Public Sector workers may find themselves without any bargaining powers as government wittingly pulls the rag from under their feet.
Sources inside the industry say the task force consisting of some Government favoured union leaders and selected Department of Public Service Management (DPSM) officials is a “dirty tricks” department designed to undercut the bargaining structures and render them useless.
Indications are that public service trade unions will be reduced to discussing “any other business” at the bargaining structures after April 1 because the most important issues will be dropped from the agenda.
A Reference Group was appointed by the Office of the President, two years ago, to study and benchmark, in order to find out and recommend the best way of instituting consultative and bargaining structures, as well as merging the separate public service Acts, following Botswana’s ratification of ILO standards as well as alignment of related local labour instruments.
A Task Force was assigned to identify issues that belong to bargaining structures. The task force has however assigned itself the role of harmonizing conditions of service, and are now reported to be “preempting the bargaining councils.”
Andrew Motsamai, President of Botswana Public Employees Union, who is also Chairman of the Task Force, argues that “there is nothing wrong in harmonizing conditions of service now so that as at April we will be dealing with different issues.”
According to Section 48 (4) of the Trade Union and Employers Organization Act, “An employer who has granted recognition to a Trade Union, in terms of Section 32 of the Trades Disputes Act, shall bargain in good faith with the Union on issues of remuneration and other terms and conditions of employment, including the physical conditions under which employees are required to work, as well as employment benefits.
Labour experts refer to the section when arguing that any issues having a bearing on the specified aspects of employment relation with the employer as stipulated in Section 48, especially in a unionized environment, belong to a collective bargaining forum.
A spokesperson of the Tertiary Trainers and Allied Workers Union said that TAWU feel that the casualness with which the Public Sector Exit Policy is being presented, points to a deliberate strategy by Government to avoid discussion on issues they have already formed a position on.
“Moreover, by ambushing union leaders without having forewarned them about intent to share information on the policy, like any other issue, denies them the liberty to reflect adequately on the issues at stake,” said the TAWU official.
However, there is concern that if union leaders recognized that, like Managers (in this case Directors) on behalf of their employers, they operate on mandate and reporting back they would not accept the early exit policy without first consulting members.
There is a feeling that most union leaders do not have the intellectual capacity to comprehend and analyze the issues and challenges presented by the early exit policy.
One Labour official who expressed concern at what she described as the selfish conduct of some leaders, said, that although, it would appear that some leaders are only happy that they, and considerable numbers of their members would get money, they are not worried about the fact that the retrenchments will have implications on an even broader society than just the memberships.
“It is for this reason, that the rights offered by law to negotiate are the only potential relief from union members against these impending retrenchments, but that is only if there is going to be a chance to discuss the issues in the first place,” lamented the sympathetic official.
The other pertinent aspect applies to Section 48 subsection 40 regarding employment policies concerning, among others, the recruitment, appointment, training, transfer, promotion, suspension, discipline and dismissal of employees.
“For this reason, it seems perfectly in order that, all unions must be involved, and non union employees like nurses, tribal staff and others, equally deserve just treatment regarding matters that pertain to their welfare,” said the Labour Consultant who would not have his name divulged.