Saturday, September 26, 2020

Government under pressure to drop Commissioner of Labour

The Commissioner of Labour may be replaced by an independent mediation commission should trade unions manage to force government into living up to the letter and spirit of the unionization process.

There is concern that any delay in that regard has the potential to negatively affect the legislators’ objective discussion of the finalized draft bill of the integrated public service Act which is expected to be submitted to parliament before the end of its next session sometime around October.

According to the new Public Service Act bill, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President shall be the head of the Civil Service. The argument held by the unions is that since the Commissioner of Labour is an employee of the Public Service, and thus subject to the PSP, he cannot possibly be the best candidate for mediating in matters in which his boss has vested interest.
Andrew Motsamai, President of the Botswana Public Employees Union, said, “We have conveyed our concerns to the relevant offices including the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs.”

Johnson Motshwarakgole of the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government Manual and General Workers Union, said, “As far as we are concerned the Government will not fail, in this regard, to see their obligations accordingly.”

Palai acknowledged that unions have registered their concerns but could not be lured into discussing further.
Bruce Palai, Permanent Secretary in the MLHA said, “Indeed it is an undeniable fact that the process of unionization is posing new challenges to the current system and, as of now, it would only be fair to say that, as the custodians of labour law, we are as such applying our minds to it.”

A document purporting to be a set of final recommendations as approved by the Reference Committee, (appointed by the Office of the President in 2005) recommended that the Government should establish a two tier collective bargaining structure for the whole civil service. There shall be a national bargaining council at national level, whereas the education sector, local authorities, and the general public service sectors as well as the industrial employees and the land board sectors shall each have their own constituted bargaining councils.

It is envisaged that both the employer (Government) and the employees representatives (unions) shall be equally represented in both structures and enjoy equal influence in the ultimate decisions of the councils. The document further proposes that the chairperson of the national bargaining council be an independent person elected by the council. The reference committee also submitted that only the national bargaining council’s decisions shall be considered binding to all parties, whereas the decisions of the sectoral councils on the other hand, shall be subject to the national body.

The reference committee also highlighted the issues it proposes to be considered negotiable. Those deemed negotiable at national level included dispute settlement procedures, grievance and disciplinary procedures and leave policy as well as termination of employment. Dismissal of employees, suspension from work with or without pay shall remain the prerogative of the employer alone, and not subject to negotiation.

Although it was recommended that the new public service Act should provide for conciliation, mediation and arbitration before parties could seek for intervention at the industrial court of Botswana, The Sunday Standard has authoritatively established that it does not propose anything new. The matter, according to investigations conducted by Sunday Standard, was debated extensively, but the labour leaders, it appears, were cowed into submission by fear to jeopardize what they thought they had already gained.

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