sunday Standard and confirmed by official documents indicates that the office of the Commissioner has twice received disputes pertaining to irregular measures by both Government and the other affected five unions, to marginalize TAWU and BOGOWU citing questionable provisions of the law.
On the first instance, the applicants had queried to the Commissioner that they had differences over certain fundamental issues for which they asked her to intervene.
However, according to the ruling made then, DPSM pleaded with the Commissioner to allow them(parties) to revisit the contested areas only to proceed as if nothing had happened, and went on to append their signatures alongside the five unions, at the exclusion of the aggrieved unions.
As a result, another dispute ensued which led to parties being advised to seek a competent authority to interpret the contested sections of the law.
The settlement issued on the 22 October 2010 by the Commissioner of Labour read thus, “…that by and large parties differ on the interpretation of section 46 of Public service Act. Unions to institute right procedures for matters to go to court or both parties to refer matter to competent authority.”
Rose Sennanyana, Commissioner of Labour, said she was unable to say whether or not they would seek to defend in the matter, as he was still to be informed of the specifics of the matter before the Industrial Court. She was away on retreat with the rest of the staff of the ministry of LHA.